Using Secular Dates In Halacha

(This should not be relied upon for practical halacha. When a question arises a Rabbi should be consulted.)
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.
2. 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.

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).

3. 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.

4. 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).

5. 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.

6. 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.”)

7. 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.

8. In addition to the issue of counting the years according to the secular calendar, there is an additional debate regarding the best way to identify the secular months when writing invitations. Harav Ovadia Yosef zt”l cites the Ramban 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, that when writing the secular months one should not refer to them by number, but by name. For example, one should write January, 12, 2014 and not 1,12,2014 (see also Tzitz Eliezer 8:8, 9:14 and Teshuvos V’Hanhagos 1:850).

A similar ruling is expressed by Harav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach zt”l (Shalmei Simcha page 687). Harav Moshe Shternbuch shlit”a, however, writes that it is permitted to count the secular months by number (Teshuvos V’Hanhagos 1:830).

9. The Tzitz Eliezer 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 names by name, but should instead refer to them by number (see also Orchos Rabbeinu page 231).

10. 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 references the secular months by name and not by number.

[Hashevaynu’s Sunday Night Madness at Dave and Buster’s will take place on December 7th, for all information please go to hashevaynu.org]

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Praying To Angels And To The Dead: A Hallachic Analysis

(This should not be relied upon for practical halacha. When a question arises a Rabbi should be consulted.)

“They (the spies) went up in, the south, and he (Calev) came to Chevron, where there were Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, the descendants of the giant. Now Chevron had been built seven years before Zoan of Egypt.” (Shelach 12:22)

In the above verse we are told of the journey of the Spies as they entered Eretz Yisroel. Rashi, citing the Gemara (Sotah 34b), explains that Calev alone went to Chevron (it is for that reason that the verse writes “he” went to Chevron). He journeyed to Chevron in order to pray at the graves of the Patriarchs. He said to them: “My fathers ask for mercy upon me that I may be saved from being ensnared by the designs of the spies.”

The nature of Calev’s prayer may have hallachic ramifications and may shed some light on an age old machlokes as to whether one is allowed to pray to Angels, or to the dead, to intercede on our behalf.

The purpose of this article is not to give a clear cut ruling for the reader. Rather, to elucidate both opinions of the poskim, each person should follow his or her custom and when necessary a Rav should be consulted.

1) Idolatry

Before we begin it is important to clarify one point and that is that praying to Angels or to the dead directly so that they can help us, is unequivocally forbidden. These beings have no strength of their own and praying for them to grant a yeshua or refua is akin to idol worship. The nature of our discussion is whether one may pray and ask for them to intercede on his behalf and pray for him, but of course the prayer must be directed towards the Almighty.

2) Prayer to Angels

The Permissible View

Many poskim discuss whether one is allowed to beseech Angels to intercede on our behalf. Rashi (Sanhedrin 44b) explains that the opinion of Rav Yochanan is that: “One should always pray for the help of the administrating Angels to strengthen his power of prayer.”

Indeed, many tefillos, authored by great Tzaddikim and Rishonim, implore Angels to intercede on behalf of the Jewish people. Most notably the prayer (recited during Selichos of Aseres Yimei Teshuva) “Machnisei Rachamim hachnisu rachameinu” (those who bring in mercy bring in our plea for mercy) calls upon the angels to help take our prayers before Hashem and intercede on our behalf.

The author of the Shibolei Haleket cited the aforementioned prayer of “Machnisei Rachamim” and commented that there is no hallachic problem with its recital- this prayer is in no way connected to Idolatry. Rav Avigdor Cohen Tzedek agreed with this permissible view.

Rav Aryeh Leib Gordon zt”l, in the introduction to the Sidur Otzer Hatefillos, cited a response from Rav Shrira Gaon, who wrote the following: “When praying to Angels one must do so in Lashon Hakodesh. However, when praying directly to G-d, the prayer may be recited in any language.” It is thus evident that Rav Shrira Gaon allowed one to pray for the intercession of Angels. The Minchas Elazar (Y.D. 1:46) also rules leniently.

Those Who Rule Stringently

There were, however, many authorities who forbade any form of worship towards Angels. The Abarbanel (Sefer Rosh Amana 12) takes a stringent view as well. His source is a Talmud Yerushalmi (Brachos chapter 9), which states: “If Jews have hardships, they should not cry out to the Angels Michael or Gavriel, rather I (G-d) should receive their outcries”.

It is for this very reason that the Sefer Hameoros (Meoros Harshonim page 29) testifies that many kehilos omit the tefila of “Machnisei Rachamim”. The Maharal of Prague (Netiv Haovoda 12) objects as well to the recitation of this prayer because it appears as if we are praying to the angels and not to the Almighty. He therefore amends the text from “machnisei rachamim hachnisu rachameinu” (those who bring in mercy bring in our plea for mercy) to “machnisei rachamim yachnisu rachameinu,” (allow those who bring in mercy to bring in our plea for mercy) which is directed towards the Almighty. [See Otzer Hatefilos who cites other rabbanim (including Rav Chaim Volozhiner) who amended other tefilos in order that it not seem that we are praying to Angels.]

The Chatam Sofer, (Orach Chaim no. 166), records his personal practice to skip the aforementioned prayer. Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l (Igros Moshe O.C. vol. 5 page 146), while discussing whether it is permissible to pray for Angels to intercede on our behalf, notes that his father omitted the stanza of “Barchuni L’Shalom” from the prayer Shalom Aleichem, recited on Friday nights for the same reasons cited above. The Gesher Hachaim (3:26), after quoting both opinions, writes that those who are lenient are basing their opinion on great rabbanim and therefore others should not try to correct them.

3) Praying to the dead

As previously cited, Calev prayed for the Patriarchs to please ask for mercy that he not become ensnared by the Spies. One can deduce from the actions of Calev that praying to the dead (or from Angels) for intercession is permissible. The Gesher Hachaim notes that a lenient view was expressed by the Zohar Hakadosh. The sefer Darkei Teshuva (Y.D. 179:36) lists other authorities who rule leniently as well.

However, the Chochmas Adam (24:5) was vehemently against directing prayer towards the dead, he explains that care must be taken to only pray to the Almighty. The Mishnah Berurah (O.C. 581) records the minhag of many to visit cemeteries on Erev Rosh Hashana, he warns, however, against praying to the dead directly, rather, one must be careful to pray directly to Hakadosh Baruch Hu. See Igros Moshe (O.C. vol. 5 page 147), where Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l explains whether praying to the dead should be more problematic or less problematic then praying to the Angels.

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