Reviews by Rabbi Ari Enkin
Pure Money: A Straightforward Guide to Jewish Monetary Law
Vol. 1 & 2
By Dayan Shlomo Cohen
Most people, rabbis and laymen alike, are simply not well-versed in the intricacies of Choshen Mishpat — civil and monetary law. There is a tremendous need for competent and practical Choshen Mishpat sefarim. Dayan Shlomo Cohen, Member of the Chevrat Ahavat Shalom Beit Din in Jerusalem, has performed a tremendous service in serving this need with his two volume set on practical Choshen Mishpat entitled “Pure Money.”
The first volume, whose theme is “Integrity,” deals primarily with theft, stolen property, acquisitions, commerce, and inheritance. Unfortunately, many people are so immersed — even blinded — by secular law and societal norms, they don’t always realize that Torah law may not necessarily agree with such common procedures and arrangements – from both stringent and lenient perspectives. To name but one example, returning stolen property is not as simple as it seems. In some cases, one may return stolen property without the owner even realizing that it was returned, and in some cases one may not. Inheritance is one area of halacha that is almost unrecognizable in terms of secular law and common norms. For example, firstborns are to receive a double portion of inheritance and, contrary to popular misconception, a wife does not necessarily inherit her husband. (There are mechanisms to allow one to distribute one’s estate in other ways.)
The second volume, whose theme is “Responsibility,” deals primarily with guardians, employer-employee relationships, damages, neighborly relations, and loans. Here too, readers are introduced to all sorts of practical, real-life situations. When may an employee quit or be fired? Does the employee get paid if the employer cancels at the last minute? Unemployment? Lunch breaks? What about using the office photocopier for personal needs? When is an employer liable for agreements and commitments that his employee makes? There is great treatment on the difference between “gramma” and “garmi” damages as well as how to properly perform the mitzva of “hashavat aveida” today.
The presentation is exceptionally crisp, clear, and comprehensible — one of the few practical English Choshen Mishpat works of this caliber. Many of the halachic rulings are complemented by “real-life” scenarios and short stories. Although the target audience is clearly the working layman, the sefer will still be appreciated by those familiar with Choshen Mishpat. Footnotes refer the reader to the material as it appears in the Shulchan Aruch.
Pure Money is required reading for all who find themselves in the “real world.” Civil and monetary law is just as important as Shabbat and Kashrut and a person’s knowledge should not be lacking in this area. As the Talmud teaches, those who really desire to become pious should study the laws of nezikin, civil and monetary law.
A series of shiurim by Dayan Cohen based on the book can be viewed at www.naaleh.com.
The Making of a Halachic Decision
By Rabbi Moshe Walter
Menucha Publishing 231 pages
A powerful and empowering work, The Making of a Halachic Decision, presents the evolution of halacha and the halachic process in a clear and comprehensive manner. It is skillfully written for all audiences. Readers are taken on a journey following the development of halacha beginning in the Talmud and making its way right up to contemporary halachic authorities. It is suitable for beginners as an introduction to the halachic process as well as for advanced scholars and practicing rabbis who will undoubtedly benefit from the many detailed and specialized sources that are cited. The author — a proven halachist — is a musmach of YU and rabbi of the Woodside Synagogue in Silver Spring, Maryland.
The sefer is divided into three sections: Klalei Hapsak, The Halachos of Hora’ah, and Klalei Haposkim.
The section on Klalei Hapsak opens with a review of the original halachic sources, Rif, Rambam, Rosh, and Tur, and why each of these sages decided to write their books and codify halacha the way they did and the reactions they received. The chapter then moves on to the roles of the Beit Yosef, Shulchan Aruch, and Rema. The use of shorthand and abridged halachic works is discussed, as well. Of special interest is how the Biur Hagra is a powerful tool for rendering halachic rulings, and the still unresolved question: did the Rambam intend for his Mishna Torah as a substitute for Talmud study or to be used concurrently with it?
The section on Halachos of Hor’ah is the chapter where layman and rabbis learn to appreciate one another. Here the author discusses the role and responsibility of both the rabbi and the questioner. What information must the questioner share with the rabbi? When may a questioner ask a different rabbi? What is the role of the rabbi? Which rabbis are bona fide halachic authorities? How is a rabbi expected to respond to a halachic question? What is semicha today? Also included is a complete presentation on the parameters of “lo titgodedu.”
In the Klalei Haposkim chapter, the author presents the different rules that exist for rendering halachic decisions, especially novel ones. For example, when the Shulchan Aruch brings multiple opinions for a single issue, which opinion should we follow? What are the different nuances in terminology intended to convey? When can a rabbi rule leniently? And finally, a thorough presentation on the Mishna Berura and how it should properly be used.
This is a very distinguished, first-of-its-kind work in the English language. Frankly, I am very impressed with this sefer, enjoying every page. Anyone who appreciates halacha study will find this work very exciting. It is certain to make every rabbi a better moreh hora’ah.
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 Halacha Series” (5 Vol.) and the General Editor and Halacha columnist at Torahmusings.com. He welcomes books of a halachic nature for review on the Torah Musings website. [email protected]