Monthly Archives: August 2014

Learn and Receive Reward: An Educational Statement

I have argued that the notion of derosh vekabel schar, learn and receive a reward, should not be taken to mean that certain laws were only given so that we could learn them lishmah.  Rather, these cases carry with them particular educational messages, either regardless of, or due to the fact, that will never happen.  My explanation of this in the context of ben sorer u’moreh can be found here.  I found that Rabbi Nachum Rabinovitch understood this phrase the same way.  It is always nice to have some support.  This is the relevant passage.

His full discussion is available here.

The fact that these rules appear in the Torah constitutes an important educational measure. “Expound and receive reward”—one who studies these laws cannot fail to be seized by fear and trembling and will almost certainly be so deeply influenced that some of the perversity in his heart will be cured. Continue reading Learn and Receive Reward: An Educational Statement

The Inherent Ambiguity of Texts and the Role of Intuition in Psak

Much of my shiurim over the last year were devoted to exploring the complexity of the Halachic system.  As one of the talmidim at Yeshiva noted, my conclusion as to the role of every factor I addressed was “it’s complicated.”  That’s probably fair – as the Ramban notes in his introduction to the Milchamot, law is not like math, and we deal with probabilities and plausibility rather than absolute proofs.  So, for my last shiur of this year in my series, I dealt with the inherent ambiguity of texts.  My goal was to show that text and arguments never absolutely prove one side of an argument or the other.  Thus, we will never be able to remove the intuition of poskim from the Halachic process – nor should we want to.  The shiur and sources are available: here.

I began by noting the requirement the Gemara imposes on judges – that they be able to justify why an impure creature is in fact pure.  While many Rishonim fought the implication of the Gemara, the simple understanding is that someone with a good legal mind should be able to justify something which is false – as there is always an argument that supports even incorrect conclusions.  This should reinforce the notion that arguments are rarely dispositive.  I added a quip that was apparently said by Nechama Leibowitz, though I heard it originally from Professor Moshe Bernstein:  If you wanted to, you could reverse anything in the Torah by reading it as sarcastic, such as “Lo Tirzach?!”  The point being that text is also subject to the understanding of the reader.  Now this does not mean that there is not truth or that we shouldn’t strive for the most likely understanding of the law – it just means that we have to realize that we will need to rely on a level of intuition to figure out what that is.  Continue reading The Inherent Ambiguity of Texts and the Role of Intuition in Psak