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.

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.