HaAzinu / Yom Kippur


Rabbi Bernard Fox


“One who does not observe the restriction concerning bread baked by a non-Jew should observe the restriction during the Asseret Yemai Teshuva.”  (Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chayim 603:1)

The ten days beginning with Rosh HaShanna and ending with Yom Kippur are the Asseret Yemai Teshuva – the Ten Days of Repentance.  This a period devoted to introspection and repentance.  Shulchan Aruch comments that during this period it is appropriate to observe the restriction against bread baked by a non-Jew.  In order to understand this comment, some background is required.


Our Sages established a prohibition against eating food cooked by a non-Jew.  This law is often misunderstood.  The law is not a precaution against eating non-Kosher food.  Supervising the preparation of the food does not alleviate the prohibition.  In other words, food cooked by a non-Jew is prohibited even if the entire process is supervised by a trustworthy Jew.


What is the reason for this restriction?  Maimonides provides the reason for this enactment in his Mishne Torah.  He explains that the prohibition is designed to prevent intermarriage!  The Sages were very sensitive to the forces encouraging assimilation and eventual intermarriage.  They concluded that these forces can only be overcome by creating barriers against intimate social relations.  Familiarity is fostered through sharing a meal.  Conversely, the inability to share a meal is a barrier to social intercourse.  As a result of these considerations, the Sages prohibited the consumption of foods cooked by a non-Jew.[1]


It should be noted that this prohibition is not merely directed against the food prepared by an idolater.  The restriction extends to the food cooked by any non-Jew.  This is consistent with Maimonides’ basic reasoning.  The decree does not involve any judgement regarding the morality or integrity of the non-Jew.  Instead, it designed to discourage assimilation and preserve Torah values.  Accordingly, it extends to food prepared by any non-Jew.


It must be noted that this prohibition does not extend to all cooked foods.  The restriction only includes foods that “are worthy to be served on the table of a king.”  In more modern terms, only foods that would be served at a banquet are prohibited.  For example, pop-corn prepared by a non-Jew is permitted.  A steak is prohibited.


There is a dispute among the Sages regarding bread baked by a non-Jew.  According to some authorities, this bread is prohibited.  Other authorities argue.  They maintain that the prohibition only extends to bread that is produced in the home of a non-Jew.  Commercially produced bread, baked by a non-Jew is permitted.  The reasoning underlying this position is obvious.  The entire enactment is designed to discourage intermarriage.  The restriction is a barrier against intimate social gatherings.  Consumption of commercially baked bread does not result in sharing a meal with the baker!  Therefore, there is no reason to apply the restriction to this product.[2] 


We are now prepared to understand the above law.    Shulchan Aruch begins by acknowledging that there is a basis in halacha for permitting bread baked commercially by a non-Jew.  However, he explains that this leniency should not be practiced during the Asseret Yemai Teshuva.  During this period, the more strict interpretation of the law should be observed.  Even commercially baked bread should not be consumed.


The basic message of Shulchan Aruch is that during the Asseret Yemai Teshuva we should be more scrupulous in our observance of halacha.  We should adopt practices that we do not observe during the remainder of the year.


It is very important to note the specific practice that Shulchan Aruch cites as an example.  Shulchan Aruch provides the example of refraining from eating bread commercially baked by a non-Jew.  What are the implications of this example?  Clearly, Shulchan Aruch is not suggesting that we adopt stringencies that lack a firm basis in halacha.  Instead, Shulchan Aruch cites an instance in which there are two equally reasonable positions.  During most of the year, it is acceptable for a person to adopt the more lenient position and eat bread commercially baked by a non-Jew.  During the Asseret Yemai Teshuva we should conduct ourselves according to the more stringent position.  However, it is important to recognize that this more stringent position is consistent with normative halacha.  In short, a person who adopts arbitrary stringencies that do not have a basis in halacha is not following the directions of Shulchan Aruch.


We have now explained the basic message of Shulchan Aruch.  Let us now analyze Shulchan Aruch’s law at a deeper level.  On a superficial level, the law presents a problem.  Shulchan Aruch is suggesting that we adopt practices during the Asseret Yemai Teshuva that we do not observe during the rest of year.  It seems that we are attempting to deceive Hashem.  We are portraying ourselves in a manner that is not reflective of our behavior during the rest of the year!


This question is based upon a misunderstanding of Shulchan Aruch’s law.  The question assumes that our scrupulous observance of halacha during the Asseret Yemai Teshuva is an attempt to demonstrate our righteousness. If this is the intent of Shulchan Aruch, our self-portrayal is indeed dishonest and inappropriate.


Rav Yitzchak Mirsky offers an alternative explanation of Shulchan Aruch’s law.  He begins with an analogy.  Imagine you are invited to the White House for a meeting with the President.  For this meeting, you would probably dress very carefully.  Perhaps, during the week you rarely wear a suit.  But for this important meeting you wear your finest outfit.  You meet with the President attired in your carefully selected clothing.  The President realizes that the clothing you are wearing is not your usual garb.  He knows that you have adapted your dress for the occasion.  There is no deception involved in your decision.  You are demonstrating your respect for the office of the presidency.


Rav Mirsky explains during the Asseret Yemai Teshuva the Almighty’s presence should be acutely felt.  We should feel the awe of Hashem’s closeness.  This is analogous to meeting with the President.  This sense of awe should inspire us to conduct ourselves in an exemplary manner.  This is not a deception.  Instead, it is an expression of respect for Hashem.[3]




“For the commandment that I have commanded you today is not too difficult for you.  Neither is it too distant from you.”  (Devarim 30:11)

“And you will return to Hashem your G-d and you will listen to His voice according to all that I have commanded you today – you and your children with all your heart and all your soul.”  (Devarim 30:2)

One of the 613 commandments is the mitzvah of repentance – teshuva.  Teshuva requires an evaluation of one’s behaviors and attitudes.  This evaluation is followed by a decision to change.  Teshuva is a very personal experience and an individual effort.  The Yamim Noraim – the High Holidays – center upon the theme of Teshuva.  Therefore, it interesting that so much of the activity of the Yamim Noraim takes place in a community or congregation.  We spend long hours in synagogue.  Many of the prayers we recite can only be recited in this public forum.  Even our confessions, supplications and prayers for forgiveness take place in this communal setting.  These are days that require personal introspection.  Why is so much of our time spent in a public setting?


The two passages quoted above provide an important insight into the mitzvah of Teshuva.  This insight will provide one response to our question.


In the first passage, Moshe admonishes the people regarding observance of a commandment.  Moshe assures the people that they can perform this commandment.  It is not too difficult or too complicated.  They have the ability.  To which commandment does Moshe refer? 


The commentaries offer various responses to this question.  Nachmanides suggests an answer based upon the surrounding context of the pasuk.  He explains that Moshe is referring to the mitzvah of teshuva.  He is assuring us that we have the ability to renew ourselves.  We can change.  Nachmanides contends that this passage is the source in the Torah for the mitzvah to teshuva.[4]


The second pasuk quoted above is from the same chapter of the Torah.  In this passage also, Moshe discusses teshuva.  In the passages preceding this pasuk Moshe predicts that the people will sin.  They will be expelled from the land of Israel and forced into exile.  In our pasuk, he assures Bnai Yisrael that they will ultimately repent.  Once the nation repents, Hashem will redeem His nation from exile.  Nachmanides contends that this second passage is also the source of the mitzvah of teshuva.[5]


This raises a question.  Every mitzvah is derived from a single passage in the Torah.  Other passages may amplify and add detail.  However, the basic command is derived from a single pasuk.  In Nachmanides’ comments he seems to ignore this principle. He identifies two separate passages as the source for the mitzvah of teshuva. 


Rav Ahron Soloveitchik suggests an answer to this question.  This answer involves two simple steps.  First, Rav Soloveitchik suggests that the citing of two sources suggests that there are two different commandments dealing with teshuva.  In other words, each passage is the source for a one of the two mitzvot of teshuva.


Second, Rav Soloveitchik defines these two separate mitzvot.  He explains that the first passage is directed to the individual.  This mitzvah of teshuva instructs the individual to repent.  The second passage addresses the nation.  It communicates another mitzvah of teshuva.  This second mitzvah is placed upon the community.  We are required to repent as a congregation.


In short, according to Nachmanides, there are two mitzvot of teshuva.  One is a commandment upon the individual to repent.  The second command admonishes the community to perform teshuva.[6]


This raises a new question.  How are these two mitzvot different?  Why are both needed?  Why are the community and the individual commanded to perform teshuva by two separate mitzvot?


Perhaps, the answer lies in again considering the context of these passages.  This second passage appears in the context of a prophecy.  The people will sin.  They will be exiled.  They will repent – as a community – and they will be redeemed.  The mitzvah of communal repentance is presented in the context of national redemption.  Teshuva is described as the method for restoring Bnai Yisrael.  This context reflects on the nature of the mitzvah.  The context explains the basis for the communal imperative to repent.  We must repent in order to restore Bnai Yisrael.  We cannot be redeemed from exile without returning to Hashem.


The Torah is telling us that we have a mission and destiny as Bnai Yisrael.  We are responsible for the fulfillment of this mission and destiny.  We must be redeemed.  We are responsible for our own redemption through the performance of teshuva.


Individual repentance is required for a very different set of reasons.  This second form of repentance is a response to our individual sins and imperfections.  The purpose of individual repentance is not national redemption.  Its objective is person and individual renewal and development.  We must seek to perfect ourselves.  We can only achieve this objective through ongoing, individual teshuva. 


We can now answer our original question.  Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur are devoted to teshuva.  However, there are two mitzvot of teshuva.  We are required to repent as individuals.  We are also commanded to repent as a community.  Therefore, the emphasis on community is appropriate.  We should be concerned with our personal repentance.  We must also be involved in the community’s repentance.

[1]   Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Maachalot Assurot 17:9.

[2]   Rav Yosef Karo, Shulchan Aruch,  Yoreh Dayah 112:1-2 and notes of Rav Moshe Isserles.

[3]   Rav Yitzchak Mirsky, Higyonai Halacha (Jerusalem 1997), volume 3, p. 23.

[4]   Rabbaynu Moshe ben Nachman (Ramban / Nachmanides), Commentary on Sefer Devarim 30:11.

[5]   Rabbaynu Moshe ben Nachman (Ramban / Nachmanides), Commentary on Sefer Devarim 30:2.

[6]    Rav Ahron Soloveitchik, Sefer Perach Mateh Ahron, (1997), volume 1, p 175.