Mixed Gender Functions

[Hat tip MD]

Recently, a question was asked of the Charedi Leumi Posek, Rav Aviner, about a 50 year reunion of a group of couples who had been part of a youth group 50 years prior. They would be attending, were frum, all with their wives, and the idea was that they would recollect memories and have an enjoyable evening. The question asked to him was

Is such a reunion permitted according to Halacha

I guess the mere fact that they asked Rav Aviner the question before going ahead with their reunion is testament to their frumkeit and fidelity to Halacha. Those who are not so beholden to their Rabbi, would not even ask a question.

At any rate, Rav Aviner’s answer was

“חלילה. זו מכבסת מילים לפעילות מעורבת. זה איסור חמור גם אם אלו יראי שמים. ולצערנו יש פעמים רבות פעילות המשך

In other words, definitely not permitted and is a serious halachic infraction even if the participants are frum! Rav Aviner opines that unfortunately, there are sometimes serious outcomes from such events.

In other words, age makes no difference, and one would assume, a fortiori, that this would be forbidden for younger couples. I won’t extrapolate to mixed tables of singles at a wedding who are looking for Shidduchim. Rav Aviner may have the same opinion as R’ Aron Soltoveitchik that this isn’t just permitted but desirable. It is dangerous to extrapolate in Halacha.

Upon hearing of this Psak, respected Rav Amnon Bazak (whose writings I am acquainted with and if I am not mistaken he may have visited Melbourne) of Har Etzyon, disagreed with Rav Aviner on three grounds.

  1. The attitude of the Rishonim and Acharonim on issues such as this, was and is tightly connected with the practices in such communities. In other words, if it was common place for men and women to meet, then Poskim such as the Bach, opined that it is permitted (if you want to read more about this examine the issue of whether to say שהשמחה במעונו at a mixed Sheva Brachos. If my memory serves me correctly, the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch is Machmir and says no). The point of Rav Bazak was that this is something which may well change from community to community. I wouldn’t expect this to happen in Satmar, or Belz, where the women aren’t even allowed to drive cars, of course.
  2. If one wants to say “those who are stringent will get a blessing”, this leaves is a sour taste because the idea that they get a blessing on account of people who really are not doing anything wrong according to plain Halacha.
  3. What’s the point in putting out words like ‘absolutely forbidden’ when this happens all the time, at tables, which involve Chachomim and Roshei Yeshivah at their meals?

There is also the question of when you have two long tables at a Sheva Brachos one with men and the other with women without a Mechitza. Some will still say this is “mixed” other will not, even according to those who argue with the Bach.

Mori V’Rabbi, R’ Hershel Schachter relates that R’ Moshe Feinstein ז’ל and R’ Yaakov Kaminetzy ז’ל  and others made weddings and there were mixed tables. He does however caution that times have changed somewhat to those days. He doesn’t use Rav Bazak’s arguments but notes that

  1. Women tend not to wear the ornate thick dresses that they wore in yesteryear, and sometimes, perhaps too often, are on the boundary of Tzniyus with flimsy clothing which leaves little to the imagination
  2. The music in those days was much slower and it was rare to find a women or man return to the table shvitzing with all that comes from that phenomenon and fine cloth.

Accordingly, he suggests caution at weddings.

Your views? I believe this is societal and something according to הרגלם and will change from group to group to the extent that a blanket opinion is elusive and probably not advised.

There is a lot of “Ess Past Nisht” and I’m not arguing. I’m just quoting and adding to this article

בענין סתירת הרמבם שלא יתערבו או שלא יסתכלו זה את זה,  כבר דשו ביה רבים

I mucked up with HaGomel

A few weeks ago I had a lucky if nor miraculous escape in a car accident. It didn’t involve any drivers or pedestrians. I had just turned the corner from outside our house, and was driving at about 30Kmh. The next thing I knew, I was bleeding and facing one of those big four-wheel drives with a huge external bumper bar parked on the opposite side of the road.

I couldn’t work out how I had gotten from one side of the road to the other and then head on into the parked car. You don’t want to hear the gory details (broken ankle in two places, ribs, sternum etc) but I worked out that my absent-mindedness with blood pressure tablets (a genetic predisposition which is fully in check) was responsible for me taking extra doses to the extent that my higher blood pressure reading was 80 at the time of the accident.

Anyway, I’m Baruch Hashem fine, relatively speaking and am thankful that this didn’t occur a few hundred meters down the road where I would have been on a main street.

There were no humans in the street after the accident, and I pulled my phone out, followed by calling my wife, Hatzola and the rest is history.

During the first two weeks I had this incredible itch to thank God for letting me survive such an ordeal. Finally on Thursday, I was able to get on my transport device and go to the Shule around the corner for Shachris to bench Gomel. My mind wasn’t quite right. I’d put on my Tefillin before my Tallis 🙂 and hadn’t thought it through, but I had such thanks that I wanted to give, I felt compelled to go and Bench HaGomel.

The issue though is that HaGomel is pronounced (certainly for internal injuries) when a person is fully healed (see Mishna Berura Siman 219:1). The Steipler Gaon in Orchos Rabbeinu, p 91, questions bone breakage as requiring HaGomel. My understanding is that he’s talking about a broken arm or leg from some “standard” style injury/fall that was never life threatening.

So what is the definition of fully healed. My ankle is in a cast, and all being well after 6 weeks if the bones knit well (it was the major bone) I imagine that they will put me in a moon boot or similar for another 6 weeks.

Am I “healed” once the cast is removed, with the rest being convalescence or am I not fully healed until I am walking around unaided by any device.

I asked Mori V’Rabbi R’ Hershel Schachter, who replied that one certainly does not make HaGomel until after the cast is removed. In respect of a moon boot or any other device designed to repatriate, he said that there is no Hagdoro (delineation) and one should do so when they feel that recovered.

So, in my enthusiasm to thank God for what was really a private miracle, I think I overstepped the boundary and probably made a Brocho Levatolo unless there is some Rishon or Acharon who holds you may. If that’s my greatest sin, I’ll take it!

Interesting to note that when one says HaGomel, many people forget to say Amen, before they answer Mi Shegmalcha  … Do you?

No need to wish me a Refuah Shelemah. I assume you do so 🙂

I broke the TALUS

Charity In a Changed Economy: An Interview with Rabbi Hershel Schachter

The following is copied from an interview in Jewish Action.

RHS: is Rav Hershel Schachter, JA: is R’ Gil Student

R' Schachter

JA: How much money should one give to tzedakah?

RHS: If one can afford it, the recommended amount is one-tenth of one’s annual earnings, which includes salary and interest earned. There are different opinions as to whether the one-tenth is applied to the total earned [aside from withheld taxes] or to the remainder after essential living expenses. I think the general practice follows the first opinion. Of course, this applies only if one can afford it. If one cannot afford to give one-tenth of his income to tzedakah then he should not.

The Gemara (Ketubot 50a), quoted by the Rambam (Hilchot Arachim 8:13), seems to say that the maximum one may give is 20 percent, because if one gives too much, one may become poor and dependent on the charity of others. In another place (Hilchot Matnot Aniyim 7:5), the Rambam sets the recommended amount, rather than the maximum, as 20 percent. Yaakov Avinu said (Bereishit 28:22) that from everything he will earn “aser a’asrenu lach,” he will give one tenth and then another tenth. The Chofetz Chaim (Ahavat Chesed II 50:2) resolves this contradiction regarding whether 20 percent is the maximum or the recommended amount. According to the Chofetz Chaim, if poor people are knocking at one’s door asking for donations, if one can afford it, then one should give up to 20 percent. But if people are not asking for that much then the recommended level of giving is 10 percent.

JA: When giving tzedakah, can people decide entirely on their own whom to give?

RHS: A person does have some tovat hana’ah, the right to decide whom to give the money, but not that much. The mishnah in Pirkei Avot (3:8) tells us that we are only trustees of HaKadosh Baruch Hu’s money. We shouldn’t act as if it is ours. “Ten lo mishelo she’atah veshelcha mishelo, Give to Him what is His because you and yours are His.” Everything belongs to the Ribbono Shel Olam—our bodies, our souls, our wisdom and our property. We should act as if we are just trustees giving out His money. That is why we must follow the instructions of the Chumash (Devarim 15:7), quoted in the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 251:3), regarding priorities for whom to give more and whom less.

The Rambam (Hilchot Matnot Aniyim 7:7) quotes Tehillim (75:21) “Al yashuv dach nichlam, Do not send a poor man away embarrassed.” If a poor

We are only trustees of HaKadosh Baruch Hu’s money. We shouldn’t act as if it is ours.

person asks fortzedakah for himself, you must give him something. But you do not have to give him a hundred dollars; you can give him just one dollar. You have a little tovat hana’ah. You have the right to choose whom to give a lot and whom to give a little.

This rule does not apply to a person collecting for an institution. You can choose not to give tzedakah to an institution because you want to donate elsewhere. Some people respond with a check to every solicitation letter they receive. I don’t. I throw out most of these letters. I’m not obligated to send money to an institution or to a person I’ve never heard of. If a poor person is standing in front of you, then you have to give him something. If a person is collecting for someone else or for an institution, or if he or even a famous rav sends a letter rather than comes himself, then the rule does not apply, and you are not obligated to give anything.

JA: What are the priorities for determining whom to give more?

RHS: The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 251:3), based on Biblical and Talmudic sources, states that poor relatives come first, next come neighbors, then people in the same city [aniyei ircha], and then the poor in Israel [aniyei Eretz Yisrael]. The Chatam Sofer (VI:27) gives precedence to the poor of Yerushalayim over those from elsewhere in Eretz Yisrael, and then the poor people who live in other parts of the world.

The question is what does “precedence” mean? Does it mean you give everything to the poor people in your family? The commentaries assume that this is not the case. The Chatam Sofer (II: 233-234) writes that you give half of your tzedakahmoney to family and divide the other half among other poor people. Others think that you have to give more than half to those who take precedence.

For many years, the American community was supporting its own yeshivot and sending its surplus tzedakah money to Eretz Yisrael. Now we realize that there is no surplus money and yeshivot in America are closing.

The Aruch HaShulchan (Yoreh Deah 251:4) says a little more than half—51 percent. The Pitchei Teshuvah (251:2) quotes an opinion that states you should give three-quarters to those with precedence and one-quarter to the rest. The Chachmat Adam (145:5) and Rabbi Moshe Feinstein say that the split is two-thirds/one-third.

Here is an example following this last opinion: Assuming I have $1,000 to give totzedakah, if I have a relative who needs $667, I give it to him. The maximum is $667; but if he needs less, I give him less. Once my relatives are taken care of within the amount of $667, I give up to two-thirds of the remaining money to needy neighbors. And of the remaining money, I similarly give up to two-thirds to aniyei ircha. And so on, through the list of priorities.

However, aniyei ircha does not refer to the poor people of your city literally. I live in Manhattan. Are all the poor people in New York considered my aniyei ircha? I don’t think so. Years ago, the cities were small and aniyei ircha were the people you knew. Today, aniyei ircha are the people with whom you associate, with whom you have a kesher. There are so many shuls in New York, but I don’t davenin all of them. There are so many mikvaot in this city, but my family only uses one. The shuls and mikvah from which my family benefits are considered aniyei ircha. The yeshivot where I, my children and my grandchildren learned, even in distant cities or countries, are considered aniyei ircha. The institutions with which I have a connection are aniyei ircha, and those with which I have no link are aniyei ir acheret [the poor of another city].

JA: Is it better to give to poor people far away so they can eat or to a local yeshivah so it does not close down?

RHS: That is a very serious question. For many years, the American community was supporting its own yeshivot and sending its surplus tzedakah money to Eretz Yisrael. Now we realize that there is no surplus money and yeshivot in America are closing. I think that our local yeshivot take precedence over aniyim in another city. Let other people take care of the aniyim in the other city until we can support ourselves and educate our children.

JA: Should someone who receives tuition assistance give tzedakah priority to those yeshivot?

RHS: Definitely. One who is receiving a tuition scholarship should certainly givetzedakah money, if he has any to give, to the institution offering him the discounted tuition. He should give his own money or raise funds from others to try to return the amount of the tuition break.

JA: Is it tzedakah to give to a yeshivah that pays higher wages than was standard in the past?

RHS: I think it is considered tzedakah. Years ago, many yeshivot and day schools had under-qualified teachers. Those teachers knew how to speak Hebrew and read a little Chumash, but they were lacking in knowledge and often observance. Many of them were not even shomer Shabbat. What kind of a positive religious influence can such teachers have on children? We would prefer to have observant and learned teachers but such people can go into many other fields. We expect a little mesirut nefesh [sacrifice] on the part of Jewish educators, but we can’t expect that much. Since they can go into other professions and make more money, we have to make chinuch appealing. If we do not pay decent salaries, we are not going to get good teachers.

JA: Is it considered tzedakah to give money to people who can work but choose not to?

RHS: There is absolutely no mitzvah of tzedakah in this case. The mitzvah oftzedakah is to give to a poor person. Someone who has the ability to earn a living is not considered poor. I am not obligated to give him tzedakah just because he decided to retire at the age of twenty.

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