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.


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.”