Cutting Edge Teshuvos


We routinely turn away contributors of “pure” halacha and hashkafa pieces. Not that our regular contributors undervalue them. To the contrary, I believe that every one of our authors consider pure Torah pieces more valuable than any of our blogging activity. However, we tell ourselves that readers will have no trouble finding a full assortment of quality Torah pieces elsewhere. What we try to do at Cross-Currents is slake the thirst of many – for better or worse – for treatments of applied Torah, or the intersection between Torah thought and the unfolding of events in the world around us.

A review of a new volume of teshuvos would then seem to be out of character for Cross-Currents treatment. It would be that, were it not for their extraordinary author, Rav Asher Weiss, shlit”a. As we shall see, both the scope of his work and the ease with which he addresses the complexities of cutting-edge issues are breaths of fresh air to people who have not given up on a Torah enthusiastically and confidently confronts the world at large.

The personality of the author entirely predicts this work. Rav Weiss is upbeat, optimistic, and accessible. His appeal does not admit to restrictions of loyalty to any subgroup within the Torah world. Although a Kloizenberger chassid from Union City, New Jersey who wears the levush, people with all kinds of headgear – shtreimlach to kipot serugot – flock to his beis medrash. He has traveled once a week for years to give a shiur at the hesder yeshiva in Sderot, to show solidarity with an embattled citizenry. (He also travels to the new location of one of the Gaza communities that was the victim of the disengagement/expulsion.) His memory is either eidetic or close to it; listening to his halacha shiurim with his phenomenal grasp of sources at his fingertips is breathtaking. His seforim on Chumash, offering both halacha and derush, have established a regular presence in shuls and batei Medrash around the world.

He is contemporary and with-it. He is as fully aware of the depth of problems in our community as he is enthused with our strengths. Unlike some others, he is willing to talk about those problems, and quietly address them. He still manages to stay entirely within the mainstream in a pretty punishing neighborhood. (At least one of the teshuvos that I went through was a question referred to him at the request of Rav Elyashiv zt”l.)

It is not surprising that the first printing of this first volume of teshuvos of his reportedly sold out in short order.

I will present here just a sampling of the teshuvos, focusing on those that show his willingness to take positions in relatively virgin territory. In no way should a reader whose curiosity is aroused limit himself to these. There are lots of treats in his teshuvos on older issues as well. (I’m thinking of #14, for example, in which he revisits the old issue of using baby-wipes on Shabbos, and is matir with particular strength.)

He considers whether a member of an emergency services team who arrives first and determines that others need not respond may violate an issur derabanan to alert the others not to unnecessarily violate a d’orayso.) He answers affirmatively.

He takes issue with minimalists who believe that the role of a conversion beis din is entirely passive. Although he does not really offer much back-up for this assessment, he writes that it seems to him that its role is a larger one, at least to the extent that a beis din can decide that it is not in the interests of the community to accept a particular person or group of people as converts. Nonetheless, the reason to turn a potential ger away need to be a strong and compelling one. Where the beis din is concerned only about “external” factors that do not impact on his/her ability to observe the mitzvos, the candidacy should not be spurned.

In a poignant teshuvah with far-reaching social implications, Rav Weiss addresses a tragic case of a gravely ill child with impaired breathing. Physicians wish to do a tracheotomy and insert a breathing tube. The age of the child requires, however, that there be non-stop supervision of the child to ensure that he does not pull out the tube. If the procedure takes place, the parents will either have to stay at the side of the child 24/7, or hire someone else to do so, which they cannot afford. The parents are prepared to forego the procedure, and daven diligently for the best. Rav Weiss reasons that the parents are simply not obligated to provide that kind of round the clock, life transforming care. Nor can they be expected to pony up huge sums of money to hire help to monitor the patient.

Arab workers in the employ of a Jewish contractor (A) drop a beam, which strikes someone’s (B) air-conditioner a few stories below. The unit is damaged, and the warranty voided. B wants compensation; A essentially argues that his claim is against the Arab workers, and good luck! The reaction of many of us would be that the claim is for adam hamazik, and in this case, that would be the Arab workers. Rav Weiss says that it is simply impossible that no one be accountable on a practical level for the damage. Such, he says, would be a miscarriage of justice. Not to mention that the secular law recognizes a liability claim against an employee for damage caused by his workers. In the case at hand, Rav Weiss resorts to an anan sahadi/ legal presumption that neighbors in a condo would not agree to any work done on the property that could leave them no recourse in the case of damage. Therefore, any contractor can be assumed constructively to have agreed to make good for any damage done by his workers.

Heter agunos is hardly a new topic, but his teshuvah about the application of halachic principles to victims of the Japanese tsunami is the first in print that I have seen.

The use of electronic devices on Shabbos is a charged issue, especially in parts of Israel where the Chazon Ish‘s influence looms as large as during his lifetime. It will be recalled that, in contradistinction to earlier poskim who saw different halachic issues in the use of electricity, the CI spoke of an issue of boneh. He believed that the very creation of a circuit breathed life and purpose into the wiring created for the very purpose of hosting the introduction of an electric charge. This framework worked well to limit the use of virtually all electric appliances on Shabbos for decades.

More recently, however, a large number of devices have become common that simply do not fit into the paradigm described by the CI. They are designed to turn on and off faster than the eye can see. In fact, the eye sees nothing of the changes that occur within microchips and leaving no perceptible tracks. Do these devices fit into the conceptual framework of the Chazon Ish’s conjecture? (A recent example that raised halachic eyebrows was the installation of digital water meters in Yerushalayim that report usage in real time, transmitting the information wirelessly to collection points. Will residents of Yerushalayim have to desist from using water taps on Shabbos?)

Rav Weiss deals with GenX,Y and Z devices in three consecutive responsa. In the first, he rejects any suggestion that LED displays be considered more leniently than first-generation incandescent devices. In the second, he rejects the suggestion that devices that don’t fit the CI paradigm may be permissible. In both, he speaks quite harshly about using the CI leniently. He points out that the use of electricity was fully accepted as impermissible well before the CI, for reasons advanced by the Beis Yitzchok and the Achiezer. He dismisses multiple teshuvos of Sephardic poskim of many decades ago regarding electricity on Yom Tov, finding that they all misunderstood the nature of electricity. Moreover, he promotes his own, new argument for the impermissibility of all electric devices, based on a Yerushalmi. (According to Rav Weiss, the Yerushalmi holds – followed by Rambam – that any important accomplishment of purpose has to be melachah, even if it does not seem to fall into one of the categories in Perek Klal Gadol. It will perforce be subsumed by the melachah of makeh bepatish.)

Having arrived at this point an apparent hard-liner against electicity on Shabbos, the third teshuvah charges in from left field. In it, Rav Weiss considers a laundry list of devices that involve digital change, but are not intended to do so by the user. Must a patient in an ICU be careful not to needlessly move around in bed, because his monitoring devices are so sensitive as to respond to his every motion, and transmit data. Must a person sentenced to house arrest and wearing a digital leg bracelet be careful not to move, because a GPS device sends information to the authorities? Can one use the new generation of hearing aids? How do we deal with motion sensors in hotel rooms?

In all of these cases, Rav Weiss opines permissively. The changes that come about cannot be part of an issur because they 1) are unobservable and imperceptible, while at the same time are 2) completely unintended by the person causing them. I wait with bated breath to learn how far-reaching this leniency will prove to be, and who, if any, will rise to challenge the line of reasoning.

One passage that caught my eye will resonate with people who have spent time with the sugya of davar she-eino miskaven and psik reisha, or unintended consequences of intended acts. A psik reisha is something that is predictably certain (or very close to certain according to some) to occur. A consequence of some action that might or might not occur is only a davar she-eino miskaven. The drift of the gemara is pretty clear: the latter is permitted, while the former is forbidden. But does this distinction about predictability accord with the way most of us understand the world?

Here is how R Asher Weiss looks at it:

According to scientific analysis, the concept of “davar she-eino miskaven” does not exist. Every davar she-eino miskaven is really a psik reisha. According to scientific truth, nothing occurs without a cause that makes it occur. Anyone who drags a chair or bed (which [when it does produce a furrow ] is still termed a psik reisha) could have come to know before the fact – through scientific examination of the weight of the furniture and the soil conditions – whether he would create the furrow or not. If in the end the furrow is created, it was only because the laws of Nature ordained this from the beginning. Nonetheless, it is clear from a halachic standpoint that we call the dragging of the furniture davar she-eino miskaven [and permit it]. This is because according to the reality that appears before our pedestrian eyes, we cannot know if a furrow will be created or not.

Many of us undoubtedly have come up with the same thinking. It is still a pleasant surprise to see it so clearly articulated by a major halachic figure.

Those who are already fans of R Asher Weiss will be interested in getting hold of this volume. Those who are unfamiliar might find this a good jumping off point to get acquainted with a figure who will become ever more important in the decades to come.

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Chana Luntz
2 years 6 months ago

Given that CC is not regarded as the right place for the electricity discussion, I have moved it to the site, avodah, vol. 31

Anybody interested is welcome to follow it there.


2 years 6 months ago

>Dateline – cute comments about Palin and Hawaii but an entire non-sequitur. Not following the CI and 90 degrees does not imply following RYMT and 180 degrees. R Meltzer, R. Frank, r. Kasher and many others follow the local calendar as to the date in both Japan and Hawaii as well as elsewhere

Not only that but the Gesher HaChaim explicitly asked that no one passengers according to his Shitta unless a beis din is maskim with it. Of, course, the rabbis of Jerusalem psakened against using the kuzari/Baal hamaor as an halachic source. There seems to be no… Read more »

dr. bill
2 years 6 months ago

Rabbi Adlerstein,
Shiurim – determining normative does not require brilliance or nevuah only knowledge of historic/traditional practice. In Lita, 5 people ate a shiur kezayis from one matzo. Commenting on our modern day chumrot 50 years ago, a famous RY, a talmid of r. shkop, said, my rebbe was not a baal mofais, but by his seder one matzo provided 5 kezaysim.

Electricity – shas hadechak is how one can tell a de’oraysah from a de’rabbanan. With the latter, poskim can be more liberal. In a non-shas hadechak situation, even us MO’s follow both a de’oraysah or… Read more »

Chana Luntz
2 years 6 months ago

Any idea where or whether this sefer is likely to be available in the UK?

Without the sefer, I am clearly only going on the snippet summary you have provided – but when you say:

>Moreover, he promotes his own, new argument for the impermissibility of all >electric devices, based on a Yerushalmi. (According to Rav Weiss, the >Yerushalmi holds – followed by Rambam – that any important accomplishment of >purpose has to be melachah, even if it does not seem to fall into one of the >categories in Perek Klal Gadol. It will perforce be subsumed by the melachah of >makeh… Read more »

2 years 6 months ago

R’ Asher Weiss is one of my favorite maggidei shiur –in addition to the style and content of his shiurim, he has something about him that is pleasant to listen to and to be around. I am fortunate that I have been exposed to him by his periodically visiting my community. I am glad to see that R’ Adlerstein (definitely more of a connoisseur of Torah than I am) also appreciates him and is spreading the word about him.

2 years 6 months ago

Also relevant to the discussion is an essay by Chaim Saiman analyzing one particular shiur of RAW, in which he discusses “dina de-malkhuta” as it applies to the Israeli government and Supreme Court:
Google “hirhurim saiman weiss” for the link

[YA – My own preference on this is closer to the comments of one Rabbi Eckstein than to the take of my friend Prof. Chaim Saiman]

Yehudah Mirsky
2 years 6 months ago

You needn’t be too apologetic for writing about sifrei Kodesh in the book review genre. Rav Zevin z’l’ wrote them for years (and one his books gathers them). My grandfather z’l did the same in Talpiot, and today such reviews regularly feature in Ha-Ma’ayan (and you can see them online).

2 years 6 months ago

He and my Rebbe R Mendel Blachman at KBY are the only 2 i’ve heard deal in arichus with the far reaching idea of davar masur lichachamim. Understanding the real nature of kulam nitnu liroeh echad (chagiga 3b) as a basis for elu vielu (eruvin 13b see rashatz in magen avos avos 5:17) allows the libi omer li style r asher has.

Baruch nosen hatorah

dr. bill
2 years 6 months ago

chardal, he is not more maikil. but there is some revisionism about what rmf meant by a baal nefesh should be machmir. as has been verified, it had to do with brandy, with a real admixture, not sherry casks. nice to read r. weiss affirm rmf’s position. besides, his additional reasons to be maikil are brilliant, original and more broadly applicable. curious how poskim will react. and his style is enjoyable.

Simcha Younger
2 years 6 months ago

A nice review, except that I really did not get the logic for the air conditioner case.
I don’t know whats wrong with a case where there is no practical liability. I think that the clear acceptance of such situations is a salient feature of the Jewish legal code. See for example the sixth perek of Bava Kama.
The fact that the neighbor would not have allowed the work to take place without the contractor taking responsibility is irrelevant since the neighbor has no right to impose conditions on standard work being done. Also, an ‘anan sahadi’ could only work if… Read more »

2 years 6 months ago

>i was told, he is the toast of the (kiddush club) town based on his teshuvah on sherry casks.

How is he more maikel than R’ Moshe Feinstein’s teshuva on the matter?

Crazy Kanoiy
2 years 6 months ago

Rabbi Adlerstein. In response to your post above. Rabbi Yisrael Taplan a bochein in Bais Medrash Govoha and talmid of Rabbi Ahron Kotler seems to side against the CI with respect to the Dateline in his monumental work Tarich Yisrael / The Dateline in Halacha.

[YA – I wish I could say that I’ve gone through the sefer from cover to cover. I haven’t, although I’ve used it like many others who’ve tried wading through the sugya. I don’t remember his maskanah; I guess I will have to take your word for it. IN any event, the fact that others disagreed… Read more »

dr. bill
2 years 6 months ago

r. weiss’s use of makeh bepatish on a repetative action is of course innovative and arguable. interestingly, his requirement of significance to create an instance of makeh bepatish, which in and of itself may not apply uniformly to some other de’oraysa/de’rabbanan bases for prohibition, becomes the source of leniency. i wonder about a continuum of significance/insignificance and how poskim will rule? it may well depend on the stipulated basis for prohibition.

i was told, he is the toast of the (kiddush club) town based on his teshuvah on sherry casks.

his comment about the sephardi maikilin, remind me of… Read more »

Yehoshua Friedman
2 years 6 months ago

RSZA was known as being completely above politics. He has a worthy successor in R. Weiss. Learn his sforim, hear his shiurim in person or electronically, and grow in Torah. RYA as usual is to be congratulated on his openness which does not sacrifice commitment and incisiveness.

dr. bill
2 years 6 months ago

rabbi Alderstein, I assume you mean mitzvos d’orayso not “issurim d’orayso.” even for mitzvos d’orayso his position on shiurim drew strong opposition. read the arguments and quotations r. o. yosef summarizes. i dare say, they would be deleted as offensive were they not the opinion of poskim muvhakim.

as to electricity, many practical pesakim that allow the state of Israel to function, treat electicity as a de’rabonnon.

as to the dateline, the sugyah in RH is interpreted rather differently by rashi, whose pshat is most consistent with what chazal assumed about the earth and heavenly bodies at the time of… Read more »

Tal Benschar
2 years 6 months ago

THis may be going off topic somewhat, but I really don’t understand this comment:

According to scientific analysis, the concept of “davar she-eino miskaven” does not exist. Every davar she-eino miskaven is really a psik reisha.

WADR, I think this has the issue backwards. Rebbi Shimon’s opinion is that generally the Torah requires one to intend to perform an act in order to violate the Torah’s prohibition. If you are intending to do something else, and the forbidden act is merely a by-product, that is not forbidden. Such a formulation is purely subjective — what does the person intend… Read more »

Joe Hill
2 years 6 months ago

” Arab workers in the employ of a Jewish contractor (A) drop a beam, which strikes someone’s (B) air-conditioner a few stories below. The unit is damaged, and the warranty voided. B wants compensation; A essentially argues that his claim is against the Arab workers, and good luck! The reaction of many of us would be that the claim is for adam hamazik, and in this case, that would be the Arab workers. Rav Weiss says that it is simply impossible that no one be accountable on a practical level for the damage. Such, he says, would be a miscarriage… Read more »

josh werblowsky
2 years 6 months ago

As I just returned glowing from experiencing a shiur Rav Weiss,Shlit”a, gives regularly on medical halachic issues,as posek at Sharei Zedek hospital I cannot agree more with Rav Adlerstein’s cogent comments.
In my opinion,if there is anyone who can follow in the tradition and greatness of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach,ZT”L it is Rav Weiss.
From Minchas Shlomo to Minchas Asher.

Ben Waxman
2 years 6 months ago

I have felt for a long time that different yeshivot, particularly in Israel but also in ROW, need to invite rabbanim from other streams of the dati world to give shiyurim. The Mir should invite Rav Melamed, and Har Bracha should invite one the Mir’s great rabbanim. Neither would say a word about politics, just give a shiyur on Baba Batra or whatever.

Take a small step, steeped in Talmud Torah, to repair the breeches in our midst.

2 years 6 months ago

Well, since the divide seems to be Jewish law or Jewish philosophy, and since the above article focuses on the Jewish law aspect of R Asher Weiss’ thought, how about a second column devoted to his Jewish philosophy? I personally resonate far more to Jewish thought than to Jewish law. (I of course realize that the dichotomy is not quite as sharp as I have portrayed it here, but I am hoping you know what I mean)

Steve Brizel
2 years 6 months ago

R Asher Weiss’s sefarim Minchas Asher also include volumes on many Masectos, a superb collections of shiurim that follow the Parshas HaShavua, Moadim, RH, YK and Sukkos, as well as Chanukah, Purim and Bein HaMetzarim, a volume of Sichos based on the parsha and Moadim, as well as a wonderful Haggadah, and a volume on Talmud Torah. I would also note that R Weiss has given shiurim at many of the hesder yeshivos, Lakewood, and the NCSY summer kollel program.

joel rich
2 years 6 months ago

You can also go to the Bergen County Bet Medrash (BCBM) site for many shiurim. I forgot to mention his approach to utilizing “ratzon hatorah”(the Torah’s will) as a guide in psak.

dr. bill
2 years 6 months ago

i believs your discussion of the CI can be misread. as innovative as his use of boneh was, it was rejected strenuously by RSZA and many, mnay others. it is RSZA’s approach that allows much of modern day Israel to function. In any number of areas, the CI’s aura far exceeded the acceptance of his halakhic positions as normative – the dateline, shiurim and electricity to name 3. sure, in chareidi circles his positions are often revered (and followed), but they are hardly normative.

R. weiss is a fascinating, brilliant and original posek. like RMF, his reasoning can… Read more »

2 years 6 months ago

I’m very excited to take a look at this sefer. I apologize if I have simply over looked it but what is the title of the sefer? Has a second printing been printed, and does he have any other seforim we can look into?

[I am not entirely sure, but I believe that it is back in print. I got my copy directly from the mechaber. All of his seforim – and he has many – bear the same title: Minchas Asher]

2 years 6 months ago

Review of SHU”T, or of any seforim, is an interesting ouvre, though it was strange to see it from your byline. The blend of English with talmudic terminology, particularly when unitalicized, give it something of a cluttered look, though. Also I thought the descriptions of “bated breath” and “breahtaking” were a bit over the top. Otherwise very good.

(Hope that’s OK to say. “All praise is more or less of impertinence.” – Joe Conrad. Not intended here.)

[YA – If you don’t like the clutter, please consider getting us new blogging software. WordPress strips all formatting from Word docs. Any… Read more »

David Silverberg
2 years 6 months ago

Many videos of Rav Asher’s shiurim are available at the Yeshivat Hesder Sderot website and also on youtube (just search הרב אשר ווייס).

joel rich
2 years 6 months ago

Total agreement! I would add R’ Weiss’s use of “libi omer li” (my [halachic] heart [intuition] tells me) seems to me a throwback to how the oral law originally worked when faced with new cases which required a synthesis of torah law/values to deal with them.

one point-when i’ve heard R’ Weiss on:”(According to Rav Weiss, the Yerushalmi holds – followed by Rambam – that any important accomplishment of purpose has to be melachah, even if it does not seem to fall into one of the categories in Perek Klal Gadol. It will perforce be subsumed by the melachah of… Read more »