May these words of Torah serve as a merit le’iluy nishmat Menachem Mendel ben Harav Yoel David Balk, a”h.
This week we learned Sanhedrin 19. These are some highlights.
Sanhedrin 19: Can you benefit from the hair of a deceased person?
Halacha does not allow us to benefit from the remains of a deceased Jew (Yoreh Dei’a Siman 349:2). What about a gentile? Can a Jew derive benefit from the hair taken off a gentile’s corpse? Many wigs are made of hair that was taken off a corpse of a gentile. May a Jew sell such a wig? May a Jew wear such a wig?
Rashba (Shu”t HaRashba Chelek Aleph Siman 365) rules that a corpse of a gentile and the shrouds on the corpse of a gentile are prohibited to all. A Jew may not derive any benefit from them. Shulchan Aruch rules like Rashba (Yoreh Dei’a Siman 349:1). According to these opinions, a wig made of hair taken from deceased gentiles would be prohibited. Tosafot (Bava Kamma 10a s.v. Shehashor), and Meiri (Shabbos 92b s.v. Hamishna Hashishit) rule that only the remains of a deceased Jew are prohibited. They hold that a Jew may derive benefit from the human remains of a gentile corpse.
Mishcha Derabuta (YD Siman 349) challenges Rashba and Shulchan Aruch from our Gemara. Our Gemara discusses King David and his father-in-law King Shaul. King Shaul took David’s wife, Shaul’s daughter Michal, and gave her to another man when David ran away. Our Gemara explains that King Shaul felt that Michal was never married to David. David had asked for Michal’s hand in marriage, as she had been promised to him when he had killed Goliath. Shaul asked David to bring him 100 foreskins of Philistines. David did so. Shaul was of the opinion that the foreskins of Philistines were worthless. David was of the opinion that they had value for they could be fed to dogs and cats. The foreskins of Philistines presumably came off of dead corpses of Philistines. David felt that they were worth money and their gift effected a marriage. Clearly one is allowed to benefit from the remains of a gentile corpse. If these pieces of skin were items that Halacha does not allow anyone to benefit from, they certainly would not be able to create a marriage. What was the dispute between David and Shaul then?
Yashresh Yaakov argues that this issue was the dispute between David and Shaul. They both knew that in actuality foreskins should have a value, for dogs and cats can eat them. They argued about if human remains from a gentile are prohibited. David felt they are permitted. This is why the foreskins he had given were to be considered a gift of an item of value that could create marriage. Shaul felt that Jews could not derive benefit from the remains of gentiles. As a result, they had no value. The verse (Shmuel 1 16:18) declares about David, “V’Hashem imo, And Hashem was with him.” This teaches that Halacha always follows the view of David. This should lead to the conclusion that benefit can be derived from the human remains of a dead gentile.
Ya’avetz (Chelek Aleph Siman 41) also suggests that David and Shaul were arguing the question of the permissibility of deriving benefit from the human remains of gentiles. On the one hand, since the verse says about David “V’Hashem imo,” there is reason to think the Halacha in this instance follows the view of David. On the other hand, we have a rule in Halacha that practical precedence is very powerful. If a court actually carried out a ruling we have strong reason to accept the actions they did as the bottom-line law. Shaul actually gave Michal to Palti ben Layish. Would Shaul give a married woman to another man? No one sins for others. Shaul certainly cleared his actions with the court of his day. Perhaps, Shaul’s precedent should lead us to rule that all human remains may not give us any benefit and that was why Michal was not considered married to David. This is a question about a biblical law. Generally, when in doubt about a biblical law we must be strict. Ya’avetz therefore rules that no Jew should derive benefit from any human remains. Perhaps the law is like the Shulchan Aruch and King Shaul. A wig made of hair from deceased gentiles should not be sold or used by Jews. (Mesivta)
By Rabbi Zev Reichman
Rabbi Zev Reichman teaches Daf Yomi in his shul, East Hill Synagogue.