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Posts Tagged ‘Yoreh De’

Living Amid Absurdity: Israel As Tragic Hero (Conclusion)

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

For Jews, free will must always be oriented toward life, to the blessing, not to the curse. Our binding charge is to strive in this obligatory direction of individual and collective self-preservation by using our intelligence and by exercising our essentially disciplined acts of will. In circumstances where such striving is consciously rejected, the outcome – however catastrophic – can never rise to the dignified level of tragedy.

The ancient vision of authentically “High Tragedy” has its origins in Fifth Century BCE Athens. Here, there is always clarity on one overriding point: The victim is one whom “the gods kill for their sport, as wanton boys do flies.” This wantonness, this caprice, is precisely what makes tragedy unendurable. With “disengagement” and “realignment,” with Oslo and the “Road Map,” Israel’s corollary misfortunes are too-largely self-inflicted. The continuing drama of a “Middle East Peace Process” is, at best, a surreal page torn from Ionesco or even Kafka. Here there is nary a hint of tragedy, not even a cathartic element that might have been drawn from Aeschylus, Sophocles or Euripides. At worst – and this is the more plausible characterization – Israel’s unhappy fate has been ripped directly from the demeaning pages of irony and farce. Under Olmert, Israel now acts and lives a peculiarly blood-soaked form of comedy, an unabashedly high-budget, low drama that relies on concocted contrivances of plot and on humiliatingly low levels of credibility.

In farce, matters would generally end badly but for a last-minute rescue called deus ex machina. But no such “god in the machine” will rescue Israel. In more specifically Jewish terms, we may recall the words of Rabbi Yania: “A man should never put himself in a place of danger and say that a miracle will save him, lest there be no miracle.” (Talmud, Sota 32a and Codes, Yoreh De’ah 116). Of course, it may be that Ehud Olmert does not actually expect a miracle, but then, we must inquire, upon exactly what manner of reasoning does he base his religiously, morally and intellectually vacant policy of land for nothing?

In Judaism, as we have already noted, there can never be any justification for deliberate self-endangerment. In classical Greek tragedy, there can never be any deus ex machina. In true tragedy, the human spirit remains noble in the face of an inescapable death, but if there is anything at all tragic about Israel’s Olmert-Bush propelled descent, it lies only in the original Greek meaning of the word: “goat song.” For Jews, this theatrical resemblance to paganism is especially hideous, as it comes from the dithyrambs sung by goatskin-clad worshippers of Dionysus.

Aristotle understood in his Poetics that true tragedy must always elicit pity and fear, but not pathos, which is an utterly unheroic suffering. The Greek philosopher identified tragedy with “good” characters that suffer because they commit some grave error (hamartia) unknowingly. Prime Minister Olmert, on the other hand, has continued Israel’s march of folly not because of any such error – or even because of some wantonness or caprice – but (in the most charitable explanation) because his concessionary policies are detached from any decent sense of Judaism.

Whether a policy is named Oslo or Road Map or some altogether new name contrived in Washington makes no substantive difference. The diplomatic promise of peace with a persistently genocidal adversary is unassailably a sordid delusion. To be sure, protracted war and terror hardly seem a tolerable or enviable policy outcome, but even this difficult fate remains far better for Israel than the undiminished Arab/Islamist plan for a relentlessly Final Solution. Protracted war and terror are assuredly very bad options, but they are certainly better than death.

The futile search for ordinary solutions by the people of Israel must never be dismissed by others with anger, disdain or self-righteousness. After all, one can hardly blame them for denying such terrible and unjust portents. But Israel exists in a wider world where the terms “justice” and “Jew” can never be uttered in the same breath, and where navigating according to shamelessly asymmetrical rules of logic and reasonableness will ultimately be fatal. Let us be candid. It is a world where Dostoyevsky rings much truer than Plato, a world wherein unreason “normally” trumps rationality, and where survival is sometimes dependent upon accepting and enduring what is manifestly absurd.

Sisyphus understood that his rock would never stay put at the summit of the mountain. He labored nonetheless. He did not surrender.

Like Sisyphus, Israel must soon learn to understand that its own “rock” – the agonizingly heavy stone of national security and international normalcy – may never stay put at the summit. Yet, it must still continue to push, upwards. It must continue to struggle against the ponderous weight – if for no other reason than simply to continue, to persist. For Israel, true heroism – and perhaps even the genuine fulfillment of its unique mission among the nations – now lies in recognizing something beyond normal understanding: Endless pain and insecurity are not necessarily unbearable and must sometimes be borne with complete faith and equanimity. Failing such a tragic awareness, the government of Israel will continue to grasp at illusory peace prospects, and to welcome repeatedly false dawns.

Of course, Israel is not Sisyphus, and there is no reason to believe that Israel must necessarily endure altogether without experiencing personal and collective satisfactions. Even fully aware that its titanic struggle toward the recurring summits may lack a definable moment of “success” – that these summits may never be truly “scaled” – the Jewish State can still learn that the struggle itself carries manifold benefits. The seemingly absurd struggle does have its accomplishments, its unheralded blessings, and its more or less palpable rewards. Newly tolerant of ambiguity, and consciously surviving without any “normal” hopes of completion and clarity, the people of Israel could achieve both spiritual and survival benefits in their personal and collective lives. Most importantly, their now enlarged lucidity could immunize them from the lethal lures of ordinary nations.

Israel’s feverish search for a solution has led it down a continuing path of despair, toward a “sickness unto death.” Today, as its leaders contemplate yet another round of unilateral territorial surrenders in Judea/Samaria, the government prepares to relinquish the country’s last shreds of national dignity and national security. For Israel in particular, basic truth must emerge from paradox. To survive into the future, Israel’s only real choice is to keep rolling the rock upwards. Unlike Sisyphus, Israel and its people can still enjoy many satisfactions along the way, but – like Sisyphus – all Israel must also recognize that its individual and collective life may require an authentically tragic and unending struggle.

Nonetheless, true tragedy does not denigrate; it exalts.

Exeunt omnes.

Copyright © The Jewish Press, February 1, 2008. All rights reserved.

LOUIS RENÉ BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971), and the author of 10 major books on international relations and international law. One of his earlier books is titled Mimicking Sisyphus: America’s Countervailing Nuclear Strategy(1983), which concerned a different adaptation from the still-fruitful Greek myth. He is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.

Q & A: Adding To The Rabbi’s Discussion (Conclusion)

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2004
QUESTION: Upon concluding the Shabbat morning services at our local synagogue, we have an informal kiddush during which our rabbi discusses the Parasha of the week. At the conclusion of his talk he opens an informal discussion, inviting questions or comments. Occasionally I will make a brief comment relating to the rabbi’s talk, sometimes quoting an applicable passage from the Torah. Recently a friend told me that it was not proper for me, a lay person, to comment even briefly by directly quoting the Torah, as quotes should be stated exclusively by the rabbi.
I believe, however, that lay people are to be encouraged to study and quote relevant passages from the Torah. Additionally, the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) encourages us to “… teach it (Torah) to your children, to speak of it in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down and when you arise…” Thus, it seems the Shema is urging us all, including lay persons, to quote the Torah. My rabbi told me he was not bothered by my quoting Torah verses during these discussions, but I would also like to know your opinion.
Name Withheld by Request
ANSWER: We began our discussion last week with the comment in Yoreh De’ah (242:31) that a scholar is not to speak (during a Torah discourse) in the presence of a greater scholar, even if the former has not learned anything from the latter. This is due to the tremendous honor we accord Torah scholars, and we can understand the obligations a lay person must have toward his rabbi. We quoted the verse, “Lo yamush sefer haTorah hazeh mipicha ve’hagita bo yomam va’layla…” (Joshua 1:8). This was part of the instruction Joshua received from G-d. Radak (ad loc.) examines whether this instruction was intended exclusively for Joshua or for all Jews. He explains the term ‘ve’hagita’ as a requirement to have the words of the Torah in our hearts and minds always. In that case, any conversation with another Jew would inevitably contain quotes from the Torah. The Gemara (Chullin 95:b) underscores the honor due to a scholar, an honor the scholar has the right to demand. Given the constant thoughts about Torah one is to have according to the instructions to Joshua, we were left with the question of how one converses with a scholar without violating his honor.* * *

Our Sages provide us with a formula in Tractate Avot (6:5-6) on the acquisition of Torah knowledge. R. Shimon (Avot 4:12) refers to the three crowns of Israel: the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of royalty. The crown of Torah is available to each and every Jew, the crown of priesthood is restricted to the progeny of Aaron, and the crown of royalty is limited to the anointed kings of the Davidic dynasty.

The Mishna (6:5) states, “Torah is even greater than priesthood or royalty, for royalty is acquired along with thirty distinctions [described in Sefer Ha'Aruch under "melech"], and priesthood along with 24 gifts (which are detailed in Tractate Bava Kamma 110b). Torah, however, is acquired through 48 qualities” – which are:

Study, attentive listening, articulate speech, intuitive understanding, discernment, awe, reverence, humility, joy, purity, ministering to scholars, close association with colleagues, sharp discussion with pupils, deliberation, [knowledge of] Scripture and of Mishna, limited business activity, limited wordly matters, limited pleasure, limited sleep, limited chatter, limited laughter, slowness to anger, a good heart, faith in the Sages, acceptance of suffering, knowing one’s place, being happy with one’s lot, making a protective fence around one’s words, claiming no credit for oneself, being beloved, loving the Omnipresent [Hashem], loving mankind, loving righteous ways, loving the ways of justice, loving reproofs, keeping far from honor, not being arrogant with one’s learning, not enjoying decision-making, sharing his fellow’s yoke, judging him favorably, setting him on the truthful course, leading him unto peace, thinking deliberately in his study, asking and answering, listening and contributing to the discussion, learning in order to teach, learning in order to practice, making his teacher wiser, pondering over what he has learned, and quoting a thing in the name of the one who said it. Thus we learn that whoever repeats something in the name of the one who said it brings redemption to the world, for it is stated (Esther 2:22), “And Esther told the king in the name of Mordecai.”

Among these numerous methods of acquiring Torah a few stand out – “Close association with colleagues” and “sharp discussion with pupils”: these two very clearly refer to ongoing discussions of Torah as crucial to its acquisition. “Asking and answering” and “listening and contributing to the discussion” are even higher levels where one is able to resolve difficulties that arise from the discussion.

Regarding “listening and contributing to the discussion,” Rashi (ad loc. s.v. “shome’a”) explains that “he listens to all that his teacher says to him, and he adds to it, but does not negate any of his teacher’s words.” This seems to address your question. We also find the quality of “making his teacher wiser.” This is clearly self-explanatory. The student, through discussions with his teacher, adds to his teacher’s knowledge, as we find in the Gemara (Perek Hasocher et Hapo’alim, Bava Metzia 84a): When R. Shimon b. Lakish [who was a disciple and colleague of R. Yochanan] died, R. Yochanan was grief-stricken. The Sages, upon seeing that he was deeply affected and kept away from the house of study, decided to send a student to console him, and thus cajole him back to the house of study. They sent R. Eleazar b. Pedat, who was uniquely sharp in his studies.

He sat before R. Yochanan and after every statement of R. Yochanan he would immediately remark, ‘I have found a baraita that supports your view.’ It was obvious to all the Sages and to R. Eleazar himself that they hoped that R. Eleazar would be accepted as the new disciple in place of Resh Lakish.

R. Yochanan was not satisfied with this student and exclaimed, “You think you are like the son of Lakish. When I made a statement, the son of Lakish used to ask 24 questions to which I would give 24 replies, and from that the Torah study would develop and spread. You, on the other hand, keep offering me support from a baraita; don’t I know that my statements are correct?!” He then proceeded to tear his clothes and cry aloud, exclaiming, “Where are you, O son of Lakish, where are you, O son of Lakish?” until he lost his senses. The Sages then prayed for mercy from Heaven on his behalf and he died.

We see that if the best student, R. Eleazar b. Pedat, does not challenge his teacher, he is not very useful to him. But Resh Lakish, through his brilliant questions and challenges, had brought out the best in R. Yochanan.

R. Yosef Caro lists – and the Rema elucidates – many things that are required in the behavior of a student toward his teacher, such as the honor he has to show him (Yoreh De’ah 242). We also find the following (242:32): If one’s primary teacher (rav muv’hak) from whom one has learned the most forgives the honor due him in regard to any or all of the previously listed matters, from any or all of his students – his honor is forgiven. However, even though his honor is forgiven, it is still incumbent upon the student to show him honor. (The Rema adds, “and surely not to embarrass him.”)

This halacha is based on Tractate Kiddushin (32a-b), where the Gemara compares the Torah teacher to Hashem, for it is stated (Exodus 13:21), “VeHashem holech lifneihem yomam valayla … – And Hashem went before [the Children of Israel] day and night [when they left Egypt] …” – which means that Hashem, master of the universe and of the Torah, clearly forgave His honor. Thus, one who teaches Hashem’s Torah may surely do so.

Your friend is critical of your quoting passages from the Torah in the course of your conversation with the rabbi. This argument is not totally without merit, as we find in the Talmud (Temura 14b): “R. Abba b. Chiya b. Abba said in the name of R. Yochanan, ‘Those who write halachot [laws] are considered as if they are burning the Torah.’ Rashi (s.v. “Kesorfei Torah”), obviously referring to the Gemara (Shabbos 115a), explains this, in accord with R. Huna, to mean that we do not save such writings of the Oral Law from a fire on the Sabbath.

Rambam (Hilchot Shabbat 23:26) rules accordingly that Torah matters written in any language other than Hebrew may not be saved from a fire on the Sabbath. Thus putting it in writing is considered similar to burning it. Those who learn from these written halachot do not receive any Heavenly reward.

R. Yosef Caro (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayyim 334:12), however, disputes this rule of Rambam. He states, as does the conclusion of the Gemara in Temura (as we will see), that we save any written Torah matters, in any language, from a fire. Thus the Halacha follows R. Chisda even though, usually, when R. Chisda argues with R. Huna, R. Chisda’s view is discounted.

R. Yehuda b. Nachmani, the “interpreter” of Resh Lakish (it was the style that a sage would deliver his lecture and another appointed scholar would repeat and explain the lecture to the masses), said that while the verse (Exodus 34:27) opens with, “[Vayomer Hashem el Moshe] Ketov lecha et ha’devarim ha’eleh… - [Hashem said to Moshe], Write for yourself these words…” it concludes with, “… ki al pi ha’devarim ha’eleh [karatti it'cha brit ve'et yisrael] – For according to these words [I have sealed a covenant with you and with Israel].”

We derive from this verse that you are not allowed “to say” in written form matters which are oral, “be’al peh,” and matters which are in written form may not be said orally. This refers to the written Torah – the Pentateuch, the Prophets and Hagiographa – which may not be recited orally (that is, without looking at the text), and the Oral Law – the Mishna and the Talmud – which may not be put down in writing but only studied orally.

The Gemara now offers a proof: “We learned in the study hall of R. Yishmael, ‘Write for yourself these words’. These [words of the Torah] you may write, but you may not write halachot - oral laws.”

Others say that a novel halachic matter may be different, for R. Yochanan and Resh Lakish would gaze in the book of Agga’deta (oral traditions) on the Sabbath, and they would expound from the following verse (Psalms 119:126), “Et la’asot L’Hashem, heferu Toratecha – It is a time to act for Hashem, they have voided Your Torah.” [Rashi s.v. "Et la'asot L'Hashem" explains that when a matter is being done to exalt Hashem, it is proper to void a Torah rule]. They were saying that it was better to uproot this Torah rule so that Torah shall not be forgotten in Israel.

As you note, we might have thought that there is a problem not only with your quoting Torah passages orally, but with your rabbi’s encouraging it as well. However, this Gemara teaches us that we utilize all means to further the study and practice of Torah, at times in contravention of established rules.

May we wish you and your friend to continue to drink with great thirst the words of Torah as you study with your rabbi.

Q & A: Meat And Milk Issues (Part III)

Wednesday, July 21st, 2004
QUESTION: I am presently nursing. I would like to know until what age it is permissible to nurse my child soon after feeding him chicken. In general, how long do we wait between eating meat and dairy?
A Concerned Mother
New York City
ANSWER:The prohibition against eating meat and milk together, “…Lo tevashel gedi bechalev immo…,” is stated three times in the Torah: Exodus 23:19 and 34:26, and Deuteronomy 14:21. Three warnings are learned from the repetition, one against eating basar bechalav, one against deriving benefit therefrom, and one against cooking the mixture (Chullin 115b). Other exegeses were also derived from this unusual repetition. The types of meat included in basar bechalav were extended by the Rabbis to include fowl and non-domesticated animals’ flesh as well (Chullin 103b).We discussed the Gemara in Ketubbot (60a) that serves as a source for allowing mother’s milk (for babies), as presented by Rambam (Hilchot Ma’achalot Asurot 3:2) and the fact that it is considered pareve (Yoreh De’ah 87:4). Issues of mar’it ayin apply to mother’s milk with regard to cooking meat, but where this does not apply, as with a nursing infant, there is no need for concern.We continued with an examination of the necessary waiting time between consuming meat and milk. We concluded our discussion last week with a question: Is there a difference in halacha between milk and cheese in regard to the waiting time before eating meat?

* * *

The Rema (Yoreh De’ah 89:2) states regarding the stringency of not consuming meat after cheese, “… and such is our custom: in all cases where the cheese is hard, we do not eat after it even the meat of fowl [without waiting], just like cheese after meat. However, there are those who are more lenient and one should not protest [such behavior]; rather, they should clean [the teeth], rinse the mouth, and wash the hands – but it is far better to be more stringent.”

We see from Rema’s statement that there are distinctions among different types of cheese, for we are more stringent with hard cheeses than with soft ones. Milk would certainly be classified within the soft cheese category, where there seem to be more leniencies.

Indeed, as noted in Chochmat Adam, milk is included in the violation of basar bechalav . (We might add another reason: “Ein mikra yotzei mi’dei peshuto – The verse in the Torah forbidding us to cook a kid in its mother’s milk – ‘lo tevashel gedi bachalev immo – must obviously include the simple meaning of the word chalav, milk.)

R. Feivel Cohen elaborates in his Badei HaShulchan (Yoreh De’ah 89:1) regarding the Mechaber’s statement that one who ate meat, even of an undomesticated animal (chayya) or fowl (of), may not eat cheese afterwards until six hours have elapsed. R. Cohen explains that this prohibition specifically includes milk, and he refers to the conclusions of earlier halachic authorities who rule accordingly, citing Responsa Neta Sorek (Responsum 34) of the Gaon R. Shraga Tzvi Tannenbaum, zt”l (1826-1896), the Chahter Rav, great-grandfather of Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum, Jewish Press columnist.

R. Shraga Tzvi Tannenbaum rules that “milk” includes even the watery residue of milk (meimei chalav – whey). This is the residue that R. Tannenbaum defines (ad loc.) as the byproduct of the process of producing cheese. When the milk separates after a period of time, it is cooked and in the final separation it yields cheese and this liquid byproduct.

R. Tannenbaum concludes that one who ate meat and has to wait six hours before eating dairy (according to the rabbinic ruling), has to wait as well before consuming this liquid byproduct of milk. All that our sages decreed has the weight of a biblical prohibition. (However, when one is ill, one may be lenient.)

A question about leniency regarding milk, as opposed to cheese, was posed to the Gaon R. Moshe Sternbuch (Responsa Teshuvot VeHanhagot, Yoreh De’ah Vol. 2:390): “I have been asked by many people here [presumably in South Africa, where he served as rav for many years] who drink a cup of coffee with milk before dinner and afterwards wish to eat a meat dinner: ‘How long are we required to wait?’

“In the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De’ah 89:2) it is stated openly that if one ate cheese, he is permitted to eat meat immediately afterwards, with the proviso that he checks his hands [to ensure they are clean of any residue] – at night, when he cannot check his hands [thoroughly] he should wash his hands – and he must brush his teeth (lit., ‘wipe his mouth’) and rinse his mouth.

“It would seem from the Mechaber’s statement that these precautions are sufficient [to permit him to now consume meat immediately] and he does not even require a ‘beracha acharona’ such as borei nefashot, and removal [of the dairy table settings].

“In the Mishna Berura (Orach Chayyim 494:16) we find that a beracha acharona is not necessary [even though he states that this rule only applies if he did not eat hard cheese], and the Magen Avraham expresses a similar opinion.

“However, in Be’er Mayim Chayyim (Parashat Vayera) we find that one must recite the beracha acharona [at least borei nefashot] between them [the dairy and meat consumption]. Pri Megadim (384:3) rules similarly, saying that we should rather be more stringent and are required to recite a beracha acharona. We are to take heed of the Zohar’s statement [Parashat Mishpatim] that one is not to eat meat and milk in one meal, which we also find in the Beit Yosef commentary on the Tur (Orach Chayyim 173, s.v. veyesh machmirim). Indeed, one must be very stringent not to eat meat and dairy in one meal [the term 'dairy followed by meat in one meal' means that there is not even a blessing of borei nefashot separating these two edibles] or at one time, and if one does so, the Sitra Achara [the evil spirit, i.e. Satan] is [enabled to come] closer to him and causes bad happenings in this world for 40 days ….

“The Shach rules that there must be a wait of at least an hour, and so rules the Vilna Gaon (Yoreh De’ah 89:11). Our custom is to wait a half hour because this is generally the measure of ‘samuch.’ As we find (Orach Chayyim 232:2), ‘samuch’ means ‘close to’… [The Mishna Berura ad loc. explains the concept of samuch as one half hour.]

“However, the text of the Zohar seems to indicate that what is meant is ‘at one time’ [and thus any separation would suffice]. We might answer that the primary stringency of the Zohar relates specifically to food, which means a cooked dairy food [a solid]. But as to just drinking milk, possibly even the Zohar would be lenient and agree that we need not wait an hour, and one need only wash the mouth [and of course wait one half hour], and this would suffice. [R. Sternbuch notes that a similar view is expressed by Rashash in his commentary at the beginning of Perek Kol Habasar (Chullin)].

“However, if one drinks milk together with a mezonot food item [i.e. cake], some of the milk might get stuck [between the teeth] like a cooked [dairy] food; therefore it is only proper, according to the Zohar, to wait an [entire] hour like for a cooked food.

“Thus we see that although the halacha in the Shulchan Aruch is that one who eats even a cooked [dairy] food or a baked dairy cake would be immediately permitted to eat meat after he has cleaned [his teeth] and rinsed his mouth [and hands] thoroughly, provided he recites [the beracha acharona] and removes himself from the dairy [table], nonetheless one who is stringent is to wait an hour after eating a cooked [dairy] food or dairy cakes. According to the Zohar, such a person is referred to as a ‘kadosh.’ At the very least, one should wait a half hour after one has cleaned [his hands] and brushed his teeth properly.

“However, as for simply drinking milk [straight, or mixed with coffee], our custom is not to be that stringent. It is sufficient to recite borei nefashot and rinse the mouth thoroughly. There are those who are accustomed to being more stringent regarding milk, and they wait one half hour, though, according to Halacha, there is no such requirement.”

(To be continued)

Q & A: A Kohen Traveling By Airplane To Israel

Wednesday, December 17th, 2003
QUESTION: I am a kohen and will soon be traveling to Israel for the first time. I have been told that very often EL AL and other carriers transport remains for burial in Israel, and therefore I must check the flight. Is that so?
ANSWER: I can assure you that there is no problem in your traveling by airplane to Israel, as we will explain.This discussion is based on a responsum of my uncle, HaRav Sholom Klass, zt”l, on this very matter.

The Gaon Rabbi Moshe Feinstein discusses this subject in Iggrot Moshe (Yoreh De’ah 164:276 [1973]). He considers an airplane to be one large keli, that is, a large vessel or utensil. If a vessel or container is constructed out of the following metals: gold, silver, copper, iron, tin and lead, it is susceptive to ritual impurity. Thus, if a deceased person is in such a vessel, the uncleanness is passed on to every part of it. He points out, however, that this applies only to these six metals which conduct tum’ah (uncleanness). Since the Torah itemizes only these metals, the implication is that a utensil consisting of other alloys (such as aluminum, plastic, etc.) does not acquire or conduct uncleanness. Today’s airplanes are made out of steel, which is a product of iron, and the floors separating the passenger compartment from the cargo compartment are covered with carpeting. The carpeting is usually made of nylon, which is a product of coal and other ingredients.

The author of the Shulchan Aruch, R. Yosef Caro, discusses the case of a deceased person who reposes in a room of a house (Yoreh De’ah 371:4). Even though all the doors and windows of that room are locked, a kohen is not permitted to enter the house if there is only one entrance to the house. Since the kohen wouldn’t know when the corpse would be carried out, he might be exposed to passing it in the hallway at such a time.But the Rema does not agree and he permits a kohen to remain in the same house, provided that all the windows and doors [of that room] are closed.

If there are two separate entrances in an airplane, one for cargo and one for the passengers, and it is impossible for the passengers and the cargo to cross paths, there would be no problem according to the view of the Rema (see also Gesher Hachayim 6:2).

According to the management of EL AL, the cargo compartment on its planes is a completely separate unit, with its own separate entrance. It is also totally sealed, the passenger compartment having compressed air while the cargo compartment does not. This could be compared to two separate houses, attached to each other, each with a separate entrance and sealed off from each other; this would be permitted to a kohen.

Also, not every flight carries a casket. According to an EL AL official, approximately half of its flights do not carry a deceased person. Therefore the situation becomes a safek, a doubtful case. Moreover, today we classify kohanim as ‘safek kohanim,’ doubtful kohanim. Therefore this becomes a ‘safek sefeka,’ a doubtful doubt – which makes it permissible.

Q & A: A Mohel’s Dilemma

Friday, June 22nd, 2001

QUESTION: May a mohel perform a bris for a non-Orthodox couple who adopt a Gentile infant whom they wish to raise as Jewish?
No name please
Los Angeles, CA
 
ANSWER: We discussed a similar question some time ago, but your question is well worth a review, especially in light of the coming holiday of Shavuot and the psak of Hagaon Harav J.B. Soloveichik that I recently heard.

The Talmud (Yebamot 47a) discusses the halachic approach to conversion. We have to ask the prospective Ger (proselyte): ‘What have you seen that you want to become converted [to Judaism]? Are you not aware that Jews at the present time are persecuted and oppressed, despised, harassed and overcome by afflictions?’ If he replies, ‘I know and I am truly unworthy’ (to join in their trouble – Rashi ad loc.), we readily accept him and he is given instruction in some of the minor and some of the major commandments … and some of the punishments. Furthermore, he is addressed thus: Until now (as a ben Noach), if you ate cheilev (forbidden fat) you would not have been punishable with karet (death by Heavenly decree), but now that you are converting to Judaism, you will be liable to the punishment of karet for that sin … He is also told of the difference between a Jew and a Gentile in reference to the punishment for non-fulfillment of the Noachide Laws.

Thus we see that there is an effort made to dissuade the prospective Ger, due to the enormous liabilities that he will now assume.

To the Talmudic passage cited above, which is the main source for rules about conversion to Judaism (geirut), we can juxta-pose another Talmudic passage (Ketubbot 11a) which deals with the case in question, that of a minor child who was converted without his informed [mature] consent: R. Huna said, A minor proselyte (ger katan) is immersed (in the ritual bath for conversion) with the consent of the Beit Din. Rashi (ad loc.) explains that this court consists of ‘the three people who are present at the immersion, as is the rule in all immersions for conversion, and they become his ‘father’.’ The Talmud refers to a case where the child had no father and the mother brought him to be converted. That beit din, in addition to converting him, also assumes the position of the consenting party to this conversion. See also Tosafot Rid ad loc., who discusses the case where there is no mother either, and concludes that conversion can nevertheless take place in such a case too. Note also the opinion of the Gaon R. Chayim Ozer Grodzensky (Achiezer siman 47) who quotes a Mordechai (not found in our Shas) cited by the Darchei Moshe on Yoreh De’ah 268. He would question the validity of such a conversion. However, Rabbenu Nissim does allow such a geirut (i.e., he agrees with R. Huna).

The Talmud asks: What does R. Huna let us know? Is it that the conversion represents an advantage for the proselyte (namely, to be received into the Jewish faith), and (that there is a ruling) that one may act for a person even in his absence – since the minor is, legally speaking, not present – if it is for his benefit? The Talmud answers that we have already learned (Erubin 81b; Yebamot 118b) that we can act in behalf of a person even in his absence if it is to his advantage, a zechut, but we cannot act in his behalf at all if it is not to his advantage (namely, if it causes him any harm). By quoting that rule we assume that a heathen prefers a life without restraint (and therefore conversion would be a disadvantage for the proselyte). Indeed, it has been established for us (Gittin 13a) that a [Canaanite] slave prefers a dissolute life. R. Huna teaches us that this assumption applies only to an adult who has experienced the taste of that which is forbidden, but as regards a minor who has not tasted sin, conversion is considered a benefit for him.

Nevertheless, the Talmud adds in the name of R. Joseph: When the minor proselytes come of age they can protest (and declare that they do not want to remain within the Jewish faith – this applies even if the father was present at the conversion, as in the case when a non-Jew converts along with his minor children). Also, the renunciation is accepted (without penalty from the Beit Din) only if declared within a strictly limited time period as soon as majority is attained. (For further elaboration, see the full text of the passage referred to in Ketubbot 11a, Rambam – Hilchot Melachim 10:3 and the Kesef Mishnes ad loc., as well as the Aruch HaShulchan, Hilchot Gerim.)

These Talmudic references make it clear that conversion, immersion (tevila in a mikveh) and, in the case of a male, milah (circumcision) must be accompanied by an acceptance of mitzvot, namely, the fulfillment of the commandments.

The Gaon Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe, Yoreh De’ah chelek I) discusses at length the matter of adopting a non-Jewish child and converting him/her to Judaism. Talking of the adoption of a baby boy he even goes into the details of the circumcision ceremony as described in the Talmud (Shabbos 137b) and the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De’ah 268). He also mentions the permissibility of formally naming the child as ‘the son of’ the adopting father (see Shemot Rabbah 46:6).

But he also cautions that the child has to be informed before reaching maturity of his/her status of convert so that the conversion may achieve permanence. Rabbi Feinstein assumes that the child has had a [halachic] Jewish upbringing and advises to undertake this step so that the adopted child will not renounce the life he has been living – and his conversion – because he was not aware of his status.

In the case you refer to there is no practice of Torah and mitzvot in the adoptive home, and the only ‘Jewish’ identity this child will have is one that is essentially superficial – even though the conversion of the infant might very possibly have been performed under 100% halachic auspices. However, if all the accompanying requisites, i.e., the practice of mitzvot, have not been met, the end result is that we must question the validity of this geirut.

Rabbi Herschel Schachter, rosh kollel of Yeshiva Rabbeinu Yitzchok Elchanan (R.I.E.T.S.-Y.U.) discussed this very situation at the recent convention of the Histadrus Horabonim (R.C.A.). He quoted the late Gaon Harav Joseph Ber Soloveitchik, zt”l, who admonished all rabbis and mohalim not to involve themselves in such a bris milah either in the case of a Gentile child being adopted and converted by a non-practicing Jewish couple or a child born of a mixed marriage – with a Gentile mother, as this is surely not a zechut – an advantage – for the child; who will henceforth be liable for all Torah commands even though it is unlikely that he will perform any (and obviously he will be unaware of his possibility of renunciation, albeit in that very limited time frame, when he reaches maturity as well).

Unfortunately, this situation illustrates another one of our contemporary problems, if not a plague, from which we suffer when there are any Jews who lack a full Jewish education and thus remain ignorant of our rich heritage and Torah laws. Surely, if we could transmit, unimpeded, the laws of our Torah and Talmud we would not be faced with such complex problems. Therefore we must, each and every one of us, resolve to strengthen Torah education in every way possible, until we reach the level where ignorance of our eternal heritage is eradicated.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/torah/q-a-a-mohels-dilemma/2001/06/22/

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