Selected Halachos Related to Parshas Vayeishev
By Rabbi Doniel Neustadt
The following is a discussion of Halachic topics related to the Parsha of the week.
For final rulings, consult your Rav.
"NO MAN OF THE HOUSEHOLD STAFF WAS THERE IN THE HOUSE" (39:11)
BABY-SITTING: HOW TO AVOID YICHUD
Yichud, the prohibition against a man being alone in a secluded
place with a woman, is Biblically forbidden(1). It is for this
reason that Yosef ha-Tzaddik, who as a son of Yaakov Avinu kept
the mitzvos of the Torah, refused to be alone with his master's
wife in their home(2). Indeed, on that fateful day, when he
unexpectedly found himself alone with her in the house, he was
almost tempted to sin. What follows are some guidelines
concerning yichud in everyday situations.
ARE RELATIVES INCLUDED IN THE PROHIBITION OF YICHUD?
Yichud is permitted with linear descendants, such as parents
with their children(3) or grandchildren(4). Yichud is also
permitted between a brother and a sister(5) and a nephew with
his father's or mother's sister(6), but only on a temporary
basis(7). They may not live together in the same house for a
period of time which exceeds the normal stay of a house guest(8).
Yichud with all other relatives, such as uncles, aunts [through
marriage], cousins, brothers-in-law, parents-in-law, etc., is
AT WHAT AGE DOES THE PROHIBITION OF YICHUD BEGIN?
A boy under the age of bar mitzvah is permitted to be alone
with a girl under the age of bas mitzvah(10). Since there is no
mitzvah of chinuch in the prohibition of yichud(11) and both
parties are minors(12), yichud is permitted. When one of the
parties, however, is bar/bas mitzvah, then he or she may not be
alone with a member of the opposite gender. We must clarify,
therefore, the minimum age requirements of the other party - the
one who is under bar/bas mitzvah.
According to the Rambam, Shulchan Aruch and all the earlier
poskim [including the Mishnah Berurah(13)], once a girl turns
three years old she is considered an ervah in regard to yichud
and all halachos of the Torah - she must dress properly,
physical contact and yichud with her are prohibited, etc.
Indeed, in many communities these halachos are strictly observed
from the age of three.
The Chazon Ish(14), however, when discussing the halachos of
reciting Kerias Shema in the presence of an ervah, disputes this
cut-off age. In his opinion, a little girl is not considered an
ervah because people do not view her as such until she matures.
There is no exact age that determines ervah since the maturation
rate of each individual girl differs. It is generally assumed,
though, that any girl up to the age of six or seven is not
considered an ervah(15).
In the view of some contemporary poskim(16), the Chazon Ish's
leniency applies only to hilchos Kerias Shema; it does not apply
to hilchos yichud. Concerning hilchos yichud, age three remains
the age from when yichud is prohibited. Other poskim(17),
however, hold that the Chazon Ish's leniency applies to hilchos
yichud(18) as well. In their opinion, yichud is permitted with a
girl until the age of five or six.
Harav M. Feinstein(19) deals with this issue from a different
angle. In his opinion, yichud may be permitted with a girl over
three since a girl that age will surely report any illicit
behavior to her parents or teachers. The fear of being found out
is enough of a deterrent to permit yichud with a girl that
young. In his final evaluation, however, Harav Feinstein
hesitates to expressly permit yichud with a girl over three,
although he does not object to those who are lenient. In an oral
ruling(20), Harav Feinstein allows yichud - when necessary -
with a girl till age seven.
The age of yichud for a boy begins at age nine(21).
QUESTION: Are there any permissible ways in which a girl over
twelve may baby-sit for a boy over nine?
DISCUSSION: There are several permissible ways. The halachic
definition of yichud is: Seclusion with little or no chance of
intrusion from the outside. The halachah states, therefore, that
if there is a pesach pasuach (open door) to a reshus ha-rabim
(public domain), then yichud does not apply, since there is a
constant possibility of public access. Thus, for yichud to be
permitted, both of the above factors - pesach pasuach and reshus
ha-rabim - must be present.
What constitutes pesach pasuach is a subject of debate among
the poskim. Similarly, there is no exact, undisputed definition
of reshus ha-rabim. In the following situations, however, there
is general agreement among the poskim that yichud is
If the front door is left completely or partially open(23).
After 10 p.m.(24) the house must also be well lit(25);
If the front door is closed, but unlocked, and people regularly
walk into the house without knocking(26). After 10 p.m. one
should not rely on this solution(27);
If the door is locked, but the parents or other members of the
household are in possession of a key and could come into the
house at any time(28);
If the door is locked, but there is an unimpeded view from the
street or from a facing window directly into the room where the
yichud is taking place(29). The home must be well lit. After 10
p.m. it is better not to rely on this solution(30);
If another child, male(31) or female(32), is in the house. There
are various opinions concerning the required age of the other
child - ranging from a minimum age of five to a maximum of
thirteen for a male and twelve for a female(33). This leniency
is only applicable during normal waking hours(34). To extend
this leniency to normal nighttime sleeping hours, there have to
be two children present besides the one who is being cared
Often, none of the above solutions are practical. A baby-sitter
may not want to leave the door open or unlocked. Sometimes the
parents may be out of town or unavailable to check on their
children. Thus, the preferred method when hiring a baby-sitter
is to give a set of keys to a married couple that lives
nearby(36), with instructions that the husband and wife should
come into the house several times throughout the day and night.
The baby-sitter must be told of these instructions. The neighbor
must actually go into the house several times for this leniency
to be valid(37).
1 View of the vast majority of the Rishonim. In certain
situations, such as when one man is alone with two women, yichud
is Biblically permitted but prohibited by the Rabbis.
2 See Ibn Ezra, Rashbam and Seforno on Bereishis 39:10.
3E.H. 22:1. See Igros Moshe E.H. 2:15; E.H. 4:65-8 who rules
that it is permitted for a man to be alone with another woman
other than his wife in the presence of his daughter, mother or
4 Pischei Teshuvah E.H. 22:2 quoting the Bach.
5 Beis Shmuel and Chelkas Mechokek E.H. 22:1.
6 Igros Moshe E.H. 4:63; 64-1, since a nephew and his aunts have
the same relationship as a brother and a sister, based on
Shulchan Aruch E.H. 21:7. See Hebrew Notes, pg. 236, for an
7 Beis Shemuel and Chelkas Mechokek E.H. 22:1.
8 Igros Moshe E.H. 4:64-3;65-11, who adds that a sister who is
visiting from a distant city may stay longer than a sister
visiting from a nearby area, just as a guest from afar stays
longer than a guest from nearby.
9E.H. 22:1; Igros Moshe E.H. 4:63; 64-1. See Hebrew Notes, pg.
237, for elaboration.
10 Bach and Yam Shel Shelomo in the name of the Semag, quoted in
Devar Halachah 2:8.
11 Shevet ha-Levi 5:204 wonders why the process of chinuch does
not pertain to this prohibition. See Divrei Sofrim, pg. 137 for
a possible answer.
12 Or one minor and one non-Jew - oral ruling from Harav S.Y.
Elyashiv (Kuntres Toras ha-Yichud).
13 Beiur Halachah 75:1 - concerning the definition of an ervah
for hilchos Kerias Shema.
14 O.C. 16:8. See also Maharam Brisk 2:70 who concurs with this
ruling. Harav M. Feinstein is also quoted (Children in Halachah
pg. 30) as concurring with this ruling.
15 Halichos Bas Yisrael 4:3; Ohr l'Tziyon 6:12. Harav Y.
Kamenetsky (oral ruling quoted in Ko Somar l'Beis Yaakov pg.
139) ruled that until age five is clearly permitted, while from
age five and above depends on the individual girl.
17 Harav S.Z. Auerbach and Harav Y.Y. Neuwirth (quoted in
Nishmas Avraham vol. 5, pg. 135). For an explanation of this
dispute, see Hebrew Notes, pg. 237
18 Hugging and kissing, however, is prohibited from age three
and on - ibid.
19 Igros Moshe E.H. 4:65-12.
20 Quoted in Children in Halachah pg. 40.
21 This is the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch E.H. 22:11 and all
the poskim. See, however Kuntres Toras ha-Yichud who quotes an
oral ruling from Harav S.Y. Elyashiv that nowadays we can be
lenient and allow yichud with a boy till age eleven. No other
poskim, however, mention this leniency.
22 There is a disagreement among the poskim if the leniency of
pesach pasuch may be relied upon when the baby-sitter and the
child share a close, personal relationship which could be
described as libo gas bah. One should be stringent - Igros Moshe
E.H. 4:60; 65-9.
23 E.H. 22:9.
24 The 10 p.m. deadline was given by the Chazon Ish (Devar
Halachah 3:14) as the time that is considered as "late night
hours" in the city of Bnei Brak during the 1950s. Each location,
depending on its population and lifestyle, must determine its
own "late" hours.
25 The poskim rule that during the late night hours, when people
are not on the streets, the leniency of an open door does not
apply - see Be'er Heitev and Pischei Teshuvah E.H. 22:9, and
Igros Moshe E.H. 4:65-5. When the house is lit, however, there
are poskim who are lenient - see Devar Halachah 3:15.
26 Ruling of Harav S.Y. Elyashiv and Harav C.P. Scheinberg
(Kuntres Yichud pg. 25) as a compromise between those who
require the door to be completely open and those who allow
yichud as long as the door is not locked.
See Igros Moshe E.H. 4:65-4, who is lenient even when the
door is locked, as long as there is a possibility that someone
would come knocking on the door and would need to be let in.
Most other poskim do not agree with this leniency.
27 Since even a completely open door should not be relied upon
late at night. Even lighting the house would possibly not be
sufficient in this case - see Devar Halachah 3:15.
28 Devar Halachah 3:3 quoting the Chazon Ish and Dovev Meisharim.
33 See Devar Halachah 4:2-3 for all the various views. A sister
of any age over five serves as a guardian - see note 3.
34 Rama E.H. 22:5; Chasam Sofer E.H. 2:96. Even if the child is
presently up, once it is past his normal bedtime we are
concerned that he may fall asleep at any time and will no longer
serve as a guardian. The same halachah applies during the day if
the guardian is actually sleeping.
35 Chazon Ish Kiddushin 45; Devar Halachah 4:9.
36 A married couple is preferable since they can come together
to check on the house, thus avoiding a possible yichud problem
between the baby-sitter and the neighbor. Even in a situation
where a yichud problem does not exist, two neighbors should be
asked to check the house, since we are fearful that one can
forget or fall asleep.
37 Devar Halachah pg. 188-189. See further clarification in
Avnei Yashfei 2:185.