This letter was addressed to R. A.

B”H, 22 Shvat, 5709

Greetings and blessings,

In response to your questions [sent] previously: my answer was delayed because of preoccupations. [I ask] your forgiveness for this.

Question: The Alter Rebbe’s Iggeres HaTeshuvah, ch. 3, states: [When undertaking a private fast,] “One may also eat a small amount in the three hours before sunrise.” You question [that license], since it is forbidden to eat before dawn,1 as stated in the Be’er Heitev to Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 581:12) based on the Zohar and the writings of the AriZal.

Reply: There are three rationales for the prohibition against eating before dawn:

a) the prohibition against eating before the morning prayers. This is based on our Sages’ interpretation (Berachos 10b) of the verse:2 “Do not eat over blood.” This is the subject of the statements of the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim, ch.89). The time for this prohibition begins when the time for prayer — dawn — arrives, but not before, as indicated by the Gemara, loc. cit., and as explicitly stated by the Shulchan Aruch of R. Yosef Caro (loc. cit.:5) and by the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch (89:5). Hence it is not relevant to the discussion in Iggeres HaTeshuvah.3

b) If one fasts during the day, then one may eat and drink until dawn. If, however, one slept for a significant time4 [at night], this is forbidden. This is the subject [of the ruling] of the Shulchan Aruch in ch. 564. If, however, before sleeping, one makes a stipulation [that he may eat upon arising], the opinion of most authorities — and this is the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch — is that it is permitted, even after sleep.

c) The prohibition stemming from adding power to the sitra achra (the forces of evil), as explained in the Zohar II (p. 215b).

With regard to the time of the prohibition, all authorities agree that this prohibition exists when the time for prayer has already arrived, as mentioned in (a) above. Similarly, all authorities agree that if one has not slept or one has slept less than 60 breaths,4 there is no prohibition before dawn. (This is reflected in the Zohar’s words which mention “tast[ing] the taste of death.”)

[There is, however, a difference of opinion] if one slept and rose from midnight onwards. There are authorities who main­tain that [eating] is forbidden even before dawn (Magen Avraham 89:14. [This view] derives support from R. Chayim Vital and Mishnas Chassidim, Maseches Chatzos, ch. 7; this is also stated in the commentary of Or HaChamah to the Zohar, loc. cit., in the name of R. Chayim Vital; see also Nitzutzei Oros, to the Zohar, loc. cit.). There are, however, authorities who maintain that it is permissible [to eat until dawn], for the time when this prohibition [begins] is, as stated in the Talmud,when the time for prayer arrives5 (the collection of responsa entitled Heishiv Moshe, Orach Chayim, Responsum 6. This view draws support from the statements in the Siddur HaAriZal by R. S. of Roshkov at the conclusion of Seder HaLimud BeAshmuros HaBoker which states that this was the practice of R. Chayim Vital, and what is stated in the name of Maharil and Rama in [the glosses to] the Shulchan Aruch, sec. 581, in contrast to what is stated there in the Be’er Heitev). [Moreover,] even those who [ordinarily] forbid [eating at this time] permit it if one does so for medical reasons, to improve one’s concentration, or the like (Nitzutzei Oros, loc. cit.; Be’er Heitev and Eshel Avraham to [Shulchan Aruch,] Orach Chayim, sec. 89, in the name of the Shev Yaakov and others).

In Iggeres HaTeshuvah, the Alter Rebbe explains that if a per­son makes a condition [that he can eat before dawn], the day can still be considered as a fast even though he eats while it is still night [after he has slept]. He does not say which approach he follows with regard to the prohibition mentioned by the Zohar. Nevertheless, even according to the authorities who [ordinarily] forbid [eating], there are situations where permis­sion is granted, as stated above. This is the focus of the statements in Iggeres HaTeshuvah.

Notes: a) With regard to the difference of opinion [whether one may eat before dawn], it would appear that one can infer that the Alter Rebbe’s opinion would be to permit it. [To explain:] Although in his Shulchan Aruch, sec. 89:5, [the Alter Rebbe] quotes the Magen Avraham’s opinion which refers to eating [before prayer] as an expression of arrogance, he does not quote the Magen Avraham’s statement that it is forbidden to eat from midnight onwards. [Nevertheless,] the comparison is not entirely exact, for this is a totally new law.

b) It is necessary to investigate why Iggeres HaTeshuvah men­tions the need to stop [eating] three hours before dawn.6 This is not the place [for further discussion of the issue].

The Eshel Avraham by R. Avraham of Butshatch, Mahadura Tinyona, Orach Chayim, ch. 89, [rules more stringently and] holds that it is forbidden to eat before dawn only when one will remain awake until the time for prayer comes. This is not the case should one go back to sleep before dawn.

* * *

[Question:] Is it possible to find a source for the custom [practiced by] the Sephardic community in Brooklyn to recite the psalm Mizmor Shir LeYom HaShabbos twice on Friday night?

Reply: This is also the custom in the synagogues Tzilachah U’Mazal and Kahal Chassidim Beis E‑l in Jerusalem and the synagogue of the Maharal of Prague. (See what is written concerning this in the publication entitled Neiros Shabbos which is printed in Eretz Yisrael, Kuntreisim 73-74. There reference is also made to the text Eretz Chayim by R. Chayim Citron {Jerusalem, 5668}. This text is not in my possession.)

The rationale for this practice and its connection to Sephar­dim can be explained as follows: In Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 261:[4], R. Yosef [Caro] rules that the recitation of this psalm reflects one’s acceptance of tosafos Shabbos.7 In these countries,8 however, we [continue] performing work even afterwards. The rationale is that when the recitation of this psalm was instituted, [the people] did not have the intent to accept Shabbos at that time, but rather [to accept it] with the recitation of Barchu (see the commentaries to the Shulchan Aruch, loc. cit., and [the statements in] the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch). The Sephardim who, by contrast, desire to follow the approach of R. Yosef [Caro], seek to maintain his custom in this regard as well. Since the custom of performing work after saying this psalm became common in certain synagogues, they established the custom of reciting [the psalm] a second time specifically to prohibit the performance of work [after that recitation].

Note: It is well known that according to the writings of the AriZal (Shaar HaKavanos; Mishnas Chassidim, and the Siddur HaAriZal by R. S. of Roshkov), the psalms from Mizmor LeDavid until le’orech yamim9 should be recited [twice]: once in the field10 and once inside.

With wishes for everlasting good in all matters,

Rabbi Menachem Schneerson