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


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.

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

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.


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.

Opening Shop? Laws of Hasagas Gevul

This week’s article addresses the prohibition of hasagas gevul, meaning causing somebody else to lose his income. What are the parameters of the prohibition? How is it applied today? Is the halachah concerned specifically for the good of sellers, or also for the benefit of the consumer? These questions, and more, are discussed in this week’s article.

Gratitude for Surviving Danger: Laws of Birkas Ha-Gomel

This week’s article addresses the timely issue of reciting birkas ha-gomel, and focuses on the question of when the berachah should be recited. Is being saved from any dangerous situation sufficient, or are there special parameters? How have advances in the modern world of travel affected the halachah of birkas ha-gomel? Does the recovery from any illness warrant ha-gomel? These questions, and others, are discussed in this week’s article.

Parshas Re’ei – How to Begin a Letter

This week’s Parashah includes the prohibition on erasing the Name of Hashem — “You shall not do so to Hashem, your G-d.” In light of the prohibition, is it permitted to begin a letter with letters denoting the Name of Hashem? What about letters that denote “With the help of Hashem”? And what is the halachic status of the dollar bill, on which the words “In G-d we trust” appear? This week’s article deals with these questions, together with the halachic background for them.

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.

Parshas Vaeschanan – Preservation of the Body

During the holiday and vacation period, one of the most frequently quoted pesukim is a verse in our Parashah: “Guard yourselves very carefully.” However, aside from the timely vacation issues, there are several common questions of keeping healthy that deserve halachic analysis. The parameters of the obigation to maintain good health, and its detail, will be discussed in the present 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.

Pinchas – Killing in Self-Defense

This week’s article continues to deal with the laws of warfare, this time focusing on the laws pertaining to engagement with the enemy. Among other issues, the article will discuss the obligation of suing for peace, the laws of making a siege against the enemy, and the taking of war spoils and booty. Though many a century has passed from the time the Torah laws of war were recorded, we will find that the relevant halachos are no less contemporary now than they were then.

Balak – A Halachic Glance at Magic

Magic tricks and magic shows are a part of modern Western culture, and they have become a familiar part of most of our lives. We are used to over-the-counter magic tricks, to magicians at birthday parties, and to more sophisticated magic shows. But what does halachah say about this issue. The Torah writes that Balak sent envoys with “charms in their hands”–are today’s “charms” permitted. This article deals briefly with the issue of magic in the modern day.

Bechukotai – The Halachic Ban and its Laws

This week’s article discusses the issue of the cherem, the halachic ban, which was almost the exclusive mode of punishment available to Jewish communities for two millennia. What is a cherem? What were the crimes generally punishable by excommunication? Who has the authority to enact a ban, and how is it released? Are there practical implications for the modern day? These questions, among others, are discussed in this first of a two-part series on the subject.