“שאו את ראש כל עדת בני ישראל….כל זכר לגלגלתם”
Rashi explains that they were counted through the shekalim.
The Gemara in Yoma (22b) says אמר רבי יצחק אסור למנות את ישראל אפילו לדבר מצוה דכתיב “ויפקדם בבזק” – It is prohibited to count the Jewish people even for the purpose of a mitzvah. When שאול counted the men who went out to war, he did so through pieces of pottery.
The מהרש”א wonders why the Gemara does not bring a proof from פרשת כי תשא where everyone was counted only through the מחצית השקל. The מהרש”א explains that it is possible the מחצית השקל was not to permit the counting rather it was given as atonement. Therefore the Gemara has to bring a proof from שאול. Many poskim rule that never the less it is still a Torah prohibition. The רמב”ם (הלכות תמידין ומוספין פ”ד ה”ד) brings this הלכה. The (או”ח סימן קנ”ו) מגן אברהם as well rules אסור למנות את ישראל ואפילו אינו מכוין למנות רק להטיל גורל, אפילו לדבר מצוה, אלא מוציאין אצבעותיהם ומונין אצבעותיהם – even if the counting is done only to pick someone it is still prohibited. The count must be done by counting their fingers.
The Mishna in Yoma says that they would count the fingers of the כהנים to win the פייס – lottery. Why is this permitted? Reb Yisroel Mshklov explains that the prohibition is only when counting their heads. It is permissible however to count them by their hands. The שו”ת תורה לשמה as well says that they can be counted by their feet. The איסור is to count their body, and the feet are not included in the body.
The חתם סופר disagrees with R’ Yisroel Mshklov and the מגן אברהם. It is prohibited to count Klal Yisroel even by their fingers or feet. The reason why the כהנים were able to be counted by their fingers is because the counting is not מוכרח – it is not for sure that there are that many people there. The חתם סופר also says that even if the purpose is not to know how many people there are it is still אסור. As we see by the כהנים the purpose was not for a final number rather to win a גורל. The קיצור שו”ע (סימן ט”ו) does not bring the היתר of the מגן אברהם. Instead he brings the מנהג to count for a דבר מצוה using the passuk הושיעה את עמך which consists of ten words. There is another מנהג to count with the passuk ואני ברוב חסדך אבא ביתך which also has ten words.
The חתם סופר says that the איסור to count is even by writing. There is an opinion that it is אסור to count through מחשבה as well.
The Steipler is of the opinion that even if the final count is not exact it is still prohibited. The question then comes up if it is permissible to partake in the census in Eretz Yisroel? Even though many non-Jews live there it should still be אסור since it is prohibited to count even if the number is not exact.
Reb Moshe zt”l was asked if it is permissible to mark the tombstones with numbers to make it easier to locate them. Maybe it is a disgrace for the dead since they are being treated like houses that have addresses on them.
Reb Moshe’s writes that he does not remember anyone who discusses this question. However since there is a prohibition to count Klal Yisroel there would be a problem of לועג לרש – laughing at the מת. Since when he was alive it was prohibited to count him, now that he is no longer among the living you are basically telling him that he is not worth more than a piece of pottery.
Reb Moshe explains why it is different than the counting of the כהנים with their fingers. Even though they are each being counted, it may very well be that not every כהן stuck out his finger. The count may not be the total count of all the כהנים present. However when counting the graves it is a definitive count of all מתים. It is therefore prohibited because of לועג לרש.
The Chasam Sofer as well explains the difference between counting the people and counting the שקלים. Even though the Torah says העשיר לא ירבה והדל לא ימעיט ממחצית השקל there is no way to know for sure that the עשיר did not give more and the עני did not give less. We assume that everyone did what they were supposed to do. For this reason it is not considered as if Klal Yisroel was counted. When counting people however that is an exact count based on the people counted and that is prohibited.
Prepared by R’ Avrohom Yehoshua Ziskind
לעילוי נשמת אמי מורתי
מרת אלטא חיה רבקה בת ר’ אליהו שמואל ז”ל
נפטרה שב”ק ט’ סיון תשס”ז