Tag Archives: Halacha

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.

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Me’Inyana de’Yomah in the Daf Today

Today in the daf (in the Mishna) there is a disagreement between two Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Eliezer the son of Rabbi Yossi HaGlili. The Mishna relates their different opinions about the cities given over to the Leviim:

משנה מסכת סוטה פרק ה משנה ג
בו ביום דרש רבי עקיבא (במדבר ל”ה) ומדותם מחוץ לעיר את פאת קדמה אלפים באמה וגו’ ומקרא אחר אומר (שם) מקיר העיר וחוצה אלף אמה סביב אי אפשר לומר אלף אמה שכבר נאמר אלפים אמה ואי אפשר לומר אלפים אמה שכבר נאמר אלף אמה הא כיצד אלף אמה מגרש ואלפים אמה תחום שבת רבי אליעזר בנו של רבי יוסי הגלילי אומר אלף אמה מגרש ואלפים אמה שדות וכרמים:

If we look in Rashi on this Mishna:

רש”י מסכת סוטה דף כז עמוד ב 

מגרש – רחבה פנויה מזריעה ומבתים ומאילנות לנוי העיר להיות לה לאויר ואלפים לא הוזכרו לתתן ללוים ולא נאמרו אלא ליציאת תחום שבת.

Rashi is saying that according to Rabbi Akiva the Leviim would not have been required to perform any agriculture themselves. Instead, they would rely on what others would give them (presumably maasros). Presumably he understood this from the famous passuk in Parashas Korach:

במדבר פרק יח 

(כא) וְלִבְנֵ֣י לֵוִ֔י הִנֵּ֥ה נָתַ֛תִּי כָּל־מַֽעֲשֵׂ֥ר בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל לְנַחֲלָ֑ה חֵ֤לֶף עֲבֹֽדָתָם֩ אֲשֶׁר־הֵ֣ם עֹֽבְדִ֔ים אֶת־ עֲבֹדַ֖ת אֹ֥הֶל מוֹעֵֽד:

It would seem that the point for him is that the Jews will supply Leviim with their food and therefore there will be no need for agriculture. After all, if most of the Jews are farmers and they each give one tenth to the Leviim (and there are presumably less Leviim than any other tribe), then they should have more than enough food. There was no planning for a time when this might not happen (alhough I think it’s interesting to wonder how this would have worked in the Northern Kingdom).

On the flip side, Rabbi Eliezer here is saying the opposite – of course there was a plan for a rainy day. Even if the Jews were meant to support the Leviim, the Leviim were not left helpless.

I think the relevance of this issue to the modern concern with Haredim is obvious. Should we support the bnei Torah among us and let them just sit and learn and serve Hashem for all of us and thus raise the spiritual lives of us all to greater spiritual heights, or should we assume that it is important (either morally, see the Rambam, or practically) that everyone take responsibility both for their spiritual life and their physical survival. We learnt (again in daf yomi) not long ago about a Yisachar Zevulun relationship. At what level is it a desirable institution? I don’t know how to apply all this (especially as it seems to be a disagreement), and I acknowledge the difference between Talmud Torah and Avodah in the Mikdash (though it can go either way), but I think it should be a part of the discussion.

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

The Sliding Scale of Rabbinic Authority (Halachic Methodology 21)

This week I actually touched on some issues that I have discussed on this blog before.  I spoke about varying levels of authority within Halacha and shared some suggestions about how classic models might have been affected in the moment we live in.  Shiur and sources available: here.

Classically, there are three issues that determine whether someone is allowed to issue a psak on a certain issue.  The first is the intrinsic capabilities of a posek, highlighted by Chazal’s warning that those who are not qualified to poskan cannot and those who can poskan must.  The second is the extraneous factors that may limit someone’s ability to poskan, such as proximity to one’s rebbe.  This is also seen in the limitations of setting up a Yeshiva or giving smicha when one’s rebbe is in the vicinity.  The third is the nature of the issue being ruled on and whether it is defined as a psak (usually requiring a novelty) or simply a case of spit back.  Issues which are explicit in poskim are not defined as psak, and one may prevent an issur from being violated regardless of whether one’s rebbe is around.  Continue reading The Sliding Scale of Rabbinic Authority (Halachic Methodology 21)

Akirat Davar Min HaTorah Part 1 (Halachic Methodology 18)

Perhaps one of the most critical topics to understand the nature of the halachic process is akirat davar min haTorah, the ability of the courts, navi, or king to temporarily uproot a law in the Torah.  As we argued when discussion pesikat halacha bishaat hadechak, the parameters of making halachic decisions in extenuating circumstances, understanding Superman requires understanding Kryptonite – understand when the normal rules break down to understand the nature of the system.   As I was focusing on some of the broader issues, I unfortunately had to skip some of the more complicated theoretical issues.  The shiur and sources are available here.  The second shiur is available here.  Summary to follow.

The importance of this topic can be seen in another way.  Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Chayes, the Mahartz Chayes, in his Torat Neviim explains why he wrote a book dedicated to this topic.  To this he responded that he was living in an age (the early years of the Reform Movement), when there were movements that were uprooting the Torah in the name of modernity.  He wanted to explain what circumstances warranted akirat davar min haTorah and reflected commitment to the system as a whole, and what circumstances showed rebellion.  Understanding this topic sheds light on the cognate topic mentioned above – when is trying to push the halachic system to its limits legitimate pesikah bishaat hadechak (here and following posts), and when is it rebellion, an attempt to jettison the word of God for other values.  Continue reading Akirat Davar Min HaTorah Part 1 (Halachic Methodology 18)

Balancing Education, Rebuke, and the Fear of Causing Estrangement

Rabbi Daniel Mann just posted a very sensitive teshuva (here) about a secular Jew whose religious relatives are worried that the more he learns about Judaism, the more likely he will lose his tinok shenishba status and become a Rasha.  I encourage reading his teshuva.  One point that jumps out at me is the inherent tension created by the obligation to educate (or rebuke).  By educating, we provide opportunities for religious growth, but at the same time, we remove the excuse of ignorance from those students who choose to willfully ignore what we teach.  At face value, this flies in the face of the principle mutav sheyiyhu shogegin, it is better that willful sinners remain accidental sinners, a principle that under certain circumstances allows us to refrain from rebuking.  However, it is clear that cannot be the case.  As a community, our goal is to educate and improve the members of our community.  We cannot be held hostage by the possibility that people will choose, despite knowing what is right, to do what is wrong.  Mutav Sheyiyhu Shogegin by definition must therefore be limited. Continue reading Balancing Education, Rebuke, and the Fear of Causing Estrangement

The Slippery Slope Part 2

Thanks to everyone for the feedback on yesterday’s post, which requires a follow-up.  R.  David Wolkenfeld pointed out that R. Yuval Sherlow wrote a piece on the parameters of “The Slippery Slope Argument” (available: here) that makes significant additions to my discussion.   I will try to summarize some of the issues that he raises.

He notes that when deciding whether to make a Slippery Slope Argument, the rules that Chazal set up try to take into account:

1) The likelihood that the sin will be transgressed if fences are not put up.

2) How negative the sin being protected is.

3) Taken together, we then have to determine the cost of setting up the fences.  Meaning, considering how likely it would be for the sin to be transgressed and how bad that would be, we have to consider whether the particular fences being proposed are worth it.  This is true on two levels – too much stringency may make Halacha unbearable and cause people to give up on this Halacha entirely or it might otherwise negatively affect the people involved to an egregious degree.

He compellingly brings several Halachic principles to bear on each of these issues.  I will mention his categories and some main points he makes on them (with some of my own).  Please see his article for more details.

1)      אין גוזרין גזרה על הציבור אלא אם כן רוב הציבור יכול לעמוד בו – we don’t set up a decree if the majority of the community can’t handle it, and in fact, it automatically becomes nullified.

  1. This indicates that if the cost on quality of life is so high that people can’t handle it, the safeguard is illegitimate.

2)      אין גוזרין גזרה לגזרה – we don’t set up safeguards to safeguards.

  1. While this principle is often circumvented, it principle it highlights a few things:

i.      The safeguards are not worth protecting, or in other words, we don’t want to make everything assur just to set up infinite protection for actual issurim.

ii.      If the possible result is several steps removed, the chance is considered low that the negative result we really fear will come about, so we don’t expand the prohibition (my addition).

iii.      If the danger is real, this rule can be circumvented, either by declaring that really we are dealing with one expansive gzeriah, or by saying that in certain cases we are allowed to set up multiple levels of chumrot.  The danger can we significant either because the sin we want to prevent is very serious, or because it is very common (quantity/quality of the sin).

  1. For example, the Kesef Mishna claims that by Niddah we can set up gzeirot l’gzeirot.  Similarly, the Ramban and others say this is what is happening by all the levels of issur set up to prevent intermarriage.

3)      Chazal don’t set up gzeirot for issurim which are not common

  1. This indicates that if the chances the issur will be violated are not significant enough, we cannot justify setting up new issurim.

4)      If we have an alternative method that doesn’t hurt those who would be hurt by the new issur, we choose that one.

5)      The kulot we employ because of hefsed merubeh, or the cases when we choose not to set up chumrot because of hefsed merubeh, indicate we try to avoid the cost when it is too high.

R. Sherlow notes, however, that figuring out when the cost is too high is difficult, and thus it is hard to always judge accurately.

A few other points that I have been thinking about, mostly in response to some very insightful questions by Deborah Klapper:

  • Admittedly, any slippery slope argument makes assumptions about what most people will end up doing if a safeguard is not set up.  This means that there can be people who will face prohibitions that they don’t need.  This is the hard reality of legal systems.  However, it is something that must be taken into account when setting up a fence – is it worth inhibiting those people who could have avoided the real problem without the safeguard, and whose lives are therefore more difficult?
  • When we talk about arguments such as those of R. Moshe Feinstein – those that are both fundamental and slippery slope, we have an added problem.  To take his case, I assume he did not think that every woman who wanted more opportunities was attacking Torah – he just thought a high enough percentage of women had problematic attitudes that he had to oppose the practices that encouraged those attitudes.  This will obviously be difficult for those women who are sincere, making it important for the posek to weigh his decision more carefully and be really careful about how he phrases his decision.
  • Poskim make mistakes in assessing metziut.  One need only look at the debates as to whether a number of given fruit are infested with bugs are bug-free to know that even on relatively innocuous questions the realia is hard to assess.  Kal VaChomer when it comes to predicting the future or correctly reading people’s minds.
  • A posek has a choice whether to make a local decision or a global one, and the complexity of the above issues should factor into which he makes.
  • A posek also has a choice as to make a decision at all or just to set up guidelines.  For example, some poskim, when ruling on a medical decision will consult with doctors, make an assessment of the reality, and then poskan.  Others will present the patient and/or doctor with the halachic parameters and allow them to make the decision as they understand the reality.  The same options exist when it comes to these issues.  However, when making community wide decisions, a posek may have no choice but to make up his mind about the reality as well.
  • With all of the above, I don’t know what to say if one thinks the reality has been read wrong.   I really don’t know what to say so I won’t presume to guess.  And yes, I am evading relating to the Gemara that R. Klapper thinks is the most dangerous to the notion of psak.

I understand that these issues and not just theoretical but very practical.  For that reason, I am even more careful not to say anything definitive, but rather to try to understand the factors the best I can.  Thanks for the feedback and the opportunity to sharpen my thoughts.  I am still in the process of formulating my opinions.

The Slippery Slope Argument… (Halachic Methodology 17)

One of my chavrusas asked me whether I thought the “Slippery Slope Argument” was a legitimate one in Halachic discourse.  I answered in the affirmative and this shiur was my attempt to weigh in on why that is.  Considering the frequency of this type of argument in modern discourse, against my will, this is a sort of foray into Jewish politics.  I hope everyone will forgive me.  The shiur and sources are available here.    In this shiur it is important to read the sources as I purposely did not directly address many of them.  I provided a framework, and then some reading material from the last few weeks that I thought was relevant.

First, a definition is in order.  The “Slippery Slope Argument” asserts that X is problematic because it will lead to Y.  In its fallacious form, it asserts that X will inevitably lead to Y, without explaining all the intermediate steps.  However, if one successfully shows how X leads to Y, it is a valid argument.  Alternatively, and this is more relevant for our discussion, one can claim that X could or is likely to lead to Y, and as a precaution X should be avoided.  Some have claimed that any form of the argument fails because it relies on consequentialist rather than inherent moral objections, but as we will discuss, I think Halacha does not object to such arguments.  In fact, pragmatism would dictate that it is legitimate to oppose things on practical rather than fundamental grounds.

Chazal definitely saw it as legitimate to set up fences to prevent potential Halachic problems.  This in fact is one of the opening statements in Pirkei Avos – “Make a fence around the Torah.”  In the Gemara, this is also described as Asu Mishmeres LeMishmarti – safeguard my laws.  Many sources are provided throughout Chazal, and several are included in the source sheet.  R. Yonah, and many others who follow him, argue that at some level, these fences are greater expression of yirah than the mitzvos themselves, as one shows he is not even willing to come close to sin.  The Magen Avos notes that every generation can set up their own decrees to protect the Torah.  The Rambam in fact rules that any takanah or even minhag set up to protect the Torah is binding under לא תסור, the general obligation to listen to rabbinic authority.

However, there is a danger.  In Avos D’Rabbi Nosson, and in the Midrash, it records that Adam told Chavah that Hashem forbade touching the Eitz HaDaas, when he had only forbidden eating from it.  This allowed the snake to trick her – showing her that touching the tree did not cause death, he claimed that eating from it would also be fine.  The Midrash notes the lesson:  don’t let the ancillary concern be conflated with the real one.  In other words, when you set up a fence, make sure you don’t pretend it is fundamentally problematic.  That will cause a devaluation of that which is really important.   Avos D’Rabbi Nosson even uses this example as its paradigm of a syag, presumably to highlight the dangers of exaggerating the problems of syagim through irony.

The Rambam thought this type of deception was a violation of the prohibition to add to the Torah.  He argues that the rabbis can make decrees, and what distinguishes that from lo tosif is that they are clear to distinguish between rabbinic and biblical laws.

However, there is another perspective.  The Maharil suggests that an asmachta, a possuk provided to substantiate a rabbinic law, is actually meant to cause this type of unclarity, thereby protecting the rabbinic law from being undervalued.  At some level, this perspective makes sense – conflating the different levels will cause those who are only scrupulous for more stringent laws to keep even the syagim, ensuring they never approach the biblical law itself.  However, as shown above, it also causes problems.

These two perspectives came to a fore during the schismatic battles in the nineteenth century.  In response to the Enlightenment and Reform, two general approaches developed (forgive the overgeneralization).  The German school sought to modernize where it was legitimate to show that Halacha could engage modernity, but shows the limits.  The Hungarian approach, with the Chasam Sofer at the head, fought to commit with even greater tenacity to every part of tradition.  As part of this approach, he encouraged protecting every minhag as if it were a full-fledged law, and often found creative ways of explaining why this was so.  Some of his more radical students eventually took this to an extreme, issuing the “Pesak Din of Michalowce” in which they argued that most of the innovations by the orthodox in Germany were forbidden according to the letter of law.  This went too far for even then to-be-leader of Hungarian Jewry, the Maharam Schik.  He argued that to defend minhag was correct, but pretending it was Halacha was a violation of bal tosif as the Rambam formulated it.  Michael Silber has written a fascinating article on this time period, part of which is included in the sources.

Thus, you see the two perspectives coming out in practice – when the tradition is under attack, is it then legitimate to blur all lines between custom and law, or does one still have to maintain honesty and defend the legitimacy of custom and law on their own terms.  Suffice it to say, much of the arguments in our community center around this debate, ודי לחכימא ברמיזא.

Coming back to the general issue- what types things can be prohibited because of the slippery slope?  Obviously, there are local prohibitions that can be instituted – forbidding chicken and milk so that one does not eat meat and milk.  However, there are other things.  Rashba argues that when you see a weak generation who looks for leniencies, one should not go out of his way to be lenient.  This is a general approach which acts as a fence – when observance is lax, don’t be dishonest, but have a proclivity to be stringent.  Rabbi Dr. Judah Goldberg notes that the Gemara encourages poskim not to be lenient on too many things, even if they think they are all permitted.  Having a posek who is seen as always lenient itself leads to the weakening of halachic commitment and respect for Halacha.  The Gemara also forbids permitting things to those who treat them as assur (because of minhag).  All these stress that we don’t only set up local fences – but we try to create an atmosphere that protects the Torah.

A modern contention that was championed by R. Moshe Feinstein is that we should not allow people to engage in actions that could be neutral or even positive if the intentions are bad and belie a problematic attitude towards Halacha.  R. Moshe therefore opposed innovations that were driven (solely?) by feminism because it (often?) stems from a conviction that Hashem/Chazal were flawed/misogynistic, etc.   This argument is a combination of a fundamental and slippery slope argument.  The fact that it could lead to the collapse of Halacha indicates that the attitude is inherently problematic and should not be allowed to instantiate itself in action ever.  R. Schachter in many of his pesakim has followed this approach of R. Moshe.

There are technical problems that have often been raised to the above claim, such as people should not judge the intention of others.  However, I think that poskim have no choice.  One may disagree with their understanding of the reality, but there is no escaping the fact that psak includes making calls about realia, including the psychology of the community.  If they do make the choice to make that call, one should realize that their arguments are serious, and at some level, more important to them and the community than local arguments.  In my sources I include brief citation from R. Henkin and R. David Wolkenfeld’s comment on it.  You will see that many of the issues mentioned above are relevant to understand what drives them.  The same can be said of the psak of R. Schachter and the reaction of R. Katz that I include.

I think Joel Rich really summed up many of the issues in his comments:

There are many things in my understanding that are not 100%assur but varying shades of grey. As avi mori vrabbi zll”hh would often say, “Just because something is permitted doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.” I think the whole guf naki thing is a red herring. The meta question is who will make the call for which community. I don’t know how history will paskin, but I have a greater understanding of how early observers of Chassidus and Conservative Jewry must have wondered how the scales would tip.

The questions being dealt with are 1) When is it legitimate to ban things that might be technically mutar?  2) Who gets to make the calls on when it is time to make those bans?  3) When the bans are issued, how can one have to frame them – as slippery slope arguments of varying sorts, or technical halachic issues?

One last point – even if it were once legitimate to conflate different levels of problems, in an age where anyone can look up the issues online, on Bar Ilan, and the like, I just don’t think it is a good idea.   People will figure out if you’re trying to trick them.  If you think it is assur, explain why.  Don’t use a smokescreen if the argument you want to make is really a form of the slippery slope argument.   It’s a good argument – you just need to explain why.  I may have already said too much, so I’m going to stop there.

Chillul Hashem as a Factor in Psak (Halachic Methodology 15)

Most of what I have to say on this topic comes from R. Yaakov Charlop’s article in Techumin 25 on the topic, though I’ve added a few sources here and there.  The shiur is available here.

First, it is clear that the categories of Kiddush Hashem and Chillul Hashem are very important.   As the Gemara highlights at the end of Yoma, causing a Chillul Hashem is considered a sin in a class of its own, which either requires death to achieve atonement (Rambam), or death cannot offer atonement and the sinner loses his portion in the world to come (R. Yonah).  R. Yonah explains that as all creatures are created to bring glory to God, desecrating his name undermines a person’s reason for existence.  Continue reading Chillul Hashem as a Factor in Psak (Halachic Methodology 15)

The Bar Ilan Responsa Project and Poskim Part 2

Several months ago I discussed several Halachic issues that were affected by the abundance of sefarim, search engines of Halachic texts, articles, and other resources that make it easier to accumulate a vast amount of information very quickly (here).  Specifically, I noted the suggestion that originated with the Ri that the Halacha of moreh halacha bifnei rabo was mitigated when our primary teachers are sefarim.  I realize I did not mention the flip side.  The Shevus Yaakov and Peri Megadim, both cited in Pischei Teshuva, argue that as our teachers are sefarim, it is irresponsible to poskan without first checking in books, even if one knows the answer.  This a helpful corrective to that position, not mentioning the opposing view of the Aruch Hashulchan that I mentioned then.  Continue reading The Bar Ilan Responsa Project and Poskim Part 2