Sunday, May 23, 2004

Burning Wigs

An interesting issue came up with regard to the wigs which may have been תקרובת עבודה זרה, offerings to idolatry. The Jews in Williamsburg burned some of these wigs, prompting the question in a letter to the editor in the New York Times, and in some blogs, such as the Village Idiots and Lammpost who link to this letter: Why did they have to burn it? Could they not have donated it to some charity/cancer organization, such as "Locks of Love" and "Wigs for Kids"?

As the Town Crier asks on the Village Idiots:
"I myself had asked a similar "Locks of Love" question earlier in the week toungue-incheekly. Indeed, why not? Would giving the expensive wigs away to a non-Jewish charity be deriving hanaah form avodah zarah that is worse than burning it? I wonder..."

Note that I am not paskening here - however, it seems to me that the answer is that there are indeed (3) halachic issues with donating the wigs. Also, I use Yerushalmis here, not because there is (or is not) a Bavli addressing the issue, but because I am learning Yerushalmi and read through the 1st perek of Yerushalmi Avodah Zara over Shabbos.

We see from various sources that one disposes of takrovet avodah zara via burning, and the hanaah from it is thrown into the Yam HaMelach. But what of donating it to a charity, as listed above.

I can see 3 problems:

1) Will these cancer charities give any of the wigs to Jews? Is there some way of preventing it? *Assuming* the wigs are אסור בהנאה, then the Jewish cancer patients, who might not be aware of the issue or who might not be religious, will be violating this prohibition. Further, by donating it, you caused them to violate this prohibition, and thus there may be issues of Lifnei Iver Lo Titen Michshol - "Though shall not place a stumbling block before a blind man."

The next two issues are predicated on the following gemara in
Yerushalmi Avoda Zara, the first perek, daf 7b, Halacha 9:
רבי זעירה בשם רבי יוסי בן חנינה רבי אבא רבי חייה בשם רבי יוחנן לא תחנם לא תתן להם חן לא תחנם לא תתן להם מתנת חנם לא תחנם לא תתן להם חניה בארץ.
לא תחנם לא תתן להם מתנת חנם והתני מעשה ברבן גמליאל שהיה מהלך בדרך וראה קלוסקין אחת מושלכת בדרך אמר לטבי עבדו טול לך קלוסקין זו ראה נכרי אחד בא כנגדו אמר לו מבניי טול לך קלוסקין זו רץ אחריו רבי אילעאי אמר לו מה שמך אמר לו מבניי ומאיין אתה אמר לו מן העיירות של בורגנין ומכירך הוא רבן גמליאל מימיך אמר לו לא. כיוון ר' גמליאל ברוח הקודש. ולמדנו ממנו שלשה דברים למדנו שאין מעבירין על האוכלין ושחמיצו של נכרי מותר לאחר הפסח מיד ושהולכין אחר רוב עוברי דרכים.

2) So, the second issue is Rabbi Yochanan's drasha: לא תחנם yields לא תתן להם מתנת חנם. We saw before a problem if the recipients were Jewish. This would be a problem if the recipients were not Jewish, and has nothing to do with the fact that the wigs are assur beHanaah. Further, if we tried to get around this by charging some nominal fee, we would be back to the problem that the wigs are assur BeHanaah and this charging of a fee would constitute getting Hanaah.

However, the gemara challenges R Yochanan's drasha by showing Raban Gamliel did not consider giving a מתנת חנם a problem. However, even here there seems to be a problem:

3) Raban Gamliel saw a loaf of bread lying on the road, and sent his servant Tavi to fetch it (since it is not proper to leave food lying on the road). He saw a gentile coming towards him and said "Mavnai (the man's name was Mavnai), go take the loaf of bread." Rabbi Ilai ran after the man and asked him some questions, and determined that the man's name was indeed Mavnai, but Raban Gamliel had never met him before, but must have known the man's name via Ruach HaKodesh.

The gemara continues that they derive three things from that story, and one of those things was ושחמיצו של נכרי מותר לאחר הפסח מיד, that the chametz (such as a loaf of bread) of a non-Jew is permitted immediately after Pesach.

That is, Raban Gamliel assumed, based on the majority of travellers on the road, that this bread had belonged to a gentile (one of the other things deduced from this story). If it were not permitted immediately after Pesach, then it would have been prohibited to derive benefit from it. Yet, he gave it to a non-Jew as a gift, which the gemara considers to be deriving benefit from it. (Why? As the pnei Moshe writes, giving of a gift has within it something called Tovat Hanaah, the benefit of deciding who you will give it to. Alternatively, perhaps because the recipient is thankful, or perhaps people think of him as a generous person as a result.) Thus, it must be that he considered benefit of the chametz of a non-Jew immediately after Pesach to be permitted.

We can see from here that giving a gift, to a Jew or to a non-Jew, is (or seems to be) considered Hanaah, and if the chametz were assur BeHanaah, he could not have given it.

Similarly, takrovet Avoda Zara is assur BeHanaah, so giving it to a Jew or to a non-Jew as a gift would be prohibited.

Also, a footnote to issue #2: we see earlier, in Yerushalmi Avoda Zara daf 4a in terms of a charity and darkei Shalom the following brayta:
תני עיר שיש בה נכרים וישראל אם נותנין הנכרים לגבאין גובין מהן ומישראל ומפרנסין עניי נכרים ועניי ישראל ומבקרין חולי נכרים וחולי ישראל נוחמים אבילי נכרים ואבילי ישראל וקוברין מיתי נכרים ומיתי ישראל ומכניסין כלי נכרי וכלי ישראל מפני דרכי שלום

This is obviously not the same case as what was being proposed, but perhaps is similar in terms of the Darkei Shalom issue. But it seems to me this would only be relevant to issue #2. I don't think that issue #1 and #3, which revolve around the issur Hanaah, could be overcome by a Darkei Shalom concern.

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