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Conflict Between “Salvation Day” and YahrtzeitFor many years, I have been celebrating a day on which I had a significant salvation. It now turns out it that it is my father’s yahrtzeit. Can the two commemorations go hand-in-hand? If not, which has precedence? Follow-up Question: What have you been doing until now, and what has changed? Clarification: Since my father died seven years ago, I have been lighting a candle, learning mishnayot, and saying Kaddish, along with thinking about him a lot, on the yahrtzeit. Recently I realized that I miscalculated the Jewish date of the salvation; the true date falls on the yahrtzeit.
On the yahrtzeit that completes the twelve months of aveilut for a parent, the full laws of the year’s aveilut apply (Rama, Yoreh Deah 395:3). In subsequent years, the laws of aveilut do not apply.
There is an old, recommended but not binding, minhag to fast on the day portion of a parent’s yahrtzeit (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 568:7, Rama, YD 376:4). The Rama (YD 391:3) says that that one should not take part in festive meals from the night that begins the Jewish day. The Levush (YD 402:12) argues based on how he views the fast’s logic. The yahrtzeit is a day of bad omens for the offspring, and the teshuva that accompanies the fast helps protect him. The Levush says that since it has nothing to do with aveilut, there are no restrictions on attending festivities the night before. The Shach (391:8) and others say that the minhag is like the Rama. These days, it is very common to not fast on a yahrtzeit. However, there is a stronger minhag to avoid or at least lessen one’s participation in weddings. The Taz (YD 395:3) posits that aveilut- type behavior is indeed part of the yahrtzeit experience.
There are several grounds for leniency, besides the aforementioned Levush. Many (including Chochmat Adam 171:11) quote the Magen Avraham as saying that the aforementioned restrictions apply only on a yahrtzeit that ends the twelve months of aveilut. Additionally, the Pitchei Teshuva (YD 391:8) says that participation is forbidden only in a wedding, where the intensity of simcha activity exceeds that at other celebrations. Several poskim say that an avel is permitted to take part in a seudat mitzva such as a siyum (see Shach, YD 246:27). While the Shach (ibid.) cites the Maharil as not allowing a person to eat at a siyum on the yartzeit, that is when his minhag is to fast, and even then, the Maharam Shick (YD 369) rules that one who accepted the practice to fast can still eat at his own siyum.
What is the status of your self-created salvation holiday? The Chayei Adam (125:41) , who instituted one when his family survived a fire, says that it is a mitzva to keep such a day. While the Pri Chadash (496:14) says that the ability to institute semi-holidays ended with the retraction of megillat ta’anit, a clear majority of poskim disagree (see presentation in Yabia Omer X, OC 53). Therefore, all of the aforementioned reasons for leniency exist in your case, and it is fully reasonable to celebrate your salvation on the yahrtzeit.
However, it is apparent from your question [only partially presented here], that you are uncomfortable with the combination, as is very understandable. Therefore, we do not recommend that you move your celebratory day to the yahrtzeit. While the meal you have on this day is likely a seudat mitzva, one is not obligated to institute it. Admittedly, once instituted, it is not a simple matter to undo it (beyond our present scope), but this is not a problem for you. Perhaps min hashamayim, the day you have been celebrating does not cause you a conflict. There are no set rules as to when and how to do such a celebration. Even Purim, after which the concept is modeled, is not held on the day of salvation. Some known “family Purims” consisted of a fast day on the day of salvation and a feast on a different day. Thus, you can continue on the day you instituted it (or a different one), so that the celebration and the yahrtzeit do not cast a shadow on each other.
Working in a Non-Kosher EstablishmentIs it permitted for a religious Jew to work (e.g., as a waiter) in a non-kosher restaurant or café where most of the food is not kosher?
The question is general(/theoretical?), so we will not ask clarifying questions. The issue of providing non-kosher food for Jewish customers is beyond our scope.
Most non-kosher foods are permitted in benefit. Some notable exceptions are chametz, wine with a concern of use for idolatry, and beef and milk that were cooked together. In such cases, one may not earn money from dealing with them, even if he does not own the food or get direct physical benefit from it (see Taz, Orach Chayim 150:6). However, it is not common for these foods to be forbidden in benefit according to all opinions. Regarding wine, many are lenient about benefit in times (like ours) where libations for idolatry are rare) (see Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 124:6; Rama, YD 123:1). Regarding meat and milk, many combinations are permitted in benefit (e.g., poultry, meat from a non-kosher animal, combined without cooking – learn Yoreh Deah 87). It is thus possible that one could work in a non-Jewish restaurant without violating a prohibition of benefiting from forbidden foods (see more in Tzitz Eliezer XVII:33).
Another issue is working professionally with food that is forbidden to eat. The gemara (Pesachim 23a) derives that even concerning forbidden foods from which one may benefit, one may not seek to obtain them for commercial purposes (sechora), just that he can sell that which came his way. According to most Rishonim (see Shut Chatam Sofer, YD 104-106, 108), this is a Torah-level law, although significant opinions among Rishonim and Acharonim say it is Rabbinic (see Noda B’Yehuda II, YD 62).
The Rashba (Shut
Your question is the opposite case – someone who does not own the food but is in a situation where he is liable to eat it. The Pitchei Teshuva (YD 117:6) assumes that if the prohibition of sechora is to distance one from eating the food, we should follow that logic for stringency and not allow one to work with non-kosher food even without owning it. On the other hand, many poskim (including Sho’el U’meishiv I,
There are often additional grounds for leniency. Sechora is forbidden only regarding food forbidden by Torah law (Shulchan Aruch, YD 117:1). In many dairy eateries, the food is primarily forbidden Rabbinically, at least according to many opinions (again, beyond our scope). When the commerce is mainly not in the context of the prohibition of sechora, even if some is problematic, it is likely not forbidden (see Shut Chatam Sofer, YD 108). The classic example is one who raises animals for kosher meat and sells the forbidden parts of the animal to non-Jews.
Even when the prohibition of sechora does not apply, it might still be halachically required to refrain from situations where one could easily come to eat non-kosher food (see a variety of opinions in Yabia Omer IV: YD 6). One interesting source is the Maharsha on Rashi, Chulin 106a, who discusses one who, after separating the non-kosher parts of an animal, would cook them before selling them to non-Jews. The issue of the practical concern of eating may be influenced greatly by the type of contact with the food and the extent to which one has permission to eat freely from the food with which he is working (see Yabia Omer ibid.).Some poskim were reluctantly lenient in cases of great need to allow people to work in non-kosher settings. However, the severity of the issues and the level of need vary greatly from case to case, and each case requires its own evaluation.
Disposing of Old Netilat Yadayim CupsI have plastic cups that we had used for netilat yadayim and negel vaser but no longer need. Should I put them in geniza, just keep them, or dispose of them, and how?
The gemara (Megilla 26b) says that tashmishei mitzva (articles used to facilitate a mitzva) may be thrown away, as opposed to tashmishei kedusha (related to holy texts), which require geniza). The examples given for tashmishei mitzva are: sukka, lulav, shofar, and tzitzit.
The Tur (Orach Chayim 21) cites the Sh’iltot, that as long as tzitzit are still on the garment, they must be treated with respect and may not be used for non-mitzva purposes. Although they lack intrinsic sanctity, using them for other things while they are still slated for a mitzva is a bizuy (disgrace to the) mitzva.
Is there bizuy mitzva after one has finished using them? The Shulchan Aruch (OC 21:1) rules that tzitzit may be discarded in the garbage (although they may not be used for something disgraceful - see Mishna Berura 21:13). On the other hand, the Darchei Moshe (the Rama on the Tur) cites the Kolbo, who says that the gemara only means to exempt them from geniza, but one may not disgrace them, and the Rama (OC 21:1) says that throwing them out in a disgraceful place is included. He also cites the Maharil’s more stringent practice to do geniza as a preferable but not binding practice.
The arguably different levels of tashmishei mitzva, depending primarily on the level of connection to the mitzva, apparently adds complexity. For example, the Shulchan Aruch (21:2) says that although one many not disgrace a tallit, it (the garment part) does not require geniza but may be thrown into the garbage. Unlike regarding tzitzit, the Rama agrees regarding a tallit (understanding of the Mishna Berura 21:13; see practical complexity in Living the Halachic Process, II-G-5). This is because although tzitzit are meaningless without the garment, the tzitzit are the main part of the mitzva.
A similar distinction exists regarding a sukka. The Mishna Berura (21:6; 638:24) forbids throwing s’chach to a garbage dump or even a place where many are likely to trample them. Regarding the walls of the sukka, he cites the Pri Megadim as saying not to use them directly for something disgraceful (actually, in Mishbetzot Zahav 21:2 he is uncertain), but brings no limitations on throwing them out. Again, while walls are needed for a sukka and are set aside for its exclusive use during the chag (Shulchan Aruch, OC 638:1), the s’chach has a higher mitzva status, which may increase the care needed after the mitzva is over.
What is a netilat yadayim cup’s status in this regard? Our halachic intuition is that it is similar to a tallit and the walls of a sukka rather than to tzitzit and s’chach. After all, while a utensil (or a body of water) is required for netilat yadayim before a meal, the specific qualifications are very broad and general, and one does not need a special netilat yadayim cup (see Orach Chayim 159). While the mitzva of netilat yadayim always pertains, when one comes to retire a cup, it apparently can be disposed of like sukka walls.
We will now relate to different situations. Simple netilat yadayim cups that are often used for other kitchen purposes besides netilat yadayim do not assume any halachic status. It is laudable to avoid putting special cups used exclusively for the mitzva, directly in a garbage, especially with identifying elements that link it to the mitzva (see this distinction in Ginzei Hakodesh 20:(9) in the name of Rav Chaim Kaniefsky). Putting it in an opaque bag first sufficiently removes bizuy. Placing it in a recycling bin (if feasible) is a cleaner and more dignified solution (see Shevet Hakehati IV:OC 10). Geniza is certainly not required, and keeping them “around,” without disgraceful use, is fine. Cups that are used primarily for negel vaser (upon awaking), after the bathroom, or before davening should be even more lenient, as there is not a real halachic requirement to use a cup for these (see Shulchan Aruch, OC 4:7).
Special Halachot of Motzaei Shabbat Kiddush/HavdalaPlease review the unique halachot of Kiddush of Shavuot night that falls on Motzaei Shabbat.
First of all, the most basic advice is to take a good look at the siddur before you start to see what you will be saying –the five berachot that follow the acronym of yaknehaz (wine, Kiddush, candle, Havdala, Shehecheyanu). Beyond that, we will divide some of the unique halachot into categories. (Almost all of the halachot we are mentioning can be found in Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata (II) 62:9-22, and we will not list specific citations from there.)
Pre-Havdala: If one wants to do work that it is forbidden on Shabbat but permitted on Yom Tov and it is late enough, he/she should have davened Ma’ariv with the addition of Vatodi’einu (the Yom Tov equivalent of Ata Chonantanu) or made the declaration of Hamavdil. Regarding the latter, it is important to remember to say “… hamavdil bein kodesh l’kodesh.”
Wine: While both Kiddush and Havdala should preferably be made over wine (or grape juice), bread (challa) can be used for Kiddush but not for Havdala (the status of other beverages is beyond our present scope). Regarding this Kiddush that also includes Havdala, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 296:2) cites two opinions if bread suffices, but the Rama says that it does. Nevertheless, the Mishna Berura (296:16) says that an extra effort should be made to use wine in deference to the opinions that this is fully required.
The minhag that many have to pour enough wine for Havdala to spill over is not in effect in this case.
Besamim: There is no beracha on besamim because the festivities of Yom Tov are sufficient “resuscitation” after the loss of the neshama yeteira (Tosafot, Beitza 33b). The beracha on besamim is not made after Yom Tov finishes either.
If one mistakenly made the beracha on the besamim in the midst of the Havdala, it does not cause a problematic break (Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata 62:(22) and Nitei Gavriel 30:2, contrary to the opinion of Shalmei Toda, p. 149).
Candle: There are major discussions as to whether the beracha on fire justifies lighting a new flame and combining flames to create a torch effect. We dealt with the matter in Living the Halachic Process III, D-4. Our operative suggestion is to take the Yom Tov candles and hold them together for the beracha. According to any system, it is important to not directly extinguish the flame.
Even those who usually shut the electric lights to get more significant benefit from the Havdala candle’s light can make the beracha on the candle(s) with the electric lights on.
Women: On every Motzaei Shabbat, it is preferable for a woman not to make her own Havdala due to questions about whether she is obligated in Havdala and the beracha on the candle and due to the minhag that women not drink from Havdala wine (see our treatment of the topic in Living the Halachic Process II, C-8). Here, there is more of a problem because voluntarily making a beracha in the midst of a Kiddush in which she is certainly obligated and should not interrupt is questionable. However, if necessary, a woman may recite the whole Yaknehaz Kiddush, and she is then allowed and indeed required to drink from the wine.
Mistakes: If one forgot to make the Havdala beracha and he is in the middle of the meal, he should make it, over a cup of wine, before continuing to eat, as it is always forbidden to eat before Havdala. If, during Kiddush, he did not have in mind the possibility of drinking wine during the meal, he must make another beracha on the wine, but otherwise he drinks the wine without an additional beracha.
Finishing the beracha with “hamavdil bein kodesh l’chol” instead of “hamavdil bein kodesh l’kodesh” is equivalent to not saying Havdala at all.
One who left out Shehecheyanu can make it up throughout the chag. A forgotten “Borei Meorei Ha’eish” can be made up only that night.
Making Food in Fleishig Pot to Transfer into Other UtensilsSometimes I want to make a big pareve vegetable soup in a meat pot (my largest) and later put some of it in milchig or pareve pots or bowls. Is this permissible?
Questions of nat bar nat (twice removed taste, i.e., food into pot and then pot into food) are often complex due to the multiple permutations of l’chatchila (proper action) and b’dieved (after the fact). Let us proceed from rules to details.
Amoraim dispute whether pareve food that was placed while hot on a fleishig utensil can be eaten with milk, and we rule leniently (Chulin 111a). Therefore, the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 95:1) rules that one may mix pareve food cooked in a fleishig pot (nat bar nat of fleishig) into milchig food. However, the Rama (whom Ashkenazim follow) rules that cooking food in a fleishig pot is more severe than simply placing hot food in a utensil. He says that in the former case, the originally pareve food may not be mixed in with milchig food (ad loc. 2).
However, the Rama incorporates a few leniencies. If the food cooked in the fleishig pot was subsequently mixed into milchig food, it may be eaten, b’dieved. Also, the pareve food may l’chatchila be placed hot into a milchig utensil without affecting the status of the pot or the food (ibid.). Thus, the soup you describe may be placed in a milchig pot or bowl.
However, there is a complicating factor – a further level of l’chatchila. The Beit Yosef cites several Rishonim who say that one may not set up l’chatchila a situation of nat bar nat. While his final opinion is unclear, most prominent Sephardi poskim (see Kaf Hachayaim, YD 95:1) say that one should not put hot pareve food in a fleishig pot if he intends to subsequently mix it in with milchig. The question is whether there are other cases where a food would be treated as pareve, b’dieved, but should not be “created” in that way.
One case in point is when a fleishig pot has not been used for fleishig within the 24 hours before the pareve use. The Rama says that in such a case, the resulting food is pareve enough to mix in with milchig. The Gra (95:10) says that in such a case it is even permitted to l’chatchila cook the pareve in that fleishig pot with intention to mix it in with milchig. However, the Chochmat Adam (48:2) says that one should not cook it in the fleishig pot with that intention, and this is the more accepted position.
Regarding your first specific question, making the soup in a fleishig pot with intention to put it into a milchig pot, there is a machloket among the Acharonim. Among the earlier authorities, the Bach allows it, and the Pri Megadim (Mishbetzot Zahav 95:4) forbids it. Amongst contemporary authorities, Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe, YD
In cases where there is an additional reason for leniency, one can be lenient freely. One is the second case you ask about – where the second utensil is itself pareve, not milchig. Since nothing can go wrong to the food in this utensil, and it is just a question of making the utensil fleishig, we do not have to go so far in our concern. It also makes sense that if the fleishig pot has not been used in 24 hours, it is permissible to cook in it with the intention of putting the food in a milchig pot.
It is important to realize in questions such as these that “all bets are off” if one is dealing with onions or other sharp vegetables that were sautéed in the fleishig pot or cut with a fleishig knife (Rama, ibid.). The details are beyond our present scope.
Does Acknowledging Lag Ba’omer Count as Counting?If one mentions, before counting omer, that “Tonight is Lag Ba’omer” (= the statement), can he subsequently count with a beracha?
This is one of the cases where we prefer to not have fulfilled a mitzva, so that we can perform it properly with a beracha. While the statement includes the basic elements needed to fulfill the mitzva of sefirat ha’omer, it may not do so for a few reasons.
First, there is an unresolved machloket whether gematria, which is a secondary but accepted way of expressing numbers, is valid for sefirat ha’omer (see Sha’arei Teshuva 489:6; see applications in Living the Halachic Process, I:D-19). The statement (Lag) is thus questionable for fulfilling the mitzva.
Second, the weeks are not mentioned. Acharonim debate whether one who has mentioned only days, after day seven, has completed his mitzva. The matter relates to Ameimar’s opinion (Menachot 66a) that there is no need to count weeks at a time that there is no Beit Hamikdash in which to offer the korban omer. The Mishna Berura (489:7) concludes that one who says just the days should count again, but this ruling lacks the level of certainty to justify a new beracha (see Sha’ar Hatziyun 489:9). (According to Eliya Rabba (489:14), the full force of missing weeks applies only on days when the number of weeks changes – e.g., 28, 35).
The strongest reason to disregard the statement’s impact is that it is almost certainly said while not having in mind to fulfill the mitzva of sefirat ha’omer. The Shulchan Aruch (OC 60:4) rules that one does not fulfill a mitzva without intent to do so, and therefore the statement should not prevent one from counting afterwards with a beracha. However, the following halacha in the Shulchan Aruch (OC 489:4) seems to contradict this. If one is asked before counting what day of the omer it is, he should answer what day yesterday was, for stating the current day compromises his ability to count later with a beracha. The Taz (489:7) says that the Shulchan Aruch must mean that avoiding saying the day’s count is just a stringency, but, due to the lack of intention, he would b’dieved count with a beracha later anyway. Yet many point out that the Taz’s claim does not fit the Shulchan Aruch’s language. The Magen Avraham (489:8) says that one would not make a beracha because of the opinion that intention is not critical, and some say that sefirat ha’omer is fulfilled without intention because it is only a Rabbinic obligation (see Yechaveh Da’at VI:29).
While each individual reason to allow counting with a beracha after the statement is arguable, the combination of reasons makes that prospect convincing in two possible ways. First, poskim (including Be’ur Halacha 489:4, Eliya Rabba ibid.) say, in different cases, that when there are specific indications that one intends to not fulfill the mitzva, he indeed does not fulfill it. In the standard case, when “Lag Ba’omer” is used as the name of a semi-holiday as opposed to the gematria of the count, the statement would be precluded from fulfillment of the mitzva, and a beracha could be made later (Kaf Hachayim 489:30). (Note that in gematria, we usually say “Lamed gimmel,” not “Lag,” and that halachic declarations are not supposed to be made in a mix of languages.) The Mishna Berura (489:22) says that we would accept the aforementioned Taz’s logic in cases in which the week should have been mentioned and was not. Second, the coinciding of factors may create enough doubts against the chance the mitzva was fulfilled to justify a beracha. Indeed, we find cases of beracha on sefirat ha’omer when s’feik s’feika indicates its appropriateness (Shulchan Aruch, OC 489:8; Mishna Berura 489:38). On the other hand, that halachic phenomenon likely does not apply to every set of doubts (see Yabia Omer IV, OC 43).
In short, it is unlikely that one has fulfilled sefirat ha’omer by noting the day is Lag Ba’omer. However, it is worthwhile to avoid such a statement before counting and, where easily feasible, to use someone else’s beracha if he did.
Hamapil for Those Who Go to Sleep Before DarkDo people who go to sleep before nightfall (e.g., night shift workers, the old and ill during the summer) recite Hamapil before going to sleep?
The gemara (Berachot 60b) mentions Hamapil for one “entering to sleep on his bed,” without noting time of day. However, the Rambam (Tefilla 7:1) writes “when one enters his bed to sleep at night.” Despite varied opinions of Rishonim (see Meiri, Berachot ad loc), this guideline is accepted (see Be’ur Halacha to 239:1; B’tzel Hachochma V:166). However, this position’s rationale impacts your question.
The above gemara continues with the berachot upon awaking, starting with Elokai Neshama, which some see as a bookend along with Hamapil (see B’tzel Hachochma ibid.). We recite these berachot only once a day. In both cases (although some distinguish), there are questions as to whether the berachot are only for those who sleep or they are general praises to Hashem related to sleep and awaking at the classic times.
Most poskim saying that one recites Hamapil only before a serious sleep (see gemara above). The connection to night is that this is the average person’s time of serious sleep, based on which the beracha was instituted (which is apparently the Rambam’s basis).
B’tzel Hachochma (ibid.) understands the element of night very formalistically – there is no obligation and thus no ability to say Hamapil before night, even if one is embarking on a full night’s sleep before nightfall. He compares Hamapil before night to a beracha on sitting in a sukka before Sukkot starts when one plans to remain there (a beracha is not made there).
However, there are sources and logic that night is a criterion for Hamapil on practical rather than fundamental grounds. The Chayei Adam (35:4) says that regarding day sleep we are concerned he will not fall asleep, it is improper to sleep, and/or it is not effective sleep. These reasons do not apply to the cases you raise of one who has a valid reason to start sleeping before nightfall (although sometimes we say lo plug- see ibid.).
Several poskim (see Teshurat Shai I:82; Teshuvot V’hanhagot I:198) explain why it might be proper to recite Hamapil before one’s major sleep after dawn when one did not sleep at night (e.g., Shavuot morning). One could add to the equation the opinion that one may recite a birkat hashevach (of praise) even when there is a doubt whether it is necessary because the content of such berachot are never inappropriate (Halachot Ketanot I:264). However, the consensus is that safek berachot l’hakel (in doubt, refrain) applies to there as well (Yabia Omer VII, OC 29).
However, in cases where the sleep is primarily at night, the argument to say Hamapil is much stronger. Notice that the Rambam (ibid.) talks about Hamapil preceding going to sleep at night. My reading is that the point is that sleep done at night defines it as justifying Hamapil, not that it is forbidden to recite Hamapil during the day. Thus, if the majority of one’s sleep will be during the night, the fact that it begins earlier need not preclude Hamapil.
Whether the case for reciting Hamapil is stronger or weaker if one goes to sleep soon before nightfall is interesting. Many halachot of night begin at plag hamincha, so perhaps one who sleeps then for the night is considered to be just extending slightly the time of night sleep, which in summer nights in northern latitudes is also common. Note that one who wakes up after midnight may recite the morning berachot including Elokai Neshama (Shulchan Aruch, OC47:13), presumably because morning regarding wake up is flexible. Perhaps the same is true in the evening. On the other hand, perhaps Chazal would not have extended a beracha for going to sleep for the night at a time when one cannot fulfill the mitzva of Kri’at Shema of the night.
The rules of practical p’sak point toward not risking reciting the beracha of Hamapil before nightfall, despite my inclination to the contrary. However, one who does so before his major sleep that extends well into the night has what to rely upon.
Stealing by Accident?If one accidentally took and used a friend’s similar coat, is he considered a ganav (thief)? Is he obligated to pay kefel (double)? Must he pay the owner if something happens to it (onsin)? [The querier then presented sources he found about geneiva b’shogeg (unintentional theft).] How can there be geneiva b’shogeg considering one needs intention to acquire something?
We will only scratch the surface of the scholarship on whether one is obligated for geneiva b’shogeg and relate to some of the issues you raise.
The K’tzot Hachoshen (25:1) is among those who posit that a ganav b’shogeg is exempt. He infers this from Rishonim, but his main rationale is that the concept of culpability for accidental financial harm to his friend is limited to mazik (one who physically damages another’s property) because it specifically is derived from a pasuk. Thus, if one takes another’s object without damaging it, he is not responsible to pay for it. Of course, he has to return it when he finds out the truth, but the matter is important if it was lost, damaged, or passed on to someone else.
The Machaneh Ephrayim (Geneiva 7) cogently presents opinions of Rishonim, but agrees with those who obligate a ganav b’shogeg. He is particularly impressed by the gemara (Pesachim 32a) concerning payment made by one who accidentally ate teruma, which says that if the food’s price went down after he ate it, he pays the higher price because “it is no less than one who steals.” The Machaneh Ephrayim sees this as proof that there is payment for geneiva b’shogeg.
Let us now discuss your quandary about the need for intention. The gemara (see Bava Kama 79a) does speak of a kinyan (an act of acquisition) as a necessary step for the obligations of a ganav, and kinyanim require a certain level of intent. However, not all of the levels of intent pertinent to geneiva are equal to those regarding other acquisitions. If one lifted up an object to move it out of his way, he would clearly neither acquire nor be considered stealing it. If he wanted to use it without ever returning it, this would be intention for theft even if he tried to be “shrewd” by having in mind to “not acquire it” (it indeed would not become his). Furthermore, even one who intended to briefly borrow something without permission is considered a ganav (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 359:5).
The Machaneh Ephrayim makes a relevant fundamental distinction. Geneiva b’shogeg can be culpable when one intended to bring the object from another’s possession into his own. If one thought he was just continuing using his own, that would not be considered an act of stealing. (This idea is indeed parallel to the halacha regarding intention to acquire something legally (see Yevamot 52a).) According to this, the accidental coat switcher is not even a ganav b’shogeg and does not have, as of the time he took the object, the accompanying responsibilities for its welfare. Cases in which geneiva b’shogeg applies include unknowingly buying a stolen object or even borrowing one.
The Marcheshet (II:32) posits that a ganav b’shogeg has the basic obligations of a ganav. He sees the K’tzot Hachoshen’s source to exempt – the obligation of an unintentional mazik – as the source to obligate an unintentional ganav as well. As such, though, just as a mazik is exempt b’oness (under extenuating circumstances), so too a ganav b’oness is exempt. In our case, taking another’s coat is usually shogeg rather than oness. According to this approach, it could be considered geneiva. Regarding intention, he does intend to use something that turned out to actually belong to someone else.
All agree that one is not disqualified for anything (e.g., testimony) due to such an unintentional aveira. Kefel is never levied in our days, and it is thus not discussed much by poskim. However, logic and implicit statements indicate that this k’nas (penalty), which applies to only certain types of theft and when one is exposed by witnesses, is predicated on full culpability and does not apply b’shogeg.
The Need for a Mechitza Without a MinyanIs there a need for a mechitza between men and women when there is no minyan?
We must start our answer with some sources that serve as the basis for the need for a mechitza. Most explicit discussions on the matter are relatively recent, as the mechitza was taken for granted without halachic discussion until the 19th/20th century.”
The gemara (Sukka 51b) tells of structural changes made in the Beit Hamikdash to deal with the growing realization of problems of modesty between the genders. Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe, Orach Chayim I:39) is prominent among those who learned from the fact that such changes in the Beit Hamikdash are generally prohibited that the need for separation must be a matter of Torah law.
The only context in which there is any Orthodox unanimity that a physical separation is necessary is when davening in shul. It appears that the concept need not be linked specifically to davening, as the gemara says that Beit Hamikdash renovators based themselves on a pasuk relating to a funeral (Zecharia I:28:12). On the other hand, in practice there is not a history of anything close to universal separation between the genders. Rav Moshe (ibid., OC V:12) makes a distinction between settings that are private (i.e., by permission only), which do not require separation, and those that are open to the public, which require.
Since the setting of davening in shul is unique in its unanimity and its level of definitiveness, it is worthwhile to investigate the halacha’s scope by broadening your question. Does all tefilla require a mechitza? Does everything in shul? How do we define a shul? A man is not allowed to daven, learn aloud, or even make berachot when exposed to a lack of modesty (see Shulchan Aruch, OC 75 with commentaries). However, it is agreed that regarding davening in a place that is not set for tefilla, the formal requirement of mechitza per se does not exist. This is more obvious in a public place, like a plane. The need for a mechitza is more of an obligation to put one in the proper place than a prohibition to daven without it. Therefore, since there is no way to expect an airline servicing Jews and non-Jews to put up a mechitza, there is no problem. Even in places like sheva berachot and a shiva house, there is not a formal need for a mechitza (see Igrot Moshe ibid.).
If men are davening in a shul at a time when there is no minyan, it would seem that a mechitza is needed if women are present (one or two women are likely not a problem (see ibid.; Ishei Yisrael )). After all, they are davening and the shul has sanctity that elevates tefilla even without a minyan (see Shulchan Aruch, OC 90:9).
What about a place that is set for tefilla without a minyan? The gemara in Megilla 27b can be instructive. In explaining the various positions on whether a communal beit knesset can be sold to become a beit knesset of an individual, the gemara raises the claim for R. Meir that an individual’s shul does not have kedusha. Rashi (ad loc.) and others explain that this is because matters of kedusha (i.e., elements of prayer that require a minyan) are not recited there. On one hand, this downplays the status of a shul without a minyan, but many posit that even according to R. Meir it has some kedusha (Ramban, ad loc.) and at least the status of a beit knesset. We note that many places that have semi-regular davening but without a minyan usually have several other uses, which also makes it less like a classic shul, in which we know a mechitza is required.
Tying things together, we suggest the following approximate guidelines (there are many slightly varying cases). In a room that is treated like a shul, just that it belongs to such a small community that there is not usually a minyan, there should be a mechitza. In a multi-use room that has semi-regular davening but without a minyan, davening should be done with a separation between men and women, but a mechitza per se is not necessary (assuming it is done in a way that there are no modesty in dress problems).
Hachnasat Sefer Torah on Chol HamoedI have strong reasons to make a hachnasat sefer Torah on Chol Hamoed. Is it permitted to do so?
The main issue with the hachnasat sefer Torah for a new sefer Torah (as opposed to purchasing one or changing its venue) is writing its final letters, as the minhag is to do so on the day of the ceremony.
The mishna (Moed Katan 18b) says it is forbidden to write even a small part of a book on Chol Hamoed. The Rama (Orach Chayim 545:1) cites two opinions on whether it is permitted if the masses need the book after the chag and concludes that it is permitted if one uses simple, “non-artisan” writing. In other words, he understood that the mishna is referring to cases where there is not an acute need. These halachot follow the rule that simple work (ma’aseh hedyot) is permitted on Chol Hamoed for festival needs or communal needs, which are as significant even if they are for after the chag (Shulchan Aruch, OC 544:1).
Since writing a sefer Torah certainly needs an expert acting carefully (ma’asaeh uman), it should be forbidden on Chol Hamoed. The Shulchan Aruch (OC 545:2) does say that if there is no other sefer Torah for the community’s Torah reading, a sefer Torah can be finished on Chol Hamoed for that purpose. However, it does not sound like that is your predicament.
Despite the above, there has long been a phenomenon of hachnasot sefer Torah on Chol Hamoed. Some poskim (including Aruch Hashulchan, OC 545:5) criticize the practice. However, several poskim justify the practice when done in a certain way, which is anyway common.
Usually the main writing of the sefer Torah is complete days before the event, except that the last letters are written by the sefer’s owner and his honorees. To facilitate this, the sofer uses one of two systems: 1. Write the letters in very light ink, so that the donor writes on top to darken it. 2. Write hollow letters and have the donor fill them in. Some poskim suggest that in those cases the halachic writing already exists, in which case that which is left for the end is not a melacha (see discussion in B’tzel Hachochma IV:50). Moreover, even if it is a full melacha of writing, it is an example of ma’aseh hedyot, as a non-expert can follow the tracing or fill in the hollow letters. In that case, it is permitted for a simple mitzva even of an individual or an enhancement of the chag.
What mitzva or enhancement of the chag applies here? Some say it is the mitzva of having a sefer Torah. While some of the leniencies of Chol Hamoed apply only if one had to do the work at that time (which might not apply in your case), festival and mitzva needs can be done even if they could have been done at different times. Some question (see Minchat Elazar III:2) whether in our days, the writing of the sefer Torah is considered a mitzva, but that seems like a weak claim. In any case, since the whole celebration is such a joyous and chag-appropriate activity, all of its standard elements, which customarily include writing the last letters, are festival needs. (The poskim are not concerned with the possibility that the celebration impinges on the proper focus on the chag, which is the reason weddings are forbidden on Chol Hamoed (Chagiga 8a). A Torah celebration of this type is within the appropriate focus.) If the sefer Torah will be read from during the chag, including Simchat Torah, that should also be considered a mitzva purpose.
Thus, under the above conditions, it is permitted according to most poskim, including the Beit Yitzchak (Yoreh Deah II, addendum 20), Kaf Hachayim (545:6, based on the Sdei Chemed), and the contemporary Chol Hamoed K’hilcahato (6:24). As mentioned, there is also some history of leniency. Some poskim (Shevet Halevi III:96, B’tzel Hachochma, ibid.) are willing to be lenient only in the case of real need, which you indicate you have.
In summary, if the celebration is most appropriately done on Chol Hamoed, feel free to do it then. Make sure the sofer completes his part before Pesach and leaves any expert brush-up work for after chag. Mazal tov!
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