Category Archives: Halacha

Korach, Kohanim, and the Chashmonaim

After the 250 men who challenged Moshe and Aharon are killed by the heavenly fire, Hashem instructs Moshe to have Elazar take the pans used in the test of the Ketoret and make a cover for the Mizbeach.  The goal is so that others will not be “like Korach and his congregation.” Continue reading Korach, Kohanim, and the Chashmonaim

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Ein Gozrin Gzeira L’Gzeira – Really?

For I long time, I have wondered about the rule of אין גוזרין גזירה לגזירה.  While Rashi (Beitzah 2b) and others in his Beit Midrash (Machzor Vitri Avot 1) make it clear that this is a biblical rule, and many Achronim follow suit, it is far from clear that the Gemara felt that way.  In some places (Chullin 104a-b) it is basically explicit that there are cases when we can make decrees to protect decrees.  Even when the Gemara says that we do not, it seems like Chazal did not, rather than they could not.  Finally, many Rishonim and Achronim thought that we do make decrees to protect decrees in certain circumstances (ex. Karet, as the Beit Yosef notes in several places, such as Yoreh Deah 183).   Continue reading Ein Gozrin Gzeira L’Gzeira – Really?

The Availability Heuristic and the Prohibition of Being Afraid During War

I recently gave a shiur on the topic of “Leaving Israel in Times of War” (here), and I just wanted to point to one argument about which I would appreciate feedback.

In addition to the general issues involved with leaving Israel, several modern poskim (such as Rabbi Yaakov Ariel in his article in Techumin 12) believe that there is a specific problem with leaving Israel during times of trouble.  They base their claim on the Rambam, who codifies a biblical prohibition to be afraid during war.  R. Ariel extends this, arguing that whenever there is a troubled period, leaving Israel would really abandoning Israel.  He goes further, analyzing the extent to which such a prohibition exists even when one relocates within Israel, and also offering arguments why the prohibition may apply to the civilian population, despite the fact that the original context of the prohibition refers to soldiers.  If he is correct, it would be problematic for civilians, students in Yeshivot, etc. to leave the country when it is under attack, and if we take the Rambam literally, it would even be forbidden to be afraid.   Continue reading The Availability Heuristic and the Prohibition of Being Afraid During War

And Introduction to Halachic Pluralism – The Introduction to the Tanya

The introduction of the melaket to the Tanya (who was the author but he chose to publish in anonymously) explains the reason why he chose to put the sefer out. In truth, he writes later (in the part we will not discuss) that he did so because the letters which constitute the Tanya had already been published widely but the published versions contained mistakes and therefore he felt that he needed to set it right. This is supported also by the haskamos at the beginning of the sefer. However, before he explains that detail, he explains why he felt these were things which needed to be published at all, let alone in a scrupulously correct text.

הנה מודעת זאת כי מרגלא בפומי דאינשי בכל אנ”ש (אנשי שלומנו) לאמר כי אינה דומה שמיעת דברי מוסר לראייה וקריאה בספרים שהקורא קורא לפי דרכו ודעתו ולפי השגת ותפיסת שכלו באשר הוא שם ואם שכלו ודעתו מבולבלים ובחשיכה יתהלכו בעבודת ה’ בקושי יכול לראות את האור כי טוב הגנוז בספרים אף כי מתוק האור לעינים ומרפא לנפש

The Tanya starts with a statement that books are inadequate for teaching because they rely on a certain level of background knowledge and ability to understand in advance. They can then build on that base. On the other hand, they allow for knowledge to be widely disseminated. Here he is only talking about mussar which can be found in Sefarim but I think that this is a more expansive comment as well will see presently.

ובר מן דין הנה ספרי היראה הבנויים ע”פ שכל אנושי בוודאי אינן שוין לכל נפש כי אין כל השכלים והדעות שוות ואין שכל אדם זה מתפעל ומתעורר ממה שמתפעל שכל חבירו וכמו שארז”ל גבי ברכת חכם הרזים על ששים ריבוא מישראל שאין דעותיהם דומות זו לזו וכו’ וכמ”ש הרמב”ן ז”ל במלחמות שם בפירוש הספרי גבי יהושע שנאמר בו איש אשר רוח בו שיכול להלוך נגד רוחו של כל אחד ואחד וכו’. אלא אפילו בספרי היראה אשר יסודותם בהררי קודש מדרשי חז”ל אשר רוח ה’ דבר בם ומלתו על לשונם ואורייתא וקב”ה כולא חד וכל ששים רבוא כללות ישראל ופרטיהם עד ניצוץ קל שבקלים ופחותי הערך שבעמינו ב”י כולהו מתקשראן באורייתא ואורייתא היא המקשרת אותן להקב”ה כנודע בזה”ק הרי זה דרך כללות לכללות ישראל ואף שניתנה התורה לידרש בכלל ופרט ופרטי פרטות לכל נפש פרטית מישראל המושרשת בה הרי אין כל אדם זוכה להיות מכיר מקומו הפרטי שבתורה: והנה אף בהלכות איסור והיתר הנגלות לנו ולבנינו מצאנו ראינו מחלוקת תנאים ואמוראים מן הקצה אל הקצה ממש ואלו ואלו דברי אלהים חיים לשון רבים על שם מקור החיים לנשמות ישראל הנחלקות דרך כלל לשלשה קוין ימין ושמאל ואמצע שהם חסד וגבורה וכו’ ונשמות ששרשן ממדת חסד הנהגתן גם כן להטות כלפי חסד להקל כו’ כנודע וכ”ש וק”ו בהנסתרות לה’ אלהינו דאינון דחילו ורחימו דבמוחא ולבא דכל חד וחד לפום שיעורא דיליה לפום מה דמשער בליביה כמ”ש בזה”ק על פסוק נודע בשערים בעלה וגו’:

Here we see that although the primary interest is the mussar potential in sefarim, he presents us with a model for pluralism in Torah in general, including an explicit discussion about machlokes in halachah. Why do people disagree about halachah? Because the way in which individual Jews connect with Torah in the abstract leads them to different manifestations of the same principles. It is important to note that this is based on a particular understanding of Torah which is that the general principles do not inform the details. Rather, the details need not reflect at all on the principles in a way which I personally can perceive. Many thinkers assume this to be true (the most famous is of course the Rambam). Because the Torah in the abstract contains a system known as a specific mitzvah, but different people perceive it differently, they will arrive at sometimes radically different conclusions which are all true. It should also be noted that this is not the same as a perspective that says that each thinker perceived only part of the mitzvah and therefore their different perspectives can be combined into one unitary whole. The advantage which this perspective holds is that it allows not merely for different perspectives, rather it allows for those which are mutually exclusive without saying that our perception that they are mutually exclusive is inaccurate or incomplete.

This lies in sharp contrast to two other perspectives. The Chinuch in his mitzvah 78 states as follows:

ספר החינוך מצוה עח 

ומשרשי מצוה זו, שנצטוינו בזה לחזק קיום דתינו, שאילו נצטוינו קיימו התורה כאשר תוכלו להשיג כוונת אמיתתה, כל אחד ואחד מישראל יאמר דעתי נותנת שאמיתת ענין פלוני כן הוא, ואפילו כל העולם יאמרו בהפכו לא יהיה לו רשות לעשות הענין בהפך האמת לפי דעתו, ויצא מזה חורבן שתעשה התורה ככמה תורות, כי כל אחד ידין כפי עניות דעתו. אבל עכשיו שבפירוש נצטוינו לקבל בה דעת רוב החכמים, יש תורה אחת לכולנו והוא קיומנו גדול בה, ואין לנו לזוז מדעתם ויהי מה, ובכן בעשותינו מצוותם אנו משלימין מצות האל, ואפילו אם לא יכוונו לפעמים החכמים אל האמת חלילה, עליהם יהיה החטאת ולא עלינו. וזהו הענין שאמרו זכרונם לברכה בהוריות [דף ב’ ע”א] שבית דין שטעו בהוראה ועשה היחיד על פיהם, שהם בחיוב הקרבן לא היחיד כלל, זולתי בצדדים מפורשים שם.

The perception here is that of course Chachamim can makes mistakes in Torah and say things which are categorically not true, and for all that we really on their words because without that behaviour the system could nto survive. Everybody would simply do whatever they wanted however a united body of Jews with (more or less) united practice would not exist. The allowance for a plurality of views here is not because we think they are all equally correct, it’s because all of them have an equal chance of being correct, but in truth only one can be right.

חידושי הריטב”א מסכת עירובין דף יג עמוד ב 

אלו ואלו דברי אלהים חיים. שאלו רבני צרפת ז”ל היאך אפשר שיהו שניהם דברי אלהים חיים וזה אוסר וזה מתיר, ותירצו כי כשעלה משה למרום לקבל תורה הראו לו על כל דבר ודבר מ”ט פנים לאיסור ומ”ט פנים להיתר, ושאל להקב”ה על זה, ואמר שיהא זה מסור לחכמי ישראל שבכל דור ודור ויהיה הכרעה כמותם, ונכון הוא לפי הדרש ובדרך האמת יש טעם וסוד בדבר.

This sounds like all the different shitos which comes up are partly true. They each are true in of themselves but fail to capture the entire truth. You need to understand it all to get to the truth. This is as opposed to what we saw in the Alter Rebbe that each of the shitos accurately portrays the truth and the details are the result of a modification necessitated by that person’s individual inclinations, understanding and experiences.

Hasagat Gevul in Pesak

The Torah forbids encroaching on other people’s ancestral lands in Israel, a prohibition known as Hasagat Gevul.  While the Talmud does not explicitly extend this to all cases of harming other’s business by opening a competing business (there are such prohibitions in the Talmud, they are just not linked to this possuk), the trend in pesak has been to use the concept of Hasagat Gevul to include this issue as well (See Shut Maharshal 89, below).  Conceptually, I understand how this expansion makes sense, though it is not an absolute parallel.  As classic Hasagat Gevul also violates theft, any monetary crimes are at least on the same plane.  However, the Sifrei expands this possuk to forbidding several other things, including misquoting the Halachic positions of Rabbis.  Any ideas as to what the conceptual link is?  It is just an asmachta? Continue reading Hasagat Gevul in Pesak

Amoraim Arguing on Tanaaim – The Meiri

It is commonly understood that Amoraim are not allowed to argue with Tanaaim, or at least that they don’t.  The Chazon Ish (Mamrim 2:1) claimed this was because the Tanaaim were greater than the Amoraim and closer to Sinai.  The Kesef Mishna (ibid) and R. Chaim (cited in Kovetz Shiurim Bava Batra 633) claim that they simply agreed not to, but in theory could have (and if they do, we might rule like them).  The Rambam (cited ibid) claims that Amoraim only refrain from disagreeing with Tanaaitic position in Mishanyot or Beraitot.  What surprised me, however, is the position of the Meiri in Seder HaKabbala – his introduction to Pirkei Avot. Continue reading Amoraim Arguing on Tanaaim – The Meiri

Chumrot: When are they Good, When are they Bad?

I have been very behind on summaries, but perhaps now that we approach bein hazemanim I will have more time. Appropriately, as Pesach is around the corner, I will summarize my shiur on the nature of Chumra (available here). As the goal of this year has been to analyze the place of the laity in psak, one topic that needed to be tackled was chumrot- when it is a good idea to initiate a practice that is not mandated by Halacha? When is it neutral? Negative? What is the nature of chumrot? We have dealt with different aspects of chumra before, so here I focused on a very specific discussion. The Yerushalmi (Berachot 2:9) says that anyone who does something they are not obligated in is called a hedyot, a fool. This is quoted by many poskim in varying contexts. Yet, there are contexts where we say hamachmir tavo alav beracha – that one who is stringent is blessed.

Continue reading Chumrot: When are they Good, When are they Bad?

More on the Parameters of Rov

A few weeks ago (here), I raised some questions about the applicability of the principle of acharei rabim lehatot – does it apply outside of Beit Din contexts, outside of halachic issues altogether (our previous example being medical issues), does it apply when there is no formal vote, does it apply when opposed to the rov is a small set of experts, etc? A few sources I found weigh in on these issues, though with some combinations I had not seen before.

The Rosh was asked whether a minority segment of the community can opt out of certain decisions the community made by majority vote. He answers that they cannot because “in all issues where the community agrees, we follow the majority.” Continue reading More on the Parameters of Rov

Does Majority Rule Apply Outside of Halachic Issues?

In the past (here and here) we have discussed the machloket between the Shach and Bach (both in the Kelalei Psak of the Shach- Yoreh Deah 242) whether the rule acharei rabim lehatot applies only to cases of Beit Din or to all cases of pesak. The Shach argues that anything that has been ruled on by a majority of poskim throughout the generations becomes binding pesak and cannot even be invoked in a shaat hadechak. The Bach disagrees, arguing that only in Sanhedrin, where there was a formal vote, can we invoke rules of rov.

Both R. Yaakov Emden and R. Yonatan Eibshitz notes that practically the Shach is impossible to implement, as we have no way of knowing how many sefarim have been lost, how poskim have rules orally, etc, making it impossible to reach a rov. Continue reading Does Majority Rule Apply Outside of Halachic Issues?

Are You Too Biased to Poskan for Yourself?

It’s been a while since I summarized my psak shiur, but I’ll try to catch up. In the previous post on this topic, we began dealing with the issue of poskaning for one’s self – when is one qualified, are there different standards for ruling for one’s self than there are for others, etc. The second question is whether even an unquestionably qualified posek should or must refrain from ruling for himself due to bias. In the past, when dealing with the benefits of having a Rebbe (here), we noted that practically it is often good to have an outsiders perspective, both to ensure that you are not too lenient and to ensure you are not to stringent on yourself. Is that a Halachic requirement?   Continue reading Are You Too Biased to Poskan for Yourself?