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Daily Halacha Podcast - Daily Halacha By Rabbi Eli J. Mansour
Rabbi Eli J. Mansour
Daily Halacha Given Daily by Rabbi Eli J. Mansour. Please check back frequently to get the latest Halacha.
1 day ago
Paying or Accepting Interest as a Gift
Is it permissible for a lender to stipulate with the borrower that along with the debt he must pay him a gift? Meaning, instead of demanding interest, the lender asks that the borrower give him a monetary gift when he repays the loan. Does changing the terminology from "interest" to "gift" suffice to circumvent the Torah prohibition of Ri’bitt (interest)? Rabbi Moshe Halevi, in his work Milveh Hashem (p. 114), rules that such an arrangement is unequivocally forbidden and likely constitutes a Torah violation of Ri’bitt. The term used in reference to what the lender receives in exchange for granting the loan is purely a matter of semantics; it does not change the fact that the borrower pays compensation for the loan. Regardless of whether the lender and borrower speak of this compensation as a gift or as interest, it nevertheless constitutes Ri’bitt and is strictly forbidden. This provision applies to Jewish-owned banks, as well. Many banks offer free gifts to new clients when they open an account. They make an initial deposit and in exchange they receive a free gift (such as a toaster or television). A Jewish client may not accept the free gift unless the bank's Jewish owner had signed a "Heter Iska" document which effectively avoids the prohibitions of Ri’bitt. Just as a Jewish client may not accept interest on savings in a Jewish-owned bank without a "Heter Iska," so may he not accept the perks offered by such a bank unless a proper "Heter Iska" has been signed. Summary: A lender cannot subvert the prohibition against taking interest by making an agreement whereby the extra money paid would be looked upon as a gift, rather than interest.
2 days ago
Doing Favors for the Lender in Lieu of Interest
The Rambam (Rabbi Moshe Maimonides, Spain-Egypt, 1135-1204), in Hilchot Malveh Ve'loveh (5:12), establishes that the Torah prohibition of Ri'bitt, which forbids taking interest on loans from a fellow Jew, includes demanding favors from the borrower as a condition on the loan. Not only may the lender not demand that the borrower pay money or valuables in exchange for the loan, he may also not demand that he perform favors, such as studying Torah with him. Since the borrower does the favor as compensation for the time he was allowed to retain the lender's money, this arrangement constitutes Ri'bitt and is forbidden. This Halacha applies even if the borrower customarily studied with the lender before the loan was given. Since the lender specifically stipulated that the loan is granted on condition that the borrower continues studying with him, this constitutes Ri'bitt, despite the fact that the borrower in any event had been regularly studying with the lender. Rabbi Moshe Halevi (Israel, 1961-2001) codifies this Halacha in his work Milveh Hashem (p. 307). Summary: The prohibition against receiving or paying interest includes not only monetary interest payments, but also doing favors for the lender. Even if the borrower regularly did a certain favor for the lender before receiving the loan, the lender may not stipulate that he gives the loan on condition that the borrower continues providing the given service.
3 days ago
Lending Money on Condition that the Borrower Fulfills a Wish of the Lender
The Torah prohibition of Ri'bitt (receiving or paying interest) applies not only to the payment of interest, but also to acquiescing to the lender's will as a condition on the loan. Thus, for example, as Rabbi Moshe Halevi (Israel, 1961-2001) writes in his work Milveh Hashem (p. 159), one may not lend money to his fellow Jew on condition that he – the borrower – gives money to a third party, even to a gentile. Even though the lender does not receive any interest payment, this arrangement is nevertheless forbidden because the borrower must fulfill the lender's wish in exchange for receiving the loan. This applies even if the lender demands that the borrower pay money to a charitable cause, such as a poor person or a Yeshiva. Since the borrower must acquiesce to the lender's will and fulfill his wishes in exchange for the loan, this constitutes Ri'bitt and transgresses a Torah prohibition. In fact, a lender may not even demand that the borrower take money or one of his possessions and cast it to the river or otherwise destroy it. Even though nobody derives any benefit from the borrower's fulfilling the lender's wishes, imposing this condition nevertheless constitutes Ri'bitt because the borrower is required to fulfill the lender's wishes in exchange for the loan. (Milveh Hashem p. 160) The Sages extended this prohibition to cases where the lender gives the loan on condition that the borrower approaches a third party and asks in the lender's name that he give him a certain object or sum of money. Even though the borrower in this case actually receives something, rather than pays, as a condition for the loan, this arrangement is forbidden because it requires the borrower to acquiesce to the lender's wishes in exchange for the loan. As mentioned, however, this arrangement is forbidden only on the level of Rabbinic enactment, and does not transgress the Torah prohibition of Ri'bitt. (Milveh Hashem, p. 161) Summary: A lender may not give a loan on condition that the borrower fulfills his wishes, such as by paying money to a third party or even giving money to charity or destroying money. Even if the lender hinges the loan on the condition that the borrower ask a third party to give him (the borrower) something, this arrangement is forbidden.
4 days ago
May A Seller Compensate For Partial Defect Or Must He Issue Full Refund?
In a previous Daily Halacha, we discussed the ruling of the Shulhan Aruch (Hoshen Mishpat 232:3) that if somebody purchases defective merchandise, he can demand that the transaction be voided and the seller must fully refund the money. The question arises, under what circumstances, if any, may the seller insist on maintaining the transaction and simply refund part of the payment to compensate for the defect? May he refuse to void the sale, and instead offer to return some money as compensation for the low defective portion only? The Shulhan Aruch (Hoshen Mishpat 232:4-5) rules that the answer to this question depends on the nature of the defect. Based on a responsum of the Rosh (Rabbenu Asher Ben Yehiel, Germany-Spain, 1250-1327), the Shulhan Aruch writes that if the defect does not detract from the item's inherent functionality, and the object still serves its basic purpose, then the seller has the option of paying compensation rather than voiding the sale. The Rosh addresses the case of a person who purchased a residence and when he arrived he saw that vandals had broken the windows and doors. Since the house still retained it basic definition as a residence, and merely required some refurbishing, the sale was not voided. The seller was therefore entitled to maintain the transaction and simply pay for the repairs. If, however, vandals had toppled the house's walls, then it loses its status as a viable residence and the buyer can demand that the sale be voided. Since he did not receive that for which he paid the money – a viable residence – the sale is null and void and he is entitled to a complete refund of his payment. A modern application of this principle pertains to the sale of used electrical appliances. If the buyer discovers an unsightly mark or scratch on the appliance that has no effect on its operation, then he cannot demand a full refund; he is entitled only to compensation for having paid for a higher-valued item than what he in fact received. If, however, the appliance does not work properly, then he can certainly declare the transaction null and void and the seller must refund all the money he had paid. (But if the seller allows a refund even for a scratch, then of course one may return it.) Needless to say, in all such cases one must consult with a competent Halachic authority to determine whether the defect is inherent to the object's operation or but a minor imperfection. Summary: If a buyer purchases an object and discovers that it is inherently defective, such that it cannot serve its basic function, he can declare the sale void and demand a full refund. If, however, the object functions properly but has a minor defect, such as an electrical appliance with external scratches or marks, then the seller has the option of refunding part of the payment as compensation, rather than voiding the sale. See the book- "Pure Money" by Dayan Cohen, pages 150-151.
5 days ago
Does A Purchaser Have The Right To Return A Defective Item
According to Halacha, every sale of merchandise is made on the implicit condition that it is not defective. If the buyer discovers a defect in the merchandise, he can demand a full refund even though he had not explicitly stipulated at the time of the sale that his payment is contingent upon the condition of the merchandise. Halacha considers it self-evident that a buyer renders payment on condition that the merchandise is in proper working order, and therefore upon the discovery of a defect the buyer can demand a full refund. The Shulhan Aruch (Hoshen Mishpat 232:3) applies this rule even in a case where the defect is discovered only several years after the transaction. Assuming it can be proven that the item was defective at the time of the sale, the buyer can demand that the sale be voided and that his money be returned. The Shulhan Aruch adds, however, that if the buyer used the merchandise after discovering the defect, then he effectively forgoes on his right to cancel the transaction, and he can no longer demand a refund. By using the item, he essentially declares that he is prepared to accept it despite its defect, and thus the transaction cannot be voided thereafter. Rabbi Yehoshua Falk (Poland, 1555-1614), in his commentary to the Hoshen Mishpat section of the Shulhan Aruch (the "Sema," 232:10), establishes an important qualification to the Shulhan Aruch's ruling. Namely, if people customarily inspect a certain item before purchasing it, then a buyer who purchased such an item without inspecting it cannot later demand a refund upon discovering a defect. Used cars, for example, are generally brought to a mechanic for inspection before being purchased. If a person purchases a used car without first inspecting it, he implicitly expresses his acceptance of the car regardless of its condition. Therefore, if he later discovers a significant defect in the car, the sale is nevertheless binding and he cannot demand a refund. Of course, it is unethical for a seller not to disclose to prospective buyers information about defects or possible defects in the car; a seller who withholds such information is deemed a sinner. Nevertheless, if he withheld this information and the buyer chose not to inspect the car, the sale is binding. Summary: If a person buys merchandise and discovers that it is defective, he may annul the sale and demand a full refund from the buyer, even several years later, assuming that the defect was present at the time of the sale. The buyer is not entitled to a refund if he used the item after discovering the defect, or if this kind of merchandise is normally inspected before being purchased (such as used cars) and he chose not to inspect it. See the book- "Pure Money" by Dayan Cohen, pages 147-148.
6 days ago
Damages Caused to a Car That is Blocking a Driveway or a Street
Whenever we study the Halachot relevant to property damages, we must carefully analyze the cases discussed in the Talmud and the Shulhan Aruch, and then see how these rules would apply in parallel situations that arise in modern-day life. A perfect example of this process is a Halacha codified in the Hoshen Mishpat section of the Shulhan Aruch (379:4) concerning a person who placed barrels of wine or oil in his fellow’s property without permission. Even though the barrels were put there without the property owner’s permission, and it causes an obstruction, the property owner is not permitted to deliberately damage the barrels. He is allowed, however, to have them removed at their owner’s expense. Likewise, he may conduct himself normally in his property without bearing responsibility for the damage this causes to the barrels. So long as he did not deliberately damage the barrels, and the damage resulted from his normal conduct, he does not bear liability. A modern-day application of this rule is the case of a driver who parks in front of somebody’s driveway without permission, thus blocking the homeowner’s access to the driveway. Although the driver obviously acted improperly, the homeowner does not have the right to smash the car’s windows or flatten its tires, for example. He may, however, call a towing company, have them tow the illegally-parked car, and then send the bill to the driver. Furthermore, if the parked car causes a partial obstruction, and when the homeowner attempts to drive into or out of his driveway he accidentally dents the parked car, he is not liable for the damages. Since he drove normally in or out of the driveway, he does not bear responsibility for the damages caused to the illegally-parked car. This rule would also apply to a car that causes an obstruction in the public domain, such as a double-parked car, that occupies public space in the street. If a driver drives normally down the street and accidentally side-swipes the double-parked car or knocks off its mirror, the driver is not required to compensate the owner of the double-parked car. Since the car caused an obstruction without permission, and the driver drove in normal fashion down the street, he does not bear liability. Summary: If a person parks his car in front of someone’s driveway without permission, the homeowner may not intentionally cause damage to the parked car. He may, however, have it towed at the car owner’s expense, and is not held liable for damages accidentally caused to the car by his attempts to drive in or out of his driveway around the parked car. Similarly, if a person illegally double parks in the street, people may not cause damage to the car, but they are not held liable for damages accidentally caused to the car as they attempt to drive normally down the street.
Jan 14, 2022
The Status of a Witness Who Received Money to Testify
Among the "Pesuleh Edut" – people disqualified to serve as a witness – is a "Noge’a Be’edut," somebody who has a certain bias or prejudice in the case at hand. The most obvious case of a "Noge’a Be’edut" is that of a person who received money from one of the parties to testify. For example, a lender might want to pay somebody who witnessed the loan to come to court and testify that he lent the sum in question to the defendant. In such a case, the witness may not give testimony in court. If a witness gives testimony and it is then discovered that he had been paid, his testimony is invalidated. Even if afterward he repents and returns the money, he may not return to court to give testimony, due to the Halachic rule of "Kevan She’higid Shub Eno Hozer U’magid" – once a witness gave testimony, he cannot return to testify again. In light of this Halacha, one might, at first glance, question the common practice to pay witnesses to sign on a Get in the case of a divorce. How can a Bet Din accept witnesses who were paid for the service, if Halacha clearly disqualifies paid witnesses? The answer lies in a basic distinction between two different kinds of witnesses. The disqualification of paid witnesses applies to giving testimony about an event that transpired. If a person witnessed an event and his testimony is needed in the court, then he bears an obligation to go to Bet Din and give testimony, without pay. For example, if a person witnessed a loan, or if, in the times when Bet Din had the authority to punish violators of Torah law, a person witnessed a violation, he must come to Bet Din to testify about what he saw. In the case of a Get, however, as in the case of the Kiddushin at a wedding, witnesses are required not to testify about something that happened, but rather as part of the ceremony. These kinds of witnesses may be paid just like anyone who provides a service. People who are brought to sign a Get may thus receive payment as compensation for their time and the inconvenience of coming to Bet Din. (Generally, either the husband and wife split the costs of the witnesses, or one party agrees to accept the expense.) Likewise, if a couple wants to bring special witnesses for the Kiddushin, they may pay them and compensate for their airfare, hotel stay and other expenses. Since their service is ceremonial in nature, and they are not brought to give testimony about something they saw, they are not disqualified as a result of their receiving payment. Summary: Witnesses who were paid to give testimony in Bet Din about an event they witnessed – such as a loan – are disqualified, and their testimony is not valid, even if they subsequently return the money. However, when witnesses are required for a ceremonial purpose, such as to sign on a Get or to witness Kiddushin at a wedding, they may be paid for their service.
Jan 13, 2022
Which Transgressions Render a Person Disqualified From Serving as a Witness?
A person who is, God forbid, involved in certain kinds of sinful behavior is disqualified from serving as a witness. These Halachot are especially important in the context of a wedding, when valid witnesses are required both for the signing of the Ketuba contract, and to witness the act of Kiddushin (when the groom gives the bride an object of value for betrothal). Care must be taken when choosing the witnesses, as appointing invalid witnesses could invalidate the Kiddushin. We list here several examples of people who are disqualified from serving as a witness: 1) A person who is suspected of having an illicit relationship. The man is disqualified from serving as a witness even though there are no witnesses to the offense, but rumors have spread about his involvement in a forbidden relationship. 2) The Bet Shemuel (Rav Shemuel Feivush, Poland, 17th century), in Siman 42, rules that a man who hugs and kisses women who are forbidden to him is also disqualified from serving as a witness, on the level of Torah law. 3) One who is "married" to a non-Jewish woman. Even though a Jew cannot be Halachically considered married to a gentile, a man who lives with a non-Jewish woman as husband and wife is disqualified from serving as a witness, on the level of Torah law. According to the Kenesset Hagedola (Rav Haim Banbenishti, Turkey, 1603-1673), one is disqualified if he has relations with a non-Jewish woman even if they do not live together as a married couple. 4) One who eats the cheese of non-Jews or drinks the wine of non-Jews is disqualified from serving as a witness. 5) One who lends or borrows money on interest may not serve as a witness. Since it is forbidden by Torah law to accept interest or to pay interest, both the lender and borrower are disqualified. 6) A person who raises his hand to strike his fellow is disqualified from serving as a witness by force of Rabbinic enactment, whereas somebody who actually strikes a fellow Jew is disqualified on the level of Torah law. 7) It goes without saying that a "Moser" (somebody who cooperates with non-Jewish authorities in their persecution of Jews) is disqualified from serving as a witness on the level of Torah law. 8) A heretic who does not accept the authority of the oral tradition – the Mishna, Talmud, etc. – is disqualified from serving as a witness on the level of Torah law. In light of these guidelines, it is imperative to choose people of the highest caliber to serve as witnesses at a wedding. Witnesses should not be chosen simply because of their close relationship to the bride or groom, or to their families; they should be chosen based upon their level of Torah observance, to ensure that they are valid. Discretion is far more critical when it comes to the witnesses than with regard to the Berachot recited under the Hupa. A wedding ceremony is perfectly valid even if the Berachot are not recited at all, and the personal religious stature of the people who recite the Berachot will have no effect upon the legal validity of the marriage. But if the witnesses are unsuitable, they undermine the validity of the Kiddushin. It therefore cannot be emphasized enough how important it is to ensure to choose men of a high religious caliber to serve as witnesses.
Jan 12, 2022
Why are Women Disqualified From Serving as Witnesses?
Halacha disqualifies women from serving as witnesses in court, and this disqualification applies on the level of Torah law. At first glance, this disqualification might appear unfair, discriminatory, or degrading to women. Some might "accuse" the Torah of relegating women to "second class" status, or of assuming that they have less intelligence or integrity than men, as reflected by their disqualification for rendering testimony. This assumption is very far from the truth. The Aruch Ha’shulhan (Rabbi Yechiel Michel Epstein of Nevahrduk, 1829-1908) writes explicitly (Hoshen Mishpat 34:19) that we cannot know the reason for women’s disqualification, and it is simply a divine decree. This Halacha falls under the category of "Hukim," Torah laws whose underlying rationale eludes us and cannot be explained by human reasoning, like the ritual of the Para Aduma (red heifer). As such, one cannot reach any conclusions whatsoever regarding the Torah’s general attitude toward women, or regarding anything else, on the basis of this Halacha. This is simply an expression of the divine will whose reason we do not understand. In fact, Halacha also disqualifies a Jewish king from serving as a witness. This means that when Mashiah arrives and becomes king, he will not be accepted as a witness in a Jewish court. Mashiah will be one of the most brilliant and pious men who ever lived, near the stature of Moshe Rabbenu, and, according to some, even more brilliant than King Shelomo. Clearly, his disqualification has nothing at all to do with questionable intelligence or integrity. These are laws which we should not even attempt to understand, and which we should simply accept as part of God’s will as expressed through the Torah. The Torah in Parashat Korah (Bamidbar, chapter 16) tells of the revolt mounted by Korah against the authority of Moshe Rabbenu. The Sages teach that Korah’s mistake was his insistence on understanding the rationale behind all the Torah’s laws. He took a Tallit made entirely from Techelet, and asked Moshe whether it requires Sisit, with a Techelet string. Moshe answered that it indeed requires Sisit, whereupon Korah began ridiculing Moshe and challenging his authority. If a single thread of Techelet suffices for an entire garment, Korah said, then it makes no sense for a garment made entirely of Techelet to require an additional thread. Similarly, he asked Moshe whether a house filled with Sifreh Torah requires a Mezuza, and Moshe replied that it does. Once again, Korah ridiculed Moshe, claiming that there is no reason for a house filled with Torah scrolls to require a small Mezuza on the doorpost. Korah demanded a sound, logical explanation for every Halachic detail. He refused to accept a Torah law that was not comprehensible to the logical, human mind, and this led him to reject Moshe’s authority. We believe in the Torah’s laws and accept the fact that there are certain Halachot whose underlying reasoning is not within our grasp. And we believe that even these laws are an expression of the divine will, no less than those laws whose rationale we can understand.
Jan 11, 2022
May a Sinner Serve as a Witness If He Thought He Was Doing a Misva When He Sinned?
Generally speaking, a person who commits certain kinds of Torah violations is disqualified from serving as a witness. This applies to Torah violations that are punishable by Malkot (lashes) or execution, and also to violations involving money. If a person disregards the Torah’s code of monetary law, then there is reason to suspect that he will not speak truthfully in court, and he is therefore disqualified as a witness. An exception to this rule is somebody who committed a Torah violation under the mistaken assumption that he was committing a noble act. The classic example of such a situation, as discussed in the Gemara, is the case of Hebra Kadisha members who perform burials on the first day of Yom Tob. Burying on the first day of Yom Tob is certainly forbidden, but Hebra Kadisha members might assume that given the importance which the Torah affords to the immediate burial of a deceased person, they actually perform a Misva by burying on Yom Tob. Therefore, even though this assumption is wrong and misguided, they are nevertheless qualified to serve as witnesses, since they mistakenly perceive their sinful conduct as noble conduct. This Halacha applies even if they continue this wrongful practice after the local Bet Din had placed them under Nidui (excommunication). One might have assumed that once Bet Din condemned their practice of burying on Yom Tob, to the point of issuing a writ of excommunication, subsequent violations would be considered willful, intentional sins that disqualify them from testimony. In truth, however, the Hebra Kadisha members are still qualified as witnesses, because they figure that the Nidui is necessary as atonement, but not an indication that they act wrongly. They might compare their situation to one of a person who experiences a frightening dream on Friday night, who is allowed to fast on Shabbat, but must then observe another fast to atone for having fasted on Shabbat. Similarly, the Hebra Kadisha members might view their Nidui as a means of atonement that they must endure for burying on Yom Tob, even though the burial is warranted. Therefore, they are qualified to serve as witnesses despite the violation they commit. Another example is a person entrusted with the funds inherited by young orphans, and lends some of the money on interest. Generally, lending on interest renders one disqualified from giving testimony, because, as mentioned earlier, one who commits Torah violations involving money is disqualified as a witness. However, in the case of the administrator entrusted with orphans’ accounts, he mistakenly thinks he performs a Misva by lending the funds on interest and thereby earning money for the young orphans under his charge. Therefore, even though he acts wrongly and commits a Torah violation, he is nevertheless allowed to serve as a witness, since his violations were committed under the assumption that he performs an important Misva. Summary: A person who commits a Torah violation thinking that he performs a Misva – such as an administrator of young orphans’ funds who lends their money on interest – is allowed to serve as a witness, even if the violation he commits generally renders one disqualified for giving testimony.
Jan 10, 2022
The Disqualification of "Shameless" People From Serving as Witnesses
Among the groups of people whom Halacha disqualifies from serving as witnesses is that of "Bezuyim," meaning, people who act in a self-degrading, shameless manner. Such people are disqualified from serving as witnesses "Mi’de’rabbanan" (by force of Rabbinic enactment). An example of this kind of character is somebody who regularly eats full meals while walking through the street. Eating meals – such as a sandwich, or pizza – while walking through the street is considered undignified, and reflects a lack of self-respect. Therefore, somebody who conducts himself in this manner on a regular basis may not serve as a witness. This also applies to people who do not wear proper clothing outdoors, while they work or conduct their personal affairs. Such people who show no concern for their personal dignity are looked upon not as people, but as animals. As such, we cannot trust them to speak truthfully in court, and they are therefore disqualified from serving as witnesses. This reminds us of the importance of selecting as witnesses (such as at weddings and the like) people who maintain high standards of ethical and refined conduct. Even those who do not commit specific Torah violations are unsuitable for this role if they regularly act in an unbecoming and undignified manner.
Jan 9, 2022
Who is Disqualified From Serving as a Witness?
The Shulhan Aruch, in Hoshen Mishpat (Siman 34), discusses the qualifications required by Halacha for somebody to be eligible to serve as an "Ed," a witness. These guidelines are critically important in several different contexts, including testimony before a Bet Din that the defendant owes the plaintiff money, and the required witnesses who sign on a Ketuba or are present at the Kiddushin in a wedding ceremony. A person is not valid for these purposes if he does not meet certain qualifications. The Shulhan Aruch writes that a person who has the formal status of a "Rasha" ("wicked person") is not qualified to serve as a witness. He defines the term "Rasha" for the purposes of this Halacha as somebody who intentionally transgressed a Torah violation that is punishable by either Malkot (lashes), death, or Karet (eternal spiritual excision). A violator obtains this status regardless of whether he transgressed "Le’hach’is" – with the specific intent to anger the Almighty – or "Le…
Jan 7, 2022
Watching a Lost Item Until it is Returned to its Owner
The Ben Ish Hai (Rav Yosef Haim of Baghdad, 1833-1909), in Parashat Ki-Tabo (listen to audio recording for precise citation), writes that if one finds a book that belongs to another person, and the book bears the person’s name, stamp, or other identifying feature, the finder may not use the book. He is obligated to return the book to its owner, and until it can be returned, he must care for the book properly, and may not make personal use of it. If a person finds a lost item and cannot return it to its owner immediately, he may give it to somebody he trusts to watch it in the interim. For example, if the finder is leaving on a trip and does not want to take the article with him, he may entrust it to somebody he deems reliable. Lost items differ in this regard from a "Pikadon" – an object that was specifically entrusted to somebody to watch. If a person gives an article to his fellow to watch it for him, and the friend accepts responsibility, he is not allowed to hand the object ov…
Jan 6, 2022
Who Keeps Money That is Found in a Private Backyard, or in a Store?
The Ben Ish Hai (Rav Yosef Haim of Baghdad, 1839-1933) addresses the case of a person who makes a wedding in his backyard (which was common in those days), to which many guests are invited, and somebody finds on the ground money that was apparently lost. Assuming the money was not stacked in a unique and distinctive way, and was not in a wallet or other personal item, the finder may keep the money. Even though the wedding is held in a person’s private property, the setting is considered a public domain with respect to this Halacha, since large numbers of people are present. It can be assumed that the individual who dropped the money immediately despaired from retrieving it since there were so many people in the area. If, however, the money had a distinctive feature, such as if it was found in a wallet or bag that could be identified by the owner, then the finder must announce the find so that the owner could come forward to describe the item and then retrieve his lost money. Since th…
Jan 5, 2022
Returning and Claiming Lost Items
If a person finds an object that somebody had lost, and the object has Simanim – distinguishing features whereby it can be identified by the owner – he must announce in the synagogue that he found the item. He must specify what the object is, and announce that the owner can retrieve it after naming the Simanim. It is not sufficient to announce that he found an object, without specifying what kind of object, and invite the owner to name the item. For example, if somebody found a wallet, he should not announce that he found something, and then give the wallet to somebody who comes forward and says that he lost a wallet. Rather, he should announce that he found a wallet, and then the one who lost his wallet should come and name the color, the size, and other distinguishing features, such as if it is torn in a certain place, or had specific contents, and so on. Similarly, if a bag containing several items was lost, the owner can specify how many items were in the bag, and this qualifie…
Jan 4, 2022
Hashabat Abeda - The Obligation to Return Lost Objects
If one sees an item that belongs to another Jew and was lost, he is obligated to take that object and return it to its owner. One who sees a lost object and ignores it violates a Misvat Lo Ta’aseh (Torah prohibition) that forbids ignoring a lost object, and also neglects a Misvat Aseh (affirmative Biblical command) to return lost objects to their owner, as the Torah commands, "Do not see your fellow’s ox or sheep wandering astray and ignore them; you shall return them to your fellow" (Debarim 22:1). If a person takes the item with the intention of keeping it, rather than returning it to its owner, he also violates the Torah prohibition against theft ("Lo Tigzol" – Vayikra 19:13). If, however, the finder then decides to return the object to its owner, he has corrected his mistake and is no longer in violation of these prohibitions, assuming the owner had not despaired from retrieving the item. If the owner despaired after the finder took the object for himself, the finder is guilt…
Jan 2, 2022
Reading "Shenayim Mikra Ve'ehad Targum"
The Shulhan Aruch (Orah Haim 146, and again in 285) writes that it is permissible, strictly speaking, to read "Shenayim Mikra Ve’ehad Targum" during the Torah reading. This refers to the obligation to read the weekly Parsha twice and its translation once. Although Halacha generally forbids speaking or learning during the Torah reading, one is permitted to read "Shenayim Mikra" during the Torah reading, since it is relevant to the reading. Nevertheless, the Shulhan Aruch adds (in Siman 146) that it is preferable only to read along with the reader to complete one of the two readings of "Shenayim Mikra," rather than read the Parsha twice and the translation during the congregational reading. Accordingly, Hacham Ovadia Yosef (in Yehaveh Da’at) and Hacham Bension Abba Shaul (in Or Le’sion, vol. 2) write that one should not read "Shenayim Mikra Ve’ehad Targum" during the Torah reading, but one may read along with the reader to fulfill one required reading, and conduct the other readi…
Dec 31, 2021
The Importance of Avoiding Anger
The Shulchan Aruch, amidst his discussion of the laws of proper etiquette at a meal, writes (Orach Chayim 170:6) that one should not be "Kapdan" – angry, nervous or uptight – during a meal. The Kaf Ha'chayim (by Rabbi Yaakov Chayim Sofer, 1870-1939), commenting on this Halacha (170:29), offers two reasons why anger must be avoided during a meal. Firstly, if a person comes to a meal with an attitude of anger or anxiety, his family members will likely be reluctant to share some of the food with the needy. If a person in need comes to the house during the meal to ask for some food, the family members might feel inhibited from sharing their food with him if they see the head of the household in a state of anger. Secondly, guests and family members may not eat heartily if they see the head of the household upset. Anger and anxiety on his part causes them to feel uneasy, and they might refrain from eating out of concern not to cause him further aggravation. The Kaf Ha'chayim adds that a…
Dec 30, 2021
A Woman's Obligations When the Torah is Removed From the Heichal and During Torah Reading
The Shulchan Aruch writes (134:2; listen to audio for precise citation) that the person who removes the Torah scroll from the Heichal for the reading must show the writing of the Torah to everybody in the synagogue, including the women. Upon seeing the writing of the Torah, the congregation must slightly bow and recite the verse, "Ve'zot Ha'Torah Asher Sam Moshe Lifnei Benei Yisrael." The Arizal (famed Kabbalist, Israel, 1534-1572) held, based on Kabbalah, that one should come close enough to the Torah to be able to read the actual letters, for then the spiritual light of the letters will surround and influence a person. Therefore, the person removing the Torah from the Heichal must ensure to bring the Torah near the ladies' section in the synagogue so that they, too, can see the writing of the Torah scroll. Sephardic custom allows women to attend the synagogue services and look upon the Torah scroll even during their state of Tum'a (ritual impurity, such as during the period of Nida)…
Dec 29, 2021
Bringing Young Girls to the Synagogue
Many parents bring their young children to the synagogue, and often, young girls sit with their father in the men’s section, or walk in and out during the prayer service. There are many parents who do not enforce upon their young daughters the accepted standards of Seniut (modesty), and the question thus arises as to whether men may pray in the presence of these young girls. Is it forbidden to pray in the presence of young girls who are not dressed according to accepted standards of Seniut, or is this permissible in light of the girls’ young age? Hacham Ovadia Yosef addresses this question in a lengthy responsa in his work Yabia Omer (vol. 6, Orah Haim 14; listen to audio recording for precise citation). After citing and discussing the different opinions on the subject, the Hacham concludes that one may rely on the lenient view among the authorities and recite Shema, Amida, and the other prayers in the presence of young girls, even if they are not dressed according to proper stand…
Dec 28, 2021
Must a Married Woman Cover Her Hair?
Most of the halachic discussion regarding the obligation of married women to cover their hair has focused on the proper types of coverings to fulfil the Misva. However, there has even been some discussion whether the obligation is applicable at all nowadays. Hacham Shalom Masas, the late Chief Rabbi of Yerushalayim, originally from Casablanca, presents a detailed series of Teshuvot (responsa) in his Tevuot Shemesh (Even HaEzer, 137-139). It is highly recommend reading these Teshuvot and enjoying the various opinions he brings. He opens Teshuva 138 by outlining the extreme opinions, at opposite poles: Those who hold that the Halacha is not applicable nowadays, and on the other hand, the opinion of Hacham Ovadia and others that even covering with a wig is not sufficient. The Hod Yosef, Hacham Yosef Masas, attempted to marshal proofs from early sources that this Halacha is no longer applicable. Hacham Masas methodically goes through the proofs and refutes each one. His overwhelming conclu…
Dec 27, 2021
May One Talk About Mundane Matters on Shabbat?
The Navi (Prophet) warns regarding speech on Shabbat: "V'Daber Dabar"-(From speaking talk). The Hachamim derive from this phrase that one's speech on Shabbat should be different than his speech during the week. Rambam understands this to mean that it is prohibited to speak on Shabbat about activates which would be forbidden to perform on Shabbat-whether by Torah or Rabbinic law. For example, one may not say, "Tomorrow, I am driving to New Jersey," or "Tomorrow I am flying to Miami." Since those activities cannot be performed on Shabbat, it is also prohibited from saying it. However, Tosafot have a different understanding of this issue. They learn that not only is it prohibited to speak about prohibited activities, but it is even prohibited to talk excessively about any mundane topic, such as news, politics etc. They cite an incident in the Midrash, in which Rabbi Shimon rebuked his grandmother for talking too much on Shabbat about any subject. The Talmud Yerushalmi records that the Ha…
Dec 26, 2021
May one use Moist Towelettes for Mayim Aharonim?
The Halacha requires washing Mayim Aharonim at the conclusion of the meal, before Birkat Hamazon. The question was asked whether one may use moist towelettes, which are commonly distributed at the end of a meal in restaurants, for this obligation. This question can be answered only after reviewing the four reasons given for this obligation. According to the reason that it is to clean the hands for Birkat Hamazon, the towelette should be permitted. With regard to cleanliness, there is no difference whether one uses a traditional vessel with water or the towelette. Another reason for Mayim Aharonim was to remove traces of a certain salt called "Melech Sedomit", which was once common in the bread. If it would remain on the fingers, it was liable to be rubbed on the eyes and, Heaven forbid, cause blindness. If that is the reason, the towelette should be sufficient. There is yet another explanation, based on the Gemara in Masechet Yoma, that relates the story of someone who was once killed…
Dec 24, 2021
How To Do Birkat Kohanim When There Are Only Kohanim Present In Shul
What is the proper procedure for Birkat Kohanim (the priestly blessing) if the congregation consists entirely of Kohanim? Do all the worshippers ascend to recite the Beracha, or do only some of them recite the Beracha? The Halacha in this case depends on how many people are present in the synagogue. If the Minyan is comprised of only ten Kohanim and nobody else, then they all ascend for the recitation of Birkat Kohanim. Women and children present at the synagogue would answer "Amen" to the Beracha. If there are no women and children in the synagogue, then of course nobody would answer "Amen," but this does not undermine the validity of the Birkat Kohanim. This situation, of course, gives rise to the interesting question of whom they are blessing, since nobody is present in the synagogue to receive their blessing. The answer is that they bless all other Jews, who are not in attendance in the synagogue. The Kohanim customarily wave their hands side to side at certain points during the…
Dec 23, 2021
Should a Mourner be Called for an Aliya if He is the Only Kohen in Attendance?
A mourner who is observing Shib’a should not be called for an Aliya to the Torah, since it is forbidden for mourners to study Torah. An interesting question arises in a case where a mourner who is a Kohen does not have a Minyan in his home, and prays in the synagogue, instead, where no other Kohanim are in attendance. Normally, if there is a Kohen present, he must be given the first Aliya to the Torah, as otherwise people might question whether he is in fact a legitimate Kohen. In light of this Halacha, should we perhaps allow a mourner to receive the first Aliya if he is the only Kohen, in the interest of protecting his reputation? The answer is that even in such a case, the mourner should not receive an Aliya, and he does not need to be asked to leave, either. It can be assumed that the people in the congregation realize that this Kohen is in mourning and is therefore unable to receive an Aliya, and therefore, nobody will question his status as a valid Kohen. This case resembles…