RESPONSA HASHEM ROI

RESPONSA HASHEM ROI by R’ Uriel Sfez (2nd edition). Kochav Yaakov, 5777
One of the many reasons I love living in Israel is the opportunity to find Jewish books from Israeli Rabbanim who are less well-known, and occasionally not known at all in communities outside of Israel. As case in point is the recently published second edition of She’elot U’Teshuvot (Responsa) by Rabbi Uriel Sfez, titled Hashem Roi.

In his introduction, Rabbi Sfez – who is a teacher in numerous schools/Yeshivot and Rav of the Kochav Yaakov community – explains that the questions that he addressed in Hashem Roi originated from those asked to him by his students at the Midbara K’Eden Yeshiva in Mitzpe Ramon, his students at the Zeitlin school in Tel Aviv, and from the members of the Yismach Moshe synagogue.

Hashem Roi contains answers to 128 halakhic questions spanning all areas of Jewish living, and as someone who spends much time studying She’elot U’Teshuvot, I found R’ Sfez’s presentation to be clear, comprehensive and quite refreshing.

For example, in response to a question asked to him concerning whether the shehecheyanu bracha should be recited upon purchasing tefillin – which itself is a machloket rishonim (a matter of debate amongst the great halakhic authorities of the 11th-15th century) – R’ Sfez cites and elucidates the approach of R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach whose practice is was to give his sons his tefillin when he became barmitzvah, and as a result of receiving the gift of tefillin, his son would recite the shehecheyanu bracha.

In a different responsum, R’ Sfez addresses the question of whether there is any particular value or arranging a collective prayer in instances where there is no minyan (such as in a small Yishuv, or among soldiers etc.). Basing himself on a creative reading of Gemara by R’ Mordechai Bennett as explained in a shiur by R’ Asher Weiss, as well as other remarks by authorities like R’ Nevenzhal, R’ Sfez argues that one should endeavor to establish collective prayer services even where a minyan is unavailable.

A further question, which comes up especially among those who do a lot of driving is whether it is permitted to recite Birkat Hamazon while driving. Through a fascinating discussion whereby R’ Sfez draws comparisons between Birkat Hamazon and the Amidah, he explains that ideally one should stop to recite Birkat Hamazon. But, if a person is unable to do so (either due to time pressure while driving, or perhaps their inability to stop on a motorway) and there won’t be time to do so when they do arrive at their destination, or if it is likely that they will forget, then Birkat Hamazon may be recited while driving.

My final example relates to a question which many may think about but few necessarily ask, which is what should a community ‘do’ during the reading of the Haftarah in synagogue? In response to this, R’ Sfez cites three different customs: a) according to the Rema, the community should simply listen and not read along; b) according to the Magen Avraham as well as the Ari z’l, the community should quietly read the Haftarah as it is read out loud, and, c) according to Babylonian communities, the Haftarah should be read out loud by the entire community. While this third custom appears to conflict with the halakha that ‘two voices cannot be heard’ (as Rashi explains on Megillah 21b), the Chatam Sofer defends this practice by explaining that this was done in order to avoid not embarrassing anyone incorrectly reading the Haftarah.

She’elot U’Teshuvot are a wonderful prism where thoughtful and often important halakhic questions are addressed, and where insightful and occasionally surprising responses can be found. Hashem Roi is such a book. 

To purchase a copy of Responsa Hashem Roi, click here


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