New York – New Volume of Igros Moshe – An Overview


    New York – This week a new volume of the responsa of Rav Moshe Feinstein zatzal was released. It is the ninth volume in the series and contains responsa from all four sections of Shulchan Aruch. In this review we will touch upon some interesting revelations contained in the work. This is not an exhaustive listing of all the responsa, of course. The volume has received the approbations of both of Rav Feinstein’s sons, iblctv”a, Rav Dovid Feinstein Shlita and his brother Rav Reuvain Shlita.

    It still must be understood that this volume was put together posthumously, and some of the material does, in fact, reflect that (see, for example, the later comment on responsa OC #5). Some of the material does not include the Lomdus that has characterized his responsa in the past. Yet the previous volumes also did include a substantial amount of what can be termed “apodictic” responsa that just discussed Rav Feinstein’s opinions without the Lomdus. Some people have questioned whether some of the material should actually have been included. Information told to this author by some insiders also revealed that there was material that was not included too. Nonetheless, it is a very important work that contributes significantly to Rav Feinstein’s halachic oeuvre.

    The Orech Chaim section contains 50 responsa. In the first he recommends that all shuls follow the timing of the Mogain Avrohom for the recitation of Krias Shma. This is interesting as it seems to be in contrast with his earlier position in Volume I #24 to Rabbi Shalom HaLevi Kugelman. How do we understand or resolve this apparent contradiction? One may view it as a realization by Rav Moshe Feinstein that the pendulum has swung too much in the wrong direction after the publication of Volume I of the Igros Moshe (and not necessarily because of that). Especially, if one views the purported intent of the publication of the Igros Moshe in the first place. Not everyone is in agreement that Rav Moshe meant his Igros Moshe to play the role of say, the Mishna Brurah in halacha. Some would have it that the authorial intent of his halachic magnum opus was to be a running dialogue, a discourse with Torah scholars immersed in a sugyah. If this is the case, then the contradiction is readily resolved utilizing the “pendulum has swung too far” model.

    In the fourth responsa of the new Orech Chaim section, Rav Feinstein zatzal presents a new understanding of Chazal’s enactment in Chazaras haShatz, the repetition of the Shmoneh Esreh by the reader, that resolves a number of questions. It explains how the Am haAretz can have his obligation fulfilled with the repetition, while the knowledgeable one cannot fulfill his obligation through it. Up until now, this remained a difficulty in the halachic literature. In the fifth responsa he rules that one may call out to a friend in the restroom even if his name is “Shalom.” What is strange about this responsa is that the issue is a debate between the TaZ and the Mogain Avrohom in chapter 84 of Orech Chaim, yet there is no mention of this at all in the responsa. Rav Moshe takes the position of the TaZ as one that is obvious and questions how Rav Zalman of Volozhin could have been stringent on something that is clearly not a problem. This one is an example of what this author would deem prototypical of the “posthumous difficulty of publication.” Clearly Rav Moshe did not mean for this responsa to be published in this form because it is misleading. Rav Feinstein knew Kol HaTorah Kulah and it is clear that this responsa is either taken out of context, or some other part was missing or not yet gotten to. The editors, in their introduction, make it painstakingly clear that they left these letters untouched by their editorial hands. This one should not have been included in this form.

    In the seventh responsa he rules that a resident of a community who does not pay membership to a shul, but could afford it, is considered like a non-resident in terms of Yartzeits. In the eighth he rules that a Moser may and must still recite Birchas Kohanim. In number 49 he discusses ten Chanukah related issues. In the last Orech Chaim chapter we find a shiur in note form on the topic of one who is involved in a Mitzvah is except from other Mitzvos. A footnote is attached that states that this was Rav Moshe zatzal’s method of preparing shiurim before delivering them.

    The Yore Deah section contains 55 responsa. In responsa #12 he rules that practically a bust of an individual should not be placed in a synagogue building – even though there may have been some room for a theoretical leniency. In responsa #18 Rav Feinstein allows a synagogue that fell into disuse to be sold for use as a museum – on condition that the sale include legal remedies ensuring that the synagogue not be sold for use as a church or temple for another religion. In responsa #31 Rav Feinstein rules that in a case where the son prefers learning in Yeshiva X and the father says that Yeshiva Y is better – the son must listen to the father. In the 34th responsa he applauds the practice of a community putting a price limit on Esrogim and recommends its implementation in other communities.

    The Even HoEzer section has 43 responsa. In the first responsa he rules that Ethiopian Jews have a status of safek Jews and although must certainly be rescued, should undergo ritual immersion before marrying. He ruled in the same manner for the Bene Israel Jews from India. In responsa #12, Rav Feinstein states that it is almost certainly clear to him that there would never be kosher witnesses at a wedding performed by a Reform Rabbi. In responsa #16 in a letter to his son Rabbi Reuvain Feinstein he recommends that an engaged Chossom limit his letter writing to his fiancé on account of a possible prohibition found in a Beis Shmuel on Even HoEzer (12:13). Responsa #17 is a letter explaining the importance of modesty. In responsa #26 Rav Feinstein permits a specific Get notwithstanding the fact that it contained a series of errors.

    The Choshain Mishpat section has 30 responsa. In the first responsa, he rules that Mechutanim should not sit together on a Bais Din for a Get because some authorities consider it problematic as cited in the Ramah in Choshain Mishpat chapter 33. In the second responsa he deals with a judge who suspects that the witnesses are lying yet cannot prove it. Rav Feinstein rules that if he cannot recuse himself he would be obligated to accept their testimony after subjecting them to a strong cross examination. In the third responsa he deals with a Siruv issued by one individual who did not bother to verify the facts, and states that the Siruv is entirely invalid. In the last responsa he provides a number of different nuschaos for Tefilas HaDerech, selling of Chometz, Rabbinical ordination, Pruzbul, legal authorization, and other issues such as Chalitza proof documents, Tnaim, and halachic wills.
    There is another section on Taharos and Kodshim with 14 responsa. In a section on the Bais HaMikdash (5:2) Rav Feinstein deals with whether the floor of the Bais HaMikdash had its own holiness aside from that which emanated from the ground below. He concludes that there were in fact two sources of holiness for the flooring of the Temple.

    There is a section on Hashkafa with 9 responsa. In the first of these responsa Rav Feinstein zatzal expresses his shock that observant Jews spend their vacations at hotels where there is Shabbos violation – even though there is a reliable Kashrus supervision on the food. He laments this situation and states that if hotels are visited during these places they should be Shomer Shabbos hotels.

    The second letter encourages the study of Mishnayos to young boys, while the third one provides a stirring encouragement to those who dedicate themselves to teaching Jewish youth. The fourth responsa states that even a Gadol in Torah should not encourage someone to die earlier and that it is not an issue in which the state or federal government should weigh in. It is a personal and individual matter.

    The fifth responsa applauds educating young girls and women in Torah institutions which has now replaced the system in Europe where the mothers inculcated fear of Heaven within the souls of their daughters. The sixth and seventh responsa deal with Kavod HaTorah and the encouragement of Torah and Daf Yomi. The eighth one deals with various topics such as guarding cemeteries in Poland, forced draft of women, Sheirut Leumi and the obligation to vote in Israel. The ninth responsa deals with Touro College’s training program for women where they can become teacher’s for the “Head Start” program. Rav Moshe writes that there is no prohibition in this because there is not even a shred of heresy in the program, the women are not in mixed classes, and thirdly – that Rabbi Dov Berish Lander (z”l) and Rabbi Shmuel Boylen (Dean Boylen) are known as Mokirei Torah. At the end of the responsa he mentions that the teachers and students are G-d fearing individuals and there is no room to prohibit it. The inclusion of this responsa will surely be an issue of controversy – especially since a leading Rabbi of the previous generation had authored letters against it at the time. Some will undoubtedly declare the letter as not having emanated from the pen of Rav Feinstein zt”l. Others will vehemently disagree. To others, it will remain unresolved.

    The ninth volume also includes 10 responsa from Rav Moshe’s saintly brother Mordechai zatzal.

    There are 211 responsa in total. The section on Kodshim is also fascinating and, since Brisk is the popular choice among yeshiva students these days, will see more usage than previous Kodshim novella. It is a captivating volume, and the reader of this column is encouraged to purchase it. There are still letters out there, however, that have not been published or included in the Igros Moshe volumes. This author, in fact, is aware of a fascinating one regarding Neo-Nazis.

    The author may be reached at [email protected].

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