Home > Ask The Rabbi
ASK THE RABBI
Do not hesitate to ask any question about Jewish life, Jewish tradition or Jewish law.
P’sak Halacha during a Modern Pandemic – Interim ViewMy own question: What observations can we make about the way halachic rulings were made and disseminated during the first stage of the coronavirus crisis?
As a “student of the history of the halachic process,” I find breathtaking the difference in the tools available in reaching halachic rulings and sharing them in today’s society from 200 years ago and even 20 years ago. Let me share my perspective after 2-3 months of observing and sharing in Eretz Hemdah’s participation in the process.
On the most basic level, “There is nothing new under the sun.” The halachic rules of pikuach nefesh have been discussed in depth for centuries. So have the principles of ruling on standard topics (e.g., Pesach, Shabbat, tefilla) in the face of extenuating circumstances. Our medical emergency and related technical difficulties are only examples of many such circumstances.
However, there were real differences in the process. The local rabbi had almost immediate access to the most updated medical guidelines and insights (although, based on the “surprises” Hashem sent us, much science proved inaccurate only days later – not uncommon for novel viruses). This was crucial when having to apply the halachic rules and Jewish values to specific cases. While a rabbi could and often must ask experts about specific cases that arise, the rabbi/posek’s level of scientific sophistication, both regarding general background and keeping current (or a step ahead when being machmir in pikuach nefesh) concerning COVID-19, is important. If we all made many small but critical decisions about safety in our own houses – when to be health stringent and when it was necessary to “cut a little slack,” a rabbi had a heightened need to be ready for that communally.
The phenomenon of instant collegial contact between large groups of rabbis in which Eretz Hemdah took part (our thanks to Rav R. Taragin) was a powerful tool. A rabbi with a classic “corona question” would present it on a rabbinic group and be sent the latest ruling of Rav Asher Weiss, Rav Rimon, the Chief Rabbinate, etc. within minutes. Pressing questions of this genre (e.g., how to bury a Covid-19 victim, Pesach leniencies, when one can go to the mikveh with which precautions) were presented to such poskim as Rav Schachter and Rav Willig. Rabbis from different areas deliberated in real-time as to whether and then when to follow the bold, life-saving step of the R.C. of Bergen County to close shuls before public authorities mandated it. Many, led by Rabbi Dr. Aaron Glatt, shared insights of their local health authorities. With an understanding of both the shared danger and the unique circumstances of each community, rabbis had both the obligation to follow the consensus when appropriate and seek unique solutions when the nuances of one’s community mandated it.
Of course, as is generally true of information technology, the power contains risks, and raised questions. Will a local rabbi’s authority be undermined when his congregants can find (and disseminate) dissenting (or ostensibly so) opinions online or from a different shul’s electronic bulletin? Might our article in English about strategies for laining as Israeli minyanim opened embolden some distant readers to buck their local guidelines, where even “mirpeset minyanim” were forbidden? Or could discussion of the scenario be used incorrectly if matters took a change for the worse in the same place? Broadly speaking, the danger of Torah guidance being misapplied has always existed, but gains outweigh losses when done properly. Accuracy and sensitivity to nuance in writing are important in helping, but not eliminating, the problem.
Clearly, in terms of health, employment, and psychological and social stability, technological advances have been very beneficial during the lockdowns and social distancing that were forced upon us. We have briefly illustrated that regarding implementing timeless halachic principles, we can also say that, to an extent, Hashem has “brought a [partial] treatment before the affliction.”
Which Way to Turn at Bo’i B’shalomIn what direction should one turn when getting up to “Bo’i B’shalom” at the end of Lecha Dodi? Many shuls seems to have confusion on the matter.
The practice of welcoming the Shabbat “bride” in a special physical manner has its roots at least a thousand years before Rav Shlomo Alkabetz wrote Lecha Dodi (mid sixteenth century, Tzefat). The gemara (Bava Kama 32b) tells of Amoraim who would “go out” dressed for Shabbat, proclaiming their welcoming of Shabbat, with one saying “Bo’i kalla.” Rav Alkabetz based his last stanza on this Talmudic account.
What is special about this juncture, and what is the significance of turning around? The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 261:4) views Barchu, which begins the first tefilla of Shabbat, as an acceptance of Shabbat; this was true in the time of the Rishonim. He then continues: “For us, saying Mizmor Shir L’yom HaShabbat is like their answering Barchu.” While the Magen Avraham (261:13) questions whether people intend to accept Shabbat then, the Mishna Berura (261:31) comments that by his time, people clearly did intend, and that those who say Lecha Dodi accept Shabbat with “bo’i kalla bo’i kalla.” It is likely not an accident that it became the last thing recited before Mizmor Shir L’yom HaShabbat.
Acharonim presume turning is a replacement for the aforementioned “going out” to greet Shabbat (although the Knesset Hagedola, Tur 262:3 does recommend leaving shul for an open area). Several (including Kaf Hachayim, OC 262:32) cite the Arizal, who did go out to a high place, to say Bo’i kalla while facing the setting sun – in the west. The Pri Megadim (EA 262:3) and Mishna Berura (262:10) also mention the west. Some say (see Igrot Moshe, OC III:45) that the significance of the west is due to the idea that the shechina is concentrated there (Bava Batra 25a).
The confusion comes about from the fact that in classic Ashkenazi communities there were a few reasons to turn to the west. Two do not change – the sun sets in the west and the shechina is to the west. However, if the idea is to welcome Shabbat like an important guest, then to demonstrate this, one could turn to the main entrance of the shul, which is usually in the west, opposite the aron kodesh (see B’tzel Hachochma III:65). Alternatively, it can show that one has thoughts of going out of the shul (Igrot Moshe ibid.). One other reason is cited (and rejected – Igrot Moshe ibid.) to turn toward the back of the shul is that at (approximately, depending on minhag) this time, mourners during shiva enter shul, so this positions people to address them. Since the aron kodesh in most communities was to the east, one would turn to the west. If the Acharonim mentioned west only because that is where their main entrances were, then in places that do not face east or if the main entrance is not to the west, one would face the entrance rather than the west.
B’tzel Hachochma (III:65), writing in Melbourne, starts with the presumption that turning to the west is what most poskim suggest, and yet the minhag of the local communities was to turn to the back of the shul. He justifies the minhag with a few observations. He argues that if the idea is to face the sun, then it makes less sense when one is in a closed room and/or the sun has already set. In those cases, the matter of welcoming the “guest” has more weight than the advantage(s) of the west. To the contrary, for those who daven to the west (as they do in Melbourne), the worst thing is not to turn at all. Rav Moshe Feinstein (ibid.) prefers the west but says that the main thing is that something is done in honor of the entering Shabbat.
It is proper that in such a public matter that a shul has a unified approach, as different people facing different directions is not very mechubad. If one has the minhag to do one way and he is in a shul where they do another, he must realize that lo titgodedu (not doing things that contradict local practice) is a real halacha, and the preferred way to turn is a minhag that can be fulfilled reasonably in different ways.
Reciting Borei Nefashot on Food When One Will Still DrinkWhen I eat a fruit and drink, if I finish the fruit but will continue drinking for quite a while, when should I recite Borei Nefashot? If I do it after finishing the fruit, should I make a new beracha on the drink?
Even if you did not eat a fruit, what to do about Borei Nefashot on drinking over time is not simple. If you never drink a revi’it at one time, you are not obligated (due to doubt) in Borei Nefashot (Mishna Berura 210:1). It is inadvisable to go more than a half hour between one drink and another, as that may be enough of a break to detach the drinking from the beracha acharona and perhaps the beracha rishona. Those who drink large amounts with significant breaks should make a set of berachot each time (see Living the Halachic Process, II, B-4).
We proceed to the impact of the fruit. One has at least a half hour and perhaps significantly more (see V’zot Haberacha, p. 50) from the end of eating fruit to recite Borei Nefashot; you can also leave a little fruit to eat many minutes later. Therefore, your question can usually be avoided.
Your question pertains if after eating the fruit, you will continue sporadic drinking for a long time (without leaving the vicinity). The first issue is whether Borei Nefashot’s efficacy on the fruit is extended by continued drinking without a long break. During a long meal in which 72 minutes pass between eating bread and bentching, the food one continues to eat extends the time (Magen Avraham 184:9). There are two ways to explain this halacha. The Pri Megadim (ad loc.) suggests that continued eating slows digestion. The Mishna Berura (184:18) says that it is a halachic matter – Birkat Hamazon does not expire in the middle of a meal. The Shevet Halevi (VII, 27) posits that if the reason is physical, it applies to any eating/drinking, but if it is halachic, it likely only applies to a meal or other unified eating (see V’zot Haberacha, p. 191). Therefore, it is a machloket whether you may wait much more than a half hour after finishing the fruit to make Borei Nefashot.
The Har Tzvi (OC I:96) prefers the opinion that we do not extend the time for eating due to drinking, as the beracha on one is not covered by the beracha of the other. Therefore, it is improper to wait beyond the normal time for making a beracha on the fruit. (The Shevet Halevi concurs in practice).
How does reciting Borei Nefashot impact on the beracha on drinking? The Har Tzvi instructs to have in mind when saying Borei Nefashot that it not apply to the drinking, so he can continuing drinking based on the original beracha. He rules this way despite seeing the ability to affect the matter by intention as a machloket. The Pri Megadim (Peticha Kollelet, Berachot) says that for a beracha acharona (as opposed to a beracha rishona), when one beracha can apply to multiple foods, it does even if one did not have that intention. The Har Tzvi disagrees, with aid from the Rav Pe’alim (II, OC 32). Logic suggests that the Pri Megadim might actually agree that here one can limit the Borei Nefashot’s reach for the following reasons. The Pri Megadim’s apparent logic is that a beracha acharona is different because given the standing obligation to make the beracha, one cannot detach it from all the foods (see Rav Pe’alim ibid.). However, in our case, the time to make Borei Nefashot on the drink has not yet come, and in fact it would cause an unjustified new beracha. Therefore, it is illogical that the Borei Nefashot on the fruit should be forced onto it. Therefore, when there is reason to make a Borei Nefashot on the fruit but not the drink, one should recite it with intention just for the fruit.
On the other hand, it is often wise to purposely have Borei Nefashot on the fruit also “end the round” of drinking for the chance of several cases: 1. he will take too long a break in the drinking; 2. he will unwittingly leave the house; 3. he will forget Borei Nefashot at the end; 4. he drank in a way that it is a safek whether he requires Borei Nefashot.
Use of Informal Sefira Counting to Solve ProblemsIf one answers an inquiry about what day of the omer it is and does not count again that day, may he count the next day with a beracha? If yes, an onen (before funeral of close relative, who does not perform mitzvot) for a full day of sefira should be able to simulate such a statement and be allowed to continue with a beracha the next day.
The Behag (cited in Tosafot, Menachot 66a) is the source of the idea that one may not continue with a beracha if he missed a day of counting. He argues that missing a day makes it impossible to fulfill the command of temimot (seven full weeks). Most Rishonim disagree. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 489:8) basically accepts the Behag, but only due to doubt – since he might be correct, we do not make a beracha. However, if one is unsure if he counted, he makes a beracha on subsequent days because of a positive double doubt, i.e., if either he did not miss a day or the Behag is incorrect, a beracha is warranted (Mishna Berura 489:38). The Terumat Hadeshen (I:37) says that although it is unclear if one can fulfill the mitzva with a daytime count, if one did so, he recites with a beracha on subsequent days. Most understand that this too is based on a positive double doubt (Sha’ar Hatziyun 489:45). The Mishna Berura (489:38) presents a broad rule – after a questionable count, which requires redoing but without a beracha, if one did not repeat, he maintains the ability to count with a beracha in the future, due to double doubt.
Does your case of answering a question, i.e., a proper statement in a non-mitzva context, create a double doubt? The Shulchan Aruch (ibid. 4) rules to avoid answering completely because such a statement compromises the beracha on that day’s count. Thus it seems to meet the Mishna Berura’s criterion for allowing a beracha on subsequent days. On the other hand, the Taz (489:7) contends that because the answerer clearly does not intend to fulfill the mitzva, it is inconsequential, and it is just a stringency to avoid an exact answer; even if he answered, he would make the beracha that night. The main response to the Taz is that many hold that sefira is Rabbinic nowadays, and Rabbinic mitzvot may not need intention for the mitzva (see Pri Megadim, 489, EA 10). According to the Taz’s view of your case, it will not help to save the beracha in the future.
However, even those who reject the Taz are unlikely to accept your idea. An onen avoids doing sefira because according to most Rishonim, he is not only exempt but forbidden to do mitzvot – so rules the Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 341:1. Therefore, if your statement fulfills the mitzva, it is ostensibly forbidden for an onen! If it is not a mitzva, then it will not help going forward (see Noda B’Yehuda II, OC 27)! Also, in this case, most poskim should agree with the Taz – if an onen knows he is forbidden to do the mitzva, then his intention specifically not to fulfill the mitzva disqualifies it (see Mishna Berura 60:9).
The Noda B’Yehuda (ibid.) actually says that if one will be an onen for a whole day, he is probably obligated in sefira, so that aninut should not prevent fulfillment of the mitzva even after aninut is over. Since even if he is not obligated, some allow an onen to do a mitzva when it does not affect funeral preparations, he can count without a beracha. Many (see Pitchei Teshuva, YD 341:6; R. Akiva Eiger, OC 489:7) accept the Noda B’Yehuda; a minority (Birchei Yosef, OC 489:20) do not.
The poskim do not suggest your idea, which is like the Noda B’Yehuda in action but different in intention, because most assume that negative intention ruins its efficacy. It might work (the calculation is beyond our scope) according to the approach of some Acharonim (including Rav Soloveitchik, see Mesora III, p. 35) that there is no need to fulfill the mitzva to allow continuing with a beracha, just to do an act of counting to keep an uninterrupted count. However, since your plan contradicts the Noda B’Yehuda’s quite accepted idea of counting with positive intent, we do not recommend it.
Washing Hands after Leaving a HospitalWhen visiting a hospital, I saw a kohen alert sign. Upon leaving, should I have done netilat yadayim due to exposure to tumah?
We will first survey the point of netilat yadayim in various cases including yours.
When one becomes tameh on the level of Torah law in a manner that he needs rechitza (washing) to remove the tumah (e.g., due to bodily emissions or contact with dead animals), this consists of immersing his whole body in a mikveh (see Eiruvin 4b). This does not suffice for one who came in contact with a dead human; a process that involves para aduma ashes is also needed. There are times that exposure to tumah does not make a person tameh according to Torah law, but Chazal decreed tumah on his hands, such that if they touch something holy (e.g., teruma), they render it tameh (see Rambam, Avot Hatumah 8:2). As an extension of the Rabbinic tumah for teruma foods, Chazal required netilat yadayim with a beracha before eating bread, irrespective of known contact with any tumah; it may also be connected to the need for cleanliness (see Beit Yosef, Orach Chayim 158).
There is another standard netilat yadayim with a beracha – in between when one wakes up in the morning and davens. There are different opinions among the Rishonim if this is because the hands became dirty during sleep or because one is like a new creature who needs sanctification (see Mishna Berura 4:1).
Another reason for washing hands is the prospect of ruach ra’ah (literally, a bad spirit) that cling to the hands in various situations. The Shulchan Aruch (OC 4:18) has a list of situations in which one should wash his hands (without a beracha), including, upon leaving a bathroom, after cutting nails, and after touching sweaty parts of the body. Some of them are because of cleanliness, especially if one is to partake in something holy, and others are because of ruach ra’ah (e.g., leaving the bathroom – Mishna Berura 4:40).
The Shulchan Aruch cites as “some say” (see Mordechai, Berachot 192) that one washes after being among the dead (i.e., in a cemetery – Mishna Berura ad loc. 42, based on Shut Maharil 42). In Yoreh Deah (376:4) he says unequivocally that one washes after a funeral. Actually, the Tur (YD 376) cites a Gaon who views such a minhag as baseless. The reason given for doing it is the ruach ra’ah, not the laws of tumah. The latter is not an issue because washing the hands (or even going to the mikveh) will not remove the tumah, but it helps (at least partially) regarding ruach ra’ah, as we saw above.
The question, then, is what type of setting of contact with to the dead warrants washing? The Shulchan Aruch (OC 4:18) mentions that after touching the dead, one should wash. The Magen Avraham (4:21) infers that if one is in the proximity of a single corpse without touching it, he does not need to wash. However, he continues that it is customary to wash even if he “comes into [the place of] one corpse, as well as one who escorts it.”
While I lack the understanding of how ruach ra’ah works, the sources seem to imply that the intricate laws of tumah, especially of ohel (roughly, being “under the same roof”) are not the factor, as they are for a kohen in a hospital. One can escort the deceased and not become tameh, and yet there is washing. (The Aruch Hashulchan (4:21) cites the minhag that it depends if he is within four amot of the deceased; while there is a Rabbinic concept of tumah within four amot of a corpse (Sota 44a), the problem might still be the proximity rather than the Rabbinic tumah.) In the other direction, if one is somewhere in a large hospital when a corpse is taken out through the basement, while this could be crucial for a kohen, who is bound by the Torah laws of tumah, it need not create a connection and corresponding ruach ra’ah that would require washing.
Since I have not found a source to say that there is a need to wash after leaving a hospital in which someone has died and the minhag is clearly to not do so, we can assume that this is correct. Our explanation is likely correct.
How to Time Vatikin?When minyanim closed, I started davening vatikin (starting Shemoneh Esrei (=SE) at hanetz hachama (sunrise=netz)). If I do not know precisely when netz is, is it better to err on the side of starting SE before or after netz?
That is a noble approach (see Living the Halachic Process II, A-5 on whether vatikin or a minyan has a greater impact). The gemara (Berachot 9b, see Tosafot ad loc.) considered it a rare feat to do vatikin precisely. While we have clocks and sunrise tables, it is still difficult because: most round to the minute; there are machlokot how to determine sunrise when there are topographical differences between one’s locale and the horizon or between his location and the one in the city used for the table. For this reason, Rav Moshe Feinstein (cited by Tefilla K’hilchata 3:(34)) prefers tefilla with a minyan to an attempted tefilla k’vatikin.
There are many levels of preference for morning Kri’at Shema (=KS) and SE. The consensus of poskim (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 58:1) is that vatikin as practiced is an ideal way to daven and succeeding in being precise is a bonus (see above). (It is unclear what is considered precise and close enough to be vatikin, respectively.) Beyond that, the gradations are, for KS (from best to worst) – after misheyakir (50-60 minutes before netz) (Shulchan Aruch, OC 58:1-3); between netz and sof z’man KS; soon after alot hashachar. Regarding tefilla – clearly after netz before sof z’man tefilla; clearly before netz; soon after alot hashachar; after four hours into the day.
Ostensibly, if one tries for vatikin and misses by a few minutes, this will make KS or SE, respectively not of the highest non-vatikin level. Which is our main goal and/or concern?
The gemara (Berachot 9b) praises vatikin because “they would finish [KS and its berachot] with sunrise, so that they would have the beracha of geula next to tefilla and their tefilla ends up in the day.” It continues that this fulfills “they will fear You with the sun” (Tehillim 72:5). Most commentaries (including Rabbeinu Yona) understand that this puts stress on tefilla being soon after the sun appears, and this is the main reason to finish KS at that time. Furthermore, the gemara in Yoma (37a) tells that when the sun made the chandelier in the Beit Hamikdash courtyard sparkle, the masses of people knew it was time for KS. Tosafot (Berachot 9b) says that this refers to those who did not know how to time vatikin. Rabbeinu Tam (Tosafot, Yoma 37b), though, learns from here that the best time for KS is actually right after netz, to be followed by SE, and that “vatikin” is less preferred. He views the pasuk in Tehillim as going on KS. We do not pasken like Rabbeinu Tam. Tosafot (ibid.) posits that it is better for one who cannot implement vatikin to do KS and SE after netz, as vatikin’s proponents agree that KS is fully acceptable then.
Furthermore, the Shulchan Aruch (OC 89:8) views SE before netz as before its time and not justified without a good reason (see Be’ur Halacha to 89:1). The Pri Chadash (ad loc.) argues that if one misses the special level of vatikin, there is no difference between tefilla before and after netz. The Shulchan Aruch’s opinion is more accepted, and there is much discussion as to whether it is better do daven with a minyan before netz or without one after netz (see Piskei Teshuvot 89:4).
Finally, while there may be some value in reciting birchot KS at the time of KS (see Mishna Berura 58:1), it is not critical (see Rama, OC 46:9; Mishna Berura 46:31). This is especially so if one has almost finished them and is waiting near “… ga’al Yisrael,” which connects to SE (see Tefilla K’hilchata 3:24; Yisrael V’hazemanim II, 7). Therefore, if you are just a couple minutes late, KS was said at its best time.
Based on the above, when one has a choice, it is better to be off by being late than earlier than the precise vatikin. However, the minhag is to follow one’s best information without worrying that it might be an inexact vatikin, which likely counts as vatikin.
Kri’at HaTorah in the Shadow of CoronaWhen minyanim are taking place with the permission of health authorities under social distancing rules, what should be done to separate “functionaries”?
[This is being written as small outdoor minyanim just became re-permitted in Israel, and little has been written on the topic. Health rules may change by the time the column is read, and/or a rabbinic consensus may have been reached. Therefore, we intend to educate regarding the halachic issues, not to try to give instructions, which local rabbis should do based on the best information at the time.]
Our general rule is that practices that are based on minhag, or even accepted halachot designed to embellish tefilla, while normally desired, should be dropped to be as “machmir” as possible regarding safety.
Since we want to avoid passing a sefer Torah or having more people than necessary touch it, the ba’al korei should multi-task. He can take the sefer Torah from the aron kodesh, bring it to the bima, and return it (Gadlu, Yehalelu etc. can be said by the chazan even when he is not holding the sefer Torah, as is done when the chazan cannot carry it). Ashkenazim, who use two interacting people for hagba and gelila, should use the Sephardi/Hassidic system of returning the sefer Torah to the bima after hagba, and have the ba’al korei both lift and dress it.
We usually have two (for Sephardim) or three people at the bima (see nice ideas behind it in Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 141:4 and Mishna Berura 141:16). However, the basic halachot of kri’at haTorah do not depend on them.
The Shulchan Aruch (OC 139:11), based on venerable sources, instructs the oleh to hold the sefer Torah or handles (see Mishna Berura 139:35) with both hands during the berachot. Poskim add to hold one throughout the laining (see ibid.). However, this too is not a fundamental requirement.
The main problem is the oleh’s position during the laining. The Shulchan Aruch (OC 139:3) rules that a blind person may not get an aliya because an oleh must read from the sefer Torah. If the oleh just listens, his berachot are l’vatala (Shulchan Aruch, OC 141:2), and reciting without reading it from the sefer does not count. Therefore, getting an aliya from a distance is a serious halachic problem. Technically, people with good vision, using a large sefer Torah, can read from close to two meters, and with masks and the oleh facing the ba’al korei’s back, this seems “relatively safe.” It is even safer if, after seeing the place in the sefer Torah (Shulchan Aruch, OC 139:4) and checking the furthest possible distance, he takes another step back for during the beracha. (Droplet spreading increases when speaking out loud, and during the beracha one anyway does not look in the Torah). Rav Asher Weiss (Corona Teshuvot 23) recommended (before shul closures) an enhancement – make six very short aliyot and give the ba’al korei a very long one. If health experts agree to this, this is optimal.
What if they do not agree and/or your shul lacks “eagle-eyes”? This leaves two possibilities. One is to have the oleh remain at a “mehadrin” distance without being able to read. (This is better (see Rav Asher Weiss, ibid. 19) than what many do in mirpeset minyanim in which olim read without seeing from a different domain.) This is based on the Rama (OC 139:3, arguing, based on the Maharil, on the aforementioned Shulchan Aruch), who allows a blind person to get an aliya. They posit that since the ba’al korei reads aloud, it is enough (and perhaps better – see Beit Yosef, OC 141, discussing the Zohar) for the oleh to listen without reading along. Rav Ovadia Yosef contemplated Sephardim relying on the Maharil when needed (Yalkut Yosef, OC 139:4).
The other possibility is to give the ba’al korei all the aliyot. The Shulchan Aruch (OC 143:5) allows this when no one else is capable of doing an aliya properly. The Mishna Berura 143:33 says that Ashkenazim (Rav Shalom Cohen reportedly agreed for Sephardim) should prefer calling seven olim who stand two meters away (see Rav Asher Weiss ibid. 19, 21).
Consequence of Removal of Sleeve from under TefillinWhen after fastening the tefillin shel yad, I find part of my sleeve under the tefillin and pull it away, must I refasten the tefillin due to the rule of ta’aseh v’lo min ha’asuy (=tvlmh – mitzva-related actions must be performed directly)? In this case, the placement of the tefillin becomes proper not by fastening them but by removing something else!
Let us start by citing cases of tvlmh found in Shas. If one “forms” a sukka by hollowing out a pile in a way that leaves sukka-kosher objects over the space, the sukka is pasul until moving the s’chach. One needs to positively place s’chach over an area (Sukka 12a). If the tzitzit of a garment are attached before it is obligated in tzitzit, the tzitzit must be reattached (Menachot 40b). Mezuzot must be placed on an obligated doorpost and not placed on a board which later helps form such a doorpost (ibid. 33b). The gemara raises the possibility that tvlmh applies to hadasim connected to a lulav when they were invalid and remain after they were fixed (Sukka 33b).
There are some grounds to compare our case to the Talmudic cases. We will see if there are distinctions that would justify the apparent practice that people do not refasten the tefillin after removing the sleeve. First, we note that the gemara and Rishonim do not discuss tvlmh in regard to tefillin. Some say (see discussions in Levushei Mordechai, Yoreh Deah II:122 and Shevet Halevi II:154) that tvlmh applies specifically to mitzvot for which the Torah uses the root aso (do/make), i.e., sukka and tzitzit. Some explain that mezuza is only Rabbinical (opinion in Sdei Chemed, vol. V, p. 330) or a loose use of the term (Levushei Mordechai ibid.); lulav is unclear and might be because of its connection to sukka. This might (see later) remove the whole question.
Rav Frank (Har Tzvi, OC 23) uses the following convincing thesis about the mitzva of tefillin to rule leniently in your case. The mitzva of tefillin relates to the state of having tefillin on oneself, not to the act of putting it on, and therefore, for example, a non-Jew can put the tefillin on an infirmed person. Similarly, he says, tvlmh cannot be a problem if we do not care how the tefillin got there.
The Shevet Halevi (ibid.) points out that the classic tvlmh sources refer to preparing various mitzva objects (sukka, garment with tzitzit), not to the performance of the mitzva. One could use that distinction to negate any problem of tvlmh regarding fastening, but he argues that the need for direct action regarding the actual fulfillment of the mitzva is broader than the issue of tvlmh. However, the Shevet Halevi posits that just like when tvlmh disqualifies s’chach, this is remedied by shaking the s’chach (Sukka 15a), removing the chatzitza to fix the tefillin’s position is positive “doing.” The Eshel Avraham (Butchach), 27:4 said this before him.
Other opinions lend room for leniency. The Rashba (Megilla 24b) says that a sleeve under tefillin shel yad is not a matter of chatzitza; rather, tefillin should be under a covering rather than on top of it because it is “a sign for you” (Shemot 13:9). Therefore, says Rav Frank (ibid.), the fastening was not intrinsically flawed, and when the “side problem” is solved, one does not need a new action. A precedent for this concept is the Rama (OC 626:2) – a sukka under a pasul overhang becomes kosher when the overhang is removed without further action because external problems do not create tvlmh problems.
Also, perhaps a chatzitza on a minority of the place of the tefillin does not disqualify (Eshel Avraham ibid. considers it a possibility). If that opinion is correct (although we do not rely upon it l’chatchila), the whole question disappears. Perhaps even if one does not fulfill the mitzva with a partial chatzitza, fastening it in that way is at least considered a mitzva action.Because there are so many possible reasons for leniency, and several of them are strong reasons that negate the problem, there is no need in practice to refasten the tefillin shel yad after the sleeve is rolled back.
Key Accessibility for Non-Jew Who Buys ChametzMechirat chametz forms ask me to identify someone with access to our key to the chametz’s location if we are away. Is this necessary considering the non-Jew never comes to get the chametz?
Mechirat chametz has developed over the centuries. In the time of the Rishonim, it started to be used as an arguably fictitious sale, i.e., it was clear the sale would be reversed after Pesach (see Terumat Hadeshen I:120; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 448:3). However, it was expected that the non-Jew would physically remove the chametz from the Jew’s house (Shulchan Aruch ibid.). The current situation in which chametz remains within our homes raises technical problems regarding the laws of kinyan and heightens the ha’arama (deception) issue.
The concern that ha’arama disqualifies the sale is one of the major reasons behind a requirement raised by several Acharonim (including the Bach, OC 448 and Shulchan Aruch Harav, OC 448:13) to give the buyer the key to the room that holds the chametz. The Taz (OC 448:4) rules that if the non-Jewish buyer lacks independent access to the room and certainly if the seller has kept the key to a locked room with the chametz within, the sale is invalid. This is likely because of concern about ha’arama (see Noda B’yehuda I, OC 18), but there are other explanations for some poskim’s requirement of giving the key to the buyer: It might be a requirement of the kinyan process or it may remove financial responsibility for the chametz from the seller to avoid bal yeiraeh (prohibition on possession of the chametz he is essentially guarding in his home – see Shevet Halevi VII:55).
The consensus among contemporary poskim is to not require giving the key. The Noda B’yehuda (ibid.) posited that the Taz’s concern that ha’arama could disqualify the sale was overblown because proper actions and words of sale are not undone by unspoken questionable intentions.
Furthermore, many say that giving over of a key is less important than it once was. The Biur Halacha (to OC 448:3) says that when a significant amount of chametz is sold and the non-Jew has not yet paid for it, the seller can monitor what is being taken and therefore need not provide free access. Several poskim (including B’tzel Hachochma VI:34) quote the Maharash Engel as saying that when the sale is done through an agent (e.g., the rabbi), not giving the key is not problematic. The Aruch Hashulchan (OC 448:23) and Divrei Malkiel (IV:22) argue that now that one non-Jew buys a whole community’s chametz, it is no longer feasible to give him everyone’s key. Therefore, not doing so is not a sign of ha’arama.
However, most of the poskim who do not require giving a key, do require close to instant access to the chametz. Some of them mention allowing the non-Jew to enter the house without permission. Some mention letting the buyer know where he can get to the keys promptly.There is no requirement regarding a standard, financially based sale in which the object remains for a while at the seller’s place, that the buyer must have instant access. If one buys a car from a dealer, must he make the car available 24/7?! As long as the seller does nothing artificial to delay the process there is no legal problem. So too, presumably if there were a legitimate reason that the seller could not leave access to the chametz, the sale would still be halachically effective. Apparently, the sensitivity which caused the requirement of quick access that we find in most contemporary sales forms stems from the general concern that the whole sale is suspect to claims of ha’arama. Let us review – one person buys a huge amount of random chametz, which remains in the buyers’ homes, and the sale will be reversed right after Pesach. So it is logical that if classical poskim required giving the key, that nowadays we should at least give him the ability to get to the key promptly; this easy step gives the sale a more practical feel. Therefore, we should keep the minhag to write a contact person even if it is not fundamentally required.
Siyum for Taanit Bechorot Via Live StreamingOn Erev Pesach, I will be in a small Jewish community that will not have a siyum. Is it permitted for me – a bechor – to break the ta’anit bechorot based on a siyum in which I “participate” via Skype?
In the context of the halacha not to fast throughout the month of Nisan, Massechet Sofrim states that an exception is that bechorot fast on Erev Pesach. The Tur and Shulchan Aruch cite this practice as normative, and the Tur explains that it is in commemoration of the miracle that the Jewish firstborns were saved in Egypt.
The idea that one may eat at a seudat mitzva and thereby cancel the fast is debated among the Acharonim. The Magen Avraham does not allow firstborns to eat even at a brit mila on Erev Pesach. The Mishna Berura reports, however, that the minhag in his time was to allow eating at seudot mitzva, including the meal at a siyum. The idea that a siyum meal can serve this role as a seudat mitzva is found in the Rama regarding the permissibility of eating meat and drinking wine at a seudat mitzva during the Nine Days.
In these contexts, there is room to distinguish between those people who are the main individuals involved in the seudat mitzva, for whom the day is like a Yom Tov, and the other participants. For example, one who is a sandek on the day of his parent’s yahrtzeit may eat on that day, even if he ordinarily follows the minhag of fasting on that day, whereas a simple participant in the brit may not. Similarly, even those who do not allow firstborns to eat at another’s seudat mitzva are lenient regarding a firstborn who serves as the mohel or sandek, as well as the father of the circumcised baby. In any event, the minhag is to allow all participants at a siyum to eat at the siyum’s meal, and as a result, to continue eating the rest of Erev Pesach.
The simple logic for this leniency is that each individual’s participation makes the celebration more special, thus heightening the ba’al simcha’s event. Therefore, participation in the ba’al simcha’s meal is what is crucial regarding our discussion. Indeed, some allow even a firstborn who missed the siyum itself to take part in the seudat mitzva. Following the logic that it is the enhancement of the ba’al simcha’s event that matters, the Minchat Yitzchak says that even the Chavot Yair, who rules that a meal held the day after the siyum was made is still considered a seudat mitzva, is discussing only a seuda in which the one who made the siyum participates.
The gemara relates that Abaye was especially emotionally involved in the Torah successes of others, to the extent that he would make a party for the rabbis when a young scholar finished a massechet. Some understand that the halachic status of such a party extends even to one who is not present at all at the celebration of the one who finished the Torah section; the vicarious joy of all those who are happy about the siyum is equivalent to their participation in the seudat mitzva. The Minchat Yitzchak writes that according to this approach (which he discourages relying upon but considers legitimate), one can be considered a “participant” in the seudat mitzva even if he does not actually eat together with the main party.
In most cases, it would not seem logical to consider one who “takes part” in a seudat mitzva via Skype as being a halachic participant, certainly in regards to increasing the simcha of the one who made the siyum. However, according to the approach that anyone connected to the siyum is entitled to celebrate his happiness due to the occasion, it is at least somewhat plausible to say that witnessing the event via Skype is sufficiently significant.
A number of authorities take a surprisingly lenient approach about siyum standards for ta’anit bechorot, relying heavily on the following two factors: 1) The fast is only a minhag. 2) For many people, fasting would have a significantly negative impact on the Seder. While not actually cancelling the minhag, some seem to lower the bar of who is included in the siyum, such that they enable almost anyone to eat. If one feels a need to be lenient, Skype participation can indeed be contemplated. If so, it is best to watch the siyum and celebrate it as a group, and/or to witness a siyum that brings one true simcha (e.g., based on one's connection to the person or to the level of accomplishment).
We now apply our past response to those under Coronavirus quarantine or limitation on gatherings if the present situation (as of the time of this writing) persists. There are important factors that indicate that it is fully permissible, even as a single participant, to eat based on remote participation in a siyum via live streaming. In the area of need, many people will be unable to take part in a siyum in person, which creates a she’at hadechak, as above. This is combined with the fact that doctors have raised reservations about the advisability of fasting during the time of a serious infectious outbreak.
On a more positive note, such remote participation in a siyum has much more power than usual. While normally, such participation is abnormal, which detracts from its efficacy, this is presently the “new (temporary) normal.” Furthermore, the one who makes the siyum will be fully aware of his remote participants, and he will be honored and touched to share his personal simcha with many others, instead of being limited to a small group where he is. The remote participants will also feel part of the simcha, as the light of Torah, which unites us at happy times, like the recent siyum hashas, unites us as well in difficult times.
Undoubtedly then, taking part in such a siyum at this time is absolutely fine. In contrast, if one would have to break or even bend the instructions or advice of medical authorities and/or one’s rabbi, chas v’shalom, to take part in a siyum in person, that is unacceptable.
 Orach Chayim 470.
 Orach Chayim 470:1.
 Ad loc. in the introduction to the siman.
 Ad loc. 10.
 Orach Chayim 551:10.
 Mishna Berura 568:46.
 Ibid. 470:10.
 The person to whom the happy event is directly related.
 See Teshuvot V’Hanhagot II:210.
 Shut Chavot Yair 70.
 Shabbat 118b-119a.
 See Az Nidberu XII:58.
 Including Az Nidberu and Teshuvot V’Hanhagot op. cit.; Yabia Omer, I, Orach Chayim 26, is quite stringent.
Top of page
Send to friend