Monday, March 23, 2015

The End, for now


It is with a great deal of regret that I announce that I do not expect to send out daily Torah Thought and daily Jewish Law emails in the foreseeable future.

I began sending out these emails in 1997, and I am grateful to those who have been with me since those days when this was a local email list confined to the Jewish community of Pawtucket/Providence, Rhode Island, as well as to those who joined more recently. I have enjoyed our on-line and off-line exchanges, and I have benefited from the pressure to come up with a new email each day. Some of these posts have come at sensitive times in my life, and have offered a chance to express what was on my mind. Some have just been whatever I opened up to that day. Some have been from source sheets for my classes. I take some pride in noting that there are more than 2,000 posts in each of my daily blogs, and the great, great majority are not duplicates.

However: at this stage in life I feel a strong need to impose strict priorities on how I use my time, in order to improve my chances of accomplishing some of the goals I have set for myself.

I am not going anywhere; I am still reachable by email, and I hope that the fact that I won't be in your Inbox each morning won't lead you to forget me. And who knows? Perhaps there will come a time when I will come back to this. I intend to leave these sites on-line; at the least, they may be useful for people who are researching a particular idea or law.

Thank you for reading, and please keep in touch,

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Smoking to calm nerves while saving lives on Shabbat


One who is engaged in saving lives on Shabbat, and who wants to smoke to calm his nerves, should find another means of calming his nerves, among the many means available. This is not a fundamental part of saving lives, such that it would justify violating Shabbat.

(Rivivot Ephraim 1:249:1)

Have a great day,

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Using an egg-slicer on Shabbos


Sources prohibit use of mechanical blades on Shabbat to chop up food that comes from the ground, due to the prohibition against grinding. However, this will not apply to an egg slicer, because these blades only slice. Also, one may argue that the egg is not part of the class of foods that "grow from the ground."

(Rivivot Ephraim 1:248)

Have a great day,

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Pesach material


We are supposed to begin learning the laws of Pesach thirty days before Pesach - so it's already late!

Please look in the sidebar of for links to Pesach-related posts; there is quite a bit to choose from.

Have a great day,

Monday, March 9, 2015

Adding water to chulent on Shabbos


One may add water to a chulent on Shabbos, if the water is poured from a kettle that has been on a blech. The chulent should be removed from the heat first and held by someone else while water is added, and then returned to the heat afterward.

(Rivivot Ephraim 1:256)

[Note: The chulent pot should itself be on a covered flame, and the water in the kettle must be fully heated. Also, there is some debate regarding whether the lid must be placed atop the chulent before the chulent is returned to the heat. For a good collection of details/sources, look here.]

Have a great day,

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Salt on Matzah?


As the 30-day countdown to Pesach begins, here is a Pesach law:

Am I supposed to put salt on matzah at the Seder?

We are taught to put salt on bread before reciting the berachah, to honour the berachah; refining the bread by adding salt or other foods later in the meal would reflect poorly on the bread used for the berachah. [Note: This is not only a Shabbat or Yom Tov practice; it is a daily practice.]

Various Ashkenazi authorities record a custom of refraining from using salt at the Seder, because (1) matzah is "clean bread" and does not need salt, (2) adding salt would reduce the "poor man's bread" aspect of the seder's matzah and (3) we show love of the mitzvah by refusing to mix in anything else. Some even refrain from salting matzah all through Pesach. On the other hand, others specifically use salt to improve the taste of the matzah, making the mitzvah more attractive. One should follow his family custom.

Regardless of one's custom regarding adding salt, one should keep salt on the table in order to link the food with the salt-laden korbanos brought in the Beis haMikdash.

(Maharil Seder Haggadah 32; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 167:5, 475:1; Mishneh Berurah 167:26-28; 475:4; Aruch haShulchan Orach Chaim 475:5)

Have a great day,

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Giving Mishloach Manot as a Couple?


Do a husband and wife fulfill mishloach manos by giving a joint gift?

Men and women are independently obligated in all of the mitzvos of Purim. Therefore, husbands and wives are obligated to send their own gifts of mishloach manos, and not to rely on each other's gifts.

Historically, many have relied on their spouses to send on their behalf; this may have been a measure to avoid inappropriate intimacy in cases in which men sent gifts and women received them, or vice versa. Halachic authorities recommend avoiding this problem by having men and women send to their own gender.

(Darchei Moshe Orach Chaim 695:7; Rama Orach Chaim 695:4; Magen Avraham 695:14; Pri Chadash Orach Chaim 695:4; Shevut Yaakov 1:41; Birkei Yosef Orach Chaim 695:8; R' Akiva Eiger to Megilah 4a; Shaarei Teshuvah 695:9; B'Tzel haChochmah 5:51:5; Mishneh Berurah 695:25)

חג פורים שמח,

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The mitzvah of drinking on Purim


On Purim we celebrate the ultimate joy of a sudden national rescue, and our sages have taught that we should imbibe alcohol at the Purim Seudah as part of this celebration. Just as we abstain from various foods and from drink at certain times of the year to induce sadness, so we indulge in various foods and in drink at other times of the year, to induce joy. The gemara’s standard for imbibing is to drink until we cannot tell the difference between “Cursed is Haman” and “Blessed is Mordechai” (Megilah 7b).

Authorities differ on how much to drink, but the following is clear: An adult who is medically, psychologically and emotionally able to drink, and who has a designated driver, should drink some amount of alcohol - preferably enough that he will feel lightheaded (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 695:2). One should enjoy his Purim meal relatively early in the afternoon, drink a little, and then sleep off the effects of the alcohol.

Many people, and I include myself in this number, have embraced the practice of drinking minimally at the Purim Seudah and then fulfilling the state of intoxication by taking a nap after the meal. This approach is sanctioned by the Rama (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 695:2), and supported by the Taz, who believes that the gemara's conclusion opposes drinking. One might consider doing the eating/drinking/nap before participating in a communal seudah.

I know the following is obvious, and I apologize for taking your time with it, but if my blog has any reach at all then I feel an obligation to state this obvious point. Please:

1) There is no reason to give alcohol to minors who are pre-bar mitzvah to drink on Purim. It is not necessary for their fulfillment of any mitzvah. The practice might be secularly legal as sacramental wine - consult an attorney - but it is a foolish and dangerous ritual and therefore prohibited as endangering our children as well as violating our obligation of chinuch for our children.

I do believe there is a difference between giving children under the age of obligation in mitzvot a taste of wine from the formal Shabbat Kiddush (not the one in shul; I mean the one at dinner/lunch!) and engaging them in Purim drinking. The former is a formal setting, and no one (I hope) is drinking to get a buzz. On Purim, though, because the general drinking is more loose and more geared toward celebration, I believe that the rule should be that children drink no alcohol at all.

2) If your own child is a minor, but older than bar mitzvah, and able to handle a small amount of wine, then it makes sense to help your child fulfill the mitzvah with a small amount, in a supervised setting, assuming this is legal in your jurisdiction.

3) I beleve adults should not drink on Purim in the presence of young children, beyond what would normally be consumed at a meal on Shabbat. Immature children cannot tell when we are in control and when we are not, cannot comprehend the dangers associated with alcohol, cannot accept the idea that adults can do what children are not permitted to do, and cannot understand the difference between Purim and the rest of the year.

The finest joy is a celebration which centers around a Mitzvah, and this is the essence of Purim – the four mitzvot (Megilah, Sending Gifts of Food, Giving to the Poor and having a Feast) which are about experiencing joy and spreading joy and thanking HaShem for saving us from destruction.

I apologize for wasting anyone’s time by stating the obvious, but as I said above, I feel the responsibility of stating this in any forum I have available.

And not to be a party-pooper at all, but those who want to know more about this theme should see Shaarei Teshuvah of Rav Chaim Margaliyot (printed with a standard Mishneh Berurah), in his final comment on Orach Chaim:

ויותר יש לזרז עצמו בד"ת במקום שיש שם איזה שמחה אף אם היא שמחה של מצוה ועיין בסוף סוכה בענין שמחת בית השואבה וכן מבואר לעיל סימן תקכ"ט אדם אוכל ושותה ושמח ברגל ולא ימשוך בבשר ויין ובשחוק וקלות ראש לפי שאין השחוק וקלות ראש שמחה אלא הוללות וסכלות ולא נצטוינו על הוללות וסכלות אלא על שמחה שיש בה עבודת היוצר עכ"ל והוא לשון רבינו הרמב"ם ז"ל והמפרשים ז"ל פירשו לשחוק אמרתי מהולל ר"ל שיהיה באיזה ענין שיהיה השחוק הוא הוללות עבט"ז לעיל
אך לשמחה מה זו עושה ר"ל שלענין שמחה אין להחליט שאינה יפה שבאמ' יש שמחה של מצוה ולכן יש ליתן לב לדעת מה זו עושה ר"ל מה טובה אם הוא שמחה של מצוה או לא אך הואיל ואפשר כי מתוך אכילה ושתיה והוללת יתמשך לשחוק וקלות ראש לכן יקח תבלין לבסם השמחה בד"ת וחדוות ה' יהיה מעוזו ויטב לבו בד"ת וז"ש וטוב לב משתה תמיד
It is even more necessary to energize one’s self with words of Torah in a place where there is joy, even if it is joy associated with a mitzvah. See the end of Succah regarding simchas beis hashoevah. And so is explained in the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 529, “One should eat, drink and be happy on the holiday, but not draw himself after meat and wine and laughter and lightheadedness, for laughter and lightheadedness are not joy, but empty celebration and foolishness. We are not instructed in empty celebration and foolishness, but in joy which includes service of the Creator.” This is a citation from the Rambam.
The sages explained the verse (Kohelet 2:2), “I have called laughter ‘empty celebration’” to mean that in any form, laughter is empty celebration. See the Taz earlier. [I don’t know which comment from the Taz he means.]
But “What does joy accomplish (Kohelet 2:2)” means that regarding joy, one should not conclude that it is not good. In truth, there is joy associated with mitzvot! Therefore, one should set his heart to know what joy can accomplish, meaning, what is its nature – is it joy associated with a mitzvah, or not. But since it is possible that one will be drawn to laughter and lightheadedness as a result of eating, drinking and empty celebration, therefor, one should take spices to sweeten the joy with words of Torah, and his strength will be in the joy of Gd, and his heart will be good with words of Torah. This is the meaning of ‘One of good heart is always at a feast.’

May we have wonderful and safe Purim - ליהודים היתה אורה ושמחה וששון ויקר!

Chag Purim Sameiach,

Monday, March 2, 2015

Giving to Everyone on Purim


Is there a requirement to give tzedakah to all who request it on Purim?

Normally, one is required to investigate a tzedakah recipient or fund before giving a gift that would reduce his tzedakah for others, lest he cheat authentically needy people. [There is an exception where the need is dire and immediate, as in a request for food.]

However, on Purim we are instructed to increase people's joy and to give gifts of money and portions of food. Therefore, the majority view of halachic authorities is that one should give to anyone who asks. [There is a minority view which contends that this rule applies specifically for official distributors of communal tzedakah funds.]

(Bava Metzia 78b; Bava Batra 9a; Yerushalmi Megilah 1:4; Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Megilah 2:16 and see Tzofnas Paneiach ibid.; Ramban to Bava Metzia 78b; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 694:3; Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 249:7, 257:1; Rivivos Ephraim 6:386)

Have a great day,

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Mishloach Manos for Mourners?


Does a mourner send or receive Mishloach Manos?

Even though the mitzvah of sending mishloach manos involves joy, a mourner is obligated to send mishloach manos. This applies even during shivah. However, the mourner should not send items like wine and delicacies, which increase joy.

One should not send mishloach manos to a mourner, meaning a person who is within the year after losing a parent, or one who is within 30 days after losing a spouse, sibling or child r"l. However, a mourner who receives mishloach manos is not required to refuse them.

One may send to a mourner's family members, where the sender has a relationship with them.

One may send mishloach manos to a needy mourner, as a form of tzedakah. One may send to a mourner who holds a professional position in which it is expected that people will send him mishloach manos as a means of support.

May we know happy occasions.

(Sefer Chasidim 713; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 696:6; Taz Orach Chaim 696:3; Mishneh Berurah 696:18; Aruch haShulchan Orach Chaim 696:8-9; Teshuvos v'Hanhagos 1:692; Divrei Malkiel 5:237; Shevet haLevi 10:107:3)

Have a great day,