by Rabbi Asher Weiss, 2016
In terms of She’elot U’Teshuvot (Responsa, often abbreviated as Sh’ut), Rabbi Weiss published his first volume of Sh’ut Minchat Asher in Cheshvan 5773 (October 2012), which included a variety of fascinating questions and bold responses. To read a review of this volume by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, click here.In Tammuz 5774 (July 2014), Rabbi Weiss published the second volume of Sh’ut Minchat Asher which again included a number of fascinating questions and original responses, with one particular responsum about the halakhic duties of someone suffering from OCD provoking considerable discussion and praise. See here for Rabbi Elli Fischer’s remarks who considered this responsum to be ‘one of the greatest responsa I’ve ever read’. And just a few months ago in Sivan 5776 (June 2016), Rabbi Weiss published the third volume of Sh’ut Minchat Asher. Since purchasing a copy, I have immersed myself in its study and enjoyed every one of the responsa that I have studied. In the following paragraphs I hope to provide a number of examples to show why Sh’ut Minchat Asher should be on the reading list of anyone interested in contemporary pesika (halakhic decision-making) and why so many of the responsa contained in this series are masterclasses in pesika. However, before discussing content, I would like to address the format & style of these responsa.
In contrast to many modern volumes of responsa that prefer brevity over depth, each responsum in Sh’ut Minchat Asher follows a traditional format, and though most responsa are not excessively long, they are comprehensive. But unlike many classic responsa works, Rabbi Weiss writes with a refreshingly clear style, which means that his rulings are accessible even to those who are less familiar with this unique genre of Jewish literature.
However, what makes Sh’ut Minchat Asher so fascinating, gripping and even inspiring, is the humanity expressed by Rabbi Weiss as he addresses each of the questions asked of him with a full command of all aspects of halakha and a deep appreciation of so many dimensions of the human condition.
To give some examples, responsum no. 11 addresses the question of a young lad who is soon to reach bar mitzvah age. This young lad suffers from deafness and has a cleft palate and together this means that he struggles to speak clearly with most people being unable to understand him, and with his family only being able to understand most of what he says. The question asked of Rabbi Weiss is whether the young lad can have an aliyah laTorah (a call up to the Torah) to celebrate his barmitzvah despite the fact that few people in the community will be able to understand him (which is halakhically problematic as discussed in responsum no. 10). Rabbi Weiss was clearly moved by the question (as evident from his final remarks in his responsum) but despite his empathy, halakha requires that public blessings are recited with a sensitivity towards the community who hear them and not only the individual who recites them. Therefore, he suggests that the family do its best to train the young lad to recite the blessings with the hope that he develops a greater level of fluency. However, in addition to this, he suggests that his Aliyah laTorah occur in a more intimate setting with close family and friends both in order to ensure that the majority of the community will understand him, and to reduce any stress placed on him. In so doing Rabbi Weiss finds a halakhic pathway that is loyal to halakha and sensitive to the needs of a young lad.
Responsum no. 78 addresses the question of a non-Jew who is seeking to convert but who suffers from severe haemophilia and is therefore at grave risk if he were to undergo a brit milah. Rabbi Weiss is asked whether it would be permitted for such an individual to undergo hatafat dam brit (have a small drop of blood extracted, which his doctors say is safe) and still convert. Here too we see a conflict between the ideal halakhic requirement and the ability for halakha to be fulfilled, and here too, Rabbi Weiss offers a solution that meets both requirements. As Rabbi Weiss explains, though there are sources which could be relied upon that would not require a brit milah, there is a preference to find a better solution and this he does by suggesting that brit milah be performed by laser so that the foreskin can be removed without the risk of bleeding. In the subsequent pages, Rabbi Weiss explains why the use of laser surgery is a halakhically legitimate form of brit milah and consequently, why this is the best solution to this particular issue.
Responsum no. 83, which is addressed to Rabbi Zvi (Hershel) Schachter, involves a highly complex question concerning the possible mamzerut of a young man, and though the details of the case are beyond the scope of this review, this responsum is a further example of the halakhic creativity employed by Rabbi Weiss to avoid the possibility of a child being categorized as a mamzer.
It should be noted that beyond examples such as those listed above, Sh’ut Minchat Asher contains a number of important halakhic essays relating to Jewish practice. These include an analysis of the halakhic measures (shiurim) that we require for a variety of Jewish practices (see no. 12), an essay about rabbinic enactments and decrees whose reasons no longer apply, which is then followed by a specific discussion about taking vitamins on Shabbat (see no.’s 22-23), a discussion concerning the rules pertaining to forbidding (and permitting) of clapping and dancing on Shabbat and Festival days (see no. 24), as well as a discussion about what has been described as the ‘Kosher Switch’ (see no. 25).
As should be obvious, Rabbi Weiss is matir (ie. he rules that a particular act or situation is permitted) in some cases, whereas in others he is oser (ie. he rules that a particular act or situation is forbidden). But what is clear from this and the previous two volumes of Sh’ut Minchat Asher is that in every response to each question that he receives, Rabbi Weiss is thoughtful, reflective, creative and comprehensive. He pays great attention to the halakhic requirements in each case, and no less to the individuals involved in each situation, and this is the ultimate mark of a true gadol batorah.
To purchase a copy of this sefer, click here.