Sunday, 30 April 2017

Travelling Children

Question: My 12 year old son has just come back from a holiday in Israel. Should he bentch gomel?
Answer: The Magen Avraham (OC 219:1) quotes the Maharam of Mintz (14) who writes that children don’t recite the beracha of hagomel. As children do not get punished for their sins, it wouldn’t make sense for them to say the words, ‘hagomel lechayavim tovos, who bestows good things upon the guilty’. Nor can he just omit those words, as we mustn’t tamper with the text of the berachos. The Mishna Berura (219:3) adds that we don’t even train children to recite this beracha for chinuch (See Shevet Halevi 3:163:2).
The Shaarei Teshuva (OC 219:1), however, quotes the Mahari Bason (Lachmei Todah 5) and others who allowed children to recite the beracha. Likewise, R’ Ephraim Greenblatt (Rivevos Ephraim 4:63) challenges the reasons for children not to.
Nonetheless, the Aruch Hashulchan (OC 219:6) and Kaf Hachaim (OC 219:2) write that common practice is for children not to recite hagomel. Similarly, R’ Eliezer Waldenberg (Tzitz Eliezer 14:20; 18:22) writes that children who recover from an illness shouldn’t bentch either.
In conclusion, the consensus of poskim is that children should not recite the beracha of hagomel.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Eating before Counting the Omer

Question: I read that one mustn’t eat before counting the omer. Does it make a difference whether I daven maariv early or late?
Answer: The Rema (OC 489:4) writes that when it is time to count the omer one mustn’t eat until they have counted. 
There is a machlokes as to when exactly this starts. The Shulchan Aruch Harav (OC 489:17) writes that one mustn’t eat from a half hour before shekia while the Mishna Berura (489:23) writes that one can eat until a half hour before nacht.
Similarly, the Shulchan Aruch (OC 235:2) writes that one shouldn’t sit down to eat half an hour before it’s time to daven maariv, as they may get preoccupied and forget to recite the shema.
Nonetheless, the Aruch Hashulchan (OC 232:16) writes that one who regularly davens maariv in shul is allowed to eat beforehand as they won’t come to forget to recite the shema. Likewise, the Mishna Berura (235:18) writes that one who wants to eat then may do so providing that they ask someone else to remind them. R’ Avraham Yeshaya Pfoifer (Ishei Yisrael 27:19) writes that the same applies to setting an alarm.
Thus, R’ Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe OC 4:99) and R’ Binyamin Zilber (Az Nidberu 6:52) write that there is no need to act more stringently with counting the omer than one does with eating before davening maariv. One who regularly davens maariv after nacht may eat supper beforehand without having to be concerned that they will forget to recite kerias shema. Likewise, as nowadays we are accustomed to count the omer after maariv, one may eat before davening and counting (See Rivevos Ephraim 2:129:28).
In conclusion, one who regularly davens maariv after nacht can eat beforehand. One who either davens earlier or is davening later than usual should set themselves a reminder on their phone, etc. before sitting down to eat.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Laundry on Chol Hamoed

Question: While I’m washing my children’s clothes on chol hamoed, can I throw some of my own clothes into the washing machine?
Answer: The Gemara (Moed Katan 14a) writes that in order to ensure that people would prepare properly for yom tov, chazal instituted that it is forbidden to wash clothes on chol hamoed.
Thus, the Shulchan Aruch (OC 534:1) writes that under regular circumstances one mustn’t wash one’s clothes on chol hamoed. The Rema, however, writes that one may wash young children’s clothes if they constantly dirty them. The Mishna Berura (534:11) explains that one can only wash children’s clothes that they’ll need for that yom tov.
R’ Ovadia Yosef (Yabia Omer 7:48:1), R’ Ephraim Greenblatt (Rivevos Ephraim 1:354) and R’ Yehoshua Neuwirth (Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasa 66:63) write that as the reason for this prohibition is to ensure that people are well prepared for yom tov, it doesn’t make a difference how one washes their clothes. Thus, one can’t wash adult’s clothes in a washing machine. Likewise, R’ Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe 5:36:1) writes that one can’t give one’s suit in to the dry cleaners.
The Mishna Berura (534:4) quotes the Chayei Adam who permits washing handkerchiefs that need washing regularly. Based on this, R’ Yehoshua Neuwirth (Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasa 66:66) allows one to wash underwear on chol hamoed providing that they washed everything before yom tov (See Shevet HaLevi 8:124).
In conclusion, while one may wash young children’s clothing, etc. on chol hamoed, one may not add any regular clothes to the wash at the same time.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Selling Chametz Online

Question: I see that some organisations are offering people to sell their chametz online. Is this ideal?
Answer: The Shulchan Aruch (OC 448:3) writes that one may sell their chametz to a non-Jewish person for the duration of Pesach. R’ Shlomo Yosef Zevin (Hamoadim Behalacha, quoted by R’ Ribiat, Halachos of Pesach, p172) describes the history of selling chametz. While individuals used to sell their own chametz, they were fraught with complications and errors. Especially as most times the chametz never leaves the house, the forms of acquisition are most complicated (See Magen Avraham OC 448:4). As a result, communities began selling their chametz through their local rav and Beis Din.
The Aruch Hashulchan (OC 448:27) explains that nowadays the rav acts as an agent for anyone who has appointed him to sell their chametz.
While it is possible to appoint an agent verbally (Shulchan Aruch EH 141:26; CM 182:1), Rambam (Mechira 5:12) writes that it is customary to perform a kinyan (act of transaction) to solidify one’s appointment of an agent.
Nonetheless, it is important that the chametz gets sold properly and that all parties involved view it as a legal sale rather than a mere ritual. Thus, it is common practice to fill out a form that acts as a legal document (shtar) as well as to engage in a kinyan sudar, a symbolic act of transaction performed with a cloth which demonstrates the transfer of authority through this agent.
Thus, R’ Ephraim Greenblatt (Rivevos Ephraim 1:293) writes that while one can appoint their rav to sell their chametz over the phone, it isn’t ideal.
In conclusion, one should try their utmost to sell their chametz in person with their rav, due to the severity of the sale. One who is housebound can sell their chametz online or by phone if necessary.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Eating Sefardi Matza

Question: I have a hard time digesting so much matza on seder night. Am I allowed to eat the softer ‘sefardi matza’?
Answer: The Shulchan Aruch (OC 460:5) writes that one must ensure not to bake one’s matza as thick as a tefach. The Rema (OC 460:4) writes that one should bake them thin (rekikin) which don’t leaven quickly.
Similarly, the Shulchan Aruch Harav (OC 460:10) writes that one shouldn’t make matzos too thick as the inside won’t bake as well as the outside of the matza. While one may bake a matza less than a tefach thick, it is ideal to make it thin. The Chasam Sofer (OC 121) likewise writes that thick matza does not bake as well as thin matza.
While these poskim don’t define what is considered thin, the Baer Heitev (460:8) quotes the Beis Hillel (YD 97) who explains that the custom was to bake matza thinner than regular bread, and to make them the thickness of a finger. Thus, the Aruch Hashulchan (OC 486:2) writes about matza that is soft and bendy like a sponge.
This is even thicker than most ‘sefardi matza’ today. Based on this, it would seem that even the Rema would allow eating the softer ‘sefardi matza’.
R’ Asher Weiss (Minchas Asher 3:44; 45) demonstrates that olden day matzos were far thicker than ours. Our thin cracker-type matzos developed for commercial purposes as they last much longer. Nonetheless, he concludes that it is ideal for ashkenazim to eat thinner matzos (See Halichos Shlomo, Pesach 9:41:80).
In conclusion, it is clear that this ‘sefardi matza’ was the standard matza throughout the ashkenazi communities. While there is a preference among some poskim for ashkenazim to eat cracker-type matzos, one may eat ‘sefardi matzos’ if necessary.