We are familiar with the Halacha that when we immerse in a Mikva our bodies must be free of Chatzitzot (barriers between the water and our bodies, such as bandages), and our hands must be free of Chatzitzot during Netilat Yadayim. In this issue, we will examine the debate whether hands must be free of Chatzitzot during Netilat Lulav.
General Background Regarding Chatzitzot
The general rules regarding Chatzitzot are as follows: On a Torah level, something constitutes a Chatzitza only if it covers the entire body (in the context of Tevila) or the entire hand (in the context of Netilat Yadayim) and is something that most people would not want to remain on their bodies for a long period of time.
Chazal greatly expanded the parameters of what constitutes a Chatzitza. They decreed that even if the objectionable item is only on a minority of the hand it is considered a Chatzitza. They also decreed that even if the item is not objectionable it is viewed as a Chatzitza if it covers a majority of the hand. See the Rambam for a more detailed presentation of these rules (Hilchot Mikvaot 1:12).
It is often difficult to determine if something is objectionable (מקפיד עליו). Moreover, it is sometimes surprising to discover which items the Shulchan Aruch views as objectionable. For example, the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 198:10) states that a bandage on a wound constitutes a Chatzitza. Even though the person wants the bandage to be on his hand now, he will eventually want it to be removed (see Badei Hashulchan 198:87 for further discussion of this issue). Similarly, rings on one’s fingers are considered Chatzitzot because people remove their rings when working with messy things, such as dough (O.C. 161:3).
Chatzitzot and Netilat Lulav
The Gemara (Sukkah 37a) presents two disputes between Rabba and Rava regarding Chatzitzot in the context of Netilat Lulav. The Gemara records that Rabba instructed the people who assembled the Arba Minim not to place any decorative items on the part of the Lulav where one takes the Lulav. Otherwise, he explained, there would be a Chatzitza between one’s hand and the Lulav. Rava challenged this ruling, arguing that nothing that comes to beautify an item can constitute a Chatzitza.
The second dispute concerns placing a glove on one’s hands when taking the Lulav. Rabba ruled that it is not a proper taking of the Lulav, while Rava believes that it is a proper taking of the Lulav. Tosafot (s.v. D’b’ina) notes that the Gemara (Sukkah 42a) states that even Rava agrees that if the intervening item does not contribute to the dignity of the Netilat Lulav, then it is not a proper taking of the Lulav. The Gemara’s example of a barrier that detracts from the dignity of the Netilah is taking a Lulav that is encased in a container. The Halacha follows the opinion of Rava (Shulchan Aruch O.C. 551:7).
Rishonim – Tosafot vs. Ran
Two distinct explanations of this passage of the Gemara appear in the Rishonim. Tosafot (Sukkah 37a, s.v. Ki and s.v. D’b’ina) explains that the concern for Chatzitza in regard to Lulav is identical to the concern for Chatzitza in the context of Tevila and Netilat Yadayim. The Ran (18a in the pages of the Rif, s.v. Lo), on the other hand, draws a very delicate distinction. He explains that fundamentally there is no concern for Chatzitza regarding Netilat Lulav. Only when the Torah specifically indicates that there is concern for Chatzitza (such as regarding Tevila) must we be concerned with Chatzitza. The concern in the Gemara regarding Lulav is that the intervening items not impede the taking of the Lulav. Thus, if there is an intervening item that does not contribute to the dignity of the Netilat Lulav, then one is considered as if he did not properly take the Lulav.
Small Chatzitzot – Rama vs. Gra
The Gemara discusses large barriers that fully block the Netila, such as a Lulav encased in a container or a person wearing gloves while taking the Lulav. The Rama and the Vilna Gaon debate the question of small barriers such as rings and Band-Aids. The Rama (O.C. 551:7) records that although the practice is to remove Tefillin and rings before taking the Lulav, this is not necessary because the Tefillin and rings cover only a small portion of the hand.
The Vilna Gaon (Biur Hagra O.C. 551:7, s.v. V’nahagu) notes that the Rama is in accordance only with the Ran’s explanation of Sukkah 37a. The Ran believes that since Chatzitza is fundamentally not a concern regarding Lulav, only large barriers impede the act of taking the Lulav. Smaller items, such as rings, are not significant and do not impede the taking of the Lulav. However, according to Tosafot’s understanding of Sukkah 37a, the general rules of Chatzitza apply to the taking of a Lulav. The Vilna Gaon asserts that according to Tosafot, just as a ring constitutes a barrier regarding Tevila and Netilat Yadayim, so too it is considered a Chatzitza in regard to Netilat Lulav.
Accordingly, the Vilna Gaon rules that the removal of Tefillin and rings before Netilat Lulav is not merely a custom, but a required act. A ramification of this dispute is a case in which removing the Chatzitza creates difficulty (such as removing a Band-Aid that covers a recent wound). The Vilna Gaon would say that one must remove the Chatzitza as required by Halacha. The Rama might waive the practice to remove barriers in case of difficulty, as we sometimes say that a Minhag is not intended to apply in a case of difficulty.
Rav Soloveitchik’s Defense of the Rama
Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (as recorded by Rav Hershel Reichman, Reshimot Shiurim Sukkah 37a p. 176) defends the Rama from the criticism of the Vilna Gaon. The Rav seeks to demonstrate that the Rama’s ruling is in harmony with Tosafot’s understanding of Sukkah 37a. The Rav explains that a ring or bandage constitutes a Chatzitza only in regard to Tevila or Netilat Yadayim because the entire body or hand must come in contact with the water. However, the Halacha does not require that the entire hand take the Lulav. Thus, the section of the hand covered by the bandage may be ignored (דל מהכא) and does not constitute a Chatzitza.
Conclusion – Aruch Hashulchan vs. Mishna Berura
The dispute between the Rama and the Vilna Gaon has yet to be resolved. The Aruch Hashulchan (O.C. 551:20) rules in accordance with the Rama, while the Mishna Brura (551:36) rules in accordance with the Vilna Gaon. One should consult his Rav for a ruling on this matter.
Interestingly, the Rama indicates that it was common for men to wear rings. Indeed, Rav Chaim David Halevi, z”l, (the Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv who recently passed away) cites other sources that demonstrate that it was common for men to wear rings. Rav Halevi thus concludes (Teshuvot Aseh Lecha Rav 5:94) that there is no Halachic objection to a man wearing a wedding band. However, Rav Moshe Feinstein (Teshuvot Igrot Moshe Even Haezer 4:32:2) writes that although it is not forbidden, it might be inappropriate for a God-fearing individual to wear a wedding ring. Presumably, this is because it mimics the practice of married women to wear a wedding ring.