Rav Moshe Feinstein zt’l, the leading posek of the generation, passed away on March 23, 1986. The world lost not only its leading posek but an outstanding tzadik and leader. He left behind a remarkable oeuvre of halachic and Talmudic writings, the Dibros Moshe on Shas and the Igros Moshe on halacha.
Since his passing, a few volumes of letters that were not included in the previous volumes of Igros Moshe have been printed.
And now, Rav Moshe’s grandson, R. Mordechai Tendler, who had kept notebooks and letters of his saintly grandfather’s rulings in his 18 years serving as his grandfather’s gabbai, has just printed a new book of Rav Moshe Feinstein’s oral rulings: Sefer Mesoras Moshe. The rulings number well over 1,000, and most of them are quite fascinating.
The book has approbations from both of Rav Moshe’s sons, Rav Dovid Feinstein, shlita, and Rav Reuvein Feinstein, shlita, as well as Rav Shmuel Fuerst from Chicago and Rav Dovid Cohen from Brooklyn, both leading and well-respected poskim in the United States. Rav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita, of Bnei Brak, appended his signature as well to Rav Dovid Cohen’s approbation.
The 621-page work was carefully reviewed and edited by Rav Shmuel Fuerst as well, at the suggestion of Rav Dovid Feinstein, shlita. It covers all four sections of Shulchan Aruch and its encounters with modern society. Also, most of the questions include the names or other details of the person who had posed the original question.
Toward the end of the volume we find some heretofore unknown biographical information about Rav Feinstein. We discover that he had a brother and sister who both passed away as teenagers. His sister’s name was “Shoshana” and his brother’s was “Yitzchok.” Rav Moshe observed their yarhtzeits carefully. There is also a section on hashkafah as well as explanations of various subject matters in Tanach.
In the Orech Chaim section (p. 7), we learn about Rav Moshe being careful to recite the blessing of “Asher nasan l’sechvi” after dawn, and once when he erroneously did not check the time, he asked someone who was reciting this berachah later to have him in mind.
What about showering? Is a berachah necessary when one puts on his tzitzis again after having taken them off? Rav Moshe initially thought to require another blessing because of the length of the pause, but ultimately ruled (p.11) that it is not necessary, since one can technically shower with tzitzis on. The fact that the pause is not mandatory plays a role in determining whether a blessing must be re-recited.
On page 19, the issue arises of the shel yad section of the pair of tefillin having been written after the shel rosh. The custom is like the Rama (OC 32:1) to be stringent, yet this book cites Rav Moshe as advocating a lenient position. There is a footnote attempting to explain Rav Feinstein’s position in light of the fact that the Rama as well as contemporary sofrim are stringent. It is unclear, however, who wrote the footnote.
Regarding issues of davening, Rav Feinstein rules that a congregation should never ever skip any part of the Psukei D’Zimra section unless they cannot reach the recitation of Shema on time. He further states that an individual should not regularly skips parts but can do so occasionally (p.25).
How about reciting a blessing in a restaurant when all the other diners are dressed inappropriately? There is a debate between the Shulchan Aruch and Rama as to whether mere shutting of the eyes is sufficient to recite a blessing or whether it requires turning one’s entire body around. Rav Feinstein suggested reciting the blessing outside of the building itself and was not concerned about the issue of a hefsek, an interruption (p.26).
In the Yoreh Deah section (p. 206) of the book, a rabbi had posed a question as to whether an out-of-town Vaad HaKashrus should be lenient and provide supervision to a store that would sell frozen meats, but the store would be open on Shabbos. The rationale was that it could lead to enhanced kashrus service. Rav Feinstein provided three rationales as to why it most definitively should not be done.
Rav Elimelech Bluth, shlita, asked whether it was appropriate to hold a siyum on the night of December 25. Rav Feinstein responded (p. 290) that if possible it would be preferable to push it off and strongly encouraged doing so.
In regard to performing a bris milah on a newborn gentile baby who is going to be converted, through something called “Matbilin oso al da’as beis din,” Rav Feinstein ruled (p. 331) that it should not be performed before eight days of life in order to avoid future confusion.
If a mohel was not a Sabbath observer, is it necessary to require another mohel to take out a drop of blood from the child? Rav Feinstein responded that it should definitely be done (p.321).
In regard to the writings of STAM [a sefer Torah, mezuzah, and tefillin] Rav Feinstein is quoted as saying that a prettier ksav (as long as the sofer was G-d-fearing) is preferable to a less beautiful handwriting even though the sofer is a more righteous individual (p.336). This is, in this author’s view, a rather novel ruling.
In regard to the laws of mezuzah, Rav Feinstein seems to state (p. 339) that there may not be a prohibition in removing mezuzos when the very obligation itself is that of a (safek) doubt or a debate. In this author’s opinion this is a controversial ruling. For example, the Rambam is of the opinion that a doorway that has no door does not require a mezuzah. We, therefore, do not recite a blessing when affixing a mezuzah on a doorway with no door. Would this fall under the rubric of a mezuzah that may be removed? If the issue is that it is a dangerous practice, as seen both in the Talmud and in Rav Yehudah HaChassid (#81), then why should we be lenient just because there is a debate about it?
In the Even HaEzer section, the question was raised as to whether a ba’alas teshuvah from Russia would be permitted to marry a Kohen, out of concern that she may have previously engaged in licentious activity with someone who is not part of Khal Yisrael. Rav Feinstein answered that the concern is greater in the United States in regard to that matter than in Russia. But he permitted it (p. 293) when we do not know otherwise.
May a remarried widow have pictures of her first husband in the house? Rav Moshe forbade it on account of actual halachic reasons (p 405). [One may also wonder whether access to an electronic picture would count here as well.]
May a rabbi perform a wedding when the couple will not be keeping the laws of family purity? Rav Feinstein ruled affirmatively (p. 415). [Rabbi Rominek, shlita, once reported to this author that this was the view of Rav Aharon Kotler, zt’l, as well].
For a get (a Jewish divorce document) how does one spell “Queens?” Rav Feinstein answered (p. 421) that it is a topic of some difficulty and that the custom has evolved that each neighborhood should be spelled by itself, such as “Flushing” etc.
Can a woman who needs a get but her gambling husband is refusing to give her one, utilize the following ruse: hire someone to date him, have him fall for her, and then trick him into giving his wife a get so that the new girl will “continue to see him”? [This author is aware of a situation where this was done successfully.] Rav Feinstein responded (p. 429) that if it is logistically possible to do, there is nothing wrong with it.
In the Choshen Mishpat section, Rav Feinstein was asked about a beis din taking telephone testimony. He responded (p. 463) that it is not considered “mipihem” and therefore not valid for actual testimony. However, it may be utilized in a limited manner if they recognize his voice. This is considered as “knowledge that he wants it.” [One might be curious as to what Rav Feinstein would have ruled about Skype.]
May a yeshiva take away an electronic device from its student, or does this constitute a form of theft? Rav Moshe answered (p. 467) that they can, but must return it to the student at the end of the year. Otherwise, it would be considered theft. [The question of whether this is true if they gave ample warning still seems unclear.]
May someone in possession of the Torah writings of a great Torah sage print it without the permission of the children? Rav Feinstein responded (p. 468) that they can as long as they do not steal the content and claim it as their own. This seems to have been an actual question that was posed regarding the responsa of the Brisker Rav.
It will take some time, of course, to assess how this sefer will impact the state of contemporary psak halacha. In general most poskim analyze each halachic question on their own, but they do take into account the positions of gedolei haposkim too. Some poskim use a lenient view as a “snif,” a contributing factor to come up with a leniency. And this sefer certainly has a number of rulings that will probably be implemented in this type of fashion.
It is interesting to note that a similar but much thinner volume of rulings from Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt’l, was published approximately two years ago by Rabbi Aharon Felder from Philadelphia. Rav Felder’s volume contains rulings that were significantly more controversial than this more recent volume. Certainly R. Tendler was aware of these rulings as well, yet either he or, more likely, the editors of this volume chose to exclude them. Of course there have been rulings emanating from Rav Feinstein that appear neither in this most current volume nor in Rav Felder’s volume.
In recent weeks, this author had presented some of the more novel rulings found in Rav Felder’s volume to some leading poskim and rabbanim who specialize in halacha. The reaction on their part was not particularly enthusiastic. After the passing of the Vilna Gaon, similar books appeared with the practices and rulings of the Vilna Gaon. A number of them were entitled Maaseh Rav and they met with a quite varied response–where some poskim quoted liberally from them and others rejected the rulings and practices found in them.
In this author’s opinion, the vast majority of Rav Moshe’s rulings that entered into general acceptance when he was alive still remain generally accepted. There are some rulings, however, where the trend has been to look elsewhere. For example, Rav Moshe permitted the use of rebar to prevent cement from cracking when pouring cement for a mikvah. [Rebar is short for reinforcing bar which helps reinforce or compress concrete through either a bar or wires made of carbon steel]. He held that the metal was batel to the cement. The tendency for the past number of years of mikvah builders is to stay away from rebar. Perhaps this can be explained by the development of greater proficiency in pouring, but conversations with mikvah builders indicate that there is a halachic trend at play here. In a similar vein, numerous bnei Torah now look at the U-shaped insertable cholent pot as a problem of hatmana, insulating, relying on the view of Rav Elyashiv and Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. This is a position that was summarily rejected by Rav Moshe.
Perhaps only time will tell, but the question of how the arrival of this new volume will affect current halachic rulings of contemporary poskim is certainly an interesting one. Finally, family members have confirmed that there will be a total of 18 volumes to be published. The sefer is available at all major Jewish bookstores. v
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