Question: Is a man permitted to have yichud with a woman in Kew Gardens Hills when his wife is in Woodmere?
Short Answer: Some poskim are lenient if his wife may return home at any point. However, many poskim would prohibit, either because there is no such leniency for a husband, or because Woodmere is a different city from Kew Gardens Hills.
I. Husband in the City
The Gemara (Kiddushin 81a) states that if a woman’s husband is “in the city,” there is no “chashash” (lit. concern) for her to have yichud with a man. The Gemara, however, does not explain the extent of the word “chashash.”
Rashi (ibid) explains that the Gemara means that a woman whose husband is in the city at the time she has yichud does not receive lashes for her act of yichud. Rashi implies that while she does not receive lashes, she does violate a prohibition. The Ran likewise has a similar explanation of the Gemara.
On the other hand, Tosafos (ibid) disagrees and rules that the Gemara means that there is no prohibition whatsoever for a woman to have yichud with a man when her husband is in the city. This is the ruling of the Rambam (Isurei Biah 22:12), as well. [It should be noted that the Taz (Even HaEzer 22:7) understands Rashi as ruling this way, as well, and that Rashi simply is telling us that the entire discussion concerns her violating a prohibition and receiving lashes; we are not discussing her ability/permission to marry the person with whom she secludes].
The Shulchan Aruch (Even HaEzer 22:8) rules like Tosafos and the Rambam, allowing a woman whose husband is in the city to have yichud with another man. Nevertheless, there are many poskim, including the Bach, the Chelkas M’chokeik, the Beis Shmuel, and the Be’er HaGolah (all ibid), who appear to follow the opinion of Rashi/Ran, and rule that ideally the woman should not have yichud even when her husband is in the city. Interestingly, the Divrei Sofrim (Yichud, p. 95) cites Rabbeinu Yerucham who rules leniently like the Tosafos/Rambam, but writes that a tz’niusdik person would be wise to avoid such a situation.
Practically speaking, the Aruch HaShulchan (22:6) cites both opinions, while the Chofetz Chaim (in Nidchei Yisrael, 24:6) only cites the lenient opinion. The Sheivet HaLevi (5:203:1) rules that certainly the halachah is lenient like the Shulchan Aruch, especially because the Taz believes that even Rashi agrees to this ruling, but we should be mindful of the warning of the Rabbeinu Yerucham to avoid such a situation. The Chazon Ish (as cited in the Divrei Sofrim) rules leniently.
[As an aside, and outside the scope of this article, is that the Gemara and the Shulchan Aruch expressly limit this leniency to a situation where the woman has yichud with a man with whom she is not comfortable/accustomed. Yichud is always prohibited with a man with whom she is comfortable/accustomed (“libo gas bah”).]
II. Fear of Her Husband
According to the above poskim who allow a woman to have yichud when her husband is in the city, what is the reason for this leniency?
The Chida (Shiurei Brachah, 4 and Yosef Ometz 97:2) asserts that it is a machlokes between Rashi and the Rambam. Rashi (ibid) writes that the leniency is based on the fact that the woman will be afraid to do anything improper, as her husband may come and “catch” her since he is within the city. The Rambam (ibid), however, implies a different reason. He writes that the leniency is based on the idea that “eimas baalah aleha” – that simply knowing that her husband is in the city instills a sense of fear in the woman and prevents her from doing anything improper.
An important ramification of this machlokes is whether this leniency applies in a situation where the wife knows that the husband will not be able to walk in on her in the near future, such as when the husband is working, or she is not home (and he wouldn’t know where to find her), or when the husband is in the other end of town and it would take him an hour or so to get home. According to Rashi, she would be prohibited to have yichud because her husband won’t walk in on her, while according to Rambam, yichud would be permitted, as she still fears her husband’s presence. The Shulchan Aruch (ibid) follows the opinion of the Rambam. Likewise, the Chazon Ish is quoted (in D’var Halachah, Yichud, 7:2) as ruling like the Rambam.
The Binas Adam (126:17) disagrees that this is a machlokes Rashi and Rambam. On the contrary, he understands that even the Rambam interprets like Rashi, that this internal fear of a woman is not simply that her husband is in the city, but rather that he will show up. Accordingly, unless the woman knows that there is a chance that her husband will walk in on her, there is no special leniency when the husband is in the city. The Chofetz Chaim (Nidchei Yisrael, ibid) likewise rules this way.
The Igros Moshe (Even HaEzer 4:65:7) appears to adopt this stringency, as he rules that there is no such leniency when the husband is on the other end of town or has a regular workday in the office from-nine-to-five. Similarly, the Sheivet HaLevi (ibid) rules stringently, as it is possible that even the Rambam required both reasons – fear of her husband walking in on her and a fundamental fear of her husband (and this is why the Rambam even allows this leniency l’chatchilah, as opposed to Rashi who only ruled that she does not receive lashes). Moreover, the Sheivet HaLevi doubts whether we have the same level of tz’nius nowadays that women are fundamentally fearful of their husbands.
The T’shuvos V’Hanhagos (5:331:4) notes the Chazon Ish’s leniency, but rules that one should ideally be machmir like the Binas Adam. Notably, he adds that even if it is a situation where yichud is permitted (because her husband can stop by), the woman should tell the man with whom she is having yichud that her husband is in the area and can stop by anytime.
III. Wife in the City
Now that we have established that there is a leniency for a woman to have yichud when her husband is in the city and able to stop by anytime, we need to clarify whether this leniency also works in the opposite situation, to permit a husband to have yichud when his wife is in the city and can stop by anytime.
The Shulchan Aruch (Even HaEzer 22:20) rules that a married man can be a rebbe even though mothers will pick up their sons from yeshivah and such interaction could possibly lead to inappropriate behavior. The rebbe’s wife need not be with him in yeshivah, but it is permitted even when she is at home. The Beis Shmuel (Even HaEzer 22:22) proves from here that a man is permitted to have yichud when his wife is in the same city, similar to the leniency for a woman when her husband is in the city. Indeed, they write that since a wife is often home (because of “kol k’vudah bas melech p’nimah”), she can easily come check on him. This is likewise the ruling of the Imrei Yosher and the Aruch HaShulchan (cited in Ohel Yaakov, Yichud, p. 49).
On the other hand, the Igros Moshe (Even HaEzer 4:65:6) rules that no such leniency applies to a man when his wife is merely in the city (as opposed to in the same house as him). Specifically, he notes that the Shulchan Aruch employs different language when discussing the leniency for a woman (22:8 – “baalah ba’ir” – “husband is in the city”) and the leniency for a man (22:3 – “ishto imo” – “wife is with him”). The T’shuvos V’Hanhagos (2:657) likewise rules this way.
The Sheivet HaLevi (5:201:4) suggests that this issue is based on the reason why we are lenient for a woman when her husband is in the city (see above). According to the reason that she is afraid her husband will show up, this same leniency applies to a man, as maybe his wife will show up. According to the reason that a wife has a fundamental fear of her husband’s presence, this does not apply to a man with respect to his wife. The Sheivet HaLevi thus rules that this leniency certainly does not apply when the wife is far away at the other end of the city.
IV. Parameters of the City
But even assuming the leniency does apply to a man when his wife is in the same city, what is considered a “city” for this halachah? (This same question applies for a woman’s leniency when her husband is in the same city). What about when a wife is in a different city (such as the Five Towns), but is close enough that she can return home (i.e., KGH) at any point? Does the leniency still apply?
The Sefer Hilchos Yichud (Rav Reisner, p. 41) cites the Chazon Ish and Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l that any city that has a separate name is not considered part of the same city for this halachah. For example, Ramat Gan is a different city from Bnei Brak.
However, the Divrei Sofrim (Yichud, Emek Davar, 537) suggests that if there is a true chance that the spouse can pop in at any time, then this leniency applies, even if the spouse is technically in a different city.
When Rav Yisroel Belsky zt”l was asked this question (Ohel Yaakov, Yichud, p. 571), he responded that it is difficult to give bright-line rules for this halachah and therefore one should be stringent.
Next Week’s Topic: May a man have yichud in a back room (i.e., a den) of a house when the front door to the house is open?