I am writing in regard to the featured picture of your last issue (September 28). It shows the Munkaczer Rebbe inspecting an esrog with a magnifying glass. Simply put, this activity is completely misguided and in my opinion is symptomatic of a larger issue within our community. The facts are that a magnifying glass or microscope could not possibly have been required for a halachic inspection, as it has only been around for several hundred years. Anything that cannot be seen by the naked eye is not considered present. This isn’t my opinion but rather that of the vast majority of our contemporary authorities. The issue of microscopic items/bugs isn’t a new one and has been addressed by Rav Shlomo Kluger (Shu’t Tuv Ta’am V’Daas, Tinyana, kuntress acharon, 53); the Chochmas Adam (Binas Adam, 34, to klal 38); Tiferes Yisrael (Maseches Avodah Zarah, Ch.2 Mishna 6, Boaz 3); and the Aruch Hashulchan (Y”D 84, 36), among others.
All of the aforementioned sages emphatically state that the Torah would not require something that could not have been kept by people of all times. Re’iyah—seeing—can only be natural, G‑d-given eyesight; any magnifying tool will not change the halachic status of whatever needs to be checked, whether an esrog, tefillin, sefer Torah, flour, etc. It’s especially perplexing to me that the people who tend to defend this type of behavior are the ones who completely ignore an essential mitzvah of Sukkos. If you haven’t guessed which one I am referring to, it’s that of sleeping in the sukkah. This explicit mitzvah has been around long before the invention of the microscope, yet somehow it seems to have been completely overlooked (no pun intended)!
I am aware of one rebbe’s opinion that sleeping isn’t required, though this highly controversial opinion is in direct contradiction to all of our tanaim, amoraim, geonim, rishonim, acharonim, and Shulchan Aruch! These examples go on and on and display a new attitude in Torah where our pure system of halachah is being distorted by introduction of foreign practices, no matter how well intentioned they might be.
Why are our rabbinic leaders more concerned with removal of female pictures in yeshiva dinner ads who are dressed completely tzinus than speaking out on a repeated advertisement in this Orthodox paper of a “holy” lady who “specializes” in pouring lead to heal people, which is complete avodah zarah? (To his credit, the editor of this paper did not publish this ad again after it was brought to his attention.) Again, we see a clear deviation, where a completely acceptable halachic activity is made taboo yet an advertisement which should stir tremendous disgust and shock is left unaddressed! If our leaders continue to be silent, the “segulah” keys will continue to be placed in challahs, the red bendels continue to be worn, and our reputation of ohr la’amim destroyed.
The Editors Respond
Dear Mr. Tsadik,
Firstly, we at the Five Towns Jewish Times want to thank you for being a reader. It is always refreshing to know that our readers are intelligent, sharp, and on the cutting edge of the issues of the day. Your erudite letter reinforces this.
But let’s get to your specific points. While most leading poskim agree with you in regard to the use of the microscope or magnifying glass as a requirement for any form of halachic inspection, here the situation is quite probably very different. The Munkaczer Rebbe was, in all probability, looking at the magnifying glass to determine that a black dot spotted on the esrog was, in fact, just dirt.
Historically, Jews have not been afraid to use technology for their benefit, and this is a typical example of just such a use. Without the magnifying glass, the dot would appear to render the esrog either pasul or not mehudar. The Rebbe’s use of technology here probably helped in the determination that a dot was actually dirt, and therefore the esrog was perfectly fine. The Munkaczer Rebbe thus demonstrates to us an important principle: koach d’heteira adif—we should not always look to forbid things.
Rather than attacking the Rebbe, it might do all of us well to learn from him.
This is all on the heter end. As far making things assur, it gets a bit more complex. All authorities are in agreement that when there is no halachic question per se that has arisen at all, the use of the microscope or magnifying glass is completely unwarranted. When there is, say, a visible dot that appears which may give rise to a question, there is a debate among poskim. Rav Vosner holds that the dot is permitted when you don’t see that it is a bug, even though under the microscope it is clearly a bug. (See Sheivet HaLevi Volume VII #122). Rav Elyashiv held that it was forbidden when you saw it first as a dot but later saw that it was a bug. Rav Chaim Ozer held that it was a safeik.
Many authorities agree with Rav Vosner, as it seems is your position too. We are not 100% sure of the Munkaczer Rebbe’s position on the latter point, but it is our belief that he stands with Rav Vosner on it.
As far as the sleeping in the sukkah, we have to understand that the Gemara was discussing the mitzvah in a certain geographic location where it was very hot. When a good segment of Jewry migrated north, the issue of mitztaer, suffering due to the cold while sleeping, became much more acute. In the centuries before penicillin, a cold could quite often turn into something more serious and cause deaths.
The chassidim and religious authorities who were more lenient with sleeping in the sukkah in northern, colder climates believed that “v’chai bahem” is a greater imperative than forcing others to sleep in a sukkah during dangerous weather. The point is that these great leaders were proponents of a rationalism that should not be dismissed by those of the younger generations who insist upon chumrah after chumrah even when it entails danger.