Blessing Children On Friday Night

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

1. It is a custom for parents to bless their children on Friday night. [Parenthetically, it is also a custom for the chosson and kallah to be blessed by their parents before they walk down the aisle (see Shulchan Haezer 7:1) ]
2. The poskim discuss how to bless the children. The Maaver Yabok (cited by Shulchan Haezer 7:1) seems to indicate that one should bless the child by resting one hand on the head of the child. The reason is that there are fifteen limbs in one hand corresponding to the fifteen words found in the birchas kohanim.

3. An additional reason given to use only one hand when blessing others (as opposed to two hands) can be found in the Torah Temimah (Naso 131). The Gemara says that it is prohibited for a non-kohen to perform the birchas kohanim (priestly blessings). Therefore, the Torah Temimah explains, blessing with two hands may be too similar to the priestly blessings, which are performed using both hands. He adds that he heard from trustworthy sources that the Vilna Gaon would only use one hand when blessing others. When asked why, the Vilna Gaon explained that, “The only time we find a blessing given with both hands is by the kohanim.” (See however introduction to Sefer Emunas Hatichia which indicates that the Vilna Gaon would bless others with two hands.)

4. However, Harav Yaakov Emden zt”l (Siddur friday night) rules that one should lean two hands on the child’s head when giving the blessing. The Sefer Yosef Ometz (70) writes, “Although I do not like to focus on Kabbalistic concepts, nevertheless, I believe that it is preferable to bless the children (on Friday nights) using both hands. This way the blessing will be performed using all ten fingers which is beneficial, for kabbalistic reasons. In addition, blessing with only only one hand appears as if one is being ‘stingy’ with his blessing.”

Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l (Shalmei Simcha 153) would use both hands when blessing others. A similar ruling is expressed by the Rav of Debreczin (Beer Moshe 4:25).

ואין להקשות לפי שיטה זו, שנוהגים לברך בב’ ידים, דא”כ יש לאסור משום זר בברכת כהנים, דעיין בביאור הלכה ריש הלכות נשיאות כפים שהביא ב’ תירוצים לבאר מנהג העולם, ותירוץ השני שם דכיון דתקינו רבנן שלא לישא כפים בלא תפלה, שוב מי שאומר פסוקים אלו של ברכת כהנים בלא תפלה בין כהן בין ישראל הוי כמכוין בפירוש שלא לקיים בזה המצות דברכת כהנים ולכן שרי. [ועיין בבית ברוך כלל ל”ב ס”ק ח’ שטוב יותר לכוון בפירוש שלא לצאת ע”ש.] וע”ע בזה בשו”ת ציץ אליעזר חי”א סימן ח’.

5. The father rests either one hand or two and says, “May G-d make you like Efraim and Menasheh” (Genesis 48:20) [“ישימך אלקים כאפרים וכמנשה”]. This is the traditional blessing given to children. He then recites the priestly blessing: [“יברכך ה’ וישמרך וכו’]. (Siddur Yaavetz)

6. Some also add the verse, “May G-d’s spirit rest on him, a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of counsel and might, a spirit of knowledge and the fear of G-d” (Isaiah 11:2) [“ונחה עליו רוח ה’ רוח חכמה ובינה רוח עצה וגבורה רוח דעת ויראת ה'”]. (see Maaver Yabok Sifsei Rinanos 53) Beyond this, the parent’s may add any blessing or prayer that they desire.

[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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Is A Kohen Who Killed Someone Allowed To Recite The Priestly Blessings? (Assorted Hallachos)

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

1. The Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 128:35) rules that if a kohen killed someone, even by accident, he is not allowed to recite the priestly blessings. The Mishna Berura explains the reason for the disqualification is because “ain kateigor na’aseh saneigor”, it would be inappropriate for the hands that have taken a life to give a beracha.

2. The Shulchan Aruch rules that teshuva (repentance) does not help and he remains disqualified. While the Rama writes that after repentance he is permitted to recite the birchas kohanim.

3. According to the Rama a kohen who murdered someone may recite the priestly blessings if he repented. The Biur Halacha cites an interesting argument among the poskim as to the parameters of the ruling of the Rama. Some poskim feel that the lenient ruling of the Rama was stated only for accidental murder. However, if the kohen killed someone on purpose (meizid) he is disqualified even if he repented while other poskim apply his ruling to all scenarios, even purposeful murder. The Biur Halacha writes that it is difficult to know what the correct ruling is, and therefore, if the kohen ascended to recite the blessings we should not stop him.

4. Rav Ovadia Yosef zt”l (Shu”t Yechave Daas 2:16), the leading sefardic posek, writes that if a kohen killed someone against his will “b’ones”, the example given- a kohen who is driving a car within the speed limit and a child jumps in front of the car, (the death is considered b’ones because the driver did everything within his power to prevent it), he is allowed to recite the priestly blessings if he repented.

5. The Magen Avraham (128:53) cites the opinion of Rav Levi Ben Chabib that the hallacha applies even if there are no witnesses to the murder. As long as the kohen knows that he killed someone he may not recite the birchas kohanim.

6. Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l (Igros Moshe Y.D. 2:158) maintains that if the kohen is a soldier in the army and he killed someone during war time he is unequivocally allowed to recite the priestly blessings. Since the killing is in self defense he is not disqualified. As it says in the Gemara (Brachos 62b): “If someone attacks you to kill you, then you must kill him first.” A similar sentiment was expressed by Rav Ovadia Yosef zt”l -who was discussing the Israeli army as opposed to Rav Moshe who was discussing the Russian army- Harav Yosef writes that these soldiers are fulfilling a mitzvah by protecting the Jewish people and the Jewish land and therefore may bless the Jewish people.

7. If the kohen is unsure whether he killed someone, the Maharlnach writes that he is not allowed to duchan. We treat a doubtful murderer as a certain murderer. However, after analysis, it becomes clear that this question is really based on a machlokes rishonim dealing with a much broader topic than the hallachos of a murderous kohen, as we shall explain.

The source that prohibits a kohen who murdered someone from reciting the priestly blessings is a verse in Isaiah. And we know that when a doubt arises in a biblical hallacha we are machmir (ex. if one is unsure that he ate matza on Pesach he must eat the matza again to be sure). However, when it comes to rabbinical laws, we are lenient in doubtful situations (if one is unsure whether he recited the blessings on food, he may continue to eat without a blessing and need not repeat the blessing). Now the question arises about what is the proper approach in halacha when a doubt arises with a law found in the Navi (Divrei Kabbala). Is it deemed like a biblical law and we should act stringently or like a rabbinical law and we should act leniently? This is actually a machlokes among the rishonim.

The Rashba (Shu”t Hamiyucheses 263 and the Rashash (Shu”t 397) both feel that when a doubt arises regarding a law learned from Navi we rule leniently as we do with rabbinic laws. The Kovno Rav, Rav Yitzchok Elchonon Spector zt”l (Beer Yitzchok Y.D. 1 note 6) wrote that the Ran agrees with the opinion of the Rashba. A similar view can be found in the Aruch Hashulchan (Y.D. 110 note 105).

However, the Netziv (Haemek Sheila Sheilta 35:2) proved that Rav Achai Gaon and the Bahag both disagree and they feel that a law which has sources in Navi has the same law as a biblical law. Similar views can be found in the Turei Even by the Shagas Aryeh (Megila 5b), Shu”t Toras Chesed (O.C. 38 note 8, this also seems to be the view of the Rambam see  Mishna Berurah O.C. 692:16).

Now our discussion (a kohen who is unsure whether he killed a person) is dependent on the opinions of the rishonim. For our case, there is a doubt involving a law (namely that a kohen who killed someone is not allowed to duchan) which has a source in the Navi and according to the Rashba (and Rashash etc.) we should be lenient and allow him to duchan, unlike the Maharlnach. However, according to the Rambam (and Bahag etc.) we should be stringent and prevent him from reciting the blessings, in agreement with the Maharlnach. Indeed the Maharsham (shu”t 5:30) cites the ruling of the Maharlnach and notes that according to the Rashba we should allow him to recite the priestly blessings. For practical halacha, a rabbi should be consulted.

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The Mitzvah Of Pidyon Haben: (Assorted Hallachos)

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

The mitzvah of Pidyon Haben, redeeming of the firstborn, is a rare mitzvah than can only be performed once in a lifetime and does not apply to everyone (kohanim, leviim etc.), as we shall discuss. In addition, performing this mitzvah serves as a segula to protect the child from illnesses that afflict children (Sefer Chassidim cited in Yabia Omer Y.D. 6:26). In this article we will discuss many of the relevant hallachos pertaining to the mitzvah of Pidyon Haben and its procedure.

Which Child Requires a Pidyon

  1. The mitzvah is performed once the child reaches thirty days old. The Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 305:11) writes that we should perform the mitzvah immediately on the thirty first day. If that day is Shabbos the mitzvah should be pushed off until Sunday.
  2. The mitzvah applies to the “peter rechem”- first born of the mother, even if the father has children from a previous marriage (Aruch Hashulcan Y.D. 305:2).
  3. A child from a cesarean section is exempt from the mitzvah. The next child born to the parents is exempt as well, even if he was born through a natural childbirth delivery (Shulchan Aruch 305:24).
  4. If the father is a kohen or a levi, or if the mother is the daughter of a cohen or a levi, there is no mitzvah of pidyon haben (Shulchan Aruch 305:18).
  5. If a boy is born from a non-Jewish father and a bas levi, there is also no mitzvah of pidyon haben since his mother is the daughter of a levi. However, if a boy is born from a non-Jewish father and a bas kohen, a pidyon haben is performed. Since the daughter of the kohen has violated her kedusha by having relations with a gentile, she loses her hallachic status as a bas kohen (Shulchan Aruch 305:18). Similarly, if a bas yisroel has a child with a non-Jew, a pidyon haben is performed. The Aruch Hashulchan comments that in this scenario it is difficult to ascertain who is obligated to perform the pidyon haben. The father, who is not Jewish, is obviously not obligated to perform this or any mitzvah. The mother is exempt as well, as this mitzvah is never the obligation of the mother (as we shall explain). Rather, in this case the child should perform his own pidyon when he reached the age of thirteen. Other poskim disagree and feel that the beis din should perform the pidyon right away- see Igros Moshe Y.D. 195 and Sheilas Yeshurun page 140. For normative halacha, a rabbi should be consulted.
  6. We have previously explained that if a bas kohen has relations with a non-Jew she loses her rights as the daughter of a kohen. Therefore, if a yisroel married and had a child with a bas kohen who lived with a gentile before the marriage, a pidyon haben is performed. The Aruch Hashulchan comments that unlike the previous hallacha (where the child is required to perform his own pidyon when he reaches the age of bar mitzvah), we require the father to perform the pidyon after thirty days.
  7. Many Baalei Teshuva face an interesting predicament. After having their first child they wish to fulfill the mitzvah of pidyon haben. However, many of them are unaware if they are kohanim, leviim or yisraelim and are thus unsure if they are indeed obligated to perform the mitzvah at all. For reasons beyond the scope of this article, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l (Igros Moshe Y.D. 188) and Rav Ovadia Yosef zt”l (Yabia Omer 9 Y.D. 25), both advise that they perform pidyon haben without reciting any brachos.

Who Is Obligated To Perform the Pidyon

  1. The Gemara (Kiddushin 29) tells us that the obligation to perform the pidyon haben rests solely on the father. The mother is not obligated to perform the mitzvah. The Aruch Hashulchan (Y.D. 305:4) writes that the Beis Din is also not required to make sure that the child has a pidyon.
  2. If the father refuses to perform this mitzvah we force him to do so.
  3. Once the child reaches bar mitzvah he is obligated to perform his own pidyon haben. If after the son reaches the age of thirteen both the father and the son both wish to perform the pidyon, the Rashba (cited in Aruch Hashulchan 305:54) rules that the father should perform the pidyon and not the son. However, the Rivash (131) disagrees, he feels that once the child reaches adulthood the mitzvah rests solely on his shoulders and we do not allow the father to do the mitzvah.
  4. The Aruch Hashulchan comments that if the father refuses to perform the pidyon or he is unable to do so we allow others to perform the mitzvah in the father’s stead. He prefers this from the alternative, which is waiting until the child reaches bar mitzvah and having him perform his own pidyon haben. He quotes, however, the opinion of the Taz that if the father dies or is unable to perform the pidyon we should wait until the child reaches bar mitzvah and he should then perform his own pidyon. What’s more, the opinion of the Maadanei Yom Tov is that if the Beis Din or others perform the pidyon they have not fulfilled any mitzvah and the child must repeat the pidyon when he reaches the age of bar mitzvah. The Chasam Sofer rules that one may perform the pidyon for the child without a bracha and when the child reaches adulthood he should reperform the pidyon without a bracha as well. For normative halacha, a rabbi should be consulted.

Which Kohanim Can Receive the Pidyon

  1. The child should be redeemed from a kohen and not from a kohenes (Aruch Hashulchan 305:3).
  2. The poskim differ as to whether a kohen under the age of thirteen can receive the pidyon, (see Rav Akiva Eiger and Aruch Hashulchan 13).
  3. Rav Shmuel Wosner shlit”a (Shevet Halevi 2:172) writes that a kohen who desecrates shabbos publicly cannot be used to redeem the first born. However, since many non-observant Jews do not have the status of public desecrators of shabbos (because they have the status of Tinuk Shenishba etc. see Umekareiv Biyamin 2) and therefore a Rav should be consulted.

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Are Kohanim Allowed To Visit Kivrei Tzadikim (the graves of the Righteous)?

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

Jewish law prohibits a kohen from coming in close proximity to any dead body or to a cemetery.  In this article we will focus on the discussion amongst the poskim as to whether there is legitimate basis to allow kohanim to visit the graves of tzadikim or is this act unequivocally prohibited.

Sources which suggest a lenient ruling

1) The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni 944) records an episode that occurred immediately following the brutal murder of Rav Akiva. Eliyahu Hanavi came to bury Rav Akiva. As Eliyahu carried Rav Akiva’s body on his shoulders, Rav Yehoshua, one of Rav Akiva’s main disciples, wondered how this is permitted if in fact Eliyahu was a kohen (as was indicated previously in the Midrash). Eliyahu responded: “Rav Yehoshua, my son, heaven forbid for tumah does not exist when it comes to talmidei chachamim or their sudents.” Some poskim feel that the statement of Eliyahu can serve as a source to allow kohanim to visit the graves of tzadikim.

Tosafos (Baba Metzia 114b), however, maintains that there exists a prohibition for kohanim to come in close proximity of the corpse or graves of the righteous. He addresses the Midrash and explains that Eliyahus response to Rav Yehoshua was aimed at preventing further questioning rather than expressing a true halacha. The real reason Eliyahu was permitted to bury Rav Akiva was due to the fact that Rav Akiva had the status of a “meis mitzvah” (a body without enough people for burial) which a kohen is allowed to contaminate himself for. He was considered a “meis mitzvah” because no one else would bury him out of fear of facing repercussions from the government. [The Ramban (Yevamos 61a) rejects this opinion of Tosafos on the grounds that it would seem unacceptable for  Eliyahu Hanavi to offer a false response in order to avoid further questions. One who hears that statement is likely to take him literally and may issue an erroneous hallachic ruling.] In addition the Sefer Haeshkol (vol. 2 page 174) cites the lenient ruling of the Midrash and comments that we should not base our hallachic rulings upon aggadic statements of the Midrashim unless the ruling was codified by the Gemara.

2) The second source that suggests a lenient ruling is a Gemara in Kesubos (103b). The Gemara tells us that when Rav Yehuda Hanasi died, “kedusha” (holiness) was removed from the world. Tosafos cites the opinion of Rav Chaim Kohen who explains that the “holiness” in this context is referencing the holiness of the kohanim. Meaning that kohanim took place in the burial of Harav Yehuda Hanasi. He adds that if he had been present for the funeral of Rabbeinu Tam he would have attended, even though he himself was a kohen. The Rashash feels that this too would suggest that there is no prohibition for a kohen to become tamei through touching a tzaddik’s grave.

However, it should be noted that most authorities feel that one cannot extend the comments of Tosafos to allow kohanim to visit kivrei tzadikim. It could be easily argued that there is a special leniency to allow a kohen to become tamei for a Nasi (such as Rav Yehuda Hanasi) who dies, and this dispensation does not apply to other tzadikim. In fact the Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 374:10) rules that a kohen is permitted to become tamei by exposing himself to come in contact with the body of a Nasi. The logic for this ruling is that the position of the Nasi is considered to be so exalted that he is always considered to be a “meis mitzvah”, as there are never a sufficient amount if people to pay him the proper respect. [The Bais Yosef comments that Rav Chaim Kohen merely felt that this leniency may be applied to any leader of klal yisroel and therefore he would have allowed himself to attend the funeral of Rabbeinu Tam.]

What’s more, this leniency to contaminate for a Nasi is only extended to allow kohanim to attend the funeral; however, to subsequently visit the grave would be prohibited. In addition it is worthy to note that Rabbeinu Bachya (Kad Hakemach- Ahava) limits this leniency even more still. He explains that this leniency applies only to Rav Yehuda Hanasi who died with G-d’s kiss (“misas neshika”). Tumah stems from the angel of death and therefore tzadikim who were worthy of dying through G-d directly do not transmit any tumah. Other tzadikim who did not merit this form of death would indeed contaminate kohanim.

Sources which suggest a stringent ruling

1) The Gemara in Sukah (25b) states that (according to some) the people who initially approached Moshe Rabbeinu about the possibility of making up for the korban pesach that was missed due to tumah, were the men carrying the body of Yosef Hatzadik. Now it is obvious that Yosef was a tremendous tzadik, yet these men became contaminated from contacting his body. It is thus clear that the corpse of a tzadik can transmit tumah and kohanim should not be allowed to visit their gravesites. [It should be noted that the Avnei Nezer (Y.D. 166:17) wishes to reconcile the fact that Yosef Hatzadik seemingly transmitted tumah while Eliyahu buried Rav Akiva (as cited in the Midrash earlier). He explains that if the tzadik was murdered, his body will not contaminate others, however, if he died naturally then he will make others tamei. He based his opinion on the words of the Zohar Hakadosh. According to the Avnei Nezer, kohanim would be allowed to visit the grave of a tzadik who was murdered, such as Rav Akiva.]

2) The Gemara in Baba Basra (58a) tells us that Rav Binah marked off the graves of the Patriarchs in Maaras Hamachpela. The Rashbam, Tosafos and the Rif all explain that the reason that Rav Binah marked off the graves was to alert the kohanim of the presence of tumah so that they can avoid those areas entirely.

[However, Rav Yaakov Emden zt”l, in his Hagaos Yaavetz, offers an alternate explanation. He writes that the purpose of marking the locations of the graves in the Maaras Hamachpela could not have been for kohanim to avoid tumah because kivrei tzadikim do not transmit tumah. Rather, the graves were marked so that Jews in future generations would be able to daven at the graves of the Avos.

3) The Gemara in Sanhedrin (39a) records a conversation that took place between a heretic and Rav Avahu. The heretic asked how G-d purified himself after burying Moshe Rabbeinu, because the pasuk indicates that G-d is a kohen. Rav Avahu responded that instead of using water, G-d purified Himself by immersing in fire. Tosafos wonders why the heretic did not question how G-d was allowed to bury Moshe in the first place if He is in fact a kohen. Tosafos explains that because the Jews are considered children of G-d (“banim lamakom”) there is no problem with G-d contaminating Himself by coming in contact with a Jewish body, the same way a kohen is allowed to bury his own son. The Gemara seems to indicate that even though Moshe Rabbeinu was both a tzadik and a talmid chacham his body would transmit tumah.

The rulings of the poskim

While some poskim  permitted kohanim to visit the graves of tzadikim, however, the overwhelming majority of the poskim forbid any kohen to come in contact with the corpse or grave of a tzadik, I will list some of them here: Sefer Haeshkol, Maharil (150), Shu”t Batei Kehuna (1:23), Mishpitei Tzedek (76), Sdei Chemed (vol. 8 page 292), Hilchos Ketanos (177), Zais Ranan (Y.D. 2:27), Pe’as Hashulchan (2:16), Tuv Tam V’Daas (Rav Shlomo Kluger Y.D. 2:231), Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (202:14), Divrei Yechezkel, Yaskil Avdi (vol. 8 page 192), Yechave Daas (Rav Ovadia Yosef zt”l 4:48) and Tzitz Eliezer (15:58).

[See Tzitz Eliezer 15:58, 16:18,3 for a discussion as to whether Kever Rachel was constructed in a way to permit kohanim entry according to all authorities. Rav Shlomo Zalmen Auerbach zt”l (Halichos Shlomo Sefiras Haomer chapter eleven note 86) denies the claim that kohanim can enter the kever of Rav Shimon Bar Yochai. He writes that the construction does not permit entry under any circumstance.]

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