Yevamos 40a: An Incentive for Chalitzah

Yevamos 40a: One who performs chalitzah has no special status in inheriting the deceased brother’s property; he is like any other brother.

יבמות מ ע”א: החולץ ליבמתו הרי הוא כאחד מן האחין לנחלה.

Rabbi Avrohom Yehoshua Heshel, the Ohev Yisroel, was known as the Apter Rav. Actually, he only served as rav of Apta for 8 years. The rest of his rabbinic career was spent in other cities: before Apta he was rav of Kalbisov, and after Apta he went to Yasi and Mezhbizh. When he announced to the town of Apta that he was leaving, the townspeople were upset and asked him, “Why? Is the rav not satisfied with his salary? When you came to our town, you asked for an unusually high salary, and we have been paying it with no complaints. And the salary you will receive in your new position will be lower.”   

The Apter Rav replied: I will explain with a story. Once there were two brothers who were orphaned at a young age. They went to live in different towns with different families, and had little contact with each other. They each grew up and married, but neither was blessed with children. One brother became wealthy, while the other struggled in poverty. The wealthy brother, who lived in Apta, became ill and felt his end was near. He called over his wife and told her, “You must know that I have a brother and his name is Shmuel, but I don’t know where he lives. When I die, you will need to get chalitzah from him. When he comes here and gives you chalitzah, give him a sizable portion of the money I am leaving you.”

After he passed away, the widow went to the rav of Apta and told him what her husband had said. The rav sent letters to all the surrounding towns asking if there was someone by that name, and the brother was eventually located. The rav of his town said to him, “Go to Apta and give chalitzah to your brother’s widow. And know that there is a large sum of money waiting for you there.” Reb Shmuel went home and told his wife, Bassheva, the news. “Now we will no longer be poor!” he said.  But Bassheva said to him, “Look at the amazing, rare mitzvah that Hashem has sent our way! Go and give the chalitzah, but I have one request: Do not accept any money for this mitzvah. I want you to do the mitzvah completely l’shem shamayim!” Her husband agreed. Just to be sure, she made him swear to her that he would not take a penny.

Reb Shmuel came to Apta and gave chalitzah. The widow then offered him a sack of money containing half of her husband’s wealth. But he steadfastly refused to accept it. She asked the rav what to do – how could she fulfill her late husband’s request, when the brother would not take the money? The rav advised, “Give the money to the Kehillah treasury instead.” 

In heaven the angels could not contain their excitement and danced for joy. Such a powerful love for a mitzvah this couple had, that they gave up their only chance to be wealthy! The Heavenly Court decided that they would be blessed with a son in their old age.

“I am that son,” the Apter Rav concluded. “And the reason I asked for a high rabbinical salary was because I wanted to collect my inheritance from the Apta kehillah treasury. Now that I have finished collecting it, I am moving to a different town.”

Source: Kindline Yiddish Magazine, Parshas Ki Savo 5782, based on a story told by Rabbi Leibish Langer

[The obvious question here is that this was not payment for the mitzvah; the brother of the deceased inherits all the money in any case, since there was no father or any other brothers. The answer may be that the widow’s kesubah takes precedence over inheritance, and in this case her kesubah was more than half of the husband’s fortune. Thus, some or all of the sack of money was not rightfully the brother’s inheritance, and he would only have been accepting it as payment for the mitzvah.

In fact, the idea of paying him for the chalitzah was not the dying husband’s own; it is a takanah, brought by the Rema in Even Ho’ezer 163:2.

וכל זה מדינא אבל הקהילות תקנו תקנה אם יתרצו היבם והיבמה בחליצה יחלוקו כל הנכסים שהניח ואפילו אינה מגיע החצי לכדי כתובה וכו’ ואותו החצי שמגיע לחלק יורשי הבעל נוטל החולץ ואין לאב ולא לשאר אחין חלק בו אפילו תפסו מוציאין מידן דעיקר התקנה היתה כדי שיתרצו בחליצה ולכן החולץ עיקר בזה.

“The above (that the brother giving chalitzah is like any other brother) is the original law. But the Kehillos enacted that if the widow and her husband’s brother agree to chalitzah, they split up all the property left by the dead husband equally, even if her kesubah amount was more than half of it. The brother giving chalitzah takes the entire half; his father and brothers have no share in it. Even if they seize it, we take it away from them, because this takanah was made as an incentive for the brother to agree to do chalitzah, and therefore the brother giving chalitzah takes all.”

Thus, since the money was rightfully the widow’s and was being given to Reb Shmuel only to motivate him to agree to do chalitzah, as per the above Rema, Reb Shmuel and his wife declared, “We don’t need any incentive to do a mitzvah; we love to do mitzvos.”]  


Yevamos 62b: When to Do Kiruv

Yevamos 62b: Rabbi Akiva had 12,000 pairs of students from Gevas to Antipras, and all of them died in the same period, because they did not treat each other respectfully. And the world was desolate until Rabbi Akiva came to our rabbis in the south… and they were the ones who built back the Torah at that time.

Bereishis Rabbah 61:3: Because they were stingy with each other. And in the end he established seven disciples… he said to them, “My sons! The first ones died because they were stingy with each other. Be careful not to do what they did.” They arose and filled all of Eretz Yisroel with Torah.

יבמות סב ע”ב: שנים עשר אלף זוגים תלמידים היו לו לרבי עקיבא, מגבת עד אנטיפרס, וכולן מתו בפרק אחד מפני שלא נהגו כבוד זה לזה, והיה העולם שמם, עד שבא ר״ע אצל רבותינו שבדרום, ושנאה להם ר״מ ור׳ יהודה ור׳ יוסי ורבי שמעון ורבי אלעזר בן שמוע, והם הם העמידו תורה אותה שעה.

ובבראשית רבה סא,ג מסיים: למה? שהיתה עיניהם צרה אלו באלו. ובסוף העמיד שבעה וכו’ אמר להם בניי, הראשונים לא מתו אלא שהיתה עיניהם צרה אלו לאלו תנו דעתכם שלא תעשו כמעשיהם, עמדו ומלאו כל ארץ ישראל תורה.  

In June of 1999, Michael Kaufman, founder of VISA (Visiting Israel Students Association) and today a lecturer at Aish Hatorah, brought 25 college age young men and women, with little or no Jewish background, to attend kiruv programs in Jerusalem. Unlike VISA’s usual “foreign exchange” students, this group had not been attracted to the country in order to study at universities, but only because the tour was heavily subsidized, costing them very little.

At the end of the tour, Michael had the idea to bring them to see the Mirrer Yeshiva. The other leaders of the tour thought it would be a turn off, but he persisted. They first visited the rosh yeshiva, Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, who asked them each about themselves, their families and hometowns. Then they walked through the beis medrash and watched the hundreds of talmidim learning, most of whom paid virtually no attention to the visitors. Everyone was awed by the experience.

As they went out, two of the boys came over to Michael and said, “We want to learn here.” When he recovered from his shock, Michael said, “You know, of course, that what you’re saying might be akin to children in kindergarten announcing that they would like to take courses in nuclear physics.”  “If what they learn there is the Jewish nuclear physics, then that’s exactly what we want to do,” replied the boys.  

Michael consulted with Reb Nosson Tzvi, who gave his approval. While the rest of the group flew back to the States, arrangements were made with a number of American bachurim to leave their regular chavrusas for one hour every day, in order to learn with these two novices in a non-structured manner for the next two months. At the end of this period, the two college students concluded that it would be best to learn in a yeshiva that catered to their backgrounds. So they left Mir to attend institutions for baalei teshuva in Jerusalem, where they stayed for a number of years. Today both are married with children; one is learning in a kollel in Jerusalem, and the other works in kiruv in a western American city.

Michael came to Reb Nosson Tzvi again after that summer and commented that several of the Mir bochurim showed great potential in the field of kiruv. He suggested that they attend a 90-minute class each week, for six weeks, on kiruv techniques. “Absolutely not!” said Reb Nosson Tzvi. “Their job here is to learn Torah – not to be involved in anything else but the study of Torah!”

“But,” Michael protested, “the Midrash Rabbah (Bereishis 61:3) says that Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 talmidim died because they were stingy with each other. This is usually explained to mean that they were concerned only with learning Torah for themselves, and not with others.”

At this point the Rosh Yeshiva recited the continuation of the Midrash from memory: “And Rabbi Akiva subsequently appointed seven talmidim –  Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Yehuda, Rabbi Yossi, Rabbi Shimon, Rabbi Elazar ben Shamua, Rabbi Yochanan Hasandlar, Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov… and said to them: ‘My sons, the first disciples died only because their approach to Torah was narrow. Make it your business not to emulate them – don’t learn Torah only for yourselves, but rather go out and teach it to others. Therefore, they went out and filled all of Eretz Yisroel with Torah.”

Reb Nosson Tzvi then smiled and said, “The seven talmidim whom Rabbi Akiva sent out were established talmidei chachomim. Our talmidim are not yet in that category. Their task is to learn Torah and to grow in Torah until they attain the status of talmidei chachomim. Until that time, they must remain within the walls of the beis medrash.”

Sources: In One Era, Out the Other, by Michael Kaufman p. 436-442; quoted in For the Love of Torah, by Hanoch Teller, p. 214-218

[To be sure, the seven Tannaim mentioned were already great talmidei chachomim before they began to spread Torah. But how did Reb Nosson Tzvi deduce that the earlier 24,000 were on such a level? Perhaps they were young beginners, and still they were faulted for not sharing whatever they knew with others! – Apparently, Reb Nosson Tzvi reasoned that since the Midrash compares the two groups, they must have been on a similar level.

But we can conjecture that Reb Nosson Tzvi’s position was based on his own wisdom and experience, not only on the Midrash. He held that yeshiva talmidim should not go into kiruv until they have accumulated enough Torah knowledge to answer the questions posed by Jews who have grown up in the modern secular world, instead of just repeating what they have been taught to say, or referring the questioners to others. Also, he was concerned that kiruv workers should be strong enough in their own knowledge and emunah not to be influenced by the people and material they may encounter.]  


Yevamos 121b: Agunos of the Coronavirus

Yevamos 121b: Even if one heard from women who said, “So-and-so died” – that is enough… It makes no difference if the person intended or not. Rabbi Yehuda ben Bava says: If the witness is a Jew, even if he intends. But if he is a gentile and he intends, his testimony is invalid.  

Some Amoraim explain the Mishnah’s word “intends” to mean only “intends to permit the wife.” But if the gentile intended to testify that the man died, he is believed. However, others explain that even intent to testify is no good. The only way we could permit the wife based on the gentile’s testimony is when he is speaking casually. For example, there was once a gentile who said repeatedly, “Who is in the house of Chivai? Who is in the house of Chivai? Chivai has died!” In another case, the gentile said, “Woe to Parsha Zriza of Pumbedisa, for he has died.”

יבמות קכא ע”ב: אפילו שמע מן הנשים אומרות מת איש פלוני ־ דיו. ר׳ יהודה אומר: אפי׳ שמע מן התינוקות אומרים הרי אנו הולכין לספוד ולקבור את איש פלוני. בין שהוא מתכוין, ובין שאינו מתכויןֹ. ר׳ יהודה בן בבא אומר: בישראל ־ אע״פ שהוא מתכוין, ובעובד כוכבים אם היה מתכוין ־ אין עדותו עדות.

אמר רב יהודה אמר שמואל: לא שנו אלא שנתכוין להתיר, אבל נתכוין להעיד ־ עדותו עדות. היכי ידעינן? אמר רב יוסף: בא לבית דין ואמר איש פלוני מת השיאו את אשתו ־ זהו נתכוין להתיר, מת סתם ־ זהו נתכוין לעדות. איתמר נמי, אמר ריש לקיש: לא שנו אלא שנתכוין להתיר, אבל נתכוין להעיד ־ עדותו עדות. אמר ליה ר׳ יוחנן: לא כך היה מעשה באושעיא ברבי, שהתריס עם שמנים וחמשה זקנים, אמר להם: לא שנו אלא שנתכוין להתיר, אבל נתכוין להעיד ־ עדותו עדות, ולא הודו לו חכמיםִ. אלא מתניתין, דקתני ובעובד כוכבים אם היה מתכוין אין עדותו עדות [הא אינו מתכוין עדותו עדות] היכי משכחת לה? במסיח לפי תומו. כי ההוא דהוה קאמר ואזיל: מאן איכא בי חיואי, מאן איכא בי חיואי, שכיב חיואיִ ואנסבה רב יוסף לדביתהו. ההוא דהוה קאמר ואזיל: ווי ליה לפרשא זריזא דהוה בפומבדיתא דשכיבִ ואנסבה רב יוסף, ואיתימא רבא לדביתהו.

During the height of the coronavirus pandemic in New York, the hospitals did not allow any relatives in to see the patients. When a patient died, the Chevra Kadisha came and performed the taharah and burial, but no friend or family member saw the body. The only evidence of his death was 1) the testimony of the hospital workers, 2) the death certificate 3) the Chevra Kadisha members, who did not know the man personally, but could read his hospital wristband. Rabbi Yechezkel Roth raised the question of whether the wives of men who died in this manner are permitted to remarry.

Rabbi Yitzchok Stein, the Faltishaner Rav, pointed out that the poskim of past generations have already debated these issues:

  1. Regarding the testimony of hospital staff: On the one hand, the Boruch Taam in his responsa Ateres Chachomim 8 writes on the question of a woman who was told that her husband, a soldier, died in the military hospital and was shown his name on a list of deaths, signed by the hospital chaplain in charge of compiling the list. He quotes the Teshuvos Beis Yosef 7 who writes that the requirement that the gentile be “speaking casually” means exactly that: he cannot be intending to testify that this man died. Therefore, when the doctor signs a statement and gives it to the chaplain to record in the list of the dead, he is clearly intending to testify and we cannot rely on him.

The Boruch Taam concedes that there are those (Maharik, Chasam Sofer 43) who allow the use of court documents in proving that a husband is dead. Courts have a special status in halacha in that we assume they would not lie, because they would ruin their reputation. However, here he argues that that reason would not apply, because there is a long chain of witnesses leading to the chaplain writing in the list of the dead. First the attendant who actually cared for the sick man and knows him personally goes to the doctor and says, “So-and-so died.” The doctor then writes a letter to his superior, who gives it to the head of the hospital, who gives it to the chaplain in charge of the list. Therefore, if someone were to get the name wrong, and the list were found to be false, no one would blame the chaplain or anyone along the chain, since it is known that they were only signing on what they heard from others.

The Imrei Yosher (Rabbi Meir Arik), v. 2 siman 121, upheld the position that a gentile testifying directly can be believed, as long as he is not intending to permit the wife. Thus he permits a case when the wife received a telegram from the army captain stating that her husband had been killed in battle, provided that the telegram was not in response to a question from the wife. Although poskim write that if the gentile specifically asks others to tell the wife, he is not believed because his intent is clearly to permit her, here since he has no one else to tell the news to, and besides, the army rules obligate him to inform the wife, he is believed. Besides this logic, one can use the opinion that relies on court documents.

The Faltishaner Rav argued that our case, where the nurse calls from the hospital to inform the wife that her husband has died, is similar to the Imrei Yosher’s case. The other concerns raised by the Boruch Taam don’t apply, as there is no chain of transmission – the caller from the hospital is a staff member who personally dealt with the deceased, and the doctor signing the death certificate must personally examine the deceased. They have an obligation to inform the wife, and their testimony is like that of a court – they would not risk ruining their reputation.

This is all the more so in view of the fact that they could easily be caught (if the man they declared dead turned out to be alive). This is why the Maharam Shick (42) permits agunos based on the testimony of hospital staff, and the Atzei Chaim (20) says that this is even more reliable than the testimony of army captains.   

Some raised a question, however: the Gemara says (Yevamos 114b) that when there is an epidemic in the world, a wife is not believed to testify that her husband died, because we are afraid since many people are dying, she may rationalize that he is probably dead when she in fact does not know for certain. There are poskim (Ran, Teshuva 3) who say this rule applies not only to the wife, but to any single witness.

The Faltishaner Rav replied that the Covid-19 pandemic is not similar to the Gemara’s case, because the death rate is lower. Even at the peak in April 2020, there were around 800 people dying each day in New York, a city of 8 million. That is a death rate of 1/10,000. The Gemara (Taanis 19a) defines a plague (for which we fast) as when a city of 500 men of military age (20-60) has 3 deaths in 3 days. If we assume a total population of 2000, that is a 1/2000 death rate, 5 times higher than the rate in New York. R’ Meir Arik writes in Mareh Yechezkel 12 that the definition of an epidemic for the purposes of agunos is the same as that of Taanis.

2. Regarding death certificates signed in a manner acceptable to a court, there are many poskim (Rabbi Mordechai Banet 27, the Beis Ephraim 31, the Boruch Taam, the Divrei Chaim 2:55 and 2:98) who were strict, since the testimony is anything but casual. However, most of the poskim were lenient: The Maharik 121, quoted by the Taz YD 316:4, Bigdei Kehuna 10, the Chasam Sofer 43, 44 and 94, and the Ksav Sofer 23. The Pischei Teshuva 17:53 brings down the Chasam Sofer. The reason is that when a judge or a court puts something in writing, they are careful not to lie because they could lose their jobs. Similarly, the Bais Shlomo 47 argues that Chazal believed a casual storyteller because he would not lie; here also, there is good reason to believe a judge would not lie.

The Shoel Umeishiv 1:10 and 1:188, the Zayis Raanan 1:2 and the Avnei Tzedek 25 all rely on these lenient poskim as halacha l’maaseh. The Maharam Schick also relies on his teacher, the Chasam Sofer. The Avnei Nezer 65, 67 and 75 characterizes the lenient view as the view of most poskim. The Beis Yitzchak 84 also rules this way, and so does the Netziv in Meishiv Davar 23, the Imrei Yosher 1:111 and the Maharsham 3:92. This ruling is also brought as halacha by the Aruch Hashulchan 17:80, who adds, “When Jews served in the Czar’s army and one of them died, and a letter came stamped with the government seal and signed by the commanding officer stating that so-and-so, son of so-and-so, last name, died, there were many stories in the previous generation when the Gedolei Hador permitted their wives.

3. Finally, the dead man can be identified by the Chevra Kadisha based on his hospital wristband. Although the Mishnah says (Yevamos 120a) that one can testify on a man only based on facial recognition, not by his clothing or other articles, and this is brought as halacha in Even Hoezer 17:24, that is because we are afraid he may have borrowed them (Yevamos 120b). But no one could ever give his hospital bracelet to another patient. The hospital puts it on when he enters and no one ever takes it off until he leaves the hospital. It can’t even be pulled off, only cut off with scissors, and then it can’t be put back on again.

Where do we find a similar case in the poskim of the past? First of all, many teshuvos were written to permit the wife of a man found dead with a document in his pocket, such as a passport or other ID paper: The Noda Biyehuda 2:46, brought by the Pischei Teshuva 17:118; Chasam Sofer 1:53 and 65; Mishkenos Yaakov 11, Bais Shlomo 45, Shem Aryeh 32, The poskim write that even the Beis Yosef, who is strict even regarding articles that people don’t typically lend out, would agree in the case of a passport: Yeshuos Malko 34, Ksav Sofer 29, Maharsham 6, Achiezer 12, Ein Yitzchok 28. However, the Divrei Chaim 2:47 rules strictly, due to the possibility that someone forgot his passport in his pocket and lent his clothing to someone else.

Secondly, many armies had each soldier wear a metal capsule containing his ID, and the poskim agreed that this was sufficient to permit his wife: the Chavatzeles Hasharon 34, Imrei Yosher 2:145, Imrei Dovid 59, Maharash Engel 3:99, Otzros Yosef 7a, Levushei Mordechai 2:5, Atzei Chaim 15. The Atzei Chaim stresses that even the Divrei Chaim, who was strict about the passport, would agree on the capsule that the soldier would be careful not to let others borrow it. The soldier wants the capsule on him at all times so that he can be identified. And obviously, the Divrei Chaim’s concern would not apply to a hospital wristband.

Based on the above three reasons, the Faltishaner Rav permitted the wives of these coronavirus victims to remarry. Rabbi Yechezkel Roth concurred with his reasoning.


Yevamos 120a: Washing Meat to Extend the Salting Deadline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Yevamos 121a: Agunah from a Plane Crash

Yevamos 121a: If a man fell into a body of water whose shore can be seen, his wife is permitted to remarry. If the shore cannot be seen, she is forbidden.

יבמות קכא. מים שיש להם סוף אשתו מותרת ושאין להם סוף אשתו אסורה.

Shlomo Anidjar was one of the most respected members of the Chabad community in the French city of Boulogne-Billancourt (a suburb of Paris). At 10:00 PM on June 1, 2009 he was one of the 228 passengers aboard an Air France flight that went missing over the Atlantic Ocean. The Airbus A330-200 plane was last heard from about four hours after taking off from Rio de Janeiro en route to Paris.

Anidjar was 40 years old, and left a wife and 3 children.

The Jewish community planned a memorial ceremony in Paris’s Great Synagogue. Anidjar’s children asked to recite Kaddish for their father, and began sitting shivah together with their mother.

France’s rabbis objected to these signs of mourning expressed soon after the plane went missing, even before the plane’s debris or passengers’ bodies were recovered, and threatened to boycott the ceremony. The rabbis expressed their fear that taking part in the memorial would be perceived as a rabbinical approval that the woman was a widow, while she was in fact considered an agunah.

On June 2, at 3:20 in the afternoon, a Brazilian Air Force jet spotted wreckage and signs of oil, possibly jet fuel, strewn along a 3 mile band 400 miles northeast of Fernando de Noronha Island, near the Saint Peter and Saint Paul Archipelago. The sighted wreckage included an aircraft seat, an orange buoy, a barrel, white pieces and electrical conductors. Later more wreckage and some bodies were discovered.

Following the disagreement, Rabbi Yirmiyahu Menachem Cohen, a senior member of the Rabbinical Center of Europe, decided to convene the beis din of Paris to discuss the matter.

The beis din ruled that before sitting shivah, the family should have ensured that the chances of finding survivors were down to zero, but that now that the wreckage had been discovered, they could continue sitting.

The beis din based its ruling on the initial opinion of aviation experts, who ruled that the plane had exploded in the air, based on the radius where the plane’s debris was found.

The halachic ruling also relied on a response written in the past by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (Yabia Omer v. 6, Even Haezer 4) in regard to a combat pilot whose plane was hit by a missile and fell into the sea. Rabbi Yosef had said at the time that the explosion of a plane and drowning in the sea were two scenarios from which a person could scarcely escape alive, and that joined together, there was a halachic foundation to release the wife from her agunah status.

Rav Ovadia quotes the Beis Yaakov (9), by the Gaon of Zazmir, who argues that we find similar logic in Kesubos 15a. When a girl was violated in a city in which most people are of good lineage, the Torah would permit her to a kohein, but מעלה עשו ביוחסין – Chazal made an extra stringency and required two majorities: the majority of the city and the majority of the travelers. The two majorities operate similarly to a  ספק ספיקאin which each question has a majority pointing toward leniency – if the man came from the city, chances are he was of good lineage, and even if he was one of the travelers, chances are he was of good lineage.

The Beis Yaakov uses this as a model for the stringency we are discussing – the man who falls into a large body of water where the shore cannot be seen, which is also only a Rabbinic restriction (as evident from the fact that bedieved, if the woman remarried, she is permitted to stay married – Even Hoezer 17:32). Therefore, argues the Beis Yaakov, if there were two majorities – for example, if a man who was very ill and close to death fell into water – his wife is permitted, because probably he died from the illness, and even if not, he probably drowned. Here too, said Rav Ovadia, probably the pilot was killed when his plane exploded, and even if not, he probably drowned in the sea.


Yevamos 90b: The Miraculous Power of Learning Torah

Yevamos 90b: One may listen to a Navi even if he tells you to transgress a mitzvah in the Torah, like Eliyahu on Mount Carmel. This proves that the Sages have the power to permit a sin! – There is it different because the Torah says, “To him you shall listen.” But why not generalize from there? – There it was different because Eliyahu needed to stand up against the sin [of idolatry].

Tosafos: How could we have learned it out from a Navi? Maybe a Navi is different because Hashem told him to do it. The Ri answers: to permit the sin, prophecy would not help. He is only using his prophecy to know that the plan will be effective – in Eliyahu’s case, that fire would come down from the sky on the mizbeach.  

יבמות צ ע”ב: ת״ש: (דברים י״ח) אליו תשמעון ־ אפילו אומר לך עבור על אחת מכל מצות שבתורה, כגון אליהו בהר הכרמל, הכל לפי שעה שמע לוִ שאני התם, דכתיב: אליו תשמעון. וליגמר מיניהִ! – מיגדר מילתא שאני.

תוס’ ד”ה וליגמר מיניה. וא״ת שאני התם דעל פי הדבור היה מתנבא לעבור והיכי נגמר מיניה לעבור משום תקנתא דרבנן שלא על פי הדבור ונראה דכיון דעל פי הדבור שרי משום צורך שעה הוא הדין שלא על פי הדבור שהרי אין נביא רשאי לחדש דבר מעתה וכו’ ואר״י משום דאיתחזק בנביאות היו סומכים עליו במה שהיה מבטיח בירידת אש ושוחטים על הבטחתו קדשים בחוץ שבזכותו ותפלתו תרד אש מן השמים ויהיה מיגדר מילתא שיתקדש שמו של הקב״ה ברבים וע״י כך יחזרו ישראל למוטב.

When Rabbi Shmuel Berenbaum, the Mirrer rosh yeshiva, was sitting shiva for his son R’ Leibel, people told him stories about miraculous recoveries and yeshuos people had experienced through R’ Leibel’s brachos and tefillos. Reb Shmuel listened the entire time quietly. Someone pressed him to express his opinion on such things, and he said, “Nu, he learned so much Torah – it could be true.”

R’ Yosef Simcha Klein, his grandson-in-law, noted that the same was true of Reb Shmuel himself: When he was niftar, many people came during shiva and told stories about how every blessing and promise he gave had come true.

The source for the idea that learning Torah enables one to perform miracles is the Tzidkas Hatzadik (72), who says that Moshe Rabbeinu performed his miracles through learning Torah. (This could be based on the Pesikta brought in the Yalkut on Parshas Chukas, which says that when Hashem told Moshe to speak to the rock, He meant that Moshe should teach Torah in front of the rock, and it would give water – see Emek Hanetziv, Matos 5.) The Tzidkas Hatzadik also says that Eliyahu performed the miracle of bringing down fire from heaven through the power of the chiddush in halacha that he was mechadesh to permit offering a korban outside the Beis Hamikdash.

R’ Yosef Simcha adds that there were two other reasons why Reb Shmuel’s words came true. The first was he felt the pain of others exactly like his own. The Shem Mishmuel relates (Beshalach p. 206) that his father, the Avnei Nezer, once told him, “Anyone can save his friend through his prayer, but only if his friend’s pain touches him to the depths of his heart. This is not easy and only someone on a high spiritual level can fulfill this condition.”

The second was that he was careful with his speech. As R’ Elchonon writes (Kovetz Shiurim Kesubos 208, on daf 62b), we find stories in the Gemara where someone died because a tzaddik suggested that they might be dead, כשגגה שיוצא מלפני השליט. Normally, Hashem fulfills the blessings or curses of a tzaddik because “He does the will of those who fear Him” but in these cases it was not the tzaddik’s will at all. Rather, it is because the speech of someone who guards his tongue is like a sharp axe, which can cut even accidentally. By the same token, his blessings are fulfilled. But when someone does not guard his speech, it is like a dirty and rusty blade that cannot cut.


Yevamos 63a: Babe Ruth and the Jewish Question

Yevamos 63a: What is the meaning of the verse, “All the families of the earth will be blessed in you”? Even the families that live in the earth are only blessed for the sake of Israel. “All the nations of the earth [will be blessed for his sake]” – even the ships traveling from Gaul to Spain are only blessed for the sake of Israel.

ואמר ר׳ אלעזר, מאי דכתיב: (בראשית י״ב) ונברכו בך כל משפחות האדמה וכו’ אפילו משפחות הדרות באדמה, אין מתברכות אלא בשביל ישראלֹ (בראשית י״ח) כל גויי הארץ ־ אפילו ספינות הבאות מגליא לאספמיא, אינן מתברכות אלא בשביל ישראל.

A little Jewish boy on the East Side of New York came home from school and with great excitement told his grandfather, “Grandpa! Imagine! Babe Ruth hit three homers today!”

“Tell me,” asked the old man, “what this Babe Ruth did – is it good for the Jews?”

The above joke appeared in “A Treasury of Jewish Folklore,” published in 1948 by Nathan Ausubel, p. 426. Little did whoever cracked the joke know how much truth lay in it.

On March 16, 2013, speaking at a melaveh malka for K’hal Shaarei Shalom of Nostrand and Avenue P, Rabbi Avrohom Daniel Ginsberg, rosh kollel of Bais Medrash of Flatbush, told the following story. R’ Chatzkel Levenstein and the Mirrer Yeshiva arrived in Brooklyn shortly after WWII. In the summer of 1948, the great baseball star Babe Ruth died, and approximately 80,000 people participated in his funeral. R’ Chatzkel came into the beis medrash then, gave a klop, and remarked about the sadness, the atzvus, that had descended upon the populace with the death of the baseball hero, which puzzled him. He was bewildered by the veneration for a mere ball player. Rav Ginsburg humorously described how people tried to explain to the great European baal mussar, R’ Chatzkel, in Yiddish, the American national pastime of baseball, and the greatness of Babe Ruth. Their efforts were in vain, however, as R’ Chatzkel remained baffled as to how Ruth’s athletic feats, great as they were, had earned him such veneration. According to R’ Shlomo Brevda, who was one of the Americans present then along with R’ Refoel Green, that experience, along with its accompanying feeling of dissonance, was an impetus for R’ Chatzkel ultimately deciding to leave America and move to Eretz Yisroel, where he subsequently served as mashgiach of the Mirrer Yeshiva and Ponevezh in Bnei Brak until his passing, approximately 25 years later.

Perhaps, then, the home runs hit by Babe Ruth helped build two of the greatest yeshivas in the world!