Shulchan Ha’ari

by Rabbi Ari Enkin (2017).

The recently published Shulchan Ha’ari is the ninth volume in Rabbi Ari Enkin’s Dalet Amot Halacha series. In each of these volumes Rabbi Enkin offers ‘short entries on halachic issues of contemporary relevance and interest’ which can be appreciated by scholars and laypeople alike.

In Shulchan Ha’ari there are 103 short articles on topics as wide-ranging as the laws of lighting Shabbat candles for unmarried girls, whether glasses should be removed when covering your eyes while reciting the Shema, the customs behind of naming children, the appropriateness or otherwise of walking around barefoot, considerations about alternative burial options, the laws pertaining to daytime mikveh immersion, and using and replacing items from a hotel mini-bar. In each article, Rabbi Enkin quotes from a wide range of sources while offering a coherent and substantive presentation. Given the range of topics, and breadth of sources cited, no person will read this sefer without learning some new idea, insight or perspective.

Just to give a taste of Shulchan Ha’ari, here are summaries of four of Rabbi Enkin’s articles:

a. WEARING BLACK ON SHABBAT: Rabbi Enkin begins this article by noting that while it is common in many orthodox circles for men to wear black clothing, Talmudic and Kabbalistic sources indicate that white should be the preferred colour of Shabbat clothing. In explaining this disparity, Rabbi Enkin offers some social reasons why dark clothes have become accepted as a symbol of dignity and he also states that notwithstanding the many notable sources concerning white Shabbat clothing, this practice is not mentioned in the Shulchan Aruch. Given this, Rabbi Enkin explains that since it is not a normative practice, if someone were to make a conscious choice to wear all white on Shabbat, this is deemed as being an act of yuhara (hubris or arrogance). Interestingly, Rabbi Enkin then adds that ‘there does not seem to be any colour preference for women’s Shabbat clothes’ and ‘any colour has always been acceptable as long as it conforms to the rules of tzniut’. Rabbi Enkin concludes this article by citing the halacha that ‘one’s yom tov clothes should be even nicer than one’s Shabbat clothes’, although I was surprised that he didn’t mention the custom to wear special clothes on Rosh Chodesh (see Kaf HaChaim 419:6, Ma’aseh Rav) which some men and women follow and which is the common practice in many schools in Israel.

b. PRAYING IN FRONT OF A MIRROR: Rabbi Enkin begins this article by stating the law as codified in Shulchan Aruch that it is forbidden to pray in front of a mirror, and he explains that this is due to the concern that this may be distracting or many appear as if one is praying/bowing down to oneself. He then discusses whether this same concern arises when praying in front of a window where one can also see one’s reflection and notes that few authorities reach such a conclusion. Then he explains that ‘contrary to widespread misconception, the primary reason for covering the mirrors in a shiva house is the prohibition against praying in front of a mirror. Since the shiva house is essentially designated as a place of prayer during the duration of the shiva week, all mirrors are covered in case, due to space limitations and the like, someone might be positioned in front of a mirror during the services.’ He continues, ‘this being the case, there is no true requirement to cover the mirrors in the bathrooms of a shiva house’.

c. HAGOMEL ON UNDERWATER TUNNELS: Jewish law requires the Hagomel bracha to be recited when crossing the sea, and this leads to the curious question concerning whether Hagomel should be recited if you have crossed through a sea in an underwater tunnel (such as the channel tunnel between England and France). Rabbi Enkin notes that while numerous contemporary halachic authorities such as Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzahl rules that Hagomel should be recited in such an instance, others such as Rabbi Hershel Schacher and Rabbi Menashe Klein disagree. Though Rabbi Enkin rarely insists on taking sides in contemporary halachic debates, in this case he ends with an emphatic conclusion that ‘the halacha is in accordance with this [latter] view’.

d. SLEEPING ALONE: In this entry, Rabbi Enkin refers to the Gemara (Shabbat 151b) which discusses the spiritual dangers of those sleeping alone in a house. Though noting that some authorities interpret this source to refer to sleeping alone in a room, Rabbi Enkin primarily explores the literal meaning of the Gemara while explaining that ‘one who has no choice but to sleep alone in a house is advised to leave a light on, which is said to keep away Lilith and all other harmful spirits’. He then adds that ‘one who, for whatever reason, is unable to have a light on while sleeping may rely on this view that the mezuza or even the presence of some sefarim serve to protect one from Lilith’. Still, he adds that many people seem lax about this practice and this may be ‘based on the opinion that there are no longer any damaging spirits in this world’.

In conclusion, Shulchan Ha’ari is a fabulous and fascinating collection of articles that address a variety of halachot and minhagim, and while I would have loved a slightly more rigorous referencing system, it concludes with a general index to all 9 volumes in Rabbi Enkin’s Dalet Amot Halacha series.

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