Sefer Ha-Hayim Blog
Thursday, December 30, 2004
Non-Kosher Quotes
I received some online and offline comments about the title of a recent post on Hirhurim, the origin of which is in the Christian bible.

R. Yehuda Henkin has an interesting teshuvah (#26) in volume 4 of Bnei Banim on the subject of whether those who believe that the Lubavitcher Rebbe is the messiah are considered to be heretics. The responsum was addressed to me, and at the time I received permission from him to publicize it. So I posted it online (here). The text of the question I sent began with rich praises of R. Henkin, as is the traditional style, and R. Henkin began his response by humbly deflecting the praise. In the context of such deflection, he pointed out that there is a phrase sometimes quotes by posekim (e.g. Responsa Hasam Sofer 5:22) "Ein navi le-iro" whose origin is in the Christian bible.

Granted, those who quoted it probably did not know its origin. But now that we do, are we prohibited from using the phrase? I would venture, based on intuition and without any sources or backing, that once the phrase has entered the common idiom it loses its "non-kosher" origin and just becomes a regular, eloquent turn of phrase. I would suggest that the same applies to the phrase "And the truth shall set you free." It is now part of the common idiom and no longer retains any connection to its origin (much like words such as "crux").

Feel free to disagree.

Monday, December 20, 2004
Online Buying
Yashar Books now has the ability to offer customers the opportunity to purchase certain books in advance through the web.

Both volume 4 and the set of volumes 1-3 of R. Yehuda Henkin's Bnei Banim can be purchased here.

R. Michael J. Broyde's forthcoming revised and expanded edition of The Pursuit of Justice and Jewish Law: Halakhic Perspectives on the Legal Profession can be purchased here.

Spousal Abuse
R. Daniel Z. Feldman, The Right and the Good: Halakhah and Human Relations

Yashar Books is proud to announce that we will shortly be publishing R. Daniel Z. Feldman's The Right and the Good: Halakhah and Human Relations in a significantly revised and expanded edition. The erudite volume discusses topics regarding interpersonal mitzvos, presenting the various hakiros (analyses) on the subjects and the lomdus (theory) behind them with encyclopedic breadth. Chapter eleven of the book deals with the issues of hitting someone else and, as an addendum to the chapter, the author concludes with a very brief discussion of hitting one's spouse. These are his words:

It must be emphasized that, as the Mordechai [70] points out, a person who would strike his wife is not only in violation of the aforemen�tioned prohibitions, but he has committed additional prohibitions as well. The Talmud commands that a man show his wife "honor more than to himself." [71] Certainly, physical violence tramples this concept as well as many other relevant prohibitions. [72] Thus, such behavior is considered to be even more egregious and to be dealt with most severely. [73] R. Meir of Rothenberg [74] writes that the individual who would strike his wife must be excommunicated and punished with all means available to society. The Agudah [75] adds that the husband must give his sworn assurance that he will immediately cease this behavior and, if he does not, he must release his wife from the marriage and pay the full value of her ketubah. [76]

[70] Ketubot 5:186, quoting Rabbeinu Simchah. Note Responsa Terumat HaDeshen 218, and Sdei Chemed, Ma'arekhet Heih 5, at length.

[71] Yevamot 62b and Sanhedrin 76b.
[72] This is codified by the Rama in Even HaEzer 154:3.
[73] See Be'er HaGolah to Even HaEzer and Piskei Batei Din HaRabbaniyim 12, pp. 80-86, 91-92.
[74] Responsa Maharam MiRotenberg (Prague) 81.
[75] P. 121b.
[76] See also R. Eliezer Papo, Pele Yoetz, Ma'asekhet Haka'ah, and Pitchei Teshuvah, Even HaEzer 154:8.

Thursday, December 09, 2004
Seating Arrangements at Weddings
R. Yehuda Henkin, Bnei Banim vol. 4 - $10  buy it now

R. Yehuda Henkin wrote a lengthy analysis of seating practices at weddings in the first volume of Bnei Banim (no. 35; dated 2 Adar 5737 [1977]). In it, he concluded that while the practice of mixed seating can be halakhically defended, it is proper to seat single men and women separately even if married couples are seated together. He also stated that those who seat even married men and women at separate tables "are called holy," and noted that his grandfather (R. Yosef Eliyahu Henkin zt"l) "and other great [scholars] of his generation" had separate tables for men and women at the weddings of their children.

In the most recent volume of Bnei Banim, in a footnote to a responsum on an unrelated topic (no. 19, p. 72; date 27 Adar 5762 [2002]), R. Henkin partially retracts his earlier ruling and advises that single men and women who are "in the parashah," i.e. looking for a spouse, should be seated together. He writes:

And with this I retract what I wrote... that at weddings it is proper to seat single men and single women separately even if the married couples sit together. This is [still] so with young men and women who are not yet ready to get married. However, regarding those who have reached that stage, to the opposite, it is a mitzvah so that they get to know each other in a place where there is no concern for yihud and each couple is not alone on a "date," as is done today...

Monday, December 06, 2004
Migo Misunderstood
R. Michael J. Broyde, The Pursuit of Justice and Jewish Law
buy it now

What is migo? It is a common talmudic legal device that gives litigants believability when they otherwise would not have it. Since - migo - he could have lied and claimed X and been in a better position, the fact that he did not claim X means that he must be telling the truth. This never sat well with me. In a footnote to R. Michael J. Broyde's The Pursuit of Justice and Jewish Law, the author explains in contemporary legal terms how a migo works (from here, emphasis added):

Essentially, migo is a sophisti�cated pleading in the alternative, in which a defendant states that since he has a legally provable defense that would allow him to triumph in court if he wished to disregard the ethical obligation of justice, that false defense, coupled with defendant?s sincere claim that he has a truthful defense (that he cannot prove) is sufficient in Jewish law to allow the defendant to triumph. (For example, if "A" borrowed $100 from "B" without any loan documentation and repaid the loan in the same way, then when "B" sues "A" for payment of the loan, "A" would claim that he already paid the loan. The court should believe him on that unprovable claim, because he has a very strong migo claim-that he never borrowed the money-which, if he were to assert, would allow him to prevail.)

It is important to realize (and this is commonly overlooked) that in order for a migo claim to be valid, the false claim must be one that the defendant would triumph with if the case and the false defense were actually litigated in court. If the migo claim can be defeated by the plaintiff through the presentation of evidence, then it is of no value. Jewish law essentially rewards the defendant for his honesty in labeling his provable defense as false, by allowing him to press it anyway. The common law tradition in that case simply encouraged perjury...
I found this explanation very helpful. If it were not for migo, Jewish law would inadvertently encourage lying and even reward it. Migo, at least of this type (there is another type), forestalls this possibility and protects the integrity of the legal system by rewarding honesty.