The 5 Towns Jewish Times

The Great Bingo Riot and Halacha

By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com

The following story is true and occurred somewhere in the eastern United States. In order to protect the identity of the individuals involved the location and names have been omitted.

The local Yeshiva was supported by the community. The older people of the community both donated financially toward its general budget and they also ran a bingo to help support it. The bingo hall was located in a crime ridden location. Many of these supporters who volunteered and staffed the bingo were well into their eighties.

On one particular occasion, during the bingo, a ball got stuck in the corner of the machine. That ball, B12, did not appear the entire evening. At the end of the bingo, this fact was discovered. The bingo players were enraged.

“No wonder my card did not come up all night!” some shouted.

A riot began. Some of the players overturned their tables. Others began to throw the bingo material at the elderly volunteers. Two of the players headed toward the bingo board and began to smash it. Another group headed toward the air machine with vengeance in their heart.

A certain Mr. S., 84 years old, foresaw the disaster that was about to ensue. He knew that it would take weeks, if not months, for the yeshiva to recover. A riot would mean thousands of dollars in broken equipment, thousands in downtime in having to wait for new equipment to arrive, and finally – months to rebuild the clientele attending the bingo.

Mr. S. thought quickly to avert disaster. He grabbed the microphone. He then took hold of an elderly woman with blue-rimmed glasses and a cane. And then he began.

The lyrics started to emerge.

“Start spreadin’ the news. I’m leaving today. I want to be a part of it. New York, New York.  These vagabond shoes, are longing to stray. Right through the very heart of it.. New York, New York.”

The crowd was confused. They stopped in their tracks. “What was this elderly Jewish man doing singing a Frank Sinatra song and dancing with this elderly woman?” they questioned. And they were fascinated.

The rioting completely stopped. The man, with his quick thinking, had saved the yeshiva tens of thousands of dollars. The Rebbeim could be paid. Torah learning could continue to flourish.

But, what is the halacha?  Was he permitted to dance with the elderly woman in order to avert financial disaster for the Yeshiva?  What are the underlying prohibitions and issues involved? What are the parameters for when they are permitted?

TWO UNDERLYING ISSUES

There are two issues involved here.  The first is the notion of Negi’ah shelo b’derech chiba – touching in a manner that involves no closeness.  The Rambam in Sefer HaMitzvos #353 (according to many commentators) holds that such touching is biblically forbidden nonetheless, while the Ramban holds that it is not biblically forbidden.

The issue is further discussed in Yore Deah 195 and 196 wherein there is a debate between the Maharshal and the Shach (195:20).  The Maharshal forbids it entirely.  The Shach permits it.  In his commentary on the Tur, Rav Yoseph Karo author of the Bais Yoseph is unsure as to the halacha, leaving it with a tzarich iyun – that the matter requires further examination.

There is also debate among later commentators as to whether the Shach only permits it on a biblical level but forbids it miderabanan (Rabbinically) thus only permitting it for medical reasons – or whether he permits it for other purposes as well.

Ultimately, this is the issue as to whether or not it is permitted for women to use male doctors as a matter of routine, or whether they are obligated to seek out a female doctor.  For some reason, in America, many rule leniently, while both Rav Ovadiah Yoseph zt”l as well as Rav Vosner have ruled that if there is a competent female doctor available – it is forbidden for a woman to use a male doctor.

OTHER REPERCUSSIONS OF THE DEBATE

There are other repercussions of the debate as well.  Rav  Moshe Feinstein zt”l rules in Igros Moshe (EH Vol. II #14) that one can sit on a tram next to a woman even if they are accidentally touching. Rav Menashe Klein zt”l (Mishna Halachos IV #186) also holds that one may be seated in a crowded bus on account of this Shach.  He holds that the Shach does not forbid it even on a rabbinic level.

Another repercussion of this debate is whether handshaking with a woman is permitted as well. In this case, most Poskim are stringent. Rav Moshe Feinstein maintains (EH Vol. I #56), that it is difficult to claim that shaking hands is not considered derecho chibah – an expression of affection. In EH Vol. I # 113 he openly forbids it. Rav Scheinberg zt”l allowed it during pressing circumstances.

There may, however, be a great distinction between medical cases and dancing to Sinatra in this case that there may be a chshash chiba, concern for closeness, in the dancing, whereas in medical issues there is no chshash chiba.  Certainly, other types of mixed dancing are done for chiba and are therefore forbidden on a biblical level.

AVEIRAH LISHMA

There are also a few Gemorahs Horios (10b) and Nazir (23a and b) that discuss the notion of performing an Aveirah for the right reasons.  Yael, Esther and the daughters of Lot are all discussed in this context.  Rav Chaim Volozhin in his Keser Rosh (132) writes that we may no longer do this, however, after the conclusion of the Gemorah.

CONCLUSION

Most Poskim would view any form of dancing as derecho chiba – an expression of affection and thus forbidden.  Nonetheless, Mr. S’s heart was in the right place and he did it for the continued existence of the Yeshiva.  There is a responsa from the Rashba (Vol. V #238) to his student that he should not necessarily enforce the precise halacha when he first arrives in his community. He should rather tactfully ignore it until a more propitious time would come around.

The author can be reached at yairhoffman2@gmail.com