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.

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.