Yevamos 120a: Washing Meat to Extend the Salting Deadline

Yevamos 120a: One may not testify that a man is dead unless he saw him within three days of death, but if he saw him later, his appearance may have changed and the witness could mistake his identity.

Rav Dimi permitted the wife of a man who drowned in Karmi and was pulled out of the water more than three days later. Rava permitted the wife of a man who drowned in the Tigris and was pulled out onto the bridge five days later. The reason is because water tightens up the body.

The Aruch Hashulchan 69:72 says that this is proof to the rule of the Gaonim, brought in Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 69:12, that one may not rely on salting to remove the blood from meat after three days, because the blood dries up inside the body (causing the face to be disfigured) and cannot be removed by the salt. Thus if the meat was soaked within the first three days, it can be salted even after three days, similar to the man who fell into the river whose blood and appearance is kept fresh by the water.

יבמות קכ ע”א: אין מעידין אלא עד ג׳ ימיםֹ. ופירש רש”י אם ראוהו בתוך ג׳ ימים למיתתו מעידין עליו אבל אם לא ראוהו עד לאחר ג׳ ימים חיישינן שמא נשתנו מראית פניו ואין זה שהם סבורים.

שם קכא ע”א: דההוא גברא דטבע בכרמי, ואסקוהו אבי הדיא לבתר תלתא יומין, ואנסבה רב דימי מנהרדעא לדביתהוֹ ותו, ההוא גברא דאטבע בדגלת ואסקוהו אגישרא דשביסתנא, ואנסבה רבא לדביתהו אפומא דשושביני לבתר חמשה יומיֹ וכו’ שאני מיא, דצמתי.

שו”ע יו”ד סט,יב: בשר ששהה ג׳ ימים מעת לעת בלא מליחה נתייבש דמו בתוכו ולא יצא עוד ע״י מליחה ואין לאכלו מבושל אלא צלי וכו’.  

שם סעיף יג: ואם שרו אותו במים תוך הג׳ ימים יכול להשהותו עוד שלשה ימים אחרים פחות חצי שעה.

Rabbi Yirmiyohu Kaganoff served as a rav in Buffalo, New York. One short erev Shabbos, there was a severe blizzard across a large part of the country; the major interstate highways and all state routes were closed. About half an hour before Shabbos, the telephone rang.  “Rabbi Kaganoff, I was given your phone number in case of emergency,” said the woman on the other end. “I am a dispatcher for the All-American Transport Company. We have a load of kosher meat held up by the storm that needs to be washed by Saturday night.” Rabbi Kaganoff asked her if she knew the last time the meat was washed. “It was last washed 11 p.m. Wednesday and needs re-washing by 11 p.m. Saturday.”

He politely asked if she could call him back in about 25 hours, which would still be several hours before the meat’s deadline.

Right after Shabbos, the telephone rang again. A different, unfamiliar voice identified itself as the driver of the stuck truck. His vehicle was exactly where it had been Friday afternoon, stranded not far from the main highway.

Rabbi Kaganoff said he would make some phone calls and get back to him. But he could find no mashgiach in the vicinity of Nebraska who was able to go and supervise the washing of the meat. With no good news to tell the trucker, he procrastinated on calling him back.

An hour later, the phone rang again, with the trucker on the line. “Rabbi,” he said, with obvious excitement in his voice, “I’ve solved the problem. I discovered that I was stranded a few thousand feet from a fire station. And now, all the meat has been properly hosed. Listen to this letter:

“On Saturday evening, the 22nd of January, at exactly 9:25 pm, I personally oversaw the successful washing of a kosher load of meat on trailer 186CX and tractor 2008PR. To this declaration, I do solemnly lend my signature and seal,

James P. O’Donald, Fire Chief, Lincoln Fire Station #2.”

Probably noticing Rabbi Kaganoff’s momentary hesitation, the trucker continued, “Rabbi, do I need to have this letter notarized?”

“No, I am sure that won’t be necessary,” he replied. He was not about to tell the driver that halachah requires that a Torah observant Jew supervise the washing of the meat. On the contrary, he complimented him on his diligence and his tremendous sense of responsibility.

Now it was Rabbi Kaganoff who had a responsibility on his hands: Since he knew the meat’s ultimate destination, he needed to inform the rabbi of that town of the situation so that he could reach a decision.

The rabbi of that town consulted with a posek who reasoned that since the truck had been stuck in a major blizzard, unquestionably the meat had been frozen solid, and that they could rely on this to kasher the meat after it thawed out.

Although the Pri Megadim and others do not allow extending the 3-day deadline by freezing, the Aruch Hashulchan and others disagree, and R’ Moshe Feinstein relied on it in extenuating circumstances. (Igros Moshe YD 1:27, 2:21)


[We see here that the kashrus supervisors in this meat plant allowed two leniencies: 1) They allowed extending the 3-day deadline further by washing the meat a second time – the Yad Efraim is uncertain whether this works. 2) They allowed simply hosing down the meat, as opposed to soaking it, and thus they would have relied on the fire hose if not for the fact that it was done without Jewish supervision. The Taz says it must actually be soaked, and the Yad Avraham allows rinsing only in cases when the veins in the meat were already removed. Evidently, the kashrus supervisors in this story relied on the Yad Efraim, who says that one should not be lenient and rinse the meat if it is possible to soak it, implying that if there is no other way, it may be rinsed.]  

Bava Kama

Bava Kama 46a: The Ferocious Newborn Calf

Bava Kama 46a: If a cow gored an ox, and we find its newborn calf next to it, and we don’t know whether the calf was born before the goring or afterward, he collects half the damages from the cow or a quarter of the damages from the calf.

ב”ק מו ע”א וכן פרה שנגחה את השור ונמצא ולדה בצדה, ואין ידוע אם עד שלא נגחה ילדה אם משנגחה ילדה ־ משתלם חצי נזק מן הפרה ורביע נזק מן הולד.

When R’ Yaakov Kamenetsky was 10 years old, he had a rebbe who taught this Mishnah incorrectly. The Mishnah actually means that the owner of the ox is claiming that the cow was still pregnant when it gored. Since damage payments for an animal that was not accustomed to gore (תם) are limited to the value of the animal, he claims that the baby was inside its mother at the time of the incident, so that he may collect from both the mother and the baby. The owner of the cow claims that the baby was already born before the incident, and thus is not subject to collection.

This rebbe, however, got the arguments reversed. He said that the owner of the ox claims that the baby was already born, and it too participated in the goring, so it is subject to collection; the owner of the cow claims it was not born yet and is thus innocent.

Reb Yaakov, having grown up on his grandfather’s farm, had seen newborn calves and knew that they could hardly stand on their feet and are incapable of goring. He asked his rebbe, “But how could a newborn calf gore?” The rebbe shouted at him, “How dare you argue on a Mishnah like an apikorus? From asking such questions, I am sure you will someday go off the derech!” 

The young boy humbly accepted his rebbe’s explanation, but still struggled to imagine a baby calf causing damage. But then he remembered hearing his mother read a story from the Tzenah Urenah (Parshas Noach), based on a Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 5:1) which says:

עובדא הוה בחד אתתא דילידת בלילה ואמרה לברה אזיל ואדליק לי בוצינא ואנא קטע שורך אזל למדלק בוצינא ופגע ליה שידא שריהון דרוחתא עם דמתעסקין דין עם דין קרא תרנגולא א״ל אזיל גלוג לאמך ואמור לה אילולי דקרא תרנגולא הוינא קטיל בך א״ל אזיל גלוג לאמא דאמך דלא קטעת אמי שורי דאי קטעת אמי שורי הוינא קטיל לך.

Before the Mabul, a mother once told her newborn baby to go fetch a candle so that she could cut his umbilical cord. While out, he met the Prince of the Demons. As they were talking, the rooster crowed. The demon said, “Go tell you mother that had the rooster not crowed, I would have killed you.” The baby replied, “Go tell your mother’s mother that had my mother cut my umbilical cord, I would have killed you.”

The young Reb Yaakov concluded that the Mishnah must be talking about a monetary dispute in the generation before the Mabul, when even newborn babies were strong and capable. Later in life, he joked, “This was the first of my chiddushei Torah.”

Source: Making of a Godol, p. 144


Krisos 25a: In one day, you won’t sin

Krisos 25a: They said of Bava ben Buta that he used to bring an asham taluy every day, except for the day after Yom Kippur. He said, “I swear by the Temple that if they would let me, I would bring it then too. But they say to me: wait until there is a possibility that you sinned.”

כריתות כה ע”א אמרו עליו על בבא בן בוטא שהיה מתנדב אשם תלוי בכל יום, חוץ מאחר יום כיפורים יום אחד, אמר: המעון הזה, אילו היו מניחין לי הייתי מביא, אלא אומרים לי המתין עד שתכנס לבית הספקֹ.

The desk of the Rogachover Gaon was always piled high with postcards, on which he would write his responsa. As soon as he finished writing a postcard, he would ask his shamash to go and drop it in the mailbox, because he didn’t want to make the asker wait any extra time to receive his answer. 

Rabbi Pinchas Teitz said of the Rogachover, “He wrote so many responsa, I would estimate between forty and fifty thousand. He remembered every letter he wrote – the asker, the question, the date and his response. I am not sure if there was anyone in Jewish history who wrote as many responsa as he did.

“One day, so many letters arrived that the mailman could not fit them all into the Rogachover’s mailbox, so he placed them on the doorstep. When I came to the house, I picked up the bundle and saw that there were 16 letters and 6 double postcards. The Rogachover sat down immediately and in about an hour and a half, all his responses were written and ready to send. He did not even have to look up anything in a sefer.

“Often he began his letters with a question or chiddush he was reminded of as he marked the date. For example, he once penned a letter on the day after Yom Kippur. As he wrote the date, “Erev Shabbos Kodesh 11 Tishrei,” before he wrote the year, he mentioned the argument of the kohanim to Bava ben Buta that he should not bring an asham that day, because there was not yet a possibility that he had sinned. Then he was evidently bothered: why is it not possible? In reply, he referenced the Gemara in Me’ilah 14a-b. There the Mishnah states that if the treasurer of the Beis Hamikdash buys wood for building, and someone sits on the woodpile, he commits me’ilah – misuse of sacred property. But, asks the Gemara, didn’t Shmuel say, “We build the Beis Hamikdash out of non-consecrated materials and then later we consecrate the finished building, lest one come to derive benefit from the materials during the building process.” Rav Papa resolves this by saying that the Mishnah is talking about wood that is needed for that very same day. Such wood is, in fact, consecrated before the building, because in one day, there is no need to worry that one might sin.

Source: Rabbi Pinchas Teitz, writing in the introduction to Tzofnas Paneach, referring to responsum 124; the Rogachover by Yair Borochov.


Chullin 111a: Kashering Meat Without Salt

Chullin 111a: Perhaps the reason it was allowed to cook the heart and liver was because they dipped them in boiling water, so that the blood was cooked inside the meat and was thus unable to come out. This is similar to the story of Rav Huna, who ate unsalted meat dipped in vinegar, and Rav Nachman, who ate unsalted meat dipped in boiling water.

חולין קיא ע”א אי נמי מיחלט הוה חליט ליה מעיקרא כי הא דרב הונא חלטי ליה בחלא ורב נחמן חלטי ליה ברותחין. וכתב הרי”ף שהגאונים גזרו על זה כיון דאין אנו בקיאין. והערוך השולחן בסימן ס”ט סקס”ח ביאר החשש של הגאונים ואח”כ כתב ומ”מ דעה ראשונה עיקר להלכה ולכן לצורך מותר.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein was asked by his grandson, Rabbi Mordechai Tendler, how to prepare meat for a person with a heart condition and high blood pressure, whose doctor told him to avoid salt. R’ Moshe said, “There are two ways: the first is to have a separate pot, cut the meat up into small pieces and drop them into vigorously boiling water. Although we don’t usually use this as a method of kashering meat, because the Gaonim say we are not expert in using it, in this case one can be lenient.

“The second way is to use another type of salt, such as ammonium chloride or potassium chloride. The question about this is only whether such salt works to remove blood. If it is a naturally occurring salt, it definitely works. For we see that Sodom salt has different components from our salt, since it causes blindness, yet it works for kashering. But if it does not occur naturally, then we don’t know if it removes blood.”

Rabbi Tendler suggested that the person should do both: first salt with another type of salt, and then drop into boiling water. This way, if the salt doesn’t work, there is at least a chance that the boiling will work. Reb Moshe said perhaps, but one need not do both. He concluded that the first idea would be the best one to use.

Source: Mesores Moshe, v. 1, p. 209


Berachos 38a: The Bracha on Chocolate

Berachos 38a: On dates that were pounded into a paste, one says the bracha, “Borei pri ha’eitz.” Why? Because they are still in their natural state.

Rashi: Somewhat pounded but not completely pulverized.

ברכות לח ע”א. והלכתא תמרי ועבדינהו טרימא מברכין עלוייהו בורא פרי העץ, מאי טעמא במילתייהו קיימי כדמעיקרא.

רש”י: ושם טרימא כל דבר הכחוש קצת ואינו מרוסק.

שו”ע או”ח ר”ב ס”ז: תמרים שמיעכן ביד ועשה מהם עיסה והוציא מהם גרעיניהם אפילו הכי לא נשתנית ברכתן ומברך עליהם בורא פרי העץ ולבסוף ברכה מעין שלש: הגה ולפי זה ה״ה בלטווערן הנקרא פאווידל״א מברכין עליהם בורא פרי העץ וי״א לברך עליהם שהכל (ת״ה סי׳ כ״ט וב״י בשם הטור) וטוב לחוש לכתחלה לברך שהכל אבל אם בירך בפה״ע יצא כי כן נראה עיקר.

שם ר”ג ס”ז: בשמים שחוקים ומעורבים עם סוקר, הבשמים עיקר ומברך עליהם כדין ברכת אותן בשמים.

מ”ב שם סקי”ב: שחוקים – היינו אף כשהם שחוקים ונימוחים לגמרי עד שאין ניכר בהם תארן הראשון כלל אפ”ה לא נשתנית ברכתן עי”ז לכו”ע דדרך הבשמים לכתוש באופן זה. סקי”ג: הבשמים עיקר – היינו אפילו כשהיה צוקע”ר הרוב ומעט בשמים וכעין שנוהגים בינינו וכו’. 

Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach held that the bracha on chocolate is borei pri ha’eitz. He printed this psak in Minchas Shlomo (v. 1 page 610) and followed it himself. Once, his grandchildren were visiting him and chocolate bars were served. One of them asked, “Zaidy, what bracha should I make?” “Go ask your grandmother,” was his reply.

When he reported back that she had told him to make “shehakol”, R’ Shlomo Zalman said, “So why are you coming back to me again?”

Source: Making of a Godol, p. 139

[The logic for saying “shehakol” is, apparently, that the chocolate is completely ground up and bears no resemblance to the original cacao bean. This is similar to the date paste mentioned by the Rema in 202:7 on which one makes “shehakol” when the dates are completely pulverized.

The flaw in this, says R’ Shlomo Zalman, is that while dates can be, and in fact are, eaten in their natural state, cacao beans are bitter and impossible to eat as they are. They must be ground up and mixed with other ingredients to be edible. In this respect they are similar to spices, on which one makes “ha’eitz” even when they are mixed with a majority of sugar.

Furthermore, he argues, Sephardim should definitely make “ha’eitz” since they follow the Mechaber who says that even on completely pulverized dates, one makes “ha’eitz”.

As to the reason why he didn’t pasken for his grandson, perhaps he held that since his psak ran counter to the world’s custom, it would not be right to confuse children with it, especially since one fulfills his obligation in any case with “shehakol.” Only those capable of understanding the reasoning should follow it.

One additional point: R’ Shlomo Zalman begins his piece by writing that he understands why people make “shehakol” when drinking hot cocoa, based on the Shaarei Teshuva 202:19. The Shaarei Teshuva does say that “shehakol” is what the world makes on coffee, tea and hot cocoa. But looking at the Panim Meiros 2:190 he quotes on the subject of coffee and tea, it’s far from clear why that practice is correct. The Panim Meiros gives many reasons to make “ha’adamah” on tea and mentions a great man, Rabbi Shmuel Shatin, who did so; when asked why he went against the prevalent custom, he replied, “Any custom not established by chachamim is not a custom.” Still, the Panim Meiros concludes that he personally says “shehakol” because he does not want to do anything that looks strange to people.]

Moed Katan

Moed Katan 25b: Naming a Son after a Father

Moed Katan 25b: Rabbi Chanin, son-in-law of the Nasi, had no children. He prayed for children and got one, but on the day his son was born, he died. The eulogizer said, “Happiness was turned into sorrow, rejoicing and sadness joined together. At the time of his joy he sighed, at the time that he was graced, his grace went lost. They named him Chanin after him.

מועד קטן כה ע”ב: רבי חנין חתניה דבי נשיאה הוה, לא קא הוו ליה בני, בעא רחמי והוו ליה. ההוא יומא דהוה ליה ־ נח נפשיה. פתח עליה ההוא ספדנא: שמחה לתוגה נהפכה, ששון ויגון נדבקו, בעת שמחתו נאנח, בעת חנינתו אבד חנינו. אסיקו ליה חנן על שמיה.

On 28 Sivan 5701 (June 23, 1941) the German army marched into Lithuania, murdering most of the Jews in its path and herding the rest into ghettos. Among those in the Kovna ghetto was the Lieberman family. The husband had gone to Vilna for a few days, leaving his pregnant wife and young daughter at home, when the Germans attacked. From then on, all communication was cut off between Vilna and Kovna, and Mrs. Lieberman had no idea whether her husband had survived or not.

One day, however, a friend of her husband came from Vilna and said that he and several hundred other Jews, including her husband, had tried to escape from Vilna on foot. In the middle of the road from Vilna to Kovna, German airplanes flew over them and rained down upon them deadly fire, killing many of them. From then on he did not see her husband, and so he assumed he was among the dead. Hearing this, the young wife cried uncontrollably over her husband. Left alone in the world with a young orphan daughter and a baby soon to be born, she would not be consoled and declared that she would go to her grave mourning for her husband.

With Hashem’s kindness, she was able to survive the war hiding out among the gentiles. After the liberation, to her shock, her husband came back from the plains of Russia, where he had fled and survived. The couple’s happiness was boundless. But then the husband noticed his wife calling their young boy by his name. “I named him in memory of you, thinking that you had died,” she explained. He refused to accept this. “One cannot name after a living person. We must change the boy’s name, and even his official documents, so that no one ever calls him by my name again.” The couple came to Rabbi Ephraim Oshry, posek of the Kovna ghetto, to ask what they should do. 

He began by proving that in the time of Chazal, they did indeed name children after living people. When Rabbi Nosson advised a mother on how to do bris milah safely, she named the baby Nosson (Shabbos 134a). When Rabbi Elazar son of Rabbi Shimon paskened that 60 women were ritually clean, they named their babies Elazar (Bava Metzia 84b).

That is when they named after a gadol hador. As far as naming after an ancestor, we find the Tanna Rabbi Prata son of R’ Eliezer, son of R’ Prata the Great (Gittin 33b). Either the grandfather was already deceased and we would say that they only named after dead ancestors, not live ones; or the grandfather was still alive and we would see from here that although they named after live ancestors, they did not name after fathers, only grandfathers.

[Similarly, we find that the line of Hillel’s dynasty was Hillel, Shimon, Gamliel (Hazakein), Shimon, Gamliel (of Yavneh), Shimon, Rebbi Yehuda Hanasi. If the grandfathers were alive, we would see from here than they named after the living, but not a father.]

The Sephardim carried on this custom, but the Ashkenazim today name only after the dead. If an Ashkenazi were to name after a living grandfather, we would leave the name, since he followed a valid custom. But naming a son after a father was never done in any Jewish community. The only time we find this in Chazal was in the case of a father who died just as his son was born: Rabbi Chanin (Moed Katan 25b).

As to the reason why sons were never named after fathers, Rabbi Oshry proposes that when the father calls his son, he would look crazy in the eyes of others. Also, among Ashkenazim, the father would feel that a son named after him was a bad sign for him.

Furthermore, R’ Yehuda Hachasid wrote in his Tzavaah that one should not marry a girl whose father has the same name as him, or a girl whose name is the same as his mother’s. Presumably the reason for this is that if the young couple lives with their parents, one would not be able to call the other by name (as the Rambam says in Mamrim 6:3). If the son and the father had the same name, it would similarly lead to disrespect for the father when other members of the family call the child.

Therefore, Rabbi Oshry ruled that the name of the boy should be changed, both in everyday life and on official documents.

Source: Shailos Uteshuvos Mimaamakim v. 5 Siman 13


Yuma 18b: A Shevuah Not to Do a Mitzvah

Yuma 18b: They said to him, “We are the representatives of Beis Din, and you are our representative as well as the representative of Beis Din. We impose on you an oath, by the One who made His name dwell in this Temple, that you will not deviate from the instructions we have given you.” 

יומא יח ע”ב: אמרו לו: אישי כהן גדול, אנו שלוחי בית דין ואתה שלוחנו ושליח בית דין, משביעין אנו עליך במי ששכן שמו בבית הזה שלא תשנה דבר מכל מה שאמרנו לך.

Before the First Zionist Congress took place in Switzerland in 1897, Herzl sought out 100 rabbis from Poland and Lithuania who would attend the event and lend Jewish legitimacy to the new movement.  In the city of Kosova, where Rabbi Shmaryahu Yosef Karelitz, father of the Chazon Ish, served as rav, there was one rav who believed in Zionism. He was invited to the congress and he planned to attend. When R’ Shmaryahu Yosef heard about this, he called in this rav and tried to convince him not to go. In the end, he made him swear that he would not go to the congress, and indeed he did not go. Eventually he recognized his mistake and dropped Zionism altogether.

Someone asked the Chazon Ish, “Why did your father think that swearing would stop him from going to the congress? Didn’t he think he was doing a mitzvah by participating in the Zionist congress that would promote the settlement of Eretz Yisroel? If so, the oath would be, according to him, like swearing not to do a mitzvah, and he would still do the mitzvah.”

The Chazon Ish replied, “We find that before the Yom Kippur service in the Beis Hamikdash, the Beis Din made the Kohein Gadol swear that he would do the Avodah of the Ketores as they instructed him. Rabbi Akiva Eiger on the Mishnayos quotes the Pri Chadash who asks the same question you asked: According to the Tzedukim, their practice of burning the Ketores before entering the Kodesh Hakodashim is the right way to do the mitzvah, so why would a Tzeduki be deterred by the oath? One who swears not to do a mitzvah must still do the mitzvah.

“My answer (Chazon Ish Orach Chaim 126:17) is that deep down, the Tzedukim did not really believe in their own shitah; it was only their yetzer hara that convinced them to sin, but they took an oath seriously, and would not transgress it.  So too with Zionism, even though the yetzer hara convinces them with Yishuv Eretz Yisroel and beautiful words, in their hearts they know the truth: Zionism is heresy and a departure from the path of the Torah; therefore the man knew that swearing not to attend the congress is not swearing not to do a mitzvah. It is a real oath, and he would not violate his oath.”

Source: Orchos Rabbeinu v. 4, p. 189

[The Pri Chadash answers that when one swears not to do a mitzvah, it’s true that he should still do the mitzvah, but nevertheless the oath is a שבועת שוא, a vain oath (Shevuos 29a). Since it was well-known that every Kohein Gadol had to swear, this would stop at least those Tzedukim who took the prohibition of a vain oath more seriously than the mitzvah of doing the avodah their way. Others, who might be willing to do the Tzeduki avodah even at the expense of a vain oath, might still do it. 

We could also propose two other answers:

1) Perhaps it was known to Chazal that the Tzedukim, having their own interpretation of the Written Torah, held that when one swears not to do a mitzvah, the oath is effective and one may indeed not do the mitzvah.

2) The answer may lie in the introductory sentence, “We are the representatives of Beis Din, and you are our representative as well as the representative of Beis Din.” This meant that they were making the Kohein Gadol the representative of the Jewish people to burn the Ketores, only on condition that he would burn it the way they instructed him. If he chose to do it the Tzeduki way, he would cease to function as Kohein Gadol, and his service would not be a mitzvah even according to the Tzedukim. Thus it would not be allowed under the rule of one who swears not to do a mitzvah. (This answer would only work according to the opinion that the kohanim are the representatives of the people. The Gemara (bottom of 19a) points out that the Mishnah reads better according to that opinion.)]


Shabbos 151a: Burial by a Non-Jew on Shabbos

Shabbos 151a: If non-Jews built a coffin or dug a grave for another non-Jew or for commercial purposes, a Jew may be buried in it. But if they did it for the Jew, he may never be buried in it.

[If one may not even use the grave dug by a non-Jew on Shabbos, certainly one may not hire the non-Jew directly to dig the grave. Why not? On Yom Tov we find that it is permitted (Beitzah 6a). Why should Shabbos be different? Furthermore, we find that Rabbinic prohibitions are permitted for the sake of a dead body on Shabbos: for example, one can carry the body by placing a loaf of bread on top; one may even carry the body out of the house to a Rabbinically prohibited area. Asking a non-Jew to do something is also a Rabbinic prohibition, so why isn’t that allowed too? The answer is provided by the Magen Avraham, and, earlier, by the Rishonim quoted by the Gra:]

Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 526:3: On Shabbos and Yom Kippur they should not bury the dead at all, even through a non-Jew. One may not even ask the non-Jew to carry the body out and place it in a grave that was dug yesterday. Magen Avraham: Because of respect for the deceased, so that people should not say that Shabbos was desecrated because of him. Tosafos Bava Kama 81a, quoted by the Gra: Because it is unseemly and disgraceful and embarrassing for a person to be buried on Shabbos, even by non-Jews.

שבת קנא ע”א: עשו לו ארון וחפרו לו קבר יקבר בו ישראל ואם בשביל ישראל לא יקבר בו עולמית.

שו”ע או”ח תקכ”ו ס”ג: בשבת וביום הכיפורים לא יתעסקו בו כלל אפילו ע”י עממין אפילו להוציאו על ידיהם ולהניחו בכוך העשויה מאתמול. מגן אברהם: משום כבוד המת שלא יאמרו שנתחלל שבת על ידו.

ביאור הגר”א: כן משמע בראש השנה שם (כ ע”א) שהקשו [הרמב”ן והריב”ש] אמאי אסרו [קבורה בשבת] בעממין הא התירו שבות משום מעשה טלטול ע”י ככר ותינוק ולהוציאו לכרמלית אפילו לר’ יהודה [דס”ל מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופה חייב] כמ”ש בפרק המצניע ותירצו דהכא משום כבודו שלא יאמרו נתחלל עליו שבת או יום הכיפורים וכמ”ש בפרק כ”ג [ממסכת שבת] עשו לו ארון ותכריכין כו’ בעומד באסרטיא כו’ ולפיכך להוציאו כו’ ועיין תוס’ דב”ק פ”א א’ בד”ה אומר כו’.

תוס’ ב”ק פא ע”א: דמן הדין הוה ליה למישרי לקבור מת בשבת אלא לפי שהוא מכוער ומגונה ומתבייש שנקבר בשבת שנעשה באיסור שבת אפילו ע”י נכרי.

On Friday, March 29, 2020, an urgent halacha question arose in the Jewish community of Bucharest, Romania after government authorities instructed that corona virus victims must be buried on the same day they died, or else be cremated.

The community asked Rav Yaakov Rojah, a Zaka rav, what to do if a Jew dies from the corona virus on Shabbos. Should they allow the Jew to be cremated or is there a halachic allowance to bury the body on Shabbos through a nachri?

Rav Rojah found precedent for a heter in an incident that happened many years ago in Jerusalem, published in a monthly journal called Toras Eretz Yisrael. There was a terrible stench due to a meis in Yerushalayim to the point where no one could bear to be in the same building. The Rav of Yerushalayim at the time, Harav Shmuel Salant, z’tl, allowed the meis to be buried on Shabbos by a nachri to avoid bizayon ha’meis.

Rav Meir Acker, the secretary of the Va’ad Rabbanei Zaka urgently brought the shaila to Harav Avigdor Nebenzahl, the Rav of the Old City of Jerusalem and the Nasi of the Va’ad Rabbanei Zaka. Rav Nebenzahl ruled that the Bucharest community was permitted to bury a corona virus victim who dies on Shabbos through a nachri to prevent the body from being cremated.

[It would seem that here, there is no need to base the heter on the precedent of R’ Shmuel Salant’s story. If the reason for not burying the dead on Shabbos were because amirah l’akum, asking a non-Jew, is forbidden for this purpose, then we could weigh the options: cremation which involves no amirah l’akum, but does involve bizayon, or burial through a non-Jew, which involves amirah l’akum but saves bizayon.

But in fact, the Rishonim say that the reason is not because of amirah l’akum, but because of respect for the deceased, so that people should not say that Shabbos was desecrated because of him. If so, whether the non-Jews do cremation on Shabbos or burial on Shabbos, either way Shabbos will have been desecrated because of him. Therefore it would seem obviously preferable to opt for burial so that at least the bizayon of cremation will be avoided.]



Nedarim 62b: Pretending to be a Non-Jew to Save One’s Life

Nedarim 62b: A Torah scholar is allowed to say, “I am a servant of fire and I will not pay taxes.” Why? He is just saying it to chase away the lion.

נדרים סב ע”ב: ואמר רבא: שרי ליה לצורבא מרבנן למימר עבדא דנורא אנא לא יהיבנא אכרגא, מ״ט? לאברוחי אריא מיניה קאמר. פירש הר”ן דהן סבורים לעבודת כוכבים והוא לבו לשמים כדכתיב ה’ א-להיך אש אוכלה הוא.

יו”ד קנ”ז ס”ב: אסור לאדם לומר שהוא עובד כוכבים כדי שלא יהרגוהו אבל אם כדי שלא יכירוהו שהוא יהודי משנה מלבושו בשעת הגזרה מותר כיון שאינו אומר שהוא עובד כוכבים: הגה…ואע״ג דאסור לומר שהוא עובד כוכבים מכ״מ יוכל לומר להם לשון דמשתמע לתרי אפין (נמוקי יוסף פ׳ הגוזל) והעובדי כוכבים יבינו שהוא אומר שהוא עובד כוכבים והוא יכוין לדבר אחר.

In the Kovna ghetto during the Holocaust, there lived a Jew who was exiled from Germany by the Nazi government. He did not have a Jewish appearance, and his name, printed on his German passport, sounded non-Jewish. As life in the ghetto became more and more difficult for the Jews, he decided to escape and try hiding among the non-Jewish population. In order to ensure that he not be suspected of being Jewish, he wanted to add the letters “RK” to his passport, standing for “Romisch-Katholische” (Roman Catholic), and he asked Rabbi Ephraim Oshry if this was allowed.

The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 157:2) says that a Jew is forbidden to say he is a non-Jew in order to avoid getting killed. However, he may wear non-Jewish clothing in order to make them believe he is a non-Jew.

The Rema adds that one may say words that can be understood in two ways, so that they will understand that he is a non-Jew, but he really means something else. His source is the Nimukei Yosef on Bava Kama 113a, who brings our Gemara in Nedarim 62b as a proof. Saying “I am a servant of fire” definitely implies that one is not Jewish. If one is allowed to say that to avoid taxes, certainly it is permitted to do so in order to save one’s life. 

There is a dispute about how to understand the words “servant of fire”. Some Rishonim (Tosafos quoted by the Nimukei Yosef, and Shitah Mekubetzes) explain it to mean a servant of the priests who worship fire. Others (Rosh and Rashi) say it means a servant of the fire idol itself. Either way, says the Nimukei Yosef, the implication is that he is not Jewish, yet it is permitted because he is not saying it directly; he is just misleading his killers.

Rabbi Oshry argues that according to the Rosh, who says one is allowed to say he is a servant of the idol itself, the only way it can be permitted is if the words have another meaning and he secretly has that meaning in mind. In the case of fire, the Rishonim explain that he can have in mind that he is a servant of Hashem, who is called fire as it says in the Torah, “Hashem your G-d is a consuming fire” (Devarim 4:24). He brings the Knesses Hagedolah who says this as well, and says this is the source of the Rema who says one may say words that can be understood in two ways.

Accordingly, it would seem that writing R.K. on the passport is forbidden, since that is saying he is a servant of the Catholic religion, and there is no other way to understand his words.

However, Rabbi Oshry ultimately argues that it is permitted for two reasons:

  1. The halacha that a Jew may not say he is a non-Jew to save his life is similar to the halacha of Kiddush Hashem, that one may not pretend to believe in or accept idolatry to save his life, even if in his heart he does not believe it. The case is that the gentiles are trying to forcibly convert Jews who they are know are Jews, and they just want to squeeze out of them a conversion at the point of a sword. Therefore, to say “I am a non-Jew” or the equivalent is giving in the pressure. A Jew must give up his life for that. But here, the Nazis don’t know he is a Jew. They are out to kill all Jews, but if he can fool them into thinking he is a non-Jew, he is not giving in to shmad, so it is not a Kiddush Hashem situation.
  2. The Rema permits a statement that could be understood two ways. The Toras Chaim on Avodah Zarah 17 tells the story of a great tzaddik who, during a murderous attack on the Jews in Germany, was asked if he was Jewish and replied, “Kein Jude” which in German means “not a Jew” but in Hebrew means, “yes a Jew”. If that is called “words that can be understood in two ways” then here too, he can write R.K. and have in mind that it means the Hebrew word “rak” as in “Only guard yourself and watch your life carefully” (Devarim 4:9).

One might object that the Shach (157:18) that says this heter to mislead them with words is only for a talmid chacham, but a simple Jew is forbidden to use it, lest he take it too far. The answer  is that as the Pischei Teshuva says, quoting Beis Yaakov, that is only true if he is avoiding taxes, because the simple Jew could really pay the tax, whereas a Torah scholar should really be exempt from taxes. But to save oneself from robbery, and all the more so from death, it is allowed for anyone to use this deception.  

(Source: Shailos Uteshuvos Mimaamakim 5:3)


Sanhedrin 24b: Giving a Name that you Promised to Give

Sanhedrin 24b: Gambling is forbidden because a person who bets does not really mean it; he is only playing because he hopes he will win. Therefore when the loser pays the winner, the winner is stealing.

סנהדרין כד ע”ב: משחק בקוביא מאי קא עביד? ־ אמר רמי בר חמא: משום דהוה אסמכתא, ואסמכתא לא קניא.

Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchok Ruderman, rosh yeshiva of Ner Yisroel of Baltimore, was born in Dolhinov in 1901. His mother, Sheineh, was a daughter of Yaakov Puterfas, who was also R’ Yaakov Kamenetsky’s mother’s uncle and namesake.  

Rav Ruderman told his nephew, R’ Ezra Neuberger, that he had called himself Yitzchok Yaakov until the age of 13, when he joined the Slabodka Yeshiva in its World War I exile in Minsk, at which time R’ Yaakov Kamenetsky was there. R’ Yaakov, who was ten years Rav Ruderman’s senior, recalled the exact name given at his bris, and told him to place Yaakov before Yitzchok.

Reb Yaakov related that when R’ Yaakov Yitzchok’s mother was with child, she was visited by a friend who told her that she could not name a son after her father, Yitzchok, because one of her husband’s two names was Yitzchok. So she asked Sheineh to name her child Yitzchok, if it would be a boy. Having already given birth to seven girls and expecting another girl, she agreed. When a boy was born and she wanted to name him for her own father, Yaakov, the question arose whether she was obligated to keep her promise to the other woman.

The Rov of Dolhinov, Rabbi Mandel Ber Shachnovitch, ruled that the baby be given two names. The order of the two names was important to R’ Yaakov because among Ashkenazim, unlike among Sephardim, the second of double names was dominant. Thus the order of the names would indicate whether the Rav of Dolhinov considered Sheineh’s promise binding, or merely proper to keep but non-obligatory.

[Since the name “Yitzchok” was second, the Rov clearly considered the promise binding. It must be that although we hold אסמכתא לא קניא – a promise made where it is possible one won’t have to keep it is not a promise – that is only when it’s obvious from the circumstances that the gambler doesn’t want to lose the bet. But here, why would anyone think she made the promise only because she didn’t think it would be a boy anyway? Therefore the promise was binding.

The Sefer Shma Garim (p. 211) quotes Rav Shach as saying that if someone decided to name a baby after his father, and then one of the gedolei hador passes away and he prefers to name after him, he must be matir neder, because a promise to do a mitzvah (of kibud av) has the status of a vow. In our case, naming after the other woman’s father would not be a mitzvah and no hataras nedarim would be necessary. Still, the promise was binding.

It’s not clear what Reb Yaakov’s source was for saying that the second name is dominant. We know that when adding a name to a sick person, the added name always comes first. But on the contrary, that might be because we want the new name to be the main one.]

Source: Making of a Godol pp. 116-117