Question: If someone has an infectious disease, such as COVID-19, and is hospitalized, Rachamana litzlan, may/should he bring his t’filin to the hospital if the t’filin will have to be burned afterwards because of the disease?
Short Answer: While Rav Y. S. Elyashiv zt”l permits him to bring the t’filin with him, many poskim, including Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l, disagree and rule that the patient must not bring the t’filin with him. Rav Asher Weiss shlita follows the opinion of Rav Moshe Feinstein.
I. Background of Question
It goes without saying that wearing t’filin is a tremendously important mitzvah that should not be taken lightly. Yet, what happens when a person contracts a contagious disease and now must be hospitalized? Should he bring his t’filin with him, knowing that they will be subsequently destroyed (assuming this is the case), or should he forego this important mitzvah in order to spare the t’filin?
Poskim over the last one hundred years have faced this question. Below are some of their answers.
II. Doveiv Meisharim
The Doveiv Meisharim (1:99) [Dov Ber Wiedenfeld (1881-1965)] starts off by debunking a theory of the questioner who suggested that simply wanting to wear t’filin, and being prevented because of their inevitable burning, fulfills the mitzvah. The Doveiv Meisharim rejects this theory, based on a Chasam Sofer who ruled that one cannot fulfill a positive commandment because of ones, but can only exempt himself from violating a negative commandment because of ones.
The Doveiv Meisharim nevertheless suggests that perhaps the patient can bring the t’filin to the hospital; we do not care about subsequent degradation of t’filin when performing the mitzvah. He cites a proof from Shabbos (130), where the Gemara (according to Tosafos) explains that B’nei Yisrael was not moseir nefesh themselves for t’filin, as seen by the story of Elisha Baal K’nafayim, who told the guard accusing him of wearing t’filin (that were forbidden according to the law of that time) that it was really a dove. But perhaps he was moseir nefesh, but just didn’t want the t’filin to be defiled by the guard? Yet, the fact that the Gemara still proves from here that B’nei Yisrael was not moseir nefesh for t’filin means that we should wear t’filin regardless of whether the t’filin will be subsequently defiled (in that case, by the guard).
The Doveiv Meisharim adds that such a halachah makes sense, as “gram m’chikah” – indirect erasing of Hashem’s name is permitted – as seen by Chanah, who “threatened” Hashem that she would become an accused sotah if she was not given children, thereby giving her the b’rachah of children when found innocent. Chanah is praised for her “threat,” despite that it would have indirectly caused Hashem’s name to be erased.
However, the Doveiv Meisharim ultimately rejects his initial theory and concludes that it is forbidden to bring the t’filin into the hospital if you know for sure that they will be subsequently destroyed. Indeed, the Rashba rules that gram m’chikah is only permitted when it is not 100 percent certain that it will be erased. This explains why Achisofel (Sukkah 53b) was hesitant about throwing Hashem’s name into a flood of water, despite that it was only gram m’chikah. This also explains why people who “write b’rachos down” (see Shabbos 115b) are punished, but it is worse to put these b’rachos in water.
While the Doveiv Meisharim does entertain that maybe if a gentile subsequently burns the t’filin then it is better than gram m’chikah, he concludes that it is forbidden for the patient to bring the t’filin to the hospital.
III. The Chazon Nachum
The Doveiv Meisharim’s brother, the Chazon Nachum (1:6), similarly forbade bringing the t’filin into the hospital.
The Chazon Nachum initially suggests that it should be permitted, as it is better to actively perform a positive mitzvah, regardless of whether the t’filin will be burned (without you performing any act) later on. He supports this thought by citing a source in the Gemara (Avodah Zarah 17a) where Rabbi Chananyah ben Tradyon taught from a sefer Torah in public, defying the edict of the Romans, despite risking that the sefer Torah would be burned (and against others who disagreed with him in the Gemara).
Nevertheless, the Chazon Nachum cites the Maharik who ruled that if not for the Smag’s suggestion how to make a b’rachah on Rashi t’filin and then immediately remove them and wear Rabbeinu Tam t’filin, we would wear neither t’filin because we are afraid of making a brachah l’vatalah. Accordingly, the Chazon Nachum noted that wearing t’filin is not important enough where they will be subsequently destroyed. Moreover, the Chazon Nachum quotes many sources in the Gemara where Amora’im tore k’riah when seeing a sefer Torah destroyed, even where they played no part in its destruction.
Finally, the Chazon Nachum concludes that one cannot say that the positive commandment of wearing t’filin pushes off the negative commandment of destroying the t’filin, as there is an additional positive commandment in not destroying t’filin, according to the Minchas Chinuch: “Hashem Elokecha tira.” This is why we do not burn down an Ir HaNidachas that has a mezuzah, even where the burning will be done by a gentile.
IV. Igros Moshe
Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe Orach Chayim 4-7) also ruled that it is forbidden to bring the t’filin into the hospital. Since a person must save t’filin from a fire on Shabbos (Shabbos 120a), despite that he is actively doing nothing to cause the t’filin to burn, surely he must prevent t’filin from being destroyed through his actions, albeit indirect actions. Indeed, the only reason why a person who has Hashem’s name written on his skin is allowed to dip in the mikvah is because there is no alternative. Otherwise, even gram m’chikah is forbidden. Moreover, Rav Moshe writes that bringing the t’filin to the hospital is tantamount to actively destroying the t’filin directly.
Rav Moshe then cites the case in Shabbos (134b) where water necessary for a Shabbos milah is accidentally spilled before the milah. The Gemara rules that you can still perform the milah, despite knowing that afterwards you will need to heat water (normally forbidden on Shabbos) because of danger to the baby. Rav Moshe asks why this case is permitted. He answers that by milah, the milah is disconnected from the subsequent pikuach nefesh, which would exist regardless when the milah is performed. Further, since the milah itself pushes off Shabbos, we allow (if necessary) the performance of the milah even where it will lead to subsequent chilul Shabbos that otherwise could have been avoided. Finally, by milah, there is no need to be m’chalel Shabbos until the milah is performed. By t’filin, there is a perpetual prohibition to destroy them, even before they are worn in the hospital.
In subsequent t’shuvos, Rav Moshe explains further that the destruction of the t’filin is not considered “tikun” (beneficial) for the t’filin, so this case is not comparable to various cases where we allow erasing Hashem’s name in order to ensure a tikun of the name. Rav Moshe also responds to Rav Mordechai Gifter’s (zt”l) question from the person with Hashem’s Name written on his skin, where it is only gram m’chikah to dip and not considered direct destruction. Rav Moshe explains that the only reason why the dipper is not directly destroying Hashem’s name is because his intent is not to destroy, but rather to dip in the mikvah.
V. Minchas Yitzchak
The Minchas Yitzchak (3:3) likewise forbade bringing the t’filin to the hospital.
After discussing the proofs of the Chazon Nachum, the Minchas Yitzchak suggests that perhaps we can prove it is permitted from the Gemara (B’rachos 23a), which allows a person who wears t’filin all day to wear them in the bathroom when wearing them in the fields. We ostensibly see from here that the halachah permits degrading t’filin in order to encourage wearing them.
However, the Minchas Yitzchak rejects this proof, because the degradation here (by the hospital) is far worse than simply “bringing them into the bathroom.” He thus concludes that “sheiv v’al ta’aseh adif” – better that you do not bring the t’filin (and passively violate the positive commandment of wearing t’filin) than actively destroying them.
VI. Chashukei Chemed
Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein shlita (Chashukei Chemed, Makos, p. 92) cites Rav Y. S. Elyashiv zt”l, who permitted the patient to bring the t’filin with him, as the mitzvah currently in front of him is to wear the t’filin. See also Chelkas Yaakov (Orach Chayim 17-19).
VII. Rav Asher Weiss
Rav Asher Weiss, in his recently published pamphlet on COVID-19-related halachic questions, rules that it is forbidden to bring the t’filin into the hospital. He cites the above-mentioned poskim who forbade it, and writes that, while there is much to discuss regarding whether bringing the t’filin is considered “direct” destruction, we nevertheless follow these great poskim. He does not cite the ruling of Rav Elyashiv.
Next Week’s Topic: Although minyanim have not been allowed as of this writing, when minyanim are allowed, should we make up the parshiyos that we missed, and if yes, how?