Category Archives: Minhag

Homiletics or Halacha: An Example from Niddah

Another example relates to a famous statement by R. Meir about the issur of Niddah. 

תלמוד בבלי מסכת נדה דף לא עמוד ב

תניא, היה ר”מ אומר: מפני מה אמרה תורה נדה לשבעה – מפני שרגיל בה, וקץ בה, אמרה תורה: תהא טמאה שבעה ימים, כדי שתהא חביבה על בעלה כשעת כניסתה לחופה.


R. Meir asks why a Niddah is assurah to her husband for seven days.  He answers that the Torah wanted to separate them for seven days so that when they are together again “she will be as beloved to her husband as he was she got married.”  R. Meir can either be understand as explaining why there is a notion of separating for Niddah at all, or why the issur formulated as it was – as seven days with all the laws that go along with, regardless of when she stops bleeding.  [Separating during menstruation was relatively common in many ancient cultures.  The specific laws of Niddah are more of a chiddush than the basic notion of separation.]  Either way, he offers an explanation for the laws of Niddah.

The simplest understanding is that this is homiletic/philosophical, but has no normative value.  For example, there is no obligation to be a Niddah for a week every month, and if someone uses hormones to minimize how often she is a Niddah, that is fine.   There is no obligation to create this distance that makes the heart grow fonder.

However, there was one Rishon (that I know of) who thought it did have (quasi-)normative value.  Continue reading Homiletics or Halacha: An Example from Niddah


Halacha and Kabbala (Halachic Methodology 8)

Sorry for the hiatus.  Things have been a bit crazy.  The shiur and sources are available: here.

In this shiur I spoke about the role that Kabbalah plays in the Halachic process.  This question can be asked on several levels, but I focused primarily on the role of the Zohar and the Arizal in psak.  [One can also speak about the role of dreams, bas kols, etc.]

There are two extremes:  1) The view of the Chasam Sofer, that is traditional in many Ashkenazi circles, that Kabbalistic material does not affect Halacha.  He pithily calls any psak based on a synthesis Kilayim.  2) The view often cited of the Masas Binyamin, that the Zohar outweighs all post-Talmudic authorities combined.  The Ben Ish Chai and Chida, as well as many poskim of various Edot HaMizrach have similar sentiments about the Arizal.  One can in theory accept only one of these authorities in this way. Continue reading Halacha and Kabbala (Halachic Methodology 8)

Authority, Custom, and Independent Analysis: Halachic Methodology 2


This week’s shiur (link)dealt with the relative weight given to three of the main factors in pesak.  The first is textual precedent or authority; the second is custom (popular and rabbinic); the third is interpretation of canonical texts, or how one understands the Gemara.  While no posek makes decisions by relying on one of these, poskim differ on how much relative weight they give to these three factors.

I captured these three factors by highlighting how poskim in varying generations related to them.  I began with the generation of Rabbi Yosef Karo, Rabbi Moshe Isserles, and Rabbi Shlomo Luria.  Rabbi Yosef Karo, authored the Beit Yosef and Shulchan Aruch.  Continue reading Authority, Custom, and Independent Analysis: Halachic Methodology 2

Why a Siyum is a Simcha

In honor of the upcoming siyum daf yomi on Eruvin – a quick rundown of the sources for the minhag to celebrate the finishing of a מסכת.

The Gemara in Shabbos (118b-119a) quotes Abaye as saying that he would make a celebration for the rabbis when he saw a young scholar finish a masechta.  [There is a discussion in Rashi, Yam Shel Shlomo and Chavos Yair cited below why it was Abaye who made the celebration.]

  Continue reading Why a Siyum is a Simcha

Not Naming a Boy Until the Bris Milah

At the Shalom Zachor of our son, one of my friends told a story about someone who invited everyone to the Bris of his son, with the name already in the announcement.  He footnoted the email with the comment that he knows of no source for the minhag to delay declaring the baby’s name until the Bris.  When one of friends became an uncle this week (Mazal Tov!), I was thinking about this question again – what is the source for the minhag?

As it turns out, the Tzitz Eliezer was asked this question, and he points out that the custom dates back over a thousand years to the period of the early Rishonim and even Geonim.  He cites R. Yaakov HaGozer, who was a mohel in the early thirteenth century who explains that any name given before the Bris Milah will be an impure name of the uncircumcised, so you want his name to be different after the Bris Milah.  The source cited is Avraham who changed his name from Avram after his Milah.  [Calling Avraham by his original name may be a violation of an Aseh – see the Magen Avraham Orach Chaim 156 and other commentaries there who discuss this lihalacha.]  He similarly cites the Siddur of ר”ש מגרמייזא , the Rebbe of Rashi who says that same.  He cites several other sources, and then adds some kabbalistic ones at the end.  The Tzitz Eliezer does not cite the Ibn Ezra in Shemos 4 who seems to cite the same custom from Shemuel b. Chofni (one of the Geonim, father in law of R. Hai Geon), though I’m not entirely sure where the quote starts and ends, so it could be Ibn Ezra talking, though I don’t think so. Continue reading Not Naming a Boy Until the Bris Milah