Sanhedrin 77b: Turning on an Electric Switch on Shabbos

Sanhedrin 77b: Rava said: If a murderer shot an arrow at his victim, and the victim was holding a shield, and someone came and took it away, or even if the murderer himself came and took it away, he is exempt from punishment, because at the time he shot the arrow there was something blocking it.

Rav Papa said: If a murderer tied down his victim and then opened a water stream over him, it is as if he shot an arrow at him and he is liable.

סנהדרין עז ע”ב: ואמר רבא: זרק חץ, ותריס בידו, ובא אחר ונטלו, ואפילו הוא קדם ונטלו ־ פטור, דבעידנא דשדייה ביה ־ מיפסק פיסקיה גיריה.

אמר רב פפא: האי מאן דכפתיה לחבריה ואשקיל עליה בידקא דמיא ־ גירי דידיה הוא, ומיחייב. הני מילי ־ בכח ראשון, אבל בכח שני ־ גרמא בעלמא הוא.

In 1934, Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski was asked about electric lights on Shabbos. He was shown a journal called Beis Vaad Lachachamim, printed in New York in 1903, in which there appeared a short letter by Rabbi Yechiel Michel Halevi Epstein, author of the Aruch Hashulchan. The Aruch Hashulchan argued that it should be permitted to turn on an electric light on Yom Tov because the fire is already present in the wires. Then he added a second argument that would apply to Shabbos too: when one turns on the switch, he is not creating the fire, only allowing it to reach the bulb, which would be considered “grama” (an indirect action). The Gemara in Shabbos 120b quotes the posuk, “You shall not do any work,” and says, “Doing is forbidden, but indirectly causing is permitted.” Thus one may make a wall of barrels full of water around a fire, so that when the fire reaches them it will be extinguished.

Reb Chaim Ozer explains that the Aruch Hashulchan’s second argument seems to be based on the Gemara in Sanhedrin 77b, which says that the one who took away the shield, allowing the arrow to hit the victim, is exempt. So too, when one turns on a light switch, he is not creating the electric power that goes to the bulb. That power is already in the wires, ready to shoot out. He is just bridging the gap in the circuit.

However, argues Reb Chaim Ozer, the electricity is more similar to the other case in that Gemara, in which someone opens a water stream to kill his victim. The Yad Ramah explains the difference between the two cases: At the time one removes the shield, the arrow is not here yet, but at the time one removes the obstacle in the water stream, the water is pressing up against the obstacle, ready to flow. Here too, the electricity is in the wire ready to flow as soon as the gap is bridged; so it is not “grama”.

Furthermore, even if we were to consider turning on the switch a “grama”, not every “grama” is exempted on Shabbos. The Gemara says in Bava Kama 60a says that winnowing the grain is an act of work on Shabbos, even though the person is just throwing the grain into the air and the wind is doing the job of separating out the chaff. Based on this, the Even Haozer (Orach Chaim 328) argues that pouring wheat into a grinder powered by a water wheel is an act of work (not as the Magen Avraham rules in Orach Chaim 252:20). The rule is that if one is doing the work normally, and the other power helping him (wind, water etc.) is part of his plan, then the Torah categorizes it as work, unlike the case of putting out a fire with a wall of full barrels, which is a unusual method, resorted to on the spur of the moment. Therefore, turning on an electric switch, though it may be “grama”, is the normal way, and would therefore be forbidden.

Source: Achiezer v. 3 siman 60


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


Sanhedrin 12a: The Skull Under the Mizbeyach

Sanhedrin 12a: The Sages say that Beis Din should not add an extra month to the year to allow time for tamei people to become clean before Pesach, but rather they should make Pesach with tumah. Rabbi Yehuda disagrees and holds it is better to add the month. And this was the story with Chizkiyah, king of Yehuda: he added a month due to tumah.

Tosafos: What was the tumah in the case of Chizkiyah? The Yerushalmi says that they found the skull of Aravna the Yevusi under the mizbeyach.

סנהדרין יב ע”א: תנו רבנן: אין מעברין את השנה מפני הטומאה, רבי יהודה אומר: מעברין. אמר רבי יהודה: מעשה בחזקיה מלך יהודה שעיבר את השנה מפני הטומאה. תוס’: ובירושלמי אמר דגולגלתו של ארונה היבוסי מצאו תחת המזבח.

After the shaitel controversy in 2004, Rabbi Ahron Dovid Dunner went to Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky and asked, “Sometimes it happens that there is a ‘tummel’ and we find out that everyone has been doing something wrong for a long time. Is there a precedent in Chazal for such a thing?” R’ Chaim replied, “The Yerushalmi says that they found a skull buried under the mizbeyach.” That meant all the avodah in the Beis Hamikdash for the last 300 or so years had been invalid and forbidden. You can’t imagine more of an upset than that.

[The Tzion Yerushalayim (on the page of the Yerushalmi Pesachim 64a) asks that Aravna was a non-Jew and we hold that the graves of non-Jews are not metamei. He says to look in the Mishneh Lamelech on Beis Habechirah 1:13. There the Rambam writes:

המזבח אין עושין אותו אלא בנין אבנים גזית וזה שנאמר בתורה מזבח אדמה תעשה לי שיהיה מחובר באדמה שלא יבנוהו לא על גבי כיפין ולא על גבי מחילות.

“The mizbeyach must be built of hewn stones. And although the Torah says, ‘You shall make Me an altar of earth,’ that does not mean that the actual mizbeyach should be made of earth, only that it must be connected to the earth, not built atop domes or tunnels.”

The source for this Rambam is the Gemara in Zevachim 58a. The Mishneh Lamelech points out that we see here that the mizbeyach was different from all other areas of Har Habayis, which were in fact built on top of underground domes to prevent any tumah from coming up. This is stated by the Rambam in Hilchos Parah Adumah 2:7:

שכל הר הבית והעזרות תחתיהן היה חלול מפני קבר התהום.

And his source for this is the Mishnah in Parah 3:3.

The Mishneh Lamelech says that now that we have established that there was no separating dome under the mizbeyach to block the tumah, we understand why it was such a problem when they found the skull of Aravna the Yevusi.

The question is: Dovid bought the field from Aravna when he, Aravna, was still alive, so how could he have been buried there? And even if we say that David let Aravna continue to live there until the Beis Hamikdash was built, why would he have been allowed to be buried there, given that they were planning to build the Beis Hamikdash?

In Makos 11a we read the story of how Dovid Hamelech dug the Shisin (the tank under the mizbeyach into which the wine of the nesachim ran). Water from underground began spraying upward in a geyser, and he asked Achisofel whether it was allowed to write the name of Hashem and block the hole. Rashi asks: Achisofel died during the rebellion of Avshalom, three years before Dovid bought the Temple Mount. He answers that many years earlier Dovid had already figured out with Shmuel where the Beis Hamikdash would be, and he dug the Shisin with permission from Aravna.

Accordingly, it may be that Aravna fell into the Shisin, which was already dug in his time, and died. The kohanim in Chizkiyahu’s time perhaps discovered it when they went down to clean the Shisin. The Gemara says (Meilah 11b) that once in 70 years, the young kohanim would go down into the Shisin and clean it out. Maybe this was not yet done regularly during the First Beis Hamikdash era.

Why wouldn’t the empty space in the Shisin be a separation to stop the tumah from going up? Maybe it was originally, but after it became full of dried up wine the space was filled.   

Based on Pesachim 81b, the tzitz atones for tumah of the tehom – tumah that no one knows about. If so, we have two reasons to argue that all the offerings brought before Chizkiyah’s time were not invalid: 1) The Shisin originally had a hollow space above the skull, 2) The tzitz atoned.

If there is a rule that the mizbeyach must not be built over empty space, then why was it allowed to have the Shisin? The answer may be that only man-made domes are forbidden, but the Shisin was a natural cave, created in the six days of creation (Succah 49a) and all Dovid Hamelech did was clear out the loose dirt and pebbles from it (Rashi Succah 53b).

Today there is a cave under the rock in the Dome of the Rock. Rabbi Leibel Reznick has proposed that the rock, as the original peak of the mountain and the only place there not built on domes, is the place of the mizbeyach. The cave under it would then be the Shisin. There is a large, round marble slab on the floor of the cave, and it is said that this slab covers the entrance to another cave below. The Radbaz writes (Teshuva 691) that he heard from Arabs that the earlier kings wanted to see what was in the cave, so they lowered people down, and they died. (Presumably the people who died were pulled back up, so we won’t have to worry about skulls down there when moshiach comes.)  Therefore they closed off the cave and filled it with dirt, and to this day no one knows what is there.

In 1865 Captain Charles Wilson was sent with the sanction of the British War Department to survey the water supply of Jerusalem. The director of his survey writes that the hole in the bottom of the cave leads to a drain flowing down to Nachal Kidron. The Mishnah (Midos 3:2 and Yuma 5:6) indeed says that the blood flowed down from the base of the mizbeyach into a drain leading to Nachal Kidron.]

Source: Tape by Rabbi Ahron Dovid Dunner; The Holy Temple Revisited by Leibel Reznick p. 113


Sanhedrin 19a: Keeping an Eye on your Children

Sanhedrin 19a: Rabbi Yosi in Tzipori made a law that a woman may not walk in the street with her son behind her, because of a story that happened. Rashi: A boy was kidnapped and taken into a house, and when the mother began to cry, one of the kidnappers offered to help and show her where her son went. When she entered the house, they raped her.

סנהדרין יט ע”א: ואמר רמי בר אבא: התקין רבי יוסי בציפורי שלא תהא אשה מהלכת בשוק ובנה אחריה, משום מעשה שהיה. פירש רש”י:  שגנבוהו פריצים מאחריה ונתנוהו בבית, וכשחזרה ולא ראתהו, התחילה צועקת ובוכה, בא אחד מהם ואמר: בואי ואראנו ליך, ונכנסה אחריו ועינו אותה. והובא להלכה באה”ע כב,יד.

A tichel-clad young woman walked into a Judaica shop in Yerushalayim with her 1-year-old baby in a stroller. “Please, I’d like to see your finest gold menorah,” she said. The saleslady pulled over a ladder and took down the $5,000 gold menorah – the most expensive item in the shop. The young lady’s eyes lit up. “Wow, this is really something,” she gushed. “Do you mind watching my baby while I run out and show it to my husband in the car? This is his idea, but it is a lot of money so I’d like to just double-check with him before finalizing.” As the recipient of commissions on high-end items, the saleslady’s eyes also lit up. “Sure, no problem.”

Five minutes passed, and then ten, but the saleslady wasn’t worried. After all, spending $5,000 is not a snap decision, and the young woman had left her baby there, so she would certainly be back soon.

Fifteen minutes later, a woman burst into the shop, screaming hysterically, “My baby! My baby!” This woman had left her baby unattended on the sidewalk while she entered a store, and the first lady – a professional con artist – took advantage by taking the baby, entering the Judaica shop with a tichel on her head and a baby in tow, and then absconding with the menorah.

The owner of the shop took the saleslady to a din Torah before Rabbi Yitzchok Zilberstein, claiming that she had acted irresponsibly by allowing the menorah out of the shop unsupervised. The saleslady responded that she had done exactly as the owner would have wanted her to do, and in fact what he himself would have done had he been there. After all, who would suspect that the baby had been nabbed off the street?

Harav Zilberstein paskened that the saleslady indeed had acted as the owner would have wanted, and therefore was not liable to pay. But the real guilty party in this story was the woman who had left her baby unattended. She violated the takanah of Chazal that a woman may not walk in the street with her child trailing behind her, out of her sight.

Source: Hamodia November 27, 2019


Sanhedrin 73a: Speaking lashon hara to warn someone about a shidduch

Sanhedrin 73a: If someone sees his friend drowning in the river, or being dragged by an animal, or attacked by robbers, he must save him, as the Torah says, “Do not stand idle while your neighbor bleeds.”

 סנהדרין עג ע”א: מניין לרואה את חבירו שהוא טובע בנהר, או חיה גוררתו, או לסטין באין עליו, שהוא חייב להצילו ־ תלמוד לומר לא תעמד על דם רעך.

Rabbi Yechiel Perr, rosh yeshiva of Derech Ayson of Far Rockaway, once asked his father R’ Menachem his opinion about the following story: a young lady was about to become engaged when someone divulged to her parents that her intended chosson had once been institutionalized in an asylum. A fierce dispute ensued within the community as to whether the tattler was a tzaddik or a rasha. R’ Menachem replied, “From this episode, you cannot tell. If his other actions are kindly, he did this out of tzidkus, and if his other actions are vicious, he did this out of rishus.”

Rabbi Nosson Kamenetsky compared this question to the Gemara’s analysis (Yuma 23b) of a story in which one kohein stabbed another to death in a dispute over who should have the right to do the avodah. The father of the murdered youth, finding his son in the throes of death, remarked, “My son is yet gasping, so the knife remains undefiled.” Asks the Gemara: Does this comment reflect a laxity in that generation’s concern with murder while its concern with purity was normal, or was it an expression of how meticulous that generation was with the purity of Temple utensils while its concern with bloodshed was at the normative level? Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz (Sichos Mussar 5733, pp. 152-153) points out that we have an example here of how a single act or statement can reveal two diametrically opposed characteristics. That father might have personified the epitome of evil, callous even with regard to the life of his own child, or he might have been so saintly that in his moment of extreme anguish he still had the sanctity of the Beis Hamikdash in mind.

ועיין ספר חפץ חיים, ציורים, ציור שלישי: אם הוא רואה שאחד רוצה להשתדך עם אחד, וידוע לרואה הזה כי החתן יש לו חסרונות עצומים, כפי המבואר לקמן בסעיף ו מה נקרא חסרונות לענין זה, והמחותן אינו יודע מזה דבר, ואילו היה יודע לא היה מתרצה לזה, יש לגלות לו.

ובסעיף ו שם: אם החסרון הוא מצד חולי גופו, והמחותן אינו מכיר אותו מצד שהוא דבר פנימי אשר לא נגלה לכל, פשוט דאין על המגלה ענין זה חשש אסור רכילות. ושם בבאר מים חיים: שיכוין לתועלת המחותן ולא מצד שנאת החתן.

ואח”כ כתב ועוד יש אופן שני דצריך לגלות לו. היינו, אם נשמע על החתן שיש בו אפיקורסות, ח”ו, צריך לגלות לו, ועל זה נאמרו סמוכין “לא תלך רכיל בעמך” אבל “לא תעמד על דם רעך.” ודייק הגרש”ז אוירבאך (נשמת אברהם אהע”ז סימן ב ס”ק א) דלעיל גבי מחלה לא כתב הח”ח שחייב לגלות, משמע דאינו חייב לגלות, רק שאין בו משום איסור רכילות.


Sanhedrin 11a: Embarrassing Someone Who Smells Bad

Sanhedrin 11a: Rebbi was sitting and delivering a shiur, when he smelled garlic. He said, “Whoever ate garlic should leave.” Rabbi Chiya got up and left, and then everyone got up and left. The next morning, Rabbi Shimon son of Rebbi met Rabbi Chiya and said to him, “Are you the one who annoyed my father?” He replied, “Such a thing should not happen in Israel.”

 סנהדרין יא ע”א. כי הא דיתיב רבי וקא דריש, והריח ריח שום, אמר: מי שאכל שום ־ יצאִ, עמד רבי חייא ויצא. עמדו כולן ויצאו. בשחר מצאו רבי שמעון ברבי לרבי חייא, אמר ליה: אתה הוא שציערת לאבא? אמר לו: לא תהא כזאת בישראלִ

There was a daf yomi shiur in the city of Bat Yam at 5:30 PM, and one day a local butcher came in to attend the shiur, straight from the meat market, his hands and clothing stinking from meat. The stench was so powerful that no one was able to learn. The maggid shiur’s question was: should he approach the man and ask him to take a shower and change before coming, and the shiur would be scheduled a little later, or should they just cancel the whole shiur?

From this Gemara, it seems that Rebbi held it is permitted to embarrass the smelly person, while Rabbi Chiya held to cancel the shiur. But when they asked Rabbi Ahron Leib Shteinman, his reply was in this case, even according to Rebbi it would be wrong to embarrass him. Because in Rebbi’s case, who asked him to eat garlic right before the shiur? But here, the butcher was smelly because of his job and had no choice. Furthermore, if we embarrass him, who knows if we’ll ever see him again. Therefore, better to cancel the whole shiur. 9


Sanhedrin 22a: Chesed in the Bathhouse

Sanhedrin 22a: No one may see the king when he is taking a haircut, when he is naked or when he is in the bathhouse, as the Torah says, “You shall surely place upon yourself a king” – his fear must be upon you.

סנהדרין כב. ואין רואין אותו כשהוא מסתפר, ולא כשהוא ערום, ולא כשהוא בבית המרחץ, שנאמר (דברים י״ז) שום תשים עליך מלך ־ שתהא אימתו עליך.

In Lublin, there was a Yid who would go to the bathhouse every Friday and distribute combs to all the people there. When the Lubliner Rav zt”l heard about it, he said, “I want to have a part in such a great mitzvah.”

A certain rav heard about this and laughed it off. He quoted a Gemara, proving that there is no mitzvah in this. The Gemara (Menachos 43b) states that Dovid Hamelech went to the bathhouse and said, “Woe unto me, that I stand without mitzvos.” If distributing combs would be a mitzvah, Dovid Hamelech could have done so and acquired many mitzvos in the process…

When the Lubliner Rav heard this comment, he said, “The Rav should forgive me, but it seems he forgot an explicit Mishnah, in which it says that no person may see the king while he is in the bathhouse (Sanhedrin 22a). If so, Dovid Hamelech could not have distributed combs, as there were no other people at the bathhouse while he was there.”


Sanhedrin 65b: Weddings in the second half of the month

Sanhedrin 65b: Rabbi Akiva says: The type of forbidden superstition called “m’onen” means the practice of saying that certain days are luckier than others to embark on a trip, or certain days are luckier to buy merchandise.

סנהדרין סה ע”ב תנו רבנן: מעונן… רבי עקיבא אומר: זה המחשב עתים ושעות, ואומר: היום יפה לצאת, למחר יפה ליקח.

יו”ד קע”ט ב’ נהגו שאין מתחילין בב’ ובד’ ואין נושאין נשים אלא במילוי הלבנה.

רמ”א אה”ע ס”ד ד’ ונהגו שלא לישא נשים אלא בתחילת החדש בעוד שהלבנה במלואה.

A chassidishe Yid asked Rabbi Yisroel Reisman: “Is it allowed to make a chasunah on the 28th day of Sivan? That’s the only day I could find a hall available. Usually we don’t make chasunos during the second half of the month, but perhaps Sivan is different.”  

“I don’t know,” replied Rabbi Reisman, “but I’ll tell you a Hamakneh, written by the Baal Haflaah, Rabbi Pinchus Horowitz, who was chassidish. At the end of the sefer, in his comments on Even Hoezer 64, he asks why the Rema needs to say in Orach Chaim 551:2 that after the 17th of Tammuz we don’t make chasunos – isn’t that the second half of the month? He answers based on a teshuva from the Rema that the rule is that wherever he says נוהגין it means poskim taught that we should do so, but נהגו means that people just do it and we don’t stop them. Here, in the case of getting married in the second half of the month, the Rema (as well as the Mechaber in Yoreh Deah) says נהגו – we allow people to keep this custom. But the Rema never says that one is obligated to keep this custom.

A while later Rabbi Reisman met the man again and asked, “So when is the chasunah?” He replied, “Tu B’av.”

[It would seem that the Mechaber and Rema are telling us that it is allowed to keep this custom and there is no problem of לא לעוננו (superstition). The reason why it is not considered ניחוש and לא תעוננו is because we do it as a good sign, just as we anoint kings next to a spring (Beis Yosef, Yoreh Deah 179; Aryeh Devei Ilai Even Hoezer 18). A good sign is something that we aren’t particular about, but we just do to express our prayers that things will go well. A superstition, on the other hand, would mean refusing to get married in the second half of the month no matter what.] �