Category Archives: Archives 5761

Elul 5761 – Walking Between Two Women

1 Elul 5761

L’chvod HaRav:

I have a shaila for you that has been floating around in my head for a little bit… What is the purpose of our not sitting/standing a woman between two men, a man between two women? Is it for tznius purposes?

Thank you for your help!

Name & Seminary withheld upon request

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Dear Name Withheld,

This is quite an interesting question, and it is something that most people don’t properly understand. The Gemara in Pesachim 111a says “The following three things a person should not walk between, nor let them come between him and another man, dogs, palm trees, and women”. Now obviously, if the issues was Tznius, there wouldn’t be a problem with palm trees and dogs!! How are we to understand this?

It is clear from the context of the Gemara there, which is talking about things that people should avoid doing so as not to expose themselves to the power of magic, that witches would be able to “do their spells” on a person who would do one of those things, i.e. they were exposing themselves to the power of witchcraft if they walked between two women, dogs, or palm trees. Therefore the Gemara is advising a person what precautions they should take so as not to fall into the hands of witches.

Today, since magic is not as prevalent as it once was, it isn’t as necessary to take these precautions. However, the Gemara in Horiyos 13b says that if a man does frequently walk between two women, this makes his “learning difficult”, and Rashi explains that it will be hard for him to understand his learning. This is probably why we find that even today many Yeshiva students and Talmidei Chachamim are stringent regarding this.

Take care,
Rabbi Aaron Tendler

Av 5761 – Kosher Soap

1 Av 5761

L’chvod HaRav:

We are careful to keep our eating utensils from contacting anything Treif and we use only “kosher soap” when washing dishes… so why are we so “liberal” when it comes to washing our hands, using ANY soap (most of which are far from kosher) – when we use our hands to handle the food that we eat?

Thank you for your help!

Name & Seminary withheld upon request

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Dear Name Withheld,

Thank you so much for your interesting question. I must admit that at first I was skeptical and didn’t think that non-Kosher hand soap was such a problem, but I checked my encyclopedia and, lo and behold, it is true that the primary ingredients in bars of soap (such as Dial and Ivory, etc.) are animal fats (primarily pork)! It seems that the reason that we are more stringent regarding dish soap is because there is often a residue left on the dishes and pots and pans, whereas hand soap we are careful to wash and wipe them better. According to Halacha, something that has been wiped away is just as good as if it has been washed away. Based on this, if a person knows that they always rinse away any residue of soap from their dishes, they need not be concerned about only using Kosher dish soap.

It is important to note that since soap is inedible, any ingredients in them would not be considered technically non-Kosher, since this only applies according to Halacha to edible ingredients. Therefore, even those who are stringent to only use dish soap with a Hechsher do so as a Chumra, but not because they are technically obligated to by Halacha.

However, I happened to meet with Rabbi Moshe Heinemann Shlit”a tonight and I asked him your question. He said that, in fact, he remembers that his Rebbi, Rav Aaron Kotler Zatza”l would only use Kosher hand soap (made by Rokeach), and that he heard that the Vilna Gaon also was stringent not to use soap made from non-Kosher animal fats. Therefore, although the prevailing custom is to be lenient, at least regarding hand soap, there certainly is room for a person to be stringent regarding this, if they wish to be.

I would just like to add that this issue is not limited to soap. A byproduct of the soap making process is glycerin, which is a primary ingredient in many toothpastes and mouthwash (and many other items, it often pops up where you’d least expect it, such as in dry roasted peanuts and cigarettes!). Although it may be argued that these are also not consumed “Derech Achila”, in the normal manner of eating, our Chaza”l teach us that consumption of non-Kosher products creates “Timtum HaLev” (I prefer loosely translating this as “clogging of our spiritual arteries”). In this day and age, when we look around and see such confusion and lack of common sense even among “our own” circle of Kashrus observers, it seems to me to be entirely appropriate for a person to be careful only to use such products that are certified to only use glycerin from plant sources. Two excellent examples that come to mind (in the U.S.) are “Adwe” products, and “Tom’s of Maine” products (available on the internet and in many health food stores).

Take care,
Rabbi Aaron Tendler

Tammuz 5761 – Halachos of the Kosel

1 Tammuz 5761

L’chvod HaRav:

Is one allowed to touch the Kotel? I heard that if one puts their hands in the crevices of the Kotel, it might already be considered Har Habayit, so it may be assur. Also is there any source for putting a kvitel in the Kotel? If you are unable to go to the Kotel yourself, is it not better to ask the person who is going, to daven for you rather than put a kvitel in the Kotel? And finally, isn’t one supposed to take three steps back before turning away from the Kotel? Why do people walk all the way to the end of the Kotel plaza? Is there a source for that, or is it just to be machmir?

Thank you for your help! May we all meet at the Kotel soon! :-)

Name & Seminary withheld upon request

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Dear Name Withheld,

Thank you for your very interesting questions. There actually has been much discussion among our Poskim throughout our history regarding the status of the Kosel HaMaaravi and the Har HaBayis, and there are many varied opinions regarding what is and what is not allowed. The issues involved are whether the Kosel is actually a remnant of the wall of the Azarah, the Chayl (the corridor around the Azarah), or the Har HaBayis, and the resulting opinions vary from it being prohibited to even approach the Kosel, to it even being permitted for some who have gone to the Mikvah to go into the Har HaBayis beyond the Kosel for a specific distance. What I am going to write here is, to the best of my knowledge, the concensus of most Poskim today, and the prevailing Minhag.

The Mishna Berurah (561:5) writes: “Anyone who goes today into the Makom HaMikdash is obligated in Karess, because we all are T’mayei Maysim”. In other words, since we must assume that we have come into contact with dead people, either by actually touching them, being in the same room as them, or even by walking over a grave, we can not become Tohor until we once again have the Poroh Adumah, and can go through the process that once again makes us Tohor. According to Halacha, although someone who is Tomay Meis is permitted on the Har HaBayis, and is only restricted from entering the Chayl (MiDerrabonon) and the Azara (MiD’Oraysoh), there are other forms of Tumah that many of us have that would restrict us from entering even the Har HaBayis, as stated in the Mishna in Keilim 1:8.

Most Poskim today (the Avnei Nezer, the Tzitz Eliezer, Rav Ovadiah Yosef among others) are of the opinion that the Kosel is the wall of the Har HaBayis, and therefore we all may approach and touch the Kosel. The Minhag is also to assume that the Halacha is like the Poskim that say that the walls of the Har HaBayis are not Kadosh, and we may even put our fingers into its cracks. However, many Gedolim have been careful not to do so (e.g. the Chazon Ish and the Steipler Zatza”l, as stated in Sefer Orchos Rabbeinu Vol. II page 149), and therefore someone who wishes to be stringent certainly has what to rely on.

I’m not familiar with a specific source for putting a Kvittel in the Kosel. If you hear of one, or if any of the Jem Sem readers is aware of one, I would appreciate knowing about it.

Regarding whether it is preferred to send a Kvittel or ask the person to Daven for you, all I can say for sure is that we say in Ashrei, “Korov Hashem L’chol Korav, L’Chol Asher Yikra’uhu B’Emes”, so as long as it is a heartfelt Tefillah, whether yours somewhere else or your friend’s at the Kosel on your behalf, you can be assured that HKB”H is listening.

The Kosel Plaza is a place designated for Tefillah, and therefore it has the Halacha of a Beis HaKnesses. The Halacha is that when exiting the door of a Shul (i.e. the sanctuary, where people actually Daven) that you are supposed to back out, to show respect for the Kedushah that is there. The same applies to the Kosel plaza. Those who back out all the way evidently have a special sensitivity to the Kedushah of the Mokom HaMikdash, and wish to avoid turning their back to it as much as possible, which is very praiseworthy.

May we all meet soon on the Har HaBayis!

Take care,
Rabbi Aaron Tendler

Sivan 5761 – Shaimos on Wedding Invitations

1 Sivan 5761

L’chvod HaRav:

What constitutes shaimos? I am asking specifically with regard to wedding invitations – what if there is a passuk on the invitation but it isn’t on a straight line or it’s split up so there are only two words appearing on the same line next to each other?

Thank you,

Name & Seminary withheld upon request

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Dear Name Withheld,

Thank you for your question. If there is a Possuk on an invitation, the question really is what role that Possuk is playing there. If it is there as a Melitzah- i.e. a cute play on words (e.g. if the Kallah’s name is Dodi, and the Possuk there says “Ani L’Dodi V’Dodi Li”), it has no Kedusha and may be thrown in the garbage. If it is there for the actual meaning of the Possuk, e.g. it says “Kol Sasson V’Kol Simchah etc.” and it is there as a Tefillah or to publicize the prophecy of Yirmiyahu HaNavi, it may not be thrown out, and should not be printed on the invitation. The fact that it is split up does not help, if it is read together, and if it imparts a message it is a problem even if it is only two words. Splitting it up or writing on a curve might take care of the problem of “Sirtut”- i.e. the prohibition of writing three words from a Possuk in block Hebrew letters on one line without making a line above it, but it does not help regarding the Shaimos problem.

Rav Moshe Feinstein Zatza”l in Iggros Moshe (Yoreh De’ah Vol. 2 Siman 135) writes the following (translation is mine): “I have always been careful that also on the wedding invitations to my son’s and daughter’s weddings not to write any Possuk, not even “Kol Sasson”, and this is he proper way for all people to conduct themselves.”

Take care,
Rabbi Aaron Tendler

Iyar 5761 – Can A Woman Be A Posek?

15 Iyar 5761

L’chvod HaRav:

Can, according to Halacha, a qualified woman act as a posek?

Thank you,

Name withheld upon request

Dear Name Withheld,

Thank you for your question! We have to realize that the term Posek is used very loosely today, and can mean different things to different people. The root of Posek is “Psak”, which means to stop. As a matter of fact, in modern Hebrew a “time out” is a “Psak Zman”. In the context of Halacha, a Posek is someone who is qualified to actually figure out what the “bottom line” Halacha should be in a certain situation. Although people commonly use it for anyone who instructs others as to what the Halacha is, such a person is actually a “Moreh Hora’ah”- someone who teaches what others have already determined to be the Halacha.

There is no doubt that a woman is permitted to teach others and inform people what the Halacha is. This has been done throughout our history, and is being done today, not only in the forum of teaching Halacha in classrooms, but there are also many Rebbitzens who will take phone calls for their husbands and answer Shaalos, if they are confident that they know the answers. In this manner, there are many women who can and do fill the capacity of teaching and informing others of Halacha. Acting as a Posek in the strictest meaning of the word, i.e. actually applying the Halacha in new situations, comparing one thing to another, and arriving at a conclusion of what the Ratzon Hashem is in a new situation, is not something that is commonly done by women. Theoretically, if a woman would be the most qualified person to make a determination of Halacha in acertain situation, she would of course be permitted, and obligated, to doso. However, practically speaking, from a Torah perspective this is generally not considered the role of women. Consequently, there are no women today (at least that I know of) who have the training and breadth of knowledge to be able to arrive at a truly objective Psak Halacha in a new situation based solely on the principles handed down to us from Sinai by our Chaza”l which are used to determine the Ratzon Hashem.

According to Halacha, even if a woman was expert in Halacha, it would not be permitted for a Jewish community to hire her and give her the authority to impose her “Psak” on members in the community. They could, of course, hire her as a teacher, in manner in which the community would voluntarily decide to act in manner consistent with Halacha based on her teachings.

I hope that this is helpful for you.

Take care,
Rabbi Aaron Tendler