Is there Ru’ach Ra’ah Today?

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By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

Is there ru’ach ra’ah today?

Some maintain that ru’ach ra’ah has been nullified from this world. The Tosfot (Yoma 77b) brings the opinion that the ru’ach ra’ah does not dwell in the regions comprising the Ashkenazi counties.[1] The Lechem Mishneh writes that it is implied from the Rambam the he, too, is not concerned about the ru’ach ra’ah mentioned in the Talmud (Shevitat HeAsor 3:2). Also the Maharshal, who live approximately 400 years go, and who was one of the eminent poskim in Ashkenaz, writes that in our times, no ru’ach ra’ah exists around us (Chullin, chapter 8, 31). A number of poskim agree with this approach.

In earlier generations, spiritual and mystical power was more pronounced and intense. This was expressed on the one hand by the ability to attain greater and more transcendental experiences, emotionally and spiritually, such as prophecy, and, on the other hand, by the presence of all sorts of sorcery and impure spirits. As time passed, intellectual strength took center stage at the expense of emotional powers, and together with the cessation of prophecy, the impure spirits weakened and disappeared; in their place there are evil spirits of false and deceitful ideas.

Furthermore, there is an amazing tradition regarding Graf Potoczki, born in Poland to aristocratic parents, who had his heart set on joining the nation of Israel and converting to Judaism. Since such a thing was prohibited in his time, he converted secretly and engrossed himself in Torah. Eventually, the Christians captured him and offered him two options: to return to Christianity or to be burned alive. The righteous convert chose to die by fire, thereby publicly sanctifying God’s name. At that moment, the Vilna Goon said that the ru’ach ra’ah lost some of its strength, particularly regarding the ru’ach ra’ah of shacharit. For this reason, the students of the Vilna Gaon are lenient regarding walking four amot before washing.

In practice, according to the Chida, Mishna Berura (1:2), and Ben Ish Chai, one should be careful not to walk more than four amot before washing. In contrast to them, there are poskim who are lenient, whether it is because the entire house is considered four amot, or because today the ru’ach ra’ah on one’s hands has ceased to exist. That is the common custom. However, even according to those who maintain that the ru’ach ra’ah does not fully exist among us, it is customary to be strict concerning everything mentioned in the Talmud, such as washing one’s hands three times and not touching bodily orifices prior to washing.

[From: Peninei Halacha: The Laws of Prayer
Rabbi Eliezer Melamed (Translated by: Atira Ot) Maggid.

It appears to me that whether or not there is ru’ach ra’ah nowadays is essentially academic in nature with little practical relevance. As Rav Melamed says, we must be strict with anything mentioned in the Talmud, especially when it made its way into the Shulchan Aruch and achronim.

At the same time, however, perhaps one can be lenient with ru’ach ra’ah as it applies to issues such as peeled onions and eggs that were left uncovered overnight. Indeed, although the halacha of not eating onions and eggs that were left uncovered overnight is mentioned in the Talmud, the Rambam, Shulchan Aruch, along with a number of other prominent achronim make no mention of it. So while it is certainly ideal to observe it whenever possible, one can be lenient in situations of difficulty and hefsed.[2]


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[1] But see: Tosfot, Shabbat 141a s.v. hani and Tosfot, Beitza 14a s.v. ika for what appears to be a contradictory view. AE

[2] Igrot Moshe, YD 3:20; Be’er Moshe 3:115:5; Minchat Yitzchak 2:68:13; Tzitz Eliezer 18:46. AE

About Ari Enkin

Rabbi Ari N. Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He is the author of the “Dalet Amot of Halacha” series (8 volumes), Rabbinic Director of United with Israel and a RA"M at a number of yeshivot.

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