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.

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.