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11 Tishrei 5767 - October 3, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








When You Go Out to War — HaRav Yitzchok Silberstein Discusses Questions Arising During Wartime

by B. Re'eim

This past summer, the Jews of Eretz Yisroel fought another war, a difficult war that claimed many lives, Hy'd. Besides the general arousal to strengthen Torah study and prayer, wartime gives rise to its own particular situations and questions of halochoh. During the weeks that the country was at war a variety of such questions, some concerning those on the front and others touching on life behind the lines, were put to HaRav Yitzchok Silberstein, rov of Bnei Brak's Ramat Elchonon neighborhood. At our request, HaRav Silberstein allowed B. Re'em to present the following selection of questions and answers to our readers.

Question One: Should Festive Meals Be Held in Wartime?

Is it correct to hold a festive sheva brochos meal when in another apartment in the same building a family sits shiva for their son who was killed by our enemies?

Answer: Shut Mishneh Sochir (Vol. II, siman 18) brings the following question. "On Rosh Chodesh Tammuz 5700 (1940) we completed maseches Megilloh, having learned it with the householders who submit to my authority. Some of them said that we shouldn't hold a festive siyum at the present time because of the suffering that our generation is undergoing, this not being the appropriate time for getting together and celebrating. Some of them said that while it can't be canceled completely because it's a seudas mitzvah, it should be held on a smaller scale, without inviting any of the honorables who no longer belong to the chevra Shas, as would ordinarily have been done. The meal itself should also be scaled down, without meat and wine. I was asked for my opinion."

The response was: "Chas vesholom that such a great mitzvah, whose rewards are immeasurable, should be canceled. Neither should the size of the gathering be reduced. The others should also be invited, so as to honor the Ruler of the world with a large crowd. The merit of holding a seudas mitzvah — especially a siyum — is sufficient to push off any evil or harsh decrees and bring the arrival of Moshiach tzidkeinu closer, bimheiroh beyomeinu.

"Ever since the war — known as the World War — broke out in 5674 (1914), these seudas have been suspended. This has caused all these chaburos to fall apart and almost cease operating. At the time, I protested this and told them that they weren't doing the right thing, chas vesholom, canceling these seudas that protect us from our enemies.

"I cited proof from Rashi (Succah 55, concerning the shir shel yom): ` `Mi yokum li' and `Binu bo'arim' are one and the same psalm (Tehillim 94). `Binu bo'arim' comes first, then `Mi yokum li' and they said the later pesukim first . . . because Mi yokum li speaks about their troubles — their having been ruled during the Bayis Sheini by the kings of Persia, Greece and Rome. Yet they did not refrain from rejoicing in the joy of their King and praying, `Who will rise up on our behalf to save us from these evil ones . . . Despite our troubles we don't refrain from delighting in Your comfort . . .' It is thus explicit that we ought not to let the troubles of exile make us forget the joy of our King." This is what Mishneh Sochir writes.

To this one can add the following. One of the means of acquiring Torah is `bearing one's friend's burden' (Ovos 6:6). How can one engage in making a chosson and kallah rejoice when in the same house, people are sitting shiva, sighing and moaning? The gemora (Gittin 57) says that in Tur Malka at a time of Divine retribution the Jews on one side were being slaughtered while those on the other side, completely unaware of what was happening to their brethren, were celebrating. This situation is similar to the case in point. It is thus inappropriate for the sounds of feasting and celebration to be heard in that house; instead the bride and groom should be gladdened with divrei Torah.

The following is written in the introduction to ShuT Achiezer. "Depressing thoughts flit across a reflecting heart. Is a time of emergency, like the present, the right moment for publishing seforim? Or [to paraphrase Chazal]: `While the Jewish nation is drowning in an ocean of tears, you are singing praises?' Hashem's heichal is going up in flames; the fire has taken hold of the Aron Hakodesh; the Luchos and parchments are engulfed in flames — yet you are occupied with decorations and adornments?

"This however, is the strength that authentic Judaism has always found for its G-d and His Torah, in every generation, during every period and whatever the occasion. Even with a sharp sword resting on their necks Hashem's Torah occupied them all day long. Even at the time of the churban, when the nation's survival was endangered and when the power of the Tziddukim increased, the Perushim never removed their thoughts from Yisroel's Torah, even momentarily."

To sum up — a seudas siyum should be held with a large attendance. May the merit of this meal be a point in our favor, to save us from our enemies.

Question Two: Saying Tehillim in a Shelter Where Men and Women are Present Without any Division

When the siren is heard people run to the air raid shelter in fright and say Tehillim. Is this permitted where there is no partition dividing men and women? Should one refrain from praying?

Answer: The gemora (Succah 52) cites the posuk, "And the land will lament, family by family" (Zecharya 12), explaining that it refers to "the royal family of Dovid, separately from their wives." The Chasam Sofer (Choshen Mishpat 190) cites this as proof that at times of prayer, thanksgiving or eulogizing, men and women should be separated in order to prevent improper thoughts, even when the women are not forbidden relatives, for example one's own wife. In our case too, prayer will be forbidden without some partition, even between brothers and sisters.

However, ShuT Igros Moshe (Orach Chaim, vol. V, siman 12) writes, "Among family members only, in a temporary manner, no partition is necessary." The gemora (Niddah 13) tells us that at a time of fear, improper thoughts do not arise. Therefore one can be lenient.

Igros Moshe (Orach Chaim vol. I, siman 39) writes, "In a gathering place a partition is required by Torah law. Therefore, in our botei knesses where we gather for prayer, there must be a partition in order to prevent levity."

It may be that when the Igros Moshe writes that it is forbidden for men and women to pray in the same place without a partition he means that it must be avoided where possible but that one would not have to refrain from saying Tehillim in a bomb shelter in the absence of a partition. Proof can be adduced from the Mishnah Berurah (315:5) who permits making a partition for privacy on Shabbos, for example, to separate between men and women who are listening to a droshoh. If it were forbidden without a partition, the partition would be one that changes halachic status, which is forbidden to put up on Shabbos, as the Shulchan Oruch states there. It must therefore be that prayer — especially in times of misfortune, may Hashem have mercy — is permitted in the absence of a partition when there is no way to make one.

To sum up: When making a partition is impossible, one may pray even without one.

Question Three: Taking Sacks of Concrete From a Factory that was Later Bombed

On Shabbos parshas Devorim tens of missiles landed in . . . They did not hit inhabited places, with the single exception of a factory that operated on Shabbos, which received a direct hit. The factory and its contents were utterly destroyed.

This gave rise to the following question. A person took several sacks of concrete from the factory on erev Shabbos in order to protect the windows in his home from damage in case of an attack, intending to pay for them later, which the Shulchan Oruch permits (Choshen Mishpat 359:4). Does he still have to pay, now that the entire factory and all its stock was destroyed?

Answer: In this case it seems straightforward that he has to pay, because when he took the sacks it was not apparent that a missile would strike. The owner himself could have removed the sacks to a different place and the customer cannot absolve himself of an obligation to pay that he already had. The only question would be if he took the sacks after the missile had been launched and was headed for the factory. Perhaps it transpires that he took something that then had no value.

The Shulchan Oruch (Choshen Mishpat 386:4) rules that if one person threw an object from a roof and someone else came and smashed it while it was falling, the second person is exempt from paying because "he broke a broken vessel" (Bava Kama 17). Tosafos distinguishes between a case where the vessel itself was originally thrown and a case where an arrow was shot at it. In the second case the vessel still has monetary value until it actually breaks. In our case the missile corresponds to an arrow and the customer has to pay.

The Ketzos HaChoshen (siman 390) however, proves that the Rosh disagrees with Tosafos' distinction and writes that this is how the Tur and the Shulchan Oruch apparently rule. Thus, once the missile was on its way, the stock in the factory may already be considered to have had no value.

One can argue however, that in this case, even the Ketzos would agree [to Tosafos] because even after its launching it was still unclear that the missile would fall exactly where it did. There are many intervening factors that could have caused it to fall elsewhere, unlike an arrow whose path and eventual target are determined as soon as it has been shot. Possibly then, the sacks would not be considered ownerless. If the missile had accurate aiming however and the normal course of events was for it eventually to hit the spot that it did — just that we did not know in advance where this would be — then according to the Ketzos the sacks might be considered ownerless and the customer who took them after the launching would not have to pay.

Question Four: The Theft of a Gas Canister Helped the Victim by Averting a Major Explosion

A Jew stole a canister of gas from a factory that was shortly afterwards hit by a missile. Had the canister been in its place the factory would have sustained major damage. The thief thus benefited the factory's owner. Does he have to pay for what he stole?

Answer: Reuven quarreled with Shimon and went into Shimon's store and smashed several barrels of spirits that were there. Immediately after this, policemen and detectives entered the store searching for smuggled spirits. They found nothing. Had Reuven not broken the barrels, Shimon would have been heavily punished. Reuven's act of vandalism saved him. The Mekor Chaim (siman 32) was asked whether Reuven has to pay for the damage he did.

His response was that Reuven is exempt from paying because the spirits are considered to have been worthless — a few moments later they would have anyway have been spilled by the police. In such a case we judge Reuven based on what he actually did rather then what he intended to do (Menochos 64) and beis din do not make him pay.

Rav A. D. Horowitz (quoted in Pischei Choshen, Nezikin I, note 20) takes issue with the Mekor Chaim and argues that Reuven must pay. The gemora says (Bava Basra 55) that tax collectors sometimes forget to claim tax from a particular person, if he has Heavenly assistance. When Reuven broke the barrels he therefore became liable to pay and the fact that his actions later resulted in saving Shimon does not absolve him.

The Pischei Choshen proves further that Reuven has to pay, from the case of a ship at sea that is endangered by a storm and someone casts part of the cargo into the sea. In that case he is exempt because the cargo has the status of a "pursuer," whose presence endangers others (Shulchan Oruch Choshen Mishpat 380:4). If he would first have thrown the cargo overboard and then the storm would have begun he would have had to pay.

Proof to exempt the thief can be brought from a gemora in Bava Kama (74). Rabban Gamliel blinded his slave's eye and was very happy [because Tevi his slave, who was learned, would attain his freedom as a result]. Beis Yitzchok (Yore Dei'ah, vol. II, 101:2) (and the Yaavetz, Ibid.) ask why he was glad. He had transgressed the prohibition against hitting a fellow Jew and even if it was unintentional, he still needed atonement. He cites this as proof for the opinion of the Turei Even (Megilloh 28) that if a victim forgoes his injury the perpetrator does not transgress. Here too, Shimon was certainly happy about the damage and forgave Reuven.

This proof can be refuted. Since the factory owner was evidently not supposed to have sustained major damage, had the thief not stolen the canister the missile may not have fallen. He may therefore have to pay damages and obtain forgiveness. This though, is unclear. The gemora (Niddah 31) says, "`I thank You, Hashem, for having been angry with me; Your anger will recede and You will comfort me' (Yeshayohu 12:1). This refers to two people who left home to travel on business. One of them got a thorn in his foot [and couldn't go]. He started reviling and cursing. Afterwards he heard that his friend's ship had sunk at sea and he began giving thanks and praises." His injury saved him.

Here too, the theft may have resulted in deliverance. One could distinguish between the cases because here the damage was brought about through the actions of an agent possessing free will, so there may be some complaint against the thief.

I put this case to my brother-in-law HaRav Chaim Kanievsky and he dismissed the proof from Rabban Gamliel. Over there, the slave went free at the moment of the injury, because of the injury itself. Here however, at the time of the theft, the factory owner lamented his loss. Only later did it become apparent that in a roundabout way it had saved him. The thief still has to pay.

In my humble opinion, logic says that the thief has to pay because it is a general rule in the Torah that something that is in essence a benefit, even though one of its consequences is a liability, is nevertheless viewed as a benefit. The converse is also true. Something that is a liability is still considered as such even if it has a beneficial consequence (RaN, Gittin 37, Shulchan Oruch Orach Chaim 322:4) The Mishnah Berurah (se'if kotton 5) explains the rationale for this: We look only at the present, not at what the future might bring because things may not work out that way.

If however, the policemen and detectives had already surrounded Shimon's store when Reuven broke the barrels, he is exempt because his action was not one of damage but one of rescue, though he did not know it. Our case will therefore be the same.

To sum up: If the missile was already on its way to the factory when the theft took place the thief might be exempt. If it had not been launched when he stole the canister then he has to pay.

Question Five: Being Filmed While Engaged in Rescue Work

Is it correct for a Hatzalah worker to be filmed while selflessly rescuing the wounded, in order to provide a good example to others, or for fundraising purposes?

Answer: The gemora (Kesuvos 66) brings the following story. Rabban Yochonon ben Zakai was riding a donkey out of Yerushalayim and his disciples were following him on foot. He saw a young woman — the daughter of Nakdimon ben Gurion — gathering barley grains from among the dung dropped by the Arab's animals. He asked her, "What happened to your father's wealth?"

She replied, "Rabbi, don't they say this parable in Yerushalayim — To `salt' [i.e. preserve] money, deduct from it [by giving tzedokoh]?"

The gemora asks, "Didn't Nakdimon ben Gurion give tzedokoh? The beraissa says that when he left his house to go to the beis hamedrash they would spread pieces of lace beneath his feet and the poor would then come and fold them up." It answers, "You could say that he did this for his own honor, or you could say that he didn't do as much as he could have done."

Kovetz Shiurim (Kesuvos siman 224) asks on this gemora from Rashi in Pesochim (8) who writes that when a person does a mitzvah, intending both to fulfill the mitzvah and to derive benefit, he is still worthy of being called a complete tzaddik. He explains that we would have to say that here Nakdimon had only his own honor in mind — a very difficult assertion, in light of the fact that his name is explained (Gittin 56) as a reference to an incident when Heaven showed him special favor as a result of his generosity (Taanis 20).

Alternatively, to do a mitzvah for one's own honor is worse than hoping to derive personal benefit from it, as is the case in Pesochim. The former is akin to serving Hashem in partnership, as the Chovos Halevovos writes.

The Chofetz Chaim [however,] cites the gemora in Menochos (41) which says that at a time of Divine wrath, punishment is meted out for things that are normally not [immediately] punishable.

The incident related by the gemora in Kesuvos took place around the time of the destruction of the Beis Hamikdosh which was unparalleled as a time of Divine wrath; thus Nakdimon's punishment was much worse than it would ordinarily have been.

With regard to our case, at a time of war one should serve Hashem by practicing `pure' kindness towards others without any ulterior motive and it should be done quietly and privately. If Hatzalah need such footage in order to help them raise funds they can film their worker but they should obscure his face so that his deeds remain untainted [by pride] — Nakdimon ben Gurion was also a great man yet he fell prey [to this]. If the Hatzalah worker is pure- hearted he may be filmed.

Question Six: Can One Make a Brochoh on Sitting in a Succah When a Siren Sounds?

When the siren gives warning that a missile has been launched everyone leaves their home and heads for the shelter. May one enter the succah at such a time and make a brochoh on dwelling there? The gemora says, (Succah 4) "A person doesn't dwell in a sordid dwelling" — maybe in the same way, at such a time a person doesn't dwell in a succah but in a shelter. This question arose during the Yom Kippur War.

Answer: It seems that the succah is considered "a sordid dwelling" at such a time because it is in a place that isn't fit for dwelling. One could try and argue that "a sordid dwelling" only refers to a succah constructed in a way that makes it physically uncomfortable to dwell in, for example, because the leaves hang down very low. In our case though, the succah is fit to live in; the problem is the alarm, not the succah.

It is clear from the Ramo though (Orach Chaim, 640:4) that we do not make this distinction. If a person is afraid to stay in his succah because of thieves, it has the status of "a sordid dwelling," as the Vilna Gaon explains in his Biur.

It may be that where the problem is not with the succah itself but with some outside factor it will depend on the individual. The succah will be kosher for someone whose trust in Hashem is firm and who is unafraid to stay there. Dovid Hamelech said, "For He will hide me in His succah on the day of evil" (Tehillim 27:5). It is related that when Rav Chaim Yaakov Rottenberg zt'l (who served as rov of the Orthodox Kehilloh in Paris) was in one of the Nazi death camps he erected a succah on erev Yom Tov. As soon as he'd eaten a kezayis there he dismantled it - - that very night — because of the risk to life.

I know that during one of the wars in our Land, when the enemy was firing, people fled to the succah of the Kehillas Yaakov zt'l, and drew strength from being there. They felt that his succah afforded protection from a hail of fire. However, if someone is afraid then the succah is invalid and he should not be there.

(Orchos Rabbenu relates that Rav Ben Zion Bruk zt'l, told the Kehillas Yaakov that he remembered the Kehillas Yaakov as a bochur in chutz la'aretz sleeping in the succah while snow was falling. The Kehillas Yaakov laughed and said, "I was a fool and I acted foolishly," dismissing his self-sacrifice in fulfilling the mitzvah.)

[Where a person trusts in Hashem's protection] it is not like the case of thieves, or of low hanging leaves, where the Mishnah Berurah (siman 640, se'if kotton 22) apparently rules that it makes no difference if a person decides that these things do not disturb him. Missile attacks are relatively few and there is no real danger, but people are nervous by nature and go to the shelter. If a person gets the better of his fears and is unafraid he may act stringently, whereas if there is genuine danger of robbers he should not be stringent at all.

My brother-in-law HaRav Chaim Kanievsky's opinion is that our case isn't like a succah where there are thieves, in which case the succah is completely unfit for living in. Where there is just a passing alarm, it is like an isolated incident of a robber who chances to come into the succah; this doesn't render the succah invalid.

Question Seven: Less Now or More Later?

A man who drives tour buses and earns a very high wage asked the following question in Tammuz 5766. His employers had laid him off because there were no tourists due to the war. Should he seek other, lower-paying work or should he wait for the war to end and return to his original highly- paid job. He also wanted to know whether he should reach an agreement with the tour company now to receive low compensation, or wait until the war ends, when he'll probably receive what he deserves.

Answer: The gemora says in Succah (56), "A small pumpkin is better than a large one." Rashi explains: This is a common saying. If someone tells his friend, "I'm going to give you a small pumpkin still attached to the ground. If you prefer to pick it now, go ahead. Or, if you prefer, leave it attached to grow large." It's better for him to take it right away. Maybe later on the donor will have regrets, or he himself may not need it later on. Rabbenu Chananel also gives a similar explanation. Rashi and Tosafos understand Rabbenu Chananel as saying that it's better to take a little less now, than to take more later on, because one never knows what can happen.

ShuT Sho'el Umeishiv (Mahadura Kama, vol. I, 116 and vol. II, 165) writes that this is a source for beis din's practice of seeking some compromise when a man divorces his wife and cannot pay the whole of her kesubah, whereby he pays an amount that suffices for her food and upkeep. If she dies while married to him the kesubah is never claimed. MahariK (siman 7) notes that Rav Ashi (Kesuvos 83) differs with Abaye in Succah and does not agree that, "A small pumpkin is better than a large one."

Thus, according to the Sho'el Umeishiv the driver should seek other work despite the lower wage while, according to the MahariK, the matter needs further reflection.

Question Eight: Should a Wedding be Postponed for Larger Attendance, or be Held on Time With Minimum Numbers?

A couple planned to get married in Av 5766. The town where they live, where the wedding was to be held, was then a war zone. They are unsure what to do. Should they postpone the wedding to a later date when it could be held in a distant city away from the war with all their friends and relatives in attendance? Or should they hold it on time in their own town with minimum attendance, since the gemora says, "One should always bring a mitzvah forward" (Bava Kama 38)?

Answer: The gemora says (Kesuvos 2), "The Sages applied themselves to the benefit of the daughters of Israel, so that [the chosson] should take pains over the seudah for three days. They therefore instituted that a maiden marries on Yom Revi'i." The Shittah Mekubetzes explains that the chosson's happiness will be complete after having worked on the seudah for three days. This will make it more precious to him.

It would seem that in our case too, they should postpone the wedding in order to gain this `benefit of the daughters of Israel,' by going to the trouble of having a large wedding. (We see here an important principle in human nature. When a person invests time and resources in a particular venture, it becomes precious to him.) The gemora in Bava Kama that says one should bring a mitzvah forward refers to a situation where there are no other considerations.

An engaged couple were looking for a hall in which to hold their wedding. An expensive hall was available at an earlier date and they also had an offer to use the dining hall of a yeshiva for free, a month later. They asked my father-in-law HaRav Eliashiv whether they should postpone the wedding by a month in order to save a substantial sum and he replied that they were allowed to do so. It may be so in our case too. When there is another consideration it is permitted to postpone the wedding — further reflection is needed.

Question Nine: May One Sell a Mezuzoh to an Arab?

It was recently publicized that Arabs from Nazareth decided to affix mezuzas to their homes. They saw how the mezuzas on the homes of their Jewish neighbors protect them from robbery and the evil eye. A gentile doctor came and asked to buy a mezuzoh for the entrance to his clinic. Should we sell it to him? He also wanted help with making the brochoh on affixing it. May we teach him the brochoh?

Answer: The Ramo rules (Yore Dei'ah 291:2) that it is forbidden to give a mezuzoh to a gentile who wants to affix it to his door. But he adds, "It seems to me that where there is a possibility of arousing the gentile's resentment, possibly leading to a Jew's being harmed, it is permitted." (ShuT MahariL Hachadoshos #123 writes that even if the gentile promises to prevent the mezuzoh from being defiled it is still forbidden because if he sees that it doesn't save him he'll rebel and regret having fixed it.)

Emek Shailoh (She'ilta 145) writes that simply giving a mezuzoh to a gentile is a disgrace. The mezuzoh was written with the intention of being affixed to the doorway of a Jewish home, as it should be. To give it to a gentile is to slight the Torah's honor, yet the Ramo nevertheless permitted it where it might lead to resentment. Igros Moshe (Yore Dei'ah #184) writes that wherever something is permitted because of resentment, one of the fears is that the gentile will avenge himself on the Jew, while another fear is that he will become his hated enemy and there is a danger of loss of life.

In our case, if a refusal will cause resentment that could lead to hatred, it is permitted to give the gentile a mezuzoh but it should be placed within two coverings. We need not be concerned that he will treat it with contempt because he believes in it, as in the case of Rabbenu Hakodosh who sent a mezuzoh to Artabon.

It is also permitted to teach him the brochoh. The gemora (Brochos 51) says, "One doesn't answer omein after a Kusi who blesses unless one heard the entire brochoh." How can a gentile say the words, "Who has commanded us," which are untrue? If there is a risk of resentment that could lead to loss of life it is permitted.

If the Jew can write a special mezuzoh for the gentile, not for the purpose of being used for the mitzvah but nonetheless valid, this is preferable.

It is forbidden to sell an invalid mezuzoh to a gentile because it is tricking him. If the gentile sells his house to a Jew the buyer will have to take down the mezuzoh and put up one that has been written for the mitzvah.


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