0. Shemiras Hanefesh-Introduction to Sefer

This article is an excerpt from our Sefer 

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The purpose of this Sefer:

The purpose of this book is to compile all the directives and practices from the Talmud, Poskim, and Kabbalists that were enacted and are to be followed due to reasons of safety and health of one’s body and soul resulting from natural or supernatural reasons, and to prevent a person from endangering his physical or spiritual state of being. [In addition to the natural and scientifically understood risks and dangers that one must beware from, there are also numerous supernatural dangers which one is equally required to beware from. Many such dangers are recorded in the Talmud and Poskim, especially in the writings of Rabbi Yehuda Hachassid.[1]] While all 613 commands and their details have a real effect on one’s soul, and one’s physical body and health, and hence must be kept in order so a Jew has a healthy spirit and body, nonetheless, this is in addition to their main focus which is to fulfill G-d’s will, draw down godliness below, and prevent the abundance of evil forces. This is where our book comes in, as there are Halachic adherences and practices that are not derivatives of the 613 commands, and were suggested or recommended, or obligated to be followed for the simple reason that not doing so can endanger one’s body or one’s mind and soul and psyche. While there only exist 613 commands in the Torah, there are thousands of additional extracurricular instructions which are beyond the 613 commands, which we must, or are recommended, to follow in order to protect our health. In general, these extracurricular commands which extend beyond the 613 commands, are themselves an offshoot of the positive and negative command of the 613 commandments which instructs one to guard his health, as will be explained in chapter 1 of this book in detail. However, particularly, not all of the thousands of the safety and health related instructions and restrictions are of biblical status, and many were added by the sages, for the reason of guarding oneself from harm. Thousands of such restrictions and directives exist and can be found throughout Jewish literature in general, and in the oral Jewish tradition handed down from father to son in particular. In this Sefer, we have taken the daunting task of collecting all of the health and safety related directives and restrictions that are recorded in Jewish literature, or that are traditionally followed as superstitious practices. Likewise, we’ve also compiled restrictions and directives relating to preventing memory loss and loss of one’s Torah learning, as well restrictions and directives relating to preventing poverty and loss of money.

Segulos: While we have also occasionally recorded various Segulos, which refers to actions that are stated to be beneficial for one matter or another, we have not recorded all such Segulos, which is far beyond the scope of this work and would require a work of its own in order to justify. Thus, to negate any misconception, this Sefer is not a compilation of Segulos and only focuses on restrictions due to reasons of health and safety.

The Poskim that the Sefer is based on:

While there are two specific chapters in the Shulchan Aruch which discuss such directives and restrictions, thousands more are scattered throughout Jewish literature, in the Talmud, Achronim, and many other sections of the Shulchan Aruch. Furthermore, in Sefer Chassidim we find new and innovative health and safety related restrictions that are not based on the Talmud, and many of which are not recorded in the classic Sefarim, from which we also need to glean as part of our compilation. This is in addition to the many superstitious practices that have no source at all in any book of Jewish literature that have been adapted in different communities throughout the generations, and perhaps carry the status of a custom of Jewry which is Torah. Accordingly, it is well understood to the reader the great and daunting challenge that exists in writing such a compilation of hazards and making it as inclusive as possible. In this Sefer we have tried as much as we can to record all of the hazards that can be gleaned from any of the above sources, and organized it in an encyclopedic fashion. The following is a list of the main sources from which our compilation has been compiled from.

The list of Sefarim and sources:

  1. The Talmud: Without doubt, the Talmud is the richest source relating to Jewish law in general and natural and supernatural health and safety restrictions in particular. In this Sefer, we have not gone through the entire Talmud and recorded each such directive. Aside from this being a monumental time-consuming task, it would also confuse our reader with those restrictions that are meant to be followed even today versus those of only Talmudic status, and no longer apply. Therefore, in this compilation we have only recorded those Talmudic practices and directives that have been recorded in the Halachic works of the later authorities, such as the Sefarim brought below.
  2. Shulchan Aruch Admur Hazakein Hilchos Shemiras Guf Vinefesh: The Alter Rebbe in his Choshen Mishpat section of his Shulchan Aruch wrote a most magnificent masterpiece on the subject, compiling dozens of safety related hazards and restrictions from a variety of sources, including many restrictions from the Talmud that have never before been compiled into literature of practical Jewish law [i.e. Rambam, Tur, and Shulchan Aruch]. In this regard, the Alter Rebbe was preceded by the author of the Peri Chadash who in his commentary likewise compiled many Talmudic restrictions which were not recorded in the Poskim, and indeed the Peri Chadash was the source of many of the novel directives in the Alter Rebbe’s compilation. The Sefer “Imreiy Yaakov” by Harav Yaakov Meir Shtern on this section of the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch was carefully analyzed as a formal commentary and compilation on these laws in accordance to the opinion of the Alter Rebbe, and many of his rulings have been gleaned to our Sefer.
  3. Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim: While Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim does not contain any specific chapter dealing solely with health and safety guidelines and restrictions, nevertheless, many such related restrictions can be gleaned from various sections in Orach Chaim, particularly from the laws relating to morning conduct [chapters 1-4 in Shulchan Aruch] and meals [Chapters 168 and 170-173]
  4. Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 116: Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah contains an entire chapter, chapter 116, which is dedicated to compiling eating and drinking restrictions that exist due to them posing a health and safety hazard. The actual rulings in the Michaber and Rama only cover a small number of these restrictions with many additional restrictions found in the commentary and compilation of the Achronim which correspond to this chapter, notably, the Kaf Hachaim on chapter 116. In essence, this chapter serves as a compilation of Kashrus laws that derive not from the actual commands and prohibitions relating to food as found in Scripture, but rather due to general reasons of safety. In Hebrew, this section of Kashrus laws is known as “Machalei Sakana,” or foods of danger.
  5. Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 427: Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat contains an entire chapter, chapter 427, which is dedicated to compiling safety hazards and restrictions. This is the last chapter in the Shulchan Aruch and completes the discussion of civil law relating to injury and damage. Interestingly, the Tur completely omitted chapter 427 of Choshen Mishpat which deals with these Halachos. The Michaber in this chapter brought down the laws word for word from the Rambam.
  6. Kaf Hachaim Yoreh Deah 116: The compilation of the Kaf Hachaim on Yoreh Deah chapter 116 contains over 200 Halachos, with a collection of safety hazards and restrictions compiled from hundreds of prior Sefarim, many of which have not been recorded elsewhere, including the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch. This compilation served as one of our main sources from which we gleaned the material of this book.
  7. Rambam Hilchos Deios: The Rambam in Hilchos Deios writes many health directives that are not recorded in any other Sefer, including all the previous works listed above. These directives have been integrated into our Sefer.
  8. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch: While the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch is generally a summary of classic laws written in previous known sources, Chapter 32 in the Kitzur is unique in the fact that not only is it the only book which records the health directives of the Rambam brought earlier, but likewise compiles many other health directives that are not found in any of the known and classic Sefarim. These directives have been integrated into our Sefer.
  9. Sefer Chassidim and Tzavas Rebbe Yehuda Hachassid: Sefer Chassidim in general, and the Tzavah of Rebbe Yehuda Hachassid in particular, is a most valuable collection of superstitious related restrictions and practices that are not based on the Talmud or classic Jewish law, but rather on the world of spiritual medicine. Just as there exists a field of natural science and medicine relating to the health of the body [from which many restrictions can be learned from despite them not being recorded in the Talmud or Poskim], so too, there exists a field of supernatural, spiritual and mystical, science and medicine which relates to the health of the body and soul. Rebbe Yehuda Hachassid was a master of this field of supernatural science and medicine and those matters which supernaturally can affect the physical and spiritual health of the person. He recorded these supernatural health related directives in his Tzavah or will, and his Magnum Opus, Sefer Chassidim. Whether or not all these directives are binding today and intended for all the Jewish people is one of the challenges that we faced in recording these directives for our Sefer, and will be further elaborated on in Chapter 1-2. Many commentaries have been written on the warnings of Rav Yehuda Hachassid and his Sefer Chassidim, and much of the practical application of these warnings has been gleaned from these commentaries. Some of the major commentaries include: 1) Shivim Temarim, written by a student of the Tzemach Tzedek; 2) Mili Dechassidusa written by Rabbi Avraham of Butchach; 3) Makor Chesed by Rav Reuven Margoliyos, amongst many others.
  10. Sefer Shemiras Haguf Vihanefesh of Rav YY Lerner: Without doubt, the most prolific and encompassing work on our subject is the Sefer Shemiras Haguf Vihanefesh of Rav Yosef Yitzchak Lerner, published in the late 80s and reprinted since then in various editions. His two-volume, 800 page work, carefully and analytically reviews each of the health and safety related restrictions that are recorded anywhere in Jewish literature. We have carefully reviewed this compilation from cover to cover in the writing of our Sefer, and much material has been gleaned from it.
  11. Other sources: The above Sefarim served as the main sources for our compilation, although many other sources have also been used, including the myriads of Shutim and Sefarim found in the Jewish library, such as the Chupas Eliyahu Raba found in Sefer Reishis Chochmah and Darkei Teshuvah on Yoreh Deah Chapters 116 and 179, Maaseh Torah found in Kol Bo 118, Sefer Zechira of Rav Zechariah. Particularly, the Sefer Shemiras Hanefesh of Rav Matisyahu Auerbach published in the late 1800s, which served as the first actual full Sefer to compile health and safety directives, and the Sefer Imreiy Yaakov which is a commentary and compilation on the topic of Shemiras Hanefesh in the Shulchan Aruch of the Alter Rebbe in Choshen Mishpat.
  12. Taamei Haminhagim: Taamei Haminhagim is a well-known Hasidic work compiling many Segulos and directives that do not have sources in classic Jewish literature and are based on Jewish custom or the instructions of specific Rebbes, Rabbanim, and Sefarim. Only some of this collection has been incorporated within our Sefer, mainly depending on its popularity and authenticity, as not all of the directives compiled there are with Rabbinical approval.
  13. Superstitious practices and restrictions that have no source: The most challenging and perhaps endless task in the compilation of this Sefer, was the compilation of superstitious practices held by some or many Jewish families which have absolutely no source in any of the previous mention Sefarim. Superstitious beliefs and practices exist in all cultures, some of which are the result of pagan worship, witchcraft, and Christian doctrine. Others being the result of the cultures of specific geographic areas, especially India, China, and Eastern Europe. Without any source to glean from in Jewish literature, it is most difficult to know what superstitious practices are relevant or even permitted for Jews to follow, and which are forbidden due to coming from other religions or witchcraft or transgressing the prohibition of Lo Sinacheish which is a specific prohibition against superstitious practices. We have compiled a number of such popular superstitious practices, and tried to analyze them to the best of our ability from a Halachic perspective, and as to whether they are relevant to the public, or even permitted to be followed. We have consulted with Rav Eliyahu Landau Shlita, and Rav Leibel Groner a”h until his passing, to ascertain the authenticity of many such superstitious practices as to whether they are accepted customs amongst Orthodox Jews in general and Chabad Chassidism in particular. In this regard, our Sefer is unique and to the best of our knowledge is the first book to compile a list of source-less superstitious practices, and their corresponding status.

Are all restrictions and instructions recorded in this Sefer Halachically binding?

A most pertinent and important question that any reader of our Sefer may and should have is regarding if all of the various restrictions recorded in the Sefer are actually Halachically binding upon him as an Orthodox Jew, and must be followed like any other matter of Jewish law. As stated above, there are thousands of safety and health related instructions and restrictions in Jewish literature and Jewish tradition, however, not all of them are in truth Halachically binding. Some are only suggestive in nature, and not enforceable or obligatory. Others are no longer applicable today despite being recorded in the Poskim.[2] Others are only suspected for by some Poskim and not others. Others are only recorded scarcely in Sefarim and omitted from other classic works of this nature. Others fall under the general umbrella of protection known as “Shomer Pesaim Hashem/Hashem guards the fools,” which Halachically permits one to ignore certain safety directives and hazards despite being explicitly recorded in the Poskim. Others are accustomed Jewish superstitions which have no source in Jewish literature. Others are pure superstitions which derive from the gentiles and have no basis in Judaism or Jewish custom and are possibly forbidden due to Darkei Emory. Wherever we found explicit sources who write these exceptions regarding a certain restriction or directive, we have recorded it in our Sefer by that corresponding restriction. However, most of the restrictions and directives do not contain any explicit disclaimer in the Poskim stating that they are not relevant anymore today, and hence our recommendation to the reader is to ask a Rav who is expert in this field for practical instruction in any particular directive or restriction in which he questions whether it must be practiced today. To make it easier for the reader to know the level of obligation of a certain restriction, we have recorded its main source in brackets as explained next.

The bracketed sources recorded by each restriction:

To make it easier upon the reader to know the Halachic source, and Halachic strength of a certain restriction, and its level of obligation upon the person, we have recorded the main source behind each restriction next to its title. For example, a matter which is only recorded in the Talmud and not brought down in the Poskim or classic Poskim would have [Talmud] or [Talmud and Sefarim] written next to its title. If the matter has been recorded in the Poskim, and Shulchan Aruch, then it would have [Poskim] or [Shulchan Aruch] or [Talmud and Shulchan Aruch] recorded next to it. If the matter is only based on the works of the Rambam and/or Kitzur Shulchan Aruch then we have recorded [Rambam] or [Rambam and Achronim] next to its title. If the matter is only based on the works of Rav Yehuda Hachassid then we have recorded [Sefer Chassidim] or [Tzavah of Rav Yehuda Hachassid] next to it. If his directive is also recorded in other later works then we have written recorded [Sefer Chassidim and Poskim/Shulchan Aruch/Achronim] or [Tzavah of Rav Yehuda Hachassid and Poskim/Shulchan Aruch/Achronim] next to it. If you leave restriction has no source at all in Jewish literature and is a superstitious belief and practice, then we have written [Tradition of some-No source] next to its title.

The format of the Sefer:

The Sefer contains six chapters and has been published in two volumes. The sixth chapter is the bulk of this work, and serves as an encyclopedia [according to the English alphabet] of every matter of restriction recorded in the Poskim, or followed as a superstition. For example, one who desires to research a restriction or superstition relating to chickens, should look up the word chicken in the encyclopedia. Alternatively, one should look it up in the index which follows in the back of the Sefer. The encyclopedia section of this book is printed in volume 2 of the series. Volume 1 contains the first five chapters, and covers all of the general Halachic background information to the safety hazards and restrictions [chapters 1-2], as well as all of the safety hazards and health restrictions relating to the fencing of a roof or pit [chapter 3], and food and drink [chapters 4-5]. Every Halacha contains a footnote which relays all of the sources in which we found that particular restriction recorded in. By a restriction, or detail of a restriction, in which there is a dispute amongst the Poskim, this has been mentioned either in the main paragraph or in the footnote below. Sometimes the reasons behind the restrictions are recorded in the footnotes while at other times they are simply recorded in the main paragraph. Whenever we could not find any reason recorded in the sources behind a restriction, we simply did not write any reason.


[1] See Shut Rashba 286; 413; 167; 825; Ramban Toras Ha’adam Shaar Hagemul; Chavos Yair 233; Peri Chadash Y.D. 116:9; Ben Ish Chaiy Pinchas 2; Aruch Hashulchan 240:18; Yabia Omer 1:8; Sefer Shemiras Haguf Vihanefesh [Lerner] Mavo Chapter 4

[2] See Haskama of Rav Shmuel Wozner to Shemiras Haguf Vihanefesh [Lerner] p. 6 “It is known that the nature of the Tzadikim was equal regarding all this, regarding being particular to follow them, and likewise there are matters which the Poskim record that are no longer relevant to our generation.”

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