Short & Sweet - Text Message Q&A #377

Erasing Rav Kook's Picture
Q: There is a picture of Maran Ha-Rav Kook painted on the wall of our youth group room.  We are repainting it.  It is permissible to paint over his picture or is it disrespecting him?
A: It is permissible.  It is not disrespectful.

Immersion in Mikveh for Sandek
Q: How many times should a Sandek immerse in the Mikveh before a Brit Milah?
A: There is no such obligation.  If he wants to be strict and do so, he can immerse as many as he wishes.

Non-Jewish Father
Q: If one has a Jewish mother and non-Jewish father, how is he called to the Torah?
A: Ben Avraham or Ben his mother's name (See regarding Rav Meri ben Rachel – Rashi on Berachot 16a.  Ketubot 23a.  Baba Batra 149a).

Prayer for the Spaceship Bereshit
Q: Is there a prayer for a successful mission of the spaceship Bereshit?
A: Tehilim.

Tiferet Yisrael on the Mishnayot
Q: I spoke with a Chasid and I quoted something from the commentary Tiferet Yisrael on the Mishnayot.  He said that they do not learn this commentary.  What is the reason?  Is it permissible to learn it?
A: They are opposed this commentary for three reasons: 1. He writes that Metzitza during a Brit Mila is only a medical matter and we should follow the opinion of the doctors (Shabbat 19:2) (Almost all Gedolei Yisrael disagreed with him regarding this matter.  See Shut Da'at Cohain #140).  2. He brings a "Midrash" that Moshe Rabbenu's nature was evil but he overcame it (end of Kiddushin #77) (Almost all Gedolei Yisrael also disagreed with him regarding this.  See Ha-Rav's book "U-Madua Lo Yereitem Ledaber Be-Avdi Be-Moshe", Chapter 5).  3. Regarding the discovery of dinosaurs, he writes "the world had already once existed and was then destroyed, and then it was reestablished four more times, and that each time the world appeared in a more perfect state than before – now in our time it has all become clear in truth and righteousness".  Thus, the world was created more than 5779 years ago (Explained this at length in "Derush Or Ha-Chaim," found in Mishnayot Nezikin after Massechet Sanhedrin) (These are differing opinions among Rabbis regarding this issue.  See the booklet "Maran Ha-Rav Kook Ve-Evolutziya).  Regardless, this commentary is great, and it is permissible - and recommended - to learn it.     

Prayer for Sick
Q: I Daven for the sick and have a long list of people I do not know and am not in contact with.  How do I know how long to continue Davening for each person?
A: Daven for a month for each person.

Q: Is it permissible to listen to trances?
A: One must listen to Kosher music which does not arouse low inclinations.  Igeret Ha-Rambam to Sages of Aram Tzova, Mehadurat Ha-Rav Shilta, p. 428.

Moshe or Mordechai
Q: B"H, we had a baby boy born to us on the 7th of Adar (The birthday and Yahrtzeit of Moshe Rabbenu). The Brit Milah will be on Purim.  We are in doubt whether we should name him Moshe or Mordechai.  What is Ha-Rav's opinion?
A: 1. Both names are great and it is a personal decision.  B. Ha-Rav Moshe Feinstein was born on 7th Adar, and although his Brit Milah was on Purim and his father thought to name him Mordechai, he decided to name him Moshe (Shut Igrot Moshe Volume 8 in the Kuntres "Man Malchi Rabbanan", p. 7), i.e. his father based it on the day of his birth.  3. It is widespread to name a child "Moshe Mordechai" and many Gedolei Yisrael have that name: Ha-Rav Moshe Mordechai Epstein (who was Rosh Yeshiva of Knesset Yisrael in Slabodka and Hevron), Ha-Rav Moshe Mordechai Ha-Levu Shulzinger (author of Mishmar Ha-Levi), Ha-Rav Moshe Mordechai Chadash (who was Rosh Yeshiva of Ohr Elchanan in Yerushalayim) and others. 

Maran Ha-Rav Kook's Chair
Q: Is it permissible to sit in Maran Ha-Rav Kook's chair in Beit Ha-Rav and to get one's picture taken there?
A: No (See Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 242:15).

Q: Why don’t we believe in Pluralism?
A: Because we believe in Hashem and He gave us the Torah.

Vaccinating Against Measles

Question: What is Ha-Rav's opinion regarding vaccinating against measles?
Answer: That is not a question for rabbis. Rabbis are not physicians.  Obviously, you can have a Rabbi who is a physician, because he studied medicine in university, but he didn’t study medicine in yeshiva. There, he learned Torah. We greatly admire physicians, for they do holy work, as Rambam said in his Shemoneh Perakim. All the same, however, rabbis are not physicians, but engage in a different holy work. They don’t deal with curing the body, but with curing the soul, which is more lofty than the body. Therefore, regarding medical matters, please turn to physicians. As the Torah states, “He must provide for his complete cure” (Shemot 21:19), regarding which our Sages commented, “Here we derive the permission that physicians have to cure people.” The Ba’al Ha-Tanya wrote that “only the prophets had additional knowledge regarding various matters such as [medicine and economics]… but now there are no more prophets, and even great Torah scholars like the scholars of the Mishnah and Talmud do not understand medical or economic matters, or the like” (Igeret Ha-Kodesh 22).
The rule is this: Rabbis don’t deal with medicine or economics or the army. Yet they do deal with medical ethics, business ethics and death in battle. Therefore, there is a place for responding to five medical arguments from the sphere of halachah.

Argument 1: There are, indeed, physicians who are in favor of the vaccination, but others are against. So how can we know what to do? Perhaps everyone should choose based on what seems best to him? And if so, it would be better not to be vaccinated, because a “shev ve’al ta’aseh”, sitting and doing nothing when faced with an uncertain risk, is best.
Answer: Just as in a disagreement between rabbis we follow the majority, so, too, in a disagreement between physicians. For example, if there are physicians who say a patient should violate the Sabbath or should eat on Yom Kippur, and others say he should not, the Shulchan Aruch rules that we must follow the majority. In our own case, it is not a majority against a minority, but almost all of them against a few individuals, a hundred to one in favor of the vaccine. Moreover, it is not just physicians in Israel, but also in Europe, America and in the World Health Organization.

Argument 2: I heard that the vaccinations against flu are dangerous, and that in the past, dozens of people were hurt by severe side effects.
Answer: That is true, but on the other hand tens of millions have been vaccinated and nothing happened to them, and they were saved from danger of death. Here as well, according to Halachah, we follow the majority. Here, it’s no longer a majority of a thousand to one, but of a million to one.
Moreover, since then more than thirty years have passed, and the medical field has amassed much experience as far as vaccinating against flu. As far as the swine flu vaccination, no problem has been identified so far. By contrast, many people have died from this flu, including here in Israel, where several dozen have died. In any event, we follow the majority and don’t lead our lives based on the exceptions.

Argument 3: If someone is healthy right now, why should he, by his own actions, place himself in danger – however remote – just to save himself from a danger that does not exist at this moment, and perhaps will not exist in the future?
Answer: First of all, we said that this vaccination does not pose a remote danger but a danger that is considered halachically negligible. Yet the crux of the matter is that Argument 3 does not relate specifically to the vaccination against swine flu, but to any vaccination. For that matter, arguments 1 and 2 relate as well to all vaccinations. Thus, Rabbi Yisrael Lipschitz, the author of Tiferet Yisrael on the Mishnah, has already dealt with this as it refers to Mishnah Yoma chap. 8 #3, regarding the vaccination against the Black Plague. He proved from several Talmudic sources that a person is allowed, by his own actions, to place himself in low-level danger of 1/1000 in order to save himself, in the future, from a high danger. As noted above, swine flu poses a serious danger. Therefore, those groups marked by the physicians as meant to receive the vaccination should not relate to it lightly.

Argument 4: G-d made man’s body healthy and strong, and man has the strength to overcome all sorts of illnesses alone, on condition that he is healthy and does not have to introduce all sorts of artificial substances into his body from the outside. Man has surprising vibrancy and he can overcome anything.
Answer: Obviously, this claim already goes beyond any complaint against swine flu vaccinations, or vaccinations in general, and confronts modern medicine. It brings us back to “Vitalistic Medicine”, which built its foundations on faith in an omnipotent, vital force found in the body. In effect, it turns us back to Hippocrates, the ancient Greek physician. We owe him a lot, and he is considered, in some sense, the father of medicine, because until his time, physicians tried to heal patients by way of witchcraft, imprecations and other pagan nonsense. Unfortunately, many similar superstitions still survive in our day. Hippocrates said that we have to cure the body from within the body itself, by way of the processes taking place within it. Indeed, he deserves our kudos, but since then, a lot has happened. Much has been discovered.
Especially, a hundred years ago, it was discovered that bacteria are responsible for illness, and against them we use vaccinations and antibiotics.
Obviously, he also spoke about the need, in general, to strengthen the body, and in our own case, to be as hygienic as possible, washing one’s hands, etc., but sometimes, specific treatment is required.
In any event, we are presently faced with choosing between new medicine and old medicine. According to Halachah, we have to follow the physician of our own day, just as we do the Torah luminary of our day, as it says, “You shall approach the judge who will be there in your own time” (Devarim 17:9).
You shouldn’t say that the sages of yesteryear were greater. Certainly they were greater, and “if the early ones were like angels, then we are like people, and if the early ones were like people, then we are like donkeys” (Avot) – and we are not like the donkey of Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair [which refused to work on the Sabbath]. All the same, the Halachah follows the more recent sages, because they knew what other early Sages said, and they saw other arguments, and in their intense reverence they decided what they decided.
All the more so that this applies regarding medicine, for medicine develops.
Many things in medicine have been proven and many others have been disproven. There are additional means of research. There are statistical tools that allow one to distinguish between anecdotal phenomena and more full-proof phenomena, etc., etc. The Post-Talmudic Gaonim commented on Tractate Gittin, which contains full pages of medical advice, that one should make no mistake – rabbis are not physicians, this medical advice is not from Mount Sinai, but from medical sources. Hence in effect, all of that advice is null and void, except for one piece of advice, which earned the approbation of physicians from our own times.

Argument 5: Surely we have to believe in G-d and in divine providence. If G-d has decreed that I should be well, then I don’t need all the physicians. And if G-d has decreed that I will be sick, then all the physicians won’t help. We need faith and trust in G-d, and that is what will cure us, not going to a physician.
Answer: That’s a fine question, but Rambam has already answered it in his commentary on Mishnayot Pesachim. There he argued that based on the same logic we could say, “Don’t eat. If G-d has decreed that one must die, he will die even if he eats. And if G-d has decreed that one must live, he will live even if he does not eat. So don’t eat!
Obviously, that’s nonsense. Certainly G-d does all, but He does it by way of His emissaries, both His destructive angels, like bacteria, and His ministering angels, like the physicians. And if you refuse to let G-d’s benign emissaries help you, you deserve a punishment. The punishment can be that the ministering angels will abandon you and the destructive angels will harm you (see Mesillat Yesharim, chap. 9 at length).
In conclusion, my friend, do what the doctors tell you and don’t try to doctor yourself. We greatly value independent, critical thinking, but you also need a bit of common sense and humility. It’s very nice that we take an interest in medicine, but it’s not a normal situation for our country to have five million physicians and five million economists, five million prime ministers and five million rabbis and five million psychologists. No. we don’t know everything. It’s not enough to read a popular article or to hear a scientific radio program to understand a particular topic. You’ve got to study for many years, with great toil.

So, my dear friends, go to the mainstream physicians who live in your age and may you live a long life as a result.

Short & Sweet - Text Message Q&A #376

Nusach of the Davening in the Rambam
Q: Can one us the Nusach of the Davening as printed in the Rambam to decide Halachah?
A: Yes (The Brisker Rav also held this way.  See Peninei Rabbenu Ha-Griz pp. 52-53.  Ha-Rav Avigdor Nevenzal holds, however, that the Nusach of the Davening printed in the Rambam was not written by the Rambam himself.  Mikraei Kodesh of Ha-Rav Moshe Harari, Hilchot Arba'at Ha-Minim, p. 143 Note #15).

Learning Halachah or Emunah
Q: Which is preferable to learn – Halachah or Emunah?
A: One needs both, just as the question: which is preferable – eating or breathing?

Coins in Fountain
Q: There are people who throw coins into fountains.  Is it permissible to take the money?
A: Yes.  It is abandoned.  This is a stupid custom.

Charedi Rav in Zionist Yeshiva
Q: Is it permissible to allow a Charedi Rav to give a class in a Zionist Yeshiva?
A: Certainly.
Q: But the opposite does not occur.
A: This is a mistake.  But we should not say that if there is a mistake, we should add another mistake.

Accidentally Ate Milchigs
Q: Is it true that if I accidentally ate Milchigs after meat, I am Milchig and it is permissible to continue eating dairy?
A: Incorrect.

Father Who Wears Techelet
Q: If my father wears Techelet on his Tzitzit, am I obligated to do so?
A: No.  Obviously, you should not insult your father.

Halachic Ruling Like Maran Ha-Rav Kook
Q: As students of Maran Ha-Rav Kook, do we always follow his halachic opinions, or do we only follow his Hashkafah?
A: 1. We also follow his halachic opinions.  There are obviously exceptions, just as Abaye said: I always follow the rulings of Rav except in three cases I follow Shmuel.  Shabbat 23a.  B. There are no rulings in matters of Hashkafah, rather it is proper Emunah.

Blessing Over a Kiss
Q: Why isn't there a blessing when I kiss my children?  I have much more enjoyment doing so than eating a cookie!
A: Our Sages did not establish a blessing for every act.  You can take a glass of juice and have intention to say the blessing on the juice and giving your children a kiss.  See Piskei Teshuvot 240 note #18.

Harmony in Birkat Cohanim
Q: Is it permissible for a Cohain to sing harmony in Birkat Cohanim?
A: No.  One must recite the blessing with awe and not transform it into a choir performance.

Shiduch with Smoker
Q: Can I suggest a smoker as a Shiduch to a woman without informing her that he smokes?
A: No, since most women are particular about this.  Therefore, doing so would be "Genivat Da'at" (deception).