Thursday, January 15, 2009

Church Bells and TYK"U!!

A renown Torah scholar was taking a stroll in town in the company of another Torah scholar. As they were walking, the top of the hour approached and the silence of the air was broken by a rendition of church bells from a nearby church.

With this, the first scholar remarks to the second, "When the goyim ring their church bells, they do nothing more than ring their church bells any way they see fit. They have no defined rules for their church bells. We, on the other hand, have no mitzva to ring "church" bells. But suppose we did. There would need to be a complete sugya in Shas and a chapter in Rambam and Shulchan Aruch that describes in detail all of the halachos of church bells. Who is qualified to ring the church bells and do we need a minyan to hear church bells? Does the one who rings the bell need to make a bracha? What can a church bell be made of and what not? Is there a minimum size? Are we yotzei if a non-Jew rings the church bell? Are we allowed to ring more than one church bell? What is the correct zman for ringing church bells? What happens if we miss the zman? Are women exempt from church bells? Etc., etc., etc...."

We are one strange people! Yet, this is indeed our lot. As I wrote in my book (page 244) our body of Halacha dictates to us "(just about) which eye to open first in the morning and which eye to close last at bedtime and everything in between."

Despite all this, not all Halachic issues are defined as clearly as they could be - or should be.

Mori V'Rabi Harav Yitzchak Mordechai HaCohen Rubin, Shlit"a is one of the foremost poskim in the Yeshivish/Chareidi community in Yerushalayim. For about 20 years he has been delivering successive series(es?) of comprehensive shiurim on a wide range of Halachic topics at Kehillat Bnei Torah. On more than one occasion - for example, as we covered the issues of insect infestation (Hilchos Tolaim) - he prefaced the series with this remark (he speaks in Hebrew):

צריך להבחין את הדברים בגלל שהרבה מהענינים אינם מבוארים די הצורך

We must scrutinize these things because many of these matters are not defined to the extent that is necessary.

We thrive over the fact that, in general, our duties and obligations are clearly defined. However, there are many facets of our lifestyle and hashkafa where we must fill in some blanks. A sterling example is the traditional 20-year immunity "policy" that I discussed in 2 recent posts (here and here). There is no "Shulchan Aruch" on it and it is not clearly defined. Even the sources that we have are very vague. My posts pointed out that when we see incidents where the policy is not being upheld, we can not ascertain whether this is because there are exceptions to the policy or we do not understand what is "covered" by the policy in the first place.

In many cases, it is these "blind spots" that is the cause of much of the discord within different factions of Orthodoxy. We can agree on what is crystal clear, but on what is loosely defined, there may be strong disagreement. This applies even to things that are discussed in Shulchan Aruch.

For example, anybody who calls himself an observant Jew does not eat chazer. It is unequivocally clear from the Torah that it is forbidden. But some kashrus issues are less clear. There is a Rabbinic prohibition against eating foods that were prepared by a non-Jew (Bishulei Nochrim). On this, we do have a chapter in Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 113). We are told that a product that is not "oleh al shulchan melachim" is exempt from the prohibition. But what exactly qualifies as "oleh al shulchan melachim?"

Let us take a popular example - baked beans. Baked beans are white beans cooked in tomato sauce. The rabbanim in Eretz Israel look at this as a perfectly respectable dish to garnish a main course on anybody's table. Vegetables of all sorts stewed in tomato sauce are regular formal cuisine and are served at the finest restaurants and banquets. So, baked beans, as much as any other cooked vegetable, are subject to the prohibition of bishulei nochrim. Any baked beans.

The American mentality is that if a particular brand of baked beans is generally only used at birthday parties and 4th of July barbeques, somehow it is called not "oleh al shulchan melachim" even though fancier baked beans - also beans cooked in tomato sauce - are served in fancy retaurants. And so the OU approves Heinz baked beans for kosher consumption. There is a run of Heinz baked beans that is sold in Eretz Israel that is marked by the OU as "Bishul Yisroel". So we use those. To the best of my knowledge, this run is not available in the US. The upshot of this is that if an American chareidi wants to keep Bishul Yisroel at Israeli standards, he must buy his American made Heinz baked beans in Eretz Yisroel.

The problem of issues that are not defined "dei hatzorech" applies to much more serious issues than baked beans. Here is a partial list of some very pivotal issues:

Mechitzas in shuls - There is no mention in Shulchan Aruch that a shul requires a mechitza. So we have no idea where, when , and what. This "omission" is monumental because the tradition of a mechitza in a shul is one of the keynote defining points of Orthodoxy. Yet we need to hunt around for it's source. Igros Moshe has to rely on the gemara in Sukka (52a) as our source. That gemara was discussing the Simchas Beis HaShoeva and was referring to a balcony. We still do not know if partitions suffice, how high they must be, and which settings require them. Well, we have a tradition to maintain them in shuls during tefilla and the gemara talks about during celebrations (Simchas Beis HaShoeva) and bereavement. How about in dining halls and on buses?
We need to know where to draw the line.

Tishbi Yetaretz Kushyos U'Sfekos (TYK"U)

Head covering - This is an undefined issue both for men and women. For men, all that Shulchan Aruch tells us is that we may not walk 4 amos bareheaded. but how should our heads be covered. With what and what size?
My brows are knitted.


For women, as we know, the issue is even more complex. There is no positive commandment nor positive halacha in Shulchan Aruch that mandates covering her hair. All we have is the admonition not to let her hair be seen in public (Even HaEzer 21:1 and 115:4). Again, we are in a fog. Does this mean all of her hair or most of it? Does it need to be actually covered or can it be tied or cut short? Does covering it with something that looks like hair satisfy the prohibition or not? In other words, do sheitels count? These issues are discussed by recent and contemporary poskin ad infinitum but we have no unequivocal source material. There is no "Hilchos Kisui HaRosh" in Shulchan Aruch. So, as a result, even we chareidim are embroiled in a sheitel controversy that sometimes, ר"ל , turns ugly.
Isn't it chaval that these issues aren't adequately covered?


Kanayim Pog'im Bo and Ifrushei M'Issura - The Halacha of הבועל ארמית קנאים פוגעים בו is recorded in Rambam and Shulchan Aruch as Halacha l'maaseh. That's fine. But...What does it mean? Does it apply to this one infraction or is this just a model for any infraction that cannot be prosecuted in a Bet Din? Don't we have a concept of Ifrushei M'Issura which means that we are enjoined to use forceful means to prevent people from sinning and, more than that, to stop them when they are in the course of sinning? When does that apply? Rambam tells us that it applies to cases of "rodef" (הרודף אחר הזכר לבועלו ) but does it apply to a case where one is not endangering another person?
Trust me, we sorely need a section in Shulchan Aruch for "Hilchos Kanaos" and "Hilchos Ifrushei M'Issura". It is something that I would kill for. But they don't exist.


There are other Talmudic concepts that can have far reaching ramifications that we know little about. For instance, what is this mysterious concept of "Kim li b'gavei" that is introduced in Kesubos 85a and recorded in Rambam in Hilchos Sanhedrin 24:1 that supercedes all of the rules of ne'emanus?

How about the concept (Horios 10b) of גדול עברה לשמה ממצוה שלא לשמה . When do we apply that?

If only there was a section in Shulchan Aruch about Hilchos Aveira L'Shma!

All of these issues have had, and continue to have, a tremendous impact on Orthodox society. There's been blood spilt over some of them. Yet, אין הדברים מבוארים די הצורך . We have more detailed instructions on how to light Chanuka candles than on how to cover our heads or when men and women need to be separated.

Oh, church bells!



joshwaxman said...

"In the Eastern Orthodox Church there is a long and complex history of bell ringing, with particular bells being rung in particular ways to signify different parts of the divine services, Funeral tolls, etc. This custom is particularly sophisticated in the Russian Orthodox Church. Russian bells are usually fixed, and are tolled by pulling on a rope that is attached to the clapper so that it will strike the side of the bell."

see also:

chanie said...

Nice post. :)
Agav, as far as I know, TYK"U is roshei teivot for Tishbi Yetaretz Kushyot Uva'ayot (..and problems- not doubts.

Freelance Kiruv Maniac said...

I'm always surprised how many basic issues in halacha were addressed developed for the first time by the Minchas Chinuch even though they emerge straight from sugyos in Shas without any serious hairsplitting.

(Please edit the second comment for language)