A Question of Jewish Law

April 28, 2016

As Sweet as Honey

Filed under: Festivals,Jewish Law,Kashrut — chaimweiner @ 9:11 am

Question: Do I need to buy special Kosher for Passover honey?

Answer: It is well known that the kosher requirements are Passover are very strict. Special supervision is required for most items that are to be consumed during the festival. However, honey is an example of an item which is pure, undergoes minimal processing and does not have any obviously non-Passover ingredients. So it is legitimate to ask whether special supervision is required.

This question is discussed in the Talmud.

Raba said: The law is: Leaven, in its time, whether [mixed] with its own kind or with a different kind, is forbidden even when there is only a minute quantity, in accordance with Rav; when not in its time, whether [mixed] with its own kind or with a different kind, it is permitted, in accordance with R. Simeon. [BT Pesachim 30a]

This statement establishes an important principle. During the week of Passover even the smallest amount of Hametz can render an entire dish unsuitable. Therefore, if there is any doubt regarding the standards of its preparation, it cannot be used during the festival. However, before the beginning of the festival, small amounts of hametz that may have inadvertently been mixed into a product are lost in the mixture. And as long as the vast majority of the mixture is suitable [less than 1 in 60], it can be regarded as kosher.

On the basis of this statement Rashi rules that salted meat and cheese that were prepared before the festival without supervision are permitted. The Tur and the Shulchan Aruch [Orech Hayyim 447] rule that certain items that were prepared before Passover without adequate supervision may be consumed during the festival. Joseph Caro, quoting earlier authorities, mentions fresh meat, cheese and honey as examples. This is the accepted halacha amongst the Sephardi rabbis.

However, Rabbi Moses Isserles [Poland, 16th cent.], adds that it is not ‘our’ custom [i.e. in Ashkenaz] to eat cheese, salted fish or salted meat that haven’t been specifically supervised for Passover. Presumably this is because the salt hasn’t been checked for possible hametz. But there are still some items that Ashkenazi authorities allow without supervision as long as they were bought before the festival. The most common of these is milk. Many Ashkenazi Jews buy the milk they need for the entire week before festival begins, relying on the fact that if anything unsuitable inadvertently mixed in the milk would become void.

The difference between ‘salted meat’ and ‘milk’ is that it is perhaps possible that salted meat and fish could inadvertently have hametz mixed in the salting mixture, whereas the presence of hametz in the production of milk is so uncommon that one does not even need to take this into account. We find this consideration amongst the authorities. R. Simeon ben Zemah Duran [ Tashbetz, Algeria 14-15th cent.] writes that it is permitted to use butter that was prepared by non-Jews without supervision as long as it was purchased before Passover because “… our eyes see that there is no mixture of hametz in it, and even if hametz was mixed in before Passover, it would be annulled by 1 in 60 like all other prohibitions”. And Rabeinu Asher [Germany and Spain, 13th and 14th cent.], a leading Ashkenazi authority, writes: “Concerning honey, I have not seen anyone who considers this forbidden during Passover because of the possibility that flour may inadvertently have been mixed in it, for this is a very uncommon occurrence, and if it happened it would have been annulled before the festival.” [Klal 24:4-5]

In our days, health-and-safety precautions that govern the production of food make the chance of a foreign object accidentally being introduced in the production of honey even more remote. For that reason, unsupervised honey should be permitted.

This raises the question of the suitability of many other non-supervised items. Modern production techniques mean that we can be more sure than ever about the hygienic conditions in which factory produced food is prepared. But, on the other hand, there are many additives and production aids that may be introduced to foods without our knowledge, and in many cases it is impossible to know everything that is in the food that we are eating.

For this reason, Ashkenazi Jews should follow the Ashkenazi custom of being strict in the production of Passover foods. We generally seek reliable Kosher supervision of Passover food. However, pure food items that undergo minimal processing can be consumed during Passover on condition that they have been bought before the beginning of the festival, so that anything that inadvertently mixed in them is nullified.

Rabbi Chaim Weiner

Nissan 5776

Based on Ovadia Yosef, Yechve Daat 1:11

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February 26, 2016

Once a Parent, Always a Parent

Filed under: Jewish Law,Prayers and Blessings — chaimweiner @ 2:42 pm

Question: Should a convert recite Kaddish after the death of their non-Jewish parent?

Answer: The custom to recite Kaddish as a memorial prayer is connected to a story about Rabbi Akiva found in various early sources. We are told that Rabbi Akiva happened upon a lost soul in a cemetery; a person toiling away at hard labour because when he came to the gates of heaven after his death he did not have sufficient merits to enter. Rabbi Akiva asked him what can be done to help? The man told him that if his son would recite Yehe Shme Rabba [the key words of the Kaddish]  in public, it would help redeem his soul and enable him to reach his final destination in peace. [Kallah Rabbati 2:9 and others]

There are many ways to understand the story, but the simple explanation is that when we stand before God on our final judgement day our achievements in life are taken into account. This includes not only the things we did in our lifetime, but also, if we raise children who go on to do good deeds, our children’s accomplishments, which stand to our credit. A child has the ability to tip the balance of life in their parents’ favour. Hence the custom for a child to recite Kaddish after the death of their parent for 11 months.

The legal status of convert is complicated. From a philosophical point of view, a convert’s parents aren’t Jewish and one could ask whether Jewish rituals would act in thier favour or not. From a legal point of view, when a person converts to Judaism it is as if they were born anew. Legally speaking, their parents are no longer their parents.

In spite of these problems, there are powerful reasons to think that a convert is allowed, and perhaps is also obliged, to recite Kaddish for their parent. Philosophically, it is hard to think what could be wrong with reciting a prayer on behalf of our non-Jewish person. There are plenty of precedents in the Bible for prayers being said on behalf of non-Jews. And even if from a legal point of view the connection between a child and their parent has been cut, it does not mean that that person isn’t a parent. It is clear that converts still own a huge debt of thanks to their parents who brought them into the world, nurtured them and took care of them throughout their lives. The way we express our thanks to our parents in the Jewish tradition is by reciting Kaddish. The convert, who is now a Jew, should be expected to show their love and concern for their parents through the practices of the Jewish tradition.

There is some discussion in the halachic sources about whether the needs of the convert should take precedence over the needs of a Jewish person in reciting Kaddish. These date to a time when the number of opportunities to recite Kaddish was limited as only one person recited the Kaddish on each occasion. In those circumstances, it is understandable that there was a debate over whose obligation was greater. But the universal custom today is for all the mourners to recite the Kaddish in unison. Although there is no legal obligation, any convert who wishes to recite Kaddish for their parent should be allowed, and indeed encouraged, to do so.

Based on Obadiah Yosef, Yachave Da’at

Rabbi Chaim Weiner

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January 28, 2016

30 – Father of Many Nations

Filed under: Conversion,Jewish Law,Life Cycle,Marriage and Divorce — chaimweiner @ 10:17 am

Question: What is the proper way to refer to a convert when called to the Torah?

Answer: The use of family names is a late phenomenon.  Since many people share the same name, to avoid confusion the custom is to refer to a person together with the name of their father.  This is the case when a person’s father is a Jew.  A person who converts to Judaism is seen as one who has been born again.  Therefore, we no longer link them back to their biological parents.

The earliest evidence we have for the naming of converts comes from headstones found in ancient cemeteries.  From these we know a large number of names dating from the Second Temple period, including several people who were referred to by the title ‘HaGer’, meaning ‘the convert’. This is also the case in early rabbinic literature. One of the early translations of the Bible to Greek was done by Akilas HaGerYehuda ben Gerim was a student of Rabbi Yohanan.  One of the leaders of the rebels in the Great War against Rome was Shimon Bar Giyora, which derives from the word HaGer.  Even if the use of ‘HaGer’ was not universal it was certainly not uncommon.

The use of the word HaGer continues into the Middle Ages.  However, starting from the 11th century we find converts being referred to as ‘Ben Avraham’ or ‘Ben Avraham Avinu’.  Two different explanations are given. Gershom ben Yakov HaGozer, a Mohel  [13th century, Germany] writes that when naming the child of a convert, the child should be referred to as ‘Ben Avraham’ because Abraham was the first convert to Judaism. Rabeinu  Asher [14 century, Germany and Spain] writes that when recording the name of a convert in a GET he is referred to as ‘Ben Avraham’ because Abraham was blessed by God as the father of many nations.  There are many other halachic authorities who rule that the proper way to refer to a convert is ‘Ben Avraham’.

There are also authorities who say that a convert should be referred to as ‘Ben Avraham Avinu’.  Rabbi Alexander HaKohen, [15th century, Germany] an expert on Gittin, writes that one should refer to a convert by the name of ‘Avraham Avinu’ and not just ‘Avraham’ in order not to mislead.  Joseph Karo in the Shulchan Aruch rules that in a GET, the title ‘Avraham Avinu’ should be used.  The use of Avraham Avinu is prevalent since the 17th century.

In recent years there are those who have opposed the use of a special name for converts, pointing out that it is forbidden to shame a convert by reminding them of their former life.  However, historically the title ‘convert’ was not seen as a derogatory title. No one felt that the need to hide the fact that they had converted.

Following historical precedent, the correct way to refer to a convert is either ‘HaGer’, ‘Ben Avraham’ or ‘Ben Avraham Avinu’.  In communities where both father’s and mother’s names are used, it is appropriate to refer to both Abraham and Sarah.

In the case where a child’s father is Jewish, there is no reason not to refer to his biological father.  Also, an adopted child should be referred to by his adoptive parents’ names.  This follows the halachic principle that a person who raises a child assumes the status of a parent.

Rabbi Chaim Weiner

Shevat 5776

Based on ‘What is the Proper Way to Refer to the Parents of a Convert?’

Responsa in a Moment 10:4  – Rabbi David Golinkin.

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January 8, 2016

A Rose by Any Other Name …

Filed under: Jewish Law — chaimweiner @ 2:46 pm

It’s been a long time since I have posted on this blog.  I have been busy in the meantime with other projects, particularly my Hebrew Words blog [myhebrewwords.wordpress.com].  I want to say thank you to all the people, particularly my children, who have been urging me to bring this blog back to life.

Question: What is my Hebrew name?

Answer: This question is asked more frequently than you might think.  In our society people have many different names.  What counts as being your real name according to halacha? What name should be used on formal legal documents like a ketubah or a GET, or when being called to the Torah?

The halacha recognises many different kinds of names. A שם עריסה [shem arisa – lit. cradle name] is the name of person was given when they were born, typically in the synagogue on the first Shabbat after birth or at the circumcision ceremony. A שם כינוי [shem kinnui  – lit. nickname] is the name a person is known by on the street or by their friends.  This may be a shortened version of the birth name or something entirely different. A שם ינקות [shem Yankut – Lit. childhood name] is a nickname a person receives in their childhood and is usually suitable only for children.  For example: The name William [shem Arisa] may become Bill [shem Kinui] and Billy [shem Yankut].  Or there may be other names a person acquires that aren’t really names at all, such as ‘Bubale’, ‘Sweetie’, ‘munchkins’.  A person could have a name used in the family and a different name at work; a name in one country and a different name in a different country.  Finally, there is the שם שנשתקע [shem shenishtaka – Lit. a forgotten name] which are names that a person was known by once but over time have fallen into disuse.  So the question of what counts as a real legal name is more serious than we may have first thought.

The basic principle is that your name is the name you use in everyday life.  If people call you something and you respond to it – that becomes your legal name.  If a person has only an ‘English’ name, then that name is transliterated in Hebrew characters. There are many complicated rules about how to do this, but in any case, as the name that is most frequently used – this is your legal name in Jewish Law. The exception to this rule is when a person is called something which isn’t considered a name at all.  No matter how often a person is called ‘idiot’ or ‘shorty’ it still doesn’t become their name.

The reverse of this is that if you were once given a name, even in a legal context, and you no longer use that name – it stops being your name.  If you were given a name at birth but have not used it since, from a legal point of view that is no longer your name.

If you have a name that is only used infrequently, but you still consider it to be your name, then that name continues to be your secondary name.  This occurs with people who have a secular name in everyday life and a Hebrew name they use when being called to the Torah.  They consider this to be their Hebrew name and it is still occasionally used. Therefore it remains their name.

There is no formal ceremony for a adopting a new name.  The way you get a new name is to start to use it.  After a name has been in use for 30 days it becomes your legal name.

Some documents are more important than others.  When writing a GET it is very important that all of the names are correct.  The common practice is to list all the names that a person is known by, using the formula’ X who is known as Y and who is known as Z’.  In some communities the custom is to write after this list of names the line ‘and any names he/she is known by’.  This catch-all phrase is intended to make sure that no names were inadvertently omitted.

So what is a name?  Shakespeare said that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.  But not in Jewish Law.  A rose by any other name would be a misnamed rose.  And getting the name wrong could make all the difference in the world.

Rabbi Chaim Weiner

Tevet 5776

 

Based on: Shulchan Aruch. Even HaEzer 129.

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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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