Sanhedrin

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

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.]

Chullin

Chullin 59a: R’ Chaim Kanievsky and the Grasshoppers

Chullin 59a: The characteristics of a kosher grasshopper are that it has four legs, four wings, jumping legs, and its wings cover most of its body. Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav: This means most of the length of the body. Some say: Most of the circumference. Rav Papa said: Therefore we require them to cover most of the length and most of the circumference.

חולין נט ע”א: ובחגבים: כל שיש לו ארבע רגלים, וארבע כנפים, וקרצולים, וכנפיו חופין את רובו. ובדף סה ע”ב: מאי רובו? אמר רב יהודה אמר רב: רוב ארכו, ואמרי לה: רוב הקיפוֹ אמר רב פפא: הלכך, בעינן רוב ארכו, ובעינן רוב הקיפו.

In approximately 2001, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky was learning Maseches Chullin and reached the sugyah relating to grasshoppers.  Rav Chaim realized that he needed to see a grasshopper to better understand the Gemara, and asked his daughter to bring him one. She tried, but reported to her father that she failed to find one. He went back to the sugyah, and lo and behold, a grasshopper came hopping through the window, landing on his Gemara. After examining it, he let it go. As he continued through the sugyah, he realized that he needed to study the hind legs a bit more, but the grasshopper was long gone. Before closing his Gemara, a second grasshopper hopped in and on to his Gemara, giving him a chance to study its hind legs in detail.

The story spread quickly. Some time later, a rov giving a shiur in Bnei Brak criticized the tales people tell about gedolim, explaining that the stories cannot all be true, and sound silly. As a case in point, he brought the story of Rav Chaim and the grasshoppers. After the shiur, the maggid shiur went home and found his house infested with grasshoppers. He tried for three days to rid his home of the insects, but could not.  Someone suggested that he go to Rav Chaim and ask for mechilah. The rov approached Rav Chaim and told him what had happened. Rav Chaim laughed, saying that he did not need his mechilah at all, as the grasshoppers could have come to anybody (after all, the window was open!), and he was certainly mochel him if he needed it. The rov went home – and the grasshoppers were gone!

The above story was printed in a certain sefer, about which Rabbi Yaakov Galinsky quipped, “I would say I don’t believe it, but I am afraid a plague of copies of that sefer will occupy my house.”

Source: https://matzav.com/grasshopper-nissim-with-rav-chaim-kanievsky/

Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah 34a: Why the Chofetz Chaim Quoted Reb Meir Simcha

Rosh Hashanah 34a: This Tanna derives the sounds of the shofar from the silver trumpets used in the desert [rather than from Yovel]. “And you shall blow a teruah” (Bamidbar 10:5) – a blow separately and a teruah separately.

Orach Chaim 585:2, Rema: It is better to blow the shofar on the right side of one’s mouth, if possible. Mishnah Berurah: The reason is because it says, “The Satan was standing on his right side to accuse him” (Zechariah 3:1). Biur Halacha: I also heard in the name of the gaon Rabbi Meir Simcha Hakohein a good reason for this, because the Gemara derives the sounds of the shofar from the trumpets used for war, and regarding the war of Gideon it says that they held the torches in their left hands and the shofaros in their right hands (Shoftim 7:20).

ר”ה לד ע”א: והאי תנא מייתי לה בגזירה שוה ממדבר, דתניא: (במדבר י) ותקעתם תרועה ־ תקיעה בפני עצמה ותרועה בפני עצמה.

או”ח תקפ”ה ס”ב: וטוב לתקוע בצד ימין. ביאור הלכה: עיין במ״ב, עוד שמעתי בשם הגאון מהר״ר מאיר שמחה הכהן טעם נכון כי בש״ס ר״ה ד׳ ל״ד ילפי לה לתקיעת שופר מחצוצרות המלחמה ובקרא (שופטים ז) אצל מלחמה בגדעון כתיב ויחזיקו ביד שמאלם בלפידים וביד ימינם השופרות לתקוע וכו׳.

Rabbi Mordechai Elefant, rosh yeshiva of Itri, related: I once visited Rav Shach with a friend of mine ten or twelve years ago [mid-1990s]. I was in a bit of a hurry, but Rav Shach had a story he really wanted to tell me so he held me back. In the Biur Halacha in Hilchos Shofar, the Chofetz Chaim writes that the shofar should be blown from the right side. He writes that he heard a source for this from Reb Meir Simchah. It was a verse in Tanach. Rav Shach made a big to-do about this. He told us the reason the Chofetz Chaim did this even though he didn’t cite other contemporaries. He wanted to make sure that people didn’t think he was angry at Reb Meir Simchah. It was at the time that the Russian government passed a law that Russian had to be part of the curriculum of the Volozhiner Yeshivah. All the gedolim held a big meeting to decide whether they should accept the law and keep the yeshivah open, or not accept it and close the yeshivah down. The Lubavitcher Rebbe of the time attended, too. He was close with all of the gedolim; he was like a Litvak. They decided to close the yeshivah. The Chofetz Chaim addressed the gathering to say that the yeshivah should close. Reb Meir Simchah made a comment to the effect that a little Jew from a little town shouldn’t get involved in an issue like this; he dismissed him.

The Chofetz Chaim was very close with Reb Chaim Soloveitchik. Reb Chaim told him, “Don’t feel bad. Your book, Shmiras Haloshon, is a more important work than his Or Sameach.”

Rav Shach concluded, “That’s the reason I think the Chofetz Chaim cites Reb Meir Simchah. He wanted to show the world he’s not mad at him even though he insulted him.” Rav Shach made a big deal of this point. This is the authentic version of the story. Another book mentions it, but distorts it.

I got home, and I got a call from Hillel Zaks’ oldest brother, Hershel. He asked me to do him some favor with the government. I made the necessary phone calls and then I called him back. He was a grandson of the Chofetz Chaim. I mentioned to him that I had just visited Rav Shach and he told me this interesting story. He said, “My father asked the Chofetz Chaim exactly that question, and the Chofetz Chaim gave exactly the same answer that Rav Shach gave.” I figured that there was no way I could make Rav Shach happier than with that bit of information.

The next day I was at a wedding in Bnei Brak, so I hopped over to Rav Shach. I walked in and there seemed to be nobody in the house besides him. I wanted to set him up a bit, and I started to say I had something to tell him. I wanted to make it really dramatic. He said, “Out with it already.” So I tell him and he jumps up as high as the chandelier and hugs me and kisses me. He said, “You’ve added a piece onto my life.”  

Source: Rabbi Mordechai Elefant’s Memoirs, p. 18

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