Rav Avi Zakutinsky
הַחֹ֧דֶשׁ הַזֶּ֛ה לָכֶ֖ם רֹ֣אשׁ חֳדָשִׁ֑ים רִאשׁ֥וֹן הוּא֙ לָכֶ֔ם לְחָדְשֵׁ֖י הַשָּׁנָֽה
“This month shall be to you the head of the months; to you it shall be the first of the months of the year.” (12:2)
Using Secular Dates In Halacha
1) Secular Months- There is a debate regarding the best way to identify the secular months when writing invitations, documents etc.. Harav Ovadia Yosef zt”l (Yabia Omer 3 YD 9) cites the Ramban (on the above verse) who stresses the importance of counting months according to the Jewish calendar. When the Torah says that Nissan is the first month of the year, it is implying that one may not consider any other month to be the “first.” Therefore, Harav Ovadia concludes, when writing the secular months one should not refer to them by number, but by name. For example, one should write January, 12, 2016 and not 1/12/2016.25 A similar ruling is expressed by Harav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach zt”l. (Shalmei Simcha page 687)
2) The Tzitz Eliezer (8:8) disagrees with the ruling of Harav Ovadia Yosef zt”l. He writes that because the months are named after gentile gods, one may not mention the months by name, but should instead refer to them by number.
3) Harav Hershel Schachter shlit”a, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchonon, in a letter addressed to the author, writes that he feels that it is preferable to write the name of the month than to reference it by number. Harav Noach Isaac Oelbaum shlit”a, in a letter addressed to the author, explains that it is difficult to advance a clear hallachic ruling. However, he personally adheres to the view of Harav Ovadia Yosef zt”l and refers to the secular months by name and not by number.
4) Secular Years- 1. The poskim stress the importance of using the Jewish calendar for calculating years (ex. 5774), as apposed to using the Gregorian calendar (ex. 2014). The Chasam Sofer (Drashos Chasam Sofer 7 Av year 5570) writes that by counting our years back from the creation of the world we are reminding ourselves of our Creator and of our divine rights to Eretz Yisroel.
5) It is generally assumed that the calendar system currently in use dates back to the birth of Yeshu Hanotzri. Therefore using this calendar system may not be hallachically permitted. The Maharam Shick strongly objected to using secular dates on tombstones. He explains that the Torah says (Shemos 23:13) that we may not mention the names of other gods. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 63b) understands this prohibition to include one who tells his friend to meet him near a particular avodah zara.
6) The Maharam Shick (Yoreh Deah 171), in turn, extends this prohibition to any action that would cause people to think about avodah zara, even without mentioning it by name. Therefore, he argues, since the secular calendar year is counted from the birth of Yeshu, it is biblically prohibited to use the secular calendar year. A similar stringent ruling is expressed by other poskim (see Sefer Get Pashut 127:30, Hillel Omer Yoreh Deah 62, Yayin Hatom Orach Chaim 8,Beer Moshe 8:18).
7) Harav Ovadia Yosef zt”l (Yabia Omer Yoreh Deah 3:9), however, proves that there exists a very strong possibility that the secular dates do not correspond at all to the birth of Yeshu Hanotzri. He argues that if the dates have nothing to do with the birth of Yeshu Hanotzri, there would be no hallachic issue with the secular date.
8) Some object to this leniency on the grounds that as long as people think the date relates to avodah zara, they will be reminded of the avodah zara, and one will then violate a Torah prohibition by bringing the avodah zara to people’s attention (Beer Moshe ibid. This is also the view of Harav Nosson Gestetner zt”l printed in Tzitz Eliezer 9:14).
9) The Tzitz Eliezer addresses this objection and explains that if the date really has no relevance to the avodah zara, and people only mistakenly equate the two, there would be no prohibition in using the secular date. One is not responsible for the thoughts of others and as long as he does not mention the avodah zara, or something related to the avodah zara, he has not transgressed any prohibition. In addition, most people are not reminded of Yeshu Hanotzri when told the date. Therefore, he rules leniently and allows others to use the secular date.
10) The Sefer Yereim(75) writes that, “There is no prohibition (of mentioning avodah zara) except when the name is given as a divine name that suggests divinity. But if it is a secular name, then even if this being is treated as a god, since the name does not suggest lordship or divinity, and it also was not given in that context, then it is permitted. For the Torah says, ‘The name of other gods you shall not mention’ – the verse is only concerned with divine names.” According to the Yereim one would be permitted to utter the name of Yeshu outright, and therefore there should be no prohibition of reminding others of his name, so long as one does not reference any “godly characteristics” of Yeshu. (Harav Azriel Hidsheimer zt”l (Yoreh Deah 180) writes, that even if the position of the Yereim is granted, this would certainly not extend to the second part of Yeshu’s title [beginning with the letter “c”], which definitely suggests a “divine status.”)
11) Harav Ovadia Yosef zt”l continues to cite that many achronim, including the Shach, Chasam Sofer, and Maharm Padwa, have dated letters using the secular dates.
Harav Ovadia Yosef zt”l and Harav Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg zt”l both conclude that when necessary, it is permissible to use the secular date. When possible, however, one should try to use the Jewish year. Furthermore, it would seem that one who uses both the Jewish and Gregorian years next to each other is clearly indicating that the Jewish date is meaningful to him, and that he is only using the secular dates for practical reasons.
Rav Avi Zakutinsky
וּבַיּ֤וֹם הָֽרִאשׁוֹן֙ מִקְרָא־קֹ֔דֶשׁ וּבַיּוֹם֙ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֔י מִקְרָא־קֹ֖דֶשׁ יִֽהְיֶ֣ה לָכֶ֑ם כָּל־מְלָאכָה֙ לֹא־יֵֽעָשֶׂ֣ה בָהֶ֔ם אַ֚ךְ אֲשֶׁ֣ר יֵֽאָכֵ֣ל לְכָל־נֶ֔פֶשׁ ה֥וּא לְבַדּ֖וֹ יֵֽעָשֶׂ֥ה לָכֶֽם
“And on the first day there shall be a holy convocation, and on the seventh day you shall have a holy convocation; no work may be performed on them, but what is eaten by any soul that alone may be performed for you..” (12:16)
Rashi- No work may be performed on them: even through others (non-Jews).
1) There is a rabbinic prohibition for a Jew to instruct a non-Jew to perform on his behalf any activities that are prohibited on Shabbos.
2) There are 3 reasons given for this prohibition: A) The Rambam (Shabbos 6:1) writes that it is prohibited so that Shabbos will not be taken lightly. [Parenthetically, this is the very reason that Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l was against using electrical items with Shabbos clocks, as it is included in the prohibition of the Rambam.] B) It is included in the prohibition of “V’Daber Davar”, forbidden speech on Shabbos. C) The non-Jew is your messenger to do a prohibition.
3) In addition to the prohibition to command a non-Jew to perform prohibited activities on Shabbos, it is also prohibited to benefit from the non-Jew’s action. Therefore, if a non-Jew “knows” to turn on the light for you or turn on the fire etc. without being told, one still cannot benefit from those activities (one cannot read by the light or stay warm by the fire etc.) Even though he didn’t command the non-Jew, he cannot benefit from the actions.
Leniencies in cases of Torah prohibitions (Part 1)
Under certain circumstances, it is permissible to tell a non-Jew to perform even a biblical prohibition:
4) Bein Hashmashos– Bein Hashmashos is the time between sunset and nightfall. During Bein Hashmashos on Friday night one can be lenient to ask a non-Jew to perform any activity, even biblical in nature, for any one of the following reasons- A) For the sake of a mitzvah, B) Shabbos needs (oneg shabbos), C)Avoiding substantial financial loss, D) Avoiding significant distress.
5) Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l discusses the specific amount of time one can ask a non-Jew during Bein Hashmashos and he concludes that for this discussion one can be lenient to ask the non-Jew (as per the needs above) during the 30 minute period after sunset. The leniency of Amirah L’Akum would no longer apply after 30 minutes. (Refer to Igros Moshe O.C. 4:62 and 4:64 40)
6) Some examples of the above halacha is- One can tell a non-Jew to turn on an electric stove during Bein Hashmashos in order to warm the food. (Oneg Shabbos) One can ask a non-Jew to lock one’s place of business and activate an alarm system during Bein Hashmashos if one forgot to do so. (Avoiding substantial loss) (Refer to Orchos Shabbos vol. 2 page 503 and The Sanctity of Shabbos pgs. 40-45)
7) Pesik Reisha– Pesik Reisha describes a permissible action which will inevitably result in the performance of a prohibited melacha on Shabbos. An example is opening a fridge on Shabbos when the light will go on. The desired action is to open the fridge (permissible action), however, this will inevitably cause the forbidden act of turning the light on. On Shabbos performing a Pesik Reisha is forbidden. Therefore, in the above case one cannot open the fridge on Shabbos if the light will go on.
Yet, it is permitted to tell a non-Jew to perform the permissible act even though it will result in a melacha being performed by a pesik reisha. (Magen Avraham 253:41)
8) Therefore, if something necessary for Shabbos was left in the car, one may ask a non-Jew to open the car door even though a light will inevitably go on. Similarly, one may ask a non-Jew to open the fridge, even though the light will go on. (Igros Moshe 2:68) [The non-Jew may also be asked to close the fridge because that too is a pesik reisha. If food which is essential for the Shabbos meals remain in the fridge after it is closed, the non-Jew may be asked to first uncsrew the bulb if: A) There will not be a non-Jew available to open the fridge door at a later time, and B) there is no other way to preserve the food. (Sanctity of Shabbos page 49)]
9) Public Mitzvah– If a group of people cannot perform a mitzvah a non-Jew can be asked to do even a biblical prohibition in order to facilitate the performance of the mitzvah. (M.B. 276:25 and Sanctity of Shabbos page 57)
Therefor, if the lights (even incandescent) went out in the shul and the congregants are unable to daven on learn, a non-Jew may be asked to turn the lights on.
10) Similarly, it is permissible to tell a non-Jew to do a biblical prohibition if it will save many people from sinning. Therefore, if a public eiruv broke, and many people are unaware of this and they will continue carrying, a non-Jew may be asked to repair the eiruv, even if it involves a biblical act of repairing.
11) Choleh She’ein Bo Sakana– It is permitted to ask a non-Jew to perform any action on Shabbos to cure or to ease the pain of a choleh she’ein bo sakana, an incapacitated person. (M.B. 328:47)
12) An incapacitated person is a person who is feeling so unwell that he or she would go to bed if that would help (e.g. someone with a severe cold or flu). Similarly, when an illness causes a person so much pain that he cannot function normally, that person is considered to be incapacitated. (Shulchan Shlomo 328:23)
13) Therefore, one may ask a non-Jew to drive to a drug store and buy the patient medicine; to turn on a light; to turn on the heat or the air conditioner. One may also tell a non-Jew to adjust an electric hospital bed for a sick person.
[It should be noted that if it is possible to achieve the objective treatment without asking a non-Jew, then we must do that. (Beis Yosef 330:4) Therefore, if the medication can be obtained without having a non-Jew drive to the store, one must obtain it in a permissible way.]
14) Adults must be ill to be categorized as cholim shein bahem sakana. However, children, in general, are treated as cholim shein bahem sakana even when they are healthy. Therefore, if a child has a need, that if left unfulfilled, may lead to any sickness, one may tell a non-Jew to do a biblical prohibition. (Rama 328:17) For example, if an infant will only eat a certain baby food which was not prepared before Shabbos, one may tell a non-Jew to prepare and cook that food. Similarly, a child who experiences fear of the dark is considered a choleh. Therefore, if the fuse in the house blew and the lights are off, one may ask a non-Jew to repair the fuse on Shabbos. (Sanctity of Shabbos page 53)
15) The poskim debate what age is a child still considered a choleh and has the heterim described above. According, to Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt’l, Harav Elyashiv zt”l and Harav Wosner zt”l all maintain that until the age of 3 the child is treated as a choleh. The Tzitz Eliezer extends it to 6, the Minchas Yitzchak 9 and Harav Ben Tzion Abba Shaul zt”l permits it until the child is bar or bat mitzvah. Harav Oelbaum shlit”a (Minchas Chein vol. 1 page 51) discusses this issue and after compiling all of the opinions he concludes: “All agree that a child under 3 can be considered a choleh shein bo sakana. A child more than 9 years old cannot generally be considered a choleh, according to most opinions. For children aged between 3 through 9, it is dependent on the relative strength or weakness of the child. If he is relatively weak, he may be treated as a choleh shein bo sakana, if he is relatively strong, he should not be included in this category.”
16) Question: If my house is cold can I ask a non-Jew to turn on the heat? Does it make a difference if there are elderly or children in the house?
Answer: Turning on the heat on Shabbos is a biblical prohibition. Therefore, to ask a non-Jew should only be permitted in the case of a ill person (choleh shein bo sakana) as was discussed in the previous emails. However, the poskim have determined that people who live in a house that is not adequately heated are likely to become ill. Therefore, people lacking adequate heat are treated as a choleh shein bo sakana.
17) Thus, it is permitted to tell a non-Jew to turn on the heat in a house that is very cold. (S.A. 276:5) [If the house is adequately heated for the average adult, then one would not be able to ask a non-Jew to turn on the heat. The Aruch Hashulchan does point out that it is very difficult to determine what is considered adequately heated and what is considered very cold in halacha.] Even if the house was warm enough for the average adult but there are children or elderly people present, who require additional heat, it is permissible to tell a non-Jew to turn on the heat. (Sanctity of Shabbos page 52)
18) Question: Over the last few halachos you mentioned numerous heterim to allow one to ask a non-Jew to perform even biblical prohibitions (such as pesik reisha, public mitzvah, cholim etc.). Is one allowed to outright ask the non-Jew to perform the prohibition or must one hint it to him? What is the whole inyan of hinting in general?
Answer: In short, one need not hint to the non-Jew in all those cases. When it is permitted to ask a non-Jew (such as pesik reisha, public mitzvah, cholim etc.), it is permitted to do so outright.
The whole concept of hinting is only in a very specific case, as we shall discuss below. The reason is as follows: There are 2 issues with AmirahL’Akum- 1- The prohibition to command the non-Jew and 2- benefiting from his actions. Therefore, even if one hints for a non-Jew to perform a prohibited activity (which removes the 1st issue), it is still prohibited to benefit from his actions (2nd issue). In the previous halachos one is permitted to ask and benefit from the activities of the non-Jew.
When then does hinting apply? Hinting only applies when one is not directly benefiting from a non-Jew. The poskim describe 2 instances where one does not benefit from his actions (and when hinting would be effective). A) Indirect Benefit- Indirect benefit is where the actions of the non-Jew merely removes an obstacle rather than giving direct benefit. For example, putting out a light in the bedroom does not directly enable a person to sleep. It merely removes the obstacle of light. Therefore, one may hint to a non-Jew to turn off a light in the room. B) Additional Benefit- Addition benefit is where the melacha only makes it easier to do something which was possible even without his actions. For example, additional lights in an already lit room. Therefore, one may hint to the non-Jew to turn on a light in an already lit (albeit dimly lit) room.
In these 2 instances there is no prohibited command (1st issue), since one is hinting and there is no issue of benefiting from the non-Jew (2nd issue) as there is no benefit from his actions in this case. In all other cases hinting is not effective and not relevant.
19) Question: If I need to overnight a package for work on Friday am I allowed to do so or is it Amirah L’Akum since I am asking the UPS workers to work for me on Shabbos.
Answer: Sending a package express overnight on Friday is a problem in general do to the issues of Amirah L’Akum. However, in case of great need and financial loss one can be lenient to overnight the package. A rabbi should always be consulted to determine if this case is considered “a great need” and warrants a lenient ruling.
The reason for the lenient view is that the poskim debate whether one may ask a non-Jew to ask another non-Jew on shabbos to perform an activity for the Jew. This is called “Amirah L’Amirah“. The Chavos Yair 53 rules that one may tell a non-Jew to tell another non-Jew to perform a melacha on Shabbos. However, the Avodas Hagirshuni rules stringently on the matter. The Mishnah Berurah 307:24 cites both views and rules that one may rule leniently in case of great financial loss. Overnighting a package is indeed a case of Amirah L’Amirah because the Jew does not directly commission the non-Jew who will deliver the package. The Jew merely interacts with a clerk in the UPS store who in turn tells the other non-Jew to deliver the package.
Yet, this case is a little bit better than the case of the Mishnah Berurah since the command is happening during the week. The Chasam Sofer 60 rules that Amirah L’Amirah is allowed if the command happens before Shabbos. The whole debate is whether one may tell a non-Jew to tell another non-Jew on Shabbos, however, before Shabbos is more lenient. (See Biur Halacha 307 for a dissenting view) Based upon the above reasoning one may be lenient only in a case of great need.
R’ Avi Zakutinsky
אַתָּ֣ה תְדַבֵּ֔ר אֵ֖ת כָּל־אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֲצַוֶּ֑ךָּ וְאַֽהֲרֹ֤ן אָחִ֨יךָ֙ יְדַבֵּ֣ר אֶל־פַּרְעֹ֔ה וְשִׁלַּ֥ח אֶת־בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מֵֽאַרְצֽוֹ
“You shall speak all that I command you, and Aaron, your brother, shall speak to Pharaoh, that he let the children of Israel out of his land.”
Moshiach in Halacha
In this week’s parsha we are told of Moshe Rabbeinu beginning the redemption of Klal Yisroel from Egypt. Moshe Rabbeinu was the first redeemer of the Jewish People [the verse Breishis 49:10 calls Moshiach “Shilos” which is the same numerical value of the word “Moshe”] and we anxiously await the arrival of Moshiach (may he come speedily) to complete the job of Moshe and redeem us from Galus. In this article we will discuss some of the laws related to Moshiach and hopefully merely learning some of the laws related to Moshiach will hasten his arrival, Amen.
Belief in Moshiach–
- The Rambam (Melachim 11:1) writes: “Anyone who does not believe in him or does not await his coming, denies not only the statements of the other prophets, but those of the Torah and Moses, our teacher. The Torah testified to his coming, as Deuteronomy 30:3-5 states: ‘God will bring back your captivity and have mercy upon you. He will again gather you from among the nations… Even if your Diaspora is at the ends of the heavens, God will gather you up from there… and bring you to the land….’These explicit words of the Torah include all the statements made by all the prophets.”
- It is therefore clear from the words of the Rambam that one must believe in the arrival of Moshiach and that one that doesn’t believe in Moshiach is a kofer. He similarly rules in the laws of Teshuva (3:6) that one who denies the coming of Moshiach has no share in the World To Come. As we say every day in the Ani Maamins (12): “I believe in complete faith in the coming of Moshiach, and even though he may delay, nevertheless I anticipate every day that he will come.”
- It is also clearly evident that it is not enough to believe in Moshiach, rather, one must anxiously await his arrival and that one that doesn’t await his arrival is also a kofer.
- The Rambam (Parah Adumah 3:4) writes: “Nine red heifers (para adumah) were offered from the time that they were commanded to fulfill this mitzvah until the time when the Temple was destroyed a second time. The first was brought by Moshe our teacher. The second was brought by Ezra. Seven others were offered until the destruction of the Second Temple. And the tenth will be brought by the king Mashiach; may he speedily be revealed. Amen, so may it be G-d’s will.” The Lubavitcher Rebbe zt”l (Hisvadios 5746 page 535) notes that the ending of this Rambam seems a bit peculiar, since the Rambam is a halacha sefer. Why then does he end this halacha with the statement “May he speedily be revealed. Amen, so may it be G-d’s will”? The Rebbe zt”l explains that the Rambam is teaching us a halacha that one must await the arrival of Moshiach and therefore at the mere mention of his name one must add a prayer that he come speedily in our days.
- It should be added that merely awaiting the coming of Moshiach hastens his arrival. (Medrash Yalkut Shimoni Eicha 5 and Chida Midbar Kideimos Kevui)
Moshiach Will not know that he is Moshiach-
- There is an interesting teaching of the Chasam Sofer (Teshuvos 6:96). The Chasam Sofer explains that Moshiach will not know that he is Moshiach until Hashem reveals Himself to him and informs him that he will redeem the Jewish people. He likens this to the revelation of Hashem to Moshe Rabbeinu. Moshe was eighty years old and still did not know that he would redeem the Jewish people. Even more so, he refused to believe it when Hashem informed him of his fate. So too Moshiach will not know that he is Moshiach until the revelation from Hashem.
Building The Beis Hamikdash-
- There is a classic difference of opinions between our rabbis regarding the construction of the Third Beit Hamikdash. According to some the Beis Hamikdash will be built by man, more specifically Moshiach, while others believe it will be built by Hashem Himself.
- The Rambam (Melachim 11:1) writes: “In the future, the Messianic king will arise and renew the Davidic dynasty, restoring it to its initial sovereignty. He will build the Temple and gather the dispersed of Israel.” Rambam clearly states that the Beis Hamikdash will be built by man—more specifically, by Moshiach. Indeed, its construction will be one of the signs of Moshiach’s advent. Rambam’s view appears to be based on the Jerusalem Talmud, Megillah 1:11 and Pesachim 9:1; Vayikra Rabbah 9:6; and Bamidbar Rabbah 13:2.
- Rashi (Rosh Hashana 30a), by contrast, explains that the Beis Hamikdash has already been constructed by G-d and exists in the heavenly realms, waiting for the time when it will descend to the earth. For the Third Beis Hamikdash will be “the Sanctuary of G-d, established by Your hands.” When the setting within the world is appropriate, this heavenly structure will descend and become an actual reality within our material world. Rashi’s view has its source in the Midrash Tanchuma, Pekudei 11; Zohar 1:28a; and other texts.
- There is a possibility to explain that there is no disagreement between Rashi and the Rambam and that they are explaining two different Messainic situations. The Gemara in Sanhedrin(98a) writes the following: “Rav Yehoshua Ben Levi noted a contradiction. On the one hand it is written ‘in it’s time’ (be’ita), which implies that the redemption will occur in its preordained time. But on the other hand it is written ‘I will hasten it’ (achishena) which implies that God will bring the redemption before its preordained time. Rav Yehoshua Ben Levi resolved the contradiction as follows- If the Jews are deserving, I will hasten it. If they are not deserving, the redemption will occur in its time.” In the present context as well, it can be explained that the if the redemption occurs before its preordained time, the Beis Hamikdash will be built miraculously by Hashem. If, however, the redemption comes in its preordained time, the Beis Hamikdash will be built by Moshiach with the help of the Jewish people. (Maharam Shick Y.D. 253. Refer to Tiferes Yisroel Middos, Aruch Lener Sukkah 41a for alternative methods as to avoid an argument between Rashi and the Rambam.)
- May we witness the actual resolution of this issue in the immediate future, with the coming of the Redemption and the rebuilding—or the descent—of the Beis Hamikdash. “And then, the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to G-d, as in the days of old and as in bygone years.”
וּמשֶׁה֙ בֶּן־שְׁמֹנִ֣ים שָׁנָ֔ה וְאַ֣הֲרֹ֔ן בֶּן־שָׁל֥שׁ וּשְׁמֹנִ֖ים שָׁנָ֑ה בְּדַבְּרָ֖ם אֶל־פַּרְעֹֽה
“And Moshe was eighty years old, and Aaron was eighty three years old when they spoke to Pharaoh.” (Vaera 7:7)
The Bracha Upon Seeing Royalty
1) The Gemara (Brachos 58a) tells us that one should make an effort to see kings “and not only Jewish kings, but even gentile kings, because if he will merit, he will be able to distinguish between Jewish and non-Jewish kings”. Rashi explains that this refers to those who will see the coming ofMoshiach. They will appreciate how much greater the honor given to theMelechHa’Moshiach is than the honor given by the various nations to their leaders in this world. The Gemara adds that additionally there is an obligation to recite a special bracha when seeing a king. As was codified by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 224:8), when one sees a Jewish king, he should say “Baruch…she’cholok mikvodo li’yireiav” and if he sees a non-Jewish king he should recite the blessing “Baruch…she’noson mikvodo l’basar v’dam”.
2) Rav Chaim Palag’i zt”l (cited by the Sefer Shearim Metzuyanim B’Halacha vol. 1. 60:6) rules that one is required to recite the bracha upon seeing a king even if he is known to be an evil tyrant. He explains that this blessing is not meant as a symbol of honor or respect towards the king. Rather, the rationale for this blessing is in order to appreciate how much honor is shown to kings now, so that we will be able to appreciate how much more honor will be given to the Melech Ha’moshiach.
3) The term “king” employed by the gemara is somewhat vague. In fact, nowhere in the gemara or in its major commentaries are we told what kind of authority one must have in order to warrant a bracha. The Radvaz (cited by Magen Avraham and Mishna Berurah) explains that the bracha need not be said over a king exclusively, but rather, any official or leader who is able to execute and exercise capital punishment is deemed to have requisite power to warrant a bracha. This ruling of the Radvaz is particularly essential when evaluating whether a blessing should be said over the President of the United States, as is discussed at length by the modern day Poskim. There are primarily two views on this subject:
4) Bracha Is Recited– Rav Wosner zt”l (Shevet Halevi 1:35) reasons that the ruling of the Radvaz is only necessary regarding a governor or officer who are not the most honored and revered in their land (as they don’t hold the highest position). A person like this needs the ability to execute criminals to have the power to require a blessing. The President or king, however, who are shown the most honor require a blessing regardless of their abilities and duties.[This author was told from reliable sources that Rav Zelig Epstein Zt”l indeed recited a bracha upon meeting President Clinton.]
5) Bracha Without The Name of Hashem– Since the President is unable to execute prisoners at will, he should not warrant a blessing. This is the opinion of Rav Moshe Stern zt”l. In his Sefer Beer Moshe 2:9, he advises that one recite the blessing while omitting the name of Hashem.
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef zt”l cites a number of authorities who rule that one does not recite a beracha when he sees a king wearing normal clothing, and without the accompaniment of an entourage. These authorities reason that the blessing is recited on the “honor” granted the king. If the king is not currently displaying that honor there is no need for a beracha. Rabbi Yosef himself is unsure whether or not these authorities should be relied upon and therefore rules to recite the beracha without uttering the name of God. Therefore, since presidents do not wear “the garb of kings” one does not recite the name of Hashem.
Rav Moshe Shternbuch Shlit”a (Teshuvos V’Hanhagos 2:139) explains that since the criteria for this blessing is that they must be shown the honor reserved for royalty, one would not make a bracha on a president because, although he holds the highest position in the land, he only holds it for four years. He may be impeached at any time, and his approval is not necessary for all laws to be passed. For this very reason, Rav Shternbuch rules that a bracha should be recited upon seeing the monarch in modern day England.
Rav Asher Weiss shlit”a maintains that the bracha is not recited today on any monarch. Most leaders do not have the power necessary to warrant a bracha. Even those tyrants that have the power to kill at will do not warrant a bracha, in his view, since they do not judge properly with tzedek. Only a king that judges fairly and still has power would require a bracha.
6) The poskim rule that one does not make a bracha upon seeing a king or president on the television; see Shut B’tzel Hachochmo 2:19, Beer Moshe 2:9, Yechava Daas 2:28.
7) Rabbi Moshe Stern zt”l and his brother Rav Bezalel Stern zt”l (Be’er Moshe 2:9:4 and B’tzel Hachochmo 2:19) both explain that one need not actually see the king himself in order to make the beracha. It is sufficient to see the entourage parading the monarch through the streets.
R’ Avi Zakutinsky sends out a daily email containing 2 halachos. To subscribe to that daily email, free of charge, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and ask to be signed up. Thank you