Oz Torah: Gambling – Ask the Rabbi

GAMBLING.

Q.  Is there any religious problem with Jews gambling?

A.  An occasional lottery ticket or card game is no problem, but the professional or compulsive gambler is severely frowned on in Jewish law.

The Mishnah (Sanhedrin 3:3) disqualifies the dice-player – “m’sachek b’kuvya” – from being a witness in a Jewish court of law if “ein lo ummanut ella hu” – he has no other occupation.

Such a person, it is said, makes no constructive contribution to society; he places his family’s stability in jeopardy and risks becoming a charge on the community; and if he habitually takes a gamble, he will take a gamble with the truth too and cannot be trusted.

In his “Jewish Life in the Middle Ages”, Israel Abrahams describes the problems caused by gambling in the medieval period, and there is also an object lesson in the case of Leon de Modena, the 17th-century rabbi with a passion for card-playing and gambling who repeatedly tried to give up his addiction which left him penniless.

THE MATZAH MACHINES.

Matzah was always made by hand until matzah-making machines began in the mid-19th century.

The machines kneaded, rolled and perforated the dough, allowing the sheets to be moved into the ovens for baking.

The best shape for working with the machines was square, as opposed to the round shape that was common until then.

This avoided some of the major questions of round matzot. When shaping the dough into rounds, the corners were cut off and sometimes gathered together, re-worked and used for further round sheets of matzah.

Shmura matzo

Dealing with the corners took time, and this sometimes transgressed the strict rules about the time limits between mixing the flour and water and putting the sheets in the oven.

With square matzot this problem was evaded or at least reduced.

Nonetheless Rabbi Salomon Kluger of Brody decided against machine-made matzah. One of his fears was that the machines would take away the traditional requirement that matzah was to be made with the mental intention of its use for the festival. Could a machine be relied upon to have a mind and an intention?

Rabbi Saul Nathanson of Lemberg championed the cause of the machines, averring inter alia that the speed of the new machines made it likelier that the time constraints set by tradition could be kept.

The battle raged for decades and there are still many who prefer their matzot made by hand.

A MONTH OR A FORTNIGHT?

Q.  When does the pre-Pesach avoidance of eating matzah begin?

A.  Rabbi Moshe Feinstein discusses the issue in Ig’rot Moshe, Orach Chayyim 1:155.

The generally accepted rule is to begin asking Pesach questions 30 days before the festival. But to make things easier, some said “from Rosh Chodesh Nisan”, i.e. two weeks before.

The avoidance of eating matzah before the festival follows the lenient view.

Note that not eating matzah in advance (except for Erev Pesach) is a custom, not a strict law.

Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem. Rabbi Apple blogs at http://www.oztorah.com

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