Bava Kama

Bava Kama 78b: Making Restitution with a Cheaper Esrog

Bava Kama 78b: Rava asked: If a man vowed to bring an olah, and set aside an ox, and someone stole it, can the thief make restitution with a sheep (or a bird according to Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah who holds that one making a vow without specifying the size of the animal can use a bird)? Do we focus on the vow which was to bring any olah, or can he demand an ox on the grounds that he wishes to perform the mitzvah in the best way? Rava answered his own question: He may make restitution with a sheep or a bird.

בבא קמא עח ע”ב: בעי רבא: הרי עלי עולה והפריש שור, ובא אחר וגנב, מי פטר גנב נפשיה בכבש לרבנן, בעולת העוף לר׳ אלעזר בן עזריה? דתנן: הרי עלי עולה ־ יביא כבש, ר״א בן עזריה אומר: יביא תור או בן יונה, מאי? מי אמרינן שם עולה קביל עילויה, או דלמא מצי א״ל אנא מצוה מן המובחר בעינא למיעבד? בתר דאיבעיא הדר פשט: גנב פטר עצמו בכבש לרבנן, בעולת העוף לר׳ אלעזר בן עזריה.

In 1903, Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman began his first position as rosh yeshiva in Mtsislavl. One of his talmidim from that period, Rabbi Shmaryahu Nochum Shushenkin, kept a diary in which he described Reb Elchonon’s teaching method. “It was Reb Elchonon’s practice to stop delivering his shiur for a day or two after the completion of a Perek, or half a Perek, if it was lengthy, to allow the students to review what they had learned so far. For this he would organize groups of four or five students with similar abilities. Because of his erudition in the writings of the Acharonim, he was capable of sharpening and testing his students by means of an interesting device. He would pose questions to them which had been answered by the Acharonim, for instance Noda Beyehuda, Rabbi Akiva Eiger, Chasam Sofer and others, by reference to the Gemara or Tosafos which the pupils had been studying. If the Gemara or Tosafos had been thoroughly assimilated and retained in the student’s mind, he would discover the answer to Reb Elchonon’s questions in the Gemara he had been studying that day or the day before.

“I remember one question posed to us by Reb Elchonon. Someone had stolen an esrog of superior quality. Could he make restitution by giving the owner a kosher, but not so beautiful esrog? We found the answer in Rava’s remark in Merubah. There the case is mentioned of someone who had vowed to bring a korban olah and had set aside an ox for the fulfillment of his vow. A thief stole the ox. According to the Sages, the thief can free himself from further obligation by restoring a sheep, and according to Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah, even by a bird suitable for a korban olah. Similarly in our case, the thief may free himself of further obligation by restoring an esrog of inferior quality, as long as it is kosher. The plaintiff’s argument – “I want to perform a mitzvah in the most elegant manner” – has no validity.

Source; Reb Elchonon (Artscroll), p. 41

[The comparison between a korban and an esrog is surprising. A korban does not belong to the vower, and the thief is only paying because of Rabbi Shimon’s rule that דבר הגורם לממון כממון דמי (something that causes you to lose money is like your money), as Rashi says. Since if the thief were not caught, the vower would only have to bring a sheep to replace the ox, the thief too need only pay for a sheep. But an esrog is not consecrated to hekdesh, and it is the regular property of the owner. How then can a thief make restitution with something worth less than what he stole?

It seems that Reb Elchonon was saying a tremendous chiddush here: an esrog is not intrinsically worth the amount of money you pay for it. It is valuable only as a דבר הגורם לממון, and is therefore only worth the amount that you would have to pay to do the mitzvah at the simplest level.

Of course, this would only apply to the person planning to use the esrog for the mitzvah on Succos, not to a merchant. Thus a thief who stole a $100 esrog from an esrog store could not make restitution with a $50 esrog. (See the article “Purloined Esrogim” by Rabbi Meir Orlian of the Business Halacha Institute, in which someone stole expensive esrogim from a merchant before Succos and returned them after Succos. The psak there was that he must pay their full pre-Succos value.)

The Chazon Ish (Bava Kama 6:3) similarly rules that if someone damages a person’s house, the amount he pays would depend on what the owner intends on doing with the house. If he plans to fix the damage, he would pay the cost to fix it, but if he plans to sell it, he would only pay the negligible amount by which the house dropped in value.

However, the Chazon Ish there quotes a Rashi that seems to contradict all of the above. Rashi in Gittin 53a says that if kohanim ruin a korban through pigul, they have to pay even if the korban was a nedavah, an optional korban for which the owner is not responsible if lost. Even though they didn’t cause the owner any loss, he can argue that he wanted to bring his korban and thus suffered a loss. How does this fit with Reb Elchonon, and indeed, with the Gemara we began with in Bava Kama 78b? Maybe Rashi means that he will not replace the korban at all, so he is demanding compensation for his disappointment at not bringing any korban. In our case, however, he is replacing the korban (or esrog), albeit with a less expensive one.

As an aside, we can learn from Reb Elchonon the great value of analyzing stories and real life cases in order to better understand the Gemara.]


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.]


Niddah 70b: He Came Back to Life, Must He Remarry His Wife?

Niddah 70b: The men of Alexandria asked twelve questions to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya… three of them were foolish. 1) Does Lot’s wife make someone tamei? He replied: A dead person can make someone tamei, but a pillar of salt cannot. 2) Does the Ben Hashunamis brought back to life by Elisha make someone tamei? He replied: A dead person can make someone tamei, but a live person cannot. 3) Will the dead who are resurrected in the future require sprinkling of the red heifer? He replied: When they are resurrected we will come up with the answer. Some say he replied: When Moshe Rabbeinu comes with them, we will ask him.

נדה ע ע”ב: שלשה דברי בורותֹ: אשתו של לוט מהו שתטמא? אמר להם: מת מטמא, ואין נציב מלח מטמא. בן שונמית מהו שיטמא? אמר להן: מת מטמא, ואין חי מטמא. מתים לעתיד לבא, צריכין הזאה שלישי ושביעי, או אין צריכין? אמר להן: לכשיחיו ־ נחכם להן. איכא דאמרי: לכשיבא משה רבינו עמהם.

Rabbi Yechezkel Roth, the Karlsburger Rov, suffered a heart attack in 2016 and was hospitalized at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, where he was placed on a respirator.

Upon his release from the hospital, Harav Roth asked his wife, Rebbetzin Chaya Rechel, if she wanted to stay with him. When she of course replied in the affirmative, he performed a kiddushin before two witnesses. He explained that he was being machmir for the opinion of the Terumas Hadeshen.


[The Terumas Hadeshen, Psakim Uksavim 102, is responding to the question of whether Eliyahu Hanavi’s wife or Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s wife could remarry. He adds, “This would have an implication for the future too, if someone else was zocheh to be like them. “

He quotes our Gemara in Niddah and then comments:

אע”פ שודאי אשתו של לוט מתה אלא שנהפכה לגוף אחר ובן השונמית היה מת אלא חזר ויחי אעפ”כ אמר שאין מטמאין ה”נ י”ל אשת רעהו אסורה ולא אשת מלאך שכולן רוחני ולא גופני.

 “Although certainly Lot’s wife died, only that she turned into another substance; and the Ben Hashunamis was dead, only that he came back to life, still the Gemara says that they do not transmit tumah. Here too, the wife of one’s fellow man is forbidden and not the wife of an angel, for the angels are completely spiritual, not physical.”

What is his comparison between a live person who was once dead and Eliyahu Hanavi, who is still alive? (Or, if Eliyahu Hanavi is considered dead, then what is the need for a proof from this Gemara?) It seems he means to argue as follows: why isn’t the Ben Hashunamis still tamei now, since he was dead and had tumah then? True, he is alive now and cannot generate new tumah. But where did the old tumah go? His answer is that Rabbi Yehoshua was teaching the Alexandrians that it’s possible for a person to be transformed so completely that nothing of his previous state remains. Here too, Eliyahu Hanavi turned into an angel and an angel cannot have a wife, but one might have argued that his ties to his wife from the time when he was human still remained. From the Gemara we see that no, he was completely transformed and nothing remained.

Now, in theory, the story of the Ben Hashunamis could be understood in four ways: 1) Even after Elisha revived him, he was actually still dead, only he appeared to be alive. 2) He was really revived at the end, yet he maintained the tumah acquired when dead. 3) The fact that Elisha revived him shows that he was never actually dead at any point. 4) He was truly dead, yet Elisha revived him and he became truly alive and completed transformed so that no tumah remained.

The Alexandrians’ question showed that they entertained possibilities 1 and/or 2. Rabbi Yehoshua’s reply can be understood as either 3 or 4. The Terumas Hadeshen is interpreting it as 4.

R’ Chatzkel Roth evidently extended this concept to the technological advances of modern medicine. It is possible nowadays for a person to exhibit signs of death – heart and breathing stopped – and yet be revived with machines. Position 3 would say that this shows the person was never dead. But position 4 – the Terumas Hadeshen – would say, yes he was dead, but he was revived and completely transformed. He was tamei while his heart was stopped, but now he is tahor. His wife was unmarried while his heart was stopped, and now he needs to remarry her.   

The Chida disagrees with the Terumas Hadeshen. In Birkei Yosef Even Hoezer 17:1, the Chida brings the Gemara in Megillah 7b where Rabbah slaughtered Rabbi Zeira and then brought him back to life the next day, and poses the question of whether Rabbi Zeira had to make a new kiddushin on his wife. Do we say that the old kiddushin disappeared when he died, and when he came back to life it was a fresh start, or do we say that the techiyas hameisim reveals that his death was not a real death?

He brings proof to the latter position from the Yerushalmi Gittin 40b, which discusses a man who, before leaving on a trip, gives his wife a get on condition that he will not return after 12 months, and then dies before the 12 months are up. Rabbi Chaggai says she is permitted immediately, but Rabbi Yossi says she is forbidden, for perhaps a miracle happened and the husband came back to life. The Bavli (Gittin 76b) asks the same question and leaves it unanswered. The Chida argues we see from Rabbi Yossi that if the man did come back to life, she would still be married to him. And even Rabbi Chaggai, as well as the other position in the Bavli, only disagree with him because they are not afraid of such a rare occurrence. But if it did happen, all would agree that she remains married to him.

However, the Chida says he wrote all of this quickly (אני אמרתי בחפזי) and this is only the way it seems superficially (לפום ריהטא). Actually, there is a tremendous problem with this reading of the Yerushalmi. If Rabbi Yossi holds that we are afraid of people coming back to life, what does he do with all the chapters of Yevamos and sugyos throughout Shas that discuss giving testimony that a husband died in order to permit his wife? How will it ever help? Even if it is proven that he died, perhaps he will come back to life. How can his wife ever remarry? Now, the Chida does say that he admits in the case when the husband was buried and then came back, that his wife is no longer married. He is only speaking about Rabbi Zeira, who was not buried. But if so, all who testify on a husband being dead would have to testify that he was buried too, and we don’t find this. Rather, it seems clear that Rabbi Yossi never meant to say that the wife is still married after the techiyas hameisim. He meant only that there would be no get and the wife would need chalitzah. This is because the husband gave her the get only on condition that he would not return from his trip by 12 months. He then died during the trip. Rabbi Yossi is afraid that he may come back to life and return before 12 months, rendering the get null and void. True, she would no longer be married to him due to his death, but since there was no get, she would need chalitzah and would be forbidden to remarry without chalitzah.]


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.]

Avodah Zarah

Avodah Zarah 75b: Immodest Dress and Lifnei Iver

Avodah Zarah 75b: According to the opinion that spoiled taste [coming from a pot used more than 24 hours ago] is permitted, then in what case did the Torah forbid cooking with the pots of non-Jews? Rav Chiya son of Rav Huna said: The Torah only forbade a pot that was used within the last day, for that is not spoiled taste. Why then is it not completely permitted to use such a pot after a day has passed? – It is a Rabbinic decree on treif pots after a day, lest one come to use a treif pot on the same day.

עבודה זרה עה ע”ב: ולמאן דאמר נותן טעם לפגם ־ מותר, גיעולי עובדי כוכבים דאסר רחמנא היכי משכחת לה? אמר רב חייא בריה דרב הונא: לא אסרה תורה אלא קדירה בת יומא, דלאו נותן טעם לפגם הוא. מכאן ואילך לישתריִ! גזירה קדירה שאינה בת יומא משום קדירה בת יומא.

A woman who was becoming frum, and only had a certain amount of money to spend, asked Rabbi Ahron Leib Shteinman, “Should I buy new modest clothing, or should I buy kosher dishes?” Rav Shteinman replied, “Buy the modest clothing, because the prohibition of using your old treif dishes is only Rabbinic, and it’s only a aveirah for yourself, but the aveirah of wearing immodest clothing is a Torah prohibition of not placing a stumbling block before the blind, and it involves sins for others as well.”

Source: Rabbi Ahron Shmuel Pessin

[What is the source for the idea that a woman wearing immodest clothing is “placing a stumbling block before the blind”?  It may seem obvious, but one could argue as follows: The Gemara says in Bava Basra 57b that If a man walks down a path where he can see women washing clothing in the river, if there was another path he could have taken, he is wicked, but if there was no other path, he can’t help it and he is not held responsible for the sin. Still, it is praiseworthy to close his eyes. Thus it is possible that a woman could walk out in immodest clothing and cause no man to sin. All the men walking in the street with her might be on their way somewhere and have no other path to walk on. On the other hand, a man might have a different path available to him but still walk on her path, or he might gaze at her on purpose, which would be a sin no matter what.

This brings us to the question of whether “lifnei iver” – placing a stumbling block – applies only when one knows that the other person will commit the sin if he makes it available to him, or even if one doesn’t know.  The classic case of “lifnei iver” is handing a cup of wine to a nazir or a limb of a live animal to a Ben Noach (Avodah Zara 6b). There the giver indeed knows that the taker intends to consume the item. However, the Gemara also says that one who smacks his grownup son is transgressing “lifnei iver” (Moed Katan 17a), although is not known whether he will hit back. Similarly, lending money without witnesses is “lifei iver” (Bava Metzia 75b) because the borrower may deny the loan, although it is far from certain that he will do so. So we can conclude that making a possible sin available also constitutes placing a stumbling block.

One might ask that the Gemara does permit selling wood to an idolatrous temple of fire, on the grounds that most wood is used for regular burning (Nedarim 62b). And the Mishnah says that although one may not sell a plow in Shmitah, one may sell a tool that can be used for either prohibited or permitted work (Shviis 5:6). The answer must be that where the item itself is definitely forbidden, and the doubt is only whether the person will commit the sin or resist his impulse, then giving it to him is placing a stumbling block. We are not allowed to test another person’s power to subdue his yetzer hara. But where the item itself can be used for a permitted purpose, perhaps the buyer is simply buying it for that permitted purpose, and he will not need to stuggle with his yetzer hara at all.

In our case, wearing immodest clothing would definitely be placing other people in a struggle with their yetzer hara, so it is “lifnei iver.” This is especially true if the woman in question lived in a neighborhood with non-religious Jews, who would certainly sin.

In fact, there is a Gemara in Taanis 24a that seems to say that immodest behavior is “lifnei iver”. We are told that Rabbi Yossi of Yukras had a beautiful daughter. One day he saw a man making a hole in the fence around his house. The man explained, “If I was not privileged to marry her, can’t I be privileged to see her?” Rabbi Yossi then said to his daughter, “My daughter, you are causing people to suffer. Go back to your dust, and let people not stumble because of you.” Rabbi Yossi of Yukras was criticized by Rabbi Yossi bar Avin for not having mercy on his own daughter. Still, she must have done something wrong, or else she would not have deserved any punishment at all. And the language “let people not stumble” indicates that her sin was “lifnei iver.”]

Avodah Zarah

Avodah Zarah 69a: Bugs in the Orange Juice

Avodah Zarah 69a: If a mouse fell into vinegar, does its taste forbid the vinegar? Rabbi Hillel said to Rav Ashi: This once happened at Rav Kahana’s house, and Rav Kahana forbade it. He replied: There the mouse fell into pieces. Rashi: A mouse is forbidden even if the piece is as small as a lentil, just like the minimum size for tumah, and we are afraid that a person will swallow pieces of the mouse along with the vinegar.

Yoreh Deah 104:1: If a mouse was chopped into small pieces and mixed into beer or vinegar, and that beer or vinegar was mixed into a thick food such that it is no longer possible to filter it, it is forbidden. There is no nullification of the prohibited food, because we are afraid the eater may encounter the actual prohibited food without noticing it. Rema: This is only true of one of the eight creeping animals listed in the Torah, but if it is a different prohibition there is no problem.

עבודה זרה סט ע”א: איבעיא להו: נפל לגו חלא, מאי? א״ל רב הילל לרב אשי: הוה עובדא בי רב כהנא, ואסר רב כהנא. א״ל: ההוא אימרטוטי אימרטט. רש”י: לחתיכות דקות קטנות ושרץ איסורו בכעדשה כטומאתו וחיישינן דלמא בולע חתיכות שרץ בהדי חומץ.

יורה דעה ק”ד,א: ואם נחתך [העכבר] לחתיכות דקות והוא בענין שאינו יכול לסננו כגון שנתערב השכר או החומץ במאכל עב הכל אסור ואין שם ביטול דחיישינן שמא יפגע בממשו של איסור ולא ירגיש. רמ”א: ודוקא בשרץ יש לחוש אם נשאר שם שלא יוכל להוציאו אבל בשאר איסורין אין לחוש.

In the fall of 2014 it was discovered that Tropicana orange juice contained citrus scale insects. These insects burrow into the peels of oranges, and normal orange juice, since it doesn’t contain the peel, does not have a problem. But Tropicana enhances the taste of their orange juice by adding oil that was squeezed out of the peel. Unfortunately it seems that they not only squeezed out oil but some of those scale insects as well.

Because of the presence of scale bugs, many of the leading hechsherim banned Tropicana orange juice. Some kashrus experts in Lakewood examined Tropicana as well as other brands of orange juice and came to the conclusion that there are at least one to two fully intact scale bugs in each cup that was tested, or 8-16 per container.

Halacha writer Rabbi Yair Hoffman conducted his own tests by pouring each cup through a Fischer Scientific 62-micron nylon mesh and then placing the nylon mesh over a light box and searching with the naked eye. The testing revealed that each cup of Tropicana Pure Premium had an average of between three and four scale bug parts in the juice that are visible to the naked eye on a light box. This was verified through the use of a USB microscope. About 1 in 20 cups contained a fully intact scale bug. This was after examining four containers purchased in three locations, but admittedly within one week of each other.

Rabbi Hoffman asked the Lakewood inspectors how they were finding intact bugs so much more often. They said that their method was to filter the juice and then examine the pulp left on the mesh filter using a 10x jeweler’s loupe. After finding a bug, they would place it on a light box or index card and then it would be identifiable to the naked eye.

Subsequently, OK Kosher, which gives the hechsher on Tropicana, released a statement that the OK “stands behind the kosher status of all Tropicana juices bearing the OK symbol. In response to recent reports relating to Tropicana juices, the OK tested the juices and also had them tested by an independent and knowledgeable posek, and all agreed that there are no halachic kashrus issues. In addition an independent laboratory tested the juices and found no traces of insects.”

The “tumul” died down only after Rabbi Dovid Feinstein held a meeting of 5 or 6 rabbis in a closed room, and permitted the orange juice based on six reasons, which everyone at the meeting agreed to keep secret.

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky also issued a heter. The question presented to him was whether insects were forbidden if they could be recognized only by experts, and only after removal from the juice and placing on a white background; he ruled that this is not a problem.

[The Rema, in permitting pieces of other creatures aside from the Shmonah Sheratzim, follows Rashi. The Taz asks a simple question on the Rema: True, the Shmonah Sheratzim have the minimum size of a lentil and other creatures would have to be either a k’zayis or a complete organism. But that is only to receive the punishment of malkus. Eating a piece of an insect is forbidden no matter how small the piece may be (חצי שיעור אסור מן התורה). Therefore, the Taz disagrees with the Rema and rules that no matter what creature got chopped up and mixed into a liquid, if the liquid cannot be filtered it is forbidden.

The Shach, however, defends the Rema by saying that small pieces, while forbidden, are botel. If you swallow a piece “without noticing” as the Mechaber says, then the pieces are nullified – unless they can be filtered out. Here the Mechaber and the Rema are discussing a case where they can’t be filtered, because the liquid was already mixed into a food. The only thing that can’t become botel is a complete organism, and Rashi and Rema extend that to a lentil-sized piece of the Shmonah Sheratzim (at least for the purposes of this fear that one might come across the actual piece of issur – see Nekudos Hakesef).

Therefore, in the case of the scale bugs, if one cannot filter the juice, and we are talking about pieces of bugs, this depends on the dispute between the Rema and the Taz. Given the Shach’s support, there might be room to follow the Rema and be lenient. But there are two problems with this: 1) The Rema and Shach only permit it when it can’t be filtered, but here the orange juice can be filtered if one obtains the right tools. 2) It is not just pieces of scale bugs – testing with the naked eye revealed complete bugs in a significant minority (5%) of cups.   

This brings us to the question: what is the threshold of a מיעוט המצוי – a minority that is common enough to warrant checking? Is 5% enough to be a problem? Even if not, perhaps a bug visible only through a magnifying glass while still in the pulp, but visible when placed on its own, is forbidden. In that case, those inspectors who found a bug in every cup were correct and this is not a case of minority at all.  

There is also the question of whether these bugs are considered visible at all. To be forbidden, does a bug have to be recognizable as such to an average person, or is recognition by an expert enough? The Mishnah Berurah’s language (473:41) is unclear on this point. He says, “In the species chazeres which is called “salatin” (lettuce) during Pesach season there are very often small insects that are not recognizable to people with poor eyesight. Therefore, one who does not have special people with Yiras Shomayim to check should rather use horseradish…” The first sentence implies that as long as people who don’t have poor eyesight (i.e. average untrained people) check the lettuce and don’t find insects, it is permitted. The second sentence implies that even if only “special people” (i.e. trained experts) can recognize it, it is forbidden.

The Rema in Yoreh Deah 84:6 says that what appears to be a black spot on a fruit is forbidden because it is actually a bug in an early stage of growth. Only an expert would know that, yet it is still called recognizable.

Here the scale bugs were recognizable only to experts, and there was the additional factor that none of them could be seen while in the juice, and most of them could be seen only after being removed from the filter with the aid of a magnifying glass and placed on a white background. This seems to have been R’ Chaim Kanievsky’s reason for being matir, and may have been one of R’ Dovid Feinstein’s reasons as well.]


Chullin 93a: Cheilev on an Animal’s Belly

Chullin 93a: Cheilev that is covered by the meat is permitted. Rashi: Forbidden fat that is on the flanks under the kidneys and visible on the high part of the flanks, and then disappears under the meat, red and spreading under the meat throughout the flanks. As soon as the meat covers it, it is permitted. And when that meat ends below [at the animal’s belly], a thick, white membrane protrudes… under that thick membrane there is cheilev, and some hold that that cheilev is forbidden, because that membrane is not considered “a covering of meat” since it is very thin. But in Germany they permit it. And to me as well, it seems that it is a complete covering.

חולין צג ע”א: אמר רבי אבא אמר רב יהודה אמר שמואל: חלב שהבשר חופה אותו מותר. פירש”י חלב שהבשר חופה אותו ־ חלב שעל הכסלים שתחת הכליות ונראה בגובה הכסלים ואח״כ נבלע תחת הבשר אדום דק ומתפשט תחת אותו בשר בכל הכסלים ומשהבשר חופהו מותר וכשכלה למטה אותו בשר יוצא ממנו קרום עב ולבן, לבד קרום דק וקלוש המתפשט בכל הכסלים שאסור משום חלב כדלקמן, ותחת אותו קרום עב יש חלב ויש שנוהגים איסור באותו חלב לפי שאותו קרום אינו חשוב חפוי בשר שדק הוא אבל בארץ אשכנז נוהגין בו היתר וגם בעיני נראה דחפוי גמור הוא.

Rabbi Yisroel Belsky was once asked to inspect a traditionally reliable kosher restaurant, after someone suggested that they were serving cuts of lamb meat with the cheilev still attached. This establishment would buy the freshest meat and perform their own nikkur, and they employed a mashgiach with many years of experience. “The owner of the restaurant, the butcher, and the mashgiach each inspected the lambs they showed me,” Rav Belsky related, “and were at a loss to explain why anyone would suggest there was any cheilev. Now, all lambs have cheilev attached to the navel, and even though that piece of meat is very tasty, there is no way to clean off the cheilev, and it must simply be cut off and discarded. Unfortunately for this restaurant, they had never identified this piece of cheilev for they mistakenly looked at the meat upside-down, and thought the cheilev was simply a piece of permitted fat. The allegation was indeed true.”

Source: Halachic Responsa From the Desk of Harav Yisroel Belsky, p. 191


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.]


Kiddushin 30b: Calling an Adoptive Parent “Father”

Kiddushin 30b: The Torah equates honoring one’s father and mother to honoring Hashem…because all three of them are partners in the child.

Ramban: The second part of the Ten Commandments, which deals with man and his fellow man, begins with one’s father, who is like a creator who participates in creating his children. Hashem is our first Father, and our human father is our last father. Therefore in the version of Ten Commandments in Devarim, it says, “Honor your father and mother as I have commanded you” – that is, just as I have commanded you to honor Me, so I have commanded you to honor the one who joins Me in creating you. The Torah does not need to specify what kind of honor this is, because it can be derived from the honor for our first Father, blessed is He, detailed earlier in the first three commandments: the son must admit that his father is really his father, and not deny him by calling another man his father…

קידושין ל ע”ב: ת״ר נאמר: (שמות כ) כבד את אביך ואת אמך, ונאמר: (משלי ג) כבד את ה׳ מהונך, השוה הכתוב כבוד אב ואם לכבוד המקוםֹ וכו’ וכן בדין, ששלשתן שותפין בו.

רמב”ן שמות כ,יב: והתחיל מן האב שהוא לתולדותיו כענין בורא משתתף ביצירה, כי השם אבינו הראשון, והמוליד אבינו האחרון, ולכך אמר במשנה תורה (דברים ה טז) כאשר צויתיך בכבודי כן אנכי מצוך בכבוד המשתתף עמי ביצירתך. ולא פירש הכתוב הכבוד, שהוא נלמד מן הכבוד הנאמר למעלה באב הראשון יתברך, שיודה בו שהוא אביו, ולא יכפור בו לאמר על אדם אחר שהוא אביו, ולא יעבדנו כבן לירושתו, או לענין אחר שיצפה ממנו, ולא ישא שם אביו וישבע בחיי אביו לשוא ולשקר. ויכנסו בכלל הכבוד דברים אחרים, כי בכל כבודו נצטווינו, ומפורשים הם בדברי רבותינו (קדושין לא:) , וכבר אמרו (שם ל:) שהוקש כבודו לכבוד המקום.

Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky related that his mother was left without parents when she was an infant. Her father, R’ Zorach Danzig, born 1843, was related to the author of the Chayei Adam and lived in the town of Dolhinov, Belorussia. He was ordained with smicha, but chose to be a businessman. He dealt in the foreign export of grain and had amassed substantial holdings at a young age. He was prominent in the community for his chartibleness – the townspeople coined the cliché “The poor survive around Danzig.” On Erev Pesach of 1870, he arrived home from a business trip too late to sell his chametz. He took it for granted that despite his merits, he would suffer retribution for the oversight, and he was sure that he would not live through the following year. Eleven and a half months later, only 28 years of age, he died on Rosh Chodesh Nissan. His wife, Devorah, who was one year his junior, had no will to go on living without him, and she succumbed five weeks later. Four children survived – two boys and two girls ranging from the ages of six to one.

The bereaved uncles convened and decided that four of them would adopt the four orphans. R’ Zorach’s stock was sold for 20,000 rubles, a huge fortune then, and each of the adoptive parents took an equal share. Four-year-old Esther was adopted by her mother’s brother, R’ Yankel Puterfas, and taken to the distant Ukraine, where her uncle bought for his share of the inheritance a bee farm near the city of Pereyaslav, about 60 kilometers southeast of Kiev. Because it was a year of drought and the fields produced no flowers for his bees, R’ Yankel lost his 5,000 rubles. But he accepted this as the will of G-d and did not for one moment regret having adopted his niece. He had a daughter of his own named Esther too; so he changed his niece’s name to Ettil, and raised his ward with the same loving care as his own children. Naturally, Ettil, a mere tot when her parents were snatched away, forgot her roots and grew up believing she was another of R’ Yankel Puterfas’s daughters.

But when Ettil reached the age of 15, a youngish, bearded man appeared in her dreams to tell her not to call the head of the household “Father” because he, the man in her dream, was her real father. Distressed by the strange dream, she refused to eat her breakfast the next morning, and the pleadings of her aunt to tell her what bothered her fell on deaf ears. After several days of this type of behavior, her uncle brought home three rabbis to talk sense into Ettil. When she finally revealed what was on her mind, R’ Yankel divulged that her dream was nothing but the truth. He told of the tragedy that had befallen the family over 11 years earlier and how the four orphans had to be separated, and that Ettil should certainly not call him “Father” any longer if that was the wish of his deceased brother-in-law. When Ettil was told that she had a big sister, Rivka, who by this time had returned to her ancestral home in Dolhinov and was subsisting on the income from the houses and stores that her late father owned, Ettil asked to be reunited with her. The three rabbis agreed that she be returned to Belorussia.

Later, when Ettil married Binyomin Kamenetsky, she named her third child Yaakov after her uncle and foster father.

Source: Making of a Godol pp. 23-25

Bava Basra

Bava Basra 111a: Think Before You Ask

Bava Basra 111a: Rabbi Yehuda Nesiah asked Rabbi Yannai: From where do we derive that a son takes precedence over a daughter in inheriting their mother’s property? He replied: The Torah says, “Any daughter who inherits property from tribes” – this equates the tribe of the mother with the tribe of the father. Just as when inheriting from a father, the son precedes the daughter, so too when inheriting from a mother, the son precedes the daughter. Rabbi Yehuda Nesiah asked: If so, perhaps the firstborn son should take a double portion of his mother’s property, just as he takes a double portion of his father’s. Rabbi Yannai said to his servant, who was leading him, “Pull me away – this man doesn’t want to learn.”

בבא בתרא קיא ע”א: בעא מיניה: מנין לבן שקודם לבת בנכסי האם? אמר ליה, דכתיב: מטות, מקיש מטה האם למטה האב, מה מטה האב ־ בן קודם לבת, אף מטה האם ־ בן קודם לבת. א״ל: אי מה מטה האב ־ בכור נוטל פי שנים, אף מטה האם ־ בכור נוטל פי שנים. אמר ליה לשמעיה: גוד, לית דין צבי למילף.

Reb Elchonon Wasserman, in Kovetz Shiurim on this Gemara, gives two possible approaches.

  1. “This man doesn’t want to learn” from me, because he surely knows the answer already, and is just troubling me with unnecessary questions.
  2. “This man doesn’t want to learn” on his own. He genuinely doesn’t know the answer, but if he were to work at it himself, he would figure it out, as Chazal say, “If a person claims he did not work hard and yet understands the Torah, do not believe him.” Understanding the Torah always takes work. Out of laziness, he is asking me.

Reb Elchonon prefers the second approach. Indeed, in his own learning Reb Elchonon exemplified this trait. When learning in Telshe under Reb Shimon Shkop, Reb Elchonon did not burden his rebbe with ordinary, simple questions. First he would seek to follow the implications of every explanation to its very end, in order to understand the plain meaning of the text in depth, not merely superficially. He would never submit a question to Reb Shimon before having pondered at length himself and failed to find the answer.

And that was quite often. Rebbetzin Shkop related later: “All the Telshe yeshiva bochurim who were attached to Reb Shimon and would come to the house at all odd times caused me distress, but I suffered most from the Boisker (Reb Elchonon) who would not leave him, and even would come and ask questions when Reb Shimon was resting.”

Source:  Reb Elchonon (Artscroll), p. 27

[What is fascinating is that immediately after this story, the Gemara tells of three Amoraim – Abaye, Rav Nachman bar Yitzchok, and Rava – who try to answer the question. The first two answers are refuted and only Rava’s answer stands. It seems the answer was not so obvious after all! Clearly the Gemara wants to demonstrate just how far one must go with his own reasoning to answer a question before presenting it to his rebbe.]