A Question of Jewish Law

March 11, 2012

A Sabbath Blessing

Filed under: Festivals,Prayers and Blessings,Shabbat — chaimweiner @ 6:26 pm

Question: Should the Priestly Blessing (Birkat Kohanim) be recited on a festival that falls on Shabbat?

Answer:  The obligation to recite the Priestly Blessing is found in the Torah. “Speak to the sons of Aaron: Thus shall you bless the people of Israel. Say to them …” [Num. 6:22-23]. Of all of the positive commandments directed at the priests, it is the only one that is not dependent on the existence of the Temple – and therefore the only one that is still practised today.

According to the Shulchan Aruch, [OC 128] the Priestly Blessing is recited daily during the repetition of the Amidah in the morning service – corresponding to the time it was recited in the Temple. It is also said during the Musaf prayers on the Sabbath and Festivals.

However, amongst the Ashkenzi communities in the Diaspora, it is a long established custom to limit this observance exclusively to the Musaf prayers of the festivals. Rabbi Moshe Isserlis [Poland, 16th century], the major codifier of Ashkenazi practice, writes:   “It is the custom in these countries to only recite the Priestly Blessing on festivals, for that is when one is immersed in the joy of the festival. … and they recite it in the Musaf prayer, before they leave the synagogue engrossed in the joy of the festival.”

Isserlis connects the Priestly Blessing to the concept of joy. There is a special joy on festivals which is different from weekdays and Shabbat. In the Shabbat Amidah, Shabbat is described as a time of love – in the equivalent Amidah for the festivals they are described as a time of joy. The Birkat Kohanim is recited at the end of Musaf, because the joy of Yom Tov is greatest at the end of the service – when one is about to go home to partake in the festive meal.

There are other explanations for the Ashkenazi custom. Some commentators connect the recitation of the Priestly Blessing to the service of the Priests in the Temple. Although the Priests no longer serve in the Temple – the closest we come to Temple service are the Musaf prayers which recount the offerings on the altar, so this is the most appropriate time for reciting the blessing.

Rabbi Yechiel Michel Epstein [Aruch Hashulchan, 128] [Lithuania, 19th century] rejected this custom. He writes: In our countries we do not recite the Birkat Hakohanim [daily] but there is no good reason for this. He goes on to say that ‘it is a bad custom’. מנהג גרוע הוא There is anecdotal evidence that Rabbi Elijah of Vilna [the Vilna Gaon] wished to reintroduce the daily recitation of the Priestly Blessing – but was prevented from doing so.

Although the custom in the Diaspora is to only recite the blessing on festivals, the custom in Israel is to recite it daily. The reason is probably historical. Amongst the earliest settlers in Israel in the modern period were the students of the Vilna Gaon. They probably brought the Gaon’s practice with them when they came to Israel, and it has remained the custom there to this day.

Many communities refrain from reciting the blessing when a Yom Tov falls on the Sabbath. Rabbi J. Soloveichik challenged the custom. It is reported that when he was a young Rabbi, he sought to introduce it in his synagogue and was subsequently dismissed from his pulpit. [Nefesh Harav]

In summary, although the Ashkenazi custom is to limit the recitation of the Priestly Blessing in the diaspora to Yom Tov, there is no good reason not to recite it when a festival lands on Shabbat. If an Ashkenazi community wishes to reintroduce it, there is nothing to prevent them from doing so.

Rabbi Chaim Weiner

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February 6, 2012

Standing or Sitting

Filed under: Prayers and Blessings — chaimweiner @ 4:04 pm
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Question: How should one recite the Amidah on an airplane, train or in other circumstances where it is difficult to stand?

Answer: The Amidah is one of the central parts of our daily prayer. In the Mishnah it is known as the tefillah – literally the prayer, because it is the prayer par excellence. It is also known as the Amidah which means standing. This is because we stand when reciting it. When we recite the Amidah we feel that we are standing in the presence of God. The Shulchan Aruch states: A person should stand with his legs together as if they were one, to appear like the angels … a person should bow his head and look towards the floor … like a servant in the presence of his master, in a spirit of fear, awe and trepidation … [Shulchan Aruch, OC 95].

It is also important to concentrate during the Amidah and to focus on the words being said. One does not stand to pray except with serious concentration. The pious ones of old used to wait an hour and then pray, in order to direct their hearts to the Eternal One. Even if the king asks about one’s welfare, one does not reply. Even if a snake is curled around one’s ankle, one does not interrupt. [Mishnah Brachot 5:1].

There are times when these two requirements – the fear of God and total concentration – conflict with each other. Praying while travelling is such a situation. The problem of finding an appropriate place to stand and pray while travelling is already reflected in the Mishnah. It rules that if a person was riding a donkey at the time of prayer he should get down from the donkey.  [Mishnah Brachot 4:6] It also rules that persons on a boat, a wagon or raft should stay in their seats and direct their hearts towards the Holy of Holies.  It is simply impossible to stand and concentrate in these situations.

The Talmud [BT Brachot, 30a] further qualifies the obligation to get down from the donkey for prayer. Rabbi Judah the Prince, the editor of the Mishnah, rules that even if a person is in a position that he could get down from his donkey to pray he is not required to do so. The reason is that in any case he will not be able to concentrate on his prayer – and it is therefore better for him to sit. [Maimonides, – Commentary on the Mishnah) We are also told that Rav Ashi [according to tradition, one of the editors of the Talmud] used to pray while sitting down during his lectures at the Kallah convention in Babylon. According to Rashi he did this because it would cause too much commotion if he left the lecture room to go outside and pray. Later, he would repeat the prayer standing up once the lecture was finished.

Based on this, most authorities rule that concentration takes priority over posture, and if one is not able to stand and pray with concentration, it is better to say the Amidah while sitting. Some authorities rule that one should repeat the Amidah standing when it is possible. Joseph Karo rules that there is no need to do so – since there is no guarantee that one will have greater concentration second time around. [Beit Yoseph, OC 94]

Therefore, one should avoid praying in an airplane wherever possible. On a short journey one should pray either before or after the flight, which is usually possible. Otherwise, it is preferable to recite the prayer undisturbed while sitting in one’s seat. A person should only pray standing in the aisle if he is certain that this will not block the way and that he will not be disturbed during the prayers.


Rabbi Chaim Weiner

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January 17, 2012

Glass Dishes

Filed under: Kashrut — chaimweiner @ 11:42 pm

Question: Can the same set of glass dishes be used for both meat and milk foods?

Answer: The prohibition of mixing meat and milk is based on a verse from the Torah: You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk. [Ex 23:19; Lev. 34:26; Deut. 14:21] This verse is repeated three times – from which the Rabbis derived that there are three different prohibitions against mixing meat and milk: it is forbidden to eat meat and milk together; it is forbidden to cook meat and milk together even if you don’t eat it; and it is forbidden to profit from cooking meat and milk together, even if you are not the one doing the cooking or consuming the meal. This is one of the strictest prohibitions in the Torah.

The Rabbis understood that cooking utensils absorb the flavour of the food that is cooked in them. The reason for maintaining separate dishes and utensils for meat and for milk is to prevent any possible mixing of the flavours of meat and milk. If the same utensil was used for both meat and milk, it would inevitably lead to a transgression.

The Rabbis also understood that materials absorb and release flavours differently. This idea is deduced from a passage in the Torah: when the Israelites captured the Land of Midyan, they were commanded to purify the utensils they had taken. Moses commands the Children of Israel: Any article that can withstand fire – these you shall pass through fire and they shall be clean … and anything that cannot withstand fire you must pass through water. [Num 31:23] Based on this statement, intricate procedures were formulated to ‘kosher’ dishes that have become forbidden.

The status of glass is unique. Avot D’ Rabbi Natan, an early Tana’itic source, states that a glass vessel doesn’t absorb and doesn’t release. [Version A, Chapter 41] The majority of the Poskim consider glass to be completely non-absorbent. If we follow this reasoning, a glass dish can be used for both milk and meat because no flavour can be transferred. It is sufficient to give it a good wash between uses. This is the opinion of Joseph Karo in the Shulchan Aruch [OC 451:26], and is the standard practice of Sefardi Jews.

However, Moses Isserlis, [Poland, 16th century] when recording the Ashkenazi custom wrote: there are those who say that glass cannot even be [koshered by] immersion in boiling water, and this is the custom in Ashkenaz and in these lands. The Ashkenazi custom equates glass to earthenware, because glass is made from sand. Earthenware can never be koshered because it is fragile and would break if placed in boiling water. This is also a verse in the Torah the specifically says earthenware can’t be koshered. An earthen vessel in which it was boiled shall be broken … [Lev 6:21]. Therefore, Ashkenazi communities do not Kosher glass, and insist on separate dishes for meat and milk.

Finally, there is an Aggadic Source [Yalkut Shimoni, Esther 3] which mentions washing a vessel three times as the appropriate way to Kosher glass. Therefore, some authorities allow glass to be koshered if it is left to soak for three days, and washed each day.

When there are multiple established customs we follow the principle of Nahara Nahara u’Pashtei – literally, ‘each river flows down its own course’. Therefore, we do not affirm either practice, and the members of each community should follow their communal custom. On a practical note, when catering for a mixed public from different communities, one should have separate dishes for meat and milk. However, if glass dishes are inadvertently confused, one can take a lenient view when koshering them for reuse.

Rabbi Chaim Weiner

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July 25, 2011

Bull Fights …

Filed under: miscellaneous — chaimweiner @ 11:22 pm

Question: Is it permitted to watch a bullfight?

Answer: There is no doubt that bullfighting is against the spirit of the Torah and basic Jewish values. The obligation to prevent the suffering of animals, known as tzar ba’alei hayyim, has its roots in the book of Exodus. It is derived from the commandment to unload our fellow’s animal if it was buckling under the weight of its load [Ex. 23:4]. The Talmud in tractate Shabbat [128b] discusses the case of an animal that fell into a pit on Shabbat.  It rules that one is allowed to transgress a rabbinic prohibition and fill the pit with pillows and cushions to enable the animal to crawl out. The reason given is that rabbinic prohibitions are overridden by the scriptural obligation to prevent an animal’s suffering.

It is interesting to note that the steps one takes to prevent an animal’s suffering are apparently greater than what is done in the case of other commandments. For example, circumcising a child on the eighth day is also a scriptural commandment. However, one is not allowed to transgress a rabbinic prohibition in order to fulfil this obligation. Thus, a Brit is delayed if it would involve carrying a knife through a public area on Shabbat, even though carrying is only a rabbinic prohibition. Given this concern for animal welfare, a bullfight, where the bull is intentionally ill-treated to make it go wild, would be strictly forbidden.

Furthermore, many poskim rule that it is forbidden to kill an animal except in the context of Shechita. In Jewish law, even putting down a wild animal that constitutes a public danger requires a court order. The Noda B’yehudah [Rabbi Yechezkel Landau, Prague, 18th Century] forbids hunting because of the likelihood of causing animal suffering. [Part 2, YD 10]

Not only is it forbidden to engage in bullfighting, but even watching a bullfight is forbidden. The Psalmist wrote: Happy is the man who has not walked in the counsel of the wicked and has not stood in the path of the sinners. [Ps. 1:1] Rabbi Shimon ben Pazi comments on this verse: The counsel of the wicked – this refers to the theatres and circuses of the nations. The path of the sinners – this refers to Kanigyon.  [BT AZ 18b] Rashi explains that Kanigyon is hunting for animals with dogs, where the sole purpose is entertainment and enjoyment. The Talmud also states: One who goes to the stadium, or the Karkom, and saw there the snakes and the charmers – this is the place of the scoffers. In this case Rashi explains that the stadium is a place where they hold bullfights.

There are some activities that are more than forbidden. In the case of bull-fights, the prohibition extends even to being a passive observer. Enjoying the suffering of animals is in itself morally wrong. A person must distance himself from it in every way.

Rabbi Chaim Weiner

Based on Ovadiah Yosef, Yachve Da’at 3:61

 

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April 12, 2011

A Searching Question …

Filed under: Festivals — chaimweiner @ 4:19 pm

Question: There is a widely observed custom to hide pieces of bread around the house on the eve of Passover, before searching for the hametz. What is the source of this custom? Is it a proper custom?

Answer: Searching for hametz on the eve of Passover is one of the legal requirements of the festival. The Mishnah at the beginning of tractate Pesachim states: On the evening of the fourteenth [of Nisan] a search is made for leaven by the light of a candle… [Mishnah, Pesachim 1:1] Originally, this search, in which all the hametz was removed from the house and burnt, was the way the house was prepared for Passover. No other cleaning was required.  In time, houses became bigger, cleaning became more sophisticated and the lengthy cleaning process before Passover that we have today became the norm. The result was that by the time we come to search for the hametz on the 14 th of Nisan, the house is already clean and there is (hopefully) no longer any hametz to be found.

This new situation gave rise to an interesting halachic problem: – Can one say a blessing for removing hametz when there is no hametz to remove? There were those who maintained that as there was no longer any hametz in the home, it was no longer possible to say the blessing. In order to remove any doubt as to the validity of the blessing, they instituted the custom of hiding some hametz to be ‘found’ during the search. Opposing them were those who said that the essence of the ‘removing of the hametz’ was the actual search. It didn’t make any difference whether there was any hametz to be found or not. They strongly opposed the idea of scattering new hametz, which they felt was based on a misunderstanding of what the blessing was about. The Rabad of Posquières [Provence, 12 th Century] wrote, “[Concerning] those who put hametz in the cracks and grooves at the time of searching for the hametz, [this] is the custom of women and has no root.”

Further arguments were brought both for and against scattering hametz before the search. The Pri Etz Hayyim 21:5: Chaim Vittal, [Safed, 16 th century] writes in the name of  Isaac Luria, one of the fathers of the Kabbalah, that the custom has its roots in ancient Jewish mysticism. He also says that there is mystical significance in hiding 10 pieces of bread, a custom followed by many today.

On the other hand, R. Moshe HaCohen [Brit Kehuna 2:15b, Djerba, 20 th Century] writes that this custom undermines the original intention of the Mishnah. The fact that people ‘hide’ bread before searching for the hametz results in people searching only for the bread they have hidden rather than properly checking the house for hametz that has been missed. This does not count as a search at all!

Moses Isserlis [Poland, 16 th century] records the custom in his commentary on the Shulhan Aruch which is authoritative for Ashkenazi communities. Sefardi communities have adopted it because it is a Kabbalistic practice. Although there have been some Poskim who have challenged the custom, there is also the fear that should the custom of hiding bread be abolished, people might neglect the actual search which is a legal obligation,[Rabbi Matzliach Mazuz, the Ish Matzliach, Tunisia, 20 th century]. Therefore, the custom should be maintained and accepted practice as it is in all of Israel.

Rabbi Chaim Weiner

Based on Ovadiah Yosef, Yachve Da’at 5:31

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March 14, 2011

Be Betrothed Unto Me …

Filed under: Marriage and Divorce — chaimweiner @ 4:42 pm

Question: A traditional Ketubah indicates the status of the bride – who is described either as a virgin, divorcee, convert or widow. What is the proper way to write the Ketubah of a couple who have lived together before their marriage? What is the proper wording of a Ketubah for a woman who had been previously married to a non-Jew, and is now entering her first Jewish marriage?

Answer: The traditional Ketubah went through many changes before it reached its present form. The Talmud [BT: Ketubot 82b] states:  At first they used to give merely a written undertaking in respect of the kethubah … and consequently they grew old and could not take any wives. It was then ordained … however, when the husband was angry with her he used to tell her, ‘Go to your kethubah’. It was ordained …  Still, whenever the husband had occasion to be angry with his wife he would say to her, ‘Take your kethubah and go’. It was then that Simeon b. Shetah ordained that the husband must insert the pledging clause, ‘All my property is mortgaged to your kethubah’.

The traditional Ketubah states a sum of money the groom is obliged to pay his wife in the case of divorce. This was to guarantee that the wife did not leave the marriage empty-handed. As a young maiden had better prospects of marriage than other women, the prospective husband had to guarantee her higher compensation in the event of divorce. The traditional sum is 200 zuz in the case of a virgin and 100 zuz for any other bride. This is known as the basic Ketubah.

R. Moshe Isserlis [Poland, 16th Century] rules that the Ketubah must also state whether the bride was a divorcee so that it would be known that she was not permitted to marry a Kohen. Other poskim, for similar reasons, have added that the Ketubah should state whether the bride is a widow or convert.. In historical Ketubot there are several other categories that have been used.

The case of a non-virgin bride appears in traditional sources. Maimonides rules that the husband ‘writes her Ketubah like all other young maidens.’ [MT  Na’ara Betulah 1:3] The widespread practice of couples openly living together was unknown in the pre-modern world.  Basing himself on Maimonides, R DZ Hoffman  [Germany, 19th Century] rules that one should not change the traditional wording of the Ketubah, so as not to cause embarrassment. [Melamed Leho’il, EH:23]  It follows that the term virgin in a modern Ketubah simply means ‘previously unmarried’. Thus, in all cases where the bride has not been married before, the term ‘Betulta’ (virgin) is used.

However, where the wife is known in public as a married woman, referring to her as a virgin is inappropriate. In this case, the generic term ittata – literally ‘woman’  – is used. This is what is done in the case of a woman who has children or is a divorcee from a previous civil marriage.

Regarding the sum of the Ketubah, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein  [USA, 20th Century] rules that whenever the term Betulta is used, the sum should be 200 zuz [Igrot Moshe EH Part 1, 101]. There is nothing that prevents the husband  increasing the sum specified in the Ketubah to beyond that demanded by the strict letter of the law, and therefore the Ketubah for a first marriage should be 200 zuz, regardless of whether this is strictly required by law.

Rabbi Chaim Weiner

Based on DZ Hoffman, Melamed Leho’il, EH 23

 

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March 1, 2011

Public Transport on Shabbat

Filed under: Shabbat — chaimweiner @ 10:25 pm

Question: Is it permitted to ride on public transport on Shabbat, assuming that the transport workers are not Jewish and the trains are operating for the general public and not specifically for Jews?

Answer: The Mishnah rules that it is forbidden to ride on an animal on Shabbat. This is a rabbinic prohibition designed to prevent  a person inadvertently cutting a branch from a tree in order to drive the animal forward. Furthermore, the Jerusalem Talmud states that the reason for not riding on animals on Shabbat is to enable animals to rest also. The Shulchan Aruch [OH 305:18] codifies this as law. Moses Isserlis [Poland, 17th century] adds that it is also forbidden to ride in a wagon on Shabbat, even if the driver is not Jewish. He says that the same considerations apply – i.e. that a person might cut a branch from a tree and  that animals are also entitled to rest on Shabbat.

If the prohibition of riding in a wagon is specifically related to animals resting, it should be permitted to ride on public transport which is driven by electric or petrol motors. This is providing that the trains are not being operated by Jews and there are not any further Shabbat prohibitions related to this travel.

However, there are several other issues that should be taken into consideration. First, as we saw in my article on Cycling on Shabbat, there is a general prohibition of engaging in ‘Weekday activities’ on Shabbat, known as Uvdin D’Hol. The Hatam Sofer  [Hungary, 18th century] rules that all forms of public transport are forbidden on Shabbat [Responsa: 6:93]. This is because the experience of being in a crowded car being tossed back and forth by the movement of the train is not in the spirit of Shabbat. Rabbi BZ Uziel [Israel, 20th century] rejects this ruling, for if this was the case, the Rema (Moses Isserlis) would have included this amongst his reasons prohibiting riding in a wagon.

However, Rabbi Uziel adds that the prohibition of Uvdin D’Hol would apply if one was going on a long journey, particularly if this journey was in preparation for business the following day. Also, it is forbidden to pay for travel, to carry outside of an Eruv or to travel beyond the Shabbat boundaries (see my article on cycling on Shabbat).

Following this reasoning, it would be permitted to travel on public transport on Shabbat for short trips within a city if the journey does not involve carrying, paying for travel or going outside the city limits. This is on condition that the transport is running anyway, and does not involve Jews desecrating the Sabbath.

 

Rabbi Chaim Weiner

 

Based on B. Z. Uziel, Piskei Uziel 13.

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February 16, 2011

A Weekend Service

Filed under: Shabbat — chaimweiner @ 11:29 pm

Question: Is it permitted to put a car in for servicing, or request any other service or repair, on a Friday afternoon, if it is known that a non-Jewish mechanic or craftsman will do the work on it on Shabbat?

Answer: The commandment to rest on Shabbat is one of the central commandments of the Torah. Not only is it forbidden to work – it is also forbidden to ask someone else, even a non-Jew, to do your work for you. The source of this prohibition is in the Talmud [Shabbat 150a] A person should not say to a Goy – go and hire me workers on Shabbat. This prohibition is called Amira LeGoy (instructing a non-Jew). Maimonides rules [Shabbat 6:1]: It is forbidden to instruct a Goy to do work on Shabbat, even though the Goy is not obligated to observe the Shabbat, even if he gives him the instruction before Shabbat commences, and even if he will only benefit from that labour after Shabbat is over. This is a Rabbinic prohibition, and its intention is to prevent a person from vicariously carrying out their normal work on Shabbat.

All of this applies to circumstances where one has specifically asked for the work to be carried out on Shabbat. But if one did not specify when the work is to be carried out, it is permitted to hand over the work on a Friday. This is the case even if the craftsman chose to carry out the work on Shabbat, for it was his own choice to work on Shabbat  and a non-Jew is under no obligation to observe the Sabbath.

The Shulchan Aruch [OH 252:2,4] states: It is permitted to give his clothes to the laundry before Shabbat, or skins to a non-Jewish tanner if he set a fixed fee in advance and he did not specifically ask that the work be done on Shabbat.  It is even permitted to wear the clothes on Shabbat itself, for anyone who works for a fixed fee chooses himself when to do the work. Moses Isserlis notes that one should not wear the clothes on that same Shabbat. In the case of a car repair all agree that it is permitted, for the mechanic could have chosen to repair the car on Friday afternoon or Saturday night or Sunday – and therefore it makes no difference to us if the mechanic chose to do the work on Shabbat.

The situation is more complicated if there is not sufficient time to do the work unless it is done on Shabbat. The Magen Avraham [OH 307:3] writes that if there was a Saturday market, it is forbidden to give a non-Jew money before Shabbat and ask him to buy things in the market. Since the market is only open on Shabbat, this is as if he had been instructed to make the purchases on Shabbat. Even if he had not specifically been asked to do the work on Shabbat, the non-Jew has no choice but to do it then, and it counts as if he had been asked to do so. However, Joseph Karo in the Shulchan Aruch does not adopt this ruling. He maintains that as long as there was not a specific instruction to do the work on Shabbat, any work carried out by non-Jews is permitted.

In this case the custom of Ashkenazi Jews is to follow the Magen Avraham and therefore only give work to a non-Jew before Shabbat if there is sufficient time for it to be done without working on Shabbat. Sephardi Jews follow the rulings of Joseph Karo, and therefore permit any work to be given to a non-Jew before Shabbat, as long as there was not a specific request to do the work on Shabbat itself.

Rabbi Chaim Weiner

Based on R. Ovadia Yossef, Yachve Da’at,  3, 17.

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Question: Is it permitted to put a car in for servicing, or request any other service or repair, on a Friday afternoon, if it is known that a non-Jewish mechanic or craftsman will do the work on it on Shabbat?

 

Answer: The commandment to rest on Shabbat is one of the central commandments of the Torah. Not only is it forbidden to work – it is also forbidden to ask someone else, even a non-Jew, to do your work for you. The source of this prohibition is in the Talmud [Shabbat 150a] A person should not say to a Goy – go and hire me workers on Shabbat. This prohibition is called Amira LeGoy (instructing a non-Jew). Maimonides rules [Shabbat 6:1]: It is forbidden to instruct a Goy to do work on Shabbat, even though the Goy is not obligated to observe the Shabbat, even if he gives him the instruction before Shabbat commences, and even if he will only benefit from that labour after Shabbat is over. This is a Rabbinic prohibition, and its intention is to prevent a person from vicariously carrying out their normal work on Shabbat.

 

All of this applies to circumstances where one has specifically asked for the work to be carried out on Shabbat. But if one did not specify when the work is to be carried out, it is permitted to hand over the work on a Friday. This is the case even if the craftsman chose to carry out the work on Shabbat, for it was his own choice to work on Shabbat  and a non-Jew is under no obligation to observe the Sabbath.

 

The Shulchan Aruch [OH 252:2,4] states: It is permitted to give his clothes to the laundry before Shabbat, or skins to a non-Jewish tanner if he set a fixed fee in advance and he did not specifically ask that the work be done on Shabbat.  It is even permitted to wear the clothes on Shabbat itself, for anyone who works for a fixed fee chooses himself when to do the work. Moses Isserlis notes that one should not wear the clothes on that same Shabbat. In the case of a car repair all agree that it is permitted, for the mechanic could have chosen to repair the car on Friday afternoon or Saturday night or Sunday – and therefore it makes no difference to us if the mechanic chose to do the work on Shabbat.

 

The situation is more complicated if there is not sufficient time to do the work unless it is done on Shabbat. The Magen Avraham [OH 307:3] writes that if there was a Saturday market, it is forbidden to give a non-Jew money before Shabbat and ask him to buy things in the market. Since the market is only open on Shabbat, this is as if he had been instructed to make the purchases on Shabbat. Even if he had not specifically been asked to do the work on Shabbat, the non-Jew has no choice but to do it then, and it counts as if he had been asked to do so. However, Joseph Karo in the Shulchan Aruch does not adopt this ruling. He maintains that as long as there was not a specific instruction to do the work on Shabbat, any work carried out by non-Jews is permitted.

 

Question: Is it permitted to put a car in for servicing, or request any other service or repair, on a Friday afternoon, if it is known that a non-Jewish mechanic or craftsman will do the work on it on Shabbat?

Answer: The commandment to rest on Shabbat is one of the central commandments of the Torah. Not only is it forbidden to work – it is also forbidden to ask someone else, even a non-Jew, to do your work for you. The source of this prohibition is in the Talmud [Shabbat 150a] A person should not say to a Goy – go and hire me workers on Shabbat. This prohibition is called Amira LeGoy (instructing a non-Jew). Maimonides rules [Shabbat 6:1]: It is forbidden to instruct a Goy to do work on Shabbat, even though the Goy is not obligated to observe the Shabbat, even if he gives him the instruction before Shabbat commences, and even if he will only benefit from that labour after Shabbat is over. This is a Rabbinic prohibition, and its intention is to prevent a person from vicariously carrying out their normal work on Shabbat.

All of this applies to circumstances where one has specifically asked for the work to be carried out on Shabbat. But if one did not specify when the work is to be carried out, it is permitted to hand over the work on a Friday. This is the case even if the craftsman chose to carry out the work on Shabbat, for it was his own choice to work on Shabbat  and a non-Jew is under no obligation to observe the Sabbath.

The Shulchan Aruch [OH 252:2,4] states: It is permitted to give his clothes to the laundry before Shabbat, or skins to a non-Jewish tanner if he set a fixed fee in advance and he did not specifically ask that the work be done on Shabbat.  It is even permitted to wear the clothes on Shabbat itself, for anyone who works for a fixed fee chooses himself when to do the work. Moses Isserlis notes that one should not wear the clothes on that same Shabbat. In the case of a car repair all agree that it is permitted, for the mechanic could have chosen to repair the car on Friday afternoon or Saturday night or Sunday – and therefore it makes no difference to us if the mechanic chose to do the work on Shabbat.

The situation is more complicated if there is not sufficient time to do the work unless it is done on Shabbat. The Magen Avraham [OH 307:3] writes that if there was a Saturday market, it is forbidden to give a non-Jew money before Shabbat and ask him to buy things in the market. Since the market is only open on Shabbat, this is as if he had been instructed to make the purchases on Shabbat. Even if he had not specifically been asked to do the work on Shabbat, the non-Jew has no choice but to do it then, and it counts as if he had been asked to do so. However, Joseph Karo in the Shulchan Aruch does not adopt this ruling. He maintains that as long as there was not a specific instruction to do the work on Shabbat, any work carried out by non-Jews is permitted.

In this case the custom of Ashkenazi Jews is to follow the Magen Avraham and therefore only give work to a non-Jew before Shabbat if there is sufficient time for it to be done without working on Shabbat. Sephardi Jews follow the rulings of Joseph Karo, and therefore permit any work to be given to a non-Jew before Shabbat, as long as there was not a specific request to do the work on Shabbat itself.

Rabbi Chaim Weiner

In this case the custom of Ashkenazi Jews is to follow the Magen Avraham and therefore only give work to a non-Jew before Shabbat if there is sufficient time for it to be done without working on Shabbat. Sephardi Jews follow the rulings of Joseph Karo, and therefore permit any work to be given to a non-Jew before Shabbat, as long as there was not a specific request to do the work on Shabbat itself.

 

Rabbi Chaim Weiner

February 2, 2011

To Include Or Exclude?

Filed under: Life Cycle — chaimweiner @ 4:01 pm

Question: Can a child who has not been circumcised have a Bar Mitzvah?

Answer: There is no doubt that, according to Jewish law, status is automatically conferred from mother to child, and that a child is considered Jewish solely by virtue of his or her birth. A Brit does not make a child Jewish, and the lack of Brit Milah has no impact on a child’s status. Not fulfilling the Mitzvah of Brit is no different from not keeping kosher or not observing Shabbat. There is no inherent Halachic reason why an uncircumcised person should not be called to the Torah or be allowed a Bar Mitzvah or a Jewish wedding or any other Jewish activity. He is the same as anyone else who fails to keep aspects of Jewish law and who is not excluded from being called to the Torah.

However, based on their understanding of the circumstances, Rabbis do have the authority to introduce bans based on the Halachic concept of Lemigdar Milta – literally, ‘to erect a fence around the matter’. The Talmud [BT, Yevamot 90b] looks at the story of the prophet Elijah, who built an altar and offered sacrifices on Mount Carmel. This is strictly forbidden in Torah law, but the Talmud concludes that Elijah was allowed to do this in order to prevent the worshipping of idols in the community. This is proof that it is permitted to introduce practices to maintain and strengthen core principles of the Torah.

Following this principle a community may decide to regulate its practice – for example by limiting who can be called to the Torah or have access to other religious services, in order to defend the religious standards of the community. Historically, there have been many communities that have prevented uncircumcised men from reading from the Torah or getting married.  This was the practice of many Orthodox communities in Germany in the 19th century following the guidance of S. R. Hirsch and E. Hildisheimer. [See Rashan 67]

Although the Brit is a Mitzvah like all others, historically it has had a particular significance. From Hellenistic times there have been attempts to ban circumcision and Jews have given their lives to preserve their right to maintain the practice. Communities have understood that the neglect of  this Mitzvah has more serious implications for Jewish identity than the neglect of other Mitzvot. Consequently, the Brit is one of the most widely observed of Jewish practices.

Erecting a communal fence only makes sense if it is likely to achieve its purpose. Rabbis and community leaders need to judge whether introducing such a ban is worthwhile. To be effective, synagogues need to work together so that they do not undermine each other.

In an open society, where people have a choice of which community (if any) they choose to join, it is unlikely that coercive tactics will lead to an increase in observance. In most cases, communal bans only push people away from the Jewish community. Therefore, today most communities follow the basic letter of the law – and allow Bar Mitzvahs and weddings to all.

Rabbi Chaim Weiner

Based on R. DZ Hoffman, Melamed Leho’il, YD (Section 2) 79

December 8, 2010

Marriage by Default

Filed under: Marriage and Divorce — chaimweiner @ 2:30 pm

Question: A couple were married in a civil ceremony without a religious wedding. Do they require a GET if they divorce?

Answer: The Mishna [Kiddushin 1:1] states that A woman is acquired in marriage in three ways … by money, by deed, or by intercourse. There are three different ways that a marriage can be contracted in Jewish law. The traditional Jewish wedding has all three of these elements – a ring (money), a Ketuba (contract) and Yichud (time the couple is alone together). Any one of the three is enough to create a Jewish marriage. Therefore, whether there was a Jewish wedding or not, if a couple lives together with the intention of living as man and wife, this is a binding marriage in Jewish law and a GET is required.

This highlights a basic difference between the concept of marriage in Jewish law and civil law. In civil law, marriage is considered an act of the State. Therefore, for a marriage to be valid it needs to be registered with the authorities and it can be dissolved by a court of law. In Jewish law, marriage is a private agreement between two individuals. Therefore it can be contracted by mutual agreement, and can only be dissolved with the consent of both parties.

The complicated part is determining the intention of the couple. While it is likely that a couple choosing a civil marriage wish to be considered man and wife, it is also possible that the fact that they specifically chose not to have a religious wedding indicates that they did not intend to be married under Jewish law. Different halachic authorities have taken different approaches to this. R. Abraham Shag [19th century, Hungary] [Ohel Abvraham, 103] writes that we rely on a Talmudic principle that we always assume that a person had proper intentions when cohabiting. Therefore, lacking any other information, we assume that there was a valid marriage and a GET is required. On the other hand, R. Shlomo Schik [19th century, Hungary]  (Maharam Schik, EH 96) writes that even if in theory such a marriage may be valid, granting validity to such a marriage would undermine the institution of marriage in Jewish law. He therefore rules that such a marriage is automatically void and a GET is not required.

Therefore, there is a doubt as to whether or not a GET is required.  We apply the principle that ‘when there is a doubt about a Torah Law we follow the strict position’. Therefore a GET is required. However, since this was a case of doubt, after the fact – if the couple did not have a GET and subsequently remarried, the children of the second union would not be considered illegitimate and in this case no GET would subsequently be required.

Rabbi Chaim Weiner

Based on R. David Hoffmann Shut Melamed Lehoil. EH 20.

This study sheet is sponsored by Jewish Journeys Ltd: Currently booking trips to Tunisia (Tunis and the Magical Island of Djerba).

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