Category Archives: I Didn’t Know That!! Halacha Tidbits


Shevat 5772 – Men / Women – Thoughts / Seeing / Gazing

Men / Women - Thoughts / Seeing / GazingShevat 5772
Men / Women – Thoughts / Seeing / Gazing
by Rabbi Moshe Rosenstein


I received a question recently from a student regarding a class I had taught a few years ago. Because it is a topic that affects every one of us, I figured I would expand the answer I sent in reply and, since for many it certainly falls into the category of “I didn’t know that!” Halachos, I thought I would share the thoughts with all of you. In addition, these weeks of Shovavim [the weeks of the parshiyos beginning with Parshas Shemos (the “Sh” of Shovavim) and continuing through Va’Eira, Bo, Bishalach, Yisro, and Mishpatim – the Roshei Teivos spell “Shovavim”] are traditionally a time that Klal Yisroel uses specifically to focus on our growth and sensitivities in areas having to do with tznius and male/female interactions in general.

The question I received was: Is there a source for Shmiras HaAynayim (a man’s requirement to “guard” his eyes)?

The reason that this question is so important is because, at least from a strictly Halachic standpoint, this requirement is at the core of the halachos that define how a woman may be dressed in the presence of men who are not her immediate family members. Therefore I would like to briefly outline the background, and some specifics, of this Halacha.

Mitzvot Lo Taasei that appear in the Torah

1 – “Vi lo sasuru acharei… eineichem” [Bamidbar 15] The literal translation of the pasuk (that we say every day in Krias Shema) is, “And you shall not be swayed after your hearts or after your eyes.” Chazal write that this is specifically referring to “z’nus” – the seeing of immodestly dressed women or other such inappropriate scenes. The Gemara in Brachos 12b refers to this as Lo Ta’aseh as does the Rambam (Hilchos Teshuva 4, 1 and 4, 4), Rabbeinu Yona (Igeres HaTeshuva 14 and Shaarei Teshuva Shaar 3, 64), and the Beis Yosef (Even HaEzer Siman 21). This Lo Ta’aseh is brought in the Shulchan Aruch in Even HaEzer Siman 21, 1 and referred to by the Mishna Berura on the very first page of the Mishna Berura, in the second Be’ur Halacha in his discussion of the 6 Constant Mitzvos.

2 – “Vinishmarta mikol davar ra” [Devarim 23] Literally, “And you shall guard yourself from every bad thing.” The Gemara in Avodah Zara 20a explains this pasuk to also specifically be referring to a man’s responsibility to “guard” himself from seeing in appropriate scenes. There is a discussion in the Rishonim regarding the exact “status” of this issur – whether it is an issur Min HaTorah (Sefer Mitzvos Ketanos 30) or possibly not (Ramban on the Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzovs, the “extra” Lavin 11) or referring to a man’s having illicit thoughts about women, but not specifically related to his “seeing” women per se (Rabbeinu Yona in Igeres HaTeshuva and Tosafos on the Gemara in Avoda Zara). Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l understood that applied to illicit thoughts about women, as well as the seeing of anything that would bring a man to have illicit thoughts.

What are the halachic parameters of this? The way it works is as follows: There are basically two types of looking that a person does. For our purposes, lets refer to one as “seeing” and one as “gazing.” Seeing is what we do most of the time when we are not specifically focusing our vision on any one thing in particular. Gazing is when one consciously focuses his or her attention and, if it is a pleasant thing to look at, derives enjoyment or satisfaction out of the what he or she sees. This distinction is something that comes up in other areas of halacha as well. For example, without getting into all the details right now, a person is not supposed to “look at” the moon. Or a rainbow. The poskim say that this means to gaze at it with intent and focus. Simply to look up and “see” the moon is not a problem. This distinction plays an important role in the halachos regarding “Shemiras HaEynayim.”


It is forbidden for a man to gaze at a woman, even if she is dressed completely appropriately, and even if he is only gazing at a specific part of her body that is not supposed to be covered (the example given is a pinkie). This prohibition is brought by the Gemara, the Rambam (I”B 21, 2), the Shulchan Aruch (EH”E 21,1) and Mishna Berurah 75, s.k. 7. Regarding this prohibition, unless a woman is doing something specifically to attract attention, like wearing something attention-grabbing or interacting in such a way that is causing the man she is interacting with to look closely or specifically focus his attention on her, a woman is not responsible if a man were to gaze at her.

Excluded from this prohibition (meaning a man may specifically focus his attention and look) are any blood relatives (parents, siblings, children, grandparents, grandchildren), a man’s wife or a potential shidduch.


When it comes to seeing, however, the halacha is different. The Mishna Berura (75 s.k. 7) writes that if there is nothing inappropriate around, there is no prohibition for a man to “see” women. He writes that with the exception of those who wish to be extra careful and pious in this area and not even see women at all, it is permissible for a man to see and interact in the presence of women. However, this is only if there is no exposed “ervah” present. An area of the body that is halachically required to be covered by women is prohibited from even being seen by a man, even if he is not specifically focusing his attention on what he is looking at. So even if a woman is not dressed in such a way that she is seeking to specifically attract attention, if she is in the presence of men, she has to see to it that she is not dressed in such a way that a man would even see the parts of her that are supposed to be covered. [Without going into the specifics now, the consensus among the poskim is that this includes any area of a woman from her neckline to her elbows to her knees and, depending on the neighborhood and accepted practice, possibly her calf as well.]


Kislev 5771 – Chanukah Timing Tips

Chanukah Timing Tips Kislev 5771
Chanukah Timing Tips
by Rabbi Moshe Rosenstein


It is hard to believe that Chanukah is almost here.  As we look forward to this time filled with simcha and chizuk, as well as get togethers with family and friends, I thought it would be a good time to go over some of the common, but sometimes overlooked, halachos that come up over Chanukah.

The Proper Time to Light Candles

·         There are different minhagim regarding what the best time, lichatchila, to light Chanukah candles is.  Here in Yerushalayim, the minhag is to light the Chanukah candles at shkiah, sunset, or as close to it as possible.  Most communities in Chutz LaAretz, where the amount of time in between sunset and nightfall (tzeis hakochavim) is significantly longer, light somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes after shkiah.  A person should follow the accepted practice in her home or community.

·         Chanukah candles must be lit at a time when there are still people out on the streets that will see the menorah lit.  The poskim say that for an hour or so after the stores in an area close, it is still a time time that people are considered to be out on the streets.  Seeing as most retail stores close in the 7-9PM vicinity, depending on the area, the latest time for lighting could be 10 or 11pm; in big cities it could be much later.  If one lights later than this time, they should light without reciting the brachos.  If one is lighting inside the house, then the lighting is primarily serving to publicize the mitzvah to those who are at home in the house.  As long as one other person is awake to see the candles lit, one may light with a bracha even very late at night.

·         If someone is unable to light at the proper time (around sunset), she should light later when she is able to.  As long as she will still be lighting at a time that she can make a bracha (as explained above), it is better to wait until they are able to light and not light earlier than shkiah.

·         If one will not be able to light later at all (if she is traveling or will not be back home until it is too late to light), one may light the candles earlier than sunset – provided it is later than plag hamincha.  Before plag hamincha, one may not light the candles, and if one did so, it is invalid and the mitzvah must be done properly later.

·         If a person lives together with other people (family, roommates, etc.), or if there is someone who will be fulfilling the mitzvah of Ner Chanukah in her current residence, she can ask someone who will be lighting on time to light on her behalf as well (making her friend her “shaliach” for this mitzvah).  In fact, the poskim say that this preferable to a person lighting earlier than shkiah.

·         Regardless of what time a person lights, there must be enough oil (or a long enough candle) for the Chanukah candles to burn until at least 30 minutes after tzeis hakochavim.

To get a better idea of what this all means, I have included here a few different locations with their zmanim on the first night of Chanukah (the night of December 1) – the zmanim get slightly earlier throughout Chanukah.

Plag: 3:44  Shkiah: 4:44  Tzeis: 5:28
Plag: 3:22  Shkiah: 4:21  Tzeis: 5:06
Plag: 3:59  Shkiah: 4:58  Tzeis: 5:43
Plag: 3:04  Shkiah: 3:55  Tzeis: 4:52
Los Angeles
Plag: 3:41  Shkiah: 4:44  Tzeis: 5:24
New York
Plag: 3:30  Shkiah: 4:30  Tzeis: 5:15
Plag: 3:31  Shkiah: 4:35  Tzeis: 5:10

Activities that Should not be Done Until a Person Lights

It is important to note that in order to make sure that a person does not unnecessarily delay the lighting and then perhaps forget to light, there are certain activities that are prohibited from the time the sun sets until a person has fulfilled the mitzvah.

·         Activities that are time consuming and distracting should not be started within a half an hour before shkiah.  These activities include getting a haircut, going to exercise  or swim, business or purchasing interactions that have the potential to take a long time (going to buy a car, or a sheitel, or meeting with the photographer for the wedding, or going to a store to decide which items to register for, etc.).  Even if one began one of these activities earlier, when shkiah comes she should, if she can, stop until she is able to light.

·         “Minor” activities that do not continue indefinitely, or that are commonly interrupted in the middle and then continued later, are permissible.  Therefore one may write an email, take a shower or the like during this time, even before she lights.

·         A person may not eat a meal.  This means that a person may not eat a substantial amount of bread (meaning more than a slice of bread or so), or an amount of mezonos that would constitute “a meal.”  Snacks are permissible.  Small amounts of mezonos foods, rice, and any foods that you make any other bracha on are permissible.  But sitting down to a proper seudah with bread (like a family get together) should not be done until one has lit.

·         Sleeping is not permissible beginning from 30 minutes before shkiah.  Even putting one’s head down for a brief nap is not permissible until one has lit candles.

·         IN ANY OF THE ABOVE SITUATIONS:  If a person has set up a reminder for herself, to make sure that she does not forget to light, it is permissible to engage in any of these activities.  This includes setting up a friend (who herself did light candles already on time) or setting an alarm to remind you to light when you get home.  A person can set a reminder on a cell phone or PDA that she will get later that night, at a time she will be able to light.

I would like to finally note that there is no doubt that the best possible way to fulfill the mitzvah of Ner Chanukah is to light the menorah at the appropriate zman (shkiah or some 2-30 minutes thereafter).  While there are halachos regarding what to do if this is not an option, and one can fulfill the mitzvah by lighting later or earlier, a rebbe of mine once commented that he felt that people should put real thought into making their Chanukah plans.  Why should we set ourselves up, on the holiday of celebrating the mesiras nefesh of Klal Yisroel, to fulfill a mitzvah in a less than optimal way. It is very much in the spirit of Chanukah for a person to schedule her engagements during the week in such a way that she is able to fulfill the mitzvah bizman.  May we all be zoche to see yeshuos Hashem bikarov.

Have a very happy and halachic Chanukah!


Teves 5771 – What Do We Do With The Wicks?

Wicks Teves 5771
What Do We Do With The Wicks?
by Rabbi Moshe Rosenstein


As Chanukah draws to a close, and we prepare to light our final Chanukah candles, we notice that the area of the Menorah is scattered with oil, wax, wicks and other items used in the mitzvah of Ner Chanukah. I thought it would be a good idea to look at some of the halachos regarding what to do with items that were used for a mitzvah, once we no longer have a use for them because we have completed the mitzvah they were used for.

The Shulchan Aruch writes that if a man’s Tzitzis strings snap, he may discard them in the garbage. On this the Rema comments that the minhag in Ashkenaz is not to throw out any items used for a mitzvah and that one should not discard them in a way that is a “bizayon,” a disgrace, for them. The Mishna Berura points out that this will apply in any situation that an item is either no longer usable (like the snapped Tzitzis strings) or that the mitzvah is completed. He therefore lists several examples of such items including schach after Succos, the lulav and esrog, an old shofar – even the walls of a succah – that should not be thrown directly in the garbage, but rather should be wrapped up before being put into the dumpster, or placed by the side of the dumpster so that we are not throwing it out directly. The later Sefaradi poskim [the Ben Ish Chai and Kaf HaChaim] agree with the Rema and say that Sefaradim too should be careful not to treat such items in a disgraceful way.

When it comes to the leftover candles, wicks and oil on Chanukah, the halacha is as follows:
– Leftover wicks at the end of Chanukah should either be wrapped up before being discarded or burnt in a fire that one does not get any benefit from. While the halachic requirement is filled by simply burning the wicks, there are some customs regarding the burning of these wicks. Chassidim make a whole ceremony out of burning the leftover oil after Chanukah while singing the perek from Tehillim “Laminatzeich Baneginos.” Others keep the wicks and burn them together with their chametz several months later.

– Leftover oil that was from the candles that were lit has the following halachos: If there was just enough oil to burn for the actual mitzvah, meaning enough oil for the candle to burn for 30 minutes after tzeis hakochavim, and the candles burned out in the middle, that oil may only be used again for the Chanukah candles during that Chanukah. If there is such oil left over after the last night, it too must be burned like the wicks above. If one put more oil than was absolutely necessary for the mitzvah (as is usually the case), one should make “a tenai” – a halachic stipulation, that only the oil necessary for the actual zman of the mitzvah should become sanctified. If one made such a stipulation and the candles always burned past the minimum zman of the mitzvah, the remaining oil may be discarded in the garbage regularly. If one did not make such a stipulation, there is a machlokes in the poskim what to do with the remaining oil. One should either ask a shailoh or simply burn it like the wicks are burned. [Wrapping oil and discarding it may also be done, but it must be wrapped in such a way that the oil does not leak out of the wrapping. Therefore, for liquid oil, burning is the better solution.]

– Leftover wax or not fully burned wax candles have the same status as the oil. One should stipulate that only the minimum amount should be sanctified, and the rest may be discarded.

– Oil left in the bottle that was never poured into the candles, or wax candles that were left in the box and never lit may be discarded, as they were never involved in the mitzvah at all. Likewise, the matches or candles used to light the Chanukah candles may be discarded in the regular fashion.

– Some poskim maintain that all these halachos pertain also to the candles and oil lit by a child that has reached the age of chinuch.

I will end with one last interesting halacha. There are those who are careful with the leftover wicks from Shabbos candles as well. While there are many poskim who recommend this practice, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l maintained that one may throw out the leftover oil, candles or wicks from the Shabbos candles. Unlike the Chanukah candles where the candles themselves are the actual mitzvah, the mitzvah of Shabbos candles is to provide light. The candles, wicks and oil are the way in which we do that, but they themselves do not become sanctified as objects of kedusha in the process.

Wishing you a Chodesh Tov and a wonderful end to your Chanukah.


Shevat 5771 – Kosher Loans

Kosher Loans Shevat 5771
Kosher Loans
by Rabbi Moshe Rosenstein


There are times that people find themselves in need of some small amount of money that they does not have on them at the moment. People will often turn to their friends or acquaintances and ask to borrow money – sometimes even seemingly insignificant amounts – in order to buy a drink or pay a parking meter or the like. What many people do not realize is that there are some important halachos regarding borrowing money under these circumstances.

From the Gemara and Shulchan Aruch it is clear that it is only permissible to loan another person money if there are witnesses present. There are two reasons for this: 1) If there is no testimony to the loan, the borrower may be tempted to deny ever having taken the loan and then the lender will have been in violation of “Lifnei iveir lo titein michshol” – placing a stumbling block in front of someone. By leaving the “option” of denying the loan open to the borrower, the lender has violated this law. 2) Lending without proof is detrimental to the lender himself. If he attempts to collect on this loan and the borrower forgets that he had borrowed the money, people will curse the lender, accusing him of unjustly demanding money from his friend. The Gemara concludes that having witnesses to testify to the validity of the loan takes care of both of these issues.

Several poskim take note of the fact that it seems many people are lax in their fulfillment of this halacha, and offer a few options to lend money in a halachically acceptable manner:

– The poskim permit one to write an “IOU” note as evidence of the loan. If the lender keeps this as proof and it is recognizable as the writing or the signature of the borrower, then one may loan money without witnesses.

– If one lends the money with a check (made out to the name of the borrower) it is permissible, as that itself is evidence of the loan.

– If the lender is willing to completely forgive the loan and decides at the time of the loan absolutely that should the borrower forget the loan, he will not collect on it and completely write it off, then it is also not a violation of this halacha.

Rav Yosef Chaim Zunnenfeld zt”l, in the sefer Teshuvos Salmas Chaim, after addressing possible alternatives to lending without witnesses, concludes his teshuva regarding this matter by saying, “none the less, the best thing to do is to fulfill the words of Chazal as they were established – to not lend without witnesses or a document, if possible.”


Adar I 5771 – But Can’t I Use It – Just This Once?

But Can't I Use It - Just This Once? Adar I 5771
But Can’t I Use It – Just This Once?
by Rabbi Moshe Rosenstein


The Halacha is clear that, in general, borrowing something from someone without her permission is considered by the Torah to be gezel, theft. Certainly when it comes to taking something that gets used up by using it – like food, drinks or tissues, for example – it is considered theft to take it without permission. But even if a person takes something very briefly and returns it, or even if it is only being taken as “a joke” with the intention of being immediately returned, it is considered stealing and is therefore prohibited. Believe it or not, this is true even if I am 100% certain that my friend will not mind if I use her stuff without asking; and even if I am 100% certain that when she finds out she will be happy that I used it. All the while that I did not get permission to use it, I am not allowed to do so. There are a few exceptions to this rule. Let’s take a look at some of the circumstances that I am allowed to use an item that belongs to someone else without her explicit permission right now.

– Based on past permission granted. If one has told you in the past that she does not mind for you to use a particular item without her permission in the future, it is permissible to rely on that permission. Therefore, if one made an explicit statement, such as “Please feel free to use my shoes/sweaters/hair iron/cereal/car/etc. whenever you want,” it is permissible to use it until that permission is revoked.

– Based on a precedent. If in the past, this friend has allowed you to use this item, and you are certain that the current circumstances are the same enough that she would let you use it again, it is permissible. This comes up often among siblings or roommates. If they let each other borrow items freely, and they are sure that in this situation it would also be fine, it is permitted. It is still best, however, for there to be an explicit statement of permission; that way there is no ambiguity and it is clearly permissible to use in the future.

– For use in the performance of a mitzvah. An item that is being used for a mitzvah is permissible to take, use and return without permission from the owner. This means that one would be allowed to use someone’s siddur, Tehillim or sefer without asking. There are two exceptions to this, however. 1 – If the item was found “put away” in a place that it is clear that the owner is not interested in other people using it, it is not permissible to take it. 2 – The item certainly cannot be used up (like grape juice for Kiddush) or ruined in any way – and must be put back exactly the way it was found. The Shulchan Aruch haRav from the Baal HaTanya writes that if one does not return the item properly, then the regular halacha of theft kicks in and one is very likely not even yotzei the mitzvah they were trying to perform!