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, April 25, 2010

Going to Meron - Yechaveh Daat 5:35

Rav Ovadiah Yosef deals here with two issues concerning modern-day practice on Lag BaOmer - going to Har Meron to give a child his first haircut, and the various other things that take place on Meron on Lag BaOmer.

In terms of using this day and location for a first haircut, Rav Yosef first discusses the idea of davening at the graves of tzaddikim, and concludes that there certainly is support for such a notion, with the motivation issue being that the tzaddik whose grave is being prayed at will appeal to the heavenly court on one's behalf. While there does not seem to be significant support to give a child his first haircut at age three specifically at the grave of Rav Shimon bar Yochai on Lag BaOmer (thought to be his yahrzeit, although Rav Yosef has a footnote which discusses that idea), it nevertheless seems to be a fine and commendable practice.

HOWEVER, in the second part of the teshuva, Rav Yosef basically forbids people from going to Meron on Lag BaOmer. He makes this ruling based on the fact that the scene on that day involves many people dressed improperly and many people shechting animals who probably have no business doing so (and thus the meat is not necessarily kosher). It is therefore better for one to visit these graves on a different day when there is no such scene.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Music and Haircuts during Sefira - Igrot Moshe YD 2:137

In this subsection of a multi-topic teshuva, Rav Moshe Feinstein deals with two issues. First, he addresses the question of whether it is permissible to listen to musical instruments during sefirah if you are alone. Rav Moshe says that it is forbidden, based on the fact that even during the rest of the year we are lenient about listening to instruments for the purpose of enhancing a simcha, and therefore the added prohibition of sefirah encompasses people who are by themselves. [It should be noted that Rav Moshe has a generally strict view about listening to music post-churban Beit HaMikdash, and thus his view in this case is strict as well]

Rav Moshe then deals with the issue of whether or not a woman can get a haircut during sefirah. The existence of such a question is based on the fact that a woman who is in aveilut can get a haircut after shiva but still during shloshim. Even according to the Ramo, who is strict when it comes to shloshim and the week of Tisha B'Av, Rav Moshe feels there is still room to be lenient since the prohibition of haircuts during sefirah is only a minhag (albeit a strong one). However, he writes that if there is no pressing need for the haircut then it should be avoided.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Celebrating Yom HaAtzmaut - Rav Uziel

In a teshuva written to the community in Tunis in 1952, Rav Ben-Zion Chai Uziel, the Rishon L'Tzion, was asked whether it was permissible to suspend learning Torah in school in order to celebrate the new holiday. Rav Uziel replied that the day marked a true turning point in the history of the Jewish people, as had the infant state been defeated, it would have been catastrophic for both the Jews in Israel as well as those still living in the Arab nations. As such, Rav Uziel feels that it a mitzva (his word) to celebrate this salvation in schools and shuls, and for parents to ensure that their children are involved in these ceremonies as well so that they will appreciate all that Hashem has done in His great kindness for the Jewish people.

May Hashem continue to shower his kindness on His land and His people, and may we merit seeing the complete redemption.

(this teshuva is found in Techumin volume 13)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Moments of Silence - Rav Yehuda Herzl Henkin

In an article in Techumin 4 (p. 125), Rav Henkin addresses the practice that in Israel on Yom HaZikaron (and on Yom HaShoah) a siren is sounded throughout the country and everyone stops and observes a moment of silence. He questions this practice on two grounds - (1) Is it considered to be chukat ha-goyim, practices of other nations which we are not supposed to adopt and (2) is it a problem of bittul Torah, taking away from time learning for those who are learning at the time the siren is sounded.

In terms of the first issue, Rav Henkin notes that according to almost all poskim, there is no chukat ha-goyim problem when the practice is one of honor, which this certainly is. The one objector to this allowance is the Gra, who rules that this prohibition applies to any practice that we learn from other nations. However, even if one wanted to rule strictly as per the Gra, Rav Henkin finds two reasons why in this case there would still not be a problem. First, even the Gra only prohibits practices that were created by other nations specifically for them. However, the idea of a moment of silence to honor the deceased is observed in other nations by everyone, even the Jews living in those nations, and thus it does not have the status of a specifically non-Jewish practice. Second, the idea of standing in honor of someone comes up several times in Tanach (such as מפני שיבה תקום) and thus it is actually a Jewish idea. Even if someone wanted to say that the idea of honoring someone by standing when it appears in Tanach does not refer to honoring the deceased, Rav Henkin counters that we do not need that degree of specificity in order to consider this practice to be a Jewish one.

In terms of whether or not this is a ביטול תורה issue, Rav Henkin cites the Gemara in Berachot 53a which discusses whether or not one may interrupt his learning to say "bless you" to someone who has sneezed. While someone learning alone can, the issue is more complicated when we are referring to the learning taking place in a Beit Midrash. There are two main views among the Rishonim, as Rabbeinu Yonah is concerned for this issue when people interrupt learning by speaking, and Rashi feels that there even may be a problem if people interrupt without speaking. Rav Henkin therefore suggests that when the siren wails, a person who is learning in a Beit Midrash should stand silently and think about Torah in memory of those who have fallen, as even when one is learning he sometimes pauses to think about what he is learning.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Living in Israel - Rav Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook

In this brief teshuva, cited in Techumin volume 3, Rav Tzvi Yehuda affirms that there is definitely a mitzva to live in Israel, as per the view of Ramban. He then goes further and notes that just like one is required to give his life for any mitzva in a situation where he is being forced not to do it [my note: specifically in times of religious persecution], even more so in the case of living in Israel, which is a mitzva that is seen as tantamount to all other mitzvot, one must make whatever sacrifices necessary to fulfill it. This mitzva even goes beyond other mitzvot in this regard, in that a person must put himself into a potentially dangerous situation of living in Israel.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Living in Israel - Igrot Moshe Even HaEzer 1:102

In the last paragraph of a teshuva about a different topic (written in 1952), Rav Moshe Feinstein addresses the issue of whether or not there is a mitzva to live in Israel nowadays. He says that most poskim feel that it is a mitzva. However, he notes that these days it is not a mitzva chiyuvit (one that a person must strive to fulfill in all cases), but rather it is a mitzva kiyumit (a mitzva that one gets credit for doing if he does it, but does not have to put himself in a situation where it becomes obligatory). In making this ruling, Rav Moshe relies on the view of a Ba'al Tosafot named Rav Chaim cited in Tosafot Ketubot 110b, who notes that nowadays (meaning already 800 years ago) there was not a requirement to live in Israel since doing so would potentially trigger the requirement to keep a variety of mitzvot connected to the land, and since we are not fully sure how to keep those mitzvot or if we even can, thus it might be better to avoid such a situation.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Clothing of the Deceased - Mima'amakim 1:3

Rav Oshry was asked about a case where the Jews in the Kovno Ghetto were ordered daily to provide 1,000 people to work on a nearby airport for the Nazis. One erev Rosh HaShana, they failed to produce the requisite number of workers, and the Nazis entered to ghetto to find Jews to force into labor, and along the way they killed a number of individuals (including one who was holding his machzor). The Nazis then demanded that the Jews dig graves for their deceased brethren and offered the clothes of the deceased to those digging the graves. The question asked was whether those clothes could be worn by the living (insofar as they had no blood stains on them).

Rav Oshry began his response by citing the halacha in the Shulchan Aruch that when a person is found killed he should be buried as is, with his clothes left on. He then discusses a distinction made by the Shach between one who is killed and one who dies several days after sustaining a fall, where the former should be buried as is while the latter should receive a normal tahara. In the case under discussion, since there was no blood absorbed into the clothes, Rav Oshry ruled that the clothes could be taken off the bodies and used. However, since the individuals were killed in cold blood, there exists an idea of burying them in their clothes in order to increase the anger of others against the murderers.

(The latter portion of the teshuva discusses other cases concerning clothing of the dead, including some cases that Rav Oshry dealt with in America after the war.)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Pikuach Nefesh - MiMa'amakim 1:2

There was an airfield near the Kovno Ghetto and each day the Nazis asked for 1,000 Jews to come and work at the airfield. As a ration, the Jews were given some form of soup that was most decidely not kosher (and probably not so edible either). A group of the Jews who were on the work detail asked Rav Oshry if they were allowed to eat the soup, since at the present moment their failure to eat the soup would not cause them to starve, and thus perhaps the general rules of piku'ach nefesh would not apply.

Rav Oshry began his reply by basing himself on the case of someone who is ill on Yom Kippur who either feels that he needs to eat or is told by a doctor to eat. In both instances, we allow the individual to eat, even if his failure to eat will cause his condition to worsen down the road and not at the present moment. Based on that, Rav Oshry held that it would be permitted for the people on work detail to eat the soup.

However, Rav Oshry presses the case further, noting that in the Yom Kippur case the individual is already sick, whereas in the question posed to him the people were not sick at the time, and thus perhaps they cannot claim to fall under the rubric of piku'ach nefesh. To answer this concern, Rav Oshry cites the case of a person lost in the wilderness who does not know which day is Shabbat. The law in such a case is that the individual should count off six days and then hold the 7th day as Shabbat. However, there is a discussion as to whether he should actually rest on that day, or whether he should behave as normal and simply designate that day as unique through kiddush and havdala. According to the Bigdei Yesha, he can treat the day normally in terms of food preparation and does not have to fast, since he is trying to hasten his exit from the wilderness. From this, Rav Oshry derives that a person can take certain liberties to stave off a harmful situation, even if he is not currently in that situation. And thus, Rav Oshry permitted the workers to have the soup even though they were currently in a healthy condition.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Tearing keriah for a Sefer Torah - Mima'amakim 1:1

In the first teshuva in his collection, Rabbi Oshry describes a case where the Nazis brought many cats and dogs into the Beit Midrash in the Kovno ghetto and slaughtered them. Not content with that desecration of a holy site, they then had Jews come forward and tear the sifrei Torah to be used to cover the rotting corpses of the slain animals.

The question that emerged was whether a general fast day or some other public expression of mourning could be proclaimed as a result of this incident.

Rabbi Oshry first deals with the halacha as it pertains to those who actually witnessed the incident. After dealing with a potential variant text in the Gemara in Moed Katan 26a, he concludes that anyone who actually saw the sifrei Torah being torn had to tear keriah. With regard to others in the ghetto who did not witness the incident, and who perhaps did not even see what had happened, Rabbi Oshry deliberates, weighing the issue that such a horrific incident is clearly a call from Hashem to repent against the fact that there does not seem to be a strong source obligating the masses to take any definitive action.

In the end, Rabbi Oshry concluded that there was certainly no need for people to fast as a result of this incident, particularly in light of their generally weakened state due to the lack of proper nutrition in the ghetto. However, anyone who wanted to give tzedaka as a result of this event was encouraged to do so, and Rabbi Oshry used the following Shabbat as an opportunity to arouse the people to do teshuva and to be particularly careful in the respect that they accorded sifrei Torah.

Welcome back and topic shift

No, I have not stopped blogging - merely paused due to the overwhelming preparations necessary for Pesach.

As the next month is filled with more recently instituted observances and holidays on the calendar, I am going to try to find teshuvot that are appropriate to those days. With Yom HaShoah next week, the next few days will contain summaries of teshuvot from She'elot U'Teshuvot MiMa'amakim, the collection of responsa written in the Kovno ghetto by Rabbi Ephraim Oshry (for more on Rabbi Oshry, click here). In his introduction to this collection, Rabbi Oshry himself notes that the responsa are valuable not only for their Torah value but also for shedding some light on the lives that the Jews lived in the ghetto. Indeed, the cases and questions are generally striking and sometimes painful to read.

Fortunately, many happy days come after Yom HaShoah, and I plan to change the tone of the teshuvot covered accordingly.