Rabbi Wohlberg on Mechitza’s

The Wall Street Journal had a great article yesterday on Mechitza’s, the partition that separates men and women in shul.  I particularly enjoyed Rabbi Wohlberg’s take on the issue:

 Beth Tfiloh in Baltimore went in the other direction. Years back, when it relocated to the suburbs from downtown, the congregation decided on separate seating but no partition. The concern was that a divider might alienate young families lured by synagogues where everyone sat together. But the tide has turned, says Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg, and a new, more observant, generation would have left if it were not for the partition. At the same time, he adds, congregants “didn’t want to see women move to the back of the bus.” The solution? A “tasteful” mehitzah made of glass, wood and brass.

Rabbi Wohlberg is impatient with complainers. “Many of the people who say they want to sit with their husbands and wives at services, they don’t play golf together, they don’t have weeknights together,” he remarks. “All of a sudden, they can’t live without each other when they come to service?”


Filtering water on Shabbos

Yesterday’s daf (50) was talking about leaving uncovered water out and how we’re concerned that a snake could come and drink from the water, thus injecting some of its venom into the water. If you were to want to drink the water, the gemara offers the following solution: filter it, even on Shabbos. The question is asked, but if you filter the water on Shabbos, isn’t that borer? You are specifically trying to separate the bad (the venom) from the good (the water)?

The reason we allow people to filter water is because we’re not sure that there is something bad in the first place. It is only there as a precaution. You might not be filtering out anything bad. In this day and age where filters are commonly found in people’s homes, it is not necessary to disable the filters just for Shabbos because there might not necessarily be bugs or whatnot in the water.

Hilchos Sukkah, Dr. Suess style

(Contributed by Rabbi Arthur E. Gould)

You can build it very small (1)
You can build it very tall (2)

You can build it very large (3)
You can build it on a barge

You can build it on a ship (4)
Or on a roof but please don’t slip (5)

You can build it in an alley (6)
You shouldn’t build it in a valley (7)

You can build it on a wagon (8)
You can build it on a dragon (9)

You can make the skakh of wood (10)
Would you, could you, yes you should

Make the skakh from leaves of tree
You shouldn’t bend it at the knee (11)

Build your Sukkah tall or short
No Sukkah is built in the Temple Court

You can build it somewhat soon
You cannot build it in the month of June (12)

If your Sukkah is well made
You’ll have the right amount of shade (13)

You can build it very wide
You can not build it on its side

Build if your name is Jim
Or Bob or Sam or even Tim

Build it if your name is Sue (14)
Do you build it, yes you do!

From the Sukkah you can roam
But you should treat it as your home (15)

You can invite some special guests
Don’t stay in it if there are pests

You can sleep upon some rugs
Don’t you build it where there’s bugs

In the Sukkah you should sit
And eat and drink but never…

If in the Sukkah it should rain
To stay there would be such a pain (16)

And if it should be very cold
Stay there only if you’re bold

So build a Sukkah one and all
Make it large or make it small

Sukkah rules are short and snappy
Enjoy Sukkot, rejoice be happy.

(1) Maimonides (RMBM) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Sukkah, Chapter 4, Section 1. The minimum height of a Sukkah is 10 tepachim. A tepach is a measure of the width of the four fingers of one’s hand. My hand is 3 1/4 inches wide for a minimum Sukkah height of 32 1/2 inches. The minimum allowable width is 7 tepachim by 7 tepachim. This would result in a Sukkah of 22 3/4 inches by 22 3/4 inches.

(2) The maximum height is 20 Amot. An Amah is the length from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger. My Amah is 15 1/2 inches for a maximum height of 25 feet. Others say that 30 feet is the maximum.

(3) According to RMBM the Sukkah can be built to a width of several miles. Shulchan Aruch also says there is no limit on the size of the width.

(4) RMBM Hilchot Sukkah Chapter 4, Section 6.

(5) RMBM Hilchot Sukkah Chapter 4, Section 11. RMBM states that one may construct a Sukkah by wedging poles in the four corners of the roof and suspending scakh from the poles. The walls of the building underneath are considered to reach upward to the edge of the scakh.

(6) RMBM Hilchot Sukkah Chapter 4, Section 8-10 discusses the ins and outs of building your Sukkah in an alley or passageway.

(7) There is a location referred to in the Talmud called Ashtarot Karnayim. According to the discussion there are two hills, with a valley in between where the Sun does not reach. Therefore it is impossible to sit in the shade of the roof of the Sukkah. I can’t find the reference…hopefully next year.

(8) RMBM Hilchot Sukkah Chapter 4, Section 6. You can go into a Sukkah built on a wagon or a ship even on Yom Tov.

(9) RMBM Hilchot Sukkah Chapter 4, Section 6. OK, RMBM says a camel but dragon rhymes with wagon a lot better, don’t you agree. Anyway, RMBM says you can build your Sukkah on a wagon or in the crown of a tree, but you can’t go into it on Yom Tov. There is a general rule against riding a beast or ascending into the crown of a tree on Yom Tov.

(10) Chapter 5 deals with the rules for the scakh. Basically, you can use that which has grown from the ground, and is completely detached from the ground. So, for example, you cannot bend the branches of a tree over the Sukkah to form the scakh. But you can cut the branches from a tree and use them as scakh.

(11) This would be a violation of the rule cited in the prior footnote.

(12) Shulchan Aruch, Hilchot Sukkah, Perek 636, Section 1 The Sukkah should not be built sooner than 30 days before the Hag. However, if the structure is built prior to 30 days, as long as something new is added within the 30 days, the Sukkah is kosher.

(13) Of course it’s a well known rule that you must sit in the shade from the roof of the Sukkah and not in the shade that may be cast by the walls. It seems that this might affect the height of the walls, depending on the longitude of the location where you are building your Sukkah.

(14) Traditionally, women, servants and minors are patur from the Mitzvah of Sukkah. In our day we hope we know better than to read out half the Jewish people from the observance of Mitzvot. Of course, that’s just a personal opinion of the author.

(15) MBM ibid Chapter 6, Section 6 explains that you should eat, drink and live in the Sukkah for the 7 days as you live in your own home. One should not even take a nap outside of the Sukkah.

(16) RMBM ibid, Section 10 If it rains one should go into the house. How does one know if it is raining hard enough? If sufficient raindrops fall through the scakh and into the food so that the food is spoiled—go inside!

© Rabbi Arthur E. Gould, Sukkot 1999 – 2001.

Wedding rings and Orthodox Jews

I was recently at a sheva brachos that was also attended by JewishCube. We got to talking about personal and spousal preferences to Orthodox Jewish males wearing wedding rings. I know that in the more yeshivish crowd, wedding rings are practically unheard of, whereas in the more modern orthodox crowd, it is pretty common. I don’t really consider myself to be in either of these categories, but I do not wear a wedding ring. Nor does anyone in my immediate family. I was curious as to the background of the wedding ring and how the practice came about. With women, it obviously goes back several thousand years. This is how Jews married from the beginning.

The Wikipedia article on wedding rings gives some interesting background. According to the article, the double-ring ceremony was started in the late 19th century by jewelers as a marketing tool. If everyone would do a double-ring ceremony, the jewelers would get more business. But it never became widespread until after the Great Depression. By 1940, double-ring ceremonies made up “80% of all weddings as opposed to 15% before the Depression.”

So this really is a recent phenomenon amongst non-Jews, and even more so, amongst Jews.

After doing a quick search on the subject, I came across this thread on a discussion board. It says there that according to R’ Moshe in Even Ha’Ezer 3:18 and Even Ha’Ezer 4:32, giving a ring under the chuppah or shortly thereafter should not be done. However, “even though perhaps it is repugnant for a God fearing person, one apparently should not forbid it in my humble opinion.”

What it boils down to, in my opinion, is personal preference.