This week we will conclude our discussion of the laws of Chatzitzot and Tevila. We will discuss the issue of Chatzitzot in relation to splinters, permanent and temporary fillings, braces and fingernails. We must repeat our emphasizing that competent rabbinic opinion should be consulted regarding any question that arises in this complex, yet critically important are of halacha.
The Mishna at the end of Mikvaot (and codified in the Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 198:11) states that a splinter constitutes a Chatzitza only if it protrudes above the skin. If it does not protrude above the skin then it is not a Chatzitza, since it is "‑&3 - "absorbed" in the body and thus is an integral part of the body. See Nishmat Avraham (Y.D. pp. 134-135) for application of the "‑&3"" exception as it pertains to catheters and intrauterine devices (I.U.D. which require competent rabbinic and medical consultation regarding its use).
The question of dental work, especially temporary dental work constituting a Chatzitza is the subject of considerable discussion in the responsa literature concerning permanent and temporary fillings.
The Chochmat Adam (a major halachic code written in the early nineteenth century) presents an extraordinarily stringent ruling. He states in a celebrated ruling, that even a permanent filling constitutes a chatzitza. Rav Yaakov Ettlinger (a major nineteenth century halachic authority) rules that one should try ‑,;(*‑% to be strict about this issue (Teshuvot Binyan Tziyon Chadashot no. 57). Their reasoning is that had the filling not been needed for medical reasons the individual would never have wanted it in his mouth. Accordingly, he would prefer the filling not be in his mouth, but he cannot remove it because of medical concerns. Hence, argues the Chochmat Adam, the filling constitutes a chatzitza.
The overwhelming majority of halachic authorities have rejected this ruling of the Chochmat Adam (for a full listing of these authorities see Nishmat Avraham Y.D. p.130). These authorities present a number of reasons to be lenient. The Maharsham (1:79) argues that since it is nearly impossible for a lay individual to remove the filling from the tooth, it is considered a permanent feature of the body and thus everyone would agree that it is not a Chatzitza, even though it was placed in the mouth due to medical concerns (see last week's discussion for a presentation of the two views if material placed on the body for medical purposes constitutes a Chatzitza). Moreover, since the individual does not wish to remove the fillings because it would disfigure teeth, the fillings are not considered a Chatzitza because they serve a purpose of allowing the teeth to look presentable. Other authorities point out that there is considerable room to be lenient regarding this issue since it is a situation of ;9* $9"10, a confluence of two rabbinic le this time, for the time being one is not concerned for its removal. This same distinction appears explicitly in the Pitchei Teshuva (198:1).
A second reason is offered by both Rav Moshe and Rav Zvi Pesach. They argue that since the woman intends to replace the temporary filling with a permanent one, then it is clear that she does not object to the presence of the dental work.
A middle approach is taken by Rav Feivel Cohen (Badei Hashulchan 198:179) and Rav Shmuel Wasner, a leading contemporary halachic authority who lives in Israel (Shiurei Shevet Halevi 198:24:2). They believe that if the dental work is intended to remain in place for at least thirty days subsequent to the immersion then one can be lenient (the basis for the thirty day rule was discussed two issues past). One should consult his rav for a halachic guidance when such an issue arises.
Rav Feivel Cohen (Badei Hashulchan 198:179) rules that braces do not constitute a Chatzitzah if they will be in place for more than thirty days. Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe Y.D. 196) suggests that braces are considered a chatzitza only if they only serve a cosmetic purpose-to straighten one's teeth. If, however, their function is to prevent teeth from falling out then they are not a chatzitza. In such a case the braces can be seen as part of the tooth development. In other words, since the teeth will not live unless braces are placed on them one can say %**1& 9"*;*% that is the way it grows. This is parallel to the Gemara in Yevamot (78a-b) which states that when a non-Jewish woman who is pregnant immerses for conversion purposes, the conversion is effective for the fetus as well. The Gemara explains that the mother's body is not considered a Chatzitza to the fetus because %**1& 9"*;*%, that is the way the fetus develops.
The consensus view appears to be that they are not considered to be a Chatzitza if they will be in place for at least thirty days subsequent to the immersion. A list of the authorities who rule leniently on this appears in the Nishmat Avraham Y.D. p.134 notes 118-119.
Both Rav Yosef Karo and the Rema (Shulchan Aruch 198:18-20) record the practice to cut fingernails and toenails prior to immersing in the Mikvah. The reason for this is due to the concern that there is dirt beneath the fingernails which in certain cases is considered a Chatzitza (see also the concern discussed by the Shach 198:25 and the Taz 198:21).
This question that is raised is whether today the Halacha may be different since many women let their nails grow long. This question is addressed by Rav Chaim Ozer Grodinski (considered the leading Halachic authority prior to the outbreak of the Second World War) in a classic responsum (Teshuvot Achiezer 3:33). On one hand, Rav Chaim Ozer reasons even though most who immerse in the Mikva follow the custom to cut their nails and thus "object" (/85*$&;) to the presence of the nails, since most women in the world do not consider the presence of the nails to be "objectionable," they do not constitute a Chatzitza. Nevertheless, Rav Chaim Ozer concludes (and his ruling has become accepted protocol, see Badei Hashulchan 198:18 Biurim s.v. &‑5*):
"Since I have not found an explicit source that would serve as a basis for permitting women to forge the custom of cutting their fingernails, and since this is a matter of great concern which may cause invalidation of the Teveila (if the dirt hasn't been completely removed) - therefore permission cannot be given to forgo the venerated custom of cutting nails prior to immersion. Rather, rabbis should instruct the Mikva supervisors to not object to those entering the Mikva to immerse of they refuse to cut their nails."
Rav Chaim Ozer encourages rabbis to try to convince women who wish to have long nails to follow the custom of our forefathers to cut fingernails prior to immersing.
This concludes our discussion of the rules of Chatzitza and Tevila. We must emphasize that we have reviewed only some of the issues concerning Chatzitzot. We hope that our discussion will motivate people to study these laws carefully and to consult their Rav whenever a question arises.