Monday, October 31, 2005

Did rainbows exist before the Mabul?

Thee Ramban writes in this weeks parsha (Noach) that the simple understanding of the pasuk is that after the mabul Hashem created rainbows. However, the Ramban writes that this can't be true because the Greeks stated that a rainbow is caused by refraction of the light in the moist air and therefore it existed from the time of creation (before the mabul). Here again, the Ramban writes explicitly that he accepts the opinions of the Greek scientists and bases pshat in a pasuk based on that.

Here is the translation of the Ramban
Ramban Bereishis 9:12
"This is the sign of the covenant that I give" - It would seem from this sign that the rainbow which appears in the clouds is not part of the acts of creation, and only now did God create something new, to make a rainbow appear in the sky on a cloudy day… But we are compelled to believe the words of the Greeks, that the rainbow is a result of the sun's rays passing through moist air, for in any container of water that is placed before the sun, there can be seen something that resembles a rainbow. And when we look again at the wording of the verse, we will understand it thus. For it says, "I have set my rainbow in the cloud," and it did not say "I am setting it in the cloud," (in the present tense) as it said, "this is the sign of the covenant that I am giving." And the word "My rainbow" indicates the rainbow previously existed.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Can non-Jews get divorced?

The Medrash on this weeks parsha (Bereishis) discusses this issue. The medrash has 2 opinions, 1 opinion seems to state that there is no divorce for non-Jews (or alternatively the medrash means that there is no formal divorce procedure) while the second opinion states that either side (husband or wife) can initiate a divorce. A similar discussion occurs in the Yerushalmi at the beginning of Kiddushin.

The Rambam (Hilchos Melachim 9:8)paskens that there is no formal divorce procedure and either side can initiate the divorce. This is difficult because he seems to pasken like both opinions.

The Ran in his chiddushim on Sanhefdrin (48b) quotes the Rambam and then quotes Rabbenu Dovid who disagrees and states that there is no divorce for non-Jews like the simple reading of the medrash and the Yerushalmi.

The Pnei Yehoshua also holds that there is no divorce for non-Jews but he goes further he states (Kiddushin 13b) that even the death of the husband does not free the women, the husbands death is a chiddush of teh Torah for Jews and therefore does not apply to non-Jews, this is how he wants to explain Yehuda and Tamar.

In summary, there is a dispute whether non-Jews can get dicorced, according to the Rambam (and this seems to be the accepted opinion) they can informally while according to a minority of Rishonim and Acharonim they are stuck, once a woman marries she is stuck for life.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Some reflections on Succos

I am back after taking a break for Succos.

This year I built a very big succa and for the first time really felt like תשבו כעין תדורו. For the first time in my life I slept and ate in the succa and did not feel cramped, the succa felt like a room of my house. It was great to be able to be mekayem the mitzva like that eating, sleeping, and just spending a lot of time in the succa.

The first day of Chol Hamoed, the weather in Israel was unprecedented. It was a really stormy day with a lot of rain. Everyone I spoke to (including my relatives who were born in israel) could not remember such bad weather on Succos. Other then that 1 day we really enjoyed our time on the succa.

Shmini Atzeres/Simchas Torah is a bit much in Israel. To go from the levity and simcha of the hakafos to yizkor and geshem seems incongrous.

The usual questions about how many days should visitors keep came up. There are 4 opinions:

1. 1 day - this is the opinion of the Chacham Tzvi and others, it seems to be the minority opinion
2. A day and a half - this is what is reported as the recommendation of the Rav to his talmidim, it means that on the second day you don't make kiddush, you daven a chol shemoneh esrei, however, you don't do any melacha.
3. 2 days - this is the majority opinion and what is observed in the Charedi community
4. 2 and a half days - you keep 2 days but on the second night you hear havdala and on the last day you put on tefillin. This is what RHS keeps (see Regarding the Second Day Yom Tov for Visitors in Eretz Yisroel for RHS nuanced view on this).

As many have pointed out a day and a half can be in some ways be considered the most machmir shita. You are machmir on the issur d'oraysa of possibly saying a bracha levatala. Everything else (melacha on the second day, the mitzvos on the second day, etc. are all only d'rabbanan's).

This is clearly 1 question where every needs to ask their own Rav a question and abide by his ruling.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Some halachic points regarding building a succah II

I would like to clarify things relating to using strings and לבוד to create a wall.

2 points by way of introduction.

1. The acharonim say that a wall created just by לבוד one way (e.g. strings across the wall like I suggested) is called a מחיצה גרועה a weak (for lack of a better translation) wall
2. A succa does not require 4 walls (like for a reshus hayachid on Shabbos), rather it only requires 3, and really only 2 plus a tefach.

Given the above the Magen Avraham (סי' תר"ל ס"ק א) writes that if you are creating a wall(s) with לבוד you need to have 4 walls. In other words , the leniency of of 3 walls only applies to real walls, but if you have a מחיצה גרועה this leniency does not apply and you need to have 4 walls.

This means that if you want to be machshir your canvas succah using string and לבוד you must do this on all 4 walls.

One issue that comes up is what about the door? One wall is not complete because you need to leave room for the door. That would seem to be ok if the door is not large because the wall is majority there and only minority open.

There is another way to do this which creates better walls. If in addition to the strings across, you put string going up and down less then every 3 tefachim the length of the wall, you end up with a real mechitza. The reason being that the strings go both ways (you end up with squares less then 3 tefachim in length and width, שתי וערב) and there is no big gap of space.

In truth, I never did this, but after reviewing the sugya if I was being machshir a succah based on strings and לבוד this year I would do this for my peace of mind. It is not that much work (for an 8 foot wall you need to put up 12 strings) and by doing this you create real walls and therefore only need 3 walls and don't have to worry about the door, etc.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Some halachic points regarding building a succah

As now is succah building time I would like to post some common halachic issues that come up when building a succah.

When I was growing up, canvas succahs were very prevalent and in fact, last year when I was in the US for Succos I still saw quite a few. These kinds of Succahs (as well as other non-wood succahs) have a number of halachic problems which I would like to address. For those who aren't familiar, a canvas succah is made of a frame of metal pipes on which canvas is hung to create the walls.

There are 2 issues with this kind of succah:
1. The walls move which may invalidate the wall completely which would invalidate the succah. The gemara, shulchan aruch etc. write that if a wall moves 3 tefachim (about a foot) in the wind then the wall is considered invalid. Every canvas succah that I have seen (including the one I grew up in) has walls that move 3 tefachim in the wind and therefore many poskim are not happy with them.

There is an easy solution to the problem which I used for many years. The solution is based on 2 halachos related to walls.
1. לבוד - this means that if you have 2 objects within 3 tefachim of each other the halacha considers it as if the intervening space is filled in.
2. A wall only needs to be 10 tefachim (40 inches) high. Once it is 10 tefachim high we look on it as if it extends up to the sky.

Given these 2 halachos we can construct walls of string for a canvas succah. What we do is tie string/rope from 1 pole to another. We space the string around 8.5 inches apart so that they are within 3 tefachim of each other. With 5 or 6 strings like this we have a wall of greater then 10 tefachim. It works because starting from the bottom, the bottom string is within 3 tefachim of the ground and therefore the intervening space is considered to be filled in. Each subsequent string is placed less then 3 tefachim above the previous one again using לבוד so that we look upon the space as solid. We repeat this until the top string is above 10 tefachim. We have created a wall that is halachically kosher and in actuality serves as th wall of the succah. We repeat this for all the walls.

There is 1 point to keep in mind. the סכך has to be placed after you create the walls of strings, otherwise it is a problem of תעשה ולא מן העשוי. If the סכך was already put down, then you need to move the scach around to avoid this problem.

I did this for years and it worked well.

2. מעמיד הסכך על דבר טמא - the gemara has 1 opinion that you are not allowed to support the סכך on something that cannot be used for סכך. There is a machlokes harishonim whether we pasken like this opinion. The Mishna Berura mentions that l'chatchela a person should try to be machmir and the contemporary poskim also say that a person should try to be machmir. This problem applies to any non-wood succah (canvas, fiberglass, etc.) as well.

To get around this the minhag evolved to place wood poles on top of the metal walls and then rest the סכך on top of the wood poles. This makes the wood the מעמיד of the scach and the metal a מעמיד דמעמיד. There are 2 problems with this approach:

1. If the סכך would not fall without the wood then the wood is not considered a מעמיד. In other words if your succah is 6 feet wide and your סכך is 6.5 feet wide, if you just rest the סכך on wood poles it doesn't help, if you took away the wood the סכך would not fall it would rest on the metal. Therefore the metal is called the מעמיד of the סכך. The way to get around this is to make sure that the סכך would fall if you remove the wood, namely, move the סכך to one side so that it doesn't overlap the other wall (it is just very close). In that case, the סכך is truly being held up by the wood.
2. A number of acharonim point out the following. The wood that is used to hold up the סכך is in and of itself kosher סכך. therefore, why should we consider the wood a מעמיד of the סכך, rather it should just be considered סכך which is resting on the metal. I have not seen a good answer for this claim.

The Chazon Ish has an unbelievable chumra. The Chazon Ish understands that even if you have a wooden succah, if the walls are held up by metal screws, that metal is considered to be a מעמיד of the סכך because if you took that metal out the walls would fall down and so would the סכך. In other words, if you have something that is mekabel tumah holding up any part of your succah such that without this piece the סכך would fall down (e.g. the walls would fall down causing the scach to fall) the Chazon Ish considers this to be מעמיד the סכך with a davar hamekabel tumah and no good. Basically according to the Chazon Ish you cannot use any metal to build your succah.

Almost no one holds like this Chazon Ish, it makes building a succah an absolute nightmare, you need to use wooden screws, etc. I remember in KBY everyone was amazed that the posek held from this Chazon Ish.

The bottom line is that with a wooden succah you avoid almost all of these problems and are yotze the mitzva. It is not difficult to build and therefore I highly recommend it.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

How do we feed children on Yom Kippur?

The Minchas Chinuch writes in Mitzva שי"ג that since there is a prohibition to feed a child an issur it is prohibited to feed children on Yom Kippur any more then they need. He states that children between 3 and 8, you should not feed at all. It comes out from the Minchas Chinuch that for children who can feed themselves it should be prohibited for you to feed them and in fact even a baby you can get a non-Jew to feed. (also see the Mishna Berura סימן תרט"ז ס"ק ה)

This Minchas Chinuch is clearly not accepted l'halacha the question is why not?

R' Tzvi Pesach Frank in Mikraie Kodesh as well as other Acharonim offer the following suggestion.

By other issurim (feeding a child pig) the food has a שם איסור, it is an איסור תפצא on the food and therefore even though the child is not chayav in mitzvos we are prohibited to feed him issurim, it is like feeding him poison. However, food on Yom Kippur is clearly an issur on the person, the kosher food does not suddenly turn into an issur, the person is prohibited from eating on Yom Kippur. Therefore, a child who has no issur of eating, for them the food is completely permitted and they can eat it. Since they are allowed to eat it the parents are allowed to feed them.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Why is Rosh Hashana before Yom Kippur?

If you think about it logically Yom Kippur should come first. First we should do teshuva say viduy, fast, etc (all the things we do on YK) and then we would be prepared to be judged, namely Rosh Hashana.

The answer is as follows. For a person to do teshuva they need to understand that they did an aveira and that there is someone who cares, Hashem, and that Hashem can forgive them. Until a person comes to that realization it is futile to attempt to do teshuva. Until you realize that there is a King of the World who cares what happens and is involved in the world, you cannot do teshuva. Therefore Rosh Hashana comes first. The theme of RH is that Hashem is King of the world. We go on about Hashem rules the world and judges people. Once we accept that Hashem can judge us for our aveiros and punish us, then we are ready to do teshuva. We can then understand the severity of our Aveiros and realize that Hashem is their to forgive us if we do teshuva. This can only happen after we accept the din of Rosh Hashana.

I hope that we all accepted Hashem's kingship on RH and are in the process of doing teshuva so that we hava a gmar chasima tova.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

What does המלך הקדוש mean?

The gemara in ברכות י"ב states that during the ten days of repentence we change the nusach of the שמונה עשרה and say המלך הקדוש instead of האל הקדוש as well as saying המלך המשפט instead of מלך אוהב צדקה ומשפט. Rashi on the gemara comments that המלך המשפט is grammatically incorrect, it should be מלך המשפט and it is to be understood that way (the king of משפט) and basically we ignore the extra ה. The Beis Yosef comments that the same problem should apply to המלך הקדוש and yet Rashi doesn't say anything. He quotes some who say that Rashi understood that המלך הקדוש should be understood as 2 separate titles, the translation would be "the king, the holy one". The standard translation is "the holy king" (the 2 words are 1 phrase) like המלך המשפט the king of משפט.

Interestingly enough this is a מחלוקת Artscroll and Metzudah. Artscroll in their siddurim and machzorim translate it as "the holy king" while Metzuda translates it like this interpretation of Rashi "the king, the holy one".

To sum up there are 2 interpretations of המלך הקדוש

1. the king, the holy one (which is the literal translation with the ה at the beginning of the word)
2. the holy king (the 2 words are 1 phrase) like המלך המשפט the king of משפט