Author Archives: Rabbi Daniel Raccah

A Story of Rav Ovadia Yosef’s Great Diligence and Wisdom

In the year 5755 (1995), Rabbi Eliahu Chaim Bar Shalom printed his 2 volume work Mishpat HaKitubah on the subject of the Kitubah (wedding contract). This masterful and comprehensive work quickly became an indispensable Rabbinic handbook on this topic, especially for Sephardim because Rabbi Bar Shalom addresses particularly Sephardic practice. Over the years, Rabbi Bar Shalom has been expanding the work as a result of the letters and questions he received. This year Rav Bar Shalom reissued the work in an eight volume new edition!

In volume 5, Rabbi Bar Shalom analyzes the practice of including a Shivuah (oath) in the Kitubah. In that analysis, Rabbi Bar Shalom records an amazing anecdote (page 261) which took place in the year 5754 (1994). Rav Bar Shalom had approached numerous Sephardic Rabbis to inquire whether an effort should be made to return the Shivuah (oath) to the Kitubah and wedding since it had somewhat fallen out of practice. The Rabbis rebuffed the idea. However, he made an appointment to discuss the matter with Maran Rav Ovadia Yosef שליט”א. Rav Yosef’s opinion was very firm that the Shivuah (oath) custom must not be curtailed at all. He bemoaned the situation that people felt that they could change customs which had been in practice for generations. Rabbi Bar Shalom was moved by Rav Yosef’s pain relating to this matter. With that, Rav Yosef cited a book called Tov LiYisrael in which the author complains about the state of affairs in his time, and how the Shivuah was not administered as it should be and that the matter should be strengthened.

Rav Bar Shalom notes that he searched for this volume in numerous libraries, but could find not a Torah work with this title. With this he turned to one of Rav Yosef’s sons to ask his father maybe there was some mistake and the intended book had a different name. Rav Yosef’s response was: “I already told him that the book is called Tov LiYisrael.” Rabbi Bar Shalom resumed his search in different libraries. Finally, in the Rare Books section of the Hebrew University Library he discovered a slim volume consisting of no more than 18 pages of very crowded type. The volume was a treatment of the laws of Tirefot, and didn’t appear to deal at all with the laws of marriage at all. Being so short, Rabbi Bar Shalom sat down and read the book page after page. Yet, there was no discussion of the desired topic. Finally, on the last page, without any indication and in the middle of a line, the author noted that in order to not leave the balance of the page empty he would print a piece which he had written about a Shivuah (oath) in the Kitubah. In this piece he decried the common situation in his time that the Shivuah was not always administered as it had in the past. He explains the importance of the custom and emphasizes the need for the custom to be strengthened. Rabbi Bar Shalom remarks that this episode further reinforced in his mind the vastness of Rav Yosef’s amazing mastery of Torah achieved by dint of his extraordinary diligence and dedication to leaning.

However, Rabbi Bar Shalom’s amazement expanded exponentially as he prepared the second edition of his book. At the time, he reviewed hundreds of sources on this subject. These sources were gathered and collected with great effort and diligence over a long period of time. After having completed his analysis of all of the sources, Rabbi Bar Shalom realized that the most emphatic proponent of maintaining and strengthening the custom of administering a Shivuah (oath) was none other than the Tov LiYisrael. This was the volume which Rav Yosef had immediately cited to Rabbi Bar Shalom on this topic. Essentially what that means is that Rav Yosef had already done all of the accumulation of sources, the analysis of their opinions and views, and extracted the one view which was most forceful on this subject. Rav Yosef had the information ready and prepared in his mind when he was questioned about this subject by Rabbi Bar Shalom. Rabbi Bar Shalom concludes by writing that till today he remains astounded by this experience.

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Three Weeks Halachot

THE THREE WEEKS

The three week period between the two fasts of the 17th of Tamuz and the 9th of Av is referred to as בין המצרים (between the points of sorrow). These weeks commemorate the suffering and tragedy of the sacking of Jerusalem, the death of its inhabitants, and ultimately the calamity of the destruction of the Holy Temple. Accordingly, as these are somber weeks of grief, some practices of mourning have become customary to properly mark this period.

Interestingly, many people treat these customs with significant gravity and Rabbis frequently are heard to remark that they receive more questions about these customs than they do about matters that are markedly more severe. We will not attempt to analyze here the sociological or spiritual factors that are associated with this peculiarity; rather we optimistically accept it as a reflection of the deeply rooted connection of the Jews to Eretz Yisrael and the Holy Temple.

To my mind, the simplest manner to present these laws is by noting that they are in the form of a staged progression. Beginning with the 17th of Tamuz, there are 4 stages of ever intensifying mourning practices. As we advance towards Tishah BiAv and the memory of the catastrophic events of that day, each stage marks an aggregated augmentation of the mourning practices. The stages are:

  1. from the 17th of Tamuz until Rosh Chodesh Av
  2. from Rosh Chodesh Av until the week within which Tishah BiAv falls
  3. the week within which Tishah BiAv falls
  4. Tishah BiAv

Most of the limitations cease with the conclusion of Tishah BiAv, however some laws do extend into the 10th of Av because the Temple continued to burn throughout the 10th of Av.

The nature of the mourning practices begins with items that are less personal, and constrict by stages towards items that are more necessary and personal. Possibly, you can think of the application of these mourning stages as ever shrinking concentric circles. Picture yourself as the center circle. The outermost circle represents the first stage of mourning, the second circle represents the second stage of mourning, and so on. The mourning practices of the outermost circle are the least personal and the most removed from the person. As the circles tighten, the practices close in on the person affecting ever more basic and personal activities.

Here we shall BE”H examine the laws pertaining to Stages 1 through 3. Presented here are the general outlines of the laws. For each of these laws there are details that will not be enumerated. If you have questions, ask.

Stage 1: Starting on the 17th of Tamuz

  1. One may not listen to music, live or recorded.
    1. Singing is permitted.
  2. One does not recite the Shehechiyanu blessing upon a new garment or fruit.
    1. For occasions associated with a Mitzvah, such as Birit Milah or Pidyon HaBen, one recites the Shehechiyanu blessing.
    2. On Shabatot, one may recite Shehechiyanu upon a new fruit or garment.

Stage 2: From Rosh Chodesh Av until the week within which Tishah BiAv falls

  1. Sephardim may not schedule weddings from Rosh Chodesh. Ashkenazim do not schedule weddings from the 17th of Tamuz. [It should be noted that in Chicago, to my knowledge, Sephardim generally do not schedule weddings already from the 17th of Tamuz.]
  2. One does not eat meat, including chicken, excluding Rosh Chodesh itself and Shabbat Chazon (the Shabat before Tishah BiAv).
    1. For a Seudat Mitzvah (meal associated with a Mitzvah), such as Birit Mila, one may eat meat.
  3. One does not purchase large ticket items beginning Rosh Chodesh, unless they are available at a great discount.
  4. One may not paint or remodel their home starting on Rosh Chodesh.In general, one should reduce activities of pleasure from Rosh Chodesh.

Stage 3: The week within which Tishah BiAv falls

  1. One may not cut ones hair or shave, but one may cut their nails.
  2. One may not launder clothes, either oneself or by proxy, including non-Jews.
    1. One may launder the clothes of children who have the tendency to dirty their clothes more rapidly than adults. This may be done only as needed.
    2. One may polish shoes and iron clothes that are no longer freshly laundered.
  3.  One may not wear freshly laundered clothing.
    1. This does not apply to little children who quickly dirty their clothes.
    2. This does not include undergarments, especially in hot and humid climates.
    3. One should “prepare” garments to be worn during the week within which Tishah BiAv falls by wearing them prior to the onset of the week.
    4. This may be done on Shabbat Chazon as well, as long as it is not obvious that the person is “preparing” the garments. Thus, if one wears different clothes in the morning than he wore at night, and then again in the afternoon after a nap, the preparatory action is not evident.
  4. Bathing in hot water is forbidden.
    1. One may shower in warm/cool water
    2. One may swim in a pool or lake/ocean.

There is a separate category of laws that apply during the Three Weeks which are not directly associated to the mourning element of this period, but rather are a function of the generally negative spiritual nature of this time of the year.

  1. If one resorts to corporal punishment for children or students, one should refrain from such during the Three Weeks.
  2. One should not schedule non-critical medical operations during these weeks.
  3. Starting from Rosh Chodesh until at least after Tisha BiAv, one should avoid legal proceedings with non-Jews.
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