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Pesach and Corona Teshuvos

TEVILAS KEILIM WHEN THE MIKVAH IS CLOSED

Aside from the mitzvah of performing Tevilas Keilim, there is a prohibition to use metal and glass dishes and utensils prior to their immersion in a Mikvah. In these days where the Coronavirus has closed many mikvaos and it is not possible to use the regular community keilim mikvah, a reasonable effort should be made to find a natural body of water (ocean, pond, river etc) where utensils can be immersed. Please note that when using a natural body of water, care must be taken to immerse the item in its entirety below the water. If it would be overly strenuous to travel and immerse the utensils in such a body of water, one should try and use disposable utensils whenever possible relying on the opinion of Rav Moshe Feinstein that disposable aluminum utensils do not require tevilas keilim. If these options are not available, the Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 120:16 permits one to transfer ownership of the vessels to a non-Jew in order to relieve the obligation of tevilas keilim and the prohibition of using the utensils prior to immersion. However, this is not necessarily a reasonable option at this time when people are committed to maintaining standards of social distancing. Therefore, since we are facing a unique situation of great need and limited options, it is permitted to use utensils that have not been immersed aft er renouncing ownership of the utensils. When declaring the utensils as ownerless one must:

  • Have full intent that they are truly declaring the items as truly ownerless and that if someone were to take the item before the original owner were to reclaim them they would be willing to let the item go.
  • The declaration must be to 3 people who live in your neighborhood, so that one of them has the ability to potentially acquire the item and two people could be witnesses to say that the other person did not steal the item. 2 of the people should be valid Halachic witnesses.
  • This doesn’t have to be done in front of 3 people. It can be declared over email or social media to 3 people. After declaring that the items are ownerless you should move the items out of your physical house or apartment and let them remain outside for a few minutes where someone could potentially come and take them. Because the above approach is due to the difficult and pressing circumstances that we are currently facing, once a Mivkah, or an opportunity for immersing the utensils, becomes available the individual must take the items to be immersed without a bracha before using them again.

TAANIS BECHOROS: FAST OF THE FIRST BORN

Regarding the Fast of the Firstborn, Rabbi Yosef Eliyahu Henkin wrote that in our time the custom of firstborn sons fasting no longer exists because everyone participates in a siyum. There is clearly no mandate to fast since we find people don’t participate in an actual Seudas Mitzvah and instead, following the siyum, they simply partake of some juice and cookies. Therefore, Rabbi Henkin felt it was proper to give tzedakah to take the place of the custom of fasting. In past years those people who are traveling on Erev Pesach have participated in a siyum over the phone or internet. The same practice can be relied upon this year when we are not gathering together because of the Coronavirus.

USE OF ELECTRONIC DEVICES ON YOM TOV FOR THE ISOLATED

If the government or a physician has decided that an individual must remain in isolation over the course of Yom Tov and this individual has a psychological condition where physicians who know this patient have determined that there is a possibility that this person being alone over the course of Yom Tov would be in a situation of pikuach nefesh (possible suicide) if the individual was not able to communicate or speak with family members, then the family members must reach out to this person over Yom Tov to speak on the phone or use the internet by leaving a connection open from before Yom Tov. Rav Moshe Feinstein has decided that, in certain circumstances, psychological danger is considered life threatening. Rabbi Soloveitchik went further and noted, in the name of his grandfather Rav Chaim Soloveitchik, that even if there is a concern that someone will lose his or her mind even if their life is not in danger, that too is considered a case of Pikuach Nefashos. If a person is physically ill and alone and the physicians have determined that there is a possibility of the condition deteriorating further to a point of being life threatening, then the family must remain in contact using electronic devices with that person over the course of Yom Tov in order to check on the person’s well being. If a parent who is ill lives outside of Israel and the parent has a non-Jewish aide then the children who live in Israel are allowed to call the non-Jew and speak with the non-Jew when it is Yom Tov outside of Israel and not Yom Tov in Israel in order to check in on the parent. Those family members in Israel can also ask the non-Jew to show the parent a live screen of the family so that the patient can see that his family members are safe and healthy. It is also proper to tell the non-Jewish aide in America that if the patient is upset or concerned over Yom Tov and the patient would like to speak to family members, then the non-Jew should remind the patient that it is Pesach or the Sabbath and that after the Sabbath and holiday is over they will certainly be able to speak on the phone. However, if someone is not as ill as described above, however they must be confined and alone because of the circumstances related to the Coronavirus then they may not use any electronic devices in order to connect to family members on Shabbos and Yom Tov. Although it is painful and sad to be alone and people want to be with family and friends, this is not a sakanas nefashos, a life threatening situation, and there is no place at all to allow the violation of Shabbos and Yom Tov. If a person were to leave the phone on before Yom Tov and conduct a Pesach Seder from their home so that others can follow along (like Baalei Teshuvah who may not know how to run a Seder) there may be reason to be lenient under great and pressing circumstances. However, to leave a computer screen on and to have people watch and connect over the internet is a greater concern of violating Shabbos and Yom Tov since it creates images and pictures when the people move. Another possible suggestion for those who are unfamiliar with the Pesach Seder is to create videos of how to run a Pesach Seder and in the weeks leading up to Pesach people can watch and learn from this video in order to know what to do when Pesach arrives. However, the video may not be played over Shabbos and Yom Tov. If the individual in need of help is handicapped and these preparations from before Yom Tov are not sufficient then they should rely on listening to the live Seder over the phone. If the government and medical professionals have said that it is not safe for parents and children to be together then children may not visit for Pesach, even at the insistence of the parents. Not listening to the parents in this situation is not a violation of Kibbud Av V’Em.

DISHWASHERS ON PESACH

Regarding the use of a dishwasher that was used for Chametz. If all of the material of the walls of the dishwasher are metal, even though the metal may contain a certain percentage of porcelain, since the metal is the majority we can kasher the dishwasher for Pesach. (Ashkenazim have a Minhag to not kasher glass utensils for Pesach, therefore even if only part of the inside wall or door of the dishwasher consists of glass Ashkenazim would not kasher). To kasher a dishwasher one must first wait 24 hours without using the dishwasher. Then one should run the empty dishwasher on a full cycle. Th e cleaning cycle should be run with just water burning hot water and no detergent. (If many people in the home are using hot water at that time then the water in the dishwasher may not be hot enough). Th e custom for Ashkenazim is that a kashering should only be done in order to remove the status of something that is Treif or Chametz. However, this should not be done in order to make a vessel that is dairy into Pareve or a meat vessel into Pareve. In general, the kashering of a dishwasher in this manner relies on a number of leniencies and in years where there is no great need one should not rely on this approach. MINHAGIM Regarding the observance of Minhagim and stringencies during times when keeping these practices are difficult. Generally, if one wants to discontinue observing one’s Minhagim and stringencies it would require annulling the vow, Hataras Nedarim. However, if a person is in a situation where they would like to continue following their customs and now circumstances have made it difficult to keep the Minhag for the time being, then it is understood that under difficult circumstances the practice of the stringency should not apply. Therefore, one can suspend the practice of the custom or stringency without annulling the vow with Hataras Nedarim. When the circumstances return to the way they were before the crisis then the individual should continue practicing their customs as before. It is important for individuals and families to ask their rabbi what is a Din (a real law) and what is a Minhag, a custom.

THE CORRECT BEHAVIOR WHEN DEALING WITH DANGER

Many have the mistaken impression that the Jewish religion places much emphasis on death and respect for the dead; after all, we recite kaddish, yizkor, observe shiva, and yahrzeit, etc. This is a gross misunderstanding. The respect that we show for the dead is a carryover from the respect that we show for the living. The Gemorah (Kesubos 17a, see Shitah Mekubetzes) tells us that whenever there is a conflict between kovod ha’chayim and kovod ha’meisim, kovod ha’chaim takes precedence. When the chevra kadisha brings in the aron at a funeral, everyone stands up. People mistakenly think that we stand up out of respect for the niftar, but in many cases we never stood up for him when he was alive, so why should we stand up for him now that he passed away? The Bartenurah (Mishnayos Bikurim 3:3) explains that we are not standing up out of respect for the niftar but rather out of respect for the members of the chevra kaddisha who are presently involved in the fulfillment of a mitzvah. The respect for the living is based on the premise that all human beings were created b’tzelem Elokim. When the Torah requires us to demonstrate kovod ha’meis, it means that even after the person passed away and no longer has tzelem Elokim, i.e. a neshama, we still have to act respectfully towards the body because it used to have a tzelem Elokim. Of the six hundred and thirteen mitzvos, one of the most important is the mitzvah of v’chai bohem v’lo sh’yomus bohem (Yoma 85b). Not only does the halacha require that if there is a sofek sakanah we must violate almost all of the mitzvos in the Torah to save a life, but we are also required to do so even if there is only a s’fek s’feika, a remote possibility (Yoma 85a). The Gemorah (ibid) adds that even if the likelihood is that by violating Shabbos or whatever other aveira we most probably will not be saving anyone’s life, we still do not abstain from the action due to that likelihood (rove – majority). When Bnei Yisroel were traveling in the midbar for 40 years, the weather conditions were such that there was a slight sakanah in performing bris milah. Most of the sh’votim did not fulfill the mitzvah except for sheivet Levi[1]. They had an Orthodox rabbi among them, i.e. Moshe Rabbeinu. Why didn’t all the shevatim ask him what to about this sofek sakanah? If it is a real sofek sakanah he should not have permitted sheivet Levi to perform the mitzvah despite their pietistic protests, and if the sofek sakanah was so insignificant that it simply should have been dismissed, why didn’t he insist that all the shevatim perform the mitzvah of milah? The Gemorah (Yevamos 12b) tells us that the answer is to be found in Tehillim (116:6), “Shomer p’soyim Hashem.” Whenever there is a slight sofek sakanah that is nowhere near fifty-fifty[2], the halacha declares that it depends on the attitude of the patient. If the patient whose life is at risk (or the parent of the patient who is responsible for his well-being) is personally not nervous about the danger, then the halacha does not consider it a sofek sakanah; we apply “Shomer p’soyim Hashem.” But if the patient whose life is at risk is nervous and concerned about the sofek sakanah, then the halacha requires us to act based on, “V’chai bohem v’lo sh’yomus bohem”, and the sofek sakanah takes precedence over almost all of the mitzvos of the Torah. Shevet Levi had bitachon, and therefore were not concerned, and therefore for their children it was not considered a sofek sakanah, but with respect to the other shevatim who were concerned it was in fact a sofek sakanah, so every shevet was acting k’din. However, if one individual is not concerned, but the nature of the sakanah is such that everyone is interdependent and the individual who personally is not nervous may possibly spread a disease to others who are concerned about its spread, then the concept of Shomer p’soyim Hashem does not apply. The individual who is not concerned does not have the right to determine for the others who are concerned that there is no sakanah for them. The Rakanti[3] relates that one of Ba’alei Ha’tosfos was deathly sick before Yom Kippur and the doctors warned him that if he fasts he will certainly die but if he eats on Yom Kippur there is a slim chance that he may survive. He decided to fast, and of course he died. All of the Ba’alei Ha’tosfos were upset over his decision and felt that he went against the halacha. If a terrorist threatens to kill me unless I violate one of the mitzvos of the Torah, the halacha usually is that pikuach nefesh takes precedence over most of the mitzvos in the Torah. What if an individual wants to put up a fight knowing that he may well lose his life but thinks that by being moser nefesh he will fulfill the mitzvah of kiddush Hashem? This matter was a famous dispute amongst the Rishonim. The Rambam’s opinion is that one may not volunteer to give up his life al kiddush Hashem when not required by halacha because this is tantamount to suicide[4]. Many other Rishonim disagreed with the Rambam. However, if there is no terrorist pressuring me to violate my religion, but there is merely a dangerous situation of sickness then all of the Ba’alei Ha’tosfos agreed with the Rambam that it would not constitute a midas chassidus to ignore the sakanah[5]. In determining what is a sakanah and what is not, the practice of the Tanoim always was to follow the doctors of their generation. Every so often the Rambam would take a stand on a medical issue against what it says in the Gemorah and the Chasam Sofer (Teshuvos, Yoreh Deah #101) explains that the Rambam was a doctor and he did exactly as the Tanoim did, namely, to follow the doctors of his generation. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 331:9) also says explicitly that we follow the doctors of our generation even in contradiction to the medicine recommended in the Gemorah. We should certainly do the same as the Rambam and the Shulchan Aruch and follow the doctors of our generation in determining what is considered a sakanah and what is not considered a sakanah. Some well-meaning individuals have blown out of halachic proportion the significance of tefillah b’tzibur and talmud Torah b’rabim and have opted to ignore the sofek sakanah presented by the corona virus when in conflict with these two most important mitzvos. We live in a generation where many b’nei Torah tend to exaggerate the significance of Torah and tefillah. Although their intention is certainly l’shaim Shomayim, we must all keep in mind that when paskening shailos, one may not rely on an exaggeration. All exaggerations by definition are sheker – a misrepresentation of the truth of the Torah. Rav Chaim Volozhiner signs off quite a few of his teshuvos saying, “Keil Emes, Nosan lanu Toras Emes, u’bilti el ho’emes eineinu – the true God gave us the true Torah, and we only look for the truth.” Any exaggeration in the area of Torah and halacha is clearly a misrepresentation of our religion. The commentaries on Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 157) refer to the comments of the Maharshal in his sefer Yam Shel Shlomo (Bava Kamma 38a) that to misrepresent a law of the Torah constitutes an aveira related to avodah zorah[6] and as such would be subject to the principle of yeihoreig v’al ya’avor. With respect to a sofek sakanah the halacha clearly requires that we go extremely l’chumrah. Especially religious Jews, who know that they are charged with a mission in life, should certainly be extremely machmir on matters of sofek sakanah. Although every word of a poem appears in the dictionary, the poet conveys an idea by putting the words in a certain order. So too, different people can have the same ideas and the same principles, but if you put them in a different arrangement you have changed the whole understanding of each one of the principles[7]. Once you exaggerate the significance of any particular mitzvah, you have misrepresented the whole picture of kol haTorah kula.

TAKING HAIRCUTS

Currently, local authorities have closed barber shops due to the Coronavirus, making it impossible to have one’s hair cut before Pesach. Normally, hair may not be cut on Chol HaMoed. However, should the situation be resolved during Chol HaMoed, it will be permissible to do so this year. Halacha provides for an exception in circumstances where an obstacle, that was obvious to all of the people in the neighborhood, made it impossible for an individual to have his hair cut before Yom Tov. In the event that the situation continues into the days of Sefira, but ends before Lag B’Omer, even those who normally observe the customary mourning during the “first days” of Sefira may cut their hair, provided that it has been at least two months since their last haircut.