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Posts Tagged ‘Rabbi Cohen’

Eating Matzah Before Pesach

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

Question: What is the basis of the custom to refrain from eating matzah for a period of time before Pesach?

Answer: The Rema (Orach Chayim 471:1) rules that it is prohibited to eat matzah on the day preceding Pesach. Ba’er Heitev (471:5), however, cites numerous scholars who permit eating matzah on the night before Pesach. Some contend that the text of the Four Questions in the Haggadah actually supports this position since it states, “On all other nights we may eat chametz and matzah” (emphasis added). Shulchan Aruch HaRav (Orach Chayim 471:4) specifically notes that the prohibition to eat matzah starts on the morning prior to Pesach at amud hashachar.

The Mishnah Berurah (471:12) notes that “rabbim – many people” have the custom of refraining from eating matzah the entire month of Nissan. Yet the Ma’adanei Shemuel (113:12) points out that some scholars scoffed at this stringency. They went so far as to state that the proponents of this custom should be designated not as “rabbim” but “reikim – empty [of Torah].” Despite this opprobrium, many sages follow this custom.

Regardless of how long one refrains from eating matzah, the reason behind the practice is the same: Eating matzah on Pesach is a distinct and special mitzvah and we should have an appetite for it. And absence – even if only for a day – makes the heart grow fonder.

Rabbi Cohen, a Jerusalem Prize recipient, has published eight books on Jewish law. His latest, “Jewish Prayer The Right Way: Resolving Halachic Dilemmas” (Urim Publications), is available at Amazon.com and Judaica stores.

Calculating The Day

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

Question: If someone passes away on one day but is buried the next day, when does the son stop saying Kaddish and when should he observe the yahrzeit – 11 and 12 months, respectively, after the day of death or 11 and 12 months, respectively, after the day of burial?

Answer: Rabbi Gedalya Schwartz, av bet din of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), rules that stopping to say Kaddish is determined by the day of burial, but the yahrzeit is determined by the day of death. If, however, the person is buried more than three days after he died, the first yahrzeit is determined by the day of burial.

Interestingly, Rav Henkin, zt”l, writes that a yahrzeit is determined by the day of death. He then writes that, “yesh omrim – some say,” that in the first year it is determined by the day of burial if the burial took place more than one day after the person died. In subsequent years, however, it is determined by the day of death (Edut Yisrael, p.147).

I suggest that the sevara of the “yesh omrim” is that since the conclusion of Kaddish depends on the day of burial, it makes sense to determine the first yahrzeit based on the day of burial as well. In subsequent years, though, the issue of when the 11 months of Kaddish conclude is no longer relevant. Therefore, the yahrzeit is based on the day of death.

If one reads Rav Henkin’s words carefully, it seems that the basic halacha is that yahrzeit is based on the day of death. Only a “yesh omrim – some say” opinion argues otherwise for the first yahrzeit. I suggest that this is the case because our sages did not want to confuse people by giving different dates for the yahrzeit in different years.

Rabbi Cohen, a Jerusalem Prize recipient, has published eight books on Jewish law. His latest, “Jewish Prayer The Right Way: Resolving Halachic Dilemmas” (Urim Publications), has just been published.

Requests Or Demands? (Part II)

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

Question: When we pray, are we requesting or demanding that God fulfill our wishes?

Answer: Last week we cited a Gemara (Berachot 55a) that a person who anticipates the fulfillment of his prayers may cause great harm to himself. Rashi explains that this Gemara refers to a person who believes his kavanah is of such a lofty spiritual level that he assumes G-d will answer his prayers. Such an egocentric person causes G-d to scrutinize his character. A person should properly view his prayers as humble requests.

* * * * *

Under certain conditions teffilah may be formed as a demand. The following is culled from a taped shiur of HaRav HaGaon R. Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik, zt”l, of Yeshiva University, which was recorded over 50 years ago at Congregation Moriah in Manhattan, NY:

The Gemara (Berachot 34b) reports the following: Rabban Gamliel’s son was ill. To pray for his son’s recovery, Rabban Gamliel sent two Torah scholars to Rav Chanina ben Dosa. Seeing the scholars approach, Rav Chanina went up to his attic and prayed for the son of Rabban Gamliel. When the two scholars came before Rav Chanina, he informed them that the son was already cured.

We can ask several questions about this story. First, why did Rabban Gamliel send two students? Why not one? Second, why send Torah scholars? Why not just send ordinary people? And finally, why didn’t Rav Chanina wait for the scholars to formally ask him to pray for Rabban Gamliel’s son?

The Gemara records a similar incident. Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakkai’s son was ill and Rabban Yochanan asked his student, Rav Chanina, to pray for him. Rav Chanina put his head down by his knees and prayed; the son got better.

This story, too, raises questions. Why, for example, did Rav Chanina put his head down by his legs?

Rav Soloveitchik offers the following analysis of these stories. He explains that Rav Chanina’s actions expressed a unique orientation towards prayer. Who walks with his head down near his feet? Not humans, but animals. Rav Chanina was symbolically beseeching G-d to sustain the sick son of Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakkai just as he sustains the animals in the field regardless of their nature to do good or otherwise.

In Rav Chanina’s opinion, praying for an ill person has nothing to do with the character, personality, Torah knowledge, or religious observances of that person. Rav Chanina believed that since G-d gave humans life, they deserve good health as well, just as animals are given good health. To emphasize this point, Rav Chanina put his head between his legs.

Rabban Gamliel had a different approach to prayer. He believed that people of merit have a right to make demands of G-d. For this reason he sent to Rav Chanina not one but two students who were Torah scholars. Together with Rav Chanina, they would constitute a bet din that could issue a psak that the son of Rabban Gamliel, the spiritual leader of the Jewish people, merited compassion from G-d.

When Rav Chanina saw the two scholars approaching, he understood Rabban Gamliel’s intent and hurried to pray before they arrived since he disagreed with Rabban Gamliel’s approach to prayer. He believed one should pray with great modesty and not make demands based on one’s performance of mitzvot.

(Any error or misstatement in this article should be attributed to my understanding of Rav Soloveitchik’s shiur and not to Rav Soloveitchik himself.)

Rabbi Cohen, a Jerusalem Prize recipient, is the author of several books on Jewish law including the recently published “Jewish Prayer The Right Way” (Urim Publications).

Who Is Your Rebbe?

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

Question: Do older Jews have a rebbe?

Answer: Recently I met with one of the gedolei yisrael in Yerushalayim to discuss a halachic issue. In the course of our conversation he asked me, “Who is your rebbe?” The question seemed out of place. I am a great-grandfather who has served as a rav for 50 years in some of the most prestigious rabbinical positions in the United States and Australia. I have also written seven sefarim on halacha. Should someone at my age and with my experience have a rebbe?

When this gadol b’yisrael posed his question, I must say I looked at this octogenarian rav and tried to imagine whether he had a rebbe. But I felt that was not a proper thought to voice and so instead responded, “I have no rebbe today.”

In fact, though, my response was not quite accurate. I have three rebbeim: my father, my father-in-law, and my rosh yeshiva. All are in shamayim. My father, HaRav Meyer Cohen, z”l, was the menahel of the Agudat HaRabonim for over 20 years. He decorated our home with sefarim and devoted his life to Torah and klal Yisrael, setting the tone for my life as well. My father-in-law, HaRav Yaakov Nayman, z”l, lived to over 100 and was always available to respond with a Brisker approach to halachic issues of both a personal and communal nature. (He was a talmid muvhak and ben bayit of the Brisker Rav.) Finally, my rosh yeshiva, HaGoan HaRav Yitzchok Hutner, z”l, the brilliant head of Metivta Rabainu Chaim Berlin, helped mold my approach to Torah. Even though these rabbanim are no longer alive, they still impact my life.

Many years ago I met with Rav Waldman, the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Nir in Kiryat Arba. At that time I asked him who his rebbe was. He responded, “Reb Simcha, are you not aware that people like us in their forties no longer have a living rebbe? My rebbe is not alive; he resides in shamayim.”

The truth is that I’ve come to realize that as we grow older the role of a rebbe in our life changes. The Gemara states that Rabbi Eliezer contended that he never said any words of Torah that he did not hear from his rebbe (Sukkah 28a). Yet, from a pragmatic point of view, this statement cannot possibly be meant literally. Perhaps what he meant was that whenever he had a halachic or hashkafic problem, he always asked himself how his rebbe would have responded. “What would my rebbe have thought? What would he have done?” In this manner, his rebbe constantly permeated his life.

I still recall asking my father-in-law, HaRav Nayman why he always wore his hat, kapoteh and tie even in the privacy of his own home. He responded, “This is the custom of my rebbe, the Brisker Rav. I am simply following his minhag.” When asked a halachic question, he thought about what his rebbe would have said. As such, throughout his life, Rav Nayman lived with the guidance of the Brisker Rav.

I suggest that’s the way to have a rebbe even at an advanced age. I should not have been startled by the gadol b’yisrael’s question about whether I had a rebbe. I should have said, “Yes, I have a rebbe.”

Rabbi Cohen, a Jerusalem Prize recipient, is the author of several books on Jewish law. His latest work, Jewish Prayer The Right Way (Urim Publications), will be published in the winter.

Shaking Hands With Women (Part II)

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

Question: Is there any halachic rationale for men to shake hands with women?

Answer: Last week we noted that Rav Eliezer Silver would remark to women that a courtly bow, rather than a handshake, is the proper method of greeting a woman.

We also cited the Yerushalmi (Sotah 13b) which discusses the Torah’s requirement for a kohen to place his hands under those of a sotah offering her special korban. The Gemara suggests that an elderly kohen (who presumably will not have improper sexual thoughts) performs this function. The Gemara also suggests that a young kohen could perhaps perform this function and we are not concerned about him having improper sexual thoughts since he is only touching the sotah’s hands for a very short period of time.

Based on this second suggestion, it would seem that shaking a woman’s hand should be permitted. Indeed Rav Ahron Soloveichik ruled accordingly. However, according to the Gemara’s first suggestion it would seem to be prohibited (except for older men). Since the Gemara offers two suggestions, it appears that the matter is in doubt.

* * * * *

In Hilchot Sotah 3:15, the Rambam writes that “the kohen places his hand under [the sotah’s] and lifts [the korban] up.” He mentions nothing about the kohen being older. The Torah Temimah contends that the Rambam is simply followed his general tendency to favor second opinions mentioned in the Gemara. Thus, any kohen may perform the service since he is only touching the sotah’s hands for a brief period of time.

This position also seems logical since how would we judge when a kohen becomes “old”? At what age would a kohen not have improper sexual thoughts? It makes much more sense to adopt the Gemara’s other answer so as to avoid this kind of subjective analysis.

It is interesting that the Gemara only offers two suggestions for why a kohen may touch a sotah, but doesn’t offer a third logical answer: namely, that a kohen may touch her because he is busy fulfilling a mitzvah and a person doesn’t have improper thoughts at such a time. Indeed, this is why the Shach permits a doctor to examine the body of a niddah. His mind is focused on medical concerns. This is also why people involved in raising cattle may breed animals. They are concentrating on their professions; thus, they wont have improper thoughts.

The Gemara, however, does not offer this suggestion. Hence, the fact that the kohen may touch the sotah has nothing to do with him concentrating on doing a mitzvah. Rather, it has to do with the fact that he is only touching her for a brief period of time. Hence, shaking a woman’s hand would also be permitted.

We find support for interpreting the Gemara in this manner by examining its original question. The Gemara asked, “Isn’t is repugnant for a kohen to touch a sotah?” It didn’t ask, “Isn’t it sinful?” In other words, the Gemara does not even suggest that it is prohibited for a kohen to touch a sotah in this context. The Torah commanded that he wave the korban with her and therefore it is a mitzvah to do so whether we appreciate the process or not.

The Gemara was concerned, however, for the subjective feelings of the kohen: Isn’t touching a sotah repugnant to him? To this the Gemara responds that the process is not even repugnant; there is nothing wrong at all. Why? Since the encounter is brief, improper thoughts will not arise.

A number of rabbis have told me that they do not initiate a handshake with a woman, but if a woman extends her hand to them, they won’t refuse to shake it. They reason that once a woman extends her hand, an additional factor comes into the equation: kavod habriyot. It is prohibited to shame a woman by refusing to shake her hand. This position, however, only has merit if one maintains that shaking hands with women is a rabbinic prohibition. Kavod habriyot may trump a rabbinical, but not a biblical prohibition.

The above analysis is a form of limud zechut, providing a halachic basis for those who shake hands with women and consider themselves to be shomrei torah u’mitzvot. It also is an attempt to bolster the halachic ruling of Rav Ahron Soloveichik.

Rabbi Cohen, a Jerusalem Prize recipient, has written several books on Jewish law. His latest, “Shabbat The Right Way: Resolving Halachic Dilemmas” (Urim Publications), is available at Judaica stores and Amazon.com.

Halacha and…Shaking Hands (Part I)

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

Question: Is there any halachic rationale for men to shake hands with women?

Answer: It is well known that the common practice of the East European, hasidic and yeshiva worlds is to refrain from shaking hands with women. As a youth I recall it said in the name of Rav Eliezer Silver, zt”l, that he frequently told women that Orthodox rabbis consider shaking hands with them a form of ungracious behavior. “The proper Jewish way,” he said, “is to bow before them in a courtly manner.”

Yet, it is reputed that German Jewry freely engaged in shaking hands with women. In America, too, quite a large number of observant Jews shake hands and consider those who refrain from doing so to be excessively and inappropriately pious (“frumeh shtik”).

Who is right? Are they both “right,” in the tradition of “elu v’elu divrei Elokim chayim”?

The Torah states that a sotah must bring a special korban. Before offering it, a kohen must place his hands under the hands of the sotah and lift and wave the korban together with her. Commenting on this process, the Yerushalmi (Sotah 13b; also Bavli, Tosafot 19a) asks, “Is this not mechu’er (repulsive, improper)?” The Talmud responds that the kohen uses a napkin so that he does not actually touch the sotah (see Pnei Moshe).

The Talmud then proceeds to ask, “Is this not an interference?” In other words, since the napkin is not technically part of the service, it is presumably a “chatzitzah,” an object that intervenes unnecessarily between the hand of the kohen and the sotah. To this, the Talmud responds: “They bring an old kohen.” In other words, an old kohen performs the service and since he’s old, it is unlikely for sexual thoughts to arise in his mind.

The Talmud then offers an alternative answer, namely, that a regular kohen can perform the service, and we are not concerned about him touching her because the inclination to sin does not pertain in such a short period of time (see Pnei Moshe).

According to the second response of the Jerusalem Talmud, there appears to be nothing wrong in touching a married woman’s hand for a brief period of time. Thus, shaking women’s hands would be permissible since a handshake takes only a second or two. It certainly takes no longer than it did for the kohen to perform the service together with the sotah. I personally recall many years ago hearing that Rav Ahron Soloveichik, zt”l, paskened from this Yerushalmi that it is permissible to shake hands with women.

We may ask, though: The Jerusalem Talmud offers two answers. According to the first answer (that an old kohen performs the service), it would seem that only older men may briefly touch a woman’s hand; younger men, however, may not. And since the Talmud offers two answers without deciding in favor of one of them, it would seem that the final halacha is in doubt. And when we encounter doubts concerning biblical violations, we err on the side of caution (safek d’oraita l’chumra).

(To be continued)

Rabbi Cohen, a Jerusalem Prize recipient, has written several books on Jewish law. His latest, “Shabbat The Right Way: Resolving Halachic Dilemmas” (Urim Publications), is available at Judaica stores and Amazon.com.

The Limits Of Chinuch (Part V)

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

Question: Are there limitations to the mitzvah of chinuch?

Answer: We previously noted that the Netziv ruled that children are only to be taught to observe mitzvot and customs in the same manner that they will observe them as adults.

We also suggested last week that Rashi believes that a parent cannot fulfill the mitzvah of chinuch through a shliach – either because a child must see his father first-hand observing mitzvot and emulate him or because a parent must directly observe his child’s progress in performing mitzvot.

* * * *

The Mishnah Berurah in his Biur Halachah (Orach Chayim 675), citing the Magen Avraham (Orach Chayim 677:8), notes that minor children are exempt from the contemporary Chanukah custom of everyone lighting his or her own menorah, lighting an additional candle each night.

His rationale is that the mitzvah of chinuch only applies to practices that are biblical or rabbinic law in nature. Lighting an additional candle each night, however, is not an obligation (a true chiyuv) but a hiddur mitzvah. Chazal never required parents to ensure that their children fulfill hidurei mitzvah.

But what about the Netziv’s position that children should fulfill mitzvot exactly as they will as adults? Doesn’t this position require children to light menorah just like adults do? If so, it would seem that the Mishnah Berurah disagrees with the Netziv.

We can suggest, though, that the Netziv would agree that children sometimes should not perform mitzvot. What he argues is simply that if a child performs a mitzvah, he should perform it as if he were an adult.

Interestingly, the Mishnah Berurah rules that if a child owns a home, he should light one candle each night of Chanukah. Even this ruling, however, may not contradict the Netziv. The Netziv perhaps only objects to children performing mitzvot in a non-halachic manner. He may not, however, object to a child lighting menorah contrary to the accepted custom as long as he does so in a halachically acceptable manner.

Rabbi Cohen, a “Jerusalem Prize” recipient, is the author of several Jewish books on Jewish Law. His latest, “Shabbat The Right Way: Resolving Halachic Dilemmas” (Urim Publications), is available at Judaica stores and Amazon.com.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/halacha-hashkafa/the-limits-of-chinuch-part-v/2012/02/01/

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