Monthly Archives: December 2014

Converts and an Angelic Mix-up

This week, Yeshiva had two days of Yimei Iyun on the topic of Geirut.  One of the presentations was by Professor Rami Reiner who discussed the differing and changing attitudes towards converts during the period of the Tosafists.  He summarized his fascinating article on the topic (which is available in Hebrew and English on  In short, he argues that Rashi and Rabbenu Tam have a very suspect attitude towards gerim, while the Ri, and most of the Baalei HaTosafot after them embrace gerim very warmly.  He argues that in the earlier period, Jews were much better off, so the gerim that converted were often less sincere.  However, as the 12th century continued, the situation became very difficult for Jews – they were hated and killed, and many martyred themselves.  The gerim who converted then were the most sincere – those that left Christianity to join a nation being killed by crusaders, and those converts were often the first to martyr themselves.

Two amazing sources that reflect this total embrace are found in the writings of R. Yehuda HaChasid and R. Elazar of Worms.   Continue reading Converts and an Angelic Mix-up

Lo Tasur and Daas Torah

When discussing the balance between authority and autonomy in Halacha, one of the central modern issue that arises is that of Daas Torah – what is the extent of rabbinic authority even beyond limited Halachic issues? To set up the background for the modern issue, it is important to explore the concepts that are used to argue that Daas Torah is a classic Halachic/Hashkafic category – starting with the most basic question of rabbinic power – Lo Tasur.  Shiur and sources: here.

In Lo Tasur we need to ask several questions: 1) Why do we listen? Does the obligation to listen to the Rabbis imply infallibility, or do we have to listen even though we understand that they are fallible? Do we listen even if we think they are wrong? 2) What Rabbis are granted authority by this obligation? 3) What does it extend to? Only Halacha? Hashkafa? More mundane issues? Continue reading Lo Tasur and Daas Torah

Why Would the Psak of the Chief Rabbinate be Binding?

In an attempt to synthesize the issues I dealt with in the last few weeks, I examined a few attempts at grounding the Halachic authority of the Rabbanut HaRashit, showing how the issues raised about Aseh Lecha Rav, the authority of Mara D’Atra, and the binding nature of psak all play out.  The shiur is available: here.

The first attempt I dealt with was R. Yisraeli. In Amud HaYemini 6, assumes that psak is binding because the process of psak creates a metaphysical status. He thinks this is based on assuming that there are multiple potential truths. Thus, psak determines which truth one must follow. He goes further and argues that the authority of poskim to create this status is derived from the people asking the questions. By asking, they transform the posek into their personal Rebbe. With this, one can easily understand where the authority of a Mara D’Atra comes from – he is the defacto posek of the area, and thus his psak automatically become binding Continue reading Why Would the Psak of the Chief Rabbinate be Binding?

Why is Psak Binding?

Why is psak binding? This question is central in our exploration of the role of the laity in the Halachic system. The idea of binding psak highlights the limits of autonomy and the power of authority. Where does the idea come from and what is its nature? For a full treatment, see the shiur and sources (here). Below are the central points.

The Gemara rules that if one Chacham forbade something, another Chacham is not allowed to permit it. In another place, the Gemara forbids one who asked a shayla from asking another posek. While Tosafot seems to think there is only one prohibition, on the Chacham, the simple understanding of the Gemara is that these are two prohibitions. Why is it forbidden? Continue reading Why is Psak Binding?