Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Brushing Teeth on Shabbos

Question: My local Sefarim shop sells Shabbos Toothbrushes.  What’s wrong with brushing my teeth with a regular toothbrush?
Answer: There are a few potential Halachic issues to be aware of. R’ Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe OC 1:112) and R’ Yitzchak Yaakov Weiss (Minchas Yitzchak 3:48; 50) write that one must not brush one’s teeth with regular toothpaste on Shabbos, as smoothing the toothpaste onto one’s teeth is the transgression of memareiach, smoothing out a solid (or semi-solid) object, as well as sechita, squeezing the liquid out of the bristles.
However, R’ Ovadia Yosef (Yabia Omer OC 4:27:2; 28) disagrees, maintaining that the memareiach only applies when one leaves a layer of paste and not when it gets brushed off immediately. Nonetheless, R’ Eliezer Waldenberg (Tzitz Eliezer 7:30) challenges this, explaining that one purposely rubs the toothpaste into one’s gums and teeth. Even if it gets washed away soon after, one has transgressed the issur of memareiach.
R' Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg (Seridei Eish 30) explains that as the water is immediately discarded, there is no issue of sechita. Unlike washing clothes where the water is added and extracted in order to clean them, the brush is not being cleaned by the water.
R’ Eliezer Waldenberg suggests that brushing teeth is also an issur of molid, forming a new substance, as one changes the solid consistency of the paste into a liquid (See Rema OC 326:10). However, R’ Ovadia Yosef (Yabia Omer OC 4:30) writes that this is not nolad as the paste isn’t a proper solid to begin with.
R’ Yitzchak Yaakov Weiss and R’ Eliezer Waldenberg write that another issue is that brushing frequently causes one’s gums to bleed. R’ Ovadia Yosef writes that people know whether this is likely when they do so. If it rarely happens, one does not need to be concerned.
R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Minchas Shlomo 2:35:3; Comments to Seridei Eish ibid.) writes that while there are strong challenges against the prohibition, the accepted practice is to avoid brushing one’s teeth in the usual manner on Shabbos.
In conclusion, many Sefardim follow R’ Ovadia Yosef and brush their teeth normally on Shabbos. Ashkenazim should ideally use either a Shabbos Toothbrush or a dry soft brush, that avoids the aforementioned issues.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Let’s Dress Up

Question: Is it okay for a man to dress up as a woman and vice-versa on Purim?
Answer: As early as 1322, Rav Kalonymus ben Kalonymus (Even Bochan, p30) writes about the minhag to dress up on Purim: And on the fourteenth of Adar… one wears a woman’s dress, a necklace on his neck and acts like one of the fools…
The Mahari Mintz (17) writes that while cross-dressing is explicitly forbidden by the Torah (Devarim 22:5), as one wears such clothes on Purim to enhance one’s joy (as opposed to immoral purposes), it is allowed. He writes that he witnessed many such costumes and never saw the rabbanim object. The Rema (OC 696:8) quotes both strict and lenient opinions, and says that the minhag is to be lenient. Elsewhere (Darkei Moshe), the Rema writes that some even allow one to wear a costume made of shaatnez on Purim!
Nonetheless, the Mishna Berura (696:30) quotes several Halachic authorities (Taz, Bach, Shelah, etc.) who prohibit the practice. R’ Ovadia Yosef (Yechaveh Daas 5:50) writes that one should not even allow one’s children to cross-dress on Purim. Seemingly such costume was far more prevalent in the olden days as the Aruch Hashulchan (OC 696:12) writes that Jews no longer follow this practice.
While most contemporary poskim forbid cross-dressing, we don’t need to criticize those who do dress up in such a manner. 

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

A Colourful Debate

Question: I see some men walking around with a blue techeles thread on their tzitzis. If we know what techeles is, why don’t we all wear it?
Answer: Wearing techeles was always an integral part of the mitzva of wearing tzitzis. Unfortunately, however, the art of making techeles from the chilazon has been lost for close to 2,000 years. The Midrash (Tanchuma, Shelach) laments that “now we have no techeles, only white, as techeles has been hidden.” While the Tosefta (Bava Metzia 61:) writes that one who doesn’t wear techeles has transgressed the mitzva of tzitzis, we see in the Gemara (Bava Metzia 61b and Menachot 40a, 43a) that wearing the wrong techeles invalidates the tzitzis.
But what is the chilazon? In the 1880’s, the Radzyner Rebbe, R’ Gershon Henoch Leiner, maintained that a particular squid (Sepia officinalis) was the long lost chilazon. He published 3 seforim on the subject, though while many used this dye to make techeles, it was far from blue and white! In 1913, R’ Issac Herzog published his doctoral thesis on techeles, naming a mollusk (Murex trunculus) as the most likely candidate for the source of techeles. The debate continues to this day.
While R’ Herzog’s arguments are most compelling, the Beis Halevi (R’ Yosef Ber Soloveitchik, 1820-1892) maintained that as the techeles has been lost from our mesorah, tradition, it should not be reinstated, irrespective of the evidence.
It is certainly no simple matter to reinstate a ‘lost tradition:’
While Kohanim duchen daily (Birchas Kohanim) in Eretz Yisrael, in chutz la’aretz this mitzva is reserved for Yom Tov. Various reasons have been given for this, including our lack of true simcha in the Diaspora. Nonetheless, many gedolim including both the Vilna Gaon and his student, R’ Chaim of Volozhin unsuccessfully tried to reinstate the daily beracha. The Aruch Hashulchan (OC 128:64) writes that it’s as if there was a voice from heaven calling out against reinstating it.
We eagerly await the day when the true glory of these Mitzvos will be reinstated for all.

A Touchy Topic

Question: At a recent business meeting, a lady proffered her hand for a handshake. Was I allowed to shake it?
Answer: The question of whether it is okay for a non related man and woman to shake hands largely depends on whether this contact is classified as a דרך תאוה וחיבה, a ‘way that is based on attraction’.
Lenient authorities have quoted the Shach (YD 195:20), who, quoting Rambam, writes that it is (only) forbidden for a man and woman to touch in any manner that causes attraction (chiba). Where touching yields no pleasure, it would be permissible (YD 157:10). Thus, R’ Moshe Feinstein paskens (Igros Moshe EH 2:14) that one can sit on a tram next to a woman even if they are accidentally touching. R’ Chaim Berlin (Nishmas Chaim, EH) writes that today, shaking hands is a regular way of greeting people. One has to bear in mind what reputation such a refusal will leave Religious Jews with. Rather shake hands than give others the impression that we’re crazy and are lacking derech eretz. R' Chaim Pinchos Scheinberg also allowed it in extenuating circumstances (Halichos Yisroel, p282).
R’ Moshe Feinstein maintains, however (Igros Moshe EH 1:56), that it is difficult to claim that shaking hands is not considered an expression of affection. In another responsum (OC 1:113) he wrote that doing so is forbidden. Likewise, the Steipler (Kreina Deigresa 162) defines hand shaking as touching with chiba, and therefore a most severe prohibition.
In conclusion, even the lenient authorities only allow shaking hands in extenuating circumstances. As leading poskim have forbidden it, one must try their utmost to avoid it.

Purim Drinking

Question: I have heard various things about drinking on Purim. Is it an actual requirement?

Answer: The Gemara (Megilla 7b) teaches that one should drink enough on Purim that one can no longer tell the difference between cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordechai.

While some rishonim (Rif Megillah 3b; Tur OC 695:1) read this Gemara literally, many other rishonim and acharonim interpret this statement differently. Thus, the Rema (Darkei Moshe 695:1) writes that the Gemara is referring to a particular piyyut. One would need their full wits in order to be able to sing the lyrics properly, and even a little drink could confuse them (See Aruch Hashulchan OC 695:3; Kaf Hachaim OC 695:16).

The Baal Hamaor (Megilla 3b) and Ran (Megilla 3b) quote Rabbeinu Ephraim who write that as the Gemara continues with a story about the dangers of drinking on Purim, the maskana (conclusion) is that one should not drink. The Beis Yosef (OC 695:1) adds that there is no greater sin than being intoxicated which could lead one to transgress the most severe aveiros.

Rambam (Megilla 2:15) writes only that one should drink more than usual which will cause him to sleep. Simply, when asleep, one can no longer tell the difference (See Rema OC 695:2; Mishna Berura 695:5).

The Shaarei Teshuva (695:2), Chayei Adam (2:155:30) and Mishna Berura (695:4; Biur Halacha 695:2) all stress that one must not drink if doing so may prevent them from performing mitzvos such as davening, netilas yadayim, reciting berachos and the other mitzvos of Purim.

In conclusion, one must not drink at all if it will cause them to abandon any mitzvos or if they think they may drink too much.