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Wednesday
Jul112018

ALIMONY IN HALACHA

Selected Halachos from the “One Minute Halachaproject

By HaRav Yosef Yeshaya Braun, Shlita
Mara D
asra and member of the Badatz of Crown Heights

WHEN A CHILD DOES A SIT-DOWN ON SHABBOS

The afternoon is long, the weather is not too hot and the kids need some fresh air, so the young family goes for a Shabbos walk. After only five pleasant minutes, the activity turns sour when two-year-old Yanky refuses to go further. There is no eruv in the area, so he cannot be carried home. His parents try to move him along, but he refuses to put one foot in front of the other. No amount of cajoling from his older siblings or the promise of treats at home does the trick. Are they stuck there for the day?

It is an issur d’Oraisa (a Biblical prohibition) to move something on Shabbos from r’shus to r’shus (one domain to another, e.g., from private to public or semi-public or vice versa) or to carry it a distance of four amos (arm-lengths, i.e. about 6 feet total) in r’shus ha’rabbim (the public domain, i.e., a main thoroughfare or a street that is directly connected to one). There is an additional issur d’Rabbanan (a Rabbinic prohibition) of carrying in a karmelis (the semi-public sphere that is not a halachic r’shus ha’rabbim).

There is also a g’zeira mi’d’Rabbanan (Decree of the Talmudic Sages) that forbids assisting living things in a r’shus ha’rabbim or karmelis on Shabbos—for example, holding up a pre-ambulant child under the arms so they can swing their legs to mimic walking (or helping an ambulant animal similarly)—as it may lead to carrying them. However, there is a heter (dispensation) based on the principle of chai nosei es atzmo (a living person carries themselves) to assist a child who is able to walk themselves, as long as they are shifting their weight from one foot to the other in the normal manner of walking. This heter does not extend to walking while carrying a child outright (even an ambulant child) nor are two adults permitted to drag a child between them.

(Likewise, two adults walking a child should not allow the child to swing between them, so the child lifts their feet off the ground and is thus carried. In a related manner, parents should not lift a child onto a stoop or low garden wall from the sidewalk.)

If the child who refuses to walk is content and protected from traffic and the elements, it would be best halachically to wait it out until the child is willing to walk on their own. But for a child who is obviously in distress or whose wellbeing might be compromised, what are possible solutions?

Form a human chain. Two adults or more can pass the child from hand to hand, each person moving less than a distance of four amos at a time. If this is not an option, then a non-Jew may carry the child until they reach their home.

An older child under Bar or Bas Mitzvah (a katan) may carry the child uninterrupted, as long as someone else hands them the child once the katan begins moving and removes the child before the katan stops. Parents utilizing this workaround should ensure that it not negatively affect their children’s chinuch (Torah education)—especially if other young siblings are present.

A single adult may carry the child less than four amos, only if none of the above options are available. To get the child home, this would mean walking in increments of less than four amos, preferably sitting down for a rest each time.

If none of the other workarounds are possible, and there is overriding concern for the child’s welfare, some poskim allow the noncompliant child to be carried when in a karmelis.

When arriving home, in all these situations, the child should make the transition from public to private property on their own. If this is not possible, and a non-Jew isn’t available, one adult should stand on the inside and stretch out their arms outside, above the height of ten t’fachim (handbreadths, i.e., almost a meter in all), and another person should hand the child to them.

In any of these scenarios, the heter is to carry only the ambulant child themselves, so if the child is carrying something or wearing a non-garment, it should be removed before moving the child.

(None of these solutions apply when a parent is merely trying to hurry along a slow-moving child. Since most of these circumventions involve some sort of halachic loophole, they should not be planned in advance, and children who cannot be relied on as “verified” walkers or who are easily tired should not be taken out for a walk on Shabbos.)

“ISN’T IT ENOUGH TO HAVE A MEZUZAH ON MY FRONT DOOR?”

It’s a common misconception that it is sufficient to have a mezuzah on the front door of the house, or perhaps that this mezuzah is somehow more important than the mezuzos inside the house. In fact, the halacha is that all doorways of a house that lead to rooms occupied by people or used for storage require a mezuzah.

A bathroom is an exception, since it’s not a diras kavod (respectable living quarters). The “leniency” of a single-mezuzah home harks back to a time of other modes of living, and certainly does not apply to modern buildings (with indoor plumbing, yet).

The outside door of a home is actually sometimes less likely to need a mezuzah min HaTorah (according to the Written Law), since it often leads into a foyer—which is considered merely a beis shaar (an entranceway) into the home, and not an area of residence. According to some poskim, a beis shaar needs a mezuzah only mi’d’Rabbanan (by Rabbinic decree).

The foyer is often smaller than the requisite dimensions for a mezuzah, according to most poskim. A room needs to be at least four by four amos (arm lengths, i.e., approximately six feet in length and width) to require a mezuzah.

Any small room that is the same overall size as a room of four by four amos (an area of about thirty-six square feet), even with different dimensions, doesn’t require a mezuzah, according to some opinions; therefore, when affixing a mezuzah, no bracha may be recited. Some maintain that a beis shaar requires a mezuzah even if it is less than the requisite dimensions, but likewise, no bracha is recited. (The only pass-through that all agree does not require a mezuzah, is an area less than four by four t’fachim—approximately one square foot.) Accordingly, when homeowners recite the bracha on affixing mezuzos, they should choose the mezuzah of a larger room— ideally one with an actual door—upon which to make the bracha.

A room with multiple entrances requires a mezuzah on each doorway, and each is a mitzvah onto itself. A house where even one room is occupied requires a mezuzah—on the doorway(s) of the room being resided in, as well as all doorways of pass-through rooms on the way in and out.

THE FALLOUT OF A YOUNG BOY ESTRANGED FROM HIS FATHER

Parents divorce and their son lives with his mother for the first six years of his life. At age six, he is to go live with his father, as outlined by the Beis Din at the time of the divorce*. The child refuses. The father states, “If my son doesn’t come live with me, I will no longer support him. That’s what the Shulchan Aruch says.”

A father is halachically obligated to support his minor children. When they reach the age of six, this monetary benefit is considered tz’daka (charity), though it is still required. How then, is the father in the above scenario exempt from child support? Indeed his reasoning is in line with the Rambam, as codified in Shulchan Aruch! Possible justifications for this practice are explored by latter-day poskim:

It’s the father’s obligation, primarily, to teach his son Torah and, perhaps, absent being able to fulfill this mitzvah, he no longer has to support him.

Perhaps it’s not in the child’s best interest to receive money (tz’daka) from his father when he spurns his spiritual influence, and withholding it can be considered a disciplinary measure.

Since the son is a rebellious child, maybe the father is no longer obligated in the tz’daka!

Perhaps withholding support is a consequence for the mother, for having estranged her son from his father and reneged on the custody agreement.

Maybe a cash allowance is beyond the purview of the father’s obligation. If the son and father lived together, the father would provide him with food and shelter, but long-distance, the support would have to be monetary.

Other questions arise from the sevaros (theories) of the poskim:

If the son’s support is dependent on his father’s responsibility to teach him Torah, what are the ramifications for a daughter whose father is not required to educate her to the degree of her brother (who has a specific mitzvah to learn Torah when he is older)?

How does this halacha affect joint custody or visitation agreements divorced parents may have via a Beis Din? Can financial arrangements change according to the child’s decision to desist living with the father in scenarios other than the one stated above?

A Beis Din considers all these possibilities before issuing a p’sak (ruling) exempting a father from his obligation to support his estranged child(ren). Obviously, it would be best in any scenario for divorced parents to resolve issues of custody amicably, especially considering the children’s emotional wellbeing (since having children, halachically speaking, is more a responsibility and less a privilege).

*This is actually the general guideline of the Shulchan Aruch: when a boy reaches the age of six, his father receives custody, to enable him to fulfill his obligation of providing his son with his spiritual needs. However these terms are not followed by Beis Din in many circumstances, chiefly because halacha is concerned with the custody arrangement that is best for the particular child.

(Halachically, a daughter is to remain with her mother—barring existential issues, as determined by Beis Din—for the mother is charged with her education; therefore a father has no leverage by which to refuse a daughter her child benefits.)

NEGEL VASSER AND MIDNIGHT FEEDINGS

A nursing mother with a young baby may wake up multiple times during the night for to feed her baby. Must she wash negel vasser (the alternating right/left-hand ritual washing upon waking) each time she awakens?

To require washing, sleep must exceed the timeframe of shishim neshimos (lit., sixty breaths, according to mainstream opinion, a half hour). In addition, the following two halachos might come into play with a night time nursing mother (or bottle-feeding, with prepared bottles):

Upon waking, a person may not walk four amos (arm lengths, i.e., a distance of approximately six feet) before washing negel vasser—even in the middle of the night when they plan to go back to sleep. But if the woman is feeding a baby in bed or very close by, she is exempt from washing.

A person may not touch facial or body openings or food before washing. If she wishes to avoid washing negel vasser, she should not touch the infant’s mouth (or her own orifices) or the milk; if it is necessary for her to poke around in order to properly feed her baby, she may do so with a burp cloth or some other means so as not to touch either orifices or the food directly.

MAY I USE MY SON’S GIFTS TO PAY FOR HIS BAR MITZVAH CELEBRATION?

Guests at a Bar Mitzvah celebration often leave a present: a monetary gift of cash or check, a seifer (holy book) or other gifts. Sometimes the gift is clearly demarcated; others, even unlabeled, have a de facto owner by the theory of umdena (logical assessment)—for example, a seifer would likely be intended for the Bar Mitzvah boy himself. But to whom do the gifts, even the inscribed ones, really belong, the Bar Mitzvah boy or his parents? Perhaps they own all his possessions?

Halacha discusses an adult child—a Bar Mitzvah, is after all, an adult—who is samuch al shulchan aviv (lit., reclines on his father’s table, i.e. is fully supported by his parents). If this “child” comes by a possession, for example, he finds a metzia (an ownerless object), most poskim agree that it belongs to the child. Rabbeinu Tam disagrees, and claims that in this case, the adult child’s metzia belongs to his parents. It is not definitive whether Rabbeinu Tam would include a matana (gift) in the same category as a metzia, or whether it might, in his opinion, belong to the adult child. The consensus among poskim is that ownership is definitely conferred once the adult child is a muchzak (lit., established, i.e., has established ownership by having the item in his possession); by accepting the gift from the giver, the item is his free and clear.

If the gift is in the parent’s possession, there might be place in halacha for them to keep it on the principle of “Kim li!” (lit., “this is my opinion!” i.e. someone who is a muchzak can often rely on a minority halachic decision in his favor).

(It should be noted that parents who rely on Bar Mitzvah gifts to pay for the affair or the child’s T’fillin should discuss this with the child in advance; the Bar Mitzvah boy’s whole-hearted agreement to “share the costs” would cover all possible halachic issues.)

“One Minute Halacha” is a succinct daily presentation on practical Halacha in video, audio, and text formats, and can be accessed by phone at 718.989.9599, by email, halacha2go@gmail.com, or by WhatsApp 347.456.5665.

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