Above My Pay Grade - Part 1

Real questions, submitted by actual OU Torah followers, with their real answers. NOTE: For questions of practical halacha, please consult your own rabbi for guidance.

Sometimes people ask questions that require more halachic authority. Following is a sampling of questions that I forwarded to a more senior colleague, and his replies. (Don't sweat the untranslated Hebrew; I have provided a glossary at the end.)

Q. Can you flush a basement toilet on Shabbat?

Rav: The ones I have heard of, water will go to a holding tank, and when the tank fills then it pumps all the water out at once. It is not just the toilet, but the sinks as well that need to be pumped out. Not every use of the sink or toilet will trigger the pump. Since you do not know when this will happen, turning on a sink or flushing a toilet is not a p'sik reisha (however it is definitely nicha lei) and perhaps can be viewed as a gramma. Additionally, there is an aspect of kavod ha'briyos to flush the toilet and wash your hands in the sink. Chazal allow certain extra leniencies for "kavod Ha'briyos." If there is an upstairs toilet and sink that can be used instead then one should not use the basement toilet on Shabbos, but some people rent basement apartments and do not have another toilet or sink.


Me: I have been asked if a woman can wear a "seal of Solomon" necklace. I assume the question is if it's a problem of an amulet. I'm not aware of any issues but it's a little outside my wheelhouse. Any thoughts?

Rav: I would caution very much that one should verify that it is based on a reliable Jewish tradition and not a highjacked form that is based on idolatry.


Q. If Shabbat candles don’t burn completely because of wind, they’re still long but used, can I reuse them the next week for Shabbat ?

Me: I can't see why not. (I can't even find anything on the subject.) If anything, they say that used wicks draw better! Am I missing anything?

Rav: No problem, they can reuse them. They do not become assur b’hanaah or anything like that.


Me: Do the halachos of cutting nails (order, day of the week, disposal, etc.) apply to filing one's nails?

Rav: Day of the week? I would think yes. The same reason would apply. Order – it is kabbalistic, so I have no idea if it applies to filing or only to cutting. Disposal – I would think the same concerns of disposal apply.


Q. Can a person be called up for an aliyah on Shabbat if he doesn't keep Shabbat?

Rav: The ikar halacha is that they cannot be counted to the seven aliyos but one can add aliyos. And some say that to be mikarev them there is room to be even more maikel.


Q. I'm taking a course at BYU which is a college under Mormon auspices but has students of all religions. Every student has to agree to the honor code, which is mostly stuff Jews should do anyway like not cheating on tests and not having premarital sex. The only thing that might cause a problem is that I have to agree not to drink alcohol while I’m enrolled. Is it a problem if I don’t drink wine on Purim and drink grape juice at the seder? Is drinking alcohol ever an obligation? Should I disobey the honor code even though I agreed to it? Taking the class elsewhere is not an option right now.

Rav: If one cannot drink wine, one may drink grape juice at the seder, however, lichatchila one should drink wine. Rav Moshe Feinstein writes that there is a mitzvah for the wine that we drink at the seder to have alcohol. Rav Belsky said that even 3.5% alcohol (like the Concord Kal wines) is sufficient for this. On Purim as well there is a mitzvah to drink wine.

I would think that these agreements are not meant to supersede a religious requirement. That is not their intent. Are the Catholics not drinking wine at their services? I think it just means not to drink alcohol in a secular manner.

Me: Thanks. I'll pass that along. (I was wondering if abstaining from wine because of such a thing might be a violation of b'chukoseihem.)

Rav: I was wondering if U'bechukoseihem applies b’sheiv v'al taaseh. It seems that the Chavas Yair writes that it does not. 



p'sik reisha - an inevitable outcome

nicha lei - of benefit to a person

gramma - an indirect result

kavod ha'briyos - human dignity

assur b’hanaah - prohibited to benefit from

ikar halacha - the primary ruling

mikarev - to draw someone closer to Torah

maikel - lenient

lichatchila - the preferred course of action

b'chukoseihem - the prohibition against copying other nations' ways

b’sheiv v'al taaseh - to refrain from doing something

Rabbi Jack's latest book, Ask Rabbi Jack, is now available from Kodesh Press and on Amazon.com.