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Contemporary Halachic Problems Vol. VII – A Review

20170118_163240By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for the Five Towns Jewish Times

He was the master of the genre – indeed, the very inventor of it. The genre Rabbi J. David Bleich invented was writing about the confluence of new technology and how the Poskim understand and deal with its halachic implications. Ever since the first volume appeared, Rabbi Bleich’s Contemporary Halachic Problems have consistently shown a comprehensive and remarkable mastery of the underlying halachic material. The first volume of this series appeared way back in 1976.

I recall sitting with a dictionary, breaking my teeth trying to decipher and decode the Rabbi’s words. His vast legal vocabulary was certainly a hurdle, as we all yearned to understand his presentation of the various halachic views of contemporary issues. It is now four decades later, and, true to his fashion, Rav Bleich’s latest seventh volume, just released on January 1st of 2017, does not disappoint.

As in previous volumes, Rav Bleich’s treatment of a subject matter is quite thorough. Nine times out of ten, his material is more thoroughly researched than that which appears in Hebrew volumes that discuss the same issue. There is a difference, however, between Rav Bleich’s first volume in 1976 and his current one 40 years later. Back then, Rabbi Bleich was a chronicler of contemporary halacha. Now, in and of himself, he is an espouser and innovator of it. His other publications and the incisive comments he often includes after his survey of the recent halachic material he covers are proof to that.

In this volume, Rav Bleich deals with a number of fascinating issues: the liability of product manufacturers and halacha, detached buttons on Shabbos, Cochlear implants, harm caused by spiritual damage, the property rights of the deceased, acquiring lost property through the use of “chatzer”, fathering a child after one’s death, numerous mothers and halacha, a Bris milah using a laser, medical tattooing, entering a church, video surveillance and yichud, video surveillance and cholov yisroel, a number of Pesach issues and much more.

Rav Bleich, as was his style since the very beginning is attuned to the nuances of halacha. He notes (p. 300) the novel reading of Rav Vosner in Shaivet HaLevi III #175 that would forbid use of a partial ovum donated by a married woman from a drasha of the verse vedavak b’ishto found in an acharon – the Keren Orah. The Keren Orah is used by Rav Vosner to actually forbid a situation where someone else contributed to the child’s genesis. Rav Bleich compares Rav Vosner’s view to that of Rav Elyashiv’s and wonders whether Rav Elyashiv’s concerns were the same.

On page 487, Rav Bleich deals with the issue of Styrofoam cups, citing the late Rabbi Blumenkranz’s view that Styrofoam cups are forbidden on account of the zinc stearate used to release the cup from its mold during the manufacturing process. Rav Bleich discusses a number of pertinent halachos, and in a footnote dismisses Rav Gavriel Zinner’s discussion of the matter in the Taives 5765 edition of Ohr Yisroel (a Torah journal published in Brooklyn). There are, however, a number of authors that address the issue that same journal which Rav Bleich does not cite. In this author’s own conversations with the late Rav Blumenkranz z”l, I made a startling discovery which could explain a number of Rabbi Blumenkranz’s halachic positions. He did not hold of the use of s’nifim (the combined marshalling of a multiplicity of leniencies) to create a general halachic leniency. When I brought this up to some of his children, however, they were not in agreement that this view was part of his methodology of psak halacha.

In chapter three, on Scientific Hypotheses and Halachic Inerrancy, regarding spontaneous generation, Rav Bleich is not bashful in calling out R. Natan Slifkin’s misreading or misunderstanding of Rav Yitzchok haLevi’s view on the matter (p. 86). Rav Bleich points out Rav Herzog’s awareness of current rejection of spontaneous generation, but states that the words, “We have only the words of Chazal” does not at all indicate that he believed Chazal to be in error.

On page 119, Rav Bleich discusses the various views as to whether a video camera is sufficient to address the prohibition of yichud, seclusion with someone who is not one’s spouse. He discusses Rav Vosner’s and Rav Gavriel Zinner’s view that the video camera is similar to a minor between the ages of five and nine. They permit it if the video camera is manned, but not for someone who is “libo gas bah.” This author strongly believes that this leniency is wrong and should not be employed at all. The reason being is that there have been many cases where false representations were made that video feeds were being watched and they were not – causing predators to take advantage of others. Rav Bleich perhaps should have discussed the limitations of this technological solution.

And while the serious tone of the material may seem somber and solemn, Rabbi Bleich’s sense of humor does come out in full force on the bottom of page 242. The reviewer will not spoil the humorous linguistical gymnastics Rabbi Bleich employs. Read it yourself.

The book is published by Maggidbooks and can be ordered on But they say that there are only six left.

The author can be reached at [email protected]

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