The Prohibition of Lo Tachmod

The last of the Ten Commandments which we read in Parashas Yisro, is the commandment of Lo Tachmod: “You shall not covet your fellow’s house; you shall not covet your fellow’s wife … and all that belongs to your fellow.”

In the Commandments of Devarim we find a parallel in Lo Tis’aveh: “You shall not desire your fellow’s house … and all that belongs to your fellow.”

In this article we will address these prohibitions: The prohibition of Lo Tachmod and the prohibition of Lo Tis’aveh. What is the difference between the two prohibitions? What are the conditions for transgressing the prohibitions? Does the prohibition of Lo Tachmod apply even where the owner gives the item in question of his own choice? Does somebody who covets the wealth of his fellow transgress the prohibition?

These questions, and others, are discussed below

27/01/2016

Vayechi – The Yissachar – Zevulun Arrangement: Charity or Contract?

This week’s parashah quotes the blessings that Yaakov gave to his sons. Rashi, commenting on
the blessing to Zevulun, mentions the unique relationship between Yissachar and Zevulun. We take
the opportunity to discuss the Yissachar-Zevulun partnership. What is the nature of this partnership,
whereby Yissachar takes a portion of Zevulun’s income, and Zevulun takes a portion of Yissachar’s
Torah? How, indeed, is this portion taken? Does the agreement cause Yissachar to lose some of
his eternal reward? Which of the two partners is considered the “greater” of the two? These
questions, and more, are discussed in this week’s article.

Vayeishev – A Halachic Perspective on Modern-Day Ransoms: Too High a Price?

One of the most tragic and delicate halahcic questions of the modern day, which must be addressed both by halachic decisors and by political leaders of the State of Israel, is the question of redeeming soldiers or civilians that are taken hostage by terrorist groups. Invariably, the demands of terrorists include the release of imprisoned terrorists, who generally await their return to their former profession. What does halachah have to say on this matter? Can the monetary ransom demanded by conventional captors be compared with the modern-day requests for release of terrorists? Indeed, how would the demand for monetary payment be seen in today’s halachic eye. Inspired by this week’s parashah, which chronicles the most famous case of ‘kidnapping’ in the history of the world–the sale of Yosef to Egypt–we seek to address these issues in this week’s article.

The Maariv Prayer: Obligation or Optional

In Parashas Vayeitzei we find Yaakov Avinu making his way to Charan, to the house of Lavan, where he was destined to dwell for many years and to establish the future Jewish nation.

En route from Be’er Sheva to Charan, Yaakov stops at Beit-El, as the Torah states (Bereishis 28:11): “he came upon [va-yifga] a certain place.” A well-known Gemara (Berachos 26a) comments that the word “va-yifga” refers to prayer, and thus, this verse informs us that Yaakov Avinu enacted the evening prayer service, Arvis or Maariv.

In spite of this enactment, the Maariv prayer has a special status among the three daily prayers. In contrast with the Shachris (morning) and Mincha (afternoon) prayers, Chazal debate whether the night prayer is obligatory or optional, and (as will be seen later) this debate leads to a number of halachic ramifications.

What is the obligation (or otherwise) of the Arvis prayer? Why is there no Chazaras Ha-Shatz in the Maariv prayer? What is the difference between the Shacharis and Maariv prayers concerning the halachah of juxtaposing redemption and prayer? These questions, and others, are discussed below.

Bar Mitzvah: Maturity of Body or Mind

We all know the importance of the age of thirteen for a boy and the age of twelve for a girl. These are the times when a boy or girl comes of age, and becomes responsible for his or her own actions and obligated in the mitzvos of the Torah.

Yet, although the ages are well-known, the sources that reveal their importance is less familiar. One of the sources for the significance of the age thirteen in a boy’s coming of age – in fact, the only Biblical source for the concept – is found in Parashas Vayishlach, as mentioned by Rashi (Nazir 29b) and the Ra’av (Avos 5:21).

When Shimon and Levi came assailed the city of Shechem, the pasuk states (Bereishis 34:25): “The two sons of Yaakov, Shimon and Levi, took each man his sword.” Levi was exactly thirteen years old at the time, and we thus learn that a thirteen-year-old is called a man.

In the current article we will discuss the concept of a child’s “coming of age.” What defines a child’s entering the obligation of mitzvos – age or physical maturity? Is there halachic significance to each of these independently? Are there differences between different mitzvos and halachic concepts, or is halachic maturity uniform for all matters?

Torah Study for Women

In Parashas Toldos we find Rivkah going to “seek out [the word of] Hashem” concerning the twins that agitated in her womb (Bereishis 25:22). The verse does not reveal where she went, but Rashi (based on Chazal) explains that she visited the beis midrash of Shem.

Different passages of the Midrash teach us that Yitzchak, Yaakov, Yosef and Yehudah all studied at different periods in the study halls of Shem and Eiver. Although Rivkah went there to receive Divine counsel, neither she, nor any other woman, is recorded as having taken part in the actual study of the renowned study hall. The field of Torah study (even before the Torah was given) was reserved for the Fathers of the nation; the Mothers were not involved in it.

In the present article we will discuss the issue of Torah study for women. Is there a prohibition against Torah study for women? Is it permitted for a woman to study Torah on her own? Is there a difference between different parts of Torah? Is there room to distinguish in this matter between past generations and our own?

09/11/2015

parshas Vayeira – “Give Me a Break!” – Parameters of Midas Sedom

This week’s Parashah includes the terrible description of how Sodom was destroyed. The verses do not tell us much
about the deeds of Sodom’s inhabitants, yet Chazal reveal their underlying attitude: “What is mine, is mine, and what is
yours, is yours.” We dedicate this week’s article to the discussion of midas sedom, the character trait of Sodom, in both
a moral and halachic sense. What is midas sedom, and why does it constitute such a grave character flaw? What
halachic ramifications does this trait have? Does beis din enforce ethical behavior, or not? And how does this impact
our everyday lives?

Suicide and Euthanasia in Torah Law

This week’s parashah, Parashas Noach, includes the following verse (Bereishis 9:5): “And surely the blood of your lives will I demand an account; at the hand of every beast will I demand it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man.”

Commenting on the verse, Rashi explains (based on the first words of the verse: “And surely the blood of your lives will I demand an account”): “Although I have permitted you to kill an animal, I will require your blood, from one who spills his own blood.”

According to Rashi, the verse thus includes a prohibition of suicide.

The Rambam (Rotze’ach 2:2-3) likewise mentions the scriptural derivation for the prohibition against suicide: “But a person who hires a murderer to kill a colleague … and a person who commits suicide are all considered to be shedders of blood; the sin of bloodshed is upon their hands …. Which source indicates that this is the law? … The verse continues: `Of the blood of your own lives I will demand an account.’ This refers to a person who commits suicide.”

This week’s article is thus dedicated to the halachic treatment of suicide. What are the parameters of the prohibition against taking one’s own life? What are the halachos concerning mourning over a suicide? What is the significance of the motivation behind the suicide? We will address these questions in the present article

parashas Lech Lecha – Self‐Injury and Cosmetic Surgery in Halachah

If Avraham Avinu performed all the mitzvos of the Torah, why did he not circumcise himself before being instructed to do so by Hashem? One answer given to this question leads us to investigate the prohibition of injuring oneself. Is there a prohibition of self-injury? What is the nature of the prohibition, and which cases are included in it? And what is the halachic status of cosmetic) plastic) surgery, which involved causing an injury to oneself? These questions ,and more, are considered in this week’s article.

The Mitzvah of Destiny

The first instruction recorded in the Torah is peru urevu, which (according to the Gemara in Gittin and Kiddushin) remains the source, even after Matan Torah, for the mitzvah of procreation. Yet, unlike other mitzvos, peru urevu appears to command something that is not entirely in our hands to fulfill–we can only try to beget children, but their actual birth is not in our hands. The essay will discuss a deeper layer of the mitzvah, and seek to explain the Divine element uniquely present in the instruction to beget children.

The First Mitzvah: Peru Urvu

This week we begin a new cycle of Torah reading, starting with Hashem’s creation of the world, and the creation of humankind.
Part of the Torah narrative of the creation is the Divine instruction to Adam to ensure that the world be populated (Bereishis 1:28): “G-d blessed them and said to them: Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
In this article we will focus on the mitzvah of having children – the Torah instruction of peru urvu – seeking to define its parameters and understand its details. Is the mitzvah of peru urvu fulfilled only by actual childbirth, or already by beginning the process? How many children is a person obligated to have? What is the obligation of women in the mitzvah?
These, and further questions, are addressed below.

05/10/2015

Purchasing the Four Species

n the present days many we are all occupied, to varying degrees, with the search for the Four Species. However, finding kosher or mehudar Species is not the end of the story. The Torah requires us to gain a full ownership of the Species–a feat not necessarily as simple as it sounds. This week we discuss the possible pitfalls in buying and paying for the Four Species, and the methods by which the full transfer of ownership can be ensured. May checks be used as payment? What about credit cards? And why is it so important to pay on time? These questions, and more, are dealt with in this week’s article.

23/09/2015