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.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Bedika in Cars - Yechaveh Daat 1:5

In this brief teshuva, Rav Yosef affirms that one is required to do bedikat chametz in his car, just as he is required to check anywhere else in his property where he could logically assume that chametz has been brought. He notes that no new bracha is needed on this bedika, even though there is a lapse in time when one walk to the car. As a concluding note, he mentions that those who drive public buses or planes also have to clean out and check their vehicles.

Bedikat Chametz by flashlight - Yechaveh Daat 1:4

Rav Yosef here deals with what seems to be a fairly straightforward issue - can one use a flashlight or other electric light for bedikat chametz? His initial approach is to show that a flashlight does not constitute an avuka, or torch, as a torch by definition has separated wicks whose flames merge into one, while the various filaments in an electric light (the "wicks") are all combined. Rav Yosef further deals with the issues of whether or not the glass cover over the filaments constitutes a problematic barrier over the light (it does not) and whether an electric light can be called a ner, candle (it can, since it does for Shabbat candles). Rav Yosef therefore concludes that while a wax candle is preferable, an electric light can be used as well.

Shloshim Yom Kodem HaChag

In accordance with the first halacha in the Shulchan Aruch about Pesach, namely the requirement to begin learning hilchot Pesach 30 days in advance, I will be switching over now to teshuvot that focus on Pesach. Always hard to make that immediate switch after Purim, but such are the demands of halacha...

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Machatzit HaShekel and Ma'aser - Yechaveh Daat 1:87

Can a person use his regular ma'aser funds to give machatzit ha-shekel? Rav Yosef rules that one cannot do so. He bases this initially on a teshuva of the Maharam MiRutenberg (#74), who says that once the money is designated for one cause, it cannot be transferred to be used for another one. Rav Yosef then discusses whether ma'aser kesafim is a mitzva or simply a minhag, but concludes that even if it is a minhag, if a person commits himself to giving it, it takes on the status of a neder and thus it becomes obligatory. As such, he follows the view of the Maharil (#56) who says that ma'aser money cannot be used for matanot la-evyonim, and he extends that to include machatzit ha-shekel. However, he notes that if a person has fulfilled his obligation in giving matanot la-evyonim to two poor people and he still wants to give more, he can give that additional amount from ma'aser funds.

Machatzit HaShekel - Yechaveh Daat 1:86

In this teshuva, Rav Yosef covers a few basic points about the custom of giving machatzit hashekel:

  • A person should bear in mind that this is a minhag that is zecher l'machatzit ha-shekel, and not the actual mitzva.
  • There is a debate whether a person should begin giving it at age 20, which was the age for the original machatzit ha-shekel in the Torah, or age 13, since at that age a person is responsible for his actions and is in need of a kapara. Rav Yosef sides with Rambam and Ramban who both favor 13.
  • The money should be used to support those who learn Torah. Rav Yosef brings several texts supporting this idea, including the Gemara in Brachot 8a that says that after the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash Hashem dwells within the 4 amot of Torah, as well as a beautiful idea from the Maharash Algazi that while a person who brings a korban only brings that type of korban, a person who learns Torah is considered to have given all of the different types of korban.

Reading Megilla for Women - Yechaveh Daat 1:88

If a person is reading Megilla for his wife or a group of women, and he himself has already fulfilled the mitzva, should he make the brachot? Rav Yosef cites the debate between the Ramo on one side and the Pri Chadash and the Gra on the other, with both saying that a bracha is made, but the Ramo claiming that the bracha is lishmo'a megilla, and the Pri Chadash and the Gra saying that it is the regular bracha of al mikra megilla. Interestingly, there is one view that claims that no bracha should be said at all in this situation, since it is unlikely that the women will be able to pay full attention for every single word, and since the reader has already fulfilled his obligation, the brachot will not be said for anyone who pays attention to the entire reading. However, Rav Yosef completely rejects this approach, based both on the Gemara in Megilla 19a which says that you make a bracha even when reading for people who do not understand the text, as well as based on the logical point that women today are quite learned and thus likely understand every word. Thus, he concludes that the regular brachot should be said.

With regard to the bracha after the reading of the Megilla, Rav Yosef rules that since it is a minhag to recite it, it should only be said with a minyan, because only with a minyan do we have a fulfillment of pirsumei nissa. In a footnote, he points out the view of Rambam (Teshuva #84)who says that one should not even say Amen to such a bracha, as one should not say Amen to a bracha which is doubtful whether or not it should even be said.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Havara Ashkenazit and Havara Sephardit - Igrot Moshe Orach Chaim 3:5

(Teshuva written in 1969 to Rav Yechiel Michel Twerski of Milwaukee)

In tackling the issue of different havarot, Rav Moshe begins by stating that a person should not stray from his family's havara. He then points out that although only one havara can actually be the correct one, namely the one that Hashem uses and that was used to give the Torah, the fact is that all are acceptable. Were this not to be the case, then every time a chalitza is done it would have to be done using all possible havarot just to ensure that at least one was correct. Rav Moshe further points out that even within havara Ashkenazit there are a variety of options, and thus, while only one can actually be correct, they all have to be acceptable on some level.

The final paragraph of this teshuva both asserts the primacy of Hebrew - however it is pronounced - as the language appropriate for prayers, and notes that in America, where havara Ashkenazit is predominant, one should use and teach that pronounciation.

[My note - I am not sure if Rav Moshe is actually referring to all of America in his last paragraph, or only to his community. Obviously, there is a large Sephardic community that would disagree with his assessment. Additionally, Rav Moshe does not write what distinguishes one havara from another - is it the taf/saf difference? The pronounciation of the kamatz? The attention to proper mil'eil/mil'ra? Saying oy instead of oh?]

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Havara Sephardit and Havara Ashkenazit - Yechaveh Daat 6:19

Rav Yosef tackles the sticky question of whether a person who pronounces Hebrew with an Ashkenazic pronunciation can fulfill his obligation in kiddush or keriat HaTorah by listening to someone recite it with a Sephardic pronunciation, or vice versa. This issue was a major debate between the early chief Rabbis of Israel (Palestine), Rav Kook and Rav Uziel. Rav Kook felt that a person is not allowed to change his pronunciation, as doing so would constitute a violation of al titosh Torah imecha, while Rav Uziel felt that insofar as both approaches to pronunciation are acceptable, there would be no problem if a person changed his own approach.

Following in the footsteps of his Sephardic predecessor, Rav Yosef sees no ptoblem with a person hearing kiddush or havdala from someone who utilizes the opposite pronunciation, and he extends this ruling to include hearing keriat HaTorah from such an individual. He furthers his discussion to include the phenomenon (perhaps recognizable today in the cases of students who learn in Israeli yeshivot) of students whose parents use an Ashkenazic pronunciation, yet they pick up a Sephardic approach in school. He says that there is no problem involved, as even within Ashkenazic pronunciation there are vast differences (such as the difference between a chassidish and a more yekkish pronunciation).

Nevertheless, Rav Yosef notes that for parashat zachor and parashat parah a person should try to hear those sections read in their own pronunciation style, inasmuch as they are doraita obligations.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Ketanim and Parashat Zachor - Yechaveh Daat 1:85

In this teshuva, Rav Yosef works out an interesting distinction regarding the law of a minor being called up to read the haftara, and specifically with regard to parashat zachor. He cites Rabbeinu Tam, who rules that a minor cannot be called up for any aliyah from a second Torah, since that second Torah represents a different obligation for the congregation, and since the minor is not obligated, he cannot discharge the obligation of others. However, the Mordechai and others hold that a minor can be called up for maftir on such days, since the Gemara in Megilla says that a minor can even be called up for one of the regular seven aliyot.

However, when it comes to parashat zachor, it seems fairly clear that a minor cannot be called up, since it is generally considered to be a d'oraita obligation, and the minor is definitely not obligated. This may apply to parashat Parah as well, although its status as a d'oraita law is not as clear.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Shomei'a K'Oneh and Parashat Zachor - Yechaveh Daat 3:53

Is there a difference between parashat zachor and all other Torah readings during the year? If there is, would each individual be required to read parashat zachor to himself instead of relying on the reading of the ba'al koreh? Rav Yosef notes that there are at least two differences between the weekly keriat Ha-Torah and the reading of parashat zachor. First, zachor is d'oraita while the weekly readings are d'rabbanan. Second, the weekly readings are a mitzva incumbent on the community, while the reading of zachor is an obligation on each individual. Given these two differences, there is certainly room to say that one should have to read zachor by himself, even if only from a Chumash.

However, Rav Yosef concludes that one can rely on the ba'al koreh via the principle of shomei'a k'oneh. As proof, he notes that while each individual has an obligation to recite kiddush, standard practice is for one person to make kiddush on behalf of many other people, and for them to fulfill their obligation via shomei'a k'oneh.

Ta'anit Esther - Yechaveh Daat 2:78

Rav Yosef uses this teshuva to highlight the difference between Taanit Esther and the other fast days. Whereas the other fast days are sad days in commemoration of various stages of the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash, Taanit Esther is merely a memorial to the fasting of the Jews that led to their ultimate victory in the Purim story. Rav Yosef goes so far as to label it a taanit shel simcha.

That being the case, does a groom during his week of sheva brachot fast on Taanit Esther? Even though he would have to fast on any of the other fast days in such a situation, for the reason that his personal simcha does not override the communal mourning, since Taanit Esther is a not mourning, and has some aspect of rejoicing, his personal simcha can override it.

Rav Yosef concludes by noting that the same law applies to the participants in a Brit Mila (father, mohel, sandek), and that none of these individuals are allowed to be strict and fast anyway, since it is a personal holiday for them and they have to rejoice through eating.

Women and Parashat Zachor - Yechaveh Da'at 1:84

In this teshuva, Rav Yosef deals with the issue of whether or not women are obligated to hear parashat zachor read in shul. He begins by pointing out that it is a mitzva d'oraita to hear about the mitzva to wipe out Amalek. However, he notes that that does not specifically have to refer to hearing what we call parashat zachor, and in fact one can fulfill this obligation at any point during the year. That being the case, this would be a mitzvat aseh she-ein ha-zman grama, and women would be obligated just as men are.

However, there is a second side to the issue. The Sefer HaChinuch points out that women should be exempt from this mitzva since the point of remembering what Amalek did is so that we can then go out and destroy them, and the Gemara in Yevamot 65b states clearly that it is not the way of women to be involved in conquest. As such, many Acharonim followed this view and exempted women from having to hear parashat zachor. While Rav Yosef favors this view, he encourages women to hear parashat zachor anyway in order to fulfill the view that obligates them in hearing it.

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Minyan with less than a minyan fasting - Yechaveh Daat 1:89

Rav Yosef deals here with the question of whether or not a minyan should layn on a fast day if only six members of the minyan are fasting. He begins by quoting Rashba and the Shulchan Aruch who say that in such a situation the Shliach Tzibbur does not say Aneinu and that this applies to layning as well. However, he then cites the Maharam ben Chaviv who differentiates between the fast days that are fixed into the calendar, when having six people fasting would be sufficient, and fast days that are declared in response to a specific calamity, when a full minyan of fasting individuals would be needed. This psak seems to have been fairly widely accepted among Sephardic poskim and in Israel.

As an add-on, Rav Yosef deals with the issue of making Birchot haTorah for non-standard layning times. For example, if a shul reads the Purim morning Torah reading on both the 14th and 15th of Adar due to some doubt, they may make the brachot on both days. Rav Yosef cites the custom of reading the Torah with brachot on Simchat Torah night as proof - even though this reading is not halachically necessary, since it is an accepted minhag the brachot can be made. Rav Yosef does note that both the Chida and the Netziv oppose this view, but he himself favors it.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Leap Years - Yechaveh Da'at 1:83

In this teshuva, Rav Ovadia Yosef discusses the issue of Jewish leap years, specifically which of the two Adar is the primary month and which is considered the additional one. He deals with two issues. First, when it comes to a bar mitzvah boy, the consensus among poskim seems to be that he should celebrate in the second Adar, as that is the true Adar and Adar Rishon is the add-on. However, he notes that if both the year of birth and the year of the bar mitzvah are leap years, then the boy should celebrate in whichever Adar he was born.

The second issue concerns the practice of observed the 7th of Adar (the yahrtzeit of Moshe Rabbeinu) as a day of learning/fasting. There is some debate over which Adar should be utilized for this observance, based on a machloket in the Yalkut Shimoni of when Moshe died. Ultimately, Rav Yosef favors observing it in the second Adar, based on the Gemara in Kiddushin 38a which teaches that we know that Moshe died on the 7th of Adar by counting backwards from the entry of the Jews into the Land of Canaan (the mourned for him for 30 days, plus the days it took to enter the land and prepare for Korban Pesach - see the relevant psukim in Yehoshua). As such, even if it was a leap year when Moshe died (which could be an anachronism), he definitely died in the month before Nissan, which would be the second Adar.

Rav Yosef parenthetically notes that, in a similar vein, one who is observing yahrtzeit for a parent who died in Adar also does so in Adar Sheni. However, if the parent died in a leap year then, similar to the case of bar mitzvah, the yahrtzeit follows whichever Adar the death occurred in.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Transliterated Megillot - Igrot Moshe Orach Chaim 3:98

In this teshuva from 1969, Rav Moshe deals with the question of reading from a Megilla that is written in Hebrew but the letters themselves are of another language. In other words, it is written in transliterated Hebrew. He begins by noting that this is a machloket Rishonim, whether we need the language and the alphabet to match or not. He then waxes somewhat philosophical about the origins of language and alphabets, noting that perhaps this entire issue hangs on whether we say that language is a function of the people who speak it, and they have given a collective imprimatur to certain characters to represent only their language, or whether we say that once the alphabet exists, it does not matter what its native users want it used for, and thus it can be used even to write words from other languages. Rav Moshe concludes that Megilla written in Hebrew language must also be written in the familiar Hebrew script (ktav Ashurit).

The teshuva concludes with a paragraph about shnayim mikra v'echad targum, and Rav Moshe rules that when it comes to words who do not have a targum, such as the name of Hashem, they still must be read a third time when one is reading the targum, since failure to read them render the translation unintelligible.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Blotting out Haman - Igrot Moshe Orach Chaim 1:192

In this 1955 teshuva written to Rabbi Ephraim Greenblatt of Memphis, Rav Moshe addresses the minhag brought down by the Levush of saying ושם רשעים ירקב when hearing the name of Haman being read in the Megilla (obviously, a custom related to our custom of making noise). Rav Moshe approaches the question from the perspective of whether or not this is considered to be a הפסק, and uses the sugya of whether or not one can be דורש during Megilla reading as a template. However, he ultimately concludes that it is not a sufficient model.

In the closing lines, he suggests that the minhag of the Levush is based on the view in the Yerushalmi that Rav would say ארור המן and since that would not be considered a הפסק, since it was on topic, then neither would ושם רשעים ירקב. However, the Rosh writes that Rav would only say it after the Megilla was read, and thus since there is room for doubt, Rav Moshe advises against doing this.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Pirsumei Nissa - Igrot Moshe Orach Chaim 4:105.7

This section of the teshuva deals with the question of whether or not pirsumei nisa is meakev the lighting of Chanukah candles, and Rav Moshe uses the same issue with regard to reading Megilla as his source. By Megilla, we rule that pirsumei nisa is a hiddur mitzva, but is not actually meakev the mitzva, and thus a person can read Megilla even if they are alone (Rav Moshe does note that there is a machloket about reading alone if one has the chance to read with a minyan, but we rule that even in that case one can read alone with a bracha). That being the case, Rav Moshe claims that the same is true by Chanukah candles, and thus one can light with a bracha even if he is by himself and even if there is no one else around to see the candles.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Brachot on the Other Megillot - Igrot Moshe Orach Chaim 4:99.2

In this brief section of a teshuva written to Rav Ephraim Greenblatt of Memphis in 1972, Rav Moshe discusses the custom of making a bracha of al mikra megilla on the reading of Kohelet and Shir HaShirim. Doing so follows the view of the Gra, and Rav Moshe discusses whether people who follow this view can make the bracha if they read the relevant Megilla on the last day of Yom Tov instead of on the preferred day of Shabbat.

Rav Moshe first notes that the bracha is only made when the Megilla is read from a scroll written properly (i.e. on klaf, with the proper ink, etc). He then notes that the entire question is based on the fact that the Gra explains the reason for reading on Shabbat as being because Shabbat is a day when people gather together. Rav Moshe notes that Yom Tov is also a day of gathering together (even if not as much as Shabbat), and thus the bracha can be recited by those who have such a custom.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Microphone for Megilla - Igrot Moshe Orach Chaim 2:108

This teshuva is Rav Moshe's original teshuva about using a microphone for Megilla. Unlike most of his other teshuvot, this one is undated, although it was obviously from before 1980 (when OC 4:126 was written), and judging by its content it seems to be somewhat early.

Rav Moshe advises not to use a microphone for Megilla, although he concedes that the issue is not clear. He discusses a bit of the science involved as to whether the sound produced by the mircophone is an actual voice or merely an echo. He waxes a bit philosophical in terms of how exactly we are to define "voice." At the end of the day, while he is not sure that someone who uses a microphone for Megilla is completely wrong, and while acknowledging that allowing it for Megilla would not create a rush to use it for other mitzvot, since many other relevant mitzvot such as Shofar and keriat HaTorah take place on days when microphones are forbidden anyway, Rav Moshe nevertheless rules against this innovation, if only in order to slow down the rush to embrace innovation for its own sake.

Microphone for Megilla - Igrot Moshe Orach Chaim 4:126

In this teshuva, Rav Moshe tackles both the issue of hearing Megilla via microphone as well as the issue of the status of men relative to that of women vis-a-vis reading the Megilla. The question came from a girls school in Gadera which apparently had an overflow problem and wanted to use a microphone to enable all of its students to hear the Megilla.

In response, Rav Moshe wrote that it would be better to have a delay after Maariv in order to clean out the cafeteria and then use both the Beit Midrash and the cafeteria as staging locations for concurrent Megilla readings, rather than use a microphone. He further notes that both locations should have a minyan of men, but rejects the notion that men are "adif" (lit. "better") than women when it comes to hearing the Megilla, as both are equally obligated in this mitzva.

[I will note that on that last point, Rav Moshe does not get into the issue of women reading the Megilla at all - he seems to not consider that as an option.]

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Bein HaShemashot - Igrot Moshe Orach Chaim 4:62

This teshuva, written in 1979 to Rav Moshe's son-in-law Rav Moshe Dovid Tendler, is concerned primarily with the issue of the timing of sunset, bein ha-shemashot, and tzeit ha-kochavim. Rav Moshe's main point in the first half of the teshuva is to establish that in New York, and in fact in all of America (certainly in the area around NYC), bein ha-shemashot can be said to last 50 minutes. This is a departure from the 72 minutes or more (perhaps as much as 96 minutes) that was assumed in Europe, and Rav Moshe's rationale is that the difference is based on latitude, meaning that the time between sunset and darkness differs as a city is closer to or further from the equator. As such, in America Shabbat can be declared over 50 minutes after sunset.

The rest of the teshuva discusses several ramifications of this approach, including:

  • Lighting Chanukah candles on Friday night (should be lit before Shabbat candles, based on how long tosefet Shabbat is in America)

  • Amira l'akum and sha'at hadechak - if something needs to be done after sunset on Friday and it falls into one of these two categories, it can be done until 40 minutes after sunset. On Saturday night, there is a dispute whether such things can be done 10 minutes or 40 minutes (Magen Avraham) after Shabbat.

  • Brit Mila for a child born during bein ha-shemashot (long discussion)

  • A woman who cannot do a hefsek tahara for the entire bein ha-shemashot should do one for at least 9 minutes (this leniency is based on the existence of a sfek sfeika)

  • A person who has a hard time fasting can end his fast after 41 minutes after sunset if the fast is d'rabbanan. If it is Ta'anit Esther, such a person can even eat before hearing Megilla.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Welcome to the Learning Teshuvot Blog

I will be honest, this blog is more for me than it is for any readers who may come along. I have often tried to start some sort of a seder of learning a teshuva (Rabbinic responsum) each day, but I have often stopped after a few days. My hope is that the existence of a virtual log of summaries of the teshuvot that I learn will motivate me to continue.

At the outset, I cannot promise exactly what I will write about each teshuva and how much depth I will provide. At minimum, I will summarize the conclusion of the teshuva and the basic points along the way. I may decide to offer some of my own thoughts or questions, and if time permits I may offer some more depth on the major sugyot under discussion. All will be worked out over time.

If you have found yourself reading this blog, please enjoy the fruits of my labor. I am open to any comments and critiques, although I am not looking to moderate any in-depth discussions at this point. I do have a day job, after all.