How Shall We Secure Our Synagogues? by Yosef Kanefsky

January 12, 2016

It was billed as a “synagogue security meeting”, specifically for rabbis. And because we are living in the times we’re living, I drove over to our local Federation building yesterday and sat myself down around the board table. I wondered to myself though, why there needed to be a synagogue security meeting specifically for rabbis. Like so many of my colleagues, I am blessed with conscientious and smart lay-leadership who have been working hard on assessing and enhancing our synagogue’s security measures. And I was actually pretty certain that they had already been in contact with these very same Federation experts. What was it that was going to be rabbi-specific about this meeting, I asked myself. What is the specific rabbinic angle on the security situation?

Without taking anything away from what unfolded over the following hour – the presentation was extremely impressive, and I was grateful for having being invited to hear it – the bottom line was that the meeting didn’t really turn out to be rabbi-specific at all. It offered the same information that had been presented to lay-leaders. Nonetheless, the question about the unique rabbinic angle lingered with me. And the more I thought about it, the more sure I became that there certainly was one, that there must be something specific that I in particular should be focusing on.

My first idea emerged from the “pastoral” file. If people are anxious and worried, I reasoned, this must be affecting their family lives and relationships. And this is something that rabbis can and should engage, and have a unique way of doing so. But with some more contemplation, it occurred to me that the core issue is not pastoral in natural, rather spiritual. For living in a state of existential insecurity, can existentially threaten the life of the spirit.

Judaism, Torah, and Mitzvot all trade on the currency of optimism and faith. The world is a wondrous and miraculous place, we are asked to believe. God’s beneficence is in evidence everywhere, from the rising of the sun to the falling of the dew, from the food we have on our tables, to the basic bodily functioning that we too often take for granted, from the love we feel for our spouse, to the joy we derive from our children. And all of these blessings and wonders and miracles can and will persist and will be the gifts of generations to come, as long as we human beings can fulfill our fundamental charge to create communities and societies that function as effective delivery vehicles for these blessings and wonders. It is because we believe that the world is filled with goodness, that we structure our lives around perpetuating and channeling that goodness.

But what happens to us and our fundamental vision, when the foundations shake, when we begin to suspect that our fundamental optimism and faith are nothing more than naiveté and dangerous stupidity? How does this begin to reshape our personal vision, our communal goals?

We are taught, as a matter of Halacha, to see fellow human beings as noble bearers of the Divine image, whom we are commanded to greet cheerfully, whose material and emotional needs we are asked to engage, and to whom we are required to grant the benefit of the doubt. What happens to our ability to discharge our Halachik responsibilities when we feel no choice but to be fundamentally suspicious, to fear the worst, to see others as people from whom, first and foremost, we need to protect ourselves?

These are hard questions, and the geo-political reality which raises them is very real, and indeed very dangerous. Our worries over our security are very legitimate, and the need to enhance our security is very real. But what is the collateral damage? How will it change us, and change the nature of our Judaism? What we can do to protect ourselves from this threat?

I don’t know. Yet. But these are the rabbinic questions. Which is to say, these are the Jewish questions. And we need to have extraordinary meetings to address this too.

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Can a Smoker Serve As A Witness?

January 3, 2016

6a00d83451b71f69e201774376c635970d-400wiRabbi Eliyahu Abergel (pronounced Aberjel) has taken an unprecedented step in practically applying the ban on smoking.

(See below for other considerations of this ruling, including applications to agunot)

After ruling that smoking is against Halacha, as many other poskim have done, he proceeds to take it one step further and bans a smoker from serving as a witness (Techumin Journal #33).
Rav Abergel’s  road to this conclusion is pretty straightforward.
He starts with the obligation to protect our well being.


שולחן ערוך יורה דעה הלכות מאכלי עובדי כוכבים סימן קטז
סעיף ה
צריך ליזהר מליתן מעות בפיו, ג שמא יש עליהן רוק יבש של מוכי שחין. ולא יתן ז] פס ידו תחת שחיו, שמא נגע ידו במצורע או בסם רע. ח] ולא יתן ככרלחם תחת השחי, מפני הזיעה. (ד) ולא יתן (ה) תבשיל ד ולא משקים תחת המטה, מפני שרוח רעה שורה עליהם. ולא ינעוץ סכין בתוך אתרוג או בתוךצנון, שמא יפול אדם על חודה, וימות. הגה: ט] וכן יזהר מכל דברים המביאים (ו) לידי סכנה, י] כי סכנתא חמירא מאיסורא ויש לחוש יותר לספק סכנה מלספק איסור, יא] ולכן אסור לילךבכל מקום סכנה כמו ה תחת קיר נטוי יב] או יחידי בלילה, יג] וכן אסרו לשתות מים מן הנהרות בלילה יד] או להניח פיו על קלוח המים לשתות, כי דברים אלו יש בהן חשש סכנה (רמב”ם). טו] ומנהגפשוט ו שלא לשתות מים <ד> בשעת (ז) התקופה, וכן כתבו הקדמונים, ואין לשנות (אבודרהם ומרדכי ס”פ כל שעה רוקח סימן ער”ה ומהרי”ל ומנהגים). טז] עוד כתבו שיש (ח) לברוח מן העיר כשדברבעיר, ויש לצאת מן העיר בתחלת הדבר, יז] <ה> ולא בסופו (תשובת מהרי”ל סי’ ל”ה /מ”א/). וכל אלו הדברים הם משום סכנה, ושומר נפשו ירחק מהם יח] ואסור לסמוך אנס או לסכן נפשו בכל כיוצאבזה. (ועיין בחושן משפט סימן תכ”ז).
He then moves on to the disqualification of a willful sinner from being a witness.
שולחן ערוך חושן משפט הלכות עדות סימן לד
עדים הפסולים מחמת עבירה, ובו ל”ה סעיפים
סעיף א
א }א{ רשע פסול לעדות, ב א) א’] ואפילו עד כשר, שיודע בחבירו שהוא רשע, ואין הדיינים מכירים רשעו, <א> אסור לו <ב> להעיד עמו, ג א{ אע”פשהוא <ג> עדות אמת (ל’ הרמב”ם פ”י מעדות). }ב{ ואצ”ל עד כשר שהוא יודע בעדות לחבירו, וידע שהעד השני שעמו עד שקר, שאסור לו להעיד.
סעיף ב
א] איזהו רשע, <ד> כל שעבר עבירה }ג{ שחייבים עליה מלקות; א’) ואצ”ל אם חייבים עליה מיתת ב”ד. ל”ש אם עבר לתיאבון, ל”ש אם עבר להכעיס.הגה: [א] ב] עבר עבירה ב) <ה> שאין בה מלקות, <ו> ב’] פסול מדרבנן (רבינו ירוחם נ”ב ח”ד).
סעיף ג
היתה עבירה <ז> שעבר מדרבנן, (א) }ד{ <ח> פסול מדרבנן. הגה: ג] וי”א בדבר מדבריהם, ב{ בעינן שעבר }ה{ ג’] משום חימוד ממון (ר”י נ”ב ח”ד ותוס’ פ’ איזהו נשך ועיטור).
Rav Abergel continues as follows:
One interesting aspect of the smoking in Halacha discussion is to follow the progression of the poskim on this issue.
In 2006 the Rabbinical Council of America published a teshuva prohibiting smoking. The Teshuva does a good job examining the reasons why Rav Feinstein did not forbid smoking and explaining why his reasoning no longer applies.
In the interim period, many poskim have declared smoking to be forbidden, including –  Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, Rabbi Ephraim Greenblatt, Rav Avigdor Nebenzahl, Rav Eliezer Waldenberg and Rav Ovadia Yosef.
So we have gone from smoking being healthy to, while not good for you, not forbidden.
Finally, we come to Rav Abergel and his continuation of the process – from healthy, to not recommended, to forbidden but without practical consequences, to forbidden and therefore considered willfully sinful behavior.
Other considerations:
  1. This ruling would have interesting ramifications in terms of invalidating a witness, for example, in the case of a woman who is unable to secure a Get.
  1. For more on non observant witnesses, see here, pg. 135. Of course, if a non observant person is an acceptable witness, then so is a smoker and the point above is moot.
  1. We see here an example of a ruling that follows logic (if smoking is prohibited, then a smoker is a willful sinner and cannot serve as a witness), and can be used to achieve desirable goals (#1 above), perhaps being undone by another important ruling (#2).

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