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Rabbi Yitzhak of Neshkiz (1789/90-1868) reported that when it came to Grace
After Meals, two of his predecessors adopted practices that were at odds with
each other. The two were both hassidic masters of considerable renown: Rabbi
Yisrael Hopsztajn of Kozhnitz (ca. 1737-1814) and Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of
Yitzhak was the youngest child of another
hassidic master, Rabbi Mordechai of Neshkiz (1742-1800). He spent time with some
of the great hassidic masters of his day. Young Yitzhak married Gittel, the
granddaughter of Rabbi Levi Yitzhak. During Rabbi Levi Yitzhak’s final four
years, the newly married couple lived in his home.
Thus, Rabbi Yitzhak of
Neshkiz was well-placed to observe hassidic practices. He shared what he
remembered with his student and the student duly recorded them for
The contentious issue concerned the cup of wine filled for the
recitation of Grace After Meals. One hassidic master made sure that the cup was
brimming with wine; the other purposefully did not fill his cup up to the rim,
allowing the cup to form a crown over the wine.
Alas, Rabbi Yitzhak of
Neshkiz could not remember who said what.
The issue itself is somewhat
surprising because it is difficult to find a reliable source for the opinion
that suggests that the cup should form a crown over the wine. The matter is
first discussed in the Talmud, where we are told that cups of wine used for
ritual purposes should have 10 features (B. Brachot 51a). One of those 10
features is ittur – a word that means crowning, but a requirement that is far
The Talmud offers two opinions as to the meaning of ittur.
According to one approach, ittur refers those present who sit around the person
reciting the blessing and thus form a crown. Another approach suggests that
ittur refers to other cups of wine that are filled and placed before the reciter
of the blessing. A variation on these two opinions appears in the commentary of
the Provencal scholar Rabbi Menahem Meiri (1249–ca. 1310). Meiri suggested that
ittur may refer to those present holding full cups of wine while the blessing is
Either way, ittur appears to be referring to something that is
not directly connected to the cup of wine being held by the one reciting the
The opinion that ittur means not filling the cup up to the
rim, appears in the commentators to the Shulhan Aruch. Rabbi David Halevi Segal
(the Taz, 1586-1667) mentions this opinion but quickly discards it, declaring
there is not one jurist who described ittur in this manner. Rabbi Avraham Abele
Gombiner (the Magen Avraham, ca. 1635-1682) explained that this opinion must be
an incorrect reading of ittur, because another one of the 10 features is that
the cup must be full! Despite the earnest discussion regarding the definition of
ittur, this requirement was not codified as obligatory.
Returning to the
recollection of Rabbi Yitzhak of Neshkiz – we have an ironic situation: a
hassidic master who is careful about ittur, though it is a requirement that is
not normative. Moreover, that master adopted the interpretation that the classic
commentators clearly rejected!
Be that as it may, which practice did Rabbi
Yitzhak of Neshkiz adopt?
His student related that as in other such cases, the
rabbi opted for maximum position compliance; meaning, he tried to adopt a course
that would satisfy as many halachic positions as possible. In this case it
sounds like a nigh impossible task to follow both hassidic masters: Rabbi
Yitzhak of Neshkiz would have to hold a brimming cup that was not filled to the
rim, to fill his cup up and leave it part empty!
So what did he do in order to
comply with both positions? The student recounted: Therefore our master of
blessed memory said, “In order to fulfill both of them, I hold the cup on a
slight angle, such that on one side it is filled to the rim, and on the other
side it is like the second opinion [with part of the cup empty].”The writer
is on the faculty of Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and is a rabbi in Tzur
Hadassah. He is currently a post-doctoral fellow in Bar-Ilan University’s
Faculty of Law.