April 8, 2024
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April 8, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Most everyone is familiar with the standard prohibition of yichud. These are the laws forbidding seclusion with a member of the opposite gender. This is a halachically mandated precautionary measure that has demonstrably lowered the amount of untoward situations within observant Jewish society.

But there was another type of hilchos yichud. There once laws in the Talmud and Shulchan Aruch that forbade seclusion with those who were not bnei bris – out of concern for shfichas damim – safety. The Mishna in Avodah Zarah (2:1) discusses this very prohibition.

Shocking enough, we come across this halacha, in more contemporary times within the laws of tzitzis (See Mishna Brurah OC 20:7). It is forbidden to sell a garment with tzitzis on it. There are two reasons for the prohibition in the Gemara in Menachos 45a: The first is out of concern that a Jew would unknowingly accompany the non-ben bris and could be killed. The second is out of concern of chillul hashem involving untoward practices.

The Mishna Brurah cites the view of the Chayei Odom that, in modern times, the concern for shfichas damim is no longer applicable. Most modern societies, he argues, have laws and a system of justice that makes this concern no longer relevant.

I would like to suggest that in the current situation, it is not only a good idea to avoid placing ourselves alone or in situations that places us among people or places where they may be a concern for shfichas damim – it may be halacha as well. Is the view of the Chayei Odom universally true? Utilizing Ubers may be an issue when there is indication that the driver is of those who may support Hamas.

This is not to say that we should Heaven forbid be fearful or afraid. Rabbi Aryeh Leib Heller (1745–1812) zt”l writes in his introduction to the Shev Shmaitsah that the highest level of fear of Heaven is not to be afraid of anything else but Hashem – nothing else and no one else. Intellectually, however, we must still ensure that we do nothing silly or stupid.

Let’s take, for example, a truck. Young children are frightened of trucks. As the child grows into adulthood, he loses his fear of trucks, yet he still acts with due caution around trucks.

The recent spate of violence on college campuses, in Chicago, Brooklyn and in numerous places around the country seem to indicate that there has been a sea change society around us. It could very well be that, under such circumstances, the halacha reverts back to the original halacha in the Mishna in Avoda Zara.

Lest the reader think that we are perhaps exaggerating the dangers, we must note that the Mishna is likely only delineating a d’erabanan halacha. Why is this so? Because otherwise, it would have been pointed out that one who does so is violating Torah prohibitions. What are those prohibitions?

There is the mitzvah of “venishmartem me’od l’nafshosaichem (Dvarim 4:15 – the mitzvah of protecting our health and well-being.

There would also be a second mitzvah. The verse later on (Dvarim 4:9), “Rak hishamer lecha” is understood by most poskim to actually comprise an actual second mitzvah (See Rav Chaim Kanievsky zt”l Shaar HaTeshuvos #25) – to take special care.

There is a third mitzvah, “V’chai bahem – And you shall live by them” (VaYikra 18:5).

There is a fourth mitzvah found in the verse in parshas Ki Taytzai (Dvarim 22:2) which discusses the mitzvah of hashavas aveida, returning an object, with the words “vahashaivoso lo – and you shall return it to him.” The Gemara in Sanhedrin (73a), however, includes within its understanding of these words the obligation of returning “his own life to him as well.” For example, if thieves are threatening to pounce upon him, there is an obligation of “vahashaivoso lo.” In other words, this verse is the source for the mitzvah of saving someone’s life. I believe this is the general mitzvah the Shulchan Aruch refers to in Shulchan Aruch Orech Chaim 325.

Lo saamod al dam rayacha – There is a fifth (a negative mitzvah) of not standing idly by your brother’s blood as well – which would include all others around us. This is mentioned in Shulchan Aruch (CM 426:1) and in the Rambam.

And finally, there is a sixth mitzvah of – “Lo suchal l’hisalaym – a negative commandment associated with the positive commandment of hashavas aveida, and that is the verse in Dvarim (22:3), “You cannot shut your eyes to it.” This verse comes directly after the mitzvah of hashavas aveidah. The Netziv (HeEmek Sheailah) refers to this mitzvah as well.

Many rabbonim have already issued such rulings to their congregants. Hopefully we will soon see yeshuos and nechamos.

The author can be reached at [email protected]


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