Sunday, 29 May 2016

Davening in the Ezras Nashim

Question: I came late to shul during the week and went to the ezras nashim to daven as no ladies come then. Was I included in the minyan?
Answer: The Shulchan Aruch (OC 55:13) writes that the 10 men who make up the minyan need to all be present in the same room as the chazzan. The Mishna Berura (55:48) writes that it doesn’t matter if they can’t all see each other providing that they are in the same room. While the Shulchan Aruch (OC 55:14) writes that one who is outside a shul can join in through an open window, the Mishna Berura (55:52) writes that they shouldn’t make up a minyan of people who are in two separate rooms divided by an open window, even if they can see each other (See Shaarei Teshuva; Shaar Hatziyun 55:53).
The Aruch Hashulchan (OC 55:20) writes that as the ezras nashim is separated by a proper mechitza, any men davening there can not join in as they are considered to be in a separate room, regardless as to whether they can see each other or not (See Kaf Hachaim OC 55:76).
Thus, R’ Shmuel Wosner (Shevet Halevi 9:20:1) writes that while men learning there may respond amen, etc. as ladies would, they cannot be considered part of the minyan while there (See Halichos Shlomo, Tefilla 5:n18).

Sunday, 22 May 2016

The Silent Chazzan

Question: I was the chazzan for shacharis at a different shul to which I usually attend, and the Rabbi told me that I shouldn’t have ended the beracha go’al yisrael before amida quietly. Why is this?
Answer: The Gemara (Berachos 4b; 9b; 42a) writes that one should ensure to make no interruption between the berachos after shema and the amida, especially during shacharis (Rashi Berachos 4b). One who is particular to do so will be protected that day from harm (See Shulchan Aruch OC 66:8; 111:1; 236:2).
While the Shulchan Aruch (OC 66:7; 111:1) writes that one shouldn’t answer amen to go’al yisrael as it is a hefsek, unnecessary interruption, the Rema doesn’t consider it to be a hefsek and writes that one should answer amen to the chazzan’s beracha. The Aruch Hashulchan (OC 66:14) writes that the minhag is to follow the Shulchan Aruch and avoid saying amen.
In order to avoid this questionable safek, the Aruch Hashulchan (OC 66:15) and Mishnah Berura (66:35) write that one should aim to finish the beracha of go’al yisrael together with the chazzan, thereby exempting oneself from responding at all.
While R’ Ephraim Greenblatt (Rivevos Ephraim 1:71; 6:42:1) explains the rationale behind the common practice for many chazzanim to end this beracha quietly, most poskim decry it.
R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Halichos Shlomo, Tefilla 7:17) notes that throughout the discussion among the poskim as to whether to say amen, they didn’t propose saying it quietly.
R’ Moshe Sternbuch (Teshuvos Vehanhagos 1:105) writes that if the chazzan doesn’t end this beracha loudly, he is preventing those at other points in davening from saying amen. He demonstrates that this follows Rambam, too (Tefilla 9:1).
R’ Yosef Eliyahu Henkin often spoke out against this practice. Thus, in his Ezras Torah calendar, it is written that according to R’ Henkin, ‘a chazzan who says the ending of go’al yisrael in an inaudible voice, is violating the Talmud’s ruling. Therefore it is a mitzvah to correct this matter, and to insist that the chazzan begin yotzer ohr and conclude go’al yisrael in an audible voice.’

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Traveling Before Shabbos

Question: We were invited to friends out of town for Shabbos, though our hosts told us that we weren’t allowed to travel on Friday afternoon. Is that right?
Answer: Rambam (Shabbos 30:11) writes that one mustn’t travel more than 3 parsa (approximately 7.5 miles) on Friday as their hosts (or own family) may not have had enough time to prepare for them. The Shulchan Aruch (OC 249:1) writes that if one is expected and no further preparations are needed, however, then they may travel further.
The Shulchan Aruch Harav (OC 249:3) and R’ Ovadia Yosef (Yabia Omer 2 OC 14:6) write that this limit applies to one walking. One travelling by other means has as long as it takes to walk this distance, or 3 hours and 36 minutes (See Shulchan Aruch OC 459:2).
The Mishna Berura (249:3) writes that while many aren’t as concerned about this halacha nowadays, we need to ensure not to arrive too close to Shabbos. Likewise, R’ Yehoshua Neuwirth (Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasa 42:24) writes that as travelling late in the afternoon may lead to chilul Shabbos, one should plan to arrive in good time before Shabbos and prepare for any eventuality.

In conclusion, one should avoid travelling on erev Shabbos unless is one is sure that they will arrive in good time before Shabbos.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Leshem Yichud

Question: I see that many people say leshem yichud before counting the omer yet we didn’t do so in yeshiva. Should I begin saying it?
Answer: Many have a minhag to say the kabbalistic prayer, leshem yichud, before performing certain mitzvos, expressing one’s intentions to fulfil the mitzva to serve Hashem properly in order to properly focus and prepare themselves in advance. Thus, the Chida (Moreh Baetzba 1) and Yesod Veshoresh Ha’avoda (9:8) stress the importance of this mitzva, and write that one must channel their thoughts and emotions to prepare themselves for this mitzva by saying leshem yichud (See Minhag Yisrael Torah  8:1).
Nonetheless, this practice, while printed in most siddurim, is a most controversial one. R’ Yechezkel Landau (Noda Biyehuda YD 93) wrote very strongly against saying leshem yichud, trying to get it removed from the siddur.
This debate aside, other poskim point to particular textual issues within the leshem yichud preceding the sefira.
While Rambam (Temidin Umusafin 7:22) and the Sefer Hachinuch (306) hold that the mitzva to count the omer nowadays is mideoraisa, most poskim (Tosafos, Menachos 66a; Rosh, Pesachim 10:40; Ran, end of Pesachim) hold that it is miderabanan (See Mishna Berura 489:14). Thus, R’ Yaakov Kamenetsky (Emes L’yaakov OC 489) and R’ Moshe Sternbuch (Teshuvos Vehanhagos 2:247) challenge how we can say, ‘כמו שכתוב בתורה, as it is written in the Torah.’ Doing so is tantamount to bal tosif, adding onto the Torah’s mitzvos. They propose amending the text slightly.
Nonetheless, R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Halichos Shlomo, Sefiras Haomer 11:2) defends saying this text, writing that this isn’t a problem of bal tosif as we are obligated to count miderabanan.
The Aruch Hashulchan (OC 489:10) writes that while many have challenged saying these Kabbalistic prayers, it has become common practice to say them.
In conclusion, there are strongly held minhagim on each side with reasons both to say it and omit it.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Of Monkeys and Elephants

Question: I invited a friend to come with us to the zoo, though he said that he doesn’t go to zoos. Why is this? Isn’t there a beracha to say upon seeing certain animals?
Answer: The Gemara (Shabbos 149a) writes that one mustn’t stare at a human or animal statue. Thus, R’ Moshe Greenwald (Arugas Habosem OC 39) writes that one shouldn’t look at animals either. Accordingly, one shouldn’t go to zoos at all.
Most poskim however disagree. The Shach (YD 142:33) allows one to look at such statues providing that they weren’t created for idolatry (See Magen Avraham OC 307:23).
R’ Menachem Mendel Schneerson (Shaarei Halacha Uminhag YD:82) writes that many of the earlier poskim stressed that as we are highly affected by what we see, one should avoid gazing at pictures of non-kosher animals. As young children are particularly impressionable, one should place inspirational pictures near them. One should try to replace teddy bears and pictures of non-kosher animals in children’s books with kosher ones. This doesn’t apply to pictures of animals in Tanach stories, nor does this preclude going to the zoo.
R’ Ovadia Yosef (Yabia Omer 4:OC:20; Yechave Daas 3:66) writes that even according to the stricter opinions, there is no issue in looking at live animals. It is in fact, a way of coming to appreciate Hashem’s world (See Rambam, Yesodei Hatorah 2:2).
The Gemara (Berachos 58b) writes that upon seeing an elephant or monkey one says a beracha,ברוך.. משנה (את) הבריות,  Blessed are You.. Who differentiates the creatures (See Shulchan Aruch OC 225:8).
R’ Ovadia Yosef (Yalkut Yosef 3:225:21) understands that the Gemara specifically mentioned elephants and monkeys, to the exclusion of all other animals. According to R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Halichos Shlomo, Tefilla 23:35), however, the Gemara simply picked elephants and monkeys as examples of exotic animals. One going into a zoo should say the beracha upon seeing the first such animal.