Bava Kama

Bava Kama 47a: When One Dog Attacks Another

Bava Kama 47a: If one man brought his ox into another man’s front yard with permission, and the house owner’s ox gored it, or his dog bit it – the house owner is liable. Rebbi says: He is not liable unless he took upon himself to guard it.

Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 398:5: The Mechaber rules like Rebbi and the Rema rules like the Sages (the anonymous first opinion in the Mishnah). 

בבא קמא מז ע”א: הכניס שורו לחצר בעל הבית שלא ברשות, ונגחו שורו של בעל הבית או שנשכו כלבו של בעל הבית ־ פטור וכו’ ואם הכניס ברשות ־ בעל החצר חייב, רבי אומר: בכולן אינו חייב עד שיקבל עליו לשמור.

חו”מ שצ”ח ס”ה: ואם הזיק שור בעל החצר לשור הנכנס ברשות פטור, אלא אם כן קבל עליו בעל החצר שמירתו. הגה: ויש אומרים דכיון דנתן לו רשות ליכנס הוי כאלו קיבל עליו שמירתו. (טור בשם ר״י והרא״ש) .

A woman in Woodridge, New York had a ferocious pitbull, and her grown son also had a dog. The two dogs did not get along, so whenever he visited her, she was careful to keep the pitbull locked up. But one time she forgot and left it loose. It immediately attacked the other dog, injuring it badly. She asked Rabbi Hillel Grossman, the rav of Woodridge, if she had to pay.

The question can be broken down into two issues: 1) Is the halacha like the Mechaber or the Rema? 2) Even if the halacha is like the Mechaber, maybe since both of them knew that the pitbull would be likely to attack the other dog, the understanding between them when the son entered was that the mother would lock up her pitbull, so it is considered that she took upon herself at least this level of caution.

Yevamos

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.

Shabbos

Shabbos 73a: What color cloth to use to wipe a wound

Shabbos 73a: Dyeing is one of the 39 categories of work forbidden on Shabbos.

Yerushalmi Shabbos 51a: One who dyes red lips red is liable for working on Shabbos.

Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 320:20: One who eats strawberries or other colorful fruits must be careful not to touch his clothing or the tablecloth with colored hands, because this would be dyeing.

Magen Avraham: This is all the more true if the garment is red, because then he would be improving its color with the red juice on his hands.

שבת עג ע”א והצובעו.

ירושלמי שבת נא ע”א המאדם אודם בשפה חייב. קרבן העדה: פירוש אפילו בשפה שהיא אדומה אלא שמוסיף בה אדמימות חייב משום צובע.

שו”ע או”ח ש”כ ס”כ: יש מי שאומר שהאוכל תותים או שאר פירות הצבועים צריך ליזהר שלא יגע בידיו צבועות בבגדיו או במפה משום צובע.

מגן אברהם סקכ”ה: ונ”ל דבגד אדום כ”ש דאסור לקנחו דמתקן הוא.

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Lau described how his grandfather, Rabbi Yitzchak Yedidya Frankel, went to obtain semichah from Rav Shlomo Dovid Kahane zt”l of Warsaw. R’ Shlomo Dovid was famed for his expertise in finding ways to free agunos and permit them to remarry. Indeed, he succeeded in permitting thousands of such unfortunate widows after World War I. During World War II, he immigrated to Eretz Yisroel. Many more agunos came to his door after the Holocaust.

Every young rav in Poland dreamed of receiving semichah from Rav Shlomo Dovid, for this accomplishment guaranteed a coveted position in a prominent community. Rav Shlomo Dovid regularly delivered a shiur on Shabbos from three in the morning until Shacharis. When the yungeleit would arrive in the driving snow, he would smile widely and offer each one a cup of steaming tea. Generally, some ten yungeleit gathered around his table for the shiur. Now and then, he would address one and ask him a challenging question. Every once in a while, he would tell the young man to come back on Sunday to receive his writ of semichah. Often he asked the yungeleit to come back for a few Shabbosos to be tested again.

When Harav Frankel came to attend the Shabbos morning shiur, the subject was hilchos Shabbos. Harav Kahane addressed an outstanding young man and asked him what to do if someone is bleeding heavily on Shabbos. Should he use a red cloth or a white cloth to stanch the bleeding?

The spontaneous answer, coming from someone who doesn’t know the halacha, is to use the red cloth, because if he uses the white cloth, he will color it red with the blood. Someone familiar with siman 320 in the Shulchan Aruch, however, knows that the Magen Avraham ruled it is better to use the white cloth, explaining that the blood dirties it, which is not considered coloring. On the contrary, if the red cloth is used, the blood colors it a deeper red. The Eliyah Rabbah has a different opinion. Because he was unaware of this information, the young man simply smiled and said that if such an unusual incident would happen, he would hurry to open his sefer and find out what to do. Practically speaking, however, such a case would never come up.

Rabbi Frankel said that he would never forget Rav Kahane’s reaction to this answer. He froze in place and turned ghostly pale. Banging his hand on the table, he screamed out, “A Jew’s blood is flowing, and you have the leisure to open a sefer and study it?” Needless to say, that brilliant young man never got his semichah.

Rabbi Frankel saw this incident as a seminal lesson for every rav. They must know the halacha before the case comes up. They must be able to act quickly and decisively, and above all with care and empathy for another Jew’s suffering.

Source: Hamodia, Inyan, Vayechi 5781, p. 20

Pesachim

Pesachim 9b: Was it Butter or Margarine?

Pesachim 9b: If there were nine piles of matza and one pile of chometz, and a mouse came and took from one of the piles, and we don’t know which one – this is the same as the case of “the nine stores”, where we apply the rule of “kavua” and treat it as a 50-50 chance. If a piece got separated from the piles and then the mouse took it – then we follow the majority.

פסחים ט ע”ב: תשע ציבורין של מצה ואחד של חמץ, ואתא עכבר ושקל ולא ידעינן אי מצה שקל אי חמץ שקל ־ היינו תשע חנויות. פירש ואתא עכבר ושקל ־ היינו סיפא. דתנן: תשע חנויות, כולן מוכרין בשר שחוטה ואחת מוכרת בשר נבלה, ולקח מאחת מהן ואינו יודע מאיזה מהן לקח ־ ספיקו אסור. ובנמצא הלך אחר הרוב.

One day in 1949, a woman in Jerusalem went to her freezer to get some margarine to fry schnitzel in. In the freezer there were four identical packages. She took from one at random and used it. Later, she remembered that three of the packages were margarine and one was butter. She rushed to ask Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank if the schnitzel was permitted.

Rabbi Frank argued that this seems to be a case of קבוע למפרע, when at the time of the taking, the taker was unaware that one of the “stores” or sources was forbidden, but only realized this in restrospect. The Ran permits such a case, but the Rashba and Ra’ah disagree (Shach 110:14).

Combined with the Ran, we have another reason to permit it: the butter was not forbidden – the problem only began later when she cooked it with chicken – so this is not a case of קבוע. Kavua only applies to an issur. Precedent for this can be found in the Pri Megadim 110 Sifsei Daas 37, who is uncertain as to whether the rule of kavua applies to chometz before Pesach, while it is still permitted. The case of the butter is better than the chometz, for two reasons: 1) Chometz even before Pesach will forbid an endless chain of dishes and foods that touch it (נ”ט בר נ”ט דאיסורא) whereas butter will only affect the first item in the chain, not the second (נ”ט בר נ”ט דהתירא). 2) Chometz is forbidden to nullify even before Pesach as per the rule that אין מבטלין איסור לכתחילה, whereas milk is permitted to nullify in water and later mix into meat (Tzlach in Beitzah).

Furthermore, even the Rashba and Ra’ah, who apply kavua even retroactively, only forbid it as a 50-50 safek. In the case of the schnitzel, the entire issue would only be a Rabbinic prohibition of chicken with milk. Therefore we can apply the rule of תולין, brought in Yoreh Deah 111, that when there are two possibilities of what could have fallen in, with Rabbinic prohibitions we assume the permitted one fell in. However, the pan should be kashered because it is a דבר שיש לו מתירין – there is a way to render it permitted.

Source: Har Tzvi Yoreh Deah 99

Tamid

Tamid 28b: A Tree in the Shul Courtyard

Tamid 28b: Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov says: From where do we derive the law that we may not build a wooden portico in the courtyard of the Beis Hamikdash? Because the Torah says, “Do not plant an asheirah, any wood next to the mizbeyach of Hashem your G-d” (Devarim 16:21).

Sifri, Shoftim: From where do we derive the law that we may not plant a tree or build a house on the Temple Mount? Because the Torah says, “Any wood next to the mizbeyach of Hashem your G-d.” Rabbi Eliezer [ben Yaakov] says: From where do we derive the law that we may not build a wooden portico in the courtyard of the Beis Hamikdash? Because the Torah says, “Next to the mizbeyach of Hashem your G-d.”

The Rambam (Avodah Zarah 6:9) rules in accordance with the first opinion in the Sifri that one may not plant a tree, but adopts Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov’s condition that it is only forbidden in the courtyard, not the entire Temple Mount.

Rabbi Akiva Eiger Orach Chaim 150:1:  Planting a tree next to a shul is Rabbinically forbidden.

תמיד כח ע”ב: תניא ר’ אליעזר בן יעקב אומר מנין שאין עושין אכסדראות בעזרה ת”ל לא תטע לך אשרה כל עץ אצל מזבח ה׳ אלהיך, הכי קאמר: לא תטע לך אשרה, לא תטע לך כל עץ אצל מזבח ה׳ א-להיךִ.

ספרי שופטים: ומנין לנוטע אילן ובונה בית בהר הבית שהוא עובר בלא תעשה ת״ל כל עץ אצל מזבח ה׳ אלהיך. ר׳ אליעזר אומר מנין שאין עושים אכסדרה בעזרה ת״ל אצל מזבח ה׳ א-להיך.

רמב”ם הלכות עבודה זרה ו,ט:  הנוטע אילן אצל המזבח או בכל העזרה, בין אילן סרק ובין אילן מאכל, אע”פ שעשאו לנוי למקדש ויופי לו – הרי זה לוקה, שנאמר: “לא תטע לך אשרה כל עץ אצל מזבח ה’ אלקיך”, מפני שהיה זה דרך העכו”ם נוטעין אילנות בצד מזבח שלהם כדי שיתקבצו שם העם.

ר’ עקיבא איגר או”ח קנ,א: וכתב ר’ דוד עראמה בפירוש להרמב”ם, דאפילו אצל בית הכנסת אסור מדרבנן.

Once, someone decided to plant trees in the courtyard of the main shul of Bnei Brak. The Chazon Ish, basing himself on Rabbi Akiva Eiger, was against the idea. But he did not wish to impose his view on others, so he came up with a clever trick: he sent people to each of the major rabbis in Bnei Brak, telling each one that Rabbi So-and-so had permitted the planting of the trees. This, he reasoned, would motivate them to forbid it, since it is human nature for a rabbi to want to show everyone that he has a mind of his own and does not just go along with what everyone else says. Thus all the rabbis would forbid it.

In the end, however, the trick failed and all the rabbis permitted planting the trees. 

Source: Divrei Siach, Vayechi 5781

Zeraim

Peah 4,2: Opening the Window in the Winter

Peah 4:2: Peah must be left for the poor while still connected to the ground; the owner of the field is not allowed to harvest it and distribute it to the poor. Even if 99 poor people want to have it distributed to them, and one wants to cut it from the ground himself, we listen to the one, since he is saying in accordance with the halacha.

פאה פרק ד’ משנה א-ב’: הפאה נתנת במחובר לקרקע…אפילו תשעים ותשעה אומרים לחלק ואחד אומר לבוז. לזה שומעין. שאמר כהלכה.

R’ Chaim Kanievsky in Shaarei Emunah on this Mishnah writes: “We have heard in the name of Rabbi Yisroel Salanter zt”l that if there are many people in a room and some want to open the window and others want it closed, he ruled that in the summer those who want it open win, even if it is one against a hundred; and in the winter it is the opposite. He brings proof from this Mishnah, but it seems there is no proof, because here it is a Torah law, derived from pesukim, that one must leave the peah connected to the ground, whereas there is it only a question of what is usually done, so if there is a reason to deviate from the usual, it would seem that we follow whatever the majority of the people want.”

In the winter of 2020, when many arguments developed in the shuls between cold, shivering people and people worried about catching the coronavirus, Rabbi Yitzchok Zilberstein followed Reb Yisroel Salanter’s opinion but with a twist to reflect the current situation: he ruled that the ones wanting the window open always win, even if they are the minority. “Let anyone who is cold buy a heater,” he said.

Bechoros

Bechoros 24b: Using a Sefer to Push Other Seforim Aside

Bechoros 24b: Rabbi Yossi ben Hameshulam says: When slaughtering a bechor offering, one should push aside the hair with the knife to uncover the place of shechitah, and one is even allowed to pull out the hair (and it is not forbidden under the prohibition of shearing a bechor). Rabbi Asi said in the name of Resh Lakish: It is only permitted to pull out the hair by hand. But it says with the knife! – Change the words of the Mishnah from “with the knife” to “for the knife”.

רבי יוסי בן המשולם אומר: השוחט את הבכור ־ עושה מקום בקופיץ מיכן ומיכן ותולש את השער. אמר רב אסי אמר ריש לקיש: לא שנו אלא ביד, אבל בכלי אסור. והקתני: עושה מקום בקופיץ מיכן ומיכןִ! תני: לקופיץ.

Someone once asked R’ Chaim Kanievsky, “When I go to put a sefer away on the shelf, and the other seforim are packed closely together, am I allowed to use the sefer in my hand to push the others to the side and make room, or is that a disgrace to the sefer?”

To the questioner’s surprise, R’ Chaim replied, “It is an explicit Mishnah in Bechoros that one may do this. It says that one may use the knife, which is a holy vessel of the Beis Hamikdash, to push aside the hair of a korban. Although the Gemara modifies the text, that is only because pulling out hair using the knife would be forbidden. But using the knife to push aside the hair is permitted. So we see that this is called using a holy object for a holy purpose, since it is a preparation for the avodah. Here too, pushing aside the other seforim is a preparation for putting the sefer back and is permitted.”

He added, “One could ask a similar question about using one’s tefillin to push his shirt sleeve up to make room for the tefillin. And the answer is that it is permitted, as we said.”

Source: Divrei Siach, Vayechi 5781

Moed Katan

Moed Katan 15b: Bathing during Shloshim

Moed Katan 15b: A mourner is forbidden to bathe, as it says, “Do not anoint with oil” (Shmuel II 14:2) – and bathing is included in anointing.

Yoreh Deah 381:1. Rema: By law, this is only forbidden during shiva, but the custom today is to forbid bathing for the whole shloshim. And we should not change this custom, since it is an old custom, established by great rabbis.

מועד קטן טו ע”ב: אבל אסור ברחיצה, דכתיב (שמואל ב׳ י״ד) ואל תסוכי שמן, ורחיצה בכלל סיכה.

יו”ד סימן שפא,א: רחיצה כיצד, אסור לרחוץ כל גופו אפילו בצונן, אבל פניו ידיו ורגליו בחמין אסור בצונן מותר, ואם היה מלוכלך בטיט וצואה רוחץ כדרכו ואינו חושש: הגה וכל זה מדינא אינו אסור רק שבעה אבל אח״כ מותר ברחיצה אלא שנהגו האידנא לאסור כל רחיצה כל ל׳ יום ואפי׳ לחוף הראש אסור ואין לשנות המנהג כי מנהג קדום הוא ונתייסד על פי ותיקין.

One day in 1876, a guest was sitting with R’ Yitzchok Elchonon Spector, when a man came in and asked, “Rabbi, I am a mourner. Am I permitted to go to the bathhouse?” Without hesitation, he answered him, “You are permitted.”

The questioner was not satisfied with this instant response, and spoke again: “Rabbi, I am in mourning for my father.” “Permitted, you are permitted,” the rav answered, using a double expression.

But this still did not settle the mind of the questioner, who asked a third time, “Only to sweat, or even to wash in hot water?” The rav answered him with a friendly smile, but also with surprise: “I just told you that you are permitted, and I said it without adding any details or qualifications. If so, go without delay, before I change my mind!”

After the man left, the rav looked at the guest, noticing his amazement, and guessing his thoughts. How and why could he rule leniently, contrary to the ruling of the Rema, who cites an enactment of the early rabbis? He said jokingly, “My guest will go on his way and tell people that the head of the Beis Din of Kovno gives hasty, mistaken rulings.” The guest also responded in jest, “Certainly I will.”

“If so,” said the rav, “let me ask you: do you know the Maharshal’s reason for forbidding bathing?” The guest answered: “Because of the prohibition against having a haircut; for the usual way is to have a haircut in the bathhouse.” “In that case,” continued R’ Yitzchok Elchonon, “why are we allowed to bathe during Chol Hamoed? That is also a period when we are forbidden to have a haircut! I know that this is the problem posed by the Taz on Yoreh Deah 381:1, and he answers that since everyone is forbidden to have a haircut then, we do not worry that one might forget.” He smiled, “Here too, today is one of the days of Sefiras Haomer, when the custom is to forbid haircuts. So why would this man forget and get a haircut? Therefore, he is allowed to bathe.

“I urged the questioner to go immediately, because it looked like he wanted to argue against my ruling. He wanted to object that the prohibition on haircuts during Chol Hamoed is a real Rabbinic prohibition, while during Sefirah it is only a minhag. I did not want to enter into a detailed discussion with him, so I did not point out to him that the prohibition against bathing in hot water after shivah is also only a minhag.”

Source: Mourning in Halacha, p. 211

[His last point is that the questioner could have objected that perhaps people will take the minhag of Sefirah lightly and get haircuts in the bathhouse during Sefirah. R’ Yitzchok Elchonon’s response is that the minhag not to bathe during shloshim was not set up for such people who take minhagim lightly, because then why would they respect this minhag in the first place? Rather the “minhag vasikin” brought by the Rema was aimed at carefully observant Jews, and such people would never come to take a haircut in Sefirah.]

Bava Metzia

Bava Metzia 110b: Using a Hiring Manager to Avoid Bal Tolin

Bava Metzia 110b: If one appointed an agent to hire workers, neither he nor the agent transgresses “bal tolin” (the prohibition to delay a worker’s wages overnight). He does not transgress because he did not hire them, and the agent does not transgress because he is not withholding their wages.

בבא מציעא קי ע”ב: תנו רבנן: האומר לחבירו צא שכור לי פועלים ־ שניהן אין עוברין משום בל תלין, זה ־ לפי שלא שכרן, וזה לפי שאין פעולתו אצלו.

Reb Aharon Steinberg once posed a question: The Torah says, “See, I (Anochi) place before you today a blessing and a curse.” The Baal Haturim says that the word “Anochi” alludes to the first of the Ten Commandments. What does that commandment in particular have to do with this verse?

Also, the Torah promises a blessing if we listen to Hashem – but doesn’t the Gemara say that there is no reward for mitzvos in this world (Kiddushin 39b)?

Furthermore, Hashem Himself follows the Torah’s laws, so how can He postpone our reward, our “wages”, until Olam Haba?

The answer is that Hashem gave the Torah through an agent, Moshe Rabbeinu, and one who hires through an agent does not have to pay on the same day. But the first two of the Ten Commandments were given by Hashem directly to us. Therefore the reward for emunah and renouncing idolatry is paid in this world. Hence, “See that for the mitzvah of Anochi I place before you today, in this world, a blessing and a curse.”

Source: Beis Aharon

Zeraim

Kilayim 9,1: Shaatnez on One Part of a Blanket

Kilayim 9:1. If a garment is made of blended camel’s wool and sheep’s wool, if the majority is camel it is permitted [to mix with linen], and if the majority is sheep it is forbidden. Half and half is forbidden.

Yerushalmi: If a large blanket had shaatnez at one end, and that end was lying on the floor, one may still not cover oneself with the other end.

The Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 301:3 brings this halacha, and the Pischei Teshuva explains that the case is when the entire blanket is sheep’s wool, and there is one thread of linen dragging on the floor. However, if the main blanket is another material, and there is a bit of wool and linen together on the edge, then it is debatable whether the entire blanket becomes forbidden. The Rambam would hold ossur, while the Rosh might hold mutar.

כלאים פרק ט, משנה א: צמר גמלים וצמר רחלים שטרפן זה בזה אם רוב מן הגמלים מותר. אם רוב מן הרחלים אסור. מחצה למחצה אסור.

ירושלמי שם: רבי ניחה בר סבה רבי יוחנן בשם רבי זעירא שאם היה בגד גדול קצתו יש בו כלאים ומונח בארץ ומקצתו אין בו לא יכסה בו מצד השני.

Rabbi Yosef Sayagh heard from a rav in Queens that a young couple once came to him for advice about their baby, who was very colicky and cried all night. Their doctor had no solution. The rav suggested that they check the baby’s blanket for shaatnez. It was found that although the blanket was not wool, it had an appliqué pattern with a picture of a teddy bear, and in that picture there was wool and linen. They removed it, and the baby stopped crying.  

Source: Rabbi Yosef Sayagh

[It seems that just as we have a dispute in the laws of kashrus about whether the rule of חתיכה נעשית נבילה –  a piece containing something forbidden becomes complete forbidden – applies only to milk and meat, or even to other forbidden foods (Yoreh Deah 92:4), there is a similar dispute in the laws of shaatnez. Everyone agrees that if the whole blanket is wool, and there is one thread of linen, one may not cover oneself even with the part that is only wool, because חתיכה נעשית נבילה – similar to a piece of meat cooked with milk. But if the garment is made of polyester, and only the corner has wool and linen mixed, there is a machlokes whether the shaatnez status spreads to the entire blanket.]