Question: Is there a prohibition of yichud when two frum men are secluded with one frum woman?
Short Answer: Assuming that both men are upright men, there is no problem for two Ashkenazi men to have yichud with a woman in a city during the day. The exact definition of “upright,” though, is subject to dispute.
I. The Source
The Mishnah (Kiddushin 80b) rules that two men may be secluded with one woman, as opposed to one man with two women, which is prohibited. The Gemara (according to Rashi) explains that it is permitted for two men to have yichud with one woman because such seclusion will not lead to anything improper, as each man would be embarrassed to do anything inappropriate in front of the other man. [This is in contrast to one man with two women, where we are concerned that something inappropriate may occur, as nashim daatan kalos].
The Gemara further expounds that this leniency of two men and a woman only applies where the men are “k’sheirim” (i.e., upright) and not “p’rutzim” (i.e., lewd). The Gemara then discusses whether three upright men are needed when traveling with a woman, as two men may possibly lead to a violation of yichud if one of the men needs to step away for a few moments to use the bathroom.
Finally, the Gemara recounts a story where Rav and Rabbi Yehudah were traveling, and Rav told Rabbi Yehudah that they should slow down to avoid traveling alone with a woman (who was in front of them) in order to avoid a prohibition of yichud. When Rabbi Yehudah asked Rav why he was being strict if they were both upright individuals, Rav responded that the leniency only applies with “upright” individuals such as Rabbi Chanina bar Papi and his friends (who were scrupulous with the laws of modesty – see Rashi).
II. The Rambam’s Stringency
The Rambam (Isurei Biah 22:8) rules stringently that two men may not have yichud with one woman (unless a wife of one of the men is present with them). The Magid Mishneh and the Beis Yosef both explain that the Rambam extrapolated this stringency from the Gemara’s story with Rav and Rabbi Yehudah. Since Rav stated that only Rabbi Chanina and his friends are considered “upright,” the default is that all other men are considered “lewd,” and thus surely nowadays two men are forbidden to be secluded with one woman.
Both the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch (Even HaEzer 22:5) follow the opinion of the Rambam. Accordingly, it would be forbidden for two men to be secluded with one woman nowadays, no matter how scrupulously the men behave.
III. The Rama’s Leniency
The Ran disagrees with the Rambam and understands that the default of the Mishnah and the Gemara is that all men are upright people, and thus two men may seclude with one woman. The story with Rav and Rabbi Yehudah simply reflects a “midas chasidus,” a stringency, that these chachamim viewed themselves not as upright, in order to be extra scrupulous in the laws of yichud, but which is not the normative halachah. Indeed, the fact that the Gemara further discusses whether there is yichud with men outside of a house and women inside the house proves this ruling, as clearly the Gemara entertains that there are some scenarios where two men and one woman may permissively seclude.
As an aside, the Rashba (cited in Divrei Sofrim, Yichud, Vol. 2, p. 33) also adopts the ruling of the Ran, but notes that Rav and Rabbi Yehudah were extra scrupulous in the laws of hirhur, improper thoughts, and thus didn’t want to travel behind a woman.
The Tur notes that the Rosh agrees, as well. Indeed, the Rama (ibid) cites this opinion and appears to follow these Rishonim that there is no yichud between two men and one woman (in a city during the day).
[It should be noted that some Acharonim believe that the Rambam himself actually rules this way. The Mishneh LaMelech (Sotah 1:3), for example, interprets the Rambam as simply suggesting a midas chasidus for two men not to have yichud with one woman based on a Yerushalmi by the laws of Sotah, which queries whether a man can make a sotah warning (“kin’ah”) to his wife with respect to two other men. The Mishneh LaMelech suggests that the query of this Yerushalmi (and the strict ruling of the Rambam) is whether there can be a sotah ruling in a scenario that is permitted for yichud, i.e., two men and one woman, implying that even according to the Rambam, two men having yichud with one woman is fundamentally permitted. However, the Sheivet HaLevi (5:202:1) vehemently rejects this approach.]
Practically speaking, Ashkenazim follow this ruling of the Rama and allow two men to have yichud with one woman during the day. There are some poskim, though (see Nit’ei Gavriel 17:5), who suggest that even Ashkenazim should be machmir and only have yichud where there are three men and one woman.
IV. Ashkenazim and Sefardim Together
The sefer Ohel Yaakov (Yichud, p. 54) cites the sefer Hilchos Yichud, p’sakim of the Sheivet HaLevi, which includes a fascinating yichud question that was asked to the Sheivet HaLevi. Two Ashkenazi kollel avreichim were learning alone in a house where a Sefardi woman was working. Does this present a problem of yichud? While Ashkenazim rule like the Rama that two men and one woman is permitted, Sefardim rule like the Shulchan Aruch that it is forbidden. Can the Ashkenazim continue to learn in such a room?
The Sheivet HaLevi ruled that it was permitted, since (as noted above) there are some poskim who interpret the Rambam’s ruling as a mere stringency (midas chasidus). Thus, at worst, these Ashkenazim are causing the Sefardi woman to violate something that to them is permitted; and even to her, some interpret it as a mere chumra.
V. Who Is a Parutz Nowadays?
A final note, albeit an important one, is to determine whether there are any individuals nowadays who are considered “p’rutzim” (lewd) and thus even according to the Rama, such individuals would be forbidden to have yichud with one woman (and the woman would be forbidden to have yichud with them).
The Sheivet HaLevi (ibid) cites the sefer Otzar HaPoskim who notes that the Meiri and Mahari Mintz both ruled that a person does not become a parutz (lewd) for the laws of yichud until we know that he is lax in the laws of arayos (immorality). Simply being an evil person for other laws of the Torah does not make this person a parutz for yichud. This is the ruling of the Tzitz Eliezer (6:40:3).
The Sheivet HaLevi himself disagrees; any person who violates Shabbos openly, “owns a television,” reads inappropriate “newspapers” or goes to the “theatre” is branded a parutz for the laws of yichud, even if we don’t know for sure that he is lax in the laws of immorality.
Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l (Igros Moshe, Even HaEzer 4:65:17), however, adopts a more subjective definition of p’rutzim. Aside from someone who is known to violate the laws of arayos, one only becomes a parutz if he is uncertain whether he would withstand a challenge by the yeitzer ha’ra in these areas. In other words, it appears that Rav Moshe would rule that a moral irreligious Jew would not necessarily be considered “parutz” even though he does not observe the laws of Shabbos or kashrus.
The sefer Ohel Yaakov (ibid, p. 57) cites Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l as ruling that one who is lax in laws of immorality and/or owns a television is considered parutz. The Ohel Yaakov notes that the Nit’ei Gavriel (19:10) clarifies that this only applies to a person who grew up with a Torah background that television is improper. Further, many Acharonim limit this ruling to people who look at improper things on a television, computer, or phone. Simply owning these items doesn’t automatically make a person a parutz.
Likewise, the Ohel Yaakov (a product of KGH: Rabbi Yaakov Skoczylas shlita) writes that he personally corresponded with HaRav Noach Isaac Oelbaum shlita about this very issue: whether one becomes a parutz by simply watching television as per the ruling of the Sheivet HaLevi; Rav Oelbaum responded that there is no blanket rule. If one grows up in Bnei Brak, then watching television may likely make you a parutz. However, one who grows up in a neighborhood or environment where television (and the like) are accepted and permitted norms for whatever reason, then watching television does not automatically make the person a parutz.
- Two Or One Upright Men?
While the Rama rules that two upright men may have yichud with one woman, what is the halachah where one man who is upright is secluded with a woman, but there is also another man in the room who is a parutz (lewd)? Is this case permitted?
The Nit’ei Gavriel (19:1) cites a machlokes about this issue. The Yam Shel Shlomo rules that it is permitted, as the upright man will prevent the lewd man from doing anything improper, and will likewise be embarrassed to do anything improper himself. On the other hand, the Shev Yaakov forbids it, as we are concerned that the yeitzer ha’ra of the upright man will get the better of him and he will succumb, and the fact that there is a lewd man, as well, in the room will not deter him.
The Sheivet HaLevi (ibid) rules leniently on this issue.
Next Week’s Topic: Is it a prohibition of yichud for a boy and girl to go hiking in a state park on a shidduch date?