Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt”l (1895-1986) was the preeminent posek for North American Jewry for most of the 20th century, both for the Yeshivish and Modern Orthodox communities. Rav Moshe was born in Russia in 1895, where he served as rabbi making great personal sacrifices on behalf of his community until he emigrated to the U.S. in 1937, having determined that it was no longer possible to continue to live as a religious Jew in Russia. He lived on the Lower East Side of New York and served as the Rosh HaYeshivah and head of Mesivta Tifereth Jerusalem. Rav Moshe was active in communal affairs and served as president of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis and Chairman of the Council of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of the Agudath Israel of America.
His teshuvot, Iggrot Moshe, span 9 volumes (the last two published after his death in 1986) and deal with every topic in Shulkhan Arukh and with all the new contemporary challenges that presented themselves to Orthodox American Jewry in the 20th century, from transplants and medical ethics to birth control and abortion, to denominations, conversion, and feminism, and to dishwashers, ovens and microwaves.
Rav Moshe was known for his gentleness, his humanity and his responsiveness to the human condition. His approach to psak was one which was based primarily on the Gemara and Rishonim, to which brought a conceptual lens for framing halakhic debates.
In the following teshuvah (OH 1:190), Rav Moshe deals with the nature of the She’hehiyanu blessing: is it recited over the mitzvah of lighting, just as we recite this blessing over any periodic mitzvah, such as sukkah and lulav, or is it recited over the sanctity of the day, just as we recite this blessing on Yom Tov even without a mitzvah, such as at kiddush on the last days of Sukkot or Pesach or on Shavuot night? Rav Moshe believes that logic dictates that it is the former and not the latter, since there is no sanctity to the days of Hanukah, which would be defined (or reflected) by the prohibition of melakha, which is not the case with Hanukah. In the section quoted here, he tries to make sense of the position of some Ahronim that the She’hehiyanu blessing made in the synagogue at the time that candles are lit there would exempt the person making the blessing from lighting again at home. This seems to indicate that the blessing is over the sanctity of the day, but in his ensuing discussion he demonstrates that this position is not tenable, regardless.
In the end, he acknowledges that according to Tosafot, at least, the She’hehiyanu blessing- and its counterpart, the She’asah Nissim blessing – can be recited by someone who is not planning to light at home – even over the synagogue lights – since these blessings can serve the function of publicizing the miracle even when they are not connected to lights that were used to fulfil the mitzvah.
This teshuvah raises interesting questions about the relationship between our religious experience and halakha. We experience Hanukkah as quite a special time period – but is this time “sanctified” and does it warrant its own blessing? We want to publicize the miracle during this time, but can we do so through a blessing that is not connected to candles that were used to fulfil the mitzvah? If the answer to these questions is “no,” perhaps that is because halakhic expressions, such as formal blessings, and these blessings must connect to halakhic realities. However, we have found many ways through our customs and practices – latkes, sufganiyot, Hanukkah parties, or Ma’oz Tzur, anyone? – to give expression to our religious experience during this time in ways that are meaningful to us.
Those who wish to learn more about his teshuvot and approach to psak are invited to listen into my podcast, Iggros Moshe A to Z, where we cover topics ranging, literally, from A to Z, starting with America, Birth Control and Conversion.
|שו”ת אגרות משה או”ח א:קצ|
ותמוה מאד מה שהביא השע”ת /או”ח/ סי’ תרע”א ס”ק י”א בשם מח”ב וזרע אמת שאם הדליק קודם בביהכ”נ לא יחזור לומר בביתו שהחיינו אם לא שמדליק להוציא ג”כ את אשתו וב”ב עיין שם. דלפ”ז לא יברך בביתו גם ברכת שעשה נסים כדהוכחתי מגמ’ כיון דעל נס אחד הוא, וכיון שסובר שמברך שעשה נסים משום דבירך שלא בעת קיום המצוה שלא כתקון חכמים כיון דאינו יוצא בהדלקתו בביהכ”נ, ורק מנהג בעלמא הוא לפרסומי ניסא… אבל מדינא אינו כלום… ולכן מברך בביתו ברכת הנס א”כ גם שהחיינו הי”ל לברך.
|Iggrot Moshe, OH 1:190|
It is truly astounding what Sha’arei Teshuvah (OH 671:11) cites in the name of Mahazik Beraha and Zera Emet, that if a person did the lighting of the candles in the synagogue, then he should not afterwards recite the Shehehiyanu blessing at home when he does his own personal lighting, unless he is also lighting to discharge the obligation of his wife or children, see there. Now, based on this logic, he should also not recite the blessing of She’asah Nissim in his home, since I have demonstrated that both blessings refer to the same miracle. His opinion that the person does recite the She’asah Nissim blessing at home is based on the fact that his lighting in the synagogue was done not at the time of the mitzvah as is Rabbinical prescribed, and he thus did not fulfil his obligation in the synagogue but was only doing a customary practice for the sake of publicizing the miracle… but halakhically it is of no real value… and thus he has to make the blessing on the miracle again at home. But following this, he should also have to make the Shehehiyanu blessing again at home!