Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Incest: Yichud of brothers & sisters

Igros Moshe1(E.H. 4:65.11): Concerning the permissibility of a brother and sister being secluded together alone occasionally - whether this also applies in a situation where they are living in their parents home which therefore means it a fixed arrangement. When they are alone together in the house is this considered on occasion and therefore permitted or since he is in fact living with her in a fixed manner it is not permitted for them to be alone - even though the seclusion is only occasional. It seems that the practice of the world is to permit this. Even when the parents have only one son and one daughter who are old enough to be obligated in mitzvos, they leave them alone in the house for hours even at night. No one is concerned about the issue of yichud in these circumstances for brother and sister - even religious people. It would seem that this leniency is implied by Rashi who writes (Kiddushin 81b) that "brother and sister can be secluded together occasionally but he does not dwell with her constantly in the house".... this implies that the permissibility of seclusion with a sister is even when they dwell together for an extended time. However the prohibition of seclusion with his sister is only if they are alone constantly together but if it is only occasionally that they are alone then it is permitted even when they are living together for an extended time. That is the reason for the widespread leniency in this matter. However there is no question that they are not to be left alone in the house for an extended time at nights on frequent occasions until this is viewed as the normal situation - and not just an occasional occurrence. In this matter it is not possible to specify the exact number of hours or times that it is prohibited. Rather each one needs to recognize in his sons and daughters what is appropriate.


  1. R' Moshe's argument would appear to apply to a sibling who was adopted at birth. At least, from this little snippet.


  2. knowledge is powerful, and sometimes painful tooAugust 1, 2010 at 6:28 AM

    i dont believe so. i think he means that R' Moshe's words can be taken to mean that he is not dwelling alone with her constantly or that he is not constantly (read: all day) alone with her.

    either way, let me tell you- if you think sexual abuse between teacher and student is rampant, you don't even want to know about sibling sexual abuse or incest. it'll make you sick. and that, my friends, is a whole lot worse than authority figures abusing children. abuse in the family hits at the core identity of a child in a much more personal way.
    but neither abuse is to be belittled. the untold harm of any sexual abuse is just that- indescribable.
    still, parents should think twice about letting their children be miyached e.g. during "wedding season", etc for a couple of nights a week, etc.
    even mere curiosity can turn into something a whole lot worse.
    please be advised.

  3. Knowledge is Powerful:

    You write: i dont believe so. i think he means that R' Moshe's words can be taken to mean that he is not dwelling alone with her constantly or that he is not constantly (read: all day) alone with her.

    1- You don't believe what?
    2- Who "means that Rav Moshe's words can be taken to mean..."?

    The only people I've seen in this discussion so far are the snippet from the IM, and myself. It looks like you're saying that I'm commenting on someone's interpretation of Rav Moshe, but there isn't anyone else interpreting.

    I was saying that aside from RMF's point, there is a side implication. His entire argument is based on what's usual, and not on genetics. Thus, implicitly, I don't see why the rationale would only apply to genetic siblings, and not adopted ones. As long as their relationship is the same on a day-to-day pragmatic level. (Which is why I didn't assume it would apply to someone whose sibling was adopted later than infancy.)


  4. I believe Rav Moshe elsewhere paskens there is a significant halachic difference between a natural and adopted child.

  5. Dan,

    In EH 4:64:2, RMF explicitly discusses adoptive parents and children and permits on the grounds that the YhR isn't interested.

    The same reasoning would apply to siblings.

    I do not know of a place where RMF explicitly deals with siblings and yichud. As three of my 7 sons are adopted (although two of the three are handicapped, which raises other heterim for yichud), and I have three daughters as well, this is a topic I have some interest in.


  6. There is also the question if the adopted child is not Jewish (at least until a potential conversion at bar/bas mitzvah), and how that effects the yichud question.

  7. Joseph,

    I'm missing why it would make a difference whether or not the child was born Jewish. After conversion, the child is a Jew living in your home, not genetically related to his/her siblings of the opposite gender.

    If you follow the Igeros Moshe that it has more to do with what taavos are normal to expect, then why would the child's conversion matter? And if you follow the thought that the gezeira takes into account genetic siblings, and we can't reason out of the terms of the law, then again, wouldn't that too equally exclude yichud with a sibling through adoption?


  8. I'm missing why it would make a difference whether or not the child was born Jewish. After conversion,

    Micha - That's just it. A minor cannot convert. So, at least, until the age of 13/12 s/he will retain the status of being a gentile.

  9. Yichud, hugging, kissing, etc., are not permitted with an adopted child, as they are with one's natural child. Most poskim strictly forbid this type of physical contact. * See Chazon Ish (quoted in Devar Halachah 7:20); Otzar ha-Poskim. vol. 9, pg. 132 - written responsum from Tchebiner Rav and Harav Y.Y. Kanievsky; Minchas Yitzchak 4:49; 9:140; Shevet ha-Levi 5:205; 6:196; Devar Yehoshua E.H. 3:16; Harav S.Z. Auerbach and Harav S.Y. Elyashiv (quoted in Nishmas Avraham vol. 5, pg. 134. See also Yashiv Moshe pg. 191).

    Yichud with an adopted child may even be more stringent than with a stranger, since it would fall under the category of "libo gas bah". See Devar Halachah 7:20.

    Note that these halachos apply to foster children and stepchildren as well.

    Rav Moshe (Igros Moshe E.H. 4:64-2. See also E.H. 4:71) holds that yichud is permitted with adopted children, because no adoptive father, he suggests, would dare commit an illicit act with his adoptive daughter for fear of being found out by his wife upon her return home. That intimidation factor alone is enough to permit yichud. Consequently, as long as both adoptive parents are alive, married and living together in one home, yichud with a stepchild [in their home] is permitted.

    As mentioned, most poskim rule an adopted or a stepchild is just like any other stranger with whom yichud, hugging and kissing etc., are prohibited. But according to Rav Moshe, it IS also permitted to kiss and hug an adopted child, since the kissing and hugging is done as any parent does to his or her child, which is permitted (based on the Shach Y.D. 157:10). Others allow this only till the age of five or six (Rav S.Z. Auerbach and Harav Y.Y. Neuwirth [quoted in Nishmas Avraham vol. 5, pg. 135]).

  10. Joseph,

    You are mistaken -- the conversion takes effect at the time of immersion. What happens when the child reaches adulthood retroactively determines whether or not it was a valid conversion.

    The gemara's case (Kesuvos 11a) is of a child convert is a girl who converted before the age of three and then is married off to a kohein while also still a minor.

    She is allowed to eat terumah.

    Which is only possible because the marriage is binding, making her a kohein's wife, which in turn is only possible because she is a Jew.

    If she chooses at age 12 to accept the yoke of mitzvos, then the conversion was valid as of the time of miqvah, not age 12.

    The point of the gemara is to tell us that the chance of her annulling that conversion is negligible, that even on the level of doubt, we do not have to worry about letting her share her husband's terumah.

    In our case, it would mean we have to presume the child convert is Jewish too. We might be wrong, but as we saw with terumah, the odds are too small to impact halakhah.


  11. I don't understand Feivel's post. It looks like RMF is a pronounced exception to that "most poseqim". I can also tell you that lemaaseh among adoptive parents in the US, his pesaq -- or R' JB Soloveitchik's parallel oral ruling -- is relied upon by nearly all of us.

    My daughter came back from Israel with a new pesaq lehachmir. Tensions between her and her older brother are running high.


  12. A daughter is obligated to follow her father's minhugim/pesakim until marriage (when she must follow her husband's.)

    "I can also tell you that lemaaseh among adoptive parents in the US, his pesaq -- or R' JB Soloveitchik's parallel oral ruling -- is relied upon by nearly all of us."

    Who doesn't like a heter?

    Do those who use R' Moshe's heter also abide by his psak not to go to college or use an air conditioner on a Shabbos clock?


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