A discussion of Halachic topics related to the Parsha of the
week. For final rulings, consult your Rav.
SELECTED HALACHOS RELATING TO PARSHAS VAERA
KIRUV RECHOKIM: IS EVERYHTING PERMITTED?
Of paramount important to Orthodox Jewry today is kiruv rechokim, bringing
our fellow Jews back to religious observance. Thank G-d, the concerted
efforts of many devoted individuals and organizations have borne fruit, and
thousands of Jews the world over have come back to their roots and become
We must bear in mind, however, that although kiruv rechokim is supremely
important, it does not supersede Halachah. "The ends justify the means" is a
philosophy utterly rejected by the Torah, and compromising halachic
standards for the sake of being mekarev is forbidden.
A sensitive issue that presents itself to just about anyone involved in
kiruv is the problem of men and women shaking hands. Physical contact of
this sort is a serious transgression(1) and should be studiously avoided(2).
Although kiruv professionals prepare themselves to deal with this problem,
those of us who are not adept at handling such potentially embarrassing
situations should not put ourselves in a position where we are liable to
violate the Halachah.
Before learning Torah with a potential ba'al teshuvah, it is proper - when
possible -to have him recite Birchos ha-Torah(3). When studying with a girl
or with a woman, though, one need not be particular to do so(4).
Kiruv at the Shabbos Table
Since kiruv veterans agree that a most effective method of kiruv is the
Shabbos invitation, let us review some of the potential trouble spots so
that we do not transgress the Halachah while acting upon our good
If the guest does not live within walking distance of our home, he should be
invited for the entire Shabbos so that he does not drive home on our
account. The guest should be told that according to Jewish law, it is
prohibited for him to drive on Shabbos. Experienced kiruv workers maintain
that when properly explained, the guest will often accede to the request.
In the event that the guest will come for Shabbos only if he can drive home,
there are authorities who permit inviting him anyway, provided that there is
a reasonable chance that the invitation will lead to kiruv(5). The guest
should be informed that sleeping quarters have been arranged for him and he
may change his mind at any time and decide to sleep over. Since not all
authorities agree with this leniency(6) and not all cases are identical, the
specific case should be presented to a rav for a final decision.
When possible, a guest at our table should be asked to wash his hands before
eating bread(7) and to recite the proper blessing before and after food is
eaten(8). If the guest cannot read the Hebrew text, he may recite the
blessing in any language that he understands(9). Alternatively, the host may
recite the blessings aloud while the guest listens and answers amen(10). If
none of these suggestions are practical, it is permitted to serve him food,
even though he will not wash his hands or recite a blessing, either before
or after the meal(11).
While teaching a non-observant Jew how to recite a blessing, it is permitted
for the host to recite Hashem's name(12).
A non-observant Jew may be counted towards the minimum number of people
required for zimun. Preferably, however, he should not be the one to lead
A female guest, whether single or married, must be dressed according to at
least the minimum standards of tzenius(14). A woman who is scantily clad
should not be invited into our homes under any circumstances.
If the female guest is dressed immodestly, then kiddush, blessings, divrei
Torah, or zemiros may not be recited while facing her. If one cannot avoid
facing her, one may close his eyes or face downward throughout the
recitation of these devarim sh'bekedushah(15).
A married woman's hair should be covered while she is sitting at our table.
If it is not, there are poskim who are lenient and allow devarim
sh'bekedushah to be recited in her presence(16). One may rely on these
poskim when no other alternative is practical(17).
A female guest should be asked not to sing zemiros along with the family. If
this will result in alienating a potential ba'alas teshuvah, there is a
minority view in the poskim who allow her to sing along with the rest of the
2 Harav Y.Y. Kanievsky quotes the Chazon Ish as maintaining that shaking
hands falls into the category of yehareg ve'al ya'avor (see Teharas Am
Yisrael, pg. 44). While other prominent poskim do not agree with this
stringent view, it gives us an understanding of the severity of the issue.
3 Oral ruling heard in the name of Harav S.Y. Elyashiv.
4 Based on the view of the Gra, quoted in Beiur Halachah 47:14.
5 Minchas Shelomo 2:10; Teshuvos v'Hanhagos 1:358. Several arguments lend
support to this position: 1) The guest is desecrating the Shabbos regardless
of my invitation; 2) Actually, we are minimizing his chillul Shabbos for the
time period he will spend at our home; 3) He will be eating kosher food; 4)
Several poskim hold that "aiding a sinner" does not apply to one who
deliberately sins (see explanation of this logic in Igros Moshe Y.D. 1:72
and E.H. 4:87-1 quoting the Dagul me-Revavah); 5) The purpose of the
invitation is for kiruv and not to aid a sinner in committing a sin.
6 See Igros Moshe O.C. 1:98-99; 4:71, who prohibits organizing a minyan for
children on Shabbos when they will surely come by car. [There are several
differences, however, between the situations described in these responsa and
the situation with which we are dealing.] See also a stringent ruling by
Harav S. Wosner (quoted in Avosos Ahavah, pg. 119).
7 Rama O.C. 163:2.
8 O.C. 169:2.
9 O.C. 185:1.
10 Mishnah Berurah 213:9. B'dieved, even if the guest failed to say amen,
his blessing is valid.
11 Harav S. Z. Auerbach (oral ruling, quoted in Vezos ha-Berachah, pg. 154).
[See also Minchas Shelomo 1:35 where Harav Auerbach maintains that when
denying a guest food will lead him to become antagonistic toward Torah and
religious Jews, it is permitted to feed him. See also similar ruling quoted
in the name of the Chazon Ish in Pe'er ha-Dor 3:195]; Harav C.P. Scheinberg
(quoted in Avosos Ahavah, pg. 118.); See also Igros Moshe O.C. 5:13-9 who
finds much room for leniency on this matter.
12 Igros Moshe O.C. 2:56.
13 Harav S.Z. Auerbach and Harav C.P. Scheinberg (quoted in Vezos
ha-Berachah, pg. 132) based on Mishnah Berurah 199:2 and Beiur Halachah. See
also Teshuvos Pnei Meivin 40.
14 Minimum requirements: Neckline must be high enough to cover the bone at
the base of the neck (collarbone); sleeves must cover the elbow; skirt must
cover the knees.