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.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Taking Maaser from funds recovered from Nazis - Tzitz Eliezer 6:27

In 1957, Rav Waldenberg was asked whether one has to take ma'aser from reparations made or recovered from Germany as a result of their seeking to restore what the Nazis had forcibly taken from the Jews during the Holocaust. The questioner, Dr. Pinchas Wolf, assumed that no ma'aser needed to be taken, since the money or possessions that we being returned were actually the property of the recipient all along.

Rav Waldenberg argued that, in fact, the opposite would be true. Given the nature of the Nazi regime and the brutality with which they treated the Jews, with regard to their taking property from the Jews they would have the status of armed bandits. When a person has his money or other possessions taken from him by such individuals or gangs he is assumed to have יאוש, to have despaired of ever seeing that money again. Thus, if the money is ever returned to him it is considered to be not a return of the lost money, but rather a new infusion of funds that are thus subject to the laws of ma'aser.

Rav Waldenberg concludes by citing the Sefer HaChassidim, who discusses the important of giving ma'aser, and among the cases when one must give ma'aser he includes someone who finds a stolen object. Recovered funds or possessions that were taken by the Nazis certainly fall under the category of stolen objects that have been found (and whose owners have despaired of ever getting them back), and thus one should give ma'aser from these recovered funds.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Yichud - Ba'alah Ba'Ir - Tzitz Eliezer 6:40.4-5

In these two subsections of his essay on yichud, Rav Waldenberg focuses on the heter of בעלה בעיר, that there is no prohibition of yichud for a woman so long as her husband is present in the city.

In subsection four, his main concern is to assert the fact that there is indeed no prohibition of yichud under such circumstances - not only is there no punishment, but there is actually nothing prohibited about a woman being alone with a man so long as her husband is local.

In the section subsection, Rav Waldenberg pushes the limits of this leniency. What if a husband is in the city, but the woman is alone with a man somewhere other than her own house? If the leniency is based on the fact that the woman fears that her husband might come home at any moment and therefore she will not do anything illicit with the other man, then it would seem that this fear is absent in such a case and perhaps the leniency does not apply! This is in fact the view of the Chochmat Adam (among others).

However, Rav Waldenberg retorts that when Rambam mentions the idea of בעלה בעיר, he does not say that she fears her husband's return, but simply that she has a fear (more reverence than dread) of her husband. As such, one could posit that the mere presence of her husband in the city will serve as a restraining force on the woman even if she is not at home and her husband is unaware of her precise location. This view is put forward by the Sefer Yedei Eliyahu.

However, that position is then attacked from two sides. The Kol Eliyahu takes the predictable approach, reverting to our earlier statement that as long as the husband does not know where the woman is, her fear of him will be diminished and thus there should be a prohibition of yichud. The Chida comes from the opposite direction and says that since the Gemara simply says that we are lenient when the husband is in the city, it is not up to us to make distinctions within the details and thus there should be no prohibition in such a case. However, the Sefer Nishmat Kol Chai (Rav Chaim Palagi) retorts that since this leniency in the Gemara is stated with a reason for the leniency, that opens up room for us to make distinctions when warranted.

The Nishmat Kol Chai cites a position of the Radbaz that a woman can be in a yichud situation outside of her home so long as her husband in the city if that other location is a place of employment. In fact, this logic is the basis of allowing women to work in situations where they may encounter situations of yichud. While this would seem to support the lenient position stated above, in fact Rav Palagi claims that it works the other way - the only reason that such an arrangement is allowed is because the husband is aware of where the woman is and may even have occasion to show up at her place of employment during the day. However, if she were to be in an undisclosed location with another man, he would rule that to be forbidden. Rav Palagi concludes by stating that everyone agrees that yichud outside of the home would be forbidden.

Rav Waldenberg takes issue with Rav Palagi on two counts. First, he notes that it is not universally agreed that there is a prohibition in this situation. Second, with regard to the distinction of the Radbaz, he notes that perhaps when a woman is in a yichud situation with the permission of her husband she is more likely to do something inappropriate, since she assumes that since her husband is aware of where she is and approves of it, that she therefore does not worry that he will ever make an appearance. Ultimately, Rav Waldenberg that this issue seems to be stuck in a debate among the Gedolei Acharonim.

However, Rav Waldenberg goes even further than the Chochmat Adam. The Chochmat Adam writes that if the husband gives his wife permission to speak in private with another man, it would be forbidden for them to close the door. Rav Waldenberg claims that in such a situation that would actually increase the chances that the husband would show up to check things out, and thus perhaps there is still no prohibition of yichud under the rubric of בעלה בעיר. He cites the Dovev Meisharim who rules similarly, at least when livelihood is at stake.

The end of the teshuva raises as a possible point of proof a case of whether or not there is yichud in a succah, specifically with regard to having a chupah be there. Ultimately, Rav Waldenberg discounts such a case as having any bearing on our case since a new bride may not yet have a fully established fear of her husband, and thus the concept of בעלה בעיר might not be in full effect.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Yichud - One woman with two men - Tzitz Eliezer 6:40.3

In this section of his multi-part teshuva on yichud issues, Rav Waldenberg discusses the problem of yichud of one woman with two men. According to the Gemara in Kiddushin which serves as the basis for this entire discussion, one woman is allowed to be secluded with two men, althogh the Gemara then qualifies this by stating that this applies only if the individuals are צנועים, modest people. However, if they are considered to be פרוצים, lax in the sexual morals and behavior, then even a larger group would be problematic.

Rav Waldenberg's teshuva revolves around the basic point of who is considered to be a פרוץ and who is considered to be a צנוע. The initial problem stems from a statement of Rav in the Gemara who formulates a ridiculously high standard of who is considered to be a צנוע (using another אמוראas an example - the stories of that אמורא are found earlier in Masechet Kiddushin). Rambam basically codifies this view and rules that by his time no one could live up to that standard and thus everyone is considered a פרוץ.

However, Rav Waldenberg points out that most Rishonim did not accept this position of Rambam. Notable are the view of the Meiri, who opposes Rambam on the ground that it would invalidate everyone, and the view of Rashba, who writes that that rather than assume that everyone is a פרוץ, we should assume that everyone is fine unless known to be otherwise (and the statement of Rav in the Gemara should be seen as outlining simply a מדת חסידות). Rav Waldernberg further points out that Rambam may not in fact actually adopt the stringent view, as his statements elsewhere within הלכות איסורי ביאה seem to moderate that position.

In terms of who is considered to be a פרוץ for these matter, Rav Waldenberg rules that it is someone who is known to have violated issues of עריות in the past.

Rav Waldenberg concludes the teshuva with a discussion of whether or not having a child or the wife of one of the men present is sufficient to remove the yichud nature of the situation. He begins by noting that either condition is sufficient nowadays, regardless of whether or not the people are considered to be צנועים or פרוצים, on the logic that the presence of a child or a wife would prevent anything untoward from taking place. He proceeds from there to discuss several other details and contours of this aspect of the halacha.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Yichud with an Adopted Child - Tzitz Eliezer 6:40.21

In this subsection of a long essay on various yichud issues, Rav Eliezer Waldenberg deals with the question of whether or not there is a violation of yichud between a parent and their adopted child of the other gender. His initial reaction is to say that there should be a violation of yichud, even if the child does not know that he or she is adopted, since, at the end of the day, there is seclusion with a male and female who are not close biological relatives.

However, Rav Waldenberg then shifts gears and says that there are several angles by which such a situation can be permitted, particularly if the adoption took place before the child was old enough to be subject to a prohibtion of yichud. His first avenue for doing so is based on the Levush, who explains that the reason that a biological child can have yichud with a parent is because we are not worried about any sin occurring in such a situation. Similarly, rules Rav Waldenberg, in a case where the child has grown up relating to the adult as a parent, we assume that the feelings between them are those of a parent and child and that no untoward behavior will take place. He even extends this to allow them to hug and kiss as any other parent and child would.

On a related note, Rav Waldenberg borrows a logic from the case of a man with his menstruating wife. Even though she is classified as an ערוה, her husband can nevertheless be alone with her without a concern that they will have forbidden relations. The rationale given for this by the Chazon Ish is that they are used to each other (and thus presumably understand the boundaries and are capable of controlling themselves). So too in our case, says Rav Waldenberg, can we assume that the parent and adopted child are used to each other, specifically in the context of a parent-child relationship, and will not commit any illicit sexual act.

Rav Waldenberg then notes that the Yereim explains the permission to be secluded with one's menstruating wife as being a function of the rule that we do not make decrees on the community that people will not be able to uphold. Since it is not reasonable to expect spouses to live apart for 12 days each month, yichud with one's wife during her nidda period was not decreed. In our case as well, it would be well-nigh impossible for parents and children to have to find separate domiciles once the child reaches the relatively young age when yichud becomes an issue. Based on the Sefer Chikrei Lev, he notes that this would also be in violation of the spirit of דרכיה דרכי נועם- that the ways of the Torah are pleasant.

Rav Waldenberg concludes by adducing proofs from several stories of Sages who raised non-biological children from a young age and conducted themselves with them as they would with their own children. Finally, he notes that these leniencies are important in order to continue to encourage people to adopt those in need of it, rather than allow them to live unstable lives.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Yichud with an adopted child - Igrot Moshe Even HaEzer 4:64.2

As a rule, there is no prohibition of yichud (seclusion) with one's own children. However, what about an adopted child? Since the parents and children are not actually related by blood, is there is problem for a father and his adopted daughter to be alone together in a house? We will review Rav Moshe Feinstein's answer today, and follow soon with the more detailed analysis of the Tzitz Eliezer.

Rav Moshe begins by describing the general situation of adoption, noting that it is a wonderful thing for a couple to do to adopt an orphan, and that often times this is done because the couple themselves have been unsuccessful in having children and adoption gives them the opportunity to raise a Jewish child. He further notes that it is important to eventually let the children know that they are adopted so that they do not have problems later in life in terms of potentially marrying their biological relatives, and, as such, it is important to try to find out who their real parents are or were (assuming the child is Jewish from birth).

In terms of the yichud issue, Rav Moshe rules that it is not a problem. His primary prooftext is a Gemara in Sotah 43 that rules that an adopted daughter (or step-daughter) should not marry her step-siblings since even though they are not blood relations, it presents the appearance of siblings marrying one another. Based on this, Rav Moshe extrapolates that if the father would be careful to not have yichud with this daughter, it would "blow their cover" and make it clear that she was not actually related. As such, it must be that no prohibition of yichud is introduced in such a case.

Rav Moshe further notes that yichud is not a problem since the parent would not dare do anything untoward with the stepchild or adopted child, insofar as he or she fears his or her spouse finding out. As such, Rav Moshe cautions that if the parent of the same gender as the child passes away, then the remaining parent should try to avoid yichud situations going forward.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Raisinets and Tape Recorders - Igrot Moshe Orach Chaim 3:31

In a brief teshuva, Rav Moshe Feinstein tackles two unrelated issues. The first is the question of what bracha to make on chocolate covered raisins, insofar as both components are independently desirable and delicious. As such, Rav Moshe rules that one should make both a שהכל and a בורא פרי העץ. Since it is generally not possible to eat the raisin part independent of the chocolate, a person should have in mind not to include the raisin when he makes the bracha on the chocolate, or should make a בורא פרי העץ on some other fruit first.

The second issue dealt with is whether there is a problem of erasing Hashem's name when one erases a tape recoding that mentions the name. Since the name of Hashem is not actually written on the tape, there is no actual prohibition, but Rav Moshe cautions that others may think that we are taking a cavalier attitude towards God's name. However, if one can erase it in a more indirect manner [perhaps by taping over it?] then that would be preferable.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Medinat Yisrael and Kedushat HaAretz - HaRav Shlomo Yosef Zevin

In this article written in Hatzofeh in December/January 1947-8, a few months before the establishment of the State of Israel (and reprinted in Techumin volume 10 with new material added), Rav Zevin reviews the history of קדושת הארץ and possible ramifications of a renewal of significant Jewish settlement in the Land.

On one level, the Land has independent kedusha, as reflected in various statements in the Gemara and Midrashim about God's concern for the Land and how one who lives in Israel has a God, while one who lives outside of Israel is as if he has no God. This kedusha is eternal, and is not connected to where Jews are living at a given moment.

Rav Zevin then discusses the kedusha that accompanies Jewish settlement in the Land, and differentiates between the kedusha that came about at the time of Yehoshua's entry to the Land and that which devolved at the time of Ezra's leading the Jews back from the Babylonian exile. The kedusha from the time of Yehoshua was created via conquest and perhaps via the building of the Beit HaMikdash, and most commentaries hold that this kedusha was nullified when the first Beit HaMikdash was destroyed and the people were exiled.

By contrast, the Jews who returned to build the second Beit HaMikdash did not conquer the Land, but merely built up settlements, and thus the kedusha at that time was created via their seizing of the Land. However, there is a debate as to whether this kedusha was full-force, or whether it only created a d'Rabbanan-level obligation for מצוות התלויות בארץ such as giving תרומות ומעשרות. According to Rambam, the obligation was only d'Rabbanan, since we require ביאת כולכם - everyone coming to the Land in order to restore the full kedusha. As with the kedusha from the time of Yehoshua, there is a debate as to whether or not this second kedusha was nullfied when the Beit HaMikdash was destroyed.

Based on these considerations, Rav Zevin discusses several issues that may now become relevant as Jews were about to return after two thousand years to their Land:

1) The Negev - the southern part of Israel falls outside of the borders that were conquered by the Jews at the time of Yehoshua, but well within the area promised to the forefathers. As such, it is possible that while crops grown there may not be subject to an obligation to give תרומות ומעשרות דאורייתא, there may nevertheless be a fulfillment of מצות ישוב הארץ for one who lives there.

2) The overall kedusha of the Land - if those who returned from Babylon could put kedusha back into effect by settling the Land, is it possible that the same could happen with those who are now returning. And, if so, can they re-create the kedusha in a way that it could spread to regions that had not previously been settled?

3) If a majority of Jews return to the Land, will we reach a situation of ביאת כולכם that would make fulfilling the mitzvot of the Land into מצוות דאורייתא? This was debated by Rav Chaim Soloveitchik and his student Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer [interesting trivia - Rav Chaim's great granddaughter is Rabbanit Tova Lichtenstein and Rav Isser Zalman's granddaughter is Rabbanit Miriam Amital]. Rav Chaim held that ביאת כולכם was tied to a historical moment and could only happen during the days of Ezra, while Rav Isser Zalman felt that it could happen at any time. Beyond that debate, there is the question of whether ביאת כולכם means literally all Jews or if we could invoke the well-known dictum of רובו ככולו and only require a majority of world Jewry to move to Israel in order to have a higher level of kedusha kick in. Rav Zevin sides with the view that we can invoke רובו ככולו [ed. note - we are getting very close to this point right now].

4) The mitzva of settling the Land - Rav Zevin concludes by noting that according to Ramban, one of the 613 mitzvot is to settle the Land, which the Marcheshet rules includes living in the Land and acquiring land in Israel. As we now have our own State, we finally have, for the first time in two millenia, the opportunity to fulfill this mitzva in all of its aspects.

May we merit to see the continual flowering of the גאולה and may we do our part in helping Hashem to fulfill וקבצנו יחד מארבע כנפות הארץ.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Soldiers refusing orders - Rav Yaakov Ariel - Techumin 4

In this article written in 1983, Rav Ariel deals with the question of whether or not soldiers are allowed to refuse orders. Specifically, he grapples with the issue of refusing the order to clear out Yamit and to invade Beirut. He also discusses following an order to begin a siege on Shabbat, as well as doling out collective punishment to Arabs in Yehuda and Shomron. The common denominator of all of these cases is the presence of a religious, halachic, or national consideration that stood in opposition to the official military order.

Rav Ariel's first approach is to consider a military order in the context of being a גזירת המלך. Rambam, based on the Gemara in Sanhedrin says that one may disobey a military assignment if it contradicts a mitvza, since דברי הרב ודברי התלמיד דברי מי שומעין - we obviously listen to God over listening to any of His subjects if the two are in contradiction to one another. In this vein, he cites a teshuva of the Chacham Tzvi who compares listening to a royal decree to the mitzva of כבוד אב ואם, specifically with regard to the fact that in neither case may one violate another mitzva in order to obey or respect another human. However, there are Rishonim who qualify this. The Meiri in Moed Katan writes that one may set learning Torah in order to do a mitzva that cannot be done by someone else, such as respecting one's parents, and in Sanhedrin he writes that a royal edict cannot override the public study of Torah, but it can override study by an individual.

Rav Ariel then distinguishes between כבוד and מורא, between respecting one's parents and fearing them, noting that in the former case one can set aside a mitzva, but not in the latter. As such, when it comes to following a royal order, since we are only commanded to fear a king, we can ignore the order we are doing so in order to perform a mitzva. Extending this line of thinking to our cases, Rav Ariel rules that refusing orders for a subjective לשם שמים purpose would not constitute a rebellious act.

From there, Rav Ariel considers a view of the Netziv that refusing an order contains an element of פקוח נפש, to the possible extent that someone who refuses an order is considered to be a rodef insofar as he is potentially endangering others while he remains safe at home (based on the story in Bamidbar of Bnei Gad and Bnei Reuven). However, Rav Ariel also considers the spiritual peril that is brought about by an order that demands that someone violate halacha. As such, he advises soldiers to determine whether an order is objectionable from a subjective or an objective perspective, and to take counsel with a posek if they are not capable of making such a determination. Furthermore, he concludes that if it is too close to call, then the danger posed by refusing an order outranks the danger of fulfilling an order that seems to violate a halachic position, and in such a case the soldier should fulfill the order given to him.

In the conclusion, Rav Ariel deals with the specific cases that were brought to him:

1) With regard to a siege in the Sinai that was to begin on Shabbat, apparently this particular order was not an emergency situation, and thus Rav Ariel felt that one could refuse such an order. However, he noted that in general one can violate Shabbat for a military mission under emergency conditions.

2) With regard to evacuating the Yamit settlement, Rav Ariel ruled that soldiers were obligated to follow orders, based on the reasoning that the governmental decision to give over Yamit may have been a mistake in judgement, but was not intended to harm the Jewish people or the State of Israel. (See the statement by Mori V'Rabi HaRav Aharon Lichtenstein on the disengagement from Gaza in 2005 for more on this issue.)

3) With regard to soldiers who did not want to go to Beirut, Rav Ariel ruled that they are required to go, as refusing an order in a wartime situation is a particularly egregious act. Since one cannot prove objectively that the war is wrong and any arguments on that issue are based on one's political worldview, there is little room to allow for someone to be a conscientious objector.

4) With regard to soldiers asked to adminsiter collective punishment to Arab residents of Yehuda and Shomron, Rav Ariel permitted them to refuse the order assuming that the order was objectively in error. He felt that most of the Arabs living there were not actively at war with Israel and thus we nee to consider the idea of maintaining דרכי שלום with our non-Jewish neighbors.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Soldiers volunteering for dangerous missions - Rav Shlomo Min HaHar - Techumin 22

In honor of Yom Hazikaron, which falls out today but is being observed on Monday, a teshuva from the author of דיני צבא ומלחמה, a major halachic work for Israeli soldiers.

Rav Min HaHar was asked if one can volunteer for a military operation that is potentially life-threatening, if the option is to allow others to volunteer while the observant soldier stays behind and engages in Torah learning. The questioner also worried that perhaps failure to volunteer would result in a חילול השם. Finally, he asked whether or not the extra experience should be a factor?

Rav Min HaHar responded that there is ample evidence from Tanach of individuals volunteering for military service (soldiers fighting with Devora and Barak, Yonatan ben Shaul, and others), and many of these individuals clearly could have been staying behind and learning instead. However, Rav Min HaHar does not think that potential חילול השם should be a factor in the decision.

In terms of considering the fact that being involved in this mission will give the soldier more experience, which will be valuable in the future, Rav Min HaHar does not consider that sufficient reason to volunteer for a mission that would involved חילול שבת (since we do not allow medical students should work on cadavers on Shabbat based on similar logic), however it may be reason enough to allow someone to volunteer for a potentially dangerous mission.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Pesach in the Ghetto - Mima'amakim 1:17

Rav Oshry was asked two questions before Pesach concerning coping with the lack of food while at the same time trying to keep the various eating restrictions that come with the holiday.

The first question was whether people would be allowed to eat kitniyot if they became available, despite the general custom not to eat them. Rav Oshry ruled, based on the Chatam Sofer, that in a שעת הדחק one would be allowed to consume kitniyot, provided that he washed them to ensure that there was no grain mixed in with them.

The second question was more complex. Some of the Jews who worked in the forced labor camps had found potato skins and wanted to mix them with some flour in order to produce matzah. Since fruit juices mixed with flour do not produce chametz, this theoretically could have worked. However, since the skins were dirty they wanted to first clean them, and they were concerned that by introducing water into the mix that would actually reverse the situation, whereby the water and flour would mix and the juices of the potato skins would serve to speed up the fermentation process and thus the mix would definitely become chametz. Rav Oshry advised, based on the ruling of Rav Avraham Dovbear Kahana Shapiro, that they wipe the skins clean with a cloth and then bake matzot from them, thus avoiding the introduction of water.

מי כעמך ישראל גוי אחד בארץ

לז"נ קדושי עמך ישראל שמסרו נפשם על קדושם השם

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Watching Christian Ceremonies on TV - Rav Soloveitchik

In Nefesh HaRav, Rav Herschel Schechter reports that when Kennedy was assassinated, his funeral was held in a Catholic church (St. Matthew's in Washington, D.C.) and many people, including many Jews, watched the service on television. Rav Soloveitchik was quite upset about this, as according to Catholic doctrine, those who participate in religious rites such as this via television "fulfill their obligation" of being a part of the service and thus all of the Jews who watched the service could be considered as having taken part in this non-Jewish religious service. Rav Soloveitchik concluded that there was no difference between entering the church in person and "entering it" by bringing it into one's home.

[Hat tip to Rabbi Daniel Feldman for reminding me of this source.]

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Kitniyot Oil on Pesach - B'Mareh HaBazak 3

A questioner in Montevideo, Uruguay asked when it would be permissible to make use of kitniyot oils on Pesach, assuming that the kitniyot themselves are not present in their natural form in the oil?

The response from Kollel Eretz Chemdah was that while Ramo forbids kitniyot oil on Pesach, it is possible to permit such oils if the kitniyot did not come into contact with water during the processing. Even if water was involved, there would be room to be permissive if the kitniyot themselves were separated out (and thus alleviating the fear that grains that could become chametz were mixed in). This is based on the logic that we are allowed to eat wheat and other grains on Pesach so long as we make sure that they do not become chametz, and thus we certainly should be no stricter with kitniyot - as long as we can ensure that they have no concern of chametz there should be room to be permissive (Rav Kook used this exact logic in permitting sesame oil that was carefully prepared). Finally, they note that there is even more room to be permissive with soy oil. (Click on the "kitniyot" tab on the side to see other teshuvot on this topic.)

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Inviting Non-Jews to the Seder - B'Mareh HaBazak 3

The community in Trieste, Italy asked Kollel Eretz Chemdah about a particular issue with their community seder. They realized that a noticeable number of attendees were intermarried, and the question arose as to whether the non-Jewish spouses could be served food at such a seder, since the Shulchan Aruch rules that other than servants, non-Jews may not be invited to non-Shabbat meals on Yom Tov since one might prepare extra food for them and the allowance for cooking on Yom Tov is only to cook for Jews for that day.

The teshuva begins by noting that inviting the non-Jewish spouses could be seen as given a seal of approval to the intermarriage, and such considerations should be kept in mind.

In terms of the issue at hand, there are several ways in which a non-Jew could be allowed to partake of a meal with a Jew on Yom Tov:

1)If the Jew who was cooking did not take the non-Jew into consideration or did not know that he was coming at the time of the cooking.

2) If the cooks in the kitchen are non-Jews and the Jew in the kitchen is simply overseeing the cooking so as to avoid a problem of בישול עכו"ם.

3)If the food is prepared in advance and is merely being warmed up on Yom Tov, and thus no cooking is taking place.

Beyond those issues, the non-Jews at the seder are allowed to be served and can be treated as any other guests once they are there, although they should not be given the matzah that is used for the mitzvah, out of respect for the mitzvah.

Shortening the Seder - B'Mareh HaBazak 3

The community in Quito, Ecuador asked the Rabbis of Kollel Eretz Chemdah if they were allowed to shorten any part of the seder for the benefit of members of their community who were not familiar with Hebrew (the seder in question was to be a communal one).

The response was that the first thing to be shortened should be parts of נרצה (such as only singing the final summary paragraphs of אחד מי יודע and חד גדיא). In terms of מגיד, the advice was not to remove anything, although various parts could be recited in the local language in order to increase their interest. However, any brachot or parts of Hallel should remain in Hebrew, and any particular noteworthy segments of the seder [ed. - perhaps מה נשתנה] should be left in Hebrew so as to preserve the traditional flavor of the seder.

In terms of translating parts of the seder, in a footnote the repondents discuss three reasons why we are generally opposed to reciting davening in translation and why those reasons do not apply when it comes to the seder:

1) It is often difficult to translate davening in a way that accurately preserves the true meaning and intention of the prayer. However, by the seder we are not as concerned with the specific words as we are with telling the story. As such, discussing the story in a familiar language could actually be an improvement over reciting the written text.

2) The are various סגולות connected to the words of davening - again, this does not apply to מגיד, which is composed of various statements of חז"ל which were not originally written for the purpose of being combined into the seder.

3) The resistance to davening in a language other than Hebrew is partially rooted in a fear of emboldening reformist elements. When it comes to the seder, that fear is not so salient, as people have always read or discussed the Haggada in their own language.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Using Church Candles - Chatam Sofer Orach Chaim 42

I came across this teshuva while preparing my weekly shiur on Ramban - it is based in part on a Ramban from parashat Vayakhel.

The Chatam Sofer was asked whether one is allowed to use candles from a house of idolatry (which I am going to assume is referring to a church), and whether they could be used in a shul. He split the question between candles that belonged to the church but had not been used, and those that had been used, then extinguished.

In terms of candles that were merely owned by the church, the Chatam Sofer ruled that they could definitely be used in a shul, since the mere designation of the candles as church candles was not sufficient to make it forbidden. Furthermore, since it would only be used for decorative purposes, and since the selling of the candles by the church would constitute a nullification of their idolatrous nature, they certainly could be used in shul.

However, would it be permissible to take a half-used church candle, melt it down, and then reconstitute it and use it in a shul? The Chatam Sofer begins by noting that according to the Shulchan Aruch one should not take the clothes of a priest and turn them into a tallit, as that small amount of tailoring would constitute a sufficient shinui to allow the sacramental clothing to be used for a mitzva. However, he feels that the melting down of a candle and subsequent re-rendering of it as a new candle would be a sufficient shinui and such a thing would be allowed.

However, he wonders if the Ramban in parashat Vayakhel militates against this. In discussing the kiyor (laver), the Midrash states that Moshe did not want to accept the women's mirrors to be used in its construction, since they were used for vanity purposes and thus had no place in the Mishkan. However, Hashem noted that they were in fact tools of shalom bayit and thus should be accepted (see Rashi on Shemot 38:8 for further detail). Ramban wonders why this was such a problem - after all, Moshe had no problem in accepting other jewelry from the women, but notable the kumaz, which according to the Midrash was an accessory worn on a woman's genitals! Why was Moshe not repulsed by accepting such an object!?

According to Ramban, since the kumaz was given along with many other types of jewelry, it was batel (nullified) in the mixture with the other accessories. The Chatam Sofer notes that the more logical explanation would be to say that since the jewelry was all melted down, the kumaz was not a problem, whereas the mirrors, which were not melted down, remained troublesome to Moshe. However, Ramban does not take that approach, and the Chatam Sofer reasons that according to Ramban, merely melting down something does not eradicate its repulsive nature. Applied to our question, that would mean that melting down the candles would not eliminate their stigma of having come from a church.

However, the Chatam Sofer disagrees with this approach (and a Gemara in Avoda Zara 52b which seems to make a similar point), and he permits using such candles under such circumstances. However, he notes that one who wants to be strict and not use such candles will be blessed from steering clear of objects that once were a part of foreign worship.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Heart Transplants continued - Tzitz Eliezer 5:25.6

In this teshuva that is the next subsection of the compendium that included the previous teshuva on heart transplants, Rav Waldenberg considers the case of assisting in the death of someone who is a goseis (is close to death) and would be better served by being put out of his misery, and perhaps is even requesting to be put out of his misery.

On a simple level, Rav Waldenberg rules that we may not do so, based on the Gemara in Shabbat mentioned in the previous teshuva and as codified by the Aruch HaShulchan, with the logic that we are not masters of our own bodies, and therefore none of us have the right to request the death of another, or even of ourselves.

Rav Waldenberg cites two cases that prove this. The first is the death of Rabi Chanina ben Teradyon, who was burned alive by the Romans while wrapped in a Torah, and with wet wool put over his heart to slow his death. Rather than let his students remove the wool to hasten the death, Rabi Chanina had the Roman officer remove it, since his students were not allowed to do anything to speed up his death, even though doing so would shorten his agony. The second case brought is that of David HaMelech killing the Amaleki who had killed Shaul HaMelech. Even though Shaul had requested that the Amaleki kill him so as to bring his death about quickly, nevertheless David held the Amaleki (who according to several commentaries was actually Jewish – see Shmuel Bet 1) liable for the murder.

Furthermore, based on a Gemara in Sotah we learn that prolonging someone’s life is considered to be meritorious, even if that life is a difficult and painful one. As such, no one has the right to take his own life or allow someone to do so in order to put himself out of his misery.

Heart Transplants - Tzitz Eliezer 5:25.5

In this teshuva from 1967 (even earlier than those from Rav Moshe Feinstein), the Tzitz Eliezer begins by stating that removing a heart that is still beating in order to transplant it into someone else is tantamount to murder, based on the Gemara in Shabbat 151b that rules that any action which hastens death is considered to be murder.

However, Rav Waldenberg then raises the possibility that the donor is considered to be a treifah, since he is unlikely to live, and perhaps this avenue needs to be explored in terms of potential room to permit taking the heart from someone who is not yet clinically deceased. However, he rejects this position on the grounds that while a court cannot condemn someone as a murder for killing a treifah, that person nevertheless has the status of being a murderer. Furthermore, Rambam in Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah rules that one may not kill another Jew for the purpose of healing another, which would seem in modern times to apply to such a case.

However, the Minchat Chinuch comments on that Rambam that if non-Jews are threatening to kill a group of Jews unless they hand someone over, they are allowed to hand over someone who is a treifah in order to save the rest of the group. While this seems to be another avenue that could lead to permitting taking a live heart to save someone else, Rav Waldenberg rejects this for three reasons. First, as stated before and as pointed out by the Noda BiYehuda, we may not actively kill a treifah, and thus the inference of the Minchat Chinuch is incorrect. Second, it could be that only the person who is himself a treifah is allowed to hand himself over, but no one else is allowed to do so. Finally, whereas Rambam is discussing a case where the non-Jews specifically asked for someone to kill, in this case the doctor is not looking for this particular person per se, but rather for anyone who could serve as a donor, and thus the logic of “whose blood is redder” kicks in.

In terms of the recipient there is a problem as well, since the chances of survival with the new heart are not guaranteed, and thus there is the potential problem that removing his diseased heart and replacing it with someone else’s heart will result in the death of the recipient. Even though every surgery carries with it the potential of danger to the patient, such surgeries are permitted so long as the chances of death are minimal. However, since in the case of heart transplant surgery the chances are death are quite great, it is not permitted under the general heter that is given to surgery.

Rav Waldenberg concludes by speculating whether such a surgery, the likes of which was never envisioned in earlier times, should even fall under the rubric of ורפא ירפא, which is the source allowing physicians to practice their craft. [ed. Note – I am not sure what he means by this, since taken to its logical conclusion, this reasoning would forbid using any innovation in medicine. If anyone can shed light on this, I would be most appreciative.]

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Heart Transplants - Rabbanut HaRashit - Techumin 7

In what amounts to a policy paper published in volume 7 of Techumin (1987), the Chief Rabbinate of Israel outlined their position on heart transplants. They begin by acknowledging the position of Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Isser Yehuda Unterman, who forbade the practice when it was still relatively new. They then note that over the decade and a half since heart transplants first came on the medical scene, the science had progressed so significantly that now roughly 70% of recipients were living at least five years. They noted as well as letter from Rav Moshe Dovid Tendler, son-in-law of Rav Moshe Feinstein, stating that Rav Moshe had changed his views on heart transplants in light of the advances made in science since the time of his original teshuva.

As such, the Chief Rabbinate was willing to allow heart transplants to take place in hospitals in Israel provided that certain criteria were met. With regard to the donor, there had to be a clear establishment of the death of the donor, as determined by confirmation of brain stem death and cessation of respiratory activity. There also had to be written consent from the donor's family as well as the presence of an agent of the Chief Rabbinate present as part of the team that determined death. Note that there is no longer a concern that the transplant would qualify as killing the recipient, as most recipients did succeed in living somewhat normal lives after the procedure.

The article concludes with a list of clinical indicators that brain stem death has, in fact, taken place.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Heart Transplants - Igrot Moshe Yoreh Deah 2:174

In this teshuva from 1968, Rav Moshe Feinstein offers an in-depth analysis of the issues involved with heart transplants. Bear in mind, as mentioned in the last teshuva, that this was written in the early days of heart transplants, when success was not assured.

Rav Moshe begins by flatly prohibiting heart transplants on the grounds that it involves the murder of two people - the donor and the recipient. The donor is deemed a murder victim since his heart was still beating when it was removed from him, and the recipient is deemed a victim since he is sure to die soon as a result of the transplant and he is condemned to a brief life of pain and suffering in the interim.

The bulk of the teshuva is divided into four sections, in which Rav Moshe makes the following main points:

1) It is forbidden to shorted someone's life by even the smallest amount, and thus so long as someone's heart is beating, removing it in order to give it to someone else constitutes killing that individual.

2) We are not experts in determining the exact time of death, and even once breathing has stopped it is still possible for someone to be alive.

3) Giving someone a heart transplant does not qualify as healing the recipient per se, but rather as prolonging his life. Since that life is likely to be one of suffering, it is forbidden to inflict such a situation on another person. [ed note - does anyone know Rav Moshe's opinion about hooking someone up to a life support machine? Wouldn't that seem to be the same thing?]

4) Rav Moshe's final point discusses the limits of the requirement of לא תעמד על דם רעך - that we are not required to actually cut off a limb in order to save another individual. Certainly in this case, where we are asking someone to give up a major organ for the purpose of possibly saving someone else for a small amount of time there is no requirement to do so.

[My hope is to continue to find teshuvot on this topic that were written as the medical science continued to advance. Stay tuned.]

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Determining death - Igrot Moshe Yoreh Deah 2:146

[ed note - this teshuva has been in the news recently due to the recent discussions concerning the RCA's paper about brain death. I am not an expert in the issues involved, nor am I seeking to contribute to the overall discussion. However, I do feel that in any overheated debate, it is important to actually check the sources that are the source of the issue.]

In a teshuva from 1970, Rav Moshe Feinstein was asked to rule on the medical notion of brain death. He begins by stating that life is determined by breathing, and cessation of brain activity does not necessarily mean cessation of respiratory activity. As such, brain death would not be considered death [ed note - Rav Moshe's son-in-law, Rabbi Dr. Moshe Tendler, has drawn a distinction with regard to this teshuva between brain death and cerebral death - see here]. So long as the doctors are able to detect some signs of life, even if they require sensitive high-tech equipment to do so, they should treat the patient to the utmost degree in order to save him.

[Rav Moshe pauses at this point to note that we generally are not concerned with things that can only be detected via microscopes and other instruments which perceive that which we cannot perceive with our senses. The case of a patient whose heartbeat can only be detected via electric radiogram is an exception to this rule.]

The next extensive part of this teshuva deals with the various parts of the body that are discussed in sections of the Gemara that discuss determining death, such as the nose and the navel. Rav Moshe concludes that neither one is actually responsible for life, but rather are merely locations on the body where we can perceive whether or not life functions are continuing, and ultimately he leans towards the view of the Chacham Tzvi that the heart is the major determinant of life.

At the very end of the teshuva, Rav Moshe discusses the issue of heart transplants, which had been done for the first time in 1967, and was still exceedingly rare at the time of this teshuva (see here for more history). Rav Moshe feels that the removal of the heart from the recipient is tantamount to murder, and that doctors are not trustworthy that the transplant will work both because who knows whether the new heart will work any better than the old one, and because past recipients have lived only a short time. It would be interesting to see more recent literature on this topic as medical knowledge in this field has improved vastly over the past four decades. Readers are encouraged to send in references.

Mikveh in a bad neighborhood - Igrot Moshe Yoreh Deah 2:91

In a strange case brought to Rav Moshe Feinstein in 1964, the question was asked about the status of a mikveh in a non-Jewish neighborhood which apparently had windows that allowed passers-by to look into the mikveh. Rav Moshe begins by decrying this as a major breach of tzniut, and then notes that the טבילה that the women do may not be good, as they might be so self-conscious as to not be careful with what they are doing. He further exhorts the community to take whatever measures necessary to construct a mikveh that is not compromised.

Rav Moshe then addresses the issue of how the new mikveh is to be built. Apparently, the community wanted to destroy the existing mikveh in order to build the new one. However, Rav Moshe notes that this would leave the community without a functioning mikveh for the intervening period, and that would be an untenable situation.

An additional issue raised was whether or not the community should be worried that a non-Jew would climb up on the roof of the new mikveh and pour water into the pit that was collecting rain water for the mikveh, thus invalidating the mikveh. Rav Moshe ruled that we do not worry that a non-Jew would do something like this, which involves a certain degree of effort, if he stands to gain nothing.

Finally, the questioner asked as well about a community who wanted to construct a shul so that the Aron and bima could be automatically lowered out of sight in the event that a wedding would take place in the shul. Rav Moshe rules unequivocally that such a move would be forbidden, as it would not be respectful to the Torah for it to be below the floor while people are celebrating above (and not necessarily celebrating in a halachically acceptable fashion). Furthermore, Rav Moshe points out that the Chatam Sofer and others do not approve of using shuls as venues for weddings.

Dental stiches and mikveh - Igrot Moshe Yoreh Deah 2:87

With regard to whether or not stitches as a result of oral surgery present a problem of chatzitza for a woman who has to go to the mikveh, Rav Moshe rules that since the stitches cannot be seen and can only be manipulated via a fine instrument they are considered to be in a מקום בלוע and thus do not need to have the water reach them and thus are not considered to be a chatzitza.

Listening to Gentile music - Igrot Moshe Yoreh Deah 2:56

In this brief teshuva, Rav Moshe rules that it is forbidden to listen to non-Jewish religious music, even on the radio or a recording. This applies not only to current songs, but to ones from the past as well [ed. note - this can be an issue when taking music courses in college and Gregorian chants are part of the curriculum]. Even if the song uses psukim from Tehillim (or elsewhere in Tanach, e.g. The Hallelujah Chorus), it is forbidden. However, if the song is written and/or song by a non-Jew but has no religious purpose, then there is technically no prohibition.

Rav Moshe considers the case of Acheir, who the Gemara claims left Jewish religious life as a result of his constantly singing Greek songs. After some discussion as to whether this could really be the reason that he abandoned his religious life, Rav Moshe cites the Maharsha who says that he was singing songs that had connections to idolatry that led him to heresy. Rav Moshe also notes that a potential issue is the mentioning of the names of other gods, as that would violate the prohibition of ושם אלהים אחרים...לא ישמע על פיך.

[ed. - Does that last point present a problem from songs such as "Let it Be" or "Walking in Memphis"? Discuss.]

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Hunting for sport - Noda BiYehuda Yoreh Deah 2:10

The Noda BiYehuda was famously asked if it is permissible for a Jew to hunt animals for sport. He begins by considering two obvious objections, and rejects them both.

First, he discusses whether hunting would fall under the category of צער בעלי חיים, causing unnecessary pain to the animal. He rejects this objection on two grounds: (1) This rule only applies when there is no benefit for humans, but since when one hunts he stands to get some benefit (perhaps the skins), then there is no consideration of צער בעלי חיים, and (2) this principle only applies when the goal is to apply pain. However, since when one hunts he aims to kill the animal quickly, and to actually put it out of pain, then there is no issue.

The second likely objection is that of בל תשחית, loosely defined as wasting some part of this world. Again, the Noda BiYehuda rejects this problem, as the hunter does stand to gain something once he shoots the animal, and thus there is no wasting involved.

However, the Noda BiYehuda still rejects the permissibility of hunting. He begins the second part of his teshuva by noting that hunting is something that is associated in Tanach with Nimrod and Esav, and thus is not something connected to the character of the descendants of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. As to the defense that one should hunt in order to get the skins of the animals, the Noda BiYehuda points out that plenty of animals die on their own and thus there is a readily available supply of such skins without resorting to hunting.

As to the defense that the mishna in Sanhedrin 2a allows for the killing of wild and potentially dangerous animals, the Noda BiYehuda notes that this likely only applies once they have attacked someone and have shown themselves to be actually dangerous, if it applies at all. If anything, hunting for sport is merely revelatory of a cruel nature.

Furthermore, he points out that there may be a specific prohibition involved, namely a violation of ונשמרתם מאד לנפשותיכם - that we are enjoined to take care of ourselves physically. Once who willingly enters a wooded area or some other spot where he is expecting there to be wild and vicious animals is taking his life into his hands (even if he is a relatively good shot), and thus would be violating this mitzva. Even further, the Noda BiYehuda notes that the mishna in the 4th perek of Brachot provides a special prayer that one should recite when entering into a dangerous place, and he reasons that going hunting qualifies as such (based on the fact that even the great hunter Esav said הנה אנכי הולך למות - and the simple explanation is that he expected to eventually die in a hunting accident).

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Getting remarried - how soon is too soon? - Igrot Moshe Even HaEzer 4:48-51

In this run of teshuvot from a variety of years spanning several decades, Rav Moshe Feinstein deals with issues pertaining to how soon a woman can get remarried. The issues are generally those surrounding children, both those unborn as well as those recently born.

In general, the rule is that a woman has to wait for three months after the end of her previous marriage before entering a new one so that if she becomes pregnant it will be clear who the father is. In this case, asked by Rabbi Ephraim Greenblatt of Memphis, TN, the woman had been separated from her husband for several years yet only now became officially divorced. Rav Moshe ruled that she nevertheless had to wait three months from the time of the actual divorce.

In the second teshuva, Rav Moshe's grandson-in-law Rabbi Shabtai Rappaport asked about a woman whose husband was killed in war (presumably in the Lebanon War, as the question was asked in late 1983). The woman had an infant from that husband (born after his death) and had stopped nursing the child for normal reasons. The woman now met a man and wanted to marry him. Despite the fact that in halacha 24 months are allotted for nursing, with the fear that if a woman becomes pregnant before that she will starve the baby, the fact is that since the baby had stopped nursing on its own (well before 24 months) and since the presence of a husband would provide a stable household for this woman and her children, Rav Moshe permitted her to get married without having to wait until the end of 24 months.

Rav Moshe takes a different approach when it comes to a divorcee. In a case posed to him by Rav Moshe Dovid Tendler, the woman was divorced with an infant, and wanted to remarry before the child turned 2 years old. Since the husband in this case was particularly difficult with regard to paying alimony, and the courts were fairly ineffective in forcing him to do so, Rav Moshe found it difficult to consider this child as being supported by his father (the presumption is that the new husband will not want to support the children of the old one - obviously that can vary from case to case). Rav Moshe ultimately permits her to remarry once the child is 18 months provided that she sees to it that the child is financially provided for and provided that she feels an overwhelming need to get married at that point in time.

In a teshuva written one year later to Rav Shalom Tendler, Rav Moshe addressed a case of a divorcee who had a very young infant and had stopped nursing already so that she could return to work (not far remarriage purposes) and now had met someone interested in marrying her. Rav Moshe permitted her to marry the man, provided that she saw to it that the child would be fully provided for until age 2. The fact that the man was considered to be a positive development for the child played a role in this decision as well.