New Year’s Day in Halacha and Jewish History.

31 12 2013

new years

The question of whether or how we should mark the secular New Year comes up, mainly for Jews living in the Diaspora. I looked into the topic a little yesterday and came up with this.

1) ‘Chag Ha’Sylvester’

The Israeli term for New Year’s celebrations, ‘Sylvester’, was the name of the Saint and Roman Pope who reigned during the Council of Nicaea (325 C.E.). The year before the Council of Nicaea convened, Sylvester convinced Constantine to prohibit Jews from living in Jerusalem. At the Council of Nicaea, Sylvester arranged for the passage of a host of anti-Semitic legislation. All Catholic Saints are awarded a day on which Christians celebrate and pay tribute to that Saint’s memory. December 31 is Saint Sylvester Day; hence celebrations on the night of December 31 are dedicated to Sylvester’s memory.

2) In Halacha:

There are 3 issues that came to mind:

(1) Avoda Zarah (Idol worship);

(2) Chukot Hagoy; (customs and mores of the Gentiles), and

(3) Adding Mitzvot.

I don’t think (1) or (3) are problems. Jews wouldn’t attribute religious significance to a day some claim Jesus had his circumcision or say that celebrating the secular New Year was some type of extra Mitzvah.

The question is (2) of Chukot Hagoy.

The Torah, in Vayikra 18:3, says that Jews are forbidden to copy the customs of non-Jews.

The Vilna Gaon said that all customs were deemed ‘Chukat Hagoy’ unless we are certain that they have a valid Jewish basis.

The Shulchan Aruch, of Rav Yosef Cairo, was more lenient and said they didn’t need to have a Jewish basis. The Rema, (Rabbi Moshe Isserles) adds that the prohibition against copying non-Jewish customs applies to activities that encourage inappropriate or immodest conduct or that are linked to Avoda Zarah.

Rav Moshe Feinstein, rules that as New Year’s Day nowadays is detached from its religious origins, it is permitted to mark the day. However, he does say that ‘Ba’al Nefesh’ – people who are particular about their observance won’t take part in celebrations.

3) In Jewish History:

Even though from a Halachic perspective, there may not be anything wrong with celebrating, it’s worth bearing in mind that the time period between the 25th of December and the 1st of January was a period of increased Anti-Semitism and Anti-Jewish activity and persecution in Europe:

On New Year’s Day 1577 Pope Gregory XIII decreed that all Roman Jews, must listen attentively to the compulsory Catholic conversion sermon given in Roman synagogues after Friday night services. On New Year’s Day 1578 Gregory signed into law a tax forcing Jews to pay for the support of a ‘House of Conversion’ to convert Jews to Christianity. On New Year’s 1581 Gregory ordered his troops to confiscate sacred literature from the Roman Jewish community.

Throughout the medieval and post-medieval periods, January 1, supposedly the day, on which Jesus’ circumcision initiated the reign of Christianity was reserved for Anti-Jewish activities: Synagogue and book burnings and persecution.

4) Celebrating in Israel?

There is of course nothing wrong with socializing and having fun. Especially for those who live in the Diaspora, it’s important to respect non-Jewish colleagues and friends by wishing them back whatever they wish you. Furthermore, the idea of looking back, doing Cheshbon Ha’Nefesh and reflecting on our achievements and deeds of the past year is in fact a very Jewish idea. I just think we all need to bear in mind, that we already four New Years that the Mishna in Massechet Rosh Hashanah lists, and have our own calendar with our own chagim.

Rav Moshe Feinstein was writing in America. I’m not sure if Rav Moshe was writing in present day Israel, he would have seen a need to permit celebrating the secular New Year, above showing respect to our non-Jewish colleagues, clients and friends.

So, I hope I have clarified a little of what ‘Chag Ha’Sylvester’ is about and whether it’s permitted or right to celebrate tonight.

Benjy Singer.

Rav Yoni Rosensweig and the Heating Controversy. What was all the Fuss about??

24 12 2013

Rav Yoni Rosensweig, the Rav of the ‘My Shteiblech’ Facebook Page and website ( I manage, got himself into ‘hot water’ last week, when he wrote an article in nrg Maariv describing his actions a few Shabbatot ago in Efrat, during the freezing cold weather many of us encountered. I posted the article on the ‘My Shteiblech’ Facebook page which you can find if you wish.


An online snow storm erupted and Rav Yoni was criticized by many both on and off of Facebook. Some of the responses and comments were rude and offensive, and reflected the sad truth, that many people did not have any understanding of the Halachic issues Rav Yoni was dealing with.

Several people asked me via my ‘My Shteiblech’ Facebook page to explain what the whole fuss was about. The purpose of this blog post is to present the basic Halachic issues at hand as I understand them. Next week I will be writing a blog post about the pitfalls of using Facebook in Halachic debate.

What Happened?

Rav Yoni was spending Shabbat in Efrat with his wife and five young children, during the freezing cold weather and the switch to the electricity flicked ‘off’, causing the heating to go off. It was 3am and his kids were crying due to the fact they were freezing cold. Rav Yoni flicked the switch back to ‘on’ with his elbow I presume, thereby using ‘Shinui’ (doing an action in an abnormal manner, turning the action from a potential D’Oraita – Biblical act, to a D’Rabbanan – Rabbinic act). He also did the action using a ‘Grama’ (I’ll explain what this means further on).

The Halachic Debate.

Whether this is a classic case of ‘Choleh She’eyn Bo Sakanah’ – a person whose life is not in danger, or will not lose a limb, but is usually bedridden and in pain, I can’t judge, but Rav Yoni thought it was. Also, I wasn’t there, so I don’t know if Rav Yoni could have found more bedding or clothing to keep his kids warm or how cold it actually was. Halacha does take being cold into account – we say that objectively, people who are suffering from the cold are considered ‘cholim’ and there is certainly a precedent for being meykil (lenient) – the phrase is, ‘Hakol Cholim Etzel Tzinah’ . The Ramah in Orach Chayim 328:17, rules that if a child is cold, he is treated as a ‘Choleh She’yn Bo Sakanah’. Halacha also respects, trusts and relies upon ones instinctive reactions and behavior based on common sense and responsible behavior.

The Shmirat Shabbat Ke’Hilchata in 38:8 says ‘in cold countries where people suffer from the cold’, you can ask a non-Jew to break Shabbat for you even in a case of ‘Choleh She’yn Bo Sakanah’. I would certainly say, in Efrat, like where I was in Yerushalayim that Shabbat a few weeks ago, it was certainly as cold as it was in ‘cold countries’, and we were all suffering even though we were healthy adults.


The above picture is of Rav Yehoshua Neuwirth ZT’L, the author of Shmirat Shabbat Ke’Hilchata.

You really need to learn the Shulchan Aruch, in Orach Chayim 328, to understand this topic properly, where he explains that there are different levels of cholim:

1) ‘Meychush B’Alma’, someone who just isn’t feeling well, like a stomach ache or headache – you can’t be M’Challel Shabbat for and can’t ask a non-Jew either to be.

2) ‘Choleh She’Yesh Bo Sakanah’ – which is ‘Pikuach Nefesh’, an ill person who may die or lose a limb and whose whole body is effected by the illness, of course you can break Shabbat for.

3) The question is ,is a ‘Choleh She’eyn Bo Sakanah’, who is bedridden, has a high temperature or virus etc. – Can you break Shabbat for him or her?

This is the grey area in Hilchot Shabbat that Rav Yoni found himself in. Well, ideally you should ask a doctor to find out how ill the person is and whether there is a chance he or she will turn into a ‘Choleh She’Yesh Bo Sakanah’, in which case there is a possibility of ‘Pikuach Nefesh’.

The Mishnah and Gemarah in Yoma 83 says even in a case of ‘Safek Pikuach Nefesh’– if you aren’t sure if he or she will die or lose a limb, you can break Shabbat – but it must be a real Safek, which a doctor should decide. Again, if there is no doctor, then the patient or person decides.

The Shmirat Shabbat K’Hilchatah in various places in Chapters 33 (1 and 2) and 38 (8 and 28) discusses the case of a ‘Choleh She’yn Bo Sakanah’ and says that clearly that there are situations where Shabbat can be broken. For instance, in 38:8, he says that in cold climates as we all suffer from the cold and are all ‘cholim with regard to the extreme cold’, then if there are young children or elderly people or an ill person who will suffer from the cold, you can ask a non-Jew to put the heating on.

But, what if there is no non-Jew to ask, like in Rav Yoni’s case, at 3am in the morning in Efrat? This is a famous debate amongst Acharonim and Rav Yoni was not the first person to take the meykil approach – he was following in the footsteps of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach!. The Shmirat Shabbat K’Hilchata 33:2 mentions the opinion that if there is no option of finding a non-Jew to do the required action, a Jew can do it, even in a case of a Melacha D’Oraita. The Mishneh Brurah, actually here in the footnotes, the Shaar Tzion says that unless there is a clear case of Pikuach Nefesh, a Jew cannot break Shabbat even with a ‘Shinui’. However, he writes in brackets, that there are ‘great poskim’ who do permit a Jew to perform a Melachah D’Oraita on Shabbat even in a case of ‘Choleh Sh’ Eyn Bo Sakanah’ as long as you do it with a ‘Shinui’. In the footnotes, he says Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach relying on the Shulchan Aruch Ha’Rav, the Egley Tal, the Tehilah L’David and others holds this. So, assuming it was a case of ‘Choleh She’eyn Bo Sakanah’ and not just a ‘Meychush B’Alma’ it seems Rav Yoni did have upon what to rely. Again, I don’t know if the ‘Shinui’ Rav Yoni used was a Halachic ‘Shinui’ that Rav Shlomo Zalman was referring to- I assume it was.

The question of ‘Grama’: In this case indirectly causing the heat to come on.

Rav Yoni said he also used ‘Grama’ ,as well as the ‘Shinui’ when he put the electricity back on. Even though I didn’t read what Rav Rosen wrote in his response to Rav Yoni’s article, I believe that Rav Rosen said that he and the majority of poskim did not agree with how Rav Yoni understood the concept of ‘Grama’ and how he applied it to his situation. I myself am not 100% clear on how ‘Grama’ applied here. There are two ways I understood it in this case, either 1) That by flicking back the switch he wasn’t creating a new electricity circuit, but merely connecting it to the already existing power source, or 2) That even though he flicked the switch, the actual power source was coming from elsewhere.

There is a disagreement between Rav Ovadia Yosef and Rav Soloveichik over ‘Grama’– whether there needs to be a delay between the action and result in order for there to be ‘Grama’. Rav Ovadia says that you can even have ‘Grama’ when the action and result happen concurrently. The Rav said, in order for there to be ‘Grama’ there must be a delay between the action and result.

Rav Rosen and Chief Rabbi David Lau.

Rav Rosen and many other were critical of the rather blasé and flippant style Rav Yoni wrote, but as I know Rav Yoni, he was writing as he talks. Anyway, it wasn’t supposed to be a Teshuva, but rather an article for mainly secular readers to show how Halachah is relevant to the modern age. Also, I understand that there are dangers in making out that one can be meykil in Hilchot Shabbat which may lead to people being lax – but ,on the other hand Halacha is a system of concepts and principles. If there are different approaches and views, what is the danger in people being educated about them and seeing the complexity and variety of ways of understanding?

Sadly, it needs to be said, I assume Rabbinic politics is also involved. I heard that Rav Rosen does not approve of ‘Bet Hillel’ who Rav Yoni works for and is part of a competing body. Also, why Chief Rabbi David Lau said that based on what he wrote, Rav Yoni didn’t understand Hilchot Shabbat I can’t fathom.

The responses and comments on Facebook and elsewhere, ‘Kavod La’Briyot and ‘Derech Eretz’.

An issue that should bother us all is the way some people responded on Facebook and elsewhere to Rav Yoni’s article. Maybe it’s because I was brought up in England and my grandparents were Yekers that I am extra sensitive to ‘Derech Eretz’ and ‘Kavod Le’Briyot. Why on earth do people think they can write whatever they like on Facebook and get away with it? Don’t they know that Facebook comments can be seen by everyone and can go viral. Aren’t values such as respect, sensitivity, thoughtfulness not embarrassing someone in public, as Jewish as not breaking Shabbat? Having read what people wrote it’s clear that many of them had not learnt the topic of a ‘Choleh B’Shabbat’ in any depth. ‘Choleh She’yn Bo Sakanah’ and ‘Safek Pikuach Nefesh’ are meaty topics in Hilchot Shabbat. There are many definitions and opinions and you need to really understand the principles to be able to judge what to do.


The above picture is of Ha’Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ZT’L.

Rav Yoni was following the meykil Psak of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach.

So, to sum up. As far as I understand, assuming that it was a genuine case of ‘Choleh She’eyn Bo Sakanah’, Rav Yoni was following the more meykil approach of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach who relied on the positions of the Shulchan Aruch Ha’Rav, the Egley Tal and others. They all ruled that on Shabbat in a case of ‘Choleh She’eyn Bo Sakanah’, even if it’s an Issur D’Oraita involved, you can do the action with a ‘Shinui’ where you can’t ask a non-Jew to do the action on your behalf.

I hope on Yom Hadin, the worst thing we could have done in our lives is to follow the more meykil opinion and to have warmed up our young children who are freezing cold in bed at 3am on Shabbat morning. Halacha demands of us to live and enjoy life, and not cause suffering and pain.

I hope that has explained things more clearly. If I have misunderstood anything please let me know,

Benjy Singer

Empathy, Snow and Moshe Rabbenu

19 12 2013


This past Monday morning as I walked down the stairs in my block, I knocked on the door of one of my elderly neighbours to check if she needed anything from the shops. I knew due to the horrific weather conditions she would have been unable to get out. Whilst speaking to her, I found out she hadn’t been out of her flat since Thursday morning and was out of milk and other basics. I heard that people I knew had fractured and broken bones and even tonight whilst I was walking around Katamon in the pitch black, as the street lights weren’t working, I saw someone fall. Clearly the past week for those of us who live in Yerushalayim and other parts of the country was very annoying and exasperating.

On the other hand, there is a beauty about snow and a calming, silent and tranquil aspect to seeing it covering the normally busy and anxious ground. Suddenly people have to walk slower or not at all and just look out from the window to be in touch with what’s going on outside. You can’t run around as usual and you have a little time to turn inwards and towards others for a change.

Furthermore, we all felt that extra sense of community and togetherness – whether helping elderly people with their shopping or helping them walk the icy streets, or finding our friends meals for Shabbat if they were stranded here for Shabbat. On the ‘My Shteiblech’ Facebook page I run, we organised Shabbat meals for singles stuck here for Shabbat and offered information about the Eruv on Friday. In other words, we all felt a greater sense of ‘otherness’ and mutual dependency. We were all the same for a change and the idea was to help and not compete with each other.

Many families hosted people over Shabbat who didn’t have electricity and heating. I also stayed at a family nearby, as my flat was freezing as we had had a power cut and didn’t know if it would go off again over Shabbat. People went to the closest shuls to where they lived over Shabbat which may not have been their regular place to daven, and thereby had an opportunity to get to know new people, outside their comfort zone.

In the Katamon Shteiblech there was a power cut for a few days, but we still davened as usual in the dark, just spending a little more time after davening shmoozing and making sure we were all being looked after and had food and enough blankets to keep us warm.

When I walked through Gan Sacher to work on Monday, I saw literally hundreds of school children enjoying themselves in the snow. I walked to the Kotel on Sunday and seeing the Old City so white was breathtaking.

So, I guess there were two ways of looking at this past week of snow and storms. Either as an exciting and enjoyable experience where we got to have fun in the snow or as a rather frustrating and irksome few days, full of wet socks and sore bottoms. Either way, we were made to empathize and connect more with those around us on a deeper level, and thereby became a little more human and true to who we really are.

In this week’s Parsha, Shemot, we also see this idea of empathy and connecting to others around us. Pharaoh’s daughter herself is described in Shemot 2:6, as having pity on Moshe and she named Moshe, ‘Moshe’ as she drew him out of the water – which was itself an act of empathy and kindness. Moshe himself is described as a man of empathy and human understanding, standing up for the defenseless and injustice. In Shemot 2:11-14, the Torah describes Moshe seeing an Egyptian man striking a Jew and he protects the Jew – again showing he has his older sisters trait of empathy and caring for the underdog and disadvantaged. In Shemot 2:13, the Torah describes Moshe going out the next day and again seeing two men, this time two Jews fighting and again he attempts to protect the weaker party.

So, we see the Torah describes Moshe as first and foremost a man of empathy and compassion who was sensitive to the suffering of others.

I heard Rabbi Jonathan Sacks say a number of times that the purpose the Jews had to be enslaved in Egypt, was so as a people they understood the importance of being sensitive to those in the minority and periphery of society. Only when they had experienced it themselves, where they were ready to enter Eretz Yisrael and build a society of their own based on justice and equality.

So, whether you enjoyed the snow, (or least the first day or two) or just saw it as a real annoyance, either way we were all made to think a little differently about as sociologists Peter Berger and Ernest Goffman called it, this ‘Game of Life’ where we are all actors trying to find our way. As a result, we thereby became a little more human and sensitive to those around us. In this week’s Parsha, Shemot, the Torah highlights the importance of empathy and sensitivity when describing Moshe, who following in the footsteps of Pharaoh’s daughter who saved him, is also aware of the plight and suffering of those around him.

Shabbat Shalom,

Benjy Singer.

So, Was the Eruv in Yerushalayim Up or Not??

15 12 2013


On Friday morning, whilst I was freezing in the Shteiblech, I received a number of requests on the ‘My Shteiblech’ Facebook page I run, to inform people if the Eruv was ‘up’ or not. Just to clarify, we are talking about a ‘Tzurat Hapetach’ which is essentially a frame, connecting poles and wires. I remember when we made a Siyum on Massechet Eruvin, Rav Katzenelburgen, the Rav in charge of the Eruv in Yerushalayim, gave a shiur and he showed us how flimsy and unstable the Eruv ( really a Tzurat Hapetach) of Yerushalayim is (which is why many Charedim don’t use it) and how inaccessible parts of it were at the best of times.

I myself had a power cut in my flat, so had no idea that the Eruv was down, had it not been for the texts I had got. When I went to a friends flat who had power, I opened up the source of all information nowadays, Facebook, and saw there were rumours and reports that the Eruv may have fallen and people has sent messages to my ‘My Shteiblech’ Facebook page asking what to do.

I had been tagged in a note to say Rav Benny Lau, said that the previous night the Eruv was checked and until people heard otherwise they should assume the Eruv is still OK and that shuls will pass on a message before Shabbat (which would be difficult due to the power cut in the area). This is infact the Halacha with Eruvin, as with Mikvaot, that you assume the chazakah is the Eruv is fine, until you have proven otherwise.

I asked a Rav what to post on ‘My Shteiblech’ and he said to tell people that as it is unclear if the Eruv is up and as the weather will only get worse, you cannot rely on the chazakah that it’s OK, and that I should tell people not to use the Eruv, unless you really need to, and if so to ask a Rav.

Bear in mind, as Rav Chadad pointed out to me, we are talking about carrying in a public area (Reshut Harabim) which according to the majority of Rishonim, is dependent on the street being 16 amot – 8 metres wide and not as Rashi says, 600,000 people passing. Even though the streets of Yerushalayim are mostly a Karmelit ( a Rabbinic public area) and therefore not a Biblical Issur, we are still talking about a Rabbinic Issur at least of carrying in a public area, which in terms of Hilchot Shabbat is very serious.


What didn’t make the situation easier for any of us, is that the Rabbanut were telling people different things. Rav Shlomo Rosen told me that they had told a ‘chiloni’ journalist that the Eruv was ‘up’, but they had told a ‘charedi’ journalist that the Eruv was ‘down’.

Rav Benny Lau:

Then other reports went around that the Iriyah and eye witnesses had said the Eruv had fallen. Someone wrote on my ‘My Shteiblech’ Facebook page that the Eruv wires outside his flat were down and had not been repaired. As people were continuing to text me and send messages to my ‘My Shteiblech’ Facebook page saying the Eruv was repaired (why don’t the Rabbanut of Yerushalayim have a website where they can post this type of information?..) I had no idea what to say, so I called Pam Hack who called Rav Benny Lau.

Rav Lau said to tell people that he had been told by the Rav in charge of the Eruv, that the Eruv was up, but as it may be further affected by the weather conditions over Shabbat, you should only use it minimally, which is what I posted on ‘My Shteiblech’.

In the evening at Ramban Shul ( I wasn’t there but a friend told me), apparently Rav Lau also said, that having spoken to the Rav in charge of the Eruv before Shabbat, he said the Eruv was currently up and it had been repaired, but as you don’t know what the weather will be like over Shabbat, you should only use minimally.

During Shabbat and this morning in the Shteiblech I spoke to several Rabbanim about whether the Eruv was in fact OK over Shabbat and this is what they said:

Rav Kidron:

Like Rav Benny Lau, Rav Kidron had called Rav Katzenelburgen, the Rav in charge of the Eruv an hour before Shabbat, and he said the same thing to him. That the Eruv was up, but as it was unclear what the weather would be like over Shabbat, you should not use it Le’Chatchilah and just B’Dieved. For instance, a mohel could use it.

Rav Kidron also said, that as the streets in Yerushalayim were a Karmelit and so the Issur of carrying was D’Rabbaban – in certain areas of Halacha we say in cases of D’Rabbanan and not D’Oraita, that it’s better not to tell people, if they will probably in any case break the Halacha.

In this case, as people may ignore or forget the fact that the Eruv was down, as we are dealing with an Issur D’Rabbanan, it’s better not to tell people. But you should not tell people that it was unconditionally permitted to carry Le’Chatchilah, even if the Issur of carrying was just D’Rabbanan.

On the Facebook message Rav Benny Lau posted on Erev Shabbat, he DID NOT say you could use the Eruv Le’Chatchilah and said that as it may fall down during the duration of Shabbat you should only use it if you really have to – which is what Rav Kidron was also told by Rav Katzenelburgen on Erev Shabbat.

Rav Aryeh Shtern:

Rav Shtern said you could not assume the chazakah that the Eruv was still in force when Shabbat came in and certainly on Shabbat morning after another night of storms and snow, as reports from the Iryah and eye witnesses had said otherwise. Also, as Rav Shtern knows how fragile and unstable the Eruv is, he did not see how if electricity poles and trees had fallen, it couldn’t be that the flimsy Eruv wires and poles hadn’t also been damaged.

Furthermore, as Rav Shtern knows the layout and circumference of the Eruv well, he said it was impossible that it could have been checked properly since the storms and snow started on Thursday and certainly on Friday, as there are parts of the Eruv that would have been inaccessible and very hard to repair.

Also, he said as Rav Kidron said, that the Shmirat Shabbat says that in cases of D’Rabbanan is it at times better not to tell people that something is assur, if they will break the Halacha regardless. In other words, Rav Shtern said, that if people would carry anyway on Shabbat even if they knew the Eruv was down, it’s better not to tell them, than they transgress an Issur D’Rabbanan. This does not apply to Issurim that are clearly in the Torah – so, if you say the Issur of carrying was D’Oraitah this would not apply.

Rav Chaddad:

The structure of the Eruv had collapsed and there was no chazakah the Eruv was in a usable condition for Shabbat. Also, there was no way you could rely on the Eruv being fixed properly on Friday. Also, you couldn’t have used the Eruv on Shabbat as the weather conditions were getting worse and the structure of the Eruv is weak. Also, Rav Chaddad said, there could be some areas in Yerushalayim, which are actually a Reshut Ha’Rabbim on a D’Oraita level as the streets are wider than 16 amot – 8 metres, which according to the Rambam, the majority of opinions and one view in the Shulchan Aruch is enough to make the street a Rechut Harabim and so you are actually transgressing an Issur D’Oraitah by carrying.

Rav Bushran:

Due to the weather and eyewitness the reports that the Eruv was down on Erev Shabbat, you could not rely on the chazakah that the Eruv was ‘up’ and you could not use it on Shabbat. He also said, as I’ve already mentioned that in the Gemarah, a Reshut Ha’Rabbim is defined as a street 16 Amot wide, as the Rambam and majority of Rishonim also say, and some streets are that width and so we are talking about an Issur D’Oraita.

Rav Bushran also knows the frame of the Yeryshalayim Eruv well and how weak it is. He didn’t understand how we could be certain that it could not have been damaged over Shabbat.

Common Sense??

I was chatting to David Corman and he said something that really sums all this all up. We all have common sense and also (hopefully) care about Halacha. If we are walking around the streets and see electricity wires and trees having fallen, how on earth can we honestly assume a flimsy Eruv hasn’t also been affected?

What Rav Benny Lau said:

No Rav, including Rav Benny Lau either on the Facebook message he wrote before Shabbat or in the evening at Ramban shul, said it was permitted to carry unconditionally, without reservation. In shul on Friday night, I was told, Rav Lau said he didn’t know what the state of the Eruv would be through Shabbat, assuming the weather conditions continued which they did. Obviously, the implication of that comment was that it’s best not to carry unless you need to. Rav Lau was told the same thing on Erev Shabbat that Rav Kidron was told by Rav Katzenelburgen, the Rav in charge of the Eruv, and what Rav Lau said was therefore right.

Also, I assume Rav Lau was using the same principle that Rav Shtern and Rav Kidron had mentioned to me. That as the majority of streets in Yerushalayim – especially in the Katamon area where Rav Lau is paskenim for, are a Karmelit and the Issur is only D’Rabbanan, it is better not to publically say it’s forbidden to carry, to avoid people carrying intentionally. But, you do need to make it clear that it’s better not to carry unless you really need to, which is what Rav Lau wrote on the Ramban Facebook page before Shabbat.

To sum up I think there are 5 things we can learn from this whole Eruv ballagan:

1) The Rabbanut needs to have a website that informs people with what the Halacha is in this type of situation.

2) Rabbanim need to be clearer about what they tell their communities, to avoid Chillul Shabbat.

3) People need to take more responsibility and take the initiative to find out what the Halacha is and not rely on inaccurate hearsay and irresponsible Facebook posts.

4) Use your common sense.

5) How useful the ‘My Shteiblech’ Facebook page I run has become!

Shavuah Tov and be careful of the ice,

Benjy Singer.

Assarah B’Tevet on Erev Shabbat – A Halachic Overview

11 12 2013


The Gemarah says that even if Assarah B’Tevet would fall on Shabbat, you still would need to fast. Unlike the other minor fasts, Assarah B’Tevet is not postponed if it falls on Friday.

A number of people have asked me via the ‘My Shteiblech’ facebook page I manage, about the Halachot for this coming Friday, being both Assarah B’Tevet and Erev Shabbat.

So, here is an overview I have put together for you all.

Look on the ‘My Shteiblech’ facebook page for a more detailed discussion in Ivrit with sources, Ha’Rav Yossi Rimon wrote on this topic.

Basic history – On Assarah B’Tevet the seige of Yerushalayim began. One and a half years later, the First Bet Mikdash was destroyed.

1) There is a discussion between R’Yossi and R’Yehudah in the Gemarah in Brachot over whether you extend the fast of Assarah B’Tevet on Erev Shabbat, until after Tefilah. R’Yehudah says you shouldn’t, as you don’t want to make people enter Shabbat hungry. The Ramah rules like R’Yossi, that we do extend the fast into Shabbat which is the Halacha.

2) The fast starts as usual at Alot Hashachar – dawn, which is one seasonal hour and 12 minutes before Netz Hachamah – sunrise.

3) You must make Kiddush before eating.

4) If you have a sensitive stomach you can make kiddush on grape juice, when usually it’s better with wine.

5) You are allowed to bath and wash in warm water on Erev Shabbat.

6) The person cooking for Shabbat is allowed to taste the food (it’s a mitzvah to taste food when cooking on Erev Shabbat) to check it’s tasty, but NOT SWALLOW. If he/she makes a Bracha on the food by accident, then he/she should eat a little food.

7) During Shacharit, you say Selichot and ‘Va’Yechal’.

8) During Mincha you don’t say Tachanun or Avinu Malkenu – Lichvod Shabbat. There is a machloket if you say Kriyat Hatorah during mincha and the Halacha is we do.

9) You are allowed to daven Kabbalat Shabbat/ Maariv slightly earlier to allow people to go home earlier and eat. But it’s best not to daven Maariv more than 18 minutes before Shabbat comes in.

10) You say ‘Aneinu’ in ‘Shema Kolenu’ in the Minchah Amidah as usual on a fast. If you are davening Minchah Gedolah (6 1/2 seasonal hours into the day, 1/2 a seasonal hour after Chatzot-midday) the Cohanim don’t Duchan. If you daven Minchah Ketanah ( 9 1/2 seasonal hours into the day) or after ‘Plag Ha’Minchah’, the Cohanim do duchan until Shkiyah as usual.

If we all do Teshuva and become better people, hopefully we won’t need to fast!

Benjy Singer.

Part 1 – Summary of Yemei Iyun on Rav Ovadia Yosef at Yeshivat Har Etzion

8 12 2013

chanukah yemei iyun

Well, now for something slightly different to the Limmud controversy in England or ThanksGivukkah that I’ve been blogging about recently – the Yemei Iyun at Yeshivat Har Etzion over Chanukah about the ‘Moreshet and Torah of Ha’Rav Ovadia Yosef’. I was lucky enough to be able to attend both days last week and was asked by several loyal ‘My Shteiblech’ people, who ‘like’ the ‘My Shteiblech’ facebook page and use the website – I run and manage, to write a summary.

There are two sections to my summary comprising of two separate blogs.

This is the first blog, which will be an overview, summarizing the main issues and themes that the speakers focused on.

The second blog will cover the concluding remarks that Ha’Rav Moshe Lichtenstein gave, as well as ideas that Ha’Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, Rav Gigi, Rav Yoel Ben Nun and Rav Bazak spoke about.

I personally found Rav Shlomo Levi and Ha’Rav Moshe Lichtenstein the most interesting and will spend more time discussing what they said. The rest of what was said, I’ve heard before. Rav Shlomo Levi’s Halachic analysis was breath-taking and Ha’Rav Moshe’s summary and concluding remarks were spot on.

Obviously, in these two blogs I cannot comprehensively cover what was discussed, and this is just supposed to be a taster. These are my own reflections and not supposed to be a Halachic work –as far as I’m aware these two blogs are accurate and reflect what was said. If there are errors, they are mine and not the speakers. Neither can I put in writing what an experience it was to sit at the feet of Gedoley Hador and Talmidei Chachamim for two intense days of learning.

Two further observations I made. Firstly, the differences in emotions when the various Rabbanim were speaking – Rav Benny Lau and Ha’Rav Moshe Lichtenstein were to a large extent speaking objectively and the loss of Rav Ovadia they were describing was to the Torah, rather than personal. In contrast, when Rav Shlomo Amar or Rav Daniel Gordis Halevi – the Rosh Kollel of Yechava Da’at were speaking, you could sense their personal pain and angst.

I remember when I went back to Yeshiva for the various events in memory of Ha’Rav Amital Z’L, Ha’Rav (Aharon) Lichtenstein was at times tearful, weeping and clearly moved. In contrast, when Ha’Rav Lichtenstein introduced Rav Gordis Halevi and spoke about the importance of ‘Torah Lishma’, or when he was interjecting with comments and questions (which I really enjoyed) whilst Ha’Rav Moshe, Rav Yoel Bin Nun and others were speaking, I really didn’t sense that Ha’Rav Lichtenstein felt the same sense of personal loss for Rav Ovadia.

Secondly, as Rav Gigi pointed out even though the presenters were talking about the same Rav Ovadia and the same Torah and Halacha, they were talking in a different language and coming from very different perspectives. Rav Yitzchak Yosef, Rav Amar and Rav Gordis were talking more esoterically and in more ‘spiritual’ terms, than the Halachic and rational style of analysis of Rav Shlomo Levi, Ha’Rav Moshe, Rav Benny Lau, Rav Bazak and Rav Gigi – I actually found these differing approaches and ways of speaking interesting.

(The most amusing part of the 2 days, was when Dr Leon Nissim said that Ha’Rav Amital Z’L worked with Rav Ovadia in a school for a year and neither Rav Gigi or Rav Bazak who I was sitting behind, were aware of that!)

Ha’Rav Yaakov Medan:

As opposed to the ‘Derech Haprishut’ of the Ramchal and the automatic assumption that the more machmir approach is better, Rav Ovadia saw it as his role to connect Halacha to the real world and take Halacha out of the ghetto. In order to do this he had to be maykil and try to find kullot where he could. He tried to bring Halacha to the people and make it relevant and practical. This was his main achievement – to make normal people recognise the centrality of Halacha – from the journalist to the lawyer. Rav Meydan said that Rav Ovadia was at the same level of authority as Rav Shrira Gaon and Rav Hai Gaon. He acted against the Ashkenazi elite and was acting alone much of his career, even within the Sefardi sector.

Rav Benny Lau:

Largely repeated what he said in his lecture at Ramban shul during the Shiva time of Rav Ovadia and what he wrote in his book. Here is the blog I wrote on 16/10/2013, Le’Hachzir Atarah Le’Yoshnah covering what Rav Benny Lau said.

rav meydan

Ha’Rav Shlomo Amar:

Rav Ovadia solved issues relating to Agunot, Mamzerut, medical and health matters, soldiers killed in war etc. that the Batai Din or local and regional Rabbanim couldn’t solve or were unwilling to deal with. He looked for heterim when others were unable or unwilling to. He was believed in ‘Koach De’Hetairah Adif’ and that finding ‘kulot’ was a sign of strength and confidence. Rav Amar also spoke of his sense of personal loss, as Rav Ovadia always tried to encourage, inspire and help Rabbanim. Rav Amar also spoke of how Rav Ovadia feared and respected previous generations of Poskim – he had ‘Yirat Horaah’ and even though he was a courageous and independent thinking Posek himself, he always looked to previous psak, decisions and discussions. Rav Omar said that we should follow his example of ‘Hasmada’ and of being ‘Amel Ba’Torah’.

Ha’Rav Shlomo Levi:

Rav Shlomo Levi’s main point was that Rav Ovadia used rules, guidelines and principles, rather than logic, reason or deduction. He applied concepts such as ‘Koach D’Hetairah Adif’, ‘Safek D’Rabbanan Lekulah’, and ‘Sfek Sfeka Lekulah’. In a case of ‘Stam Ve’Yesh Omrim’ Rav Ovadia ruled that you go according to the ‘Stam’ – both Le’Chumrah and Le’Kulah.

Like the Rambam , Rav Ovadia held than ‘Safek D’Oraita Le’Chumrah’ is D’Rabbanan and therefore in such a case we can be meykil, unlike the Rashba who held that ‘Safek D’Oraita Le’Chumrah’ is D’Oraita and so you must be machmir, Le’Chatchilah, not just as the chachamim said so. For instance, if you find a piece of Treifah or Neveilah and you are unsure of it’s status, if you say D’Rabbanan and we are meykil, then really it’s permitted to eat, it’s just the chachamim were strict and said you can’t. If you hold like the Rashba and say Safek D’Oraita Le’Chumrah is D’Oraitah and we are machmir, then it’s forbidden to eat on a D’Oraitah level. In a case of ‘Sfek Sfeka’ Rav Ovadia was meykil, even if the Shulchan Aruch was machmir.

Rav Ovadia first looked to the 3 pillars of Halacha – the Rosh, Rif and Rambam and then followed the majority opinion. He then went to the Bet Yosef to see how Rav Yosef Cairo saw the Halacha, and followed him. Like Rav Yosef Cairo in the Shulchan Aruch, Rav Ovadia looked for a common denominator between the Rosh, Rif and Rambam and went with the majority opinion.

Rav Levi also explained how Rav Ovadia’s starting premise was that everything was mutar. Even within the Sefardi sector Rav Ovadia was unique, in that unlike for instance Rav Mordechi Eliyahu, he often went against the rulings and opinions of the Ben Ish Chai and the Chiddah. Unless proven otherwise – he thought the opposite of most poskim nowadays, and that we should prove something is assur, not the other way round. Rav Ovadia saw that being meykil was a sign of strength and knowledge and that being machmir was a sign of being in safek and unsure of what to pasken.

Rav Ovadia gave psak in a very different way to Ashkenazi poskim like Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and Rav Eliezer Waldenberg. He also went against the Psak of the Ben Ish Chai. I heard two reasons why Rav Ovadia at times went against the psak of the Ben Ish Chai. Firstly, as he saw the Shulchan Aruch not the Ben Ish Chai as the ‘Morah D’Atrah’ in Eretz Yisrael and secondly, because the Ben Ish Chai brings in Kabbalah to his Halacha which Rav Ovadia didn’t agree with doing. Rav Mordechai Eliyahu was more sympathetic towards Kabbalah.

Rav Shlomo Levi felt that Rav Ovadia was a revolutionary figure in Halacha. Rav Ovadia saw Rav Yosef Cairo as the ‘Morah D’Atrah’ even though he lived 400 years earlier. Even though the Ben Ish Chai and Chiddah didn’t always pasken like the Shulchan Aruch, Rav Ovadia did in most cases. He didn’t follow the Chiddah or Ben Ish Chai, and in that way was different to Rav Mordechai Eliyahu and others who did. Rav Ovadia, accepted the Shuchan Aruch in Psika and not just in Halacha.

Rav Levi said that the uniqueness of Rav Ovadia was that he acted and ruled according to the needs of the generation – he understood the needs of the people.

Rav Shlomo Levi also spoke about Rav Ovadia’s approach to minhag. He was willing to critique and reject a minhag if it was baseless or was ‘Shelo B’irtzon Chachamim’ even if the Ben Ish Chai, Chiddah or Ramah held of and enforced the minhag. For instance, in the question of women saying brachot over Arbah Minim, whilst the Chiddah said the minhag was for women not to make a bracha, Rav Ovadia felt that this was not correct and women could make a bracha. Rav Levi explained that Rav Ovadia saw the difference between what was ‘M’Ikar Hadin’ and what was just minhag.

Rav Ovadia brought in other broader Jewish issues and values into his psak. For instance, in Niddah which has an Issur of Karet, he was the most meykil out of all poskim, as he wanted to help people as much as possible perform the mitzvah of Pirya Ve’rivya. Whilst most Poskim held that ‘zayin neki’im’ was 5 days, Rav Ovadia held it was 4, which Rav Levi said he didn’t understand. Rav Levi said, when he spoke to his father in law who was the Rav of Tel Aviv about Rav Ovadia’s psak of 4 days, he also didn’t understand it. Rav Levi said that he didn’t understand some of the Kulot of Rav Ovadia that he wrote in Taharat Habayit- Rav Ovadia’s book on Niddah. I remember once hearing Rav Shlomo Levi commenting that he didn’t understand a psak that Rav Ovadia had given about ‘Platot’ – hotplates on Shabbat.

rishon -gush

Ha’Rishon Le’Tzion,Rav Yitzchak Yosef:

Like Rav Shlomo Levi, he spoke about the Sugya of ‘Safek D’Oraita Le’Chumra’-if it’s D’Oraita or D’Rabbanan. He said Rav Ovadia held like the Rambam that it was D’Rabbanan, unlike the Rashba. He explained that Rav Ovadia believed in ‘Koach De’Hetarah Adif’ and he always tried to find a way to be meykil within the parameters of Halacha. He dealt with complicated cases involving agunot, mamzerut etc. that other Rabbanim and Batei Din couldn’t solve.

He explained as Rav Shlomo Levi did, that Rav Ovadia first looked to the 3 pillars of Halacha, the Rosh, Rif and Rambam and then went to the Bet Yosef.

Rav Yitzchak Yosef explained that what underpinned his father’s approach to giving psak, was pursuing the truth-and he felt the truth was in the meykil approach, to make Halacha as relevant as possible to the regular people of the street.

Whilst the Chazon Ish followed the Maharshal and went Le’chumrah, Rav Ovadia followed the Rambam, Rif and Rosh who were often more meykil.

Again, in Taharat Habayit, Rav Ovadia’s book on Niddah, we see how Rav Ovadia was meykil throughout Hilchot Niddah, despite the issur of Niddah being Karet, in order to help people perform the mitzvah of Peru Urvu. Also, in order to make it easier for Israeli farmers, Rav Ovadia supported Heter Mechirah, unlike the Chazon Ish. In general, Ashkenazim follow the Ramah, Marshal etc. and are machmir and go Le’chumrah in the case of safek, whilst Rav Ovadia believed in the power of kulot and applied the concept of ‘Koach D’Heteirah Adif’ whenever he could.

Rav Yitzchak Yosef spoke about the mission of Rav Ovadia to ‘Le’Hachzir Atarah Le’Yoshnah’ – to bring back the status of Sefardi Jewry to its previous status, through the Shulchan Aruch, which he did.

Rabbi Dr Halperin:

Mentioned how Rav Ovadia dealt with health and medical issues, such as time of death, genetics, IVF, organ donations, sperm donations from Jews/ non-Jews etc. but was reticent to write Teshuvot and publish papers and was far more hesitant to make public decisions.

Unlike, for instance Rav Yoel Ben Nun, Rav Ovadia did not write official Teshuvot about organ donations – this could be as he couldn’t for political reasons. It also could be, as he was genuinely unsure what to decide over many medical issues and preferred to give personal advice and guidance.

Ha’Rav Moshe Lichtenstein, made the interesting point in his summary, that in areas of health and medical issues for instance, Rav Eliezer Waldenberg had superior expertise and knowledge than Rav Ovadia. In others areas of Halacha, such as electricity on Shabbat, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach had a broader understanding than Rav Ovadia. Rav Ovadia wasn’t as aware of medical and technological research and advances, and so the psak of Rav Shlomo Zalman and Rav Waldenberg is more accepted in these areas. Ha’Rav Moshe Lichtenstein also observed in his concluding remarks, that Rav Ovadia specialised in existing issues in Halacha, such as Agunah, Mamzeyrut and the obligations of women in mitzvot and certain brachot, but did not really deal and make progress with the more modern, present day questions and matters in Halacha.

Dr Nissim Leon:

Rav Ovadia had a transformative effect on the Sefardi sector and brought it back from the periphery. He brought together, fused and amalgamated the Sefardim. We see his unifying impact on the Sefardi sector in their liturgy, siddurim and minhagim. He was a stabilizing factor and since his passing, the Sefardi sector are in a state of crisis with no leader. Rav Ovadia answered questions such as: Who is a Sefardi?, What is a Sefardi Bet Knesset?, What are accepted universal minhagim of the Sefardi communities? Basically, Rav Ovadia defined what being Sefardi was.

Rav Ovadia, believed that the purpose of a Rav was to leave his daled amot and influence his community and the society around him. Rav Ovadia, despite his encyclopedic knowledge, was able to relate to the Jew of the street and speak their language. He believed that through education we can bring Tikun Olam. In essence, Rav Ovadia was a national figure who felt a responsibility for all Jews – religious and secular.

Dr Leon, commented that you can’t distinguish between Rav Ovadia, the spiritual leader, and Rav Ovadia the political leader. When he spoke in Ramban shul, Rav Benny Lau, said the opposite that you can distinguish between the two. Dr Leon made the point that Rav Ovadia was a historical figure who was able to keep Shas together, as opposed to other parties, like Mafdal, who were always falling apart.

This is part 1 of the summary. Hopefully, I’ll do part 2 which will be more analytical over the next few days.

Hope you enjoyed reading. Let me know what you think!

Benjy Singer. / facebook page – ‘My Shteiblech’

Sefer Beraishit, Chanukah and the Sanctity of the Family Unit.

6 12 2013

The Gemarah in Massechet Shabbat states that you should place your Chanukiyah on the right hand side of the entrance to your home, the opposite side of the Mezuzah. Why? The Mishna Brurah in Orach Chayim 681:7, explains the idea is that we are encircled by Mitzvot.


The entrance to the house has to filter the pure and sacred from the impure and profane. By being surrounded by these reminders, the Jewish home remains the fortress and stronghold of Judaism which needs protecting from unhealthy influences. Chanukah is as much about a spiritual and cultural victory as a military one, against the influences of Hellenism and secularism.

Sefer Beraishit also teaches us the importance of the Jewish home and family, as it is focused around family relationships. There are many images in Sefer Beraishit that highlight the centrality and power of the family unit. When Yosef is caught in the house of Potifar, the Midrash beautifully describes how Yosef sees an image of his father appearing to him through a window which reminds him who he is and how he should conduct himself.

Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch writes about interpersonal relationships in Sefer Beraishit – between Yaakov and Binyamin, Yaakov and Efraim and Menashe and of course between Avraham and Yitzchak. A central theme in the writings of Nechama Leibovitz in Sefer Beraishit is also family relationships – for instance, she wrote a famous essay about Yitzchak being the ‘Tzinor’ – the funnel, connecting Avraham to Yaakov. Rav Yoel Bin Nun, sees the whole structure of Sefer Beraishit is focused around siblings being accepted and rejected – again, family relationships.

Healthy family relationships are the basis of Jewish life – only once the family and home is established are we ready to become a collective people and nation – in Sefer Shemot, through coming out of Egypt and Matan Torah. First we have Sefer Beraishit and learn about the centrality of the home and family unit and only then are we able to mature and ready to go on to become a nation based on living in a Land and receiving the Torah.

We see in the Torah that there were Twelve Tribes and each one had their own flag, symbols and traits. So we see the importance of retaining ones own independence and being aware of how our roots are different and distinct from others around us. So too, we must be aware that the crux and core of our identity is the family unit and the homes we were brought up in.

The predominant and supreme institution in Judaism upon which all else depends is the family unit. The family unit is the cardinal and central body, which takes precedence over any other institution, be it the Bet Midrash or Bet Knesset. Learning Torah, doing mitzvot, keeping Halacha and davening etc. is all very nice, but you need a basis and foundation to stay balanced and rooted. The wisdom that grandparents pass on to grandchildren, the love and support that parents invest in their children, and the camaraderie between siblings, are all needed in order to live a genuine and real Jewish lifestyle.

Rav J.B. Soloveichik talks about ‘Musar Avicha’ and ‘Torat Imecha’. He refers to these two paradigms of ‘Torah’, The Torah of the ‘Fathers’ and the Torah of the ‘Mothers’ . The Torah of the ‘Mothers’ is rooted in the emotional and sentimental side of Judaism – that aspect of Torah is primarily learnt and experienced in the family unit and through relationships.

Now that we have finished Chanukah for another year and are also coming to the end of Sefer Beraishit, let us be reminded and aware of the pivotal role that the family unit plays in Judaism and may we all merit being able to experience having families of our own, in homes of our own, soon.

Shabbat Shalom,

Benjy Singer.