Parashas Noach – Foreign Languages in Prayer

This week’s article discusses the issue of using different languages for purposes of Keriyas Shema and for prayer in general. When can English, or other languages, be used? Is it preferable to use Hebrew without understanding, or a different language that one understands? Can foreign languages be used even in places where they are not the spoken tongue? These, and other questions, are discussed in this week’s article.

Time for Shnayim Mikra Ve-Echad Targum

This week’s article deals with the issue of when to read shnayim mikra ve-echad targum. From when can this weekly mitzvah be performed, and when is the last time for reading shnayim mikra? Are there special halachos concerning the reading of Vezos Haberachah and Bereishis? What are the laws concerning reading at night? These questions, and more, are discussed in this week’s article.

Lag B’omer

Lag B’omer is a day of rejoicing (see Rama Orach Chaim 493:2). Depending on the various minhagim, the mourning customs of sefirah either conclude or are put on hold for a day, tachanun is omitted, and for those who can, being in Meiron – the burial place of Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai – is an unforgettable experience. Let us now discuss some of the background and minhagim of this most interesting holiday.

25/05/2016

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.

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?

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?

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.

Nitzavim – Mutual Responsibility

One of the basic halachic principles that accompany us daily is the principle of arvus, mutual responsibility among the nation of Israel. The concept of mutual responsibility is manifest on several layers of our national life, and this week we discuss its halachic expression. What are the halachic ramifications of arvus? How does the concept of arvus influence the obligation to rebuke wrongdoers? And what about women? These, and other related issues, are discussed in this week’s article.

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

Yom Kippur: The Secret of our Viduy

This week’s article discusses the mitzvah of teshuvah, and in particular the recitation of viduy. In the halachic part of the article we will clarify how viduy is an integral and essential part of the teshuvah process. The second part of the article is dedicated to exploring why viduy is so central to teshuvah, and to finding an approach to the many (ten) orders of viduy recited over Yom Kippur.

21/09/2015

Laws of Zimun: Who Joins and Who Leads?

In this week’s article we turn our attention to questions of “who joins?” and “who leads?” the zimun ceremony. Who should be the one chosen to perform the ceremony? Who is considered the ba’al ha-bayis, and what rights does he have in selecting the mezamen? Can women and children form part of a zimun group, and what is the halachah of women eating on their own? These questions, and more, are elucidated in this week’s article.

Devarim – Who’s Doing the Cooking?

The issue of bishul akum is a halachic topic that often crops up in connection with institutions such as old-age homes, hotels, and so on. This week’s article presents the background to the prohibition, the various heterim that are used in operating non-Jewish staff in kosher kitchens, and other commonly asked questions concerning the prohibition.

Behar – A Good Deal or a Torah Proscription

I am looking for a property to buy in Jerusalem. Recently, a friend notified me of a potential bargain: an elderly person, who is clearly unaware of current market prices, is selling his apartment for a very cheap price, approximately two-thirds the market value. May I purchase the apartment for the suggested price, or must I inform the buyer that the price is too low, and make an offer that reflects current market values?

Early Bedikas Chametz

This week’s article discusses the timely obligation of bedikas chametz. True, there are still two weeks to go till Pesach, but even now, somebody leaving home might be obligated to check his house for chametz. What are the halachic details of this obligation? Is a blessing recited before checking? Does selling one’s chametz exempt one from the obligation? These questions, and more, are discussed in this week’s article.

Halachos of Making a Menorah

ParashasTerumah discusses making the vessels for the Mishkan – among them the Menorah.

The Gemara in three places (Rosh Hashanah 24a; Avodah 43a; Menachos 28b) establishes a prohibition of forming vessels that imitate the vessels of the Mikdash – including the Menorah. Specifically, the Gemara states that it is forbidden to form a Menorah of seven branches – but it is permitted to form a Menorah of five, six, or eight branches.

In the present article we will discuss this prohibition and its details. How is the prohibition defined and what is its severity? Is the prohibition restricted to making a seven-branched Menorah, or is it also forbidden to keep and use one? What changes can be made to permit the Menorah?

These questions, among others, are discussed below.

14/02/2015

“For Bribery Blinds the Wise” – Halachos of Bribes Today

This week’s article deals with the halachic issue of bribery – a prohibition found in this week’s Parashah, which the Torah and Chazal treat with great severity. What king of bribery is prohibited? When does bribery invalidate both judge and judgment? Moreover, does the prohibition apply only to judges, or does it extend to those holding public office? These questions, and more, are discussed in this week’s article.

Bo: Months and Dates in Halacha

We read this week of the first mitzvah given to Israel as a nation. This is the mitzvah of Kiddush Hachodesh. Although the actual mitzvah of setting and sanctifying the month is unfortunately not practiced today, the interpretation that Ramban gives to the text hints to a current application of the mitzvah.
What is the nature of this mitzvah? How are we to date our letters and documents? Is there a problem with using secular dates? These questions, and more, are addressed in the weekly article.

Assault in Torah Law

This article deals with the Torah prohibition against assault, an issue we meet in Parashas Shemos in the “two Hebrew men fighting” that Moshe saw. When is it forbidden to hit others, and when does the prohibition not apply? What is the rule concerning smiting the wicked, and how does this halachah match the narrative mentioned in our parashah? What are the parameters of the prohibition against raising one’s hand against another? We will discuss these questions, and more, in the present article.

Shemos: His Name in Israel Shall be…

This week’s parashah, and with it the book of Shemos, begins with a listing of the names of the Children of Israel. Several sources indicate the importance of names in Jewish tradition, and this week’s article is dedicated to matters of naming children. Why should one avoid the names of wicked people? Is it proper to name a child by non-Jewish names? When, in naming a child after somebody, should one be wary of ‘evil omens’? When is it right to change a name? These questions, and more, are discussed in this week’s article.

Akin to Murder? – The Prohibition against Humiliating

In Parashas Vayeishev the Torah relates the events involving Yehuda and Tamar, which culminate in Tamar’s trial and later the birth of twins from Yehuda.

A well-known teaching is derived by the Sages from the verses narrating the trial (Bereishis 38:24-26), which tell that Yehuda was informed that his daughter-in-law had become pregnant from an illicit relationship. Yehuda pronounces judgment, and Tamar is taken out to be burned. At this point Tamar sends the signs of Yehuda’s identity (his seal, cord and staff) as proof that he is the father of Tamar’s unborn child. Yehuda justifies Tamar’s actions, and openly confesses the truth of her unspoken claim: “She is more just, than I.”

The actions of Tamar indicate how careful she was to avoid shaming Yehuda in public. The Gemara, in three instances (Berachos 43b; Bava Metzia 59a, Sotah 10b), takes note of the fact that Tamar only produced Yehuda’s possessions as a subtle indication of the identity of her child’s father, without explicitly identifying Yehuda. The Gemara understands that Tamar was prepared to be executed rather than humiliate Yehuda by explicitly identifying him as the father.

On this basis, the Gemara famously concludes: “A person should cast himself into a furnace of fire rather than publicly humiliate his fellow.”

In this week’s article we will dwell on the prohibition of humiliating one’s fellow. What is the nature and the definition of the prohibition? Is there an obligation to forfeit one’s life rather than humiliate somebody else? If not, why was Tamar prepared to give up her life for this matter?

Vayishlach – Rights and Wrongs of Flattery

This week’s parashah includes an interesting source concerning the prohibition of flattery: the words of conciliation spoken by Yaakov to his brother Eisav. We take the opportunity to expound on the prohibition of flattery. Concerning which people, and in which manner, is there a prohibition of flattery? Does the prohibition apply even in circumstances of potential danger or loss? Are there circumstances in which it might even be a mitzvah to flatter? These questions, and more, are discussed in this week’s article.

The Rosh Hashanah Partnership

Towards Rosh Hashanah, this week we will discuss the question of the name “Rosh Hashanah.” Unlike other festivals, the title “Rosh Hashanah”, which appears in the Mishnah and writings of Chazal, is not derived from Torah verses–in which we find the names “Yom Teru’ah” and “Yom Hazikaron.” What caused Chazal to “change the name” of this day? And how does this name change reflect on our avodah of the day, on the prayer service, and on the blowing of the shofar? These questions, and more, are discussed in the article.

20/09/2014

Parshas Emor – The Meaning of Chinuch

As parents, the idea of chinuch is a concept that is always close to our hearts. We invest much thought, toil, and money in the chinuch or our children, realizing the crucial value of chinuch in molding the next generation. Of course, chinuch is not merely a technical, halachic matter. Chazal teach us that every child (and every person) is an entire world, and chinuch implies seeking to allow the world within our children to flourish and to blossom, giving him the tools to realize the tremendous potential with which each individual is endowed. However, there are also certain halachic definitions, in particular with regard to chinuch of mitzvos, which are important to know. This essay will address the basic concept of chinuch for mitzvos.

The Prohibition of Kitniyos on Pesach

The most prominent aspect of the upcoming Pesach festival is without a doubt the dietary restrictions. Throughout Pesach we replace bread with matzah and avoid all leavened products, turning our kitchen into quite something else. The lettuce leaves, horseradish, saltwater dips, and fascinating sandwiches of Seder Night also deserve a mention.

Another important culinary aspect of Pesach is the issue of kitniyos, legumes. Although there is no mention of the issue in the Torah, in the Mishnah or in the Gemara, the custom for Jews of Ashkenazi descent is to refrain from eating legumes of all kinds during Pesach. The question of what constitutes a legume for the purpose of this halachah, and how far the restriction goes, is therefore of great importance for Pesach cooking.

In the present article we will discuss the halachos pertaining to the issue of kitniyos, and seek to understand the reasons behind the custom, its halachic severity, and the extent of its application. Is quinoa included in the prohibition? Why is it permitted to eat potatoes on Pesach (Imagine life without them!)? Must separate dishes be used for those who must eat kitniyos on Pesach?

Purim: Days of Feasting and Joy

In this article we will discuss the mitzvah of the Purim feast, and the general joy of Purim: When during the day of Purim should the feast be held? Is there an obligation of eating meat during the meal, and should it begin with bread? How does the mitzvah of the feast integrate with the day’s general obligation of joy? These, and other topical questions, are discussed in the present article.

Drinking on Purim

As the days of Purim approach, we will this week discuss a mitzvah act that on the one hand gives Purim much of its unique festival character, and on the other is liable to cause us – both as performers of the mitzvah, and as parents of children who wish to perform it – no small headache.

The primary Talmudic source related to drinking on Purim is a Gemara in Megillah (7b): “Rava said: a person must get drunk on Purim until he cannot distinguish between ‘cursed be Haman’ and ‘blessed be Mordechai’.”

The basic idea of drinking on Purim emerges moreover from the Megillah itself, which states that the days of Purim were enacted for mishteh – a word that specifically implies (by contrast with a regular se’udah) a wine-feast (as the original misheh of Achashverosh with which the tale of Esther begins).

The mitzvah of drinking to the point of inebriation raises a number of questions. What is the level of drunkenness that must be reached? Is it really possible that a Jew will be unable to distinguish between the curse of Haman and the blessing of Mordechai? When is there an obligation to drink – should one be drinking during the entire day? Must one drink wine, or can one drink any alcoholic beverage?

These questions, and more, are discussed below

Fraudulent Conveyance

Rabbi Yehonoson Dovid Hool This article was written by a dayan at Beis Din Nesevos Chaim-the Beis Din of the Institute For Dayanim and was published in Kuntris Magazine   Often when… Read more »

03/03/2014

Lechem Mishneh: The Double Bread of Shabbos

This article discusses the issue of lechem mishneh, the double-portion of bread that opens our Shabbos meals (commemorating the manna of the wilderness). Is lechem mishneh a full obligation? Are women obligated? Are complete loaves of bread required? Is lechem mishneh required even for cakes and pastries? These questions, and others, are discussed below.

Mikeitz – The Torah Outlook on Jailing and Imprisonment

In this week’s parashah (together with last week’s) we find one of the only occasions where the Torah
mentions a prison sentence. We take the opportunity to investigate the Torah’s outlook on imprisonment.
Does the Torah see jailing and imprisonment as a legitimate form of punishment? Is it permitted to keep
somebody pending trial in jail? Is it permitted to jail somebody on Shabbos. These questions, and more, are
discussed in this week’s article.