By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
It is well known that the Gedolim of both Eretz Yisroel and America are rightly concerned about the devastating effects of exposure to pornographic images through rapidly developing technologies. And there is no question that even filtered access to the internet has no guarantees that a person may fall or stumble into the abyss. The internet and Smartphones are clearly a game-changer in terms of nisyonos, spiritual challenges to Klal Yisroel.
And as in many other venues in Judaism, organizations have arisen in order to assist in combating this new scourge. In Eretz Yisroel, these organizations are known as Amutahs, roughly equivalent the 501 C3 organization in the United States. Some organizations are of questionable legitimacy, but the vast majority of these organizations are genuine and justifiable.
Not everyone, however, will agree with the approach and mindset of those people who are involved in the day to day running of the organization. In order to gain a more universal legitimacy the people who run such organizations attempt to get letters of approbation and approval from leading Rabbis.
There may be another dynamic as well. Some of the people who run these organizations, well meaning though they may be, are so myopically focused on the success of their organization’s mission that they lose sight of the forest – in many cases the broader focus of the impact on Judaism.
It is this author’s opinion that this dynamic is what is behind the recent issue of the alleged ruling of Rav Chaim Kanievsky on the iPhone and Eidus – testimony.
A letter was written by the principal of an organization devoted to purity of thought where he claims that Rav Chaim ruled halachically that anyone that owns an iPhone has halachically and legally lost his ability to testify in matters of Jewish law, whether it be that he witnessed a wedding, a divorce, or the process of ensuring that a Mikvah has been cleaned and still retains its kosher status through the halachic concept of Hashaka.
The ramifications of this alleged ruling are quite devastating. Specifically, 1] thousands (if not more) of weddings are invalid and must be redone, 2] any second marriage where the first divorce document was witnessed by an iPhone owner and the second marriage has produced children – those children are Mamzeirim 3] the second husband must separate from his wife again and never live with her again 4] All children of women conceived after they immersed in the Mikvah are considered pagum and will have difficulty ever finding a shidduch.
Tellingly, the alleged ruling with such devastating repercussions was never actually signed by Rav Kanievsky – it was just stated orally – allegedly in the presence of his grandson.
There are, of course, four possibilities as to what actually transpired here.
- The well-meaning Rabbi who runs the organization got carried away and did not understand that Rav Chaim was merely giving him encouragement to continue his work but did not actually mean that the iPhone owners are genuinely pasul l’Eidus.
- Rav Chaim himself allowed the quote to be made as a type of warning as to how serious we must view this new challenge to Judaism, but he did not actually rule that the iPhone owners are genuinely pasul l’Eidus.
- The well-meaning Rabbi who runs the organization perhaps misrepresented to Rav Chaim what an iPhone device actually is and how the majority of people actually use it.
- This author is incorrect and Rav Chaim actually ruled this way with all the associated repercussions and consequences and fully understood the nature and use of the iPhone.
It is unfortunate, but this author is aware of numerous instances where the first and third scenario has been replayed many times with Gedolim. Indeed, many Gedolim have issued the clarification that they only issue their rulings based upon the facts at hand that are presented to them.
It is highly likely that one of the first three scenarios is correct rather than the fourth, for numerous reasons – many of them halachic.
In the past few days this author has left numerous messages with the organization to ask a number of questions with no response. An attempt has been made to verify the ruling with Rav Chaim Kanievsky. Our source has told us that Rav Chaim did not out and out forbid these things, rather he stated that it may be a potential problem. This indicates that the first possibility is the most likely scenario.
Regardless, what is necessary, indeed crucial, is that the organizations should not be permitted to run wild issuing statements and letters where the Posaik did not actually sign such a ruling – particularly when the devastation and repercussions would be so widespread.
Why is it so crucial?
Because most people, unfortunately, are unaware of Rav Chaim’s vast ouevre of halachic writing and are ignorant of the depth of his Torah knowledge and greatness. Seeing such statements time after time have a cumulative effect on people and takes away whatever emunas chachomim they have left. Our Torah leaders are the eyes and ears of the generation, and releasing statements and quotes said out of context or in response to a perhaps erroneous presentation of things only serves to undermine the respect we have toward Gedolei Torah.