Gray Matter volume 2
ISBN 1-933143-10-X, 324 pages, $22.95 Learn about volume 1
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By Chaim Jachter, with Ezra Frazer

GRAY MATTER VOLUME 2 is an exploration of the application of halacha (Jewish law) in contemporary society. It includes over thirty essays on topics of interest. Each chapter explains the subject and its background in clear English and then takes the reader through the varying views among the leading poskim (halachic decisors). Rather than providing simple answers to questions, the book takes readers through the process of how halacha is decided and explores the reasons for different conclusions.

The book is divided into seven sections: Laws of Shabbat, The State of Israel, Family Matters, Beit Din, Pesach, Electricity, and Building and Maintaining Mikva’ot.

In the section on the Laws of Shabbat, the book describes the duty to violate Shabbat in order to save someone’s life and the associated questions that arise. Must one minimize the violations when possible? May an emergency worker, who was obligated to travel to save someone’s life, return after the emergency has ended? Is it preferable to request the services of a non-observant doctor over an observant doctor, because the former would violate Shabbat anyway? These and other questions are explored and the views of the leading poskim are explained. The section ends with a chapter on the squeezing of lemons on Shabbat, a surprisingly controversial topic.

The State of Israel raises halachic questions that are entirely new. In a country run largely by Jews, can one utilize electricity on Shabbat that is generated by electric plants run by non-observant Jews who are violating Shabbat? The changing technology over the past decades complicates this already difficult question. The book surveys the Israeli literature to provide the varying conclusions and how Israelis manage this situation. Other topics discussed are the offering of korbanot today and over which areas of Israel one is obligated to rend one’s garment.

The section on Family Matters addresses topics of great importance in today’s society. To what extent may one reveal the flaws of a potential marriage partner? What solutions exist to infertility caused by halacha? This book comprehensively maps out the issues involved with these questions. The book also discusses how the Beth Din of America handled the agunot (stranded wives) from the World Trade Center tragedy, as well as other subjects.

Beit Din (Jewish religious court) is a controversial topic. The book strongly advocates the use of a beit din and explores how to select a court, issue a summons, and the problem of lawyers in the beit din system. Rabbi Jachter brings his extensive experience as dayan (religious judge) who trained with the Jerusalem Rabbinic Court to elucidate these topics with great insight.

The section on Pesach discusses different appliances common in the modern kitchen and how/whether to kasher them for Pesach. These chapters are essential for understanding how to run a kosher kitchen.

Can one fulfill a mitzvah by hearing it through an electronic medium - microphones, telephones, hearing aids? The section on Electricity addresses this much-debated topic as well as the issue of electric Chanukah menorahs. Recognizing the complexity of the physics involved, this section includes insight from an expert in that aspect of these questions.

In one of the few presentations of this topic in English, the book describes the complex issues involved in building and maintaining a mikvah (ritual bath). Not only are the halachic subjects addressed, but the book also relates important information based on extensive experience. One emerges from reading this section with a much better understanding of exactly what a mikvah is and how a community would go about building one.

Praise for the Book
“Many people in our times are thirsty to hear the word of God but are incapable of searching through texts on their own. Rabbi Chaim [Jachter] did well in arranging everything like a set table before readers.”

—Rabbi Hershel Schachter
“Rabbi Chaim Jachter has already established, through his first book, his ability to present difficult halachic questions, to cover them from all perspectives, to explain and clarify the views of the great poskim [halachic decisors] — both from previous generations and from today, and to explain them in a clear and understandable format, in English and in an order that makes it easy for the reader to understand the subject in depth.”

—Rabbi Elazar Teitz

Inside the Book

Table of Contents

  Saving Lives on Shabbat
  • General Introduction
  • Minimizing Prohibited Activity (Hutrah vs. Dechuyah)
  • Putting Oneself in Piku’ach Nefesh Situations
  • Returning from an Emergency
  Squeezing Lemons on Shabbat

The State of Israel

  Can We Offer Korbanot Today?

  Using Electricity from Israeli Power
  Plants on Shabbat

  Which Parts of Israel Warrant
  Tearing Keri’ah

Family Matters

  Revealing Flaws of a Potential
  Marriage Partner

  "Orthodox Infertility"

  In Vitro Fertilization

  The Beth Din of America's Handling
  of the World Trade Center Agunot

  Chatzitzot and Tevilah
  • General Discussion
  • Teeth and Fingernails
Beit Din

  Lifnim Mishurat Hadin

  The Prohibition Against Using Civil

  Summons to Beit Din
  • Issuing the Summons
  • Selecting the Court
  Pesharah in Theory and in Practice

  The Role of Lawyers in Beit Din
  • The Problem
  • Permissible Situations

  May One Kasher A Conventional
  Oven for Pesach

  Kashering Dishwashers for Pesach

  Kashering a Microwave Oven for


  Fulfilling Mitzvot Through Electronic
  Hearing Devices

  Why Don’t We Use Electric
  Chanukah Menorahs

Building and Maintaining Mikva’ot

  The Community’s Responsibility to
  Build a Mikvah

  Distinguishing Between Mikvah and

  Mayim She’uvim


  Five Approaches to Creating a


Putting Oneself in Piku’ach Nefesh Situations (PDF)

Fulfilling Mitzvot Through Electronic Hearing Devices (PDF)

Blog Posts About The Book

Electric Hanukah Menorahs

How Does A Beis Din Work?

Are All Rabbis Created Equal?

Gray Matter 2 Reviewed

About the Authors

Rabbi Chaim Jachter (Google him) teaches Judaic studies at the Torah Academy of Bergen County, New Jersey, and resides with his wife and four children in Teaneck, NJ. He serves as a Dayan (Rabbinical Judge) with the Beth Din of Elizabeth New Jersey and has trained with the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court. Rabbi Jachter has published dozens of articles on practical halachah in leading Hebrew and English journals as well as a prior volume of Gray Matter.

Rabbi Ezra Frazer (Google him) graduated from the Torah Academy of Bergen County, where he studied with Rabbi Jachter and where he later returned as a Tanach teacher. He holds rabbinical ordination, a BA in Computer Science, and Masters degrees in Secondary Education and Tanach, all from Yeshiva University. He is currently in his sixth year of study in Yeshivat Har Etzion. Eliane Tonkin z"l, to whose memory this book is dedicated, is Rabbi Frazer's grandmother.

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