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Dreams Can Come True: A Halachic Appraisal of Dreams (2)

In last week’s article, and in keeping with the weeks’ parashios in which a number of dreams are mentioned, we began to discuss the halachic significance of dreams. The main focus of the article was the seeming contradiction between two Talmudic sources, one of them highlighting the halachic significance of dreams, and the other indicating that dreams are not to be taken seriously.

We mentioned a number of possible ways in which this apparent contradiction can be resolved, thereby forming the basis for the halachic approach to dreams.

In the present article we will continue the discussion of dreams, focusing primarily on examples that demonstrate the significance of dreams in halachah.

Rulings Based on Dreams

One possible resolution for the above contradiction is the distinction between concrete halachic rulings, which are beyond the jurisdiction of dreams, and factual clarifications, which dreams can provide.

In this context, it is important to mention an entire book, which was written by one of the Ba’alei Ha-Tosafos in France, Rabbi Yaakov of Merosh, named Shut Min Ha-Shamayim. In this book the author published a great number of responses to questions, which were revealed to him from Heaven by means of dreams. The very existence of this book sharpens the issue of relying on dreams for halachic guidance: Can such halachic rulings be authoritative?

Some authorities have relied on the rulings of Shut Min Ha-Shamayim. The Chida, for instance, relied on one of the published teshuvos to permit women to recite a blessing on taking the lulav and esrog (Yosef Ometz 82). Moreover, he writes that if the Shulchan Aruch would have seen the teshuvah, he would not have ruled that women cannot recite a berachah. As to the claim that the Torah cannot descend from Heaven, the Chida writes that where there is a dispute in the matter, a revelation can serve to decide the case.

This reasoning does not appear to concur with the famous statement cited of the Gemara, whereby even a voice from Heaven cannot decide a halachic dispute between two Sages (Bava Metzia 59b). Thus, although the Chida is not alone in accepting the rulings of Shut Min Ha-Shamayim,[1] a number of authorities, such as the Shibolei Ha-Leket (157) and others, write that one cannot rely on the rulings (see at length Yecheveh Daas, Vol. 1, no. 68).

In this spirit the Noda Biyhuda (Tinyana, Yoreh De’ah 30) stresses that even the dream of a great person cannot be relied upon, even for stringency, and the more so for leniency. As mentioned in the previous article, the Shach likewise rules out reliance on dreams for matters of halachah. Yet, we also find accepted halachos that are entirely based on the revelation of a dream, a notable example being the placing together of the esrog with the other minim (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 651:9, based on a dream of the Rekanati).

As a general rule, therefore, it can be said that dreams are not reliable halachic sources. However, this rule has numerous exceptions, where poskim do grant dreams halachic significance.

Dreams as Proof of Death

Shut Meshivas Nefesh (Rabbi Aryeh Leib Tzintz, no. 38) relates a case in which three married Jews sailed on a river. Their ship sunk, and their bodies were not found, so that the question of permitting their wives to marry arose. Among other considerations, Rabbi Tzintz discusses the testimony of one of the victims’ mother, who dreamed that her some had drowned, and also saw a number of details that identified his possessions.

Rabbi Tzintz writes that although dreams cannot be generally relied on, in this case there is room to give a degree of halachic credence to the dream. The reason for this is that the level of testimony required for permitting a woman to marry is less than the required level of testimony for other matters (such as monetary cases). Because the required level of testimony is lower, even the testimony of a dream can be accepted.

In a different case, Rabbi Tzedakah Chutzin (Shut Tzedakah U-Mishpat, Even Ha-Ezer 48) writes that the revelation of a dream cannot be relied on to permit a woman to marry, where nothing is known of the man in question.

This second case is different to the case above, because in a known case of drowning, the chances that the person who drowned being alive are slim, and Chazal were therefore more lenient in the required level of testimony. Yet, the lenient ruling remains somewhat exceptional, and it seems likely that other poskim will not rely on dreams in similar circumstances.

Relocating a Grave to the Land of Israel

Shut Chelkas Yaakov (Rabbi Mordechai Breisch, Yoreh De’ah 206) discusses the question of somebody who saw a recently deceased relative in his dream, the latter asking him to transfer his remains to the Land of Israel. Initially, the dreamer paid no attention to the dream, but after the dream repeated itself time and again, he became alarmed, and consulted Rabbi Breisch concerning his obligations.

Rabbi Breisch replies that there is certainly no obligation of relocating a grave to the Land of Israel, for it is a great merit for a person to be buried in the Holy Land. However, with regard to an obligation to relocate the grave, he writes that because doing so involves financial expenses, the dream cannot be the foundation for an obligation. This ruling is based on the distinction made by the Tashbatz (cited in the previous article), which states that dreams have no halachic impact concerning monetary matters.

Shut Shevus Yaakov (Rabbi Yaakov Reisher, Vol. 2, no. 103) goes a step further, and writes that even with regard to the content of the dream—the instruction to relocate a grave—dreams cannot be authoritative. According to his ruling, even if no financial expense in involved, there is no requirement to pay attention to dreams.

It is noteworthy that Rabbi Breisch, though ruling that there is no obligation to follow the instructions given in the dream, notes that it might yet be advisable to follow the instructions. He bases this assertion on a story mentioned in Sefer Chasidim (no. 727), where a person’s refusal to heed instructions given in a dream brought him to the point of physical danger. Only when the instructions, which were issued by a deceased individual in a dream, were carried out, did the person in question recover.

The Burial of Rabbi Mordechai Benet

The question of relocating graves based on nocturnal revelations is sharpened when the relocation does not involve a move to the Land of Israel. In principle, it is forbidden to relocate a person’s remains, unless there is special reason for doing so. Can a revelation in a dream overcome this prohibition?

A famous case in which this a dream was of central importance was of the renowned Rabbi Mordechai Benet. Rabbi Benet was the Rabbi of Nikolsberg, died and was buried in Lichtenstadt, which he had been visiting. The citizens of Nikolsberg demanded that his remains be brought to their local cemetery, where he had officiated for many years as rabbi, and where his family was buried. The residents of Lichtenstadt, however, claimed that it was forbidden to relocate his remains, and they must remain in their place of burial.

The Chasam Sofer, to whom the question of what to do was addressed, initially ruled that out of doubt, the remains should not be touched. Later, however, he changed his mind, and the remains were duly relocated to a burial plot in Nikelsberg.

The Chasam Sofer’s son, the Kesav Sofer, revealed the reason for his father’s change of heart: Rabbi Benet had appeared to him in a dream, and instructed him to exhume his body and have it buried in Nikolsberg. As a young man, he had broken an engagement with a girl from Lichtenstadt, an event that caused the girl must distress. In order to atone for this, a half-year period of burial in Lichtenstadt was required. Now, however, the time was up, and his remains could be returned to their proper burial place.

In a different case, Rabbi David Sperber (Shut Afraksasa De-Eina, Yoreh De’ah 147) ruled, for a quite different reason, that instructions given in a dream could be relied on for exhuming a person’s remains an reburying them. A certain lady’s son had died, and following his death he regularly appeared to his mother in her dreams, demanding that his body should be relocated. The demand was accompanied by a sinister threat: If she would not comply, he would strangle her.

This matter, writes Rabbi Sperber, involves actual physical danger: Even if the threat is false, the dread she experiences can be dangerous, and it is therefore correct to follow the instructions of the dream and relocate the remains.

Vows and Oaths

An additional question that is raised in connection to dreams is the matter of vows and oaths: Does a person who makes a vow or oath in his dream need to take any action to release himself from the effect, or can he simply ignore the dream? This question involves a dispute of rishonim, and on a practical level the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De’ah 210:2) rules that a person must seek release from the vow (by the process of hatarah). The Shach (5) adds that this is the common custom.

The particular halachic impact of a vow or oath that was dreamt can be explained by the potential danger associated with vows. The Gemara teaches that “on account of the sin of vows children die” (Shabbos 32b), and perhaps this is the reason why vows—even those in dreams—carry special stringency.

The Chasam Sofer (Yoreh De’ah 222) offers an alternative explanation, based on the assumption that a person usually dreams about events that actually occurred during the day. Dreaming about vows raises the suspicion that the dreamer actually made a vow or oath during the day, and forgot about it. Therefore, out of concern that a vow was made, a person should seek halachic release.

Poskim likewise rule that somebody who makes a vow in his dream to fulfill a particular mitzvah, such as giving charity, must fulfill the vow (Shut Chaim Be-Yad 52; Shut Mishnah Halachos 5:160). However, somebody who makes a vow, in his dream to do something that is prohibited (such as fasting on Shabbos), should not take it seriously: “Surely he will not be instructed to transgress the Torah, and this vow has no substance” (Shut Divrei Malkiel, Vol. 2, no. 72).

Fasting for a Dream

Somebody who has a bad dream, and is concerned about the ill tidings that the dream bodes, can go some way to avert the potential decrees by fasting. The fast should be accompanied by repentance and by giving charity, as well as Torah study and prayer (Mishnah Berurah 288:7).

It should be noted that the fast is not obligatory (see Shut Ha-Rashba no. 132), and if the person is not concerned about the dream and considers it nonsense, he does not have to fast (Shulchan Aruch Harav 288:7). This is especially true today, when dreams have less import than in earlier generations.

The fast is observed the day following the occurrence of the dream. In the event that the person is very distressed by the dream, he may fast on that day even if it is Shabbat or Yom Tov—though according to one opinion cited by the Shulchan Aruch (288:5) it is only permitted to fast for certain dreams. Somebody who fasts on Shabbos must fast again, on another day, to atone for having fasted on a holy day.

If one had a bad dream in the course of a daytime nap, and wishes to fast, he should do so from the moment he arises for the following twelve hours (Shulchan Aruch 288:4).

It should be noted that fasting for bad dreams is rare, in particular today, when the great majority of dreams can be safely assumed to be nonsense.

Hatavas Chalom

Another way of transforming a possible bad decree implied by a dream is to perform a ceremony called hatavas chalom (“making a dream good”) on the day following the dream. The principle behind the ceremony is that the fulfillment of dreams depends, to a large degree, on their human interpretation. The positive interpretation of the ceremony therefore has the power to influence the dream’s realization (based on Berachos 55b).

The ceremony calls for the one who dreamed to go to three friends, and recite various verses and prayers responsively (Berachos 55; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 220). The prayer is printed in various siddurim.

If somebody had a disturbing dream, but does not remember its details, he can “transform” the dream during the Priestly Blessing, by saying the following liturgy: “O Strong One on high, who dwells in might: You are Peace, and Your Name is peace. May it be Your will that You should place peace upon us” (Berachos 55b). A slightly longer version is found in most siddurim.

In Israel, where the kohanim recite their blessing on a daily basis, this prayer can be recited immediately following a bad dream which he cannot recall. One should finish the prayer together with the kohanim’s blessing, so that the final amen of the congregation is in response even to the prayer. If one lives outside of Israel, where the kohanim only recite their blessing on the holidays, the prayer can be recited when the chazzan says the words of the kohanim’s blessing during the repetition of the Amidah.

An extended prayer is recited while the kohanim sing during their blessing on Yom Tov. It is customary for everybody to recite this prayer, for we presume that from one Yom Tov to the next everyone probably had a bad dream which they then forgot.


We have seen a number of different ways in which halachah relates to dreams. It is clear that both the words of Chazal, and the words of later authorities, reveal a complex relationship to dreams. On the one hand, dreams certainly do not possess concrete halachic authority. On the other hand, in numerous questions poskim, based on precedents found in Chazal, do give certain halachic weight to dreams.

To some degree and in certain areas, dreams thus do enter the world of halachah.

[1] For more sources on this matter, see the introduction of Rabbi Reuven Margalios to Shut Min Ha-Shamayim, pp. 6-13. See also Shut Ha-Tashbatz, Vol. 2, no. 159, who relies on a dream for deciding a halachic question. This is in line with the distinction made by the Tashbatz between monetary matters on the one hand, and general prohibitions on the other (cited in previous article). See also Mahari Asad, Orach Chaim 220, who draws a distinction between a ruling for an individual (for which dreams are not a reliable source), and a ruling for the general congregation.



Of this message Chazal state that a dream is one sixtieth of prophecy, and Chazal add (Chagigah 5b) that even in times when Hashem hides His countenance from us, he continues to reveal Himself by the medium of dreams.

In the light of this suggestion, we can possibly explain the two approaches of the Gemara in Horios concerning heeding the instruction of the dream. The dream, which was dreamed by both Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Nasan, instructed the two tanaim to apologize to Rabban Shimon b. Gamliel for the offense they had caused. Rabbi Nasan followed the directive, whereas Rabbi Meir refused to do so, claiming that “dreams have no importance for good or for ill.”

It is thus possible that Rabbi Nasan was the directive as ‘good advice,’ rather than as a halachic ruling, and therefore decided that it was prudent to follow it. Rabbi Meir, however, saw the dream as a halachic ruling in the question of who owed who an apology, and therefore deemed it outside the ‘jurisdiction’ of dreams.

We will please G-d complete the halachic discussion of dreams in next week’s article.

[1] Note, however, that the simple interpretation of the words is that the diviners “speak dreams that are false,” and see also below.

[2] Or “the Master of Dreams,” representing a personification of the dream.

[3] The “Second Tithe.” Maaser sheini can be redeemed onto money, which is then taken to Jerusalem, and used to purchase food which must be consumed therein.

[4] Some authorities dispute this ruling with regard to a dream that indicates the owner of the money. See Perishah, Choshen Mishpat 255:14, and see also Shut Divrei Yatziv, Yoreh De’ah 122, sec. 3.

[5] Based on this interpretation, the question of rabbinic prohibitions will arise: Does one have to be stringent even for rabbinic prohibitions, where one is usually lenient in cases of doubt? Likewise, there is room to investigate the application of other general principles for the resolution of doubts.

[6] This is not similar to the case in Sanhedrin concerning who the money belongs to. Though dependant on factual clarification, the question of who the money belongs is a concrete halachic question that requires resolution. The question of the fish, however, is a general factual question of whether the fish possesses fins and scales, and although the question has specific ramifications, it is possible that this will not be considered a halachic ruling beyond the ‘jurisdiction’ of dreams.

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