Sanhedrin 66a: Using the Goral HaGra

Sanhedrin 66a: “Do not attempt to discern the future from random events” means, for example, taking a weasel or birds or fish as a sign of good or bad fortune.

Chullin 95b: Any fortunetelling that is not similar to Eliezer, servant of Avraham, and Yonasan ben Shaul, is not fortunetelling.

Rambam Avodah Zarah 11:4: Making signs for oneself, saying if such and such happens to me then I will do such and such, and if not I will not, like Eliezer the servant of Avraham, it is forbidden, and whoever acts on this is punished with lashes. Raavad: This is permitted, and the Gemara calling it fortunetelling does not mean that it’s forbidden, but rather that it’s reliable.

Rambam Avodah Zarah 11:5:  One who asks a child which verse he is learning, and if he says a verse of blessing, he will be happy and take it as a good omen – this is permitted because he didn’t act or refrain from acting based on the omen. 

סנהדרין סו ע”א: תנו רבנן: (ויקרא י״ט) לא תנחשו ולא תעוננו ־ כגון אלו המנחשים בחולדה בעופות ובדגים.

חולין צה ע”ב: כל נחש שאינו כאליעזר עבד אברהם וכיונתן בן שאול אינו נחשִ.

רמב”ם הלכות עבודת כוכבים יא,ד: אין מנחשין כעכו״ם שנאמר לא תנחשו, כיצד הוא הנחש כגון אלו שאומרים הואיל ונפלה פתי מפי או נפל מקלי מידי איני הולך למקום פלוני היום שאם אלך אין חפציי נעשים, הואיל ועבר שועל מימיני איני יוצא מפתח ביתי היום שאם אצא יפגעני אדם רמאי, וכן אלו ששומעים צפצוף העוף ואומרים יהיה כך ולא יהיה כך, טוב לעשות דבר פלוני ורע לעשות דבר פלוני, וכן אלו שאומרים שחוט תרנגול זה שקרא ערבית, שחוט תרנגולת זו שקראה כמו תרנגול, וכן המשים סימנים לעצמו אם יארע לי כך וכך אעשה דבר פלוני ואם לא יארע לי לא אעשה, כאליעזר עבד אברהם, וכן כל כיוצא בדברים האלו הכל אסור וכל העושה מעשה מפני דבר מדברים אלו לוקה.

השגת הראב״ד וכן המשים לעצמו סימנים אם יארע לו כך וכך וכו׳. א״א זה שבוש גדול שהרי דבר זה מותר ומותר הוא ואולי הטעהו הלשון שראה כל נחש שאינו כאליעזר ויונתן אינו נחש והוא סבר שלענין איסור נאמר ולא היא אלא ה״ק אינו ראוי לסמוך ואיך חשב על צדיקים כמותם עבירה זו ואי הוו אינהו הוו מפקי פולסי דנורא לאפיה.

רמב”ם שם הלכה ה: מי שאמר דירה זו שבניתי סימן טוב היתה עלי, אשה זו שנשאתי ובהמה זו שקניתי מבורכת היתה מעת שקניתיה עשרתי, וכן השואל לתינוק אי זה פסוק אתה לומד אם אמר לו פסוק מן הברכות ישמח ויאמר זה סימן טוב כל אלו וכיוצא בהן מותר הואיל ולא כיון מעשיו ולא נמנע מלעשות אלא עשה זה סימן לעצמו לדבר שכבר היה הרי זה מותר.

ובשו”ע יו”ד קע”ט ס”ד: מותר לומר לתינוק פסוק לי פסוקיך (טור) י״א דאדם מותר לעשות לו סימן בדבר שיבא לעתיד כמו שעשה אליעזר עבד אברהם או יהונתן (טור והר״ד קמחי) ויש אוסרין (רמב״ם וסמ״ג) וההולך בתום ובוטח בה׳ חסד יסובבנו:

ולכאורה גורל הגר”א במקום שמכוין מעשיו על פיו יהיה תלוי במחלקת הרמב”ם והראב”ד.

Rav Elazar Shach heard the following story from Rav Reuven Feinstein, rav of Suvolk, R’ Moshe Feinstein’s brother, with whom he studied in Slutzk.  World War I began on Tisha B’av 5674. During the Aseres Yemei Teshuva, the advancing German army drew close to Radin and confusion reigned. No one wished to remain in a battle zone. The civilian population knew that their food and other vital supplies would be commandeered by one side or another. No one could know in whose favor the fighting would go, and being at the mercy of an enemy army was an unpleasant prospect. On the other hand, for hundreds of yeshivah students to suddenly take flight was itself fraught with danger. Transportation was in turmoil and military forces were everywhere. Nor could one know in which direction safety lay or where a Jewish community capable of harboring them might be found. Shortages of vital commodities existed everywhere, and no community would be able to accommodate a sudden mass influx of Torah students. The responsibility rested squarely on the shoulders of the roshei yeshiva. The fate of hundreds of students rested in their hands.

The critical time drew close yet no decision had been made. Finally a delegation of bochurim went to Rav Tzvi Hirsch Levinson to ask what they should do, but he was at a loss as to how to answer them. He went to confer with his father-in-law the Chofetz Chaim, but he too said that he was not sure what the plan of action should be. 

The next morning Rav Tzvi Hirsch decided that the time had come to cast the Goral HaGra to determine the proper course of action. Normally, the commandment, “You shall be complete with Hashem your G-d” (Devarim 18:13) prohibits attempts to foretell the future. But in a situation where the correct course of action is totally unclear and so much is at stake, there was little other choice.

The lot was cast and it came out on the verse, “For with my staff I crossed this Jordan and now I have become two camps” (Bereishis 32:11). This seemed a clear indication that the yeshiva should split in two. Just then, the Chofetz Chaim entered Rav Tzvi Hirsch’s house and announced that he had come to a decision as to what should be done. He expressed his decision by quoting a verse from the Torah: “For with my staff I crossed this Jordan and now I have become two camps.” The bochurim were amazed at this coincidence. Rav Tzvi Hirsch informed the Chofetz Chaim that he had performed the Goral HaGra and that the result has been that very same verse from the Torah. The Chofetz Chaim was heartened when he heard about this and declared, “If so, then it is very good.” Nevertheless, since the stakes were so high and the situation so dangerous, Rav Tzvi Hirsch suggested that the Goral HaGra be performed again by the Chofetz Chaim himself. But the Chofetz Chaim demurred, telling them, “Ich vil nisht matriach zein der Eibershter tzvei mol – I don’t want to trouble the Almighty a second time.”

Source: The Rosh Yeshiva Remembers, p. 178

[There are many stories about the Goral HaGra, but I chose this one because it mentions the reason for the hesitation to use it: because of the verse תמים תהיה עם ה’ אלקיך. Actually the Rambam’s reason to forbid it is לא תנחשו. And the problem is not attempting to tell the future; the problem is acting on a sign one has set up for himself. But perhaps those who cited the posuk תמים תהיה meant that the Rema recommends following the Rambam because of תמים תהיה.

The Chida in Shiurei Bracha (Yoreh Deah 179:6) quotes the Maharikash who says that all opinions – even the Rambam – would agree that it is allowed to open the Torah randomly and follow whatever posuk comes up. His proof is from the story of Yoshiahu Hamelech, who was shocked by the discovery of a Sefer Torah in the Beis Hamikdash, and tore his garments. Chazal say that he found the sefer open to the Tochacha, with the posuk, “Hashem will lead you and your king that you will appoint over you to a nation that neither you nor your fathers ever knew…” at the top of the column.

One can argue, however, that although Yoshiahu certainly saw that verse as a prophecy, he did not make any decision based on it, other than to consult a navi and lead a mass teshuva movement – things that were correct to do in any case.

(It’s interesting that although this story – that the Sefer Hatorah was found open to the Tochacha – is quoted as a Chazal by many of the commentaries on Tanach, such as Radak, Metzudas Dovid and Malbim, it is not to be found in any extant Gemara or Midrash. The Gemara (Yuma 52b) merely says that because Yoshiahu saw the Torah’s prophecy “Hashem will lead you and your king…” he hid the Aron so that the conquering enemies shouldn’t get their hands on it. It does not say that the Torah was found open to those words.) 

The Chida goes on to bring a proof from the Yalkut on Mishlei 219: “If you want to take counsel from the Torah, take; and similarly it states of Dovid, I will speak about Your commandments.” He argues that one way of taking counsel from the Torah is to open the Torah and pick a posuk at random. However, the simple meaning is to use one’s knowledge of the Torah and apply it to life, as the Chofetz Chaim said, quoted by Reb Elchonon in Ikvesa D’meshicha: “The Torah contains advice for every situation; all is hinted in the Torah. One who has to make a difficult decision should consult the Torah, and what he finds there is Hashem’s own advice.”   

הקדוש בעל חפץ חיים זצ”ל היה רגיל לומר: יש בחיי אדם רגעים אשר הוא נאלץ להחליט בענין ידוע ואינו יודע מה להחליט, יש והענין נוגע לו עד נפש ומשאינו יודע מה לעשות, הוא בא לידי יאוש. והנה לוחש לו אחד על אזנו: הרי תוכל לשאול בעצתו של השי”ת בכבודו ובעצמו. איכה זה? ישתומם האדם. ובאמת, אמר החפץ חיים זצ”ל, נתנה אפשרות זו לכל אדם ואדם. יש לנו תורה, הכוללת תשובות על כל שאלות שבעולם. ליכא מידי דלא רמיזא באורייתא. הפתרון שמוצאים אותו בתורה, הוא עצת ה’. יש לדעת, כי מלבד המצוות והאסורים הכתובים בתורה, רשומות שם גם עצות, עצות מנוסות וכשם שהתורה נצחית היא, כך גם עצת התורה נצחית היא. לדוגמא: לעולם ישליש אדם מעותיו, שליש בקרקע, שליש בפרגמטיא ושליש בכספים (בבא מציעא מ”ב ע”א). כי במקרה שיפסיד עסק אחד והיה הנשאר לו לפליטה. זאת היא עצה מנוסה. מי שלא נהג לפי כלל זה לא בטל מצוה, אלא סרב לקבל עצה טובה. ועוד מרגלא בפומי’ של החפץ חיים: דרושות עינים מאירות לראות את הכתוב בתורה ואיפה שכתוב בה, כי הכל כתוב בה. (מאמר עיקבתא דמשיחא)

The Chida also quotes a manuscript of Rabbi Eliyahu Hakohein (d. 1729), author of Shevet Mussar, where he writes that he received a tradition from his teachers that whenever they were faced with a hard decision, they would open a Chumash or a Tanach, see what posuk comes out at the top of the page and follow what it said. Thus they took counsel with the Torah, in keeping with the Midrash in Mishlei.

In passing, we see from this that the basic concept of the “Goral HaGra” did not start with the Gra. In fact, we don’t really have any proof that the Gra taught this Goral (“Hagaon” by Dov Eliach, p. 1117).

Even though it does seem to be a machlokes in Shulchan Aruch, with the Rema recommending following the Rambam, the Biur HaGra brings a number of proofs to the Raavad and seems to rule that way. 

It seems that Reb Tzvi Hirsch Levinson and all those gedolim who used the Goral did not completely hold like the Raavad and the first opinion in Shulchan Aruch (which the Shevet Mussar evidently followed) that one may use the Goral in all situations. They reserved it for especially difficult circumstances.

It’s fascinating that in this very same story, the Chofetz Chaim followed his own method, as conveyed by Reb Elchonon, and “consulted with the Torah” not by a goral but by finding the correct advice in a posuk. In fact, according to the version of this story printed in the book “Hagaon” p. 1122, the Chofetz Chaim replied the first time too, when casting the Goral was suggested, that he did not want to trouble the Almighty.  

Nevertheless, the same book on pages 1110 and 1116 brings cases when the Chofetz Chaim did use the Goral.]


Sanhedrin 104a: Learning Torah is Better than Kaddish

Sanhedrin 104a: Why didn’t Amon lose his share in Olam Haba? Because of his son Yoshiyahu. If so, Menashe should also have a share due to his father Chizkiyahu! – A son can bring merit to his father, but a father cannot bring merit to his son.

סנהדרין קד ע”א. מפני מה לא מנו את אמון ־ מפני כבודו של יאשיהו. מנשה נמי לא נמני מפני כבודו של חזקיהוִ ־ ברא מזכי אבא. אבא לא מזכי ברא, דכתיב (דברים ל״ב) ואין מידי מציל, אין אברהם מציל את ישמעאל, אין יצחק מציל את עשו.

When Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchok Ruderman was 14 years old and learning in Slobodka, then exiled in Minsk, he displayed amazing hasmadah. When word reached the yeshiva a week after Sukkos that the young man’s father had died, Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, the Alter of Slobodka, decided to withhold the information from him until Pesach. The Alter was afraid R’ Yaakov Yitzchok’s diligence might slack and he might not fulfil his Rosh Hashanah resolution to complete Shas that winter (according to other versions of the story, it was Seder Nezikin or Seder Kodshim).  The Alter ruled that the orphan’s study of Torah was a greater Kiddush Hashem than the reciting of Kaddish on which he was missing out.

The Alter used a similar approach with R’ Reuven Grozovsky, saying, “Why should we tell Reb Reuven that his father died? So that he should say Kaddish? He says Yisgadel V’yiskadesh Shmeih Raba 24 hours a day!”

When Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky told this story about Reb Reuven, he added, “I want this story to remain for generations.”

Source: Making of a Godol p. 165

[The Rema in Yoreh Deah 376 says that the source for saying Kaddish is a story in the Midrash about Rabbi Akiva. The Kol Bo and the Rivash quote it from the Tanchuma and Sifri, but I was unable to locate these sources. The Rabbeinu Bachya quotes it from Maseches Kallah Chapter 2.

רמ”א יו”ד שע”ו ס”ד: ונמצא במדרשות לומר קדיש על אב (כל בו וריב״ש בשם תנחומא וספרי ובחיי בשם מסכת כלה וב״י בשם הזוהר ובא״ז בשם תנא דבי אליהו רבא).

Maseches Kallah 2: Rabbi Akiva went out to a certain place and found a man carrying a load on his shoulder that he was unable to bear, and he was crying and groaning. He asked him, “What happened to you?” He said, “I committed every sin in the world while I was alive, and now there are guards over me and they do not allow me any rest.” Rabbi Akiva said, “Did you leave a son?” He said, “By your life, do not ask me, because I am afraid of the angels who are beating me with fiery lashes and saying, why can’t you get the work done faster?” He said, “I will tell them to leave you alone.” He said, “I left my wife pregnant.” Rabbi Akiva traveled to his city and said, “Where is the son of so-and-so?” They said, “May the memory of his ground bones be erased.” He said, “Why?” They said, “He was a robber who killed and harmed people, and he consorted with a betrothed girl on Yom Kippur.” He went to his house and found his wife pregnant. He waited until she gave birth, and made a bris for the child. When he was old enough, he brought him to shul to say blessings in public. Later Rabbi Akiva returned to that place and the man appeared to him and said, “May your mind find rest, for you have allowed me to rest.”  

ר׳ עקיבא נפק לההוא אתרא אשכחיה לההוא גברא דהוי דרי טונא אכתפיה ולא הוה מצי לסגויי ביה והוה צוח ומתאנח א״ל מאי עבידתיך א״ל לא שבקנא איסורא דלא עבידנא בההיא עלמא ועכשיו איכא נטורין עילוון ולא שבקין לי דינוח א״ל רבי עקיבא שבקת ברא א״ל בחייך לא תשלין דדחילנא ממלאכי דמחו לי בפולסי דנורא ואמרין לי אמאי לא תיתי בפריע א״ל אימא ליה דקא ניחותך א״ל שבקית אתתא מעברתא אזל ר׳ עקיבא עאל לההיא מדינתא אמר להו בריה דפלוני היכא אמרו ליה יעקר זכרו דההוא שחיק עצמות א״ל אמאי אמרו ליה ההוא לסטים אכל אינשי ומצער בריתא ולא עוד אלא שבא על נערה המאורסה ביום הכפורים אזל לביתיה אשכח אתתיה מעוברתא נטרה עד דילדה אזל מהליה לכי גדל אוקמי׳ בבי כנישתא לברוכי בקהלא לימים אזל ר׳ עקיבא לההוא אתרא איתחזי ליה א״ל תנוח דעתך שהנחת את דעתי.

The Beis Yosef quotes it from the Zohar:

כתב הכלבו על מה שנמצא בהגדה שפעם אחד פגע רבי פלוני באחד שהיה מקושש עצים וכו’ אמר ליה אין מי שיצילני אם לא שיאמר בני קדיש א’ או יפטיר בנביא על זה פשט המנהג לומר בנו של מת קדיש בתרא כל י”ב חדש וגם להפטיר בנביא ויש שמתפללין כל מוצאי שבת תפלת ערבית לפי שבאותה שעה חוזרין הרשעים לגיהנם ואיפשר שתגן עליהם אותה תפלה והמעשה הזה הוא בזוהר בסוף פרשה אחרי מות.

The Zohar is the Zohar Chadash at the end of Acharei Mos, 60b. There the end of the story is:

“The dead father of the child, who had been punished, came to the sage in a dream and said: Rabbi, may Hashem comfort you as much as you comforted me. When my son said the Haftarah in public, they released me from punishment. When he led the prayers and said Kaddish, they completely tore up my decree. When he became a scholar, they gave me a portion in Gan Eden, and they granted me entrance into the yeshiva of tzaddikim. And when he became an even bigger scholar and they called him Rabbi, they crowned me with the crown that tzaddikim wear, and they gave me from the pleasure of the shine of the Shechinah.”

This Zohar supports the Alter’s contention that learning Torah is more valuable than saying kaddish.

However, there is a second issue here: how could the Alter make Rav Ruderman miss out on sitting shiva in favor of learning? Clearly if Chazal say an aveil should not learn, they are teaching that aveilus is better for the neshamah than learning.

This would depend on whether aveilus is for the dead person, or for the live person. Perhaps it is for the live person’s comfort or emotional health. If so, in this case where the aveil doesn’t know he is an aveil, there would be no problem in missing it.

This question is discussed in Yoreh Deah 344:10. The Rema quotes Rabbeinu Yerucham who says that if a father instructed his children not to sit shiva for him, they must sit shiva anyway. Rabbeinu Yerucham must have understood shiva as being for the sake of the living people. But Rabbi Akiva Eiger argues that in the following siman (345:1) the halacha is that we don’t sit shiva for someone who committed suicide. This halacha comes from Aveil Rabasi, where it says that for a suicide we don’t do anything that is for the honor of the dead, but we do things that are for the honor of the living. The Rambam classifies shiva as the honor of the dead, while the Ramban classifies it as the honor of the living. Since we pasken like the Rambam, the Rema should not have paskened like Rabbeinu Yerucham.

The Alter’s choice to deprive Rav Ruderman’s father of shiva would thus make sense only according to the Rema. However, it could be that he held that since other relatives were already sitting shiva, the honor of the dead was fulfilled, and there was no need for Rav Ruderman to sit shiva as well. Alternatively, perhaps he held that for the honor of the dead, it would be enough to sit for a short time several months later (שמועה רחוקה).

In the Gemara we began with, Chazal derive the idea that a righteous father cannot save a bad son from the posuk in Haazinu ואין מידי מציל – “No one can save from My hand.” Seemingly, this doesn’t prove anything because the posuk could just as well have been applied to a son saving a father. Rav Chaim Kanievsky zt”l, in Taama Dikra, gives a simple answer: the more of a tzaddik the father is, on the contrary, the more of the son should be blamed for leaving the path of Torah. But if a bad father has a son who becomes a tzaddik, that shows that the father must not have been so bad, since he tolerated or perhaps encouraged his son to do teshuva. Thus the son saving the father is logical and is not called הצלה, so it doesn’t contradict the posuk ואין מידי מציל. Only the father saving the son would be illogical and could only work through prayer and intervention. On this the Torah says: there is no intervention with My punishment.]  


Sanhedrin 61b: Was the Emperor Hirohito Considered an Avodah Zarah?

Sanhedrin 61b: If one worships an idol out of love or fear, Abaye says he is liable, Rava says he is exempt. Abaye said: I can prove my opinion from the following Baraisa: The Torah says, “You shall not bow down to them.” To them you shall not bow, but you may bow to a fellow man, unless he is worshipped like Haman. Now, Haman was worshipped out of fear, yet it says you may not bow to him. Rava replied: The Baraisa only cites Haman as an example of a person who was worshipped, but in Haman’s actual case, it would have been permitted to bow down because he was worshipped only out of fear. Only in a case when the people worshipped a human being not out of fear but out of real belief, would the Baraisa prohibit bowing.

Tosafos begins by assuming Rashi’s explanation of the Gemara: that we are discussing an idol that has real believers, but this particular Jew does not believe and is only bowing to it out of love for a person or fear of a person. Tosafos asks: isn’t a Jew forbidden to bow to an idol even when threatened with death? Obviously, if he bows at gunpoint, he doesn’t actually believe and is only bowing out of fear, yet the rule is “be killed rather than transgress” – יהרג ואל יעבור.  How can Rava permit this?

Tosafos answers that, true, one is forbidden to bow at gunpoint, and Rava only meant that if he does so, he is not liable to punishment. (According to this, Abaye would hold that he is punished even if he bowed at gunpoint. The halacha, brought by the Rambam in Yesodei Hatorah 5:4, that one who failed the trial of Kiddush Hashem and bowed to the idol is not executed by Beis Din, would be true only according to Rava.)

Then Tosafos offers a second answer that revises our understanding of the whole sugya: that the case of the Gemara is where no one actually believes in the idol; all of them bow only out of love or fear. In this case Rava permits bowing along with them. The Baraisa cites Haman as an example of someone worshipped only out of fear, and Rava says that in Haman’s exact case, it would have been permitted to bow. Why then did Mordechai refuse to bow? Because Haman had an idol on his heart, or because Mordechai wished to go beyond the call of duty and made a Kiddush Hashem.

Although Rashi and the first opinion in Tosafos do not learn the sugya this way, there is no reason to assume that they would disagree in halacha if such a case – where no one actually believes in the idol – were to arise.

סנהדרין סא ע”ב: איתמר, העובד עבודה זרה מאהבה ומיראה, אביי אמר: חייב, רבא אמר: פטור. אביי אמר: חייב, דהא פלחה. רבא אמר: פטור, אי קבליה עליה באלוה ־ אין, אי לא ־ לא…. אמר אביי: מנא אמינא לה ־ דתניא: (שמות כ׳) לא תשתחוה להם, להם אי אתה משתחוה, אבל אתה משתחוה לאדם כמותך. יכול אפילו נעבד כהמן ־ תלמוד לומר (שמות כ׳) ולא תעבדם. ־ והא המן מיראה הוה נעבד. ־ ורבא: כהמן ־ ולא כהמן. כהמן ־ דאיהו גופיה עבודה זרה, ולא כהמן ־ דאילו המן מיראה, והכא לאו מיראה.

תוספות: אע״ג דבפ׳ בן סורר ומורה (לקמן דף עד.) אמר בעבודת כוכבים יהרג ואל יעבור י״ל נהי דחייב למסור עצמו לכתחלה מ״מ היכא דלא מסר את עצמו לא מיחייב מיתה וכו’ וי״מ הא דאמר יהרג ואל יעבור היינו בסתם עבודת כוכבים והכא איירי בעבודת כוכבים שהכל עובדים מאהבה ומיראה דומיא דהמן דמייתי וכו’ וא״ת לרבא אמאי לא השתחוה מרדכי להמן וי״ל כדאמר במדרש שהיו צלמים על לבו אי נמי משום קידוש השם כדאמרינן בירושלמי דשביעית (פ״ד) כגון פפוס ולוליינוס אחים שנתן להם מים בזכוכית צבועה ולא קיבלו:

During WWII, Harav Aharon Kotler spent time in Japan. There was a law in Japan that if ever the Emperor’s vehicle drove through a street a siren was sounded and anyone in the area had to immediately fall to the ground – a law which was enforced instantly and forcefully. One was not required to bow directly towards the Emperor, rather to just fall to the ground as a matter of respect, and it seems even Yeshiva men complied. The Rosh Yeshiva in general refrained from walking in the street as much as possible, but one day he had to go to the bank and did so accompanied by a certain Reb Moshe Cohen. Sure enough, the Emperor appeared. Everyone, including Reb Moshe Cohen, fell immediately to the ground. Everyone that is, except the Rosh Yeshiva, who feared that the show of respect was connected to the Japanese belief in the divinity of the Emperor. Immediately the Rosh Yeshiva was clubbed on the back by a policeman so hard that he was laid up in bed for days. When he next saw his companion he berated him. “R’ Moshe, Hayitochen? How could you fall? Abizraya d’avodah zarah! There was a taint of avodah zarah involved.”

Source: The Legacy of Maran Rav Aharon Kotler, p. 437, related by Rav Zvulun Schwartzman.

[The Japanese fascist government of that period encouraged emperor worship in order to unify the people and motivate them to fight to the death in World War II. During earlier periods, as well as today, the emperor was not worshipped, although he was believed to be descended from the sun. 

The dispute between Reb Aharon and the others seems to hinge on the above Tosafos. Reb Aharon feared that the Japanese people really believed in the divinity of the Emperor, while the others held that even the Japanese only bowed out of love for their country, dedication to the Emperor and fear of the police.

How many Japanese would have to view their emperor as a god in order for Reb Aharon to be correct? Tosafos says:

והכא איירי בעבודת כוכבים שהכל עובדים מאהבה ומיראה

“Here [that Rava says it is permitted to bow down] we are talking about an idol that everyone worships out of love or fear.”

The implication is that if some people, even a small number, actually believe in the idol, it is forbidden to bow.

However, the Piskei Hatosfos (123) says:

ע”ז שדרכה לעבוד מאהבה ויראה או שמפרש מאהבה ויראה פטור עליה

“If an idol is normally worshipped out of love and fear, or when the Jew bowing states explicitly that he is only doing so out of love or fear, he is exempt.”

The first part of this quote indicates that what is usually done is the determining factor; it does not matter if there is a small minority of believers. The second part, that the Jew’s statement helps, comes from Tosafos in Shabbos 72b. In fact, it seems that the reason why “usually” is enough is precisely because it allows us to assume that that is the Jew’s intent too even without him making an explicit statement.]


Sanhedrin 74b: Forced Intermarriage

Sanhedrin 74b: When a Jew is forced to commit a sin in public, even if it is not one of the three cardinal sins, he must give his life. But Esther married Achashveirosh in public! Abaye said: Esther was passive. Rava said: When the forcer’s goal is his own pleasure, it is different.

סנהדרין עד ע”ב: והא אסתר פרהסיא הואיִ ־ אמר אביי: אסתר קרקע עולם היתה. רבא אמר: הנאת עצמן שאני.

Sulika Hajuel was a teenager who was known both for her physical and inner beauty. She lived with her parents in Tangiers, Morocco and usually stayed within the small Jewish neighborhood. One day in 1834 as she was walking near a Muslim neighborhood, a wealthy young man saw her and wanted to marry her. He tried to talk to her, but she ignored him. The young man was a member of a very wealthy and influential family and was accustomed to getting whatever he wanted. He told his father that he had seen the girl he wanted to marry. His father assured him that he would do everything in his power to see to it that it happened. By law, a Muslim could not marry a Jew, but they were sure that Sulika’s conversion could be arranged, by persuasion or force.

A few days later, the father and his entourage came to Sulika’s father, Haim, and offered him lavish gifts if he would give them his daughter in marriage. He would not hear of it. “Sulika will not marry a non-Jew,” he stated emphatically. “She is very religious and will not violate Torah law.”

Sulika, too, stated unequivocally that she would not marry a Muslim. Once again, they tried to persuade Haim with promises of wealth and gifts for the entire family, but Sulika and her father would not be swayed. The wealthy man left in anger and said there were other methods that would “convince” the Hajuels to change their minds.

The Muslim family had political connections, so they fabricated a story that Sulika had indeed converted to Islam and now wanted to convert back to Judaism, a capital crime under Islamic law. When she and her family heard about it, she went into hiding to avoid being arrested. A few days later, government officers came to the Hajuel home and were told that Sulika had run away; they arrested her mother instead and told Haim that she would be kept imprisoned until Sulika was found.

When Sulika heard about her mother’s arrest, she immediately turned herself in to the authorities. Her mother was released and Sulika was imprisoned. The authorities told the family that she would be jailed in Fez, the city of Sultan Mawlay Abd al-Rahman, where the Supreme Islamic Court ruled on such life-and-death issues. There she would await judgment.

While she was in her dark dungeon, the sultan’s son saw her and told her he wished to marry her. If she would convert to Islam, she would live in the lap of luxury for the rest of her life. She adamantly refused, and said she was willing to die, but would never sin against her G-d.

Even before the trial she was tortured mercilessly. She became weaker every day because she would not eat non-kosher food. Rav Rafael Tzarfati of Fez had government connections and secured special permission to visit her. He would smuggle in kosher food and she survived on what he brought her. Soon the officials tried a new tack. They warned her that being obstinate would put the Jews of Morocco in danger. She was putting not only her life in jeopardy, but also the lives of many others.

The Moroccan Jews knew that Sulika was awaiting trial and that she was defying any attempt to force her to convert. One day Rav Tzarfati pleaded with her, “My child, do you realize how many Jews are now in danger because of you? Only you can save them.”

Perhaps Rav Tzarfati relied on the Rambam, who writes in Iggeres Hashmad that converting to Islam is not idolatry, because conversion in Islam is merely a verbal declaration which the Muslims themselves realize is insincere, coming from a Jew under the threat of death, and Islam does not involve actual idolatrous practices. Sulika was unwavering. “Is it permissible for a Jew to trample on the mitzvos of the Torah and betray Hashem just to help others?”

“My child,” Rav Tzarfati replied, “we find that Esther married Achashveirosh. So if she did it to save the Jews, why won’t you?” Sulika’s answer astounded the rabbi. “It is not the same at all! The Megillah tells us that Esther had not told of her people or her birthplace (Esther 2:10). No one knew that she was Jewish, so her being with Achashveirosh was not a Chillul Hashem. Today everyone knows I am Jewish; were I to convert to marry a Muslim it would be a Chillul Hashem of the worst order. I am not willing to do that. I would rather die for Hashem.”

Rav Tzarfati cried when he heard these words and realized the greatness and commitment of this young woman. He blessed her and left her prison cell, brokenhearted. A few days later, the trial began. It was all anyone talked about. The judges were shocked that a young girl would rather die than become a traitor to her religion. They postponed the final judgment so she could reconsider. The trial eventually resumed and the harsh judgment was handed down. The guilty apostate would be hanged in the city square in front of the entire community. However, the night before her execution she would be tied to the back of a horse-drawn wagon and dragged through the street to the gallows. The night before she was to be taken to be killed, Sulika sewed the bottom of her dress to her legs so that it would not be lifted in an immodest manner as she was being dragged.

A bloodthirsty mob yelled vicious epithets against the Jews as they gathered in the square to see the young girl hanged. As Jews cried and Muslims ridiculed, the precious soul of Sulika was returned to her Maker. As her limp body was dropped to the ground in disgrace, an argument ensued among the Jews gathered there as to where she should be buried. It was finally decided that she be buried in Fez, the city where she had sanctified Hashem’s Name.

She was buried near the graves of two tzaddikim, Rabbi Yehuda ibn Attar and Rabbi Avner Tzarfati. Moroccan Jews say that the Shechinah rests over the three graves and over the years people have told of miracles and wondrous occurrences that happened to those who prayed there.

The Jews began to refer to her as Lala Sulika. (In Arabic, “lala” means prominent lady.) Soon after, Sulika came to Rav Tzarfati in a dream and pleaded, “All my life I ran away from honor and glory. Please do not allow people to use a term that bestows prominence to my name.” Rav Tzarfati announced that from then on she may only be referred to simply as Sulika.  

It was noted that the Hebrew letters of the year תקצ”ד (1834) spell צדקת – righteous woman.

Sources: Illuminations of the Maggid 

[Sulika argued that Esther was not known as a Jew, so her sin was not public and involved no Chillul Hashem. Seemingly, the Gemara explicitly contradicts this: it says Esther’s sin was בפרהסיא, committed in public. And the Gemara gives two answers, both of which could have applied to Sulika. She could have married the Muslim and remained passive, and the Muslim’s goal was his own pleasure.

Of course, it could be that her refusal was due to the conversion to Islam issue. The Ridvaz (4:92) rules that one must give one’s life rather than convert to Islam, because although it is not idolatry, it is denial of the Torah. The Ritva in Pesachim 25b takes the same position. And even the Rambam, who permits it, says that it is praiseworthy to give up one’s life rather than convert. However, from her distinction between Esther and herself, it sounds like that was the main factor, or at least one factor, in her decision to be moser nefesh. 

It’s also true that Sulika probably didn’t know the Gemara. But Rav Tzarfati did, and he made no attempt to point out her mistake. And it seems Hashem agreed with her mesirus nefesh: she was accepted in Gan Eden as a tzadekes who could come back in people’s dreams, and prayers were answered at her grave. Is there any way the Gemara can be reconciled with what she said?

I think the answer is that the Gemara is discussing a different kind of “public”. The Gemara’s בפרהסיא means in front of ten Jews. All the Jews of Shushan knew that Esther was Jewish.  In Megillah 15b the Gemara says that one of the reasons why Esther invited Haman to the feast was so that the Jews should not rely on her to avert the decree, so that they should continue davening.  When Sulika said Esther was not known as a Jew, she meant that she was not known to the Persians as a Jew. Thus Achashveirosh did not mean to force her to violate the Torah – להעבירה על דתה. Rather, his goal was הנאת עצמו – his own pleasure. However, Sulika was known to the Muslims as a Jew who refused to marry one of them. And the campaign against her was carried out not only by the man who wanted her, but by the whole government. Therefore she felt that the real motivation was to force her to violate the Torah.

Now, the Gemara gives two answers for Esther: Abaye says passivity, and Rava says the forcer’s goal is his own pleasure. Both heterim are brought down in Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 157:1. So even if Sulika was right that the Muslim’s goal was not his own pleasure, seemingly the heter of passivity still remains.

The answer may be that actually, we don’t pasken like Abaye who says passivity is a heter for Chillul Hashem in public. Tosafos asks why the Gemara poses the question והא אסתר פרהסיא הואיִ – Esther did it in public. Seemingly, the Gemara could have asked a stronger question: that Esther did גילוי עריות, which is יהרג ואל יעבור even in private. Rabbeinu Yitzchok ben Mordechai answers that the Gemara already knew that passivity is a heter for גילוי עריות. This is because the יהרג ואל יעבור of עריות is derived from the law of murder, and for a passive murder one need not give up his life.  However, the Gemara’s question was that in public, one must give up one’s life for any sin in the Torah. We are no longer deriving it from the law of murder, so passivity should no longer be a heter! On this Abaye answers: No, passivity is a heter even for sinning in public. Rava answers: Achashveirosh’s goal was his own pleasure. As usual, in disputes between Abaye and Rava, we pasken like Rava. True, the Rema in YD 157 does bring down the heter of קרקע עולם – passivity, but only in the case of regular גילוי עריות that is not done in public.

Another comment on the Sulika story is in order. Rav Tzarfati asked her, “If Esther married a non-Jew to save the Jewish people, why won’t you?” It seems he asked the wrong question. Esther’s heter when she first married Achashveirosh was based either upon קרקע עולם or הנאת עצמן. It had nothing to do with saving the Jewish people. How could Esther have known that five years later, Haman would decree death upon the Jews? So his argument was unnecessary. However, after Sulika’s answer, the argument of saving the Jews still remains. Because when it did come time to intercede with the king and save the Jews, Esther went in for the first time on her own initiative. We read in the Gemara Megillah 15a: Esther said, “I will go in to the king in violation of the law.” Rabbi Abba said: In violation of Torah law, because until that point she had been forced by him, but this time she was going willingly. 

So whatever argument Sulika had that her case was different from Esther’s and it would be forbidden to marry the Muslim man, don’t we see that Esther eventually did something that was definitely an aveirah in order to save the Jews? 

The answer lies in the Noda Biyehuda Yoreh Deah 154, who quotes the Maharik 167 who deals with the case of a caravan of Jews who were attacked by robbers intending to murder the group. One married Jewish woman seduced the gang leader and convinced him to spare their lives. The Maharik ruled that the woman did the right thing, and he brings proof from Esther going to Achashveirosh willingly to save the Jewish people. Still, she is forbidden to return to her husband, because she was מעלה מעל באישה – she was unfaithful to her husband, despite the fact that what she did was right given the circumstances. In the same way, Esther was forbidden to her husband Mordechai – כשם שאבדתי מבית אבא כן אובד ממך. 

The Noda Biyehuda himself disagrees. Esther was a special case, he says, because she was saving the entire Jewish people, and perhaps she acted on orders from Mordechai, with his ruach hakodesh. But in general, a woman may not commit גילוי עריות  actively, even in order to save a group of Jews from death. Sulika evidently held like the Noda Biyehuda.]


Sanhedrin 58b: What Kind of Work Must a Non-Jew Do on Shabbos?

Sanhedrin 58b: A non-Jew who keeps Shabbos is liable to the death penalty, as the Torah says, “Day and night they shall not rest” (Bereishis 8:22). Ravina said: Even on a Monday.

סנהדרין נח ע”ב אמר ריש לקיש: נכרי ששבת ־ חייב מיתה, שנאמר (בראשית ח׳) ויום ולילה לא ישבתו. ואמר מר: אזהרה שלהן זו היא מיתתן. אמר רבינא: אפילו שני בשבת.

Rabbi Yehosef Rottenberg, rav of Kasan, discussed the problem of how the Avos kept Shabbos, according to those quoted in the Parshas Derachim who hold that the Avos had the status of Jews only as a chumra, not where it conflicted with their obligations as non-Jews.

He proposed that they would drag objects on the ground in such a way that they may or may not make a furrow in the earth. The halacha is like Rabbi Shimon who permits this (Shabbos 29a), since the person does not mean to make the furrow; the furrow is an unintended side effect of his act. The Torah says מלאכת מחשבת which means that an act of work has to be intentional to be considered violation of Shabbos. Thus, as Jews they were not violating Shabbos. However, since in the end the furrow was made, as non-Jews they were not considered to be keeping Shabbos. The rule of מלאכת מחשבת does not apply to non-Jews, since it is learnt from the Mishkan.

On a humorous note, Rabbi Rottenberg reads this into the posuk וישב יצחק בגרר, and Yitzchok rested in Gerar (Bereishis 26:6).  He rested – that is, kept Shabbos – by being gorer (dragging) objects on the ground.

Source: Idis Sheb’idis, Toldos

[Some problems with this Dvar Torah:

  1. Why shouldn’t מלאכת מחשבת apply to non-Jews, just because it is learnt from the Mishkan? Aren’t all the 39 Melachos learnt from the Mishkan?
  2. If Yitzchok Avinu dragged the bench once and failed to produce a furrow in the ground, he would have had to drag it again, to make sure to violate Shabbos as a non-Jew. If so, he was really intending to produce the furrow, and the heter of “an unintentional act” would not apply.

Now, one might say that this is only a cute “vertel” and there is no point in asking analytical questions. However, it is in fact very relevant to people who have a doubt about whether they are Jewish. The Gemara speaks about such a case in Kesubos 15b: a baby found abandoned in a city where half the residents are Jewish and half are non-Jewish. In our own time, we have the descendants of Marranos and the Ethiopian Jews who are not able to prove their Jewish status. How should such people deal with keeping Shabbos?

Many solutions have been written, but the simplest approach is that of the Binyan Tzion 126: that the rule that a non-Jew may not keep Shabbos has nothing to do with the 39 Melachos. It simply means that he may not rest. For example, carrying heavy furniture around the house is hard work, but it doesn’t violate any of the 39 Melachos. If a non-Jew carries furniture, he is not resting and is therefore doing nothing wrong. This is implied by Rashi who says נכרי ששבת – ממלאכתו – if a non-Jew rests “from his work” – not from the 39 Melachos, but from his own job.  Thus the Avos, and someone unsure whether he is Jewish, could simply do some job on Shabbos (e.g. being a waiter at a kiddush, or a household chore) that does not involve any violation of the 39 Melachos. 

Alternatively, R’ Moshe Sternbuch (v. 2, 513) writes that a non-Jew studying in preparation for geirus is allowed to keep Shabbos fully, because the prohibition is only on someone who keeps Shabbos as a non-Jew, thinking that he can make up his own religion and receive reward for it. This is based on the Rambam (Melachim 10:9): “The general rule is that we do not permit him to make up laws or do mitzvos for themselves, on their own. Rather, he should either convert to Judaism and accept all the mitzvos, or stay as he is, neither adding nor subtracting.” Here, the prospective convert is keeping Shabbos for the purpose of practice only, so it is okay. The same logic would apply to a person unsure if he is Jewish: he is keeping Shabbos on the possibility that he is Jewish, not under an illusion that he will be rewarded for it if he is not.]


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.