All summaries below are done to the best of my abilities and are for the purpose of informing and not paskening. In all cases, a posek should be consulted.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Pidyon HaBen when the father is not Jewish - Igrot Moshe Yoreh Deah 1:195

In 1954, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Burstein of Kansas City asked Rav Moshe Feinstein about what to do in terms of pidyon haben for a child of a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father [a pidyon is based on פטר רחם, the opening of the womb, and thus it is the mother that is the critical aprent in this regard. See Bechorot 46a for more on this]. Rabbi Burstein had recommended that the maternal grandfather perform the pidyon haben, and Rav Moshe was inclined to agree with this ruling, as the grandfather could step in via the rules of זכייה, especially since the non-Jewish father is halachically insignificant in this case. Additionally, since there was a concern that the child would not do a pidyon for himself once he grew older, it was deemed best to do the ceremony now with the grandfather in lieu of the father. Rav Moshe went so far as to side with those who felt that the grandfather could do the pidyon with a bracha, and that the child would not need to re-redeem himself once he came of age.

Rav Moshe noted that, if possible, it would be best if the money used in the pidyon could technically be given to the child for the express purpose of the pidyon, as this would allow them to fulfill the view of the Shach.

With regard to the recitation of the bracha of שהחינו, Rav Moshe felt that one could follow the view of the Chatam Sofer and recite the bracha in this case (against the position of the Tzlach).

Monday, September 12, 2011

Taking Maaser from funds recovered from Nazis - Tzitz Eliezer 6:27

In 1957, Rav Waldenberg was asked whether one has to take ma'aser from reparations made or recovered from Germany as a result of their seeking to restore what the Nazis had forcibly taken from the Jews during the Holocaust. The questioner, Dr. Pinchas Wolf, assumed that no ma'aser needed to be taken, since the money or possessions that we being returned were actually the property of the recipient all along.

Rav Waldenberg argued that, in fact, the opposite would be true. Given the nature of the Nazi regime and the brutality with which they treated the Jews, with regard to their taking property from the Jews they would have the status of armed bandits. When a person has his money or other possessions taken from him by such individuals or gangs he is assumed to have יאוש, to have despaired of ever seeing that money again. Thus, if the money is ever returned to him it is considered to be not a return of the lost money, but rather a new infusion of funds that are thus subject to the laws of ma'aser.

Rav Waldenberg concludes by citing the Sefer HaChassidim, who discusses the important of giving ma'aser, and among the cases when one must give ma'aser he includes someone who finds a stolen object. Recovered funds or possessions that were taken by the Nazis certainly fall under the category of stolen objects that have been found (and whose owners have despaired of ever getting them back), and thus one should give ma'aser from these recovered funds.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Yichud - Ba'alah Ba'Ir - Tzitz Eliezer 6:40.4-5

In these two subsections of his essay on yichud, Rav Waldenberg focuses on the heter of בעלה בעיר, that there is no prohibition of yichud for a woman so long as her husband is present in the city.

In subsection four, his main concern is to assert the fact that there is indeed no prohibition of yichud under such circumstances - not only is there no punishment, but there is actually nothing prohibited about a woman being alone with a man so long as her husband is local.

In the section subsection, Rav Waldenberg pushes the limits of this leniency. What if a husband is in the city, but the woman is alone with a man somewhere other than her own house? If the leniency is based on the fact that the woman fears that her husband might come home at any moment and therefore she will not do anything illicit with the other man, then it would seem that this fear is absent in such a case and perhaps the leniency does not apply! This is in fact the view of the Chochmat Adam (among others).

However, Rav Waldenberg retorts that when Rambam mentions the idea of בעלה בעיר, he does not say that she fears her husband's return, but simply that she has a fear (more reverence than dread) of her husband. As such, one could posit that the mere presence of her husband in the city will serve as a restraining force on the woman even if she is not at home and her husband is unaware of her precise location. This view is put forward by the Sefer Yedei Eliyahu.

However, that position is then attacked from two sides. The Kol Eliyahu takes the predictable approach, reverting to our earlier statement that as long as the husband does not know where the woman is, her fear of him will be diminished and thus there should be a prohibition of yichud. The Chida comes from the opposite direction and says that since the Gemara simply says that we are lenient when the husband is in the city, it is not up to us to make distinctions within the details and thus there should be no prohibition in such a case. However, the Sefer Nishmat Kol Chai (Rav Chaim Palagi) retorts that since this leniency in the Gemara is stated with a reason for the leniency, that opens up room for us to make distinctions when warranted.

The Nishmat Kol Chai cites a position of the Radbaz that a woman can be in a yichud situation outside of her home so long as her husband in the city if that other location is a place of employment. In fact, this logic is the basis of allowing women to work in situations where they may encounter situations of yichud. While this would seem to support the lenient position stated above, in fact Rav Palagi claims that it works the other way - the only reason that such an arrangement is allowed is because the husband is aware of where the woman is and may even have occasion to show up at her place of employment during the day. However, if she were to be in an undisclosed location with another man, he would rule that to be forbidden. Rav Palagi concludes by stating that everyone agrees that yichud outside of the home would be forbidden.

Rav Waldenberg takes issue with Rav Palagi on two counts. First, he notes that it is not universally agreed that there is a prohibition in this situation. Second, with regard to the distinction of the Radbaz, he notes that perhaps when a woman is in a yichud situation with the permission of her husband she is more likely to do something inappropriate, since she assumes that since her husband is aware of where she is and approves of it, that she therefore does not worry that he will ever make an appearance. Ultimately, Rav Waldenberg that this issue seems to be stuck in a debate among the Gedolei Acharonim.

However, Rav Waldenberg goes even further than the Chochmat Adam. The Chochmat Adam writes that if the husband gives his wife permission to speak in private with another man, it would be forbidden for them to close the door. Rav Waldenberg claims that in such a situation that would actually increase the chances that the husband would show up to check things out, and thus perhaps there is still no prohibition of yichud under the rubric of בעלה בעיר. He cites the Dovev Meisharim who rules similarly, at least when livelihood is at stake.

The end of the teshuva raises as a possible point of proof a case of whether or not there is yichud in a succah, specifically with regard to having a chupah be there. Ultimately, Rav Waldenberg discounts such a case as having any bearing on our case since a new bride may not yet have a fully established fear of her husband, and thus the concept of בעלה בעיר might not be in full effect.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Yichud - One woman with two men - Tzitz Eliezer 6:40.3

In this section of his multi-part teshuva on yichud issues, Rav Waldenberg discusses the problem of yichud of one woman with two men. According to the Gemara in Kiddushin which serves as the basis for this entire discussion, one woman is allowed to be secluded with two men, althogh the Gemara then qualifies this by stating that this applies only if the individuals are צנועים, modest people. However, if they are considered to be פרוצים, lax in the sexual morals and behavior, then even a larger group would be problematic.


Rav Waldenberg's teshuva revolves around the basic point of who is considered to be a פרוץ and who is considered to be a צנוע. The initial problem stems from a statement of Rav in the Gemara who formulates a ridiculously high standard of who is considered to be a צנוע (using another אמוראas an example - the stories of that אמורא are found earlier in Masechet Kiddushin). Rambam basically codifies this view and rules that by his time no one could live up to that standard and thus everyone is considered a פרוץ.

However, Rav Waldenberg points out that most Rishonim did not accept this position of Rambam. Notable are the view of the Meiri, who opposes Rambam on the ground that it would invalidate everyone, and the view of Rashba, who writes that that rather than assume that everyone is a פרוץ, we should assume that everyone is fine unless known to be otherwise (and the statement of Rav in the Gemara should be seen as outlining simply a מדת חסידות). Rav Waldernberg further points out that Rambam may not in fact actually adopt the stringent view, as his statements elsewhere within הלכות איסורי ביאה seem to moderate that position.

In terms of who is considered to be a פרוץ for these matter, Rav Waldenberg rules that it is someone who is known to have violated issues of עריות in the past.

Rav Waldenberg concludes the teshuva with a discussion of whether or not having a child or the wife of one of the men present is sufficient to remove the yichud nature of the situation. He begins by noting that either condition is sufficient nowadays, regardless of whether or not the people are considered to be צנועים or פרוצים, on the logic that the presence of a child or a wife would prevent anything untoward from taking place. He proceeds from there to discuss several other details and contours of this aspect of the halacha.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Yichud with an Adopted Child - Tzitz Eliezer 6:40.21

In this subsection of a long essay on various yichud issues, Rav Eliezer Waldenberg deals with the question of whether or not there is a violation of yichud between a parent and their adopted child of the other gender. His initial reaction is to say that there should be a violation of yichud, even if the child does not know that he or she is adopted, since, at the end of the day, there is seclusion with a male and female who are not close biological relatives.

However, Rav Waldenberg then shifts gears and says that there are several angles by which such a situation can be permitted, particularly if the adoption took place before the child was old enough to be subject to a prohibtion of yichud. His first avenue for doing so is based on the Levush, who explains that the reason that a biological child can have yichud with a parent is because we are not worried about any sin occurring in such a situation. Similarly, rules Rav Waldenberg, in a case where the child has grown up relating to the adult as a parent, we assume that the feelings between them are those of a parent and child and that no untoward behavior will take place. He even extends this to allow them to hug and kiss as any other parent and child would.

On a related note, Rav Waldenberg borrows a logic from the case of a man with his menstruating wife. Even though she is classified as an ערוה, her husband can nevertheless be alone with her without a concern that they will have forbidden relations. The rationale given for this by the Chazon Ish is that they are used to each other (and thus presumably understand the boundaries and are capable of controlling themselves). So too in our case, says Rav Waldenberg, can we assume that the parent and adopted child are used to each other, specifically in the context of a parent-child relationship, and will not commit any illicit sexual act.

Rav Waldenberg then notes that the Yereim explains the permission to be secluded with one's menstruating wife as being a function of the rule that we do not make decrees on the community that people will not be able to uphold. Since it is not reasonable to expect spouses to live apart for 12 days each month, yichud with one's wife during her nidda period was not decreed. In our case as well, it would be well-nigh impossible for parents and children to have to find separate domiciles once the child reaches the relatively young age when yichud becomes an issue. Based on the Sefer Chikrei Lev, he notes that this would also be in violation of the spirit of דרכיה דרכי נועם- that the ways of the Torah are pleasant.

Rav Waldenberg concludes by adducing proofs from several stories of Sages who raised non-biological children from a young age and conducted themselves with them as they would with their own children. Finally, he notes that these leniencies are important in order to continue to encourage people to adopt those in need of it, rather than allow them to live unstable lives.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Yichud with an adopted child - Igrot Moshe Even HaEzer 4:64.2

As a rule, there is no prohibition of yichud (seclusion) with one's own children. However, what about an adopted child? Since the parents and children are not actually related by blood, is there is problem for a father and his adopted daughter to be alone together in a house? We will review Rav Moshe Feinstein's answer today, and follow soon with the more detailed analysis of the Tzitz Eliezer.

Rav Moshe begins by describing the general situation of adoption, noting that it is a wonderful thing for a couple to do to adopt an orphan, and that often times this is done because the couple themselves have been unsuccessful in having children and adoption gives them the opportunity to raise a Jewish child. He further notes that it is important to eventually let the children know that they are adopted so that they do not have problems later in life in terms of potentially marrying their biological relatives, and, as such, it is important to try to find out who their real parents are or were (assuming the child is Jewish from birth).

In terms of the yichud issue, Rav Moshe rules that it is not a problem. His primary prooftext is a Gemara in Sotah 43 that rules that an adopted daughter (or step-daughter) should not marry her step-siblings since even though they are not blood relations, it presents the appearance of siblings marrying one another. Based on this, Rav Moshe extrapolates that if the father would be careful to not have yichud with this daughter, it would "blow their cover" and make it clear that she was not actually related. As such, it must be that no prohibition of yichud is introduced in such a case.

Rav Moshe further notes that yichud is not a problem since the parent would not dare do anything untoward with the stepchild or adopted child, insofar as he or she fears his or her spouse finding out. As such, Rav Moshe cautions that if the parent of the same gender as the child passes away, then the remaining parent should try to avoid yichud situations going forward.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Raisinets and Tape Recorders - Igrot Moshe Orach Chaim 3:31

In a brief teshuva, Rav Moshe Feinstein tackles two unrelated issues. The first is the question of what bracha to make on chocolate covered raisins, insofar as both components are independently desirable and delicious. As such, Rav Moshe rules that one should make both a שהכל and a בורא פרי העץ. Since it is generally not possible to eat the raisin part independent of the chocolate, a person should have in mind not to include the raisin when he makes the bracha on the chocolate, or should make a בורא פרי העץ on some other fruit first.

The second issue dealt with is whether there is a problem of erasing Hashem's name when one erases a tape recoding that mentions the name. Since the name of Hashem is not actually written on the tape, there is no actual prohibition, but Rav Moshe cautions that others may think that we are taking a cavalier attitude towards God's name. However, if one can erase it in a more indirect manner [perhaps by taping over it?] then that would be preferable.