Question: Are the laws of yichud stricter when the man and woman know each other from the neighborhood or are family friends?
Short Answer: Certain laws of yichud are stricter when the man and woman are comfortable with each other. It is likely a machlokes whether family friends are considered comfortable with each other.
The Gemara in Kiddushin (81a) recounts a story where Rav Bibi went to visit Rav Yosef and his wife, and they all ate together in the attic. After Rav Yosef and his wife returned downstairs, leaving Rav Bibi alone in the attic, Rav Yosef announced that he is removing the ladder so that Rav Bibi cannot come down and have yichud with Rav Yosef’s wife when Rav Yosef was not home. The Gemara then asks why yichud would be forbidden, as Rav Yosef is still in the same city, and thus yichud between Rav Bibi and Rav Yosef’s wife should be permitted. The Gemara answers that this was a unique case, as Rav Yosef’s wife was a “shushbinin” to Rav Bibi and “geisa bei.” Rashi explains that this means that Rav Yosef’s wife was a family friend to Rav Bibi.
The Shulchan Aruch (Even HaEzer 22:8) codifies this Gemara and rules that even though generally there is no prohibition of yichud between a man and woman where the woman’s husband is in the city (see Article #5), this leniency does not apply when the man is “gas bah” with the woman, i.e., they grew up together or are related to each other. This stringency is known as “libo gas bah,” and will be referred to herein as “comfortable” or “familiar” with each other.
II. Other Applications
As previously discussed (Article #6), yichud is generally permitted in a house where the door is open to the public thoroughfare. However, the Chelkas M’chokeik (Even HaEzer 22:13) holds that the stringency of “libo gas bah” applies to this “open door” case. In other words, if the man is comfortable with the woman, yichud is prohibited even if the door is open. The source of this stringency is the T’rumas HaDeshen, who rules that a woman may not have yichud – even with the door open – with a man with whom her husband specifically warned her about (i.e., “kinah lah”). The Beis Shmuel (Even HaEzer 22:13) cites this ruling approvingly.
On the other hand, the Taz (Even HaEzer 22:8) disagrees and holds that the T’rumas HaDeshen’s stringency is limited to the case where the woman’s husband specifically warns her about having yichud with this specific man. Only in that case does an open door not prevent yichud. However, the open door leniency is still applicable where the man and woman are simply “comfortable” with each other.
The poskim have a similar discussion whether “libo gas bah” negates the leniency of “ishto mishmarto.” The Shulchan Aruch (Even HaEzer 22:3) rules that there is no prohibition of yichud between a man and a woman where the man’s wife is in the room and watching him. The Rosh (Kiddushin 4:27) notes that this leniency does not apply when the man’s profession is women-centered (such as the manager of a women’s clothing store or a male obstetrician), as he is “gas bah” (comfortable) with women and therefore needs stronger protection than merely his wife being in the same room. See also Taz (Even HaEzer 22:6). The implication of this Rosh is that a man’s wife does not prevent the prohibition of yichud for women with whom her husband is comfortable.
The Chida (cited in the sefer Shaar HaYichud, p. 84), however, rules that certainly the leniency of “ishto mishmarto” applies even with women with whom the man is comfortable. Indeed, the story in the abovementioned Gemara in Kiddushin proves this point. Rav Yosef only removed the ladder to prevent yichud after he and his wife went downstairs. He was not concerned for yichud when he, his wife, and Rav Bibi were all together in the attic, even though Rav Bibi was comfortable with Rav Yosef’s wife. This was no different from the leniency of “ishto mishmarto” and it was permitted.
III. How Familiar?
The key question is: What constitutes familiarity for this halachah? In other words, how comfortable must the man and woman be with each other for the above leniencies to fall away?
As an initial matter, the Shulchan Aruch (Even HaEzer 22:8) defines “libo gas bah” as they grew up together or are related to each other (e.g., the man and woman are cousins). The Ohel Yaakov (Yichud, p. 58) elaborates that the Ohalei Yeshurun (Rav Felder) cites Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l as defining “libo gas bah” as any woman whom the man feels more comfortable with than the average woman he associates with on a regular basis. This is a limited view of libo gas bah, and would perhaps only apply to a relative or a longtime family friend (e.g., a daughter of the man’s parents’ close friends). The Ohel Yaakov notes that the Chelkas Yaakov and the D’var Halachah likewise agree with this definition.
The Aruch HaShulchan (Even HaEzer 22:6), however, has a broader definition. Any woman with whom the man frequently associates, such as a female co-worker, is considered “libo gas bah.” The Sheivet HaLevi (5:203:3) agrees with this definition, as this adequately captures the social climate of today’s times.
IV. The Housekeeper
A tricky application of the above discussion is whether a man is considered “gas bah” with the housekeeper.
The D’var Halachah (cited in Teil Talpiyos Journal, Vol. 63, p. 37) rules that the man should be stringent, as this is a scenario of libo gas bah, consistent with the Aruch HaShulchan.
On the other hand, the Ohel Yaakov (p. 59) writes that each situation must be assessed separately, and it is certainly possible that a man is not “gas bah” with a housekeeper. This is consistent with the opinion of Rav Moshe Feinstein.
V. Your Friend’s Wife
This author would like to suggest that another application of the machlokes between the Aruch HaShulchan and Rav Moshe is your friend’s wife. For example, a man has a close friend or chavrusa, with whom he socializes and learns. Their wives are friends with each other, as are their kids. Is he considered “gas bah” with his friend’s wife? He never really speaks with her, but he is likely more comfortable with her than other women.
Perhaps, according to the Aruch HaShulchan, he is “gas bah” with her, as they interact frequently. But according to Rav Moshe, perhaps there is room to be lenient, as they did not grow up together and are not related to each other.
Next Week’s Topic: Is there a prohibition of yichud when a male convert is secluded with his mother?