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Rabbi Chaim Coffman
Rabbi Coffman has helped people from all across the spectrum to prepare themselves properly for Orthodox Conversion to Judaism. His students admire his vast knowledge and appreciate his warm, personal attention and endearing sense of humor.
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Welcome to Rabbi Chaim Coffman's Blog!

I would like to thank you for visiting my blog, Beyond Orthodox Conversion to Judaism.

The conversion process can be a lengthy and daunting one to say the least and I want you to know that I am here to help you through it.

I have been teaching newcomers to Judaism for over a decade and over the last few years I have seen that conversion candidates really lack the support and knowledge they need to navigate the conversion process and successfully integrate into the Orthodox Jewish community.

I created my mentorship program in order to help make this whole experience as smooth and as painless as possible! (Can't do much about the growing pains, though ;)

Feel free to get to know me a little through the posts on my blog and visit the mentorship and syllabus page if you are interested in possible joining us.

I sincerely wish you all the best in your search for truth and spiritual growth.

Looking forward to meeting you,
Chaim Coffman

My Rebbe, Rav Moshe Sternbuch

In case you were wondering why I have all of these articles written by Rav Moshe Sternbuch, he is my Rebbe, and one of the gedolei hador (greatest Rabbis of our generation).

Rav Sternbuch fully endorses me and supports my mentorship program.

He is the address for all of my halachic or hashkafic (practical and philosophical) questions that I or my students may have.

The articles are based on his weekly talks on the Torah portion that the Rav gives in Jerusalem in his kollel. As a member of the kollel I get first dibbs on the photocopies and I type them up for my blog so you can all benefit from the Rav's erudition and insight.
Thursday, February 3, 2011

Ask the Raavad – Shailos Uteshuvos with Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Question: Is it permitted to eat food that was touched by someone who did not wash their hands (negel vasser)in the morning?

Answer: The halachah is that one may eat the food after first washing it three times under the faucet, although the Vilna Gaon was stringent never to eat the food.

One Purim, the Vilna Gaon received an exquisite mishloach manos, consisting of choice apples and lemons. Rav Zalman of Volozin (brother of Rav Chaim of Volozhin) was at the table of the Gaon that Purim and dozed off during the meal. While he was sleeping, his hands touched some of the fruit in the basket.

When the Gaon saw what happened, he immediately ordered the apples and lemons to be chopped into small pieces and thrown into the toilet. He world not even permit the fruit to be sold to a non-Jew, lest he sell them afterwards to a Jew. The Vilna Gaon believed that food touched before one washes his hands presents the greatest spiritual danger (Tosefes Ma’ashe Rav 25).

As far as the halachah lemaaseh, the Mishnah Berurah (4:14) cites the Chaye Adam (2:2) who permits eating food that a Jew touched in the morning before washing his hands. Before consuming that food, it should be washed off three times. If we look deeper into this issue, we will see that eating food which has been touched with unwashed hands is far from a simple issue.

What is the Chayei Adam’s proof to permit eating food touched before washing one’s hands?

The Bais Yosef forbids doing shechitah using a reed, because amongst other reasons, the reed may be impure. He writes that according to this explanation, if one unknowingly performed shechitah with a reed, the meat would be permitted.

The proof that the Chaye Adam cites is far from conclusive. The tumah that is on a reed as a result of one touching it is not nearly as powerful as that which rests on a person’s hands in the morning. Although the halachah states clearly that washing three times take this impurity off of one’s hands in the morning, it is far from simple that washing three times will take it off of food.

Chazal imply that the tumah that rests on one’s hands in the morning is more stringent and cannot be compared to other impurities. “If a person touches his eyes, nose, mouth, ears, or other orfices of his body in the morning before washing his hands, he should cut off his hands so that this should repeat itself. Touching these parts of his body can make him blind and deaf, and bring on other sicknesses. (Shabbos 108b)

The Zohar (cited by the Bais Yosef, Orach Chaim 4) also stresses that this impurity is more stringent than others. “When the neshama leaves a person’s body, a spirit of impurity envelops a person’s body…the water that one uses to remove this impurity is spiritually dangerous and can cause great harm.” From the words of the Zohar, we see how destructive this impurity is.

The Rishonim also stress the great danger inherent in this impurity. In Hilchos Yom Kippur, the Bahag writes, “Shivta is the name of the spirit which rests on a person’s hands at night. Eating food that a person touched before washing his hands causes great spiritual danger.” When defining shivta, the Aruch cites the words of the Bahag as the halachah.

The Pri Megaidm emphasizes the severity of eating food which was touched with impure hands. “Eating such food is dangerous and we follow the principle that danger is more stringent than other prohibitions” (Mishbetzos Zaham 4:7) The Shelah (cited in Ketzos Hashulchan 2:7) adds that eating these food causes one’s heart to become impure and that this will eventually lead a person to do aveiros (sins).

Based on the above, some seforim suggest that one should wash their children’s hands even at a very young age. Although l’halacha one only needs to be stringent from the age of chinuch (education), some extremely righteous individuals start washing their children’s hands from the time of their bris milah (circumcision).

Despite all the danger that such food poses, there is a way to understand why the halachah and minhag are so lenient. The Rama writes (2:7) that if one washed his hands in the morning without a utensil, the impurity will also be taken off. Since most people wash their hands upon waking up in the morning, one can rely on this washing together with the washing of the food to eat the food that was touched.

Another reason to be lenient regarding this halachah is based on the famous incident with Rav Avrohom ben Avrohom, was born to a family of gentile aristocracy yet decided to relinquish his status and become a righteous convert. His family, who was very devout in their religious beliefs, ordered him to renounce his Jewish faith or be burned at the stake. Rav Avrohom refused to compromise and chose to die al Kiddush Hashem (sanctifying G-d’s name).

On the day that Rav Avrohom was executed, a great fire came out of the Me’oras Hamachpeilah in Chevron, where the avos (patriarchs) are buried. The Vilna Gaon explained that Rav Avrohom’s act of dying while sanctifying Hashem’s name caused the forces of impurity to be reduced drastically and, as a result, the tumah that rests on one’s hands every morning upon awakening was also weakened (Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach as cited in Ishei Yisroel (2:17). Nonetheless, regarding food touched by someone who did not perform netilas yodayim beforehand, the Vilna Gaon ruled that even after the incident of Rav Avrohom ben Avrohom, one should not eat the food.

In conclusion, a person should take whatever precaution he can not to eat food that was touched before netilas yodayim. If the food was touched, tit should be washed under the tap three separate times.

Guarding the purity of the food that is placed in one’s body ensure that a person will be spared from the spiritual harm that it could cause (taken from Teshuvos V’Hanhagos 1:1)