Monthly Archives: November 2013

Policy and Psak – The Rav on Women’s Learning (Halachic Methodology 7)

This shiur is a case study in how a psak acts to set communal policy, focusing on the issue of women’s learning.  The shiur and sources are available: here.

The Rav wrote two letters when asked whether girls should be taught Gemara.  The second, which is much more famous, affirms that we should open the halls of תורה שבעל פה  to women.  However, in the first letter, which I think is critical to understanding the letter, first requests assurance that his answer will be accepted as binding.  Continue reading Policy and Psak – The Rav on Women’s Learning (Halachic Methodology 7)

The Rich, the Poor, and the Evil? Chazal on Yosef

It’s been many years since I gave shiur in Hebrew, but tonight I gave an agadata shiur for the Kollel Gavoah.  As it happens to also relate to this week’s Parsha, and what Chazal wanted us to learn from Yosef, I’m posting a quick summary and a link to the shiur: here.  An English summary shiur is: here.

The Gemara on 35b tells the of 3 figures who will prevent people from having excuses for not learning Torah.  Hillel prevents the poor, R. Elazar ben Charsom the rich and Yosef the reshaim.  What seems to drive the Gemara, from my perspective, is the lack of parallelism with the third line.  The Gemara should have said baalei taava, etc.  It seems that it is polemicizing – people who have desires already think of themselves as having lost the battle.  However, what they don’t realize is that overcoming desire is possible, and it is that struggle that makes them tzaddikim.  Continue reading The Rich, the Poor, and the Evil? Chazal on Yosef

Manuscript and Archaeology in Halacha (Halachic Methodology 6)

Shiur and Sources available: here.

This week I dealt with the question of how Halacha deals with manuscripts and archeological evidence.  More specifically, how does Halacha respond when it turns out that manuscripts indicate that the texts of Gemara and Rishonim that Halacha has been based on are flawed, new commentaries of Rishonim are printed from manuscript that were not (heavily) used in Halacha, or archeological evidence appears to support a Halachic position.

Conceptually, these are related.  The two extreme positions would be that 1) Halacha developed the way it did for a reason, and new material is no reason to change it.  2) Halacha automatically needs to incorporate the new material in some way.  Both of these positions seem unlikely to be true.  Continue reading Manuscript and Archaeology in Halacha (Halachic Methodology 6)

Lice, Treifot, and Premature Babies: Halacha and Mistakes about Science (Halachic Methodology 5)

Shiur and sources available: here.

This week I discussed one of the thorniest issues in modern psak:  What does Halacha do when the scientific assumptions it is based on turn out to be false?

In the background is a Gemara that tells of a dispute between the Jewish sages and the nations of the world about the correct path of the sun.  The Jewish sages, after hearing the arguments of the non-Jewish sages, retract their position and admit the non-Jewish sages were correct.  This Gemara implies that under some circumstances Chazal could be wrong about science.  The question is whether this can be true in Halachic cases, and if so, what are the implications?

The locus classicus for this issue in the Gemara’s assertion, according to the opinion of the Rabbanan, that lice can be killed on Shabbos because they do not procreate.  They are produced through spontaneous generation. Continue reading Lice, Treifot, and Premature Babies: Halacha and Mistakes about Science (Halachic Methodology 5)

Hunting, Platonic Relationships, and the Spirit of the Law (Methodology of Pesak 3)

The shiur and sources are available: here.

This week I spoke about something that I would hope is obvious, but all too often is not:  Halacha pesuka does not account for the entirety of the Halachic system.  Halacha includes both the letter and spirit of the law, and while there are formal differences between Halachic obligations and Halachically laudatory actions, there are both important.

Perhaps the most famous champion of the spirit of the law was Ramban.  In both his discussion of Kedoshim Tihyu and VeAsita HaYashar Vehatov (as well as other places), Ramban posits that the Torah never intended to be a laundry list of obligations.  Instead, God set up 613 mitzvot to act as guides, and then commanded that we seek to understand the spirit of the law that emerges from those mitzvoth and live according to the totality of the Halachic system.  Rabbi Menachem Leibtag once described this as a connect-the-dots picture: the mitzvoth are the dots and the spirit of the law is the picture that emerges.  Continue reading Hunting, Platonic Relationships, and the Spirit of the Law (Methodology of Pesak 3)