Shut SMS #167

Ha-Rav answers hundreds of text message questions a day!  Here's a sample:

Annulling Vows on Shabbat

Q: Is it permissible to annul vows on Shabbat?

A: If it is for a Shabbat need (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 228:3).

Parents Walking Down the Aisle

Q: Is it permissible at a wedding for the groom's parents to walk the groom down the aisle and the bride's parents to walk her down the aisle?

A: No.  The custom in Israel is not to do so.  The custom, based on modesty, is for the two fathers to escort the groom and the two mothers to escort the bride.  This has been the custom throughout the generations (Shut Mishneh Halachot 3:147, 4:206).

Honoring One's Wife

Q: Which is preferable – eating Shabbat dinner with one's wife and kids at home, or together with one's Rabbi at the yeshiva and hearing Divrei Torah?

A: There is no question: At home.  You are obligated to make your wife happy and honor her.  The Torah obligates you and you signed the Ketubah.

Q: But Torah learning is equivalent to all of the other Mitzvot?

A: Torah learning obligates you to fulfill what is written in the Torah.  You are certainly not more righteous or more important than the Satmar Rebbe, Ha-Rav Yoel Teitelbaum.  It once happened that that the Satmar Rebbe's wife set up her Shabbat candles at home and not in the hall where they have the Rebbe's Tisch.  The Satmar Rebbe asked the Rebbetzin why she did this.  She responded: Tonight, you are eating at home with just me.  He said: Thousands of Chasidim and other important people are coming to the Tisch (there were usually 3000 participants)?!  She said: I want you to eat with just me.  He immediately gave in, happily.


Q: Is it worthwhile to cancel my Facebook account?

A: Yes.  It causes horrible damage, as I wrote at length in the Parashah sheet: "Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah" in the article "The Ten Plagues of Facebook."

Religious Survey

Q: When there is a religious survey, and I see that the votes are contrary to Halachah and are causing a desecration of Hashem's Name, is it permissible for me to vote numerous times in order to change the percentages?

A: No.  One should not lie, and we do not perform a Mitzvah through a transgression.

Unmarried Couple

Q: If there is an unmarried couple and the woman immerses in a Mikveh before relations, what transgression do they violate?

A: Illicit relations.  Rambam at the beginning of Sefer Ha-Kedushah (and there is a prohibition for a single woman to immerse in a Mikveh.  Be'er Heitev, Orach Chaim 303:1.  Yoreh Deah 183:6.  See Shut Ha-Rivash #422).


Q: Is it permissible to take Ritalin on Shabbat?

A: Yes, if it is needed for a person to function properly.

Torah Blessings for Woman

Q: Is a woman obligated to recite the blessings over Torah learning?

A: Yes.  The Torah also belongs to women (see Shut Orach Mishpat #11 ot 2.  Ha-Griz on the Rambam, Hilchot Berachot 11:16 at the end.  Piskei Teshuvot 47:18).

Saving a Non-Jew on Shabbat

Q: Is it permissible to violate Shabbat in order to save a non-Jew?

A: The accepted Halachah is – yes (see Shut Igrot Moshe, Orach Chaim 4:79).

Haftarat Chukat: Brilliant Statesmanship

[Ashekenazim/Sefardim: Shoftim 11:1-33

Yemenite Jews: 11:1-40]

Did our politicians read chapter 11 of the Book of Shoftim, which describes the peace process between Yitach and the Amonites?

"Yitach of Gilad was a valiant warrior" (Shoftim 11:1).  The elders of Gilad turned to him when the Nation was mired in distress.  The Amonites attacked us and we had no leader.  The Nation of Israel therefore turned to Yiftach, who was not an official leader; on the contrary, he was unjustifiably pushed to the edge of society following feelings of jealously and the coveting of inheritance (ibid. 11:3).  But he was a great warrior and the Nation made him their leader (ibid. v. 11).

What was his first act?  "Yiftach sent messengers to the king of the Amonites saying: What is between you and me that you have come to wage war in my Land?" (ibid. v. 12).  Although he was a brazen warrior, he was not rash to start a war.  He knew his Land and preferred to open negotiations - a peace process.  Rabbi Yitzchak Abarbanel, the great Torah commentator who was also a well-regarded statesman, first in Portugal and then in Spain, praises Yiftach's attempt at offering peace first.

What was the king's response?  "Because Israel took my land when it ascended from Egypt, from Arnon to the Yabok until the Jordan, so now return them [the lands] in peace" (ibid. v. 13).  He essentially said: this is only a territorial disagreement.  He had no intention to begin a war for war's sake.  He just wanted Israel to return the land we took from him.

It thus seemed that there was no chance for negotiations. But Yiftach did not think that all was lost.  He sent a new delegation.  The Abarbanel precisely analyzed his strategy and words, and identified four main parts:

1.      Yifatch reconstructed the facts: There was no war against you (the Amonites) during that period, but against Sichon, who had conquered your territory.  We, in turn, captured the territory from Sichon.  Therefore, you cannot make such a claim against us, but against him.  Our Land was under his control at that time (ibid. v. 19).

2.      We were not the ones who attacked Sichon - he attacked us, at a time that we desired peace.  Long before then, we asked permission from the king of Amon to pass through his land to arrive to our destination.  Because of his refusal, we were forced to take a lengthy, indirect route.  The same thing happened with Moav.  When we sent the same message to Sichon, he not only refused to let us pass through his land, he assembled his army and waged war against us.  We were forced to protect ourselves. We were victorious, and we took control of the Land.  This victory, the result of a defensive war, was completely legitimate.  When a nation attacks another and losses territory as a result, it is immoral to demand its return.  The risk of not regaining lost territory has the ability to stop political attacks (ibid. v. 15-22).

3.      Moshe Rabbenu's war against King Sichon began on account of Divine will.  Their dispute was not only against the Nation of Israel but against the presence of Hashem Himself.  The Master of the Universe is the One who gave us this Land.  If you have problems with our G-d, turn to your own: "Will you not take what your god Chemosh gives you?  Likewise, whatever Hashem our G-d has given us, we will possess" (ibid. v. 24).  It appears that your "god" Chemosh did not help you when Sichon conquered your land.  There is therefore no benefit in hoping to be victorious over us or defeating our G-d.  Your motives are not political but an attempt at opposing the will of our G-d.

4. Over the course of three hundred years, from the conquest of Moshe Rabbenu until that point, this Land was not in your hands.  During this entire period, we dwelt in its cities and you did not say a word.  Why didn't you take them in return?  Why are you only starting up now?  (ibid. v. 26).

As we see, Yiftach had many claims: historical, ethical, and religious, and those which stem from true intellect.  But none of them were accepted by the King of Amon: "And the king of Amon did not listen to the words of Yiftach, which he sent" (ibid. v. 28).

The Amonites were therefore determined to go to war.  This created an opportunity for Yiftach to prove that he was not only a brilliant statesman but a brilliant military strategist as well.  He decided not to run a defensive war on our territory, but to plan an attack on enemy territory: "Then Yiftach went out to wage war against the Amonites, and Hashem gave them into his hands.  He struck twenty towns with a great blow from Aro'er to the vicinity of Minit, as far as Avel Keramim. Thus Israel subdued Amon" (ibid. v. 32-33).  It is always preferable to wage war on the enemy's territory.  Yiftach's plan was successful, and the Amonites were convinced not to deal with us, which allowed us to reside in peace for many years.

We can only suggest to our statesman, who negotiate for peace with our enemies, that they prepare by learning the precedents, for as you know: "Many prophets stood for Israel, double those who left Egypt, but only a prophecy which was needed for all generations was written, one which was not needed for generations was not written" (Megillah 14a).

The Ends Do Not Justify the Means

[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Korach 5772 – translated by R. Blumberg]

Question: Must the Mitzvot of the Torah be fulfilled at any price? Even at the cost of committing sins along the way?
Answer: The Master of the Universe does not desire that we perform Mitzvot if to do so we must commit wrongful deeds. If it is impossible for us to perform a Mitzvah without first performing a sin, G-d foregoes that Mitzvah.
Fortunate is he who performs the Mitzvah of Lulav, but not with a stolen Lulav. “For I am Hashem who loves justice and hates burnt offerings involving theft” (Yeshayahu 61:8). Our Sages comment, “Even for the sake of bringing G-d a burnt offering one must not steal” (Sukkah
30). The Talmud there adds: “A mortal king was once passing by the tax offices. He said to his servants, ‘Give this money to the tax collectors,’ and they replied, ‘Surely all the tax money is yours.’ The king then said, ‘From me all passersby will learn not to evade taxes.’ G-d likewise said, ‘I am Hashem who hates burnt offerings involving theft.’ My children will learn from Me and they will make themselves flee from theft.”
Even for a Mitzvah performed for the Supreme King of Kings one must not steal -- neither in order to construct Shuls and study houses, nor to support Yeshivot and Jewish day schools. If we maintain such standards, then everyone will learn to view as obvious the fact that one must not steal for any other reason.
The Jerusalem Talmud contains a still sharper parable: “A person brought a gift to the king, yet it became clear to the king that the gift was an object that had been stolen from the king himself. Woe to the one whose defender became his accuser!” (Jerusalem Talmud, Sukkah, Ch. 3). Not only is a good deed that is achieved through a sin not a good deed, but it is itself transformed into a sin.
Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato stresses that when an employee does Mitzvot on his work time, that is likewise considered theft and it is not acceptable before G-d: “Even if someone performed a Mitzvah during his work time, it will not be attributed to him as a righteous act, but as a sin, for no sin can be a Mitzvah. Scripture states, ‘I am Hashem who hates burnt offerings involving theft.’ In the same regard our Sages said: If someone stole a bushel of wheat, ground it up and baked bread, and he recited a blessing over it, he is not blessing G-d but cursing Him, as it says, ‘When the greedy wretch blesses G-d, he curses Him’ (Tehilim 10:3.  Baba Kamma 94).
Of such instances it is said, ‘Woe to this person whose defender has become his accuser.’ Moreover, we have our Sages’ ruling regarding use of a stolen Lulav.  What I said about doing Mitzvot on work time makes sense. After all, if stealing an object is considered theft, then stealing time is as well. Just as when one steals an object and performs a Mitzvah, his defender becomes his accuser, so too, when one steals time and uses it to perform a Mitzvah, his defender becomes his accuser. G-d desires nothing more than trustworthiness” (Mesilat Yesharim, Chapter 11).
Whenever we are about to eat bread, or pray, we must wash our hands ritually. In the same way, before any act of holiness we must make certain that our hands are clean. Maran Ha-Rav Kook writes: “A person must always make sure that his goals are pure and holy, and that his means of achieving those goals are pure and holy as well” (Olat Re’eiyah 2, 257).
He further writes: “There are good and holy entities in the world whose foundations of support are unseemly. For example, weakness, falsehood and wickedness can sometimes lend support to such fine principles as shyness, modesty and faith. Yet, just as favors performed by the wicked for the righteous only harm the righteous (Yevamot 103), so too, goodness bolstered by evil and impurity is actually profaned greatly by them.
The light of Redemption cannot be actualized until all the evil foundations are destroyed, even those that support goodness and holiness.
And even though, as a result, goodness, holiness and faith suffer, and they decline and seem to become impoverished, this descent and impoverishment really represent ascent and revitalization. This is because after these evil foundations decay, light and luster and holiness will immediately begin to spring forth upon healthy foundations of knowledge, wisdom, courage, splendor, eternity and majesty.
It is by such means that an everlasting kingdom illuminated by G-d’s goodness and light will be established in the End of Days. This will be the fulfillment of G-d’s faithful and everlasting covenant with David -- never to be annulled: ‘For He said: Surely they are My people, children who will not lie. So He was their deliverer. In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them. In His love and in His pity He redeemed them, and He bore them, and carried them all the days of old’” (Orot, Orot Ha-Techiyah, 52).

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Shut SMS #166

Ha-Rav answers hundreds of text message questions a day!  Here's a sample:

Kashrut of Peacock

Q: Is a peacock Kosher?

A: It possesses the signs of a Kosher animal, but we lack a tradition that it is eaten.  It is therefore forbidden (See Chulin 63b.  Rashi on Chulin 116a.  Shulchan Aruchm Yoreh Deah #88).

Buying University Project

Q: I am a student in university and have to hand in a work.  Can I pay someone to do the work for me?

A: If the professor agrees.

Marriage Problems

Q: We have marital problems.  Is it worthwhile to have the Mezuzah in our bedroom checked?

A: It is worthwhile to turn to a marriage counselor.  It is obviously good to check all of your Mezuzot from time-to-time in order to fulfill the Mitzvah in the proper manner (See our commentary on the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, end of chapter 11). But this is a separate issue.

Verse on a Wedding Invitation

Q: Should one put a verse on a wedding invitation?

A: No, since it will be thrown in the garbageand requires being placed in a Geniza.  See Rosh Ha-Shanah 18, where the Sages established a holiday on the day they succeeded in abolishing the mention of Hashem's Name in official documents (Shut Igrot Moshe Yoreh Deah 2:135.  Shut She'eilat Shlomo 4:233, 235.  Ha-Rav Yehudah Amital relates: When I came to invite Ha-Rav Charlap to my wedding with my father-in-law, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Meltzer z"l, Rav of Rechovot, I gave him the invitation, which was simple without any verses or designs.  Ha-Rav looked at the invitation and pointed out to me with his unique gentleness that Jerusalem was not mentioned and it was not raised above my greatest joy.  Ha-Rav Amital painfully concluded his story: "After this point, I felt admonished."  Shirat HaYa"m, p. 176.  Although it is possible to mention Jerusalem without a verse or with a picture).

Divine Test - Expulsion from Settlements

Q: Why does Hashem want to evacuate settlements, such as "Givat Ha-Ulpana"?  Why this test?  People can't pass this trial!

A: During Redemption, there are retreats and crises.  There is 90% successe and 10% - or even less – failure (see Ramban on Shemot 5:22-23).

Husband who Dedicates Time to Himself on Shabbat

Q: My husband is only interested in dedicating time to himself on Shabbat and is not interested in learning Torah or playing with the kids.  What should I do?

A: Perhaps you can come to a compromise.  This is a complex issue for a text message.  Speak to my wife.

 Fighting against Expulsions

Q: How long are we going to be patient in the face of expulsions from settlements?  Perhaps it is time to wage war like the Charedim and we will benefit like them.

A: We should wage a war of ideas, without violence, insults or hatred.  Article "Et Achai Anochi Mevakesh" of Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah (Le-Netivot Yisrael vol. 1, p. 140).

Shaliach Tzibur with a TV

Q: Can someone who has a TV in his house serve as Shaliach Tzibur?

A: It depends on whether this transgression is prevalent in that particular community (see Ein Aya – Shabbat 31a).

Visiting Kivrei Tzadikim

[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah- Shelach 5772 – translated by R. Blumberg]

Question: Should one make pilgrimages to Kivrei Tzadikim (the Graves of the Righteous)? Is it important?

Answer: There is no commandment, either from the Torah or from the Rabbis, to go to Kivrei Tzadikim. It’s not mentioned anywhere. But it is a national practice, is one of the customs of the day before Rosh Hashana, and even has a holy source relating to Calev ben Yefuneh, who went to Ma'arat Ha-Machpelah Hebron in order to ask the Patriarchs and Matriarchs to save him from the scheming of the spies (Sota 34b). Thus, there is no mitzvah, but there is spiritual benefit.

Obviously, the intent is not to pray to the Tzadikim themselves, which would be idolatry.

Rather, it is akin to what, for example, appears in the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch regarding  visiting Kivrei Tzadikim on Erev Rosh Hashana:

"It arouses the holy Tzadikim who are in the Land to serve as our advocates on the Day of Judgment." And it is not only the Tzadikim who are holy, but also, because of them, the actual ground in which they are buried. And so our prayers benefit further from being offered up on holy ground.  G-d thus performs His kindnesses thanks to the virtue of the Tzadikim and the holiness and purity of their graves.

“Do not, however, think that one’s prayers should be directed to the dead buried there. That verges on the prohibition against séances to contact the dead. Rather, one should address one’s prayers to G-d to have mercy on him by virtue of the Tzadikim buried there” (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 128:13).

Thus, there are two reasons to visit Kivrei Tzadikim: 1) to ask the Tzadik to advocate on your behalf, and 2) to be in a place where prayer is more accepted, due to the merit of the Tzadikim. The Mishnah Berurah (581:27) likewise, mentions the second rationale: “The cemetery is the resting place of the Tzadikim, and prayer is more accepted there. Yet one should not address one’s prayers to the deceased. Rather, one should ask G-d to show one mercy through the merit of the Tzadikim interred there."

Rabbi Yosef Albo likewise provides a similar rationale (Sefer Ikarim 4:35).

The question often asked is whether one may leave Israel for this purpose. According to Rambam, who permits leaving Israel temporarily only for two major mitzvot (learning Torah or getting married [Hilchot Melachim 5:9]), it is certainly prohibited. Yet even according to Tosafot, who permits leaving for the sake of any mitzvah (Tosafot Avodah Zara 13a, d.h. “Lilmod Torah ve-lisa isha”), as does the Mishnah Berurah (531:14), the serious problem remains that going to Kivrei Tzadikim is not classified as a Mitzvah. Were it a Mitzvah, our Sages would have had to define for us whether it should be done once a week, once a month, or perhaps once a year. They also would have had to define for us how great one has to be in order to be considered aTzadik whose grave may be visited in fulfillment of this Mitzvah. We would also see Torah scholars going to Kivrei Tzadikim. But this is not the reality.

True, we said above that visiting Kivrei Tzadikim contains the spiritual benefits of prayer, yet, as Maran Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Cohain Kook asks (Shut Mishpat Cohain #147), is there proof that for the sake of this one is allowed to leave the Land? And, in any case, are there no graves in Eretz Yisrael? Can anything compete with Ma'arat Ha-Machpehah or Kever Rachel?! After all, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah are certainly greater than the various Kivrei Tzadikim in the Diaspora. Rav Kook wrote: “In my humble opinion, it is not clear to me at all that one can say that one’s love for the saints slumbering in Hebron does not suffice such that one must leave Eretz Yisrael for the Diaspora… The major holiness of those first Tzadikim beloved by Israel is here in our Holy Land.”

Yet even in Eretz Yisrael, itself, everyone should consider whether it is not better to invest one’s time and money on matters that according to the Torah clearly benefit a person, like doing kind deeds or learning Torah. This kindness, learned from Avraham, and Torah, learned from Moshe, have the power to atone even for sins so severe that a person has incurred a death sentence from heaven (Mishnah Berurah 315:3, Sha’ar Hatziyun #5-6).

By way of example, G-d said regarding the sin of Eli’s sons, “Assuredly, I swear concerning the house of Eli, that the iniquity of the house of Eli will never be expiated by sacrifice or offering” (Shmuel 1 3:14). Even so, our sages said that their sin can be atoned for by way of Torah learning and performing kind deeds.

Moreover, whether one’s trip abroad will cost a lot or a little, there, as well, the money is better spent on the hungry and the poor. That is a clear mitzvah of the Torah, and our sages said, “Charity shall save one from death”, as in the famous story of Rabbi Akiva’s daughter, who was saved from death thanks to her having given charity (Shabbat 156b).

Thus, each person should carefully clarify for himself the best path by which to bring G-d’s light to rest upon us.

A story is told about Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. One time he left his home in the Sha’arei Chessed neighborhood of Jerusalem for the Kol Torah Yeshiva in Bayit Ve-Gan. He stopped and faced Mount Herzl with its military cemetery and said, “These are the Kivrei Tzadikim, the graves of the saintly.”

Certainly, even if a soldier, killed in action, was no saint during his lifetime, he becomes a tzaddik when he gives up his life for the sake of the Jewish People.

Shut SMS #165


Q: When did the prohibition of Muktzeh begin?

A: From Moshe Rabbenu.  Aruch Ha-Shulchan, Orach Chaim 308:4.

Direction of Prayer

Q: It is preferable for me to daven in the direction of Jerusalem although people will disturb my Kavana, or in another direction with greater Kavana?

A: In the direction of Jerusalem, since this is the basic Halachah, and davening with greater Kavana is a proper custom (see Be'er Heitev 94:3.  Shut Meishiv Davar 1:10.  Shut Teshuvot Ve-Hanhagot 1:79).


Q: Is there an obligation to daven with a Gartel?

A: There was once a need in order to be properly dressed.  In our time, we are not obligated to do so (Shut She'eilat Shlomo 3:33).

Uprooting Settlements #1

Q: How should we relate to a State which destroyed Gush Katif, and now Migron, Givat Ulpana in Beit El, etc., and expels 10,000 Jews?

A: This is the same State which settled 350,000 Jews in Yehudah and Shomrom, i.e. the destruction is 3% as compared to the building.  A person must look at things in proportion in life.  If not, his marriage will crash and burn.

Uprooting Settlements #2

Q: What should we do with settlements established on Arab property?

A: First of all, these Arabs must bring proof that it belongs to them.  If it turns out that it was a gift of the King of Jordan, they have to being proof that the property belonged to the King of Jordan, who could then give it away.  If they indeed prove that it belongs to them, we should compensate them, as Maran Ha-Rav Kook wrote in a letter to the JNF (Maamrei Ha-Re'eiyah, p. 252).

Beret during Davening

Q: Does a soldier in uniform need to wear his beret while Davening, since one must stand as dressed before a King, and he wears his beret during a roll call or when standing before an officer?

A: He does not, since he does not always wear his beret.

Royal Jelly

Q: Is it permissible to eat royal jelly (secretion from the queen bee)?

A: That which comes from a non-Kosher animal is not Kosher, aside from honey (Bechorot 7b).  There is a doubt whether royal jelly has the same law as honey.  It is therefore only permissible for those who are ill (Shut Tzitz Eliezer 11:59.  Shut Teshuvot Ve-Hanhagot 4:188).

Kashrut of Giraffe

Q: Is giraffe Kosher?

A: Yes, it chews cud and has a split hover.  Rabbi Saadia Gaon says that it is the "Zemer" mentioned in the Torah (Devarim 14:5).  But it is forbidden to eat it since we lack a tradition that it is eaten. 

Q: I heard that it is forbidden to eat it since it has such a long neck and we do not know where to slaughter it?

A: This is children's nonsense.  On the contrary, there is a huge area where one can slaughter it (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah #20.  Yalkut Yosef 163).

Immodest Books

Q: Is it permissible to read books which contain immodest parts?

A: Certainly not.  Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 307:16.  It is very severe.