In our last issue, we discussed some of the parameters of the Yichud restriction, the prohibition for a man and a woman to be secluded if they are not married or very close relatives. The Rambam (Hilchot Issurei Bia 22:1) explains that the reason for this prohibition is that Yichud often leads to promiscuity. Accordingly, when this is not a relevant concern the prohibition does not apply. This week, we shall explore the parameters of the exceptions to the rules of Yichud, when Chazal feel that there is not a concern for promiscuity.
Threat to Life
The Yichud restriction is so severe that some authorities believe that one must even sacrifice his life rather than violate the Yichud prohibtion (see Teshuvot Tzitz Eliezer 6:40:1:12-13 and Encylopedia Talmudit 23:654-655 for a discussion of this issue). In fact, there is much discussion of how to manage the Yichud restriction when visiting a doctor or riding in an ambulance (see Nishmat Avraham 3:91-98).
The Husband is in Town
The Gemara (Kiddushin 81a) notes that the Yichud restriction is lessened if the woman’s husband is present in town (Baala Bair). Rashi (s.v. Baala Bair) believes that the prohibition is only mitigated by the husband’s presence in town, but the restriction remains in effect nevertheless. Tosafot (ad. Loc. s.v. Baala Bair) disagree and assert that when the husband is in town the Yichud restriction does not apply at all. The Shulchan Aruch (Even Haezer 22:8) rules in accordance with Tosafot. The Chochmat Adam (126:6) and the Aruch Hashulchan (E.H. 22:6), though, note the stringent opinion of Rashi. Rav Hershel Schachter (in a Shiur delivered at Yeshiva University) understood that these authorities are teaching that one should strive to accommodate the strict opinion of Rashi whenever possible.
The aforementioned Gemara places a limitation on the Baala Bair exception, saying that if the other man’s heart is “fat with her” (Libo Gas Bah, that they feel comfortable together) then Yichud is prohibited even if the husband is in town. There seems, though, to be some dispute regarding the definition of Libo Gas Bah. The Shulchan Aruch (ad. loc.) and the Aruch Hashulchan (ad. loc.) present examples of a man and a woman who grew up together or are related (such as cousins). These examples seem to indicate that Libo Gas Bah applies to a man and a woman who are very friendly with each other, such as if the man and woman dated. Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (cited in Nishmat Avraham 3:94-95) and Dvar Halacha (7:17), though, believe that Libo Gas Bo applies even if the man and woman have only had minimal interaction such as a woman who has visited a doctor a number of times or a man and woman who had some business dealings together.
Twentieth century authorities debate how far a husband may be located to be considered Baala Bair. On one hand, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (cited in Nishmat Avraham 3:103) argues that if the wife is in Ramat Gan and the husband is in Tel Aviv he is still considered to be “in town.” Since there are no significant uninhabited areas separating these cities, they are defined as one city from a Halachic perspective. Rav Mordechai Willig adopts a similar approach stating that if the wife is in Riverdale, New York and the husband is a few blocks away in neighboring Yonkers, the Baala Bair exception still applies. One should inquire of his Rav regarding the application of this rule to other situations (such as if the wife is in Teaneck, New Jersey and the husband is in nearby Paramus).
Rav Willig, though, rules that if the wife is in Riverdale and the husband is in Staten Island, the leniency of Baala Bair does not apply even though, technically, they are in the same municipality. The leniency cannot apply because of the considerable distance between Riverdale and Staten Island. For further discussion of the application of the Baala Bair exception to exceptionally large cities, see Teshuvot Igrot Moshe E.H. 4:65:7, Teshuvot Shevet Halevi 3:180, and Nishmat Avraham 3:104-106.
Acharonim debate whether a similar leniency applies to a husband if his wife is in town. Teshuvot Imrei Yosher 2:9:8 believes that this leniency extends only to a woman whose husband is in town but the Aruch Hashulchan (E.H. 22:15) applies this leniency to a husband as well. Rav Moshe Feinstein (cited by Rav Aharon Felder, Ohalei Yeshurun 1:6) adopts a compromise and is lenient only if the wife is a short distance away and is expected to return soon. One should ask his Rav which opinion he should follow.
Petach Patuach – Yichud when the Door is Open
The Gemara (Kiddushin 81a) rules that the prohibition of Yichud does not apply if the place where the man and woman are located is open to a public area (Petach Patuach Lirshut Harabim). The Pitchei Teshuva (E.H. 22:9) notes that this leniency applies only when people can be reasonably expected to enter the house or see the place where the man and woman are located. It does not normally apply during the early hours of the morning.
The Pitchei Teshuva (E. H. 22:8) also cites a dispute among the Acharonim whether this leniency applies only when the door is open or even if the door is merely unlocked. Another dispute is whether this leniency applies to a case when there is Libo Gas Bah (such as a couple who are dating each other or who were previously married to each other). The Shulchan Aruch E.H. 22:9 seems to be lenient whereas the Chelkat Mechokeik (22:13) and Beit Shmuel (22:13) rule that the Petach Patuach leniency does not apply in a case of Libo Gas Bah. The Aruch Hashulchan (E.H. 22:6) and Rav Moshe Feinstein (Teshuvot Igrot Moshe E.H. 4:65:9) rule in accordance with the strict opinion.
An important question arises whether driving in a car is considered Yichud. Rav Moshe (Teshuvot Igrot Moshe 4:65:3) rules that one should do his best to avoid driving a car alone with another woman even during the day on well-traveled roads. He reasons that although one is not secluded when driving, he can readily find a relatively private place alongside the road. Thus, since one has such easy access to sin when driving a car, Rav Moshe rues that driving alone with a woman in a car should be avoided except in case of great need. Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach appears to adopt the same approach in his Teshuvot Minchat Shlomo 1:91:21.
However, this makes dating in most circumstances quite difficult if not impossible. In fact, many Poskim disagree with Rav Moshe and rule that traveling alone in a car with another woman does not constitute Yichud unless one is driving in a very remote area or at a time when there are very few cars on the road. These authorities include Rav Mordechai Eliyahu (the former Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel who is a highly regarded Posek in many circles in Israel, cited in Techumin 10:311), Rav Aharon Lichtenstein (in a Shiur delivered to students of Yeshivat Har Etzion), and Rav Mordechai Willig (in a Shiur delivered at Yeshiva University).
We should note that the Yichud restriction does not apply only in the confines of a building. Indeed, the Gemara (Kiddushin 80b) considers a desolate graveyard to be a place of Yichud. Accordingly, one might violate Yichud when hiking with one’s date in a remote area.
The Gemara does not present a specific Shiur when one violates the Yichud prohibition. The Gemara (Sotah 4a) does present a Shiur in the context of the laws of a Sotah, the time it takes to roast an egg and swallow it. Contemporary Poskim differ regarding the application of this term into minutes. The opinions range from thirty-five seconds to three minutes. Accordingly, most Poskim permit riding on an elevator alone with another woman since the ride most often lasts less than the Shiur of Yichud (Teshuvot Igrot Moshe E.H. 4:65:16, Teshuvot Tzitz Eliezer 6:40:22, and Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, Teshuvot Minchat Shlomo 1:91:22). Rav Ovadia Yosef (see Yalkut Yosef, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch p.975) rules that one should not ride with a woman alone on an elevator if the trip will last more than three minutes or if the woman is dressed in a promiscuous fashion. Presumably, Rav Ovadia is speaking of an elevator trip that one expects will be uninterrupted for three minutes.
We should note that Poskim advocate Shiurim regarding how long a Chatan and Kallah should remain in the Yichud room that are generally longer than the Shiurim they present in the context of forbidden Yichud. Rav Natan Gestetner (a prominent contemporary Posek who resides in Bnei Brak, Teshuvot Lehorot Natan 1:58) rules that it is approximately three minutes, Teshuvot Minchat Yitzchak (4:94-97) rules that it is five minutes, and Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (reported by Rav Hershel Schachter and many others) rules that it is eight minutes.
Yichud in the Workplace
The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 20) prohibits watching animals mate lest it arouse inappropriate thoughts. The Gemara, though, permits a professional to mate animals since he is consumed by his work and will not think sinful thoughts. Some Poskim (Teshuvot Radvaz 3:481), Rav Ovadia Hadaya (an important mid-twentieth century Sephardic Halachic authority, Teshuvot Yaskil Avdi 2:17), and Teshuvot Tzitz Eliezer (6:40:12:10-12) apply this concept as an adjunct to a lenient ruling (Senif Lehakeil) in the context of Yichud with a physician. Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (cited in Nishmat Avraham 3:93) notes that this consideration merely mitigates the seriousness of the prohibition and can be implemented only in conjunction with other lenient considerations. He notes the aforementioned Gemara (Kiddushin 80b) that teaches that Yichud applies even to a man and a woman who are burying a baby in a cemetery.
An Engaged Couple
The Rama (E.H. 55:1) cites an opinion that an engaged couple should not sleep in the same house even if the parents of either the Chatan or Kallah are sleeping in the same house. Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik was particularly scrupulous about this Halacha. Rav Hershel Schachter (Nefesh Harav p.255) relates that when a young man was engaged to a young lady in Boston and would come to visit his Kallah’s family for Shabbat, the Rav would emphasize to the young man the importance of his not sleeping in his future in-laws home.
The Halachot of Yichud are readily implemented in daily life. However, one must be alert to this problem, as it arises often without one realizing it. One can formulate strategies with relative ease on how to avoid violating this vitally important Halacha.