Short & Sweet - Text Message Q&A #330

Pesak Halachah before Blessing over Learning Torah
Q: If someone asks me a halachic question before I recite a blessing over learning Torah, is it permissible to answer?
A: Yes, if you answer without given the reasoning (even if you think about the reasoning).  Piskei Teshuvot 47:3.

Endangering Children for Settling Eretz Yisrael
Q: Is it permissible for parents to live in a place in Eretz Yisrael where there is some level of danger involved, or are they endangering their children?
A: Children follow their parents.  Shut Me'il Tzedakah brought in Pitchei Teshuvot Even Ha-Ezer #75.

Establishing Yeshivot
Q: Should we establish Yeshivot in every place?
A: Yes.  A Yeshiva is the heart of life in every place.

Calming a Baby in the Middle of a Blessing
Q: If I am in the middle of reciting a blessing and my baby starts crying, is it permissible for me to make signs with my hands and smile at him to calm him down?  After all, it is forbidden to do anything in the middle of a blessing.
A: After the fact, it is permissible, since calming the baby will aid in reciting the blessing properly.  Piskei Teshuvot 191:2.

Photograph on Shabbat
Q: What should I do if someone is taking a picture of me on Shabbat?
A: Refuse.  If it does not help, turn around or cover your face.

May the Merciful One Bless the State of Israel
Q: Should one add into the Birkat Ha-Mazon: "May the Merciful One Bless the State of Israel, beginning of our Redemption" and "May the Merciful One Bless the soldiers of the Israel Defense Force"?
A: There is no need.  These ideas are already included in the Birkat Ha-Mazon.

Direction of Davening at the Kotel
Q: Should one Daven straight at the Kotel or on an angle towards the Dome of the Rock which was the spot of the Beit Ha-Mikdash?
A: No one knows where the Beit Ha-Mikdash stood.  Although the Radvaz said that the Dome of the Rock is on the spot of the Beit Ha-Mikdash, Poskim have already pointed out that the Radvaz himself has a few contradictions regarding this issue.  Ha-Rav Moshe Sternbuch writes that the Radvaz says this is in the name of the Arabs and one cannot rely on their testimony.  Furthermore, he brings in the name of the Zohar that the location of the Temple is hidden in the ground and is unknown.  And the Arizal said that nothing will be built on top of the spot of the Beit Ha-Mikdash (Shut Teshuvot Ve-Hanhagot 3:39).  And when someone said to Ha-Rav Chaim Kanievski that today we know where the Holy of Holiest is located, and we should therefore Daven on an angle, he responded: We don't know anything (Le-Binyamin Amar p. 84).

Silver and Gold Wedding Anniversary
Q: Is the custom of celebrating a Silver or Gold Wedding Anniversary upon 25 or 50 years of marriage forbidden on account of "Chukot Ha-Goyim" (following the practices of the non-Jews)?
Q: No.  It is a proper and logical celebration in order to increase love and fraternity, peace and friendship (see Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah #175).

Unemployment Check
Q: I receive an unemployment check each month.  Is it permissible for me to work if the payment for this work will only be given to me after my unemployment benefits end?

A: Ask the unemployment office directly.

Yichud Among Pilots or Why Rav Aviner Stopped Answering Military Questions

Translated and summarized from here:

Ever since PM Benjamin Netanyahu publicized the existence of the first female Charedi pilot last week, I have seen much discussion online about whether or not she should really be considered Charedi, and if there is a problem with Yichud in the pilots cabin when flying a plane.  People just don't take well to anybody who does things a little differently than the average.  Anyways, someone asked Rav Aviner about it, and because the topic is interesting, I'll share it here.  
According to what is reported on Srugim, Rav Aviner responded to the query by saying that a similar question was asked about a private plane that was being rented to take a female passenger somewhere. Rav Asher Weiss said there is no Yichud because they will not come to any "hanky panky" as the pilot has to focus on flying the plane and if he gets drawn away from that the plane will surely crash.  Rav Aviner says that in a large plane, even more so it is not a problem. In a large plane there are stewards and stewardesses going into the cabin. And even with auto-pilot, the pilot still has to be alert and focused and ready to take over the controls at any moment.  
Rav Aviner concludes with an anecdote of how he once answered a similar question on a halachic program for the army. He was asked about a pilot with a religious female navigator being Yichud. He says he answered then that it is not Yichud (though he says there were other problems, though he does not specify). After the fact he was called by a reporter asking how he can answer army questions as a civilian. He responded that he is discussing theoretical questions, not practical, so it is ok, though he says after that he stopped answering army-related question and directs them to the IDF Rabbinate.

Hilchot Spinner

Is a Spinner Nonsense
Q: Some claim that the new "Spinner" is nonsense and therefore one should refrain from letting kids play with it?
A: Almost all games are nonsense, but kids need to play.  Every person needs to take a bit of a break (See Rambam, Shemoneh Perakim Chapter 5), and this is all the more so true for children.  The essense is not to overdo it.  Although there are smart games, such as Chess, kids also need easier games.  In sum, it is no different than any other game, and one should not over do it or become addicted to it.

Girl Playing with a Spinner
Q: Is it permissible for a girl to play with a spinner while walking in the street or does it draw unwanted attention to her?
A: It is permissible, since many play with it and it does not especially draw attention.

Spinner in a Shul or Beit Midrash
Q: Is it permissible to play with a spinner in a Shul or Beit Midrash?
A: In general, a Beit Midrash is holier than a Shul. The reason is that in a Shul, we turn to Hashem in prayer, but in a Beit Midrash, Hashem turns to us through Torah learning.  It is therefore permissible to turn a Shul into a Beit Midrash, but not visa-versa, since we go up in holiness and not down.  Nonetheless, there are more leniencies regarding a Beit Midrash since a person spends much of his time there and it is his home.  In a time of need, one may therefore eat and sleep there.  This leniency also applies to other acts which are not Torah learning and prayer on condition that they are not acts of frivolity.  See Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim #151.  It is therefore permissible to play with a spinner in a Beit Midrash when one needs it for concentration, but this is forbidden in a Shul.  If one claims: but it helps one concentrate during Davening?  We are not in Shul for so long, and a person can concentrate for this amount of time without it.

Playing with a Spinner during Davening and Torah Learning
Q: It is correct that it is forbidden to play with a spinner during a Torah class, Torah reading and Torah learning?
A: Correct.  Absolutely.  One needs to have awe of holiness.  Berachot 22a.

Spinner on Shabbat
Q: Is it permissible to play with a spinner on Shabbat?  Is it forbidden on account of "Refuah" (medicinal purposes) since it is meant to help people with issues of concentration?

A: 1. If it has lights, it is forbidden on Shabbat.  2. If it does not have lights, it is not forbidden on account of "Refuah", since it is not recognizable as such.  3. It is considered like any other a toy, and is thus permissible for Ashkenazim and an issue of dispute among Sefardic Poskim.  See Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 308:45.  Mishnah Berurah 338:21.  Yalkut Yosef - Shabbat Volume 2 308:6.  Shut Or Le-Tzion Volume 2 26:8.  4. If one can take it apart and reassemble it as part of a game, there is no problem of building.

Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Ephraim Fischel Herschkowitz ztz"l: Rav of Approbations and Rav with Authority

Eulogy given in the Yeshiva]

The elder Posek of America, Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Ephraim Fischel Herschkowitz ztz"l, has ascended on high.  Although not everyone knows of him, since he did seek publicity on account of his humility, anyone who is involved with Pesak Halachah knew him well.   
Rav Herschkowitz was born in the city of Munkatch in the year 5683 to a family of Spinka Chasidim.  He would accompany his father and grandfather to visit the Admor "Chakal Yitzchak" of Spinka on the holidays.  In his youth, he learned in the Talmud Torah in Munkatch, but when he reached the age to go and learn in Yeshiva, his father did not want him to learn in one of the large, Ashkenazi Yeshivot out of fear that he would lose his Chasidic fervor.  He therefore remained in Munkatch and learned with other young men in the Spinka Kloiz without a Rav and without a Rosh Yeshiva.  If he had a question, he would ask his uncle, Ha-Rav David Schlissel, Av Beit Din of the Beit Din of Admor "Minchat Eleazar" of Munkatch (see Shut Minchat Eleazar 4:64 that Rav David's great-grandfather was Rabbi Akiva Eiger).
Rav Herschkowitz had many positions as a Dayan and Posek during his lifetime and was therefore known by various titles.  After the Holocaust, he served as the Rabbi of Halein, Austria, and was therefore known as the Haleiner Rav.  He later moved to New York and was appointed by Ha-Admor of Sanz-Klausenberg, Rabbi Yekutiel Yehudah Halberstam, author of Shut Divrei Yetziv, to serve as a member of his Beit Din.  He was therefore also known as the Klausenberger Dayan, and he is thus being buried in the section of Klausenberg Chasidim in Netanya.  One may also see his importance in his approbations to hundreds of halachic books.  In merit of this, he was also known as the "Rav of Approbation".
Gedolei Yisrael greatly admired him.  For example, see Shut Mishneh Halachot (4:2) and the accolades given to Rav Herschkowitz by Ha-Rav Menashe Klein, the Ungvarer Rav.  
As a Posek and Dayan, he had interesting halachic positions.
As is known, today everyone learns Mishnah Berurah, but that was not always the case.  Ha-Rav Herschel Schachter, one of the Roshei Yeshiva of Yeshivat Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan, once related that when he originally learned in Yeshiva there was hardly one set of Mishnah Berurah, while today there are myriads of sets.  And he himself didn't even have a Mishnah Berurah until six years after he was married.  His wife bought him a set as a birthday gift since her father had one.  If someone had a question, he looked in the Shulchan Aruch and its commentaries.
But many Poskim decided that the Mishneh Berurah was the final arbiter of Halachah, including the Tchbiner Rav (Sar Ha-Torah, p. 298), Chazon Ish (Maaseh Rav Volume 1, p. 23.  Kovetz Igrot Volume 2 #41) and Ha-Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv (Ha-Sod, pp. 124-125).  But Ha-Rav Herschkowitz would rule according to the many Chasidic Poskim, such as Shulchan Aruch Ha-Rav of Admor Ha-Zaken of Lubavitch and Shulchan Ha-Tahor - Kamarana.
Here are a few of his rulings: He ruled that one should limit the amount of time he wears Tefillin because of their holiness.  One should therefore remove them as quickly as possible after Davening, and it is preferable to take them off after the Shemoneh Esrei.  And he ruled that women are not obligated to Daven the entire Shemoneh Esrei, since this was the custom in the past generations (See our discussion in Shut She'eilat Shlomo 1:41.  Mishneh Berurah 106:4.  Piskei Teshuvot ibid.).
As said, Rav Herschkowitz was an important Dayan, and ruled in the most complex cases.  During the terror attack on the World Trade Center, a Belzer Chasid was killed.  He and his Beit Din investigated the details and freed the widow from being an Agunah.
One of the most important cases for Chabad Chasidim is what is known as "Didan Natzach".  The grandson of the Frierdiker Rebbe took Sefarim from the Chabad library in New York and sold them, claiming that as the only grandchild, he was the rightful inheritor.  The last Lubavitcher Rebbe, however, said that the books belong to the entire Chabad Chasidim.  After a lengthy legal battle, the Lubavitcher Rebbe was proven right.  The expression "Didan Natzach" means "we were victorious", since this episode also solidified the fact that the Rebbe was indeed the Rebbe of Chabad.  In the middle of this episode, the Lubavitcher Rebbe wanted to take counsel with a major Posek outside of Chabad, who was in way connected to the issue.  He turned to Rav Herschkowitz through a messenger.  Rav Herschkowitz responded that he is unable to render a ruling without hearing both sides of the story, but that it appears to him that the conduct of the grandson is not halachicly correct.    
And as is known, Ha-Rav Moshe Feinstein wrote at great length against establishing an Eruv in Manhattan, Brooklyn and in other large cities in America (Shut Igrot Moshe, Orach Chaim 1:139-140, 173. 5:96).  In the world of Halachah, it is generally stated that Ha-Rav Menashe Klein disagrees with him and established an Eruv in Brooklyn.  But Ha-Rav Herschkowitz also held this way and established an Eruv in Williamsburg, where he lived (the opinion of the Satmar Rebbe, who had also lived there, regarding this issue has been the subject of much discussion and several books).  Although some Satmar Chasidim harshly disagreed with this ruling and harassed him, Rav Herschkowitz did not fear anyone and held fast to his opinion.  
On account of his greatness in Torah, he had wide shoulders and the authority to rule about the most severe and complex issues.
During the 11th Siyum of Daf Yomi in 5765 in New York, Rav Herschkowitz was honored as the elder Posek in America to begin Masechet Berachot.  In the first Mishnah of Shas, Rabban Gamliel's sons ask their father how to act according to Halachah in a particular case.  We learn from there the incredible importance of asking questions of a Rabbi when there is a doubt and the incredible importance of a Posek to guide us.
In Rav Herschowitz merited a great halachic authority who illuminated the path for us with humility, self-sacrifice, Torah wisdom and fear of G-d.

May his soul be bound up in the bonds of the living with all of the great Tzadikim and Geonim. 

Reciting a Blessing on Seeing President Trump

Question: If someone sees President Trump should he recite the blessing of "Baruch…She-Natan Michvodo Le-Vasar Ve-Dam - Blessed are You…who has given of His glory to flesh and blood"? (In the Gemara in Berachot 58a, our Rabbis teach that one who sees a non-Jewish king recites the blessing.  It is recorded in the Rambam, Hilchot Berachot 10:11 and Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 224:8.   The Chatam Sofer, Orach Chaim #159, rules that even if one sees the king outside of his area of "rule," one must still recite the appropriate blessing).  
Answer: No, the President of the United States is not a king. 
Halachic authorities mention four criteria in order to be considered a king for this purpose:
1. One must be the absolute ruler of his kingdom or country (Orchot Chaim in name of Sefer Ha-Eshkol, Hilchot Berachot #49, Shut Ha-Radvaz vol. 1 #296).  The President of the United States does not have absolute authority.  He must bend to the will of the Congress whether he likes it or not. 
2.  The king must have the ability to administer capital punishment (Shut Chatam Sofer ibid.).  The President does not possess this power.  While he does have the power to grant life by issuing a pardon, he does not possess the power of death (Shut Be’er Moshe of Rav Moshe Stern vol. 2, # 9).  If he allows Jonathan Pollard to make Aliyah, we can discuss this further. 
3.  The king must have royal clothing.  The President of the United States wears a suit like everyone else (Shut Yehaveh Da’at, vol. 2, #28 and Shut Teshuvot Ve-Hanhagot vol. 2, #139).  
4. The king must have an entourage (see Shut Teshuvot Ve-Hanhagot ibid.  Rav Sternbuch writes there that he heard that Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld, the great Rav of Yerushalayim before the establishment of the State, once had a private meeting in a tent with the King of Jordan and he recited this blessing even though he was without his entourage).  While the President is traveling with 400 people, most of them are for his protection.

People get very scared about what the President says, but there is no need.  What he says does not mean that this is the way it is.  This is for two reasons: 1. The United States does not help us simply to be kind, but because they profit from it.  They need us militarily.  We handle this part of the world.  They need us technologically.  They make planes in the US, and then bring them here and the "Chevra" makes them into super-planes.  The biggest plane manufacturer has a plant here.  It is not to be kind, but to profit.  They need us no less than we need them.  2. The President must bend to the will of Congress.  The Congress was pro-Israel even before the establishment of the State.  They are sometimes even more pro-Israel than we are because he learned in the Exile to be weak and frightened.  We need to add strength and courage and then the non-Jews will relate to us in a proper manner.  The Monroe Doctrine was stated by President James Monroe that Europe would no longer interfere with the affairs of the US: America for Americans.  Our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah, applied this doctrine to us: We will not interfere with what America is doing and America should not interfere with what we are doing here.

The President of the most powerful country, with the biggest army, the largest economy, the super-power of the world is visiting the tiny State of Israel, and some people say that this is not "Atchalta De-Geulah – the beginning of the Redemption."  Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach in Shut Minchat Shlomo (the last responsum in vol. 1) writes that one is obligated to recite four blessings when the Messiah arrives: 1. "Baruch…Chacham Ha-Razim – Blessed are You…Knowers of secrets" which is recited when seeing 600,000 Jews together and certainly at least this many Jews will go out to greet the Messiah.  2. "Baruch…She-Chalak Mechomato Lirei'av - Blessed are You…who has appointed of His knowledge to those who fear him" which is recited when seeing an outstanding Torah scholar and the Messiah will certainly fit this criteria.  3. "Baruch…She-Chalak Michvodo Lirei'av- Blessed are You…who has appointed of His glory to those who fear him" which is recited when seeing a Jewish king.  4. "Shechechiyanu" – Blessing Hashem for having arrived at this moment.  We still are waiting for this time to arrive, but we are continuing to advance.  After all, the President of the United States is visiting the State of Israel.  Instead of reciting a blessing over the President, I recommend reciting two prayers for the Nation of Israel which we recite every day before the Shema with extra proper intention: "Blessed are You, Hashem, who chooses His Nation Israel with Love" and "Blessed are You, Hashem, who love His Nation Israel."

Q: Should we try to see the President since he is the most honored person in the world?

A: You do not need to run to greet him.  The Gemara in Berachot (9b) says that a person should strive to see non-Jewish kings, so that he will be able to perceive the difference between the non-Jewish kings and the Messiah.  President Trump, however, is not a king.  It is possible to have a king who is not honored and an honored person who is not a king.  Our Sages established this decree for a king, and provided the definition of a king.  Don't worry.  We will be able to tell the difference between him and the Messiah!


Portions of the article in the Jerusalem Post:


Among some of the worst findings of the State Comptroller’s Report were “heavy suspicions” that significant numbers of Kashrut supervisors do not perform their supervision services; a conflict of interests inherent in the fact that Kashrut inspectors also serve as Kashrut supervisors; and 65% of Kashrut supervisors not having obtained a Kashrut supervision qualification.

Speaking to the Post, [Rav] Aviner expressed confidence that the rabbinate has tackled and will continue to tackle deficiencies in the Kashrut system, which he said are a natural occurrence in any large enterprise.

The Rabbi said that although he acknowledges the flaws and forms of malpractice highlighted in the report, the rabbinate’s Kashrut can still be relied on since the majority of supervisors and food businesses are still trustworthy.
Despite his confidence in the rabbinate’s Kashrut, [Rav] Aviner declined to answer whether he would eat in a restaurant under rabbinate supervision, saying his personal decisions are not relevant to the issue.

[Rav] Aviner also rejected the idea of allowing independent Kashrut authorities to operate, which he said would create mass confusion among consumers.

“There are deficiencies in the IDF and the police as well, but we would not privatize them – and the same applies to Kashrut,” said the Rabbi.

“We would see fraudulent Kashrut organizations saying they are Kosher when they are not, we would have Reform Kashrut, and in the end, consumers won’t have the tools to discern which authorities are reliable and which are not.”

He also rejected the idea of turning the Chief Rabbinate into a Kashrut regulator overseeing independent Kashrut authorities, saying that every process and step of
Kashrut supervision had to be under the authority of a single body.

Receiving the US Child Tax Credit in Israel

Question: Is it permissible to temporarily leave Israel in order to fly to the United States in order to attain US passports for our children so we can receive the child tax credit for them?
Answer: As is known, it is forbidden to leave the Land of Israel. It is, however, permissible to temporarily leave Israel to make a living. Making a living is not that I am starving. I have money, but I can earn more. One may temporarily leave Israel for this purpose. "Temporarily" means a week or so. Money does not grow on trees. If a person can earn a decent amount of money by traveling outside of Israel, why shouldn't he be allowed to do so? It is not an educational problem for children; you can explain it to them. If there is a question, it is a more general one: Is it permissible to receive Tzedakah from Americans? We are not Americans, we are here. Why should an American taxpayer support me here? If I was born in America and contributed to America and now I made Aliyah, I can say to Americans: "I contributed a lot to you and you still have not contributed as much to me." In this case, it is certainly seem justifiable to take. But if I did not contribute to America, how can I take? This is not only an ethical problem, it is a halachic one. There is a discussion if we can take Tzedakah from non-Jews. The Gemara in Sanhedrin (26b and see Tosafot and Rashi) says that one who takes Tzedakah from non-Jews is like one who eats "something else," i.e., pig. And the Gemara in Baba Batra explains the verse "dried-up produce will break" (Yeshayahu 27:11) that when produce is dry it will break, but it will not do so when it is wet. Similarly, when you allow the non-Jews to give Tzedakah, they increase in merit and power. It is not so clear that we can take Tzedakah. But if I am a dual citizen and I contributed, it is not Tzedakah. Others explain that this is not simply American money, it is also money from Jews. The money also comes from Jewish taxpayers in American and it is obviously permissible to take Tzedakah from Jews. The Jews would be happy to know that other Jews are receiving it. Ha-Rav Kook in Shut Da'at Cohain (#132) was asked: Is it permissible to receive tzedakah from a general charity fund from outside of Israel? He said: yes, since Jews also donate to it. Therefore, it is ethical, if you contributed. You are receiving something in return, and if you did not contribute, it is money from Jews. Therefore, it is permissible to temporarily leave Israel to be eligible for the child tax credit.

People have also asked me: Should I vote in the US Presidential elections? I do not think so. We live here. Even though some people have US citizenship, who gives us permission to interfere with what is happening in America? When one comes to live in Israel it is similar to a divorce: even if the wife received alimony (i.e., social security), she should not interfere in the husband's life. It is true that we can decide which person will be a better President for the Jews, but it is not ethical because we live here and not in America.