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, December 27, 2010

More on Artificial Insemination (l'chumra) - Rav Yaakov Epstein - Techumin 24

In this article published right after that of Rabbi Ralbag, Rav Yaakov Epstein comes out against the lenient ruling regarding children born to single women who have been artificially inseminated.

Rav Epstein approaches this issue mainly through the perspective of the issue of שתוקי, and he main conclusion from his analysis of this issue is that a שתוקי is generally dealt with strictly, and is considered to be at best a ספק ממזר, and that a child whose father is not known due to AI almost definitely falls into this category.

With regard to the notion that a woman who goes to a hospital to be artificially inseminated is dealt with as if the case is one of כל דפריש מרובא פריש, Rav Epstein raises a doubt as to whether this is really the case. He notes that in order to invoke פריש we rely on the idea that the semen is no longer connected to its donor. However, since the woman does come to an established location (the hospital), there may be room to say that she is really entering into a case of כל קבוע כמחצה על מחצה דמי. Even if this is not a true case of קבוע, and even if it thus falls into the פריש realm, since we are dealing with a case of ספק ממזר we are going to be strict.

Another line of leniency would be to allow the doctor to testify that the donor is someone who would not render the child a ממזר. However, Rav Epstein notes that this is nearly impossible for a number of reasons. First, sperm banks rely on the anonymity of the donors, and thus the doctors are unlikely to be able to make such a statement (and they would need to know not only the identity of the donor, but also be able to confirm that the semen implanted in the woman definitely came from that donor and that the woman had not received any other semen). Furthermore, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ruled in such a case that there are at least two problems that would remain - the suspicion of זנות on the part of the woman [ed. - would this change if such procedures become more common?] and the fact that since the semen is obtained via הוצאת זרע לבטלה that this would somehow convey a bad influence on the child that would be born as a result. Finally, Rav Epstein notes that given the various halachic implications of fatherhood, there is a necessity for a fairly high level of נאמנות in establishing paternity, and such a level is virtually impossible in this case.

Finally, Rav Epstein notes the position of Rav Moshe Feinstein which claims that the status of ממזר can only be conferred via intercourse and not through AI. He rejects this position, noting that most other poskim do not follow this view.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Artificial Insemination - Rav Mordechai Ralbag - Techumin 24

In this article in Techumin volume 24, Rav Mordechai Ralbag (a חבר בית דין in Yerushalayim) discusses the issue of a single woman who is artificially inseminated (AI) and the status of the child. At the outset, he notes that he is not endorsing the practice, but rather is discussing what happens with the child assuming that a woman has proceeded with said procedure.

Rabbi Ralbag begins by assuming that the most common case of AI is with a married couple who is having fertility issues. He notes that although there is some discussion on the issue, most poskim allow the husband to make his semen available for such a procedure, without worrying about השחתת זרע לבטלה, as there is a clear purpose in this case. However, everyone agrees that so long as the woman is married there is no permission given for another man to donate his semen. There are various reasons given for this prohibition - ranging from an איסור דאורייתא to a range of concerns that will develop down the road to a visceral distaste - but the agreement on the basic law stands.

In terms of the status of the child in such a case, if the donor is not Jewish then the child is fine, as the law is that a non-Jewish man who impregnates a Jewish woman produces a child whose halachic status is clear. If the donor is a Jew, then there is a debate as to whether or not the child has the status of a ממזר.

When it comes to the case of a sperm bank, how are we to deal with the identification of the donor, assuming that the bank keeps such information private? Outside of Israel, we can assume that most donors are not Jewish, and thus certainly for a single girl there will be no problem, since Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Yaakov Breisch have already established that we can follow the majority. If the woman is married, then things are more complicated, since what happens if the donor was in fact a Jew? Rabbi Ralbag invokes the rules of כל דפריש מרובא פריש - that since the woman goes to the hospital to be impregnated, then the sperm is considered to be separated from its source, it which case we can assume that it was derived from the majority, which in the case of חוץ לארץ means that it came from a non-Jew.

Based on an argument about the difference between שתוקי and אסופי, Rabbi Ralbag posits three possible views for our case, where the identity of the mother is known but that of the father is not:

1) According to the Maharit, the child is considered a שתוקי since even the mother does not know the identity of the father, and thus the child is a ספק ממזר.

2) According to the Noda BiYehuda, the child is considered to be an אסופי who has a sign on him (namely that his mother is protecting him). Thus, there is no ספק on the mother, and the ספק on the child is lifted by the fact that the child is considered to be פריש and thus is כשר.

3) According to the Yeshuot Yaakov and the Beit Meir, it is possible that there is no problem at all, since, based on a Gemara in Sotah, we learn that זנות is only an issue when there is actual intercourse, which did not take place in the case of AI. As such, it could be that the child is complete כשר. On the other hand, it is possible that since we know that the single mother became pregnant without know who the father is that the child will be deemed a שתוקי.

Rabbi Ralbag brings his analysis to an end by citing the view of Rav Moshe Feinstein (cited earlier on this blog) that ממזרות can only be contracted via an actual act of intercourse, and since there is none in this case, the child will be fine even if the father is himself a ממזר.

In his conclusion, Rabbi Ralbag brings support from both Rav Shalom Messas (Rav of Yerushalayim) and Rav Zalman Nechemiah Goldberg, that his analysis is correct and that if a single woman does receive AI, even though it is not advised at the outset, nevertheless the child will be deemed כשר and acceptable to marry another Jew without question.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Maintaining a Minyan - Igrot Moshe Orach Chayim 3:16

In memory of my grandfather, Walter Rosenthal a"h, whose 9th yahrtzeit is this evening, the 16th of Tevet. He was described by his Rabbi at his funeral as a "shul Jew," always committed to ensuring that he did everything that he could for his out-of-town congregation.

Rav Moshe Feinstein was asked about a shul that was having trouble with its weekday minyan. Apparently, the time of the minyan was too early for some of the people who belonged to the shul, and they wanted to daven elsewhere. However, this put the daily minyan in jeopardy and thus the question was whether the minyan should be abandoned or whether people should be pushed to help make the minyan.

Rav Moshe ruled that since this shul had a permanent minyan, it was incumbent upon the members of the community to keep it going. Even if some of the people chose to daven instead in a nearby Beit Midrash, which may be a preferable location for davening (although perhaps only for people who spend their day learning there), there should at least be enough people who make sure that the shul in question is able to maintain their daily minyan, insofar as it was well-established and constant. However, Rav Moshe notes that the Beit Midrash should be assured of a minyan as well, and if the davening time of the shul is too early for people, then a rotation should be set up so that no one has to overextend themselves every day.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Divorcing a Barren Woman - Meishiv Davar 4:8

A case was brought to the Netziv concerning a man whose wife had not given birth and was now past her childbearing years. While we have a tradition that Sarah gave Hagar to Avraham ten years after they entered Israel and still did not have children, and that this is a template for how long a couple should try having children before the man is to look elsewhere, we also now have to contend with the חרמות דרבינו גרשום which prohibit both polygamy and forced divorce. In this case, the woman refused to accept a get, and thus the question arose as to whether the man had any hope of ever having children.

The Netziv ruled that this was a clear-cut case where the man was entitled to make use of the היתר מאה רבנים, under which he could divorce his wife or at least take on another wife provided that he obtained the signatures of 100 Rabbis from at least three distinct communities. He notes that since the woman has not done anything wrong, the היתר מאה רבנים will allow the man to take on a second wife, and at whatever time that the first wife agrees to accept a get she will receive the full compensation for her ketubah.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tallit and Tefillin before sunrise - Igrot Moshe Orach Chayim 4:7

There is an earliest time when one can put on tallit and tefillin - generally between 40 minutes and an hour before sunrise, depending on which posek one follows. What does one do if he has to daven much earlier than sunrise to the extent where he has to put on his tallit and tefillin before he is obligated to do so? This question is quite pertinent right now, as sunrise in Bergen County (where this blog is written) is well after 7am, and thus minyanim that begin closer to 6am begin before most poskim feel there is an obligation for tallit and tefillin.

Rav Moshe Feinstein felt that such a situation is comparable to a case of a person who gets tallit and tefillin in the middle of davening. In that case, the individual should put them on and make the bracha after ישתבח but before קדיש. In this case, since one has the tallit and tefillin from the start but is simply not yet obligated to wear them and, by extension, should not make the bracha, the person is allowed to put them on right away, but should wait until after ישתבח then pause and make the bracha.

There are those who say that in this case one should move his tallit and tefillin around before making the bracha so as to create circumstances as if he is newly putting them on at that time. This would be done to fulfill the requirement of עובר לעשייתן - that brachot made on mitzvot have to be made before the mitzva is performed. Rav Moshe felt that such movement was not necessary for the purposes of the bracha, and that the עובר לעשייתן requirement was fulfilled with the continued performance of the mitzva after the bracha is made. However, he does encourage one to move around his tallit and tefillin when he makes the bracha as a recognition of the mitzva that he is now making a bracha on.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Taking off a Kippa - Igrot Moshe Yoreh Deah 3:2

In a teshuva from 1974, Rav Moshe was asked about whether it would be permitted for a person to remove his kippa in a business situation if keeping it on would cost him financially.

Rav Moshe replied that according to virtually all poskim wearing a kippa is a מידת חסידות, and even though it has been widely accepted by Jews it nevertheless takes a back seat in the face of potential financial loss, which qualifies as אונס. The one possible difficulty is the view of the Taz, who raises the possibility that not wearing a kippa would be considered חוקות הגוים. However, Rav Moshe rejects this view based on the fact that nowadays, a man walking around with a bare head is considered de rigeur from a fashion standpoint and is not done for any ritual purposes. As such, a Jew walking around with a bare head would not be considered to be conforming to any specifically non-Jewish practice, and when money is on the line he should remove his kippa rather than risk his income.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Kaddish before burial - Igrot Moshe Yoreh Deah 3:160.3

My grandmother passed away on the Friday of Thanksgiving weekend and was not buried until Sunday. Should kaddish have been said already over Shabbat, even though aveilut does not begin until burial?

This question was addressed by Rav Moshe Feinstein in a teshuva written in 1981. In the teshuva, Rav Moshe notes that this is subject to a debate between the Taz and the Shach, with the former ruling that kaddish should be said and the latter (in the Nekudat HaKesef) writing that there is no need to say kaddish. The Shach explains his reason by noting that ther purpose of kaddish is to help the soul of the deceased be saved from gehinom, and since that is not even a possibility until burial, there is thus no reason for kaddish to be said.

Rav Moshe supplies a reason for the Taz's viewpoint that kaddish should be said. While there is no issue of gehinom until burial, there is still the issue of the deceased being judged in the heavenly court, and kaddish can certainly serve as a merit in that judgement even before the body has been interred. Rav Moshe feels that even the Shach would see merit in this rationale.

While the Avodat HaGershuni comes out squarely against saying kaddish at all before burial, Rav Moshe notes that the Gesher HaChayim of Rav Yechiel Michel Tuketchinsky (the authoritative source for the laws of mourning) sides with the Taz, and Rav Moshe seems inclined to do so as well.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Chanukah Issues - Igrot Moshe Orach Chayim 4

In a quick paragraph at the end of teshuva #101 in this volume, Rav Moshe states that his preferred candle lighting time is 10 minutes after the beginning of sunset (what we would call 10 minutes after שקיעת החמה). He notes that if a person lights that such a time he will need sufficient oil to last for about an hour, as the candles have to remain lit until half an hour beyond dark.

In the final section of teshuva #105 in the same volume, Rav Moshe discusses whether or not a person should light candles in a place where there will be no פירסומי ניסא (publicizing of the miracle). He notes that publicizing the miracle to non-Jews only does not count, and thus what should a person do if he is alone somewhere. Even further, the halacha is that a person who is travelling and is unable to light can rely on his wife's lighting at home in order to fulfill his own obligation - what if the individual can rely on his wife but also has the capability of lighting?

Rav Moshe rules that in such a case an individual should light for himself, even if he will be the only person to see the candles. Even further, such an individual should light with a bracha, as the need to publicize the miracle, crucial as it is, does not hold up the performance of the mitzva. As such, someone who arrives home very late at night when his entire family is sleeping should nevertheless light with a bracha, as doing so will publicize the miracle at least for himself.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Chanukah Question - Looking for an Answer

We hold that Chanukah candles have to remain lit for half an hour, and that at the time of lighting there must be enough oil or wax to last for half an hour under the conditions present at the time of lighting. In other words, if they are lit in a place where there is a wind that is likely to blow them out, then the lighting is not considered to be valid.

I have always thought it problematic for a family that lights several chanukiyot to use those small, colorful candles on the later nights of Chanukah. Since most people place their chanukiyot in close proximity to one another, the amount of heat generated by upwards of 40 candles causes the candles to burn faster than usual, and since under optimal conditions those candles only last half an hour, it would seem that this is tantamount to placing the candles in a windy spot where they are sure to not last the required minimum time.

I have finally found one source to back up this idea. In a book called מקראי קודש, by Rabbi Moshe Harari of Mercaz HaRav (published in 1996), he cites on page 65 a conversation with Rav Mordechai Eliyahu who specifically advises against having these candles too close to one another, as that will hasten their burn-down time. Has anyone seen another source for this idea?

Difficult Chanukah Situations - Igrot Moshe Yoreh Deah 3:15.5

In this brief section of a multi-part teshuva, Rav Moshe Feinstein deals with cases of people whose main domicile is not easily discerned insofar as it concerns where they should light Chanukah candles.

In terms of students living in a Yeshiva dorm, Rav Moshe rules that they should light in their rooms, where they at least have some sense of ownership, and not in the main dining room or other common area of the Yeshiva. As leaving the candles alone would constitute a fire hazard, the students within any one room should have a lottery to decide who has to stay in the room with the candles each night.

In terms of someone who is camping and thus away from home or who is travelling through the night, Rav Moshe indicates that such a person is exempt from lighting candles.

If someone is going out for dinner, such as for a family get-together, but will return home later that night, Rav Moshe is concerned that people will see him return home and suspect that he did not light if he lights in his host's home. Thus, such a person should either light at home before he leaves or come home while people are still out and about and light and home after the party.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Kashrut of Turkey - Meishiv Davar YD 22

In this teshuva from 1884, the Netziv deals with the question of the kashrut status of a bird that had been thought to be some type of a goose, but upon further inspection was sufficiently different in its physical characteristics that it was supposed that it could be an entirely different species. Since birds require a mesorah in order to be declared acceptable to eat, this bird would potentially be deemed non-kosher if it would be found to be a new species altogether. Further complicating the picture is the fact that people had been eating this bird on the assumption that it was essentially a goose, and only now did someone come forward with this question.

The Neztiv begins by noting that unlike other "new" birds which possessed the signs of a kosher bird mentioned in the mishna in Chullin 60 and which had the testimony of someone that it was eaten by Jews elsewhere, the bird in question here was significantly different from other kosher birds, and was not known to be eaten elsewhere. He then mentions the hybridization test, which is mentioned in the Gemara in Bechorot 7 and which claims that kosher and non-kosher species cannot produce live young. Thus, if two different animals can produce children, and one is known to be kosher, then the other one should be kosher as well. While the Netziv feels that this rule may not be 100 percent accurate, he does qualify it by saying that if a bird from one species will mate with a bird from another one in the presence of birds of his own species then that is an indication that they are all of the same species.

However, the Netziv concludes that this is all academic, and would only be relevant if the question had been brought before people had begun eating this bird. However, once the bird has been eaten on a regular basis, only proof that it is not kosher (such as proof that it is a predator) would disqualify it from being an acceptable bird to eat.

[While it is not clear what bird the Netziv is discussing, this issue is one of the key issues involved in the eating of turkey, which, as a New World bird lacked a mesorah for its kashrut status, but which was ultimately subsumed under the mesorah of chickens, ducks, and geese - and once it gained acceptance it never lost it.]

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

More on Artificial Insemination - Igrot Moshe Even HaEzer 1:71 and 4:32.5

In 1959, Rav Moshe Feinstein was asked about a married woman who was having trouble becoming pregnant from her husband and was considering artificial insemination. Apparently, there was a practice known as adding a "booster," which would be some semen from the husband added to that of the (anonymous) donor. According to Rav Moshe Dovid Tendler (Rav Feinstein's son-in-law and a physician as well as a Rav), the booster was merely a ruse to calm the husband and to make him feel that the child was at least in part his.

Several issues come out of this point. First, Rav Moshe writes that any artificial insemination should use a non-Jewish donor, as that will pre-empt any potential issues of the child one day marrying a relative, since he will not be halachically related to his unknown father's family. Second, if the woman is concerned that her husband's fertility issues (in this case taken to be low sperm count) will heal in the next few months, then she should not be intimate with her husband during the next three months so as to confirm that the child belongs to the donor.

Rav Moshe also notes that if the identity of the donor is not known at all then it can be assumed in America to be that of a non-Jew, since most of the population is non-Jewish and since the way in which the semen is obtained is against halacha and thus it is unlikely to be from a Jewish donor.

Rav Moshe rejects the view that being artificially inseminated is tantamount to promiscuity, but he does note that it should be done with the consent of the husband since if the woman does become pregnant that will place burdens on the husband both financially, emotionally, and will limit his ability to be intimate with his wife.

In the final paragraphs of the teshuva Rav Moshe discusses a situation where the husband's issue is more that his strength is such that he cannot impregnate his wife, although his semen can if it could be made to reach the ova. In such a case the question becomes whether it is permissible for the husband to become his wife's artificial donor. In addressing this, Rav Moshe discusses some of the methods by which the semen is obtained from the donor (I am not going to get specific, although the teshuva does), and he concludes that since the purpose of obtaining the semen is in order to impregnate his wife, it would not be considered הוצאת זרע לבטלה and therefore he could be דש מבפנים וזורה מבחוץ.

In the second teshuva, written in 1981, Rav Moshe defends his earlier teshuvot, noting that he does not recommend artificial insemination as it does not constitute a fulfillment of פרו ורבו and it is possible that it will cause the husband to become jealous. However, in the case where the plan is to use the husband's semen, either because regular intercourse is not succeeding but both husband and wife have been determined to be fertile, or because the woman's menstrual cycle is such that it is virtually impossible for them to ever have a halachically acceptable opportunity to conceive, then Rav Moshe stands by his view that such a plan could be carried out.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Artificial Insemination - Status of the Woman and the Child - Igrot Moshe Even HaEzer 1:10

Rav Moshe Feinstein was asked in 1961 about a woman whose doctor had artificially inseminated her insofar as she and her husband had been unsuccessful in having children and the suspicion was that it was a deficiency on his part, not hers. The question raised was whether the woman would be forbidden to her husband like an אשת איש שזינתה and what the status of the child would be.

In terms of the woman, Rav Moshe ruled that she would still be permitted to her husband, since a woman is only forbidden to her husband as the result of having illicit sexual relations, which did not occur in this case. The mere presence of another man's semen in her uterus is not, in Rav Moshe's view, sufficient cause to force her to separate from her husband.

In terms of the child, Rav Moshe is similarly lenient. He postulates that the child would only be a mamzer if there had been forbidden relations, but since there were not the child is thus כשר. As proof, he cites the case of Ben-Sira, who was allegedly conceived when his mother absorbed a man's semen by entering a bath after he had been in there - and yet Ben-Sira was considered to be ולד כשר. Even further, Rav Moshe rules that even if the doctor claimed that the semen was from a Jewish man he is not to be believed (this is assuming a non-Jewish doctor in America), since we assume that he only said that knowing that the woman was Jewish and that she would have preferred that the donor be Jewish. However, since most donors in America are not Jewish, we can rely on that רוב and the child would be permitted to marry anyone. If the child were to wind up being a girl, Rav Moshe is prepared to allow her to marry a kohen, demonstrating just how far he is willing to go with this line of thinking.

The only way in which Rav Moshe sees some deficiency in the lineage of the child is that he absolves the husband - who is not the father - from having to provide for this child or from having to pay for the delivery, although that latter ruling is due to the fact that he was not complicit in the decision to inseminate the woman.

(Note that unlike the teshuva posted from Rav Sherlo on this topic, in this case the woman was married and had not succeeded in conceiving. I am not sure what Rav Moshe would rule about a single woman who wanted a child without marrying - but stay tuned.)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Having a child without having a husband - Rav Yuval Sherlo

In a recent teshuva posted online, Rav Yuval Sherlo, the Rosh Yeshiva of the Yeshivat Hesder in Petach Tikva, deals with a question painfully posed by a 36-year old unmarried woman. In her query, the woman lays out her pain over not having found a husband despite 15 years of trying, and her realization that her biological clock is ticking and her chance to conceive a child is quickly slipping away. As such, she asks point-blank what avenue is available to her to be able to bring a child into the world.

Rav Sherlo begins his answer by emphasizing the stress that halacha and Jewish tradition place on the family unit and on having a child within the context of marriage. That being said, he notes two schools of thought regarding a woman who has not had success with creating such a unit. One school of thought obligates the woman to subjugate her personal desire for a child to the more global and universal requirement to do so within the context of marriage. On the other hand, there are those who think that if a woman has exhausted all options in this realm and still has been unsuccessful, that perhaps we can look to alternative methods of helping such a woman bear a child, inasmuch as a woman who does not have children is lacking something crucial in her life (as seen by Rachel Imeinu's plea to Yaakov to have a child with her).

Rav Sherlo himself favors this second view and thus he proceeds to investigate the different options that are available. He lists three ways in which a woman could conceive a child - through relations with a man (obviously in this case either without marriage or through a sham marriage that would be done only to validate the conception), through artificial insemination, or through in vitro fertilization. Rav Sherlo weighs the pros and cons of each approach, and concludes that artificial insemination would be most preferable.

Once that question is decided, the issue becomes who should be used as a donor. Ideally, the woman should try to find a known Jewish donor, and make a contractual agreement in terms of any future responsibilities. Knowing the donor will obviously be helpful in terms of yichus issues. If that option is not available and the donor will be anonymous, then Rav Sherlo suggests using a non-Jewish donor so as to avoid the possibility that the child will be a shtuki and thus disqualified from marrying another Jew.

In a follow-up and much lengthier part to this teshuva, Rav Sherlo defends his position from numerous criticisms that he received online. He begins by rebuffing those who attacked him as an enemy of the Jewish family, noting both his opening to his teshuva as well as his involvement in organizations that work to strengthen Jewish families. He further rejects those who object on the grounds of the welfare of the child that will be born, noting that there are plenty of children raised by one parent who turn out fine, and many raised by two parents who have troublesome home situations. He also rejects the notion that the woman involved is only in this for her own ego. To that last point, Rav Sherlo notes that the questioner had clearly exhausted her options and that accusations of egomania are insensitive to the highest degree.

At the end of the day, Rav Sherlo sees his ruling and his publicizing of it as a necessary response to not only the desperate case of one woman, but also to the perception that halacha is not responsive to the needs of individuals. He notes that there are certainly cases where halacha's limitations prevent us from solving certain problems - but that only makes it more important to make it known when halacha is capable of relieving someone's pain.

(Thank you to Dr. Scott Chudnoff for bringing this teshuva to my attention)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Tzitzit check - Meishiv Davar 1:2

In this teshuva written to the Chafetz Chaim, the Netziv takes issue with a psak written in the Mishna Berura (which was written by the Chafetz Chaim) where he writes that if one has a tallit which is pasul for some reason or another then he may not go outside on Shabbat with that tallit (in a place with no eiruv), and if he does he will be in violation of the prohibition of carrying on Shabbat (presumably he is considered to be carrying the strings).

The Netziv notes that the view of the Mishna Berura is against the overwhelming majority of Rishonim and Acharonim. According to Rashi, if one had techeilet that was not fit for the mitzva then he would violate the prohibition of carrying, but if one only has white strings they are not considered to be that important and thus there is no prohibition (remember, the Netziv lived before the revival of techeilet). According to Tosafot, there would only be a violation if one had a garment with three tzitzit made already and the fourth was missing.

The Netziv does point out that Rav Akiva Eiger leaves open the possibility that one could violate Shabbat with any form of psul in his tzitzit, but the Netziv counters that other than that possibility, there does not seem to be any major support for the position of the Mishna Berura. There also seems to be a view in the Rishonim that tzitzit should not be worn at all on Shabbat for this reason, but the Rosh rejects this as an unnecessary stringency.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Shatnez and Tzitzit - Meishiv Davar 1:1

In this first teshuva in this collection, the Netziv deals with a statement of the Magen Avraham who writes that one can put wool tzitzit on a linen tallit (in seeming violation of the laws of shatnez) if the corners of the tallit have leather patches on them. He initially raises two questions on this position. First, whether or not leather serves as a barrier vis-a-vis the laws of shatnez is actually a debate in the mishna in Kilayim. Second, there is a view that the tzitzit have to be made out of the same material as the corner from which they hang, and if that corner is made out of leather then there would be no obligation to have tzitzit there in the first place.

The Netziv then adduces a gemara in Yevamot which proves from a pasuk that shatnez is not a problem when it comes to tzitzit. However, he responds that the pasuk should not be needed if the leather patch can serve as an effective barrier. In other words, which is the true reason why this set-up should be permitted?

The Netziv spends some time on whether having or not having techeilet makes a difference (he says it does not), and whether this would be considered to be a situation of מצוה הבאה בעבירה. In the end, he concludes that there is no need to make a decree restricting one from making such a tallit, since if someone takes the time and effort to add the leather patches the chances are that we no longer have to worry about shatnez in that case.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Testing for Tay-Sachs - Igrot Moshe Even HaEzer 4:10

In 1973, Rabbi Moshe Tendler raised to his father-in-law the issue of testing for Tay-Sachs, a genetic disease found among Jews of Ashkenazic descent. The disease can only be contracted by a child whose parents were both carriers of the disease (even though it may not affect the parents at all), and the horrific impact is generally a very short life for the child. By the time of the question, reliable blood tests existed to help determine whether or not a person is a carrier for this disease, and Rav Moshe Feinstein was asked to rule on whether or not people should be tested before getting married.

Rav Moshe's initial response is to say that given the existence of such blood tests, avoiding having such a test would not only not be a lack of faith in God, but would actually be a case of closing one's eyes to something that he has the ability to know. Thus, Rav Moshe does encourage such blood tests to be taken by people who are contemplating marriage.

However, Rav Moshe does offer some caveats. First, he stresses that this should be a private process, to be revealed only when it is important with regard to a specific shidduch. Second, he notes that since people often get nervous about such issues and often make a bigger deal out of things than they should, therefore people should not be tested or even talked to about such testing until they are legitimately of an age when they may begin looking to get married.

Finally, it seems that there was a fund for Tay-Sachs research that included non-Jewish and non-religious doctors, which, among other things, encouraged the aborting of babies who were determined while in utero to have Tay-Sachs. Rav Moshe discouraged religious doctors from participating in this organization, but noted that if there were beneficial and halachically permissible aspects to this organization then they could join so long as they did not in any way lend their support to the aborting of babies.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Missing Wife - Igrot Moshe Even HaEzer 4:2

A man from Kovno who emigrated to America in 1939 had planned to send for his wife as soon as was feasible. In 1940 he sent a coded message to her to join him, and she replied via telegram that she was on her way. After that, he never heard from her nor saw her again. In 1962, Rav Moshe ruled that it is a fair assumption that she was murdered along with so many others in the Holocaust, and that since the only reason that he could not remarry is the cherem of Rabbeinu Gershom that forbids polygamy (which thus ranks below a Rabbinic prohibition), he could remarry.

However, Rav Moshe does add that if the woman would show up at some point that he should write her a get immediately and pay her her ketubah.

The Princess Bride teshuva - Igrot Moshe Even HaEzer 4:1

In the movie "The Princess Bride," Wesley informs Buttercup that her marriage to Humperdink never happened since she never said "I do." Thus, there would be no problem marrying him (Wesley) since she was not actually married to another man.

A similar situation was presented to Rav Moshe Feinstein in 1977. A man had come to America from Russia and had been married before his emigration. However, it was common for weddings in Russia to be done without chuppah and kiddushin, and he had separated from his so-called-wife before he moved. Could he go ahead and marry another woman without having to worry about divorcing his previous wife?

Rav Moshe ruled that at a basic level he could marry another woman, since his original marriage was likely done without chuppah and kiddushin, and even for those who worry about civil marriage having some halachic import, even the civil marriage was merely an act of registering one's name with the local authorities (which could be undone by just as simple an act). Even further, it was common for people to be separated from their spouses by the government for one reason or another, usually for relocation purposes, and thus the entire enterprise of marriage was nearly meaningless.

However, while for marriage purposes for the man Rav Moshe had no major issues, he was concerned about the first wife resurfacing, claiming that their marriage was done with all proper halachic ceremonies, and being put into a possible situation of being an aguna. Thus, Rav Moshe suggested that the man draw up a get, or at least testify before witnesses that should the woman appear he will give her a get immediately without any complaints.

Monday, October 18, 2010

When is a mamzer not a mamzer? - Igrot Moshe Even HaEzer 4:23.1-2

I have already written up the last section of this teshuva, where Rav Moshe Feinstein used the behavior and character traits of the suspected mamzer as a final proof that he was not, in fact, a mamzer. In this summary I will focus on the bulk of the teshuva, where Rav Moshe tackles the essential halachic issues.

The question dealt with a woman who was civilly divorced in 1956 but only received her get in 1959. Later that year she married another man, and a few months later she bore a son. Clearly this son was not conceived after the second marriage. The new husband claimed that the child was his, and that the child had been concieved before the woman received her get. If that claim would hold, the child would be the product of an affair with an eishet ish, and thus would be a mamzer. The issues at hand focus on the trustworthiness of both the husband and the mother with regard to whether or not they can proclaim that their son is a mamzer.

The weightiest issue dealt with in the teshuva is that of yakir, the idea that the Torah recognizes a father's "recognition" of his children for halachic purposes. While we normally believe a father to say that a certain child is his, Rav Moshe notes that that only applies when he has raised the child and we have no reason to think otherwise. However, in this case it is clear that the child was concieved before he married the mother, and thus he does not have the right to declare his son a mamzer under the rubric of yakir. Rav Moshe claims that he does not even qualify as an eid echad to make such a claim.

However, Rambam seems to take the opposite view on this, claiming that a person can assert that someone is his firstborn for inheritance purposes, even if that son did not grow up with that father. Rav Moshe investigates this position and ultimately concludes that Rambam has two different takes on the law - one in the laws of inheritance and one in the laws of yuchsin (lineage). For inheritance purposes, Rambam would allow someone to make a claim about a child that he did not raise, while for lineage purposes a person cannot make such a claim with any degree of accepted credibility.

Taking that into account, Rav Moshe rules that we do not believe the new husband that he and the woman conceived the child before the divorce. This ruling is based on a variety of reason. One, we have no evidence that this woman was ever involved in a licentious relationship especially since for the three years since her civil divorce there was no indication that she was ever involved in a sexual affair. Two, even if there were witnesses that they were in seclusion with one another before her get was given, the gemara in Ketubot rules that we do not proclaim that a person is forbidden based on the knowledge that they had had yichud with someone. Three, if the only testimony that they had an affair is based on what the man says, then he would be incriminating himself, and we do not accept self-incriminating testimony.

With regard to any claims by the woman, we have less of a reason to believe her, since yakir only applies by the father and not the mother. As such, there is no halachically acceptable testimony that would establish that the child was conceived before the get was given, and thus Rav Moshe rules that he is not to be considered a mamzer.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

When is a mamzer not a mamzer? - Igrot Moshe Even HaEzer 4:23.3

In this third and final section of a teshuva about a child who may or may not have been a mamzer, Rav Moshe Feinstein considers the implications of the fact that the potential mamzer was someone who had spent several years learning in Yeshiva and possessed fine character traits. Can those be used as evidence to help clear up confusion over whether or not he had been conceived in sin?

While Rav Moshe is hesitant to make such a move in the case of a mamzer, he invokes a different case as a parallel. He had been asked years earlier about someone who was a talmid chacham and a God-fearing Jew whose mother was known to have not kept the laws of niddah. As such, while this young man was not technically excluded from marrying a Jewish girl, he would be considered a בן נדה, which would be at least a blemish in the world of shidduchim. However, since there is a statement from Chazal that says that a בן נדה will possess the trait of brazenness, and this young man clearly did not fit that bill, then Rav Moshe surmised that perhaps it was possible that he was conceived when his mother was not a niddah.

How can this be the case if the mother never kept the laws of niddah? Rav Moshe suggested that perhaps there was a time when she entered a body of water that would qualify as a kosher mikveh, such as by swimming in the ocean, and even though she would not have had intention to enter it as a mikveh, and even though she would not have kept some of the other practices associated with the laws of niddah, such as הפסק טהרה or שבעה נקיים, nevertheless on a basic level she would have entered a mikveh and thus perhaps this young man was born soon after that event and thus he can be considered to not be a בן נדה for lineage purposes.

With regard to the actual question in this teshuva, which concerned someone who was potentially a mamzer, who is forbidden to marry a Jew, Rav Moshe feels that given the other potential reasons given in the other sections of the teshuva (to be written up soon), the fact that he is also a Torah scholar and a God fearing Jew can be used as additional support for the fact that he is not a mamzer.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

9/11 Agunot - Postscript

Thank you to my friends Brian Gopin and Elliot Moskowitz for directing me to volume 4 of Kol Tzvi, the journal put out by Yeshiva University's Wexner Kollel Elyon. In that volume, published in 2002, the initial section contains the teshuvot of Rav Ovadiah Yosef and Rav Zalman Nechemiah Goldberg that were discussed earlier this week on this blog, as well as the question from Rav Mordechai Willig of YU that served as the impetus for both of those teshuvot.

Rav Willig's lengthy question can be found here.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Agunot of 9/11 - Rav Zalman Nechemiah Goldberg - Techumin volume 23

In this teshuva printed right after that of Rav Ovadiah Yosef, Rav Goldberg deals first with the case of Thierry Saada, and then considers several other unnamed victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. While Rav Yosef spends a large part of his teshuva considering issues of rov, Rav Goldberg discusses several other aspects of these cases, which I am summarizing below.

1) In discussing the use of the conversation between Mr. Saada and his wife at 8:52 (six minutes after the plane hit the tower), Rav Goldberg notes that we can accept the testimony of the wife on this account, since there is no reason to suspect that she is lying and since we have the independent evidence of phone company records that such a call happened at that time.

2) In terms of knowing for certain that the call was placed from Mr. Saada's office (which, since it was on a cellphone, is not clear from the phone records), Rav Goldberg relies on the chazaka that he went to his office as usual that morning, since there is no reason to believe that he did anything different. He rules that this chazaka outweighs the chazaka that he was last seen alive as well as the chazaka that his wife is a married woman.

At this point in the teshuva, Rav Goldberg notes that one year after the tragedy, Saada's remains were identified via DNA and thus his wife should certainly be permitted to remarry.

3) Rav Goldberg discusses various forms of identification of the body that can be used to confirm that an individual has died. He approves of using dental records, bone samples, and DNA, and is not concerned that there would be an attempt to provide counterfeits. In the case of dental records, he assumes that no dentist would risk his reputation by participating in an attempt to provide false records. In the case of bones, the only way to have one's bones be present at the site of the tragedy would be to have them removed in a hospital and then planted at the site. Of course, this would produce a record of the surgery at the hospital, which would undermine the ruse.

With regard to DNA, Rav Goldberg distinguishes between סימנים and טביעת עין. The former refers to general signs, such as a wound on the head, which the observer notices but cannot describe in precise detail. The latter refers to distinguishing features which are unmistakably belong to a specific individual. As there is a 1-in-10 billion chance that two people will have matching DNA, Rav Goldberg rules that DNA falls into the category of טבעת עין and thus can be used as conclusive evidence.

[Parenthetically, he rejects the objection that states that since we have done collected DNA from all people who ever lived we can therefore not rely on it. Rav Goldberg counters by claiming that this line of thinking would undermine the very concept of rov - how do we assert that most domesticated animals are kosher if we have not seen every single such animal? Obviously, we have to work with that which we know from our experience.]

Rav Goldberg also accepts as good identification personal items that one does not lend out, such as wallets and credit cards.

4) In one case, the man presumed dead was a passenger on one of the planes, and the question in this case is whether or not we should be concerned that he disembarked when the plane stopped in Newark (from Boston). However, since the airline had no record of him disembarking we can assume that he did not, especially since it would be in the best interest of the airline for him to disembark (since that would save them on insurance for the loss of his life). Furthermore, we assume that the airline keeps accurate records, since the damage to their reputation if they would lose a passenger would be substantial.

5) One man who was missing and presumed dead was reported to have been in the building by a woman who was not שומרת תורה ומצוות. Rav Goldberg rules that if we can determine that her report about that man was mentioned as part of her larger description of the events (מסיחה לפי תומה) and not as specific evidence about him, then we can accept her words in lieu of other testimony to place the man in the building at the time of the attack and collapse.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Agunot of 9/11 - Rav Ovadiah Yosef Techumin 23

Thierry Saada (see here for a tribute) worked for Cantor Fitzgerald on the 104th floor of the World Trade Center. On the morning of September 11, 2001, he called his wife from his office to wake her at 8:20. After the planes hit, she called his cellphone and received no answer, but several minutes later he called her back to tell her that the building was being evacuated. She received no further contact from him after that time. Email records show that he sent an email from his office at 8:21 that morning. Given the fact that his body was never found, can we presume that he is dead and his wife is permitted to remarry?

Rav Ovadiah Yosef's response to this painful question presumes almost from the get-go that his wife will be permitted to remarry. The Gemara in Yevamot 121b says that if a person falls into a fiery furnace we can testify that he is deceased - and certainly that standard should apply to this case, where someone was located above the raging fire, which experts have testified likely resulted in many deaths from smoke inhalation or burning before the buildings collapsed. Rav Yosef notes that we do not follow the view of the Yerushalmi brought by Tosafot that states that we can hope that a miracle happened similar to what happened to Chananiah, Mishael, and Azariah when they were saved from the furnace. Rather, if all factor point to the fact that the person has died, we can assume that to be the case and permit his wife to remarry.

The next section of the teshuva deals with issues of rov, and to what extent we can be strict or lenient in the presence of multiple majorities (such as the fact that a majority of people on those floors did not survive, and that a majority of survivors made contact with their relatives), and whether or not it matters if they occur simultaneously.

Rav Yosef then notes an interesting and logical view of the Chatam Sofer, who states that while during the time of the Gemara we were perhaps concerned that someone who was missing might resurface even after a long time, nowadays with the advent of sophisticated mail systems we would assume that we would hear from someone who had gone missing. Even more so in our days, says Rav Yosef, when we have telephones and newspapers and consulates and all sorts of ways for someone to make contact with his family. Furthermore, as Mr. Saada's wife was in her 9th month of pregnancy, and the child born two weeks later had both a brit mila and a pidyon ha-ben, it would stand to reason that if he were alive, Mr. Saada would have tried to get in touch with his family in some way. The fact that he did not serves as ample proof to his tragic demise. While there are those who reject the thesis of the Chatam Sofer (and indeed there are still cases today where people resurface after a long absence), Rav Yosef feels that it may certainly be accepted in this case, certainly when combined with the extreme likelihood that no one survived if they were on the floors above where the planes hit (and especially since emergency rescue squads combed the wreckage of the buildings for weeks and found no one).

Finally, Rav Yosef notes at the end of the teshuva that one many rely on the sound of a voice over the telephone as reliable proof that a person existed. He cites sources that permit a husband to order a get to be written via telephone and that accept testimony that a man died based on the witnesses recognizing his voice. As such, the fact that the husband spoke with his wife after the planes hit is sufficient for us to establish that he was, in fact, in the building (in other words, we trust that the wife knew that she was speaking with her husband and that he was truthful in claiming that he was in the building. I would note that since he called on a cellphone, it is harder to use cellphone records to pinpoint his location. Had he called from an office phone, which likely was not working at that point, the call could have been traced, thus providing a more reliable electronic record.).

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Learning during Chazarat haShatz - Igrot Moshe 4:19

As we are entering several days of long davening, it seems to me that this topic might be relevant for our readers (and ourselves).

With regard to whether or not one may learn during the repetition of the Shemoneh Esrei, Rav Moshe Feinstein begins by citing the Magen Avraham (O.C. 124:8) who states that so long as the one learning is able to answer amen to the brachot of the shaliach tzibur, then there is no need to stop him from learning. However, he also cites the book Vavei HaAmudim who objects to people learning during the chazzan's repetition, as the more ignorant members of the community will learn from him that such a practice is permitted without reservation or restriction and will ultimately come to miss the chazzan's repetition.

Rav Moshe then notes that when there is exactly a minyan in shul it is forbidden to learn during the chazzan's repetition, since if the person learning fails to answer amen to the brachot, then there will be less than a minyan answering and there is the possibility that the brachot of the chazzan will be considered brachot levatalot.

Women and Guns - Igrot Moshe Orach Chaim 4:75.3

Rav Moshe Feinstein was asked in 1980 by his grandson, Rav Shabtai Rappaport, about whether or not women who lived in Gush Etzion would be allowed to carry guns. While women are generally prohibited from carrying weapons on the grounds that they are kli gever, man-specific clothing, perhaps the law would be different in the case of individuals living among hostile enemies, where every venture out of one's town carried the potential for some life-threatening attack [ed. note: having learned in Gush Etzion for several years, I can vouch for the fact that certainly in 1980 such a danger was both clear and present.]

Rav Moshe offers an analysis of the general prohibition against women carrying firearms, discussing both the issue of whether or not they are considered to be decorative (probably meaning carried for sport or as a status symbol) as well as the issue of whether or not there is an intrinsic connection between firearms and going to war (which also presents an issue with regard to women). Ultimately, Rav Moshe strongly supports women in this case carrying pistols, as this is obviously a case of pikuach nefesh, and it does not make sense to tell women to not travel to unsafe places (especially since every road would qualify as an unsafe place). Rav Moshe further notes that not only should women be allowed to carry guns if they feel it is necessary, but they can do so even if travelling with a man who also has a gun and, of course, they should make sure to receive the necessary training in order to be able to use their guns effectively if need be.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Leishev BaSuccah - Yechaveh Daat 5:48

Can one make a bracha of לישב בסוכה if one is already in the middle of his meal? Rav Ovadiah Yosef deals with this question and comes out with a very interesting psak.

With regards to the main question, even though the mitzva of sitting in the succah includes all types of actions, since we have established that the bracha is said only when one eats there, then once one has concluded his meal he can no longer make the bracha. However, if one is still in the middle of his meal, then even though ברכות המצוה generally need to be said עובר לעשייתן - before the performance of the mitzva - nevertheless Rambam rules (Hil. Brachot 11:5) that one can still make the bracha so long as he is still in the midst of performing the mitzva.

Rav Yosef moves from there to note that even if one is no longer eating bread, he can still make the bracha even if he is eating foods that would not require the bracha if they were eaten independently, such as fruits. The rationale for this is that since they have become part of the meal, they can be used as a lever for making the bracha on the entire meal.

Rav Yosef then makes an intriguing move. Normally the halacha is that one does not need to make a bracha on certain foods since they are normally eaten in an עראי (casual) manner. However, if one were to be eating such foods in the middle of a meal, then the eating of those foods, even including a drink of water, would be transformed into אכילת קבע, a more established form of eating, and thus it would be forbidden to eat any part of the meal outside of the succah.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Asking Mechila - Yechaveh Daat 5:44

Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef was asked if one needs to ask forgiveness from others in person, or if it could be done via messenger or letter (and I would update that to include email and Facebook posts).

Rav Yosef begins his reply by discussing the general severity of the requirement to ask forgiveness from others before Yom Kippur. There is a debate in the Gemara and through the Rishonim and Acharonim whether repenting before God and repenting before our fellow man are two separate requirements that can exist separately, or whether failure to do one holds back our performance of the other. In other words, if one fails to gain forgiveness from others, there is a view that his sins before God are not forgiven either. The general reason given for this stricter approach is that if one does not seek forgiveness from his friend, then he is rejecting that mitzva of the Torah, and thus his repentance before God loses some of its meaning.

[Mori V'Rabi Rav Aharon Lichtenstein noted in a teshuva lecture in 1997 that this idea is based on the last mishna in Yoma, where Rabi Akiva notes that we are fortunate to become purified before Hashem, based on the verse מקוה ישראל ה' - Rav Lichtenstein pointed out that there is something frightening in this statement. Since one who enters a mikveh holding a שרץ is not purified, so too one who repents before God while still holding onto his sins vis-a-vis others also cannot become fully purified and forgiven.]

After concluding his lengthy introduction about the necessity of seeking out others to ask them for forgiveness, Rav Yosef rules that it is preferable to ask someone for forgiveness in person. While it is true that Yosef's brothers sent a conciliatory mission to him after Yaakov's death and Aharon HaKohein would serve as a go-between when making peace between adversaries, nevertheless the preferred approach is that one confront his friend personally and ask for forgiveness. In certain situations, depending on either the stature of the individuals involved and/or the severity of the offense, it may be prudent to first send someone else to lay the groundwork for the eventual rapprochement.

Rav Yosef concludes by noting that it is important for children to ask forgiveness from their parents, as people constantly stumble in their performance of the mitzva to respect their parents. Similarly, husbands and wives must ask forgiveness from one another, and students must ask forgiveness from their teachers.

Wishing everyone a גמר חתימה טובה.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Kohanim becoming doctors - Igrot Moshe Yoreh Deah 3:155

Rav Shimon Schwab apparently asked Rav Moshe Feinstein about a pamphlet published in the mid-1970's that permitted kohanim to become doctors. Rav Moshe rejected the two major premises for this היתר:

1) The premise that since we are all טמאים טומאת מת anyway, therefore there is no harm done by kohanim going to medical school (and thus working with cadavers). Rav Moshe vehemently rejects this argument, based largely on his seeing this as a major חידוש that thus violates several Talmudic statements that rail against making rulings that go against accepted practice.

2) The second premise was that it is permitted for a kohein to practice medicine since פיקוח נפשות is involved. Rav Moshe rejects this argument as being a significant and misdirected expansion of the permissive side of פיקוח נפש. While it is true that one may violate certain laws in order to save someone else's life, that only applies when it is within one's power and ability to save the life right now. However, to go to medical school in order to increase one's ability to possibly save another's life (which there is no guarantee that one will be able to do anyway), does not outweigh the Torah-based prohibition against kohanim becoming טמאי מת.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Teshuva for serious sins - Igrot Moshe Orach Chaim 4:115-118

In this suite of teshuvot from the mid-1970's, Rav Moshe Feinstein responds to anonymous questioners who were seeking to do teshuva for a variety of sins of a sexual nature, including homosexual acts, masturbation, an office affair (asked by the woman), and pre-marital sex (also asked by the woman).

There are several notable points about these teshuvot:

1) Rav Moshe's extreme sensitivity towards those asking the question, as he takes the basic stance that despite the severity of their sins, the fact that they are asking the question about doing teshuva indicates that they are clearly regretful of their actions and are thus on the right path.

2) Rav Moshe prescribes several actions for the penitents, including learning Torah, reciting Tehillim, and private confessions, based on the logic that actions are stronger than mere thoughts and that taking various practices upon oneself will serve as an inoculation against the thoughts that led to the various actions.

An interesting issue arose with the last case, where the woman who had had pre-marital relations was getting married and did not want her past misdeeds to be known to anyone other than her future husband. Rav Moshe permitted her to have the ketubah read the same as the ketubah of a virgin, based on the fact that since her husband knew the truth about her past and nevertheless accepted upon himself the responsibilities of a full ketubah, there would thus be no issue of the ketubah being false and there would be no need to even inform the mesader kiddushin of this fact.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Suppositories on Yom Kippur - Igrot Moshe Orach Chaim 4:121

Rav Moshe Feinstein was asked about a woman who reacted to Yom Kippur by becoming faint. Her doctors suggested that she take some form of vitamin suppository that would prevent her from having such a condition and would thus allow her to continue her fast. Are such suppositories allowed on Yom Kippur?

Rav Moshe begins his response by analyzing the seriousness of the condition. According to the Gemara, someone who is seized by bulmus can eat - the question is what exactly that condition is and whether this condition is comparable. Rav Moshe reasons that bulmus is a state of illness that afflicts an otherwise healthy individual as a result of the fast, and that bulmus can be perceived by a marked change in a person's eyes. However, if such a change does not occur then we would simply say that the individual is having a difficult fast, which is a normal occurrence and does not lead to permission to eat. This case of the fainting woman may be similar in that we might allow her to eat given her condition.

That being said, can the woman opt to continue to fast by take vitamins rectally? Rav Moshe considers the possibility that since the vitamins are not actually curative they might run afoul of the Rabbinic prohibition of שחיקת סממנין, grinding medicinal plants, which is the source for our general prohibition of taking medicine on Shabbat. However, Rav Moshe reasons that since an individual would be allowed to take food through a passageway other than the mouth, then certainly this vitamin capsule should be allowed without worrying about violating the decree of שחיקת סממנין.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Tashlich - Yechaveh Daat 1:56

In this teshuva, Rav Ovadiah Yosef begins by explaining the source for the universally accepted practice of tashlich. Citing the Maharil, he notes that it is based on the Midrash which explains that when Avraham and Yitzchak went to do the akeidah, the Satan tried to stop them by turning into a river and blocking their way. Avraham reacted by calling out to Hashem and saying that if they were to drown in trying to fulfill God's command, then who would be left to publicize the name of Hashem in the world!? Thus, as a way of recalling the merit of this most incredible of religious acts (which Chazal believe took place on Rosh Hashana), we say this tefilla by the banks of a river or stream.

A second reason given is that since kings were anointed by the banks of a river, we as it were "anoint" Hashem on this day that proclaims His dominion over the world.

In terms of whether or not tashlich should be said on Shabbat, Rav Yosef acknowledges that there may be some esoteric reasons for not doing so, but he sides with the view that the main reason to not do so is that people will carry their machzorim to tashlich and thus will violate the prohibition of carrying on Shabbat. As such, if the body of water being used is within the eruv, it would seem permissible to say tashlich even on Shabbat.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Blowing Shofar during Shemoneh Esrei - Igrot Moshe Orach Chayim 1:173

There is a practice to blow shofar not only before שמונה עשרה and not only during חזרת הש"ץ, but also during the silent שמונה עשרה. In this practice, people reach a certain point in their davening, then stop and wait for the shofar to be blown, then resume their silent prayer. Rav Dovid Feinstein asked his father what the law is regarding those individuals who daven slower and thus are still in the middle of a bracha when the shofar is blown. Is their pause in order to listen to the shofar and thus fulfill the mitzva considered to be an interruption in their davening?

Rav Moshe answered that there is no problem of הפסק, interruption, for two main reasons. First, even though we have a principle of שומע כעונה, under which a person is considered to have said a bracha merely by listening to another recite it, in this case the person is not considered to have said anything or even to have blown the shofar. He is merely listening to the sound and thereby fulfilling his obligation. Mere listening does not rise to the level of interruption.

Second, Rav Moshe reasons that the entire silent שמונה עשרה is considered to be an appropriate place for the blowing of the shofar, and thus wherever in davening one is up to when the shofar is blown, that is a suitable spot for him to hear it, and thus there is no הפסק issue.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Paying chazzanim - Yechaveh Daat 1:53

Is a community allowed to pay the individual who serves as the בעל תפילה or בעל תוקע on Rosh Hashana? The question is based on the gemara in בבא מציעא which states that even an action that is completely permitted on Shabbat cannot be performed for compensation unless the compensation also encompasses a time which is not on Shabbat (or Yom Tov). With the individuals in question, it would seem that their entire task is executed on Yom Tov and thus would be in violation of this rule.

Rav Ovadiah Yosef deals with this issue by noting the long history of Rishonim and Acharonim who permitted such practices, on the basic grounds that this prohibition does not apply when the action in question is for the purpose of performing a mitzva. He notes that even the Shulchan Aruch only says that the compensated individual will not see any bracha from that money, yet he refrains from saying that such an action is forbidden. Many others, including the מהר"ם מרוטנברג and Rav Shlomo Kluger, permitted paying individuals to lead the davening on Shabbat and Yom Tov without any qualifications, and thus Rav Yosef feels that we can comfortably be lenient in this regard.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Selichot without a minyan - Yechaveh Daat 1:47

In this teshuva, Rav Ovadiah Yosef deals with the issue of saying the י"ג מידות הרחמים in selichot if there is no minyan present. The tradition to require a minyan for this crucial portion of selichot dates back to Rav Amram Gaon, and other than the Tur and Rabbeinu Yonah, it is fairly accepted as the prevailing practice. There are those who even classify it as a דבר שבקדושה, which necessitates a minyan.

However, in the event that a minyan is not present, Rav Yosef says that one can rely on the view of the Shulchan Aruch and others that allow one to recite these verses as if he is simply reading them like any other biblical verses, and to preferably do so with the proper cantillation. While there is one view that says that one cannot even do this and that an individual reciting these verses may only recite them in a coded fashion, Rav Yosef favors the view of the Shulchan Aruch.

In a footnote to this teshuva, Rav Yosef asks how we can recite the verses of the י"ג מידות, given that our recitation of them stops in the middle of a verse, thus violating the rule of כל פסוק דלא פסק משה אנן נמי לא פסקינן (for more on this topic, see my article here). Rav Yosef brings down views that claim that since it is being recited as part of davening, it is permissible to recite the partial verses. Even if an individual is reciting it, and thus is reciting it as if he is reading it, since it is permissible for a minyan to recite the partial verses in this situation, the same permission applies to an individual.

(Rav Yosef includes several other questions on this point, yet the answer is always essentially the same.)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Saying Selichot before Chatzot - Igrot Moshe Orach Chaim 2:105 and Yechaveh Da'at 1:46

We know that selichot are generally recited either after chatzot (halachic midnight) or before davening in the morning. Some shuls have the practice of allowing a minyan for selichot to take place earlier in the evening, usually some time around 9 or 10pm. Is such a practice permitted? We will look at two recent teshuvot that take divergent views not only on the answer, but also on their approach to the answer.

Rav Moshe Feinstein was asked this question in the context of individuals who lived in a location where they were afraid to be out on the street alone at the usual times for reciting selichot. As such, they wanted to recite the selichot at an earlier time in the evening, when there were more people around and the danger was decreased. Rav Moshe's answer, which follows through the Shulchan Aruch and its major commentaries, is that the purpose of reciting selichot after midnight is because that it considered to be an עת רצון and thus it is the most appropriate time to beg for mercy from Hashem. However, since this entire practice has no basis in the Gemara and is based mainly on Kabbalistic literature, Rav Moshe felt it was better to allow selichot at an earlier time rather than to have people not say them at all. Rav Moshe even brings sources which seem to cast doubt on the specific efficacy of chatzot. However, he does caution that this ruling should be seen as a הוראת שעה and that if the situation improves, and certainly for people who do not have such a problem, selichot should be recited ater midnight.

Rav Ovadiah Yosef tackles the problem in a completely different manner. For him, the Kabbalistic sources are all-important, and the lack of a Talmudic basis for selichot does not factor into his reasoning at all. He explains that according to the Zohar, the time from the afternoon until halachic midnight is a time of מדת הדין - judgement, and only after midnight does Hashem switch his focus to that of רחמים - mercy. Thus, saying selichot before midnight would be both pointless as well as borderline heretical, and any location which has such a minyan is engaged in a bitter and bad practice. Rav Yosef quotes Rav Moshe Feinstein's dismissal of the Kabbalistic basis for this practice and says instead that the Kabbalistic rationale is so strong and so important that one ignores it at his own peril.

Rav Yosef further deals with two challenges. First, if the evening is a time of judgement and thus unfit for the recital of selichot, then how do we explain the common practice to say selichot in the evening of Yom Kippur? Rav Yosef brushes this objection aside by explaining that Yom Kippur is different, as the entire day is one when Hashem is open to hear supplication.

Second, what does one do it he is unable to recite selichot after midnight or in the early morning? Rav Yosef suggests reciting them before mincha. As to the possible objection that he said earlier that the afternoon is a time of judgement, Rav Yosef qualifies that position by noting that many people begin תחנון at mincha by saying וידוי and the י"ג מידות הרחמים, which are the essense of selichot, and thus they must have some efficacy at that time.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Coeducation and school buildings - Igrot Moshe Yoreh Deah 3:78-80

In these three teshuvot, written over a span of 13 years (1967-1980), Rav Moshe Feinstein makes it very clear that boys and girls are to be separated in educational settings as much as possible.

In the first teshuva, he quickly asserts that coeducation is forbidden. Even if some communities practice it at younger grade levels due to financial considerations, certainly by Middle School boys and girls should be separated.

In the second teshuva, a school asked about using one building for boys and girls, but with substantial measures taken to have boys and girls on completely separate sides of the building with separate entrances, separate playgrounds, separate cafeterias, and some sort of barrier that rendered the two halves of the building virtually distinct from one another. Having seen the plans, Rav Moshe permitted the building, but with the note that the school should continue to look for an opportunity to build a second building on a different campus for the girls.

In the final teshuva, Beit Yaakov of Baltimore had the opportunity to build a new building alongside a Yeshivat Chofetz Chaim, in a move that would be cheaper than building on their own campus. Rav Moshe flatly rejected this plan, noting that especially in our generation when so many boundaries are ignored, and particular in the area of עריות, it is imperative to keep a distance between teenage boys and girls.

One witness to conversion - Igrot Moshe Yoreh Deah 3:112

Rav Moshe Feinstein was asked in 1974 about a conversion case where only one of the three members of the beit din actually saw the טבילה due to space constraints. Was this טבילה valid or did the woman need to go again in order to validate her conversion? Rav Moshe stated unequivocally that the conversion was valid, on a number of grounds:

1) Even though we say that one witness is not valid in the face of a חזקה, and in this case the חזקה would be that the woman is not Jewish, the fact is that in this case we say איתרע חזקתה - her חזקה is defective, due to the fact that she had accepted the mitzvot and made all of the many preparations for going to the mikveh and would not have gone through all of that if she was not planning on following through.

2) Tosafot in Gittin allow a witness to a גט to say בפני נכתב if he only heard the writing take place, even if he did not actually see it. In this case as well, if the people can say that they heard her dunk but did not see her, they can be accepted.

3) It could be that the beit din function not as witnesses but as judges. As such, they do not need to actually see her dip into the mikveh. It could be that there role is to instruct her to do so and may not even need to be present. This is based on Ramban, who writes that if the beit din instruct a person in mitzvot and the person accepts them and then the beit din instructs him to go and get a brit mila and go to the mikveh and he does so - even not in their presence - then his conversion is valid.

4) Even if they have to be present for the טבילה, it could be that their presence is ceremonial in nature (similar to their presence by סמיכה for פר העלם דבר של ציבור) and thus their not seeing the action does not invalidate the conversion.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Tevila for a Giyoret - Igrot Moshe Yoreh Deah 3:111

Rav Moshe Feinstein was asked about a woman who wanted to convert but was physically unable to bend or crouch in the water, and thus would not be able to immerse her entire body in the mikveh at once. Given the strict nature of the requirement of mikveh in the context of conversion, Rav Moshe ruled that she would have to find a mikveh that was deep enough to cover her entire body at once. Ideally, the woman should not immerse herself while standing straight up, as such a posture conceals certain areas of the body, and the rule is that the water must reach every point of the body.

Rav Moshe suggests that two women help this woman perform טבילה, and that once she is completely immersed they should grab onto her and lift her out of the water, momentarily loosening their grip so that the water can reach the area where they are holding her.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A giyoret who made one small mistake - Igrot Moshe Yoreh Deah 3:108

In 1979, Rav Moshe Feinstein was approached by a גיורת was was concerned that her conversion was invalid. As she was going to the mikveh, she excitedly told a friend of hers what she was doing. Her friend asked her how she was going to manage to tell her bosses that she would be missing work for Yom Tov. With Pesach on the horizon, the woman had thoughts to slip into work on the last days of Yom Tov so as to avoid any confrontation that might cost her her job. In fact, she did go to work those days, but only carried the necessary subway tokens, and did not do any writing while at work. Since that one time, which occurred soon after her conversion, she had been living a fully observant and dedicated lifestyle. Her fear was that since she was thinking about going into work on Yom Tov while she was in the mikveh, perhaps that counted as not accepting even one mitzva, and would thus invalidate her conversion.

Rav Moshe ruled that her conversion was completely fine, on multiple grounds:
  1. She is not believed insofar as believing her would make her forbidden to her husband and cast aspersions on her children.
  2. Her alleged thought counts as דברים שבלב, which cannot outweigh her explicit statement to the בית דין administering her tevila that she was accepting all of the mitzvot.
  3. If a convert were to say that he was accepting all of the mitzvot but he did not think he could withstand a יהרג ואל יעבר situation, his conversion would be good anyway. Rav Moshe brings three proofs for this point (including the fact that someone who converts for marriage purposes is considered to be a valid convert, even though such a person is certainly not thinking of giving up his life for mitzvot), and concludes that the fear of losing one's job is a similar pressure that many people have a hard time withstanding, and thus it should not invalidate the conversion.
  4. This woman had been living a strictly observant life for the past ten years, a fact that was known to all, and thus her initial transgression was clearly not indicative of a lack of a desire to keep any mitzva.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

More on Giyoret - Igrot Moshe Yoreh Deah 3:110

The case in this teshuva is of a non-Jewish woman who was married to a Jewish man for 17 years. She lived as a Jew and their adopted children were converted and raised as Jews. She had asked to be converted in the past and had been pushed aside by the previous Rabbis of her community. Now, the new Rabbi asked Rav Moshe Feinstein if he should convert her.

Rav Moshe answered that since all evidence pointed to her sincerity to convert, she should be allowed to do so. However, since her husband was not particularly observant, she would have to be told about הלכות נדה and Shabbat and accept to keep those areas of halacha.

With regard to her having to separate from her husband for three months after conversion (the normal waiting period for a remarriage, instituted to ensure that the woman is not pregnant from the previous husband - in the case of conversion the waiting period is to separate between halachically unacceptable and halachically acceptable conversion), the issue was raised that the woman had never conceived and was now over 40 years old and thus perhaps the waiting period could be waived. Rav Moshe rejected this waiver on the grounds that since the waiting period applied when there had been no previous sin, it would not make sense to waive it for a couple that had lived in sin (intermarriage) for 17 years (לא יהא חוטא נשכר).

Giyoret - Igrot Moshe Yoreh Deah 3:109

This teshuva encompasses several short teshuvot concerning different cases of גיורות.

In the first case, Rav Moshe Feinstein was asked about a woman who converted but did not keep the mitzvot initially as her husband was not so religious. However, her husband subsequently became more observant, and she followed suit, and now she was concerned whether her conversion might be invalid due to her failure to accept the mitzvot at the time of the conversion. Adding to the complication was that the couple had already had several children. Rav Moshe ruled that the woman should undergo a second conversion (i.e. טבילה) and the children should as well (although he did not require the sons to have הטפת דם ברית).

The second case dealt with was of a non-Jewish woman who married a Jewish man and was pregnant and then decided to convert. Due to her pregnancy, she was unable to travel to a place where there was a valid בית דין and she did not feel comfortable going to the mikveh in front of men. Thus, the question was raised whether three untrained men could serve as the בית דין and if women could observe her going to the mikveh. Rav Moshe ruled that her case did not rise to the level of שעת הדחק and that if she was not ready to accept the mitzvot in full - as evidenced by her reluctance to convert properly - then she should not be accepted as a גיורת. However, Rav Moshe notes that if she does convert, then she does not need to separate from her husband from three months, as she is already pregnant.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Conservative Conversion - Igrot Moshe Yoreh De'ah 3:107

Rav Moshe Feinstein was asked in 1977 about a couple in Berkeley where the woman was a convert who had converted via a Conservative beit din and the husband was a Kohein. The couple was now becoming more religious and the woman was willing to undergo a second conversion, and they wanted to know what their status was.

Rav Moshe ruled that the husband had to divorce his wife since her initial conversion was definitely not valid. Even if the Conservative Rabbis who converted her observed mitzvot and asked her to do the same, the fact that she refused the accept the prohibition of marrying a Kohein invalidated her conversion from the get-go.

Ketubah for Shtuki and Asufi - Igrot Moshe Yoreh De'ah 3:106.3

In this final section of the teshuva, Rav Moshe discusses how we write the name of a שתוקי or an אסופי into a כתובה. These two categories, listed in the first mishna of the final chapter of קידושין, refer to individuals whose parentage is unclear and therefore their acceptability to marry a Jew is questionable. A certain city apparently had the practice to write their names followed by בן אברהם אבינו, similar to what is done for a convert. Rav Moshe ruled that such a practice should be stopped, since it would call into question the כתובות of converts if all of those categories of people would be labeled the same way.

Rav Moshe also objects to writing the mother's name, since that will potentially lead to confusion whereby one might think that the individual is from a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father and will wind up allowing them to marry another Jew or even a Kohein.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Intermarried parents of the bride - Igrot Moshe Yoreh Deah 3:106.2

A question was raised to Rav Moshe Feinstein about a non-Jewish father of a Jewish girl (mother was Jewish) who wanted to walk his daughter down her wedding aisle. Rav Moshe flatly refused to allow this, as it would seem to be supporting the intermarriage. Even though in this case the non-Jew was helpful and financially supportive of several Jews in the community, Rav Moshe advised explaining to the father that it is a religious policy that only Jews participate in any way in the ceremony, and that hopefully he would be reasonable enough to accept that explanation.

The Rabbi who asked the question had suggested not allowing any parents to walk their children down the aisle, so as not to make this case stand out. Rav Moshe said that that would also be supporting those who sinned by intermarrying, as it would be denying others something so as to not embarrass those who sinned. The questioner apparently noted that the Gemara does not speak about parents walking their children down the aisle, and thus there should be no problem with doing away with the practice. Rav Moshe granted the point, but countered that since it had become common practice for parents to do so, it would be inappropriate to stop it just so those who are intermarried could save face.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Dutch Giyoret - Igrot Moshe Yoreh Deah 3:106.1

In the 1960's, the Rabbis of Holland established a rule that if a person came to convert, that conversion could only be effected once all of the Rabbis in Holland had agreed to it. This decree grew out of the fact that a majority of conversions involved people doing so for marriage purposes, and thus their motives and their intentions to keep mitzvot once converted were suspect.

A case arose in 1969 of a woman who came to convert with full intentions to keep all of the mitzvot. However, she refused to accept a modest style of dress, stating openly that she preferred to maintain the manner of dress that she was accustomed to. The question as to whether or not to accept her conversion was brought to Rav Moshe Feinstein.

Rav Moshe begins his response by differentiating between a גר who does not know of a particular halacha and one who refuses to accept one. In the former case, the conversion is certainly good, while in the latter case there is what to discuss. Even though the Gemara says that refusal to accept even a דקדוק סופרים (loosely explained as a low-level Rabbinic enactment) cannot convert, Rav Moshe seems to feel that בדיעבד (post facto), such a conversion could be accepted.

Rav Moshe then brings in various cases from the Gemara, most notably the run of potential converts who came to Hillel with various outlandish requests and conditions. While it is possible to state that they should not have been converted, as their requests belie their lack of sincerity, Rav Moshe accepts their conversions on the grounds that Hillel knew that once he accepted them he would be able to continue working with them and teaching them.

That said, Rav Moshe advises against accepting as a convert this woman who refused to accept a lifestyle involving modest dress, particularly in light of the fact that her main motivation for conversion was for marriage, and thus with two strikes against her, Rav Moshe is comfortable rejecting her conversion.

However, Rav Moshe notes that if the conversion were to go through she would be considered Jewish. Furthermore, he speculates that perhaps this woman did not see the need to dress modestly, since she probably looked around and saw purportedly religious women who also dressed immodestly, and thus perhaps she figured that such a requirement was not essential (sadly, such a situation is all-too-real today as well, as fashion in the Modern Orthodox community often mirrors that of the society around us.).

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Is a Second Brit Mila Needed? - Igrot Moshe Yoreh De'ah 3:105

A case was brought to Rav Moshe Feinstein in 1960 of a boy whose mother had converted Reform and then given birth to him, at which time he had a brit mila. Now, as the boy was approaching his bar mitzvah, the family had become more religious and the mother realized that her son needed to convert, since her conversion was deemed invalid. She agreed to have her son go to the mikveh, but did not want him to have a "second" brit mila (meaning הטפת דם ברית - taking blood from the location of the brit mila), since he was a weak child.

Rav Moshe ruled that even though it would be ideal for the son to have הטפת דם ברית, nevertheless since his original brit mila was done for the purpose of a religious brit mila (and not merely a hospital circumcision), then that could count and preclude the need for any further procedure. He notes that it would be great if there were three halachically acceptable people who had witnessed the original brit mila, but even if there were not, there mere fact that his brit mila was publicized would suffice.

Rav Moshe also cautions against hiding any of the facts from the family, since eventually things will become known and it is best for them to be fully aware of the full scope of their situation.

Argentinian adoptees - Igrot Moshe Yoreh De'ah 3:104

In a teshuva written in 1973, Rav Moshe Feinstein was asked by Rav Dov Baer Baumgarten from Buenos Aires about issues involved with a couple that was adopting an Argentinian child. Rav Moshe ruled that the child needed to be converted, since most people in Argentina are non-Jewish and thus within every city both the inhabitants and those who pass through can be assumed to be non-Jewish. Rav Moshe ruled out the possibility that the infant would be considered to be an אסופי (literally someone collected from off the street whose Jewish status is thus unknown), since the presence of adoption agencies mitigates this fear.

Rav Moshe pointed out that the child can be converted as an infant and doing so is considered a זכות for him (and therefore it can be done without his knowledge or consent). However, he reminds Rav Baumgarten that upon turning bar mitzvah the child has to be informed that he was converted [note: in such a case, the child has the option of leaving Judaism on the spot. However, once he is informed at the time of his bar mitzvah that he converted and decides to remain Jewish, he can no longer turn back.]

Monday, July 5, 2010

Ahava Rabba - Igrot Moshe Orach Chaim 1:21

In this teshuva from 1944, Rav Moshe Feinstein addresses the issue of using the bracha that precedes Shema, namely Ahava Rabba, as a substitute for Birchat HaTorah. While both Rashi and Tosafot have an issue with this substitution (which would only be b'diavad), Rav Feinstein rules that there is no such issue, even though Ahava Rabba is worded as a bakasha - a request - rather than as a praise or an outright thanks of God. Even the fact that the word וצונו, indicating a bracha on a mitzva, is missing does not both Rav Moshe, as there is a view that one could say simply the bracha of אשר בחר בנו in order to fulfill ברכות התורה, and that one bracha also does not include the word וצונו.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Three Weeks - Igrot Moshe Orach Chaim 4:112

In a brief, multi-section teshuva from 1957, Rav Moshe Feinstein quickly rules on several issues concerning the three weeks:

1) A person is allowed to sing zemirot on the Shabbat preceding Tisha B'Av (Shabbat Chazon), even if the person is not accustomed to singing zemirot on a regular Shabbat. This is due to the fact that kavod Shabbat overrides any of our customs for the three weeks. Similarly, one can eat meat during seudah shlishit on that week, even if Tisha B'Av is that night.

2) A person can shave or take a haircut on the night of the 17th of Tammuz if it is absolutely necessary (since even though the date has arrived, the fast does not begin until the morning).

3) A person can buy meat during the nine days for consumption after the nine days, and does not have to worry that someone who sees him will think that he intends to eat it now (marit ayin).

Blog Update

My apologies for not blogging for a while - I am recovering from a computer crash which set me back on most of my work over the past few weeks. Hopefully posts will begin to come regularly again.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Davening in bad places - Igrot Moshe Orach Chayim 1:31

In 1952, Rav Menachem Eichenstein, Chief Rabbi of Saint Louis, asked about a shul that wanted to daven on ימים נוראים in a place that was normally used for all sorts of abominable practices (the teshuva does not specify what they are). Rav Moshe Feinstein forbade using such a place on several grounds:

1) We have a rule that it is a good thing to daven in the place where one learns. We can thus derive that the normal usage of a location has an impact on the davening that takes place there, and thus if the place is used for sinning then it is not a good place to also daven.
2) An advantage of davening with a minyan is the presence of the שכינה. However, such a locale would neutralize that advantage.
3) The ספר יראים discusses the case of a shul where the שמש had an affair with a young girl in the building. He rules that the shul can still be used for davening, since the shul was already designated as a holy place, and thus the individual could not make forbidden that which was not his to forbid. However, if the location was intended to be used for forbidden purposes, then it would stand to reason that davening could not take place there.

Rav Feinstein concludes that if the congregation wanted to buy this place outright and convert it into a shul, then that would be permissible.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Small Kippot - Igrot Moshe Orach Chayim 1:1

In this first teshuva in Igrot Moshe, Rav Moshe Feinstein was asked if one is permitted to walk around with his head only partially covered, i.e. if he is wearing a small kippa.

Interestingly, Rav Feinstein does not attempt to define how much of the head is too much or too little (at what point in the slope downward of the head does one no longer need to cover it?). However, he cites the view of Rav Shlomo Kluger who states that one can walk fewer than four amot with the head partially covered and not at all if the head is uncovered. Rav Feinstein's analysis then demonstrates that Rav Kluger seems to have an extreme view on this point, and that the wearing of a kippa is largely a מדת חסידות, although nowadays it has been accepted by Jews as a requirement for everyone. Rav Feinstein concludes that given its near-universal acceptance, one should not even sit without wearing a kippa, as there may be a חוקות עכו"ם problem (although it is not completely clear what practice of the non-Jews this would be emulating).

Selling a Shul - Igrot Moshe Orach Chayim 3:28

In this 1966 teshuva to HaRav Gedalia Anemer zt"l (who just passed away recently), Rav Moshe Feinstein deals with the question of whether or not a community may sell a shul if most of the people in the community have left and those who remain can barely afford to keep the shul open. The question is further complicated by the fact that it is likely that any buyer will turn the shul into a church. Additionally, it seems that the neighborhood in question is a rough one, and there are local hoodlums who vandalize the shul.

[ed. - It is not clear to me which community, if any in particular, is being referred to, but this does sound like what happened in Newark and Jersey City in the 1960's and 70's]

Rav Feinstein replies that the remaining members are not obligated to spend money to keep open a shul that they cannot afford. Furthermore, they should also move the sifrei Torah, and perhaps all sifrei kodesh in the shul into a safe place so that they are not vandalized. With regard to the fear of the shul becoming a church, Rav Feinstein says that even if the proceeds from the sale are not going to be used to build a new shul, nevertheless the shul can be sold without worrying what it is going to be used for. However, it is better to go through a broker, and specifically a non-Jewish one (so as to create several layers of possible לפני עור). Furthermore, Rav Feinstein allows the members to be active in the sale in the hopes that they will help keep the price high and thus the community will maximize its profit.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Changing the Nusach in Shul - B'Mareh HaBazak vol. 6

A note of introduction: B'Mareh HaBazak is a collection of responsa written by the scholars in Kollel Eretz Chemdah, an institution in Israel dedicated to producing high-quality Talmidei Chachamim and judges. The teshuvot are unsigned by any particular scholar.

In a teshuva wrutten in 2005, the community in Pforzheim, Germany asked whether they could change the nusach that is used for davening in their shul. As the shul was originally populated by Jews of Middle Eastern descent, the nusach used was that of Eidot HaMizrach. However, over the years the community changed in its make-up and a new building was built, and the question posed was whether they could switch to using nusach Sefarad, as per most communities in the Land of Israel.

The initial position taken in the teshuva is that the nusach of a shul should not be changed, certainly so long as original members of the shul remain. If people with a different nusach join the shul, they should daven to themselves with their own nusach, but the chazzan should use the official nusach of the shul.

However, in this case there was a desire to change the nusach not only to accomodate the newer members of the shul, but also as a way to draw more people into the shul who might otherwise not be affiliated with any shul (i.e. kiruv). As such, given those realities, plus the reality of a new building, there seems to be room to allow the change. It is recommended to also change the name of the shul, and to perhaps introduce some new by-laws, all in the name of creating a sense that this shul is a new entity and thus the change is part of a larger shift in the overall composition of the congregation.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Encouraging Chillul Shabbat - Igrot Moshe OC 1:99

In a teshuva written in 1953, Rav Moshe Feinstein responded to a question by Rav Naftali Carlebach of Detroit as to whether one could invite people to a minyan on Shabbat if it was known that they would travel by car. Rav Moshe responds that despite the kiruv aspect, it is definitely forbidden, not only because of לפני עור, but also because of a conceptual relationship to the notion of מסית. Rav Moshe then says that if the people in question live within walking distance but may drive anyway, then there is still a לפני עור problem but not necessarily one of מסית. Furthermore, if there is no explicit invitation to join the minyan, merely an informing that the minyan is going on, then it is questionable if there is any problem.

In the final paragraph, Rav Moshe deals with the question of whether or not someone should quit a shul where many people behave improperly. Rav Moshe feels that one should remain in such a shul in the hopes of being a positive influence, and should not despair. However, if the shul is actively regressing, such as by removing the mechitza, then a person should certainly refuse to be a member of such as shul.