Jewish Law

Review of Kanfei Yonah (Hebrew)

By Rabbi Yona Reiss
Chicago Rabbinical Council
Chicago, 2018


In the past few decades, there has been a significant increase in the number of works published about laws addressed by a beit din. These halachot are found primarily in two of the Shulchan Aruch’s main sections, Choshen Mishpat and Even Haezer, with some in Yoreh Deah. Issues within this rubric include torts, matrimonial and family law, contracts and interest. There has also been an increase in the number of published proceedings of batei din (rabbinic courts) in books, journals and newspaper articles. These generally involve very technical issues that require considerable Talmudic background to appreciate. Yet the Torah community has reached the point where there is a critical mass of sufficiently learned members who comprehend these complex topics and are thirsty for further study.

Historically, rabbinic literature regarding these topics has either been in the form of responsa to specific questions, or expositions and commentary on the corresponding sections of the Shulchan Aruch. The recent surge in publication follows that trend. Enter Rabbi Yona Reiss, av beit din of the Beit Din of the Chicago Rabbinical Council, who recently published a unique volume elucidating these areas of halachah. Utilizing his background as the former executive director of the Beth Din of America and dean of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS), as well as his experience as a practicing attorney, Rabbi Reiss provides an in-depth analysis of many halachic issues that arise for modern batei din and posekim.

Rabbi Reiss divides his work into eight sections, each focusing on a different area of halachah, which are then divided into smaller chapters. His first section addresses matters of dina d’malchuta dina, the intersection of secular civil law and halachah, and general contract issues. Under this heading, Rabbi Reiss discusses bankruptcy, land ownership and inheritance. Each section is organized in a progressive format, starting with a problem or question and ending with a summary of the opinions and rulings cited.

Rabbi Reiss offers readers a new means for exploring and understanding areas of practical halachah.

This work is noteworthy for its methodical approach and straightforward presentation, much like Rabbi Reiss’s public shiurim. He presents the information in a clear and concise manner, such as when he sets forth a brief overview of issues involving hilchot geirim (the laws of conversion and converts). Rabbi Reiss’s remarkable ability to utilize a wide range of sources and to organize them into a fluid and logical rendition is highlighted in this volume. An example of this can be seen in his analysis of the halachic issues involved in the renting and purchase of real estate in Yerushalayim.

Also included in this volume is a collection of Rabbi Reiss’s teshuvot (responsa) addressing some of the most pressing issues facing the Torah-observant world today. These include important topics related to agunot, hasagat gevul (unfair commercial competition) and mamzeirut (legitimacy of birth). These responsa are, for the most part, responding to actual inquiries that were made or cases presented to the Beth Din of America. In the secular world of jurisprudence, these teshuvot are analogous to opinions issued by a court. Since batei din do not often release opinions, and these responsa deal with topics of great significance, it is a welcome opportunity for understanding the methodology of rabbinic courts.

Throughout the volume, the reader will sense the influence of Rabbi Mordechai Willig and Rabbi Hershel Schachter, as well as the analytical and comparative approach of Rabbi J. David Bleich, particularly in Rabbi Reiss’s style of presentation. This chain of mesorah offers additional weight to this unique volume.

With this sefer, Rabbi Reiss offers readers a new means for exploring and understanding areas of practical halachah which present themselves on a daily basis in our world. It will be a resource for batei din, posekim and rabbanim for many years to come.

Rabbi Benjamin Kelsen, Esq., is an alumnus of Kerem B’Yavneh and a musmach of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (Yoreh Yoreh/Yadin Yadin). Additionally, he earned a law degree from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. He currently practices law and is engaged in a variety of Jewish communal and political issues on a local and national level. He has appeared in state and federal courts as well as batei din.

This article was featured in the Winter 2020 issue of Jewish Action.