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Tevillas Keilim

  The Torah, in Parashas Matos, in the context of the battle between Israel and the Midyanites, includes the mitzvah of tevillas keilim. Concerning utensils brought back from the battlefields of Midyan, the Torah mentions a number of instructions issued by Eleazar the priest: “Gold, silver, bronze, iron, tin, lead, and anything that can withstand […]

Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide in Torah Law

  In the current difficult climate, a time when the danger of plague continues to envelop large parts of the globe, it is perhaps appropriate to continue our discussion of medical matters which we began several weeks ago. The need to comply with official instructions concerning coronavirus is self-evident, and we will not address this […]

To Drink or Not to Drink: The Purim Dilemma

  A short statement of Rava is key in the unique character of Purim in the Jewish calendar: “”Rava said: A person must become inebriated on Purim until he cannot distinguish between ‘cursed be Haman’ and ‘blessed be Mordechai.’” The instruction, as we are very much aware, is liable to cause us—whether performing the Purim […]

Praying for Miracles: Permitted or Forbidden?

  The Parashos of Yetzias Mitzrayim, our miraculous redemption from Egyptian slavery, bring to the fore the occurrence of miracles. While we are unused to open and nature-defying miracles of the type experienced in Egypt or recorded elsewhere in Tanach, this does not mean that our world is bereft of miracles. We live under the […]

An Honorary Obligation? Performing Instructions of the Deceased

  “It is a mitzvah to fulfill the instructions of the deceased.” The Gemara mentions this principle several times (Gittin 14b-15a; see also: Kesubos 70a; Taanis 21a) in the name of Rabbi Meir. One of the significant sources for this concept, as we will see below, is the instruction given by Yaakov Avinu to his […]

Shul and Beyond: Chanukah Lights in Public Places

  It has become a common custom to light Chanukah candles in public places. This is true of the workplace, of Chanukah parties and public gatherings, and even of the town square. Indeed, even non-Jews often participate in these gatherings, and are sometimes invited to light the candles. The question we will address in the […]

Eating Before Kiddush and Havdalah

  Parashas Bereishis includes Hashem’s sanctification of the Shabbos: “Hashem blessed the day of Shabbos and He sanctified it.” The sanctification of Shabbos is associated with the mitzvos of Kiddush and Havdalah that we fulfill each week. According to the Rambam (Positive Mitzvah 155; Hilchos Shabbos 29:1), Havdalah is a Torah obligation just as Kiddush, […]

Respect Your Food! Halachic Principles for Handling Food

  As we realize most forcefully on fast days, food is a very central part of our lives. So central, that the very first instruction of Hashem to humankind, given to Adam HaRishon in Gan Eden, related to eating—albeit a special kind of eating, from the Eitz Hadaas Tov Vara—but still to eating. Many halachos […]

A “Good Eye”: The Mitzvah of Judging Favorably

  The basic character trait of Bilam was ayin hara, an evil eye. It was his negative way of perceiving others that gave his curse potency. The Mishnah thus teaches that disciples of Bilam possess an “evil eye,” while disciples of Avraham Avinu possess an ayin tova, a “good eye.” Perhaps the first and most […]

Fighting a War on Shabbos

  Parashas Chukas includes the first instance of the nation of Israel conquering another nation’s territory. Immediately following Aharon’s death, the Torah tells us that the Canaanites attacked Israel, and even succeeded in taking captives. The nation prayed to Hashem, who delivered the Canaanites and their wealth to Israel. The property, as the people vowed, […]

Out of Synch? Resolving the Parasha Discrepancy

  This year, the year 5779, gives us an opportunity to reflect on a phenomenon which occurs occasionally, whereby the Torah readings of Israel and the Diaspora are not synchronized with one another. As was the case this year, the most common cause for this discrepancy is the eighth day of Pesach falling on Shabbos. […]

Lifnei Iver: Halachic Stumbling Block (Part II)

  This week we continue the discussion of the prohibition of lifnei iver that we opened last week. Does the prohibition of lifnei iver apply even to possible transgressions, or does it relate specifically to transgressions that are certain? What are the parameters of the prohibition against assisting somebody in a sin, aside from the […]

Kitniyos on Pesach: Stringencies and Leniencies

  The difference between Sephardi and Ashkenazi dietary customs on Pesach is testimony to the richness and variety of Jewish tradition. While all Jews refrain from products that have a concern of Chametz, Ashkenazim add a significant range of foods to avoid on Pesach. These fall under the category of kitniyos. In a previous article […]

To Check or Not to Check? Halachos of Bugs in Foods

  Parshas Shemini highlights a prohibition that is of special relevance to one of the mitzvos of Seder Night: the prohibition of eating bugs and the concomitant obligation to check foods before eating them. This is especially pertinent to the Romaine lettuce we use for Maror, but is also highly relevant the year round. As […]

Electricity on Shabbos: Refrigerators

  In last week’s article we discussed the principles underlying the use of electricity on Shabbos. As we saw, the consensus of halachic authorities is to prohibit turning on electrical appliances on Shabbos. However, there is no consensus as to why this is prohibited, and several different suggestions are given, as we noted there. In […]

Hachnasas Orchim: Halachos of Hospitality to Guests

One of the most detailed accounts the Torah provides of incidents in Avraham Avinu’s life describes his remarkable dedication to provide hospitality to strangers. It seems that the Torah wishes to explain a central element of what made Avraham so worthy to be the father of the Jewish People, and the spiritual father of all […]

Additional Children: The Duty to Populate the World

After last week’s installment about the principal obligation to have children—the mitzvah of peru urvu—this week we turn to the question of going beyond the basic obligation. As we saw, a person fulfills the obligation (or is exempted from the obligation) of peru urvu after the birth of a son and a daughter. But his […]

Mitzvah Blessings: When and When Not to Recite

  At the beginning of Parashas Ki Savo we are reminded, as part of the declaration of Bikkurim (bringing the first fruit to Jeruaslem) of the obligation to recite blessings when performing a mitzvah. The Torah prescribes a statement that must be made by a person bringing bikkurim to the Mikdash, which includes the following […]

Trip to Cairo? The Torah Prohibition of Returning to Egypt

  The Torah instructs us, concerning the laws of  kings: “But he shall not have too many horses for himself, so that he will not return the people to Egypt in order to increase horses, for Hashem has said to you: You shall no longer return on this way again” (Devarim 17:16). Although the pasuk […]

Hachana: Preparing from Shabbos to Weekdays

  When Yom Tov follows Shabbos, as will occur in the upcoming Shavuos festival, the halachic issue of preparing from Shabbos for weekdays becomes especially pertinent. The Yom Tov meal follows on quickly after Shabbos, and questions of preparing from Shabbos for Yom Tov purposes are often raised. The Shabbos-Yom Tov sequence thus presents us […]