Rav Asher Sabag
Former Shaliach in Chicago (2003-4)
After the Churban (the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash), Chazal proclaimed that one who sees arei Yehudah (the cities of Yehudah), Yerushalayim, and the Beit HaMikdash must tear kriah (i.e. rend one’s garment in mourning):
“R’ Elazar said, ‘One who beholds arei Yehudah in a desolate state says: “Your holy cities have become a wilderness,” and tears kriah. [One who beholds] Yerushalayim in a desolate state says: “Tzion has become a wilderness; Yerushalayim a wasteland,” and tears kriah. [One who beholds] the Beit HaMikdash in a desolate state says: “The house of our holiness and our splendor, where our fathers praised You, is burnt with fire, and all our precious things have become a ruin,” and tearskriah. He tears kriah over the Mikdash and adds for Yerushalayim.’” (BT Moed Katan 26a)
L’halachah, the Shulchan Aruch (561:1-3) rules that one who has not seen the aforementioned places within thirty days must tear kriah when he does see them.
Today, the poskim disagree about kriah. Some hold that it is no longer necessary, because we have Jewish sovereignty overEretz Yisrael. However, others feel that the requirement still stands.
Our question concerns those who insist that kriah still applies: If a person beholds arei Yehudah, Yerushalayim, or Har HaBayit from an airplane, must he tear kriah? And if so, does the distance matter? Although practically speaking, Har HaBayit is not usually visible from a passenger plane, Yerushalayim and arei Yehudah can be seen quite well. Furthermore, at low altitudes (i.e. in a helicopter, etc.), Har HaBayit can be seen as well.
The Gemara (ibid) presents us with a halachic criterion for kriah:
“When one has arrived at Tzofim (literally, the lookouts), he tears kriah, and he rends for the Mikdash by itself and for Yerushalayim by itself.”
The Rishonim disagree as to the meaning of “Tzofim”.
Tzofim denotes proximity:
Although Rashi does not define Tzofim here, he does so elsewhere:
- “A place from where Har HaBayit can be seen, and from there and onwards, it can no longer be seen.” (BT Brachot 61b)
- “The name of a village from where one can see the Beit HaMikdash.” (BT Pesachim 49a)
- “A place from where one can see the capital, and from there and onwards, one can no longer see it.” (BT Pesachim 81b)
Tosafot (BT Pesachim 49a) understand Rashi as referring to a specific place, which represents a fixed distance from Yerushalayim.
The Beit Yosef rules accordingly:
“And it seems to be that it should have said that if one who sees the Beit HaMikdash or Yerushalayim before reaching Tzofim, this is not considered to be seeing, because it is the distance of the place. And when one arrives in Tzofim, this is considered to be seeing, and the implication is that this is the din with respect to arei Yehudah – that one does not tear kriah for them until one is as near to them as the distance from Tzofim to Yerushalayim.”
According to the Beit Yosef, “beholding” is not sufficient for kriah; proximity is an additional necessary condition for kriah. Even if one can see Yerushalayim, one may not tear kriah until one is close enough, and one who tears kriah from afar has not fulfilled his obligation.
Tzofim denotes visibility:
Tosafot disagree with Rashi’s interpretation and explain that “Tzofim” refers to:
“Any place around Yerushalayim from where it can be seen.” (BT Pesachim 61a)
In other words, proximity is irrelevant. As long as one can see Yerushalayim or the Beit HaMikdash – even if one is very far away – one may tear kriah, and one thereby fulfills one’s obligation.
Both R’ Yonah (at the end of Brachot) and the Kaftor VaPerach (as cited by the Tosfot Yom Tov) concur with this interpretation.
The Tosfot Yom Tov (Pesachim 3:7) opines that Tosafot misunderstood Rashi. According to the Tosfot Yom Tov, Rashi does not hold that Tzofim is a specific place. Rather, Rashi brings an example of a location from where Yerushalayim can be seen. Thus, by extension, Tzofim refers to any place – no matter how far away – from where Yerushalayim is visible. In fact, the Tosfot Yom Tov insists that Rashi and Tosafot actually agree with each other.
Rashi’s first and third statements (see above) seem to support the Tosfot Yom Tov’s view.
Tzofim is a demarcation:
The Gemara (BT Moed Katan 26a) cites a second Braita which seems to contradict the aforementioned Braita:
“Both one who hears and one who sees – if he has arrived in Tzofim, he tears kriah…”
The Bach distinguishes between one who only hears and one who sees. One who hears does not tear kriah until arriving in Tzofim, but one who sees – tears kriah even from afar.
Moreover, the Bach continues, this explains why neither the Rif nor the Rosh say that one must tear kriah upon arriving in Tzofim. After all, one may tear when one is further away – as long as one is able to see Yerushalayim.
In addition, the Bach notes that the Rambam concurs that one fulfills one’s obligation if one tears kriah before reaching Tzofim. However, the Rambam feels that one is not strictly required to do so until one has reached Tzofim:
“One who beholds arei Yehudah in a desolate state says, ‘Your holy cities have become a wilderness,’ (Yeshaya 64:9) and tears kriah. [One who] beholds Yerushalayim in a desolate state says: ‘The house of our holiness and our splendor…,’ (Yeshaya 64:10) and tears kriah. And from where must he tear kriah? From Tzofim. And when he reaches the Mikdash, he tears a separate kriah. And if he encounters the Mikdash first, when he arrives via the desert, he tears kriah over theMikdash and adds for Yerushalayim.” (Hilchot Taaniyot 16)
The Bach observes that his ruling is based on Rashi’s interpretation of “Tzofim” (as understood by Tosafot) rather than on Tosafot’s opinion that one must tear kriah wherever Yerushalayim is visible – and not just from Tzofim.
The halachic ruling:
Our question depends on this machloket.
According to the Beit Yosef and the Rama, one should not tear kriah from an airplane – even if one sees the aforementioned places – because one is too far away. However, according to Rishonim such as Tosafot and R’ Yonah and Achronim such as the Tosfot Yom Tov, one must tear kriah in airplane if one sees these places. Meanwhile, according to the Bach, one may tear kriah when these places come into view, but one is not required to do so until one reaches a distance equivalent to Tzofim.
The Shulchan Aruch (561) does not refer to this din, but the Rama rules according to the Beit Yosef – namely, that Tzofim is a measure of distance and that one is only obligated to tear kriah when beholding arei Yehudah etc. from such a distance.
The Mishneh Brurah writes that some poskim disagree with the Beit Yosef and feel that Tzofim refers to any place from which Yerushalayim can be seen. In addition, he cites the Bach to the effect that one must tear kriah upon reaching Tzofim – even if Yerushalayim is not visible. Finally, the Mishneh Brurah adds that l’chatchilah – according to the Eliyah Rabbah – one should wait until one has reached Tzofim.
We should note that another factor is kavod habriyot (loosely, having consideration for others). In other words, we must consider what the other passengers would think if a person were to tear kriah on an airplane. And as we know, Chazal permitted issurei d’rabbanan (rabbinic prohibitions) because of kavod habriyot.
Therefore, based on all of the above, we can say that one who usually tears kriah when arei Yehudah and Yerushalayim are visible should rely on the more lenient opinions while on an airplane.