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Rabbi Moshe Feinstein on his 25th Yarzheit

Last week was the 25th yarzheit of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein. I was in Israel at the time of his funeral, although I didn’t have much of an idea who he was, that only came a few years later. A number of interested posts were written about him. See this one by Adderabbi and this one by Rav Tzair. I just wanted to post a few comments of his from some of his responsa that always struck me as personifying a gadol ba-Torah.

The first are two similar comments that were written in two different responsa. The first is a well-known responsum of his about the eruv in Manhattan (Igrot Moshe, OH 4:89). For a longer discussion about this responsum see this post by Rabbi Josh Yuter. Rav Moshe didn’t think that it was permissible to build an eruv around Manhattan, but he also wouldn’t come out against those who did support the eruv.

אבל הא כבר אמרתי שאין בידנו למחות ביד המקילין וכשיתקנו הרי יהיה מותר לאיזה שיטות, גם הם רבנים גדולים ומי ימחה בהם מכיון שסוברים לפי הכרעתם שיכולין לתקן והם ראוים להוראה.

But I already said that it is not within our power to protest against those who are lenient, and when they build the eruv it will be permissible according to some approaches. Also, they are respectable rabbis, and who should protest against them, since they are holding according to their decisions that one is able to build an eruv, and they are qualified to make decisions.

Rav Moshe says something similar in a responsum on conversion (Igrot Moshe, YD 1:159). In this responsum he took a stricter stand towards performing certain conversions, but he was again unwilling to speak out against those with whom he disagreed since the convert may have been sincere.

אך מ”מ אולי גיורת זו תקבל המצות ולכן איני אומר בזה כלום לכתר”×” ×›×™ יש הרבה רבנים בנוא יארק מקבלין גרים כאלו וממילא אין לי לומר בזה איסורין אבל אני אין דעתי נוחה וגם דעת אבא מארי הגאון זצ”ל לא ×”×™×” נוחה מזה אבל לא אמינא איסורים בזה וכתר”×” יעשה כפי הבנתו ודעתו וכפי הדוחק. וספר אחיעזר שהביא כתר”×” לא ראיתיו עדין.

But nevertheless, maybe this convert accepted upon herself the commandments, and therefore I am not going to comment on this at all to you, since there are many rabbis in New York who accept converts like these, and I am not going to pronounce this forbidden. But I am not comfortable with it, and also my learned father ztz”l was not comfortable with this, yet I am not going to pronounce this forbidden. You should follow your own understanding and opinion according to the situation. I have yet to see the book Ahiezer that you brought.

Rav Moshe was willing to both respect the opinions of other rabbis, and also to encourage the rabbi asking the question to make a decision for himself. The last line is also interesting. Rav Moshe rarely quotes other responsa collections, so it isn’t very surprising that he didn’t have Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski’s responsa collection Ahiezer.

The last responsum is from Igrot Moshe, OH 5:12. This responsum addresses whether one needs a mehitzah at a house of mourning, or whether separate seating is sufficient.

שאלת אם צריך מחיצה כשמתפללים במקום שאינו קבוע לתפלה, למשל, בבית אבל רח”ל. אם צריכות הנשים לילך לחדר נפרד, או שדי בהפסק אוויר. ונראה שלדינא הנשים בבית אבל צריכות ללכת לחדר אחר. והטעם דבית אבל הוי מקום שפתוח לרבים, שצריך בו מדינא תמיד הפרדה בין הנשים לאנשים, וכל שכן בשעת תפילה, כמבואר בתשובתי בא”מ או”×— ×—”א סימנים ל”ט – מ”א. אבל אם למעשה הנשים אינן מסכימות לעזוב את החדר, נחשב ×–×” לאקראי, ואין להמנע מלהתפלל מחמת ×–×”. אבל בבית חתן מדינא אין צורך במחיצה, שאינו פתוח לרבים, אלא רק לבני המשפחה. לכן די בכך שילכו האנשים המתפללים לזווית אחת שיוכלו לכוין שם, ושם יתפללו.

You asked whether one needs a mehitzah in a place that is not set aside permanently for prayer, for example, a house of mourning (God forbid). If the women need to go to a separate room, or if a separation of air is enough. It seems that according to the law, women in a house of mourning need to go to a separate room. The reason is that the house of mourning is open to everyone, and according to the law it always need a separation between men and women. All the more so at the time of prayer, as I elucidated in Igrot Moshe OH 1:39-41. But if in reality the women do not agree to leaving the room, it will be considering temporary, and you shouldn’t let this prevent you from praying. But in the house of a groom, according to the law there is no need for a mehitzah, since it is not open to the public, but just for the family. Therefore, it is enough if the men just go to a corner of the room and pray there.

The rest of the responsum is interesting, including a comment about women who used to come into the beit midrash in order to say the mourner’s kaddish. In the section that I brought above, Rav Moshe states what he thinks is the law, but in some sense he also anticipates the possible objection of women, and writes that if they do object, there is another option available.

Below is an article written by Prof. Pinhas Hacohen Peli that was published in the now defunt magazine Ha-Doar after Rabbi Feinstein’s death. May we merit more gedolim like Rav Moshe who are confidant enough to refrain from criticizing those who are more liberal than they are.
Pinhas HaCohen Peli-Rav Moshe Feinstein

5 Responses to “Rabbi Moshe Feinstein on his 25th Yarzheit”

  1. 1

    These responsa are even more fascinating when juxtaposed with some of R. Moshe’s other responsa; for example, the responsum on the lack of mehitza should be read–as he indicates himself–in light of his unprecedentedly stringent position regarding the biblical nature of the requirement of mehitza in a permanent place of prayer. Similarly, his lenience regarding conversion pertained to Orthodox rabbis of a more liberal bent, but certainly not to non-Orthodox rabbis (see the responsum following hte one you cited, YD I:160).
    These fine lines that he draws, often in consecutive responsa, are part of what makes him so unique.

  2. 2

    This is superb stuff Menachem,
    Thanks and shabbat shalom,

  3. 3
    Menachem Mendel:

    @jeremyg Thanks


    Rav Moshe wrote in his intro to vol. 1 that every situation is unique and must be examined on its own merits. In the intro to vol. 8, pp. 31-32, it is described how he would examine every question anew, as if he had never written a responsum about it.

  4. 4

    MM – if you take that to it’s logical conclusion, then his responsa are worthless, because you can never extrapolate what he says to any other situation. I would also contend that when he makes specific reference in one responsa to another of his responsa, as he does in V:12, he’s telling us that his new responsum does not undermine or contradict the old. He-hadei hadaddei tanya. Same applies to YD 1:159 and I:160. And same applies to the microphone and hearing aid responsa, where he specifically invokes the responsum about the former in the responsum on the latter.
    We may disagree on this, but I see his gadlut specifically within the navigation of these tensions.

  5. 5
    Menachem Mendel:


    It would be interesting to see how many times in all of Igrot Moshe he refers to previous responsa that he has written and try to see if there is some sort of characteristic in these cases, and specifically, how he relates to previous responsa of his. The examples that you brought might be characteristic of these situations. I think that Rav Moshe was conflicted about his role as a posek. He specifically says in his intro to IM that every rabbi must look up the sources themselves and decide the halakhah, but he also saw an obligation to answer questions when people asked them of him.

    I wouldn’t say that his responsa would be worthless, rather, one should be careful about the precedent setting nature of his responsa and understand that each situation is unique.




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