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Shabbat Parashat Acharei Mot 5774

Ask the Rabbi: Siyum Participation Via Skype

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: I will be in a small Jewish community in which there will not be a siyum on Erev Pesach. Is it permitted for me (a bechor) to eat based on a siyum in which I “participate” via Skype?


Answer: In the context of the halacha not to fast throughout Nisan, Massechet Sofrim (21:1) says that an exception is that bechorot fast on Erev Pesach. The Tur (Orach Chayim 470) and Shulchan Aruch (OC 470:1) cite this practice as normative, and the Tur explains that it is a remembrance of the miracle that the Jewish firstborns were saved in Egypt.

The idea that seudot mitzva cancel the fast is debated among the Acharonim. The Magen Avraham (ad loc.) does not even allow firstborn to eat at a brit mila; the Mishna Berura (ad loc. 10) reports that the minhag in his time was to allow eating at seudot mitzva, including a siyum. The idea that a siyum can play this role is found in the Rama (OC 551:10), who says that one can eat meat and drink wine at a siyum during the Nine Days.

In these contexts, there is room to distinguish between principals to a seudat mitzva, for whom the day is like a yom tov, and other participants. For example, a sandek can eat on the day of his parent’s yahrtzeit, but a simple participant in the brit may not (Mishna Berura 568:46). Similarly regarding ta’anit bechorot, those who do not allow firstborns to eat at another’s seudat mitzva are lenient regarding a mohel, sandek, and the father of the circumcised baby (Mishna Berura 470:10). Nevertheless, the minhag is to allow all participants to eat at a siyum.

The simple explanation is that their participation makes the celebration more special, thus heightening the ba’al hasimcha’s event. Therefore, participation in the ba’al hasimcha’s meal is the crucial thing. Indeed, some allow even one who missed the siyum to take part in the seudat mitzva (see Teshuvot V’hanhagot II:210). The following distinction would follow the same logical lines. The Minchat Yitzchak (VIII:45) says that when the Chavot Yair (70) allowed having a seudat mitzva the day after a night siyum, he was discussing only a seuda in which the one who made the siyum participates (see also Magen Avraham 568:10).

There is a gemara which is understood by some (see Az Nidberu XII:58) as turning the participants in the siyum into ba’alei simcha. The gemara in Shabbat (118b-119a) tells of those who were especially emotionally involved in the Torah successes of others, including one who would make a party for the rabbis when a young scholar finished a massechet. This implies that he was not just helping the learner celebrate, but that he felt the joy to initiate the party. The Minchat Yitzchak (IX:45) says that according to the latter approach (which he discourages relying upon but considers legitimate), it is not required for the participant to eat along with the main party.

It does not seem logical to consider one who “takes part” in a seudat mitzva via Skype as being a halachic participant, certainly not in regards to embellishing the simcha of the one who made the siyum. According to the approach that the observer has a right to celebrate his happiness, it is uncertain but at least plausible to say that witnessing the event via Skype is sufficiently significant.

Those who take a surprisingly lenient approach about siyum standards for ta’anit bechorot (including Az Nidberu and Teshuvot V’hanhagot ibid.; Yabia Omer, I, OC 26 is quite stringent) rely heavily on the following two factors. 1) The whole fast is a minhag. 2) For many people in our time, fasting would have a significant negative impact on the Seder. While not cancelling the minhag, some seem to lower the bar of who is included in the siyum to enable most anyone to eat. If one feels a need to rely on this approach, Skype participation can also be contemplated. If so, it is better to watch and celebrate as a group and/or to witness a siyum that brings true simcha (e.g., based on connection to the person or level of accomplishment).

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