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Thursday
Jun142018

FRUM & LAW ABIDING

Selected Halachos from the “One Minute Halacha” project

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

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A SHOMER CHINAM

I woke up pretty excited. I’m traveling to Yerushalayim for a summer learning program! I’m happy to be able to spend some time in the holy atmosphere of Eretz HaKodesh, and my parents (we had a long talk last night) are hoping that some time away from home will turn me into a more responsible bachur. So, I’m just about ready to leave the house, and a neighbor drops off a package with a state-of-the-art alarm clock and an envelope of extra spending money for their son, a friend of mine in yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel. “Sure!” I say—I’m a nice guy, after all. I put the electronics box on my luggage waiting in the front hall and stuff the envelope into my pocket, hoping to make it to the mikva before davening. Whew! I did it! As I’m about to exit the mikva building I see a crumpled white envelope on the bench. Oh, no! That’s the money for Shua! I put it deep into my inside jacket pocket. What would have happened if I had left it behind?

As a shomer chinam (unpaid guardian) the narrator would only be responsible to replace items under his watch if they are damaged or misplaced due to his p’shiah (negligence). Leaving a valuable item in the mikva—or any public place, for the matter—is not considered properly caring for it, and he would be liable if it went missing.

My traveling companion and I leave for the airport in good time, but the security line is endless. As we’re waiting, he asks me to watch his stuff for a bit as he goes to find a restroom. “No problem,” I say, taking out my pocket T’hillim, intent on using my time wisely. We inch ahead and at some point, I’m not sure exactly when, I’ve left my friend’s bag at least 20 feet behind. Baruch Hashem, he came back right then. He seemed only a bit annoyed; I guess he knows I’m the forgetful type. I can’t help but wonder: would I have been responsible had it been lost or stolen?

It is a machlokes haposkim (a matter of dispute among halachic authorities) whether a shomer must make an actual halachic kinyan (lit., acquisition, a symbolic act which indicates transfer of ownership, such as picking up the article) in order to take responsibility for it. In this case, since the bachur watching his friend’s luggage did not make a kinyan—he didn’t even touch itit is doubtful whether his guardianship was halachically binding. On the other hand, if he were to leave his other friend Shua’s alarm clock behind, he would, in most cases, be responsible to replace it.

We’ve landed! I have my hand luggage, Shua’s alarm clock (I was nearly off the plane before remembering to go back for it, stashed in the overhead bin), his envelope of cash still in my jacket pocket—and even the traveler’s check my parents gave me for my own spending money, though there was a moment of panic before I remembered where I had hidden it.

The laws of shemirah (guardianship) are different for a check than for cash; it is halachically considered a shtar (contract) and not an item of actual value. A shomer who misplaces a check is therefore not liable. (In the case of a p’shiah, some consider a shomer liable even for a shtar.)

I guess they don’t trust me that much—yet.

IS A CAN OPENER MUKTZAH ON SHABBOS?

The Schwartz family from Eretz Yisroel is visiting their friends, the Goldsteins. On Shabbos morning, Mrs. Schwartz is helping Mrs. Goldstein set the table for the Shabbos seuda (meal). “The cutlery?” Mrs. Schwartz asks. “Sure,” Mrs. Goldstein replies, opening her utensil drawer. She spends a hurried moment organizing the drawer that had been left messy in the Erev Shabbos rush. She drops a handful of colorful knives into a designated section, followed by a can opener… Mrs. Schwartz’s eyes widen at her friend’s action. “Here, let me do that!” she says, “My rav says it’s muttar (permissible) to open cans on Shabbos, but I remember that you don’t do that…isn’t the can opener muktzah for you?”

A hammer, which is used for building—a melachah (prohibited work on Shabbos)—is a keli shemelachto l’issur (a utensil designated for activity that is forbidden) and is muktzah (forbidden to move) on Shabbos. It may be moved if it is used for other purposes, specifically l’tzorech mekomo (its place is needed) or l’tzorech gufo (it is needed in itself) to perform permissible work, such as cracking open a coconut.

What about a utensil whose use is a machlokes (matter of dispute) among poski­m—for example, a can opener? Creating a keli (vessel) is assur (forbidden) on Shabbos, and some authorities extend this prohibition to include creating a functional keli by removing the top of a can. Is a can opener therefore a keli shemelachto l’issur for someone—Mrs. Goldstein, in our example—who doesn’t use it on Shabbos?

Poskim posit that only a melachah that Mrs. Goldstein considers completely assur creates a situation where the utensil becomes keli shemelachto l’issur; there are, in fact, authorities who permit opening cans on Shabbos—Mrs. Schwartz’s rav for one—and this negates their muktzah status. Mrs. Goldstein recognizes that Mrs. Schwartz is following a more lenient p’sak (halachic decision), only she (Mrs. G.) chose to be machmir (stricter). In accepting this chumra (strict interpretation), she is not necessarily also undertaking to be machmir in terms of muktzah. On the other hand, were Mrs. Goldstein to consider opening a can on Shabbos assur min hadin (expressly forbidden by law), the can opener would likewise be muktzah for her.

(Some poskim maintain that whether a keli is considered melachto l’issur or not depends on the owner of the utensil—Mrs. Goldstein’s can opener is muktzah, but Mrs. Schwartz’s Israeli one is not. But this is not the halachic consensus.)

MEZUMAN ON A MICROPHONE?

Poskim write that someone with a very loud voice should be appointed to lead Birchas HaMazon, as it is important for participants to hear the voice of the leader so he may be motzi them (help them fulfill their obligation) in reciting the brachos. Yet today, it is quite common for a microphone to be used at large gatherings, particularly at weddings and Sheva Brachos meals. “Rabbosei mir vellen benchen …” the voice of the leader of the zimun (lit., invitation, this is the call to a minimum of two additional participants for Birchas HaMazon) can be heard over the mike. But can those hearing the zimun via the microphone count as participants?

One halachic approach to justify this practice is that answering the zimun itself does not necessarily require an actual “real-time” voice; it is only an invitation, not a bracha. But what about the recitation of Birchas HaMazon, and—in the case of weddings and Sheva Brachos meals—the seven subsequent blessings (sheva brachos) as well? Don’t those require at least a minyan (a quorum of ten, in this case nine other participants in addition to the leader) to hear a “real,” unadulterated voice?

Today, in contrast to many years ago, the need to hear Birchas HaMazon is not as pressing, since the majority of the participants are literate and do not depend on the leader to be motzi them with the brachos. In addition, it can be assumed that a significant number of participants can hear the actual voice of the leader even absent the mike. The common custom to use a mike for the recitation of sheva brachos at the end of Birchas HaMazon (as well as under the Chuppa) takes into account the proximity or the acute hearing of at least ten participants.

WHO OBEYS EVERY TRAFFIC LAW?

Traveling through lone country in summertime, fields of yellowing hay flash by. Traffic is unusually light, even for this out-of-the-way hick town. There are no other cars on the road, no pedestrians, county sheriffs or even a grazing herd in sight. I come to the crossroads—and the only red light for miles around. Must I obey the law and wait it out?

Traffic laws are implemented for order and safety of the population. For some laws, the link between the institution and the prevention of danger is readily apparent, while others seem more farfetched: for example, waiting at a red light when there is no cross or pedestrian traffic or keeping a license updated when a person is confident in their driving acumen.

May we violate some of these lesser injunctions, where the relationship between the law and travel safety are specious—for example the one that demands we carry our license with us whenever we drive?

The concept of sakanah (danger) in halacha is far-reaching: “Chamira sakanta me’issura” (we are more stringent in matters of sakanah than in prohibitions). We are required to take even highly improbable situations into consideration.

Even when we are absolutely certain that safety is assured, having judged that there is no possible sakanah, there are other precepts to consider: Dina d’malchusa dina (the law of the land is Torah law) as well as takanas hatzibbur (ratification by the public), those precautions that are universally accepted—especially on communal property. In addition, every driver effectively agreed to follow traffic law upon receiving their driving license, and this acceptance of terms is halachically binding. Alongside these is the basic obligation to avert a chillul Hashem (the desecration of Hashem’s name) and comport oneself with derech eretz (respect for authority) by being law-abiding citizens.

With regard to taking preventative measures beyond the letter of the (Torah) law, the Gemara says, “Hei man d’bo’i l’meheve chassidah l’kayem mili d’nizikin “ (how does one reach the level of chassid? By being extra careful in matters of damages).

So the next time you’re asked to pull out your license, will it have the appellation, “chassid?”

 

“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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