Ask Rabbi Yaakov Spivak

Email me any questions you may have, please!
Albert in Minneapolis
My wife lost her kesubah. Are there any ramifications?

A.nswer:Yes. The Halacha is that a man and wife are not allowed to live under the same roof if the Kesubah is lost. What you have to do is get a form called a Kesubah D'Irchasay (A Lost Kesubah) and ask a rabbi trained in Halacha to fill it out for you.

Rabbi Yaakov Spivak

Qestion:Civil Courts
Saul in San Francisco
I heard that one is not allowed to take a fellow Jew to a civil court, only to a Beis Din, a rabbinical court. Is this true?

Answer: No. There are times when a rabbinical court will allow someone to take his case against a fellow Jew to a civil court. If the Beis Din issues three hazmanos (subpeonas) and the other party ignores them, the Beis Din can issue a Ksav Seruv, which is a declaration that a party has refused to respond to its subpeonas. The Beis Din can then give the plaintiff permission to take his case to a civil court.

Rabbi Yaakov Spivak

Question:On Creation
I am a Christian who has been following the Creation vs. Evolution debate going on online (Neither I nor my church believe in a literal account of Genesis 1 and 2) Anyway, I am struck by how all the defenders of the literal account are fundamentalist Christians. Is there a comparable position in the spectrum of Jewish thought? I assume that the Reformed Jews would accept the scientific findings and treat the creation account allegorically, but what about the Conservative and Orthodox end of the spectrum? Is there any consensus or even a minority opinion that the world was literally created in six days? Or is the general tendency to treat such stories allegorically? I'm curious, because the entire debate seems to be between fundamentalist Christians and rabid atheists, with only an occasional voice of moderation showing up.

Answer. Creation: Answer to KSand
Dear KSand: We are all finite creatures - minute dots in the Universe - trying to figure out the work of an Infinite Being - The Creator. In spite of it being a tough job, here are some Torah thoughts on your question. The medieval scholar and kabbalist Nachmanides (The Ramban) held to a literal interpretation as to the time of Creation - he believed that it took place in six, twenty-four hour days. But his position is not the only one. According to others, the Almighty created the world in what He - and only He considered days - that is, as stated in Psalms: "For a thousand years in Your Eyes is like yesterday." That being the case, each day could have been thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions of years. Here's something else to think about. That which determines that a day is twenty-four hours is the relationship between the Earth and the Sun. If the Sun is not present, there is no reference point with which to determine when the Earth has made a full twenty-four hour revolution. Please note that the Sun was not created until the fourth day; the light up to that time was not from the sun but from another source and was therefore not bound by the twenty-four hour system. The first three days then, could have been millions of years. As to your question of evolution, please note that the Talmud does not reject certain aspects of Evolution. For instance, Hillel was asked why the feet of the Africans were wider than those of other peoples. He answered that since they lived in swampy lands, the "makom" changed their feet to give them better traction. You may translate "makom" as the environment, or, as others say, the Almighty Himself. It really doesn't matter, since the Talmud, the Jewish book of wisdom, in the final analysis, accepts the idea that there occurred physical changes in the species in order to better adapt to a particular environment. The commentary by Yonatan Ben Uziel points out that Cain, the son of Adam, was "lo dami leh," meaning a different kind of creature than the rest of his family. We know from rabbinic literature that Cain looked more animal-like than did they. There were seven generations of Cain - hundreds of thousand of people - whose unearthed remains could very well be what archaeologists might have interpreted as a stage in the development of Homo Sapiens - man. All the best to you.

Rabbi Yaakov Spivak

Question: Kosher Cheese
Dear Rabbi Spivak:
I would like to know your opinion regarding Kosher Cheese. As I understand it, the big objection to most cheeses is that they are made with rennet, whose origin is from beef. However, is it not true that there is a halachic concept that if something of animal origin is reverted to a chemical and even a dog wouldn't eat it and does not recognize it as edible, then it is in fact chemical, therefore, permitting so-called non-kosher cheeses. In our family we have accepted this halachah. In fact, when I was a youngster (now I'm 63), I do remember Orthodox rabbis themselves permitting regular cheese. I am not certain, but the tendency for more strict use of cheese might be at least in part associated to the availability of Kosher cheese

Answer: Subj: Re:Kosher Cheese
You have touched on one of the most complex and controversial issues in Halacha. I will discuss it this once, and that's it! Even in the Talmud, when the subject was brought up to a rabbi, we are told that after a certain amount of discussion, "hayseo ledavar achayr," meaning he simply changed the subject. You mentioned rennet which is a coagulant ("davar hamamid"). The problem with rennet is not that it is made of beef, as you say, but that it could come from a non-Kosher animal. Your point about the condition of the beef is mentioned in Halacha in relation to it being "Naaseh KoEytz," meaning hardened like wood. Rav Chaim Ozer and others discuss this. Also, today, although non-Kosher rennet is still occaisionaly used, it is my understanding that the majority of rennet is microbial in origin, and the major brands of rennet have hechsherim. Having said that, would I eat cheese without a Hechsher? The answer is NO. There is still the issue of Gvinas Akum, which I shall translate here to mean that Halacha requires the manufacture of Kosher cheese to be under Jewish auspices. Although Rav Moshe Feinstein did, under certain circumstances, permit Chalav Akum (milk) to be used because FDA guidelines negated the problem that had caused it to be banned - and some would like to extend that "heter" to cheese as well - I still would not permit the consumption of cheese without a Hechsher, especially since there is an easy availability of Kosher cheese on the market.
To summarize:
1. One should not eat cheese without a Hechsher.
2. Should anyone ask me anything further on this issue, I will follow in the footsteps of the aforementioned Talmudic Sage and change the subject.

Question: Organ transplants
In a recent discussion with my father we disagreed on whether Halachah allows for organ transplantation. My father took the position that a body is to be buried whole. A friend indicated that the 'drash' is that since a body (dead or alive) contains a soul, when the Messiah arrives, the body's soul needs to be available for reunion. When I studied bio-medical ethics I recall an article arguing the following.
1) Modern medicine requires new law because it has changed what we can do for the ill.
2) Organ transplants are a very new procedure.
3) Because this procedure is so new, older law is inappropriate because it could not imagine or consider this possibility.
4) Often organ transplants 'save' a life.
5) Given that this is the case, then the question is whether not donating organs can be justified.
6) There are few situation in which a Jew can avoid not attempting to save a life.
7) So the question is whether donating an organ for use after one's own death one of these situations that would prevent attempting to save a life.
8) No. I can not find my source for this. Can you identify the source(s) and does the logic hold against the law? Thanks.

Answer: Re: Organ transplants
Yours is a very complex question. Here is a brief discussion of the issues. The question is, when is Halachic death: brain death or cessation of cardiac activity. It is generally necessary for an organ to be removed when the heart is still beating. If the determination is cessation of cardiac activity,then removal of an organ while cardiac activity is still there constitutes killing of the donor. If death is determined by brain death, modern medicine can sustain a heart when brain activity has ceased. Therefore, if one does not remove the organ and give it to a recipient who would otherwise die without it, is that considered causing the death of the potential recipient? On the other hand, even if brain death is the criterion, what of Nivul HaMet - desecration of a dead body by removing parts of it? Does Pikuach Nefesh - the need to save the life of the recipient - negate the prohibition of desecrating the body of the donor? In modern Rabbinic literature there is to be found a prohibition against heart transplants in the responsa of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein. This decision was written before 1980 when the success of heart transplants was very low. There is a rabbi who claims that Rabbi Feinstein later reversed himself on the issue when the success rate improved. I suggest, that for a list of source material, you obtain the book "Medicine and Jewish Law Volume 1" edited by Fred Rosner, M.D. On page 162, Dr. Rosner states, "Other Halachic problems in organ transplantation include the question of desecrating the body of the dead donor, the prohibition of deriving benefit from the dead, and the postponement burial of the dead...The great majority of the poskim permit organ transplants if the life of the recipient can thereby be saved, the foregoing considerations are set aside for the overriding consideration of saving a life."

Rabbi Yaakov Spivak

Question: Subj: "Local custom in Jewish Law"
I am attending a weekly Talmud class at the local university run by the Hillel rabbi. We were studying chapter VII of Baba Mezi'a (p. 83a). In the Mishnah, the concept of "local custom" (Minhag Hamdina) was used. We were all surprised that the Law, which is usually so specific, would allow so much leeway. When is it valid to use "local custom" to justify one's actions in Jewish Law.

Answer: Subj: Local Custom
Dear jamesm2100: The Sages tell us "He who wishes to become wise should involve himself in civil law." You have chosen your area of study wisely. The concept of Minhag HaMedinah, the authority of local custom, refers mainly to contractual relationships between parties. In the case of the Gemara you are learning, the responsibities of laborer and employer to one another are contingent upon local custom. The Mishna considers the question of what time the employer may demand of his workers to arrive or stay for work, but the question (in light of NAFTA) might just as well be: May an American company with a plant in Mexico demand of the workers that they work through the time that they normally take a siesta? (if there is still such a local custom). Probably, due to cultural differences, it would be impossible for the halacha to prescribe uniform practices on such local levels. The diamond district on New York's forty-seventh street has its own minhag when it comes to closing deals. When a perpective buyer and seller verbally agree on a price and then shake hands with the words "mazel u'bracha," meaning good fortune and blessing, the deal is considered finalized, even though the rest of the world would require a signed contract for such a finalization. The minhag hasochrim - the custom of the dealers - in effect, the forty-seventh street minhag hamedinah, supercedes the halachic requirement of a shtar mechirah, a written contract of sale. It is important to note that the primacy of minhag hamedinah exists only in the world of local contractual relationships, not in the other sections of the Shulchan Aruch such as Yoreh Dayoh and Even HoEzer which deal with, among other things, laws of kashrut, and laws of marriage. Chazak!

Rabbi Yaakov Spivak

Question: From:
Abraham and Isaac
I am interested in understanding G-d's decision to ask Abraham to slay his first born son Isaac. Why would G-d ask Abraham to do something that is clearly so painful to Abraham, let alone Isaac. I understand that it was a test, but why would G-d put anyone through the anguish of killing their own child? To ask it another way, if Abraham would have decided to not kill Isaac, would it be a sign that Abraham loved G-d less? I think not. In fact, G-d would arguably fully understand the choice, and respect Abraham for not killing Isaac.

Answer: Subj: Re: Abraham and Isaac
Your answer is rooted in certain kabbalistic concepts. Man's purpose on this earth is to prove his loyalty to G-d. G-d is the Giver and Taker of life. He Who could have taken the life of Isaac, asked Abraham to do it to prove his loyalty. Had Isaac died, instead, of a heart attack, would you have had the same complaint to G-d? In the end, Isaac did not die at all.

Rabbi Yaakov Spivak

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