Tag Archives: Posek

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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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

Schisms and Lo Tisgodedu (Halachic Methodology 14)

Last week we dealt with the topic of minhag.  We discussed the different types of minhagim, the parameters of when they are binding, and the rationale behind their prominent place in the Halachic system.  This shiur dealt with the other side of that coin – the prohibition of lo tisgodedu (לא תתגודדו).  Chazal derive from the possuk prohibiting cutting oneself in mourning another issur – לא תעשו אגודות אגודות- don’t splinter into different groups.  This prohibition in some circumstances binds people to the practices of the community to prevent them from splitting into factions.  We will not get into the technical issues of how this is derived from the possuk and what its relationship is to the prohibition concerning mourning.  I tried to give a framework to understand the legal and philosophical issues involved in this prohibition. Continue reading Schisms and Lo Tisgodedu (Halachic Methodology 14)

Minhag (Halachic Methodology 13)

Minhag is one of the most complicated issues in Halacha and I did by no stretch of the imagination cover every issue that comes up.  I tried to outline some basic issues, but for the details, you’ll have to look at the sources inside.  Shiur and source available here.

For the other side of the coin, the next shiur was on לא תתגודדו – which binds people to minhag so as not to create divisions within klal yisrael.  I will try to summarize soon.

  1. Types of Minhagim
    1. Source:

i.      Minhag HaMakom

  1. This is the one binding from the perspective of the Gemara (Pesachim Perek Makom Shenahagu)

ii.      Minhag Avot

  1. While the Gemara phrases some minhagim as minhag avot, they seem to really be minhag hamakom.  Continue reading Minhag (Halachic Methodology 13)

God is Concerned about the Jews’ Money (Halachic Methodology 11, Shaat HaDechak 3)

Another classic factor in psak that causes poskim to rely on positions they wouldn’t normally rely on is hefsed  – monetary loss.  Shiur and sources (including many summaries from Encyclopedia Talmudit) are available: here.

That the Torah cares about the economic stability of the Jewish people is clear.  There are two formulations of this that are explicitly connected by the Yerushalmi (and many Rishonim and Achronim).  Specifically, the notion of HaTorah Chasah al Mamonam shel Yisrael, the Torah had pity on the money of the Jews, and the dispensation found throughout Shas in cases of hefsed merubeh, great economic loss.

The former concept explicitly appears in Shas to explain why certain mitzvoth are patterned the way they are.  For example, the Gemara explains that while the Kohen Gadol uses a golden shovel for the ketoret on Yom Kippur, during the rest of the year he uses a silver one, so as not to incur extra expenses for the Jewish people.  The exact parameters of this principle are unclear. Continue reading God is Concerned about the Jews’ Money (Halachic Methodology 11, Shaat HaDechak 3)

Kavod HaBriyot (Halachic Methodology 10, Shaat HaDechak Part 2)

Perhaps one of the most controversial issues in psak today is the nature of Kavod Habriyot and its function in psak.  Shiur and sources (which are important to see inside are available: here).

Before beginning, I offered the following framing for the issue.  It is well known that there are three cardinal sins for which a Jew must forfeit his life; all other sins are pushed aside for the sake of human life.  At first glance, Tosafot and the Chinuch argue about the nature of these laws.  Tosafot argue that intuitively one would know that all mitzvoth can be pushed aside for human life.  The only reason the Torah provides a possuk to allow one to violate a law is so people will not extrapolate from the cardinal sins to all other sins.  In other words – the given is that life is more important than mitzvoth, and one needs to prove otherwise. The Chinuch, on the other hand, when explaining the cardinal sins, writes that a good servant will give up his life for his master, and if we were not willing to do this for God, we would be derelict in our commitments.  In other words, given is that all mitzvoth are cardinal.  By God’s good grace, he does not require us to actually die for mitzvoth.  I have suggested that there is not dispute.  From God’s perspective, he values human life and therefore does not want us to give up our lives for most mitzvoth.  From our perspective, we must be willing to.  In practice, therefore, we rarely are asked to give up our lives, but when we are, we should recognize this is the exception and not the rule from God’s perspective.  [This is fleshed out in my article in Beit Yitzchak 41.]

With regard to Kavod HaBriyot, I suggest a similar model.  Continue reading Kavod HaBriyot (Halachic Methodology 10, Shaat HaDechak Part 2)

Halachic Decision Making in Extenuating Circumstances (Part 1 – Halachic Methodology Part 9)

From my perspective, this is one of the most important topics for understanding the nature of Halacha.  As Rabbi Moshe Taragin says often, to understand Superman you need to understand Kryptonite.  Similarly, understanding the cases under which normal procedures of psak change, i.e. the parameters of psak in shaat hadechak (extenuating circumstances), helps one understand Halacha.  The shiur and sources are available: here.

To begin with, it should be taken as a given that under certain circumstances, we rely on positions that would not be relied upon in general.  This is problematic philosophically, as Divine law should be applied consistently, if one believes that Divine values are incommensurate with human ones.  If Halacha bends nonetheless, this can only be because God has built into the system a level of flexibility because He values things other than strict interpretation of His law.  We will discuss what those values are in future weeks.  This is the subject of much of Mori VeRabi, R. Aharon Lichtenstein’s article: here.

From a philosophical perspective, one might think that the ability to rely on minority positions depends on whether one believes in multiple truths or not (discussed: here and here).  If you do, then rejected opinions are still “true”, and can be pulled out when necessary.  However, Rabbi Michael Rosensweig notes this is not the case (here).  If one believes that there are multiple truths, it is the process of psak that eliminates those as live options.  Once the system has rejected it, it is not obvious is can be relied on, even if it has a kernel of truth.  On the flip side, one might not want to rely on rejected positions if he thinks there is only one truth, as the rejected position is presumably false.  However, one can equally claim that there is a truth but we are bound to emet lehoraah, procedural truth, and just like we don’t worry about reaching the ultimate truth in general, we don’t worry about it beshaat hadechak.  Either way, it is process that allows rejected opinions to remain options when necessary.

As a theoretical structure, Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein suggests that any position one thinks is 100% false is closed no matter what.  In general cases one relies on the position one thinks most likely.  However, when there are external pressures, then one has to make  a decision balancing how unlikely a position is with how strong the external pressure is to rely on it.  Ex. – if one thinks two sides of an issue are 51% and 49% likely, it will take very little pressure to rule like the latter possibility.  If it is 90-10, the pressure has to be very strong.  See his article above.

The Gemara in several places (ex. Niddah 9b) sets the parameters for ruling on rejected positions.  It can only be in a case where “lo itmar hilchata” –the issue is not closed.  What it means for an issue to be closed can mean many things.  At one extreme, it can mean that only things explicitly ruled on in the Talmud are closed, but any position ruled on based on klalei psak, even in the Tanaaim, is open (Or Zarua, Taz).  One can push this farther to the Talmud (Chacham Tzvi), or farther to anything decided by “the poskim” (Chazon Ish’s official position, though in practice his own psak seems to differ from this).

The next issue is to determine what position is legitimate.  Shach says any position ruled by Rov is absolute.  Bach argues.  Presumably, he thinks that rov is only in a case of Sanhedrin (where there is a formal vote).  He may also think that determining rov across generations is impossible because so many positions were never written or were lost (R. Yaakov Emden and R. Yonatan Eibshitz).  Bach, however, thinks that when a great chacham rules against a lesser one, the lesser position is rejected.  Shach argues.  There is a similar discussion concerning the position of a student when his teacher argues.

Shach and Bach also dispute whether these rules only apply by rabbinic laws (Shach, and R. Shachter) or even by biblical ones (Bach and R. Lichtenstein).

We will flesh out the details in future weeks.

I noted that these rules must only be used as exceptions and when the coutner pressures are accidental (we will return to this).  When one posits that a Halacha per se violates a meta-value, or uses these rules for all halachic questions, he shows no consistency or integrity, and that reflects an inauthentic approach to Halacha in general.  We will focus on this next week when we discuss the legitimate and illegitimate uses of kavod habriyot.  This has obviously been the basis of much recent controversy, and my rejection of certain rabbis positions is based on their gross misuse of the principle.

For helpful summaries of some of these issues, see:

  • R. Rosensweig’s article on Eilu V’Eilu
  •  R. Lichtenstein’s article “Mah Enosh”
  •  R. Helfgot’s article in Milin Havivin 4
  • עין יצחק – אות קלז
  • שדי חמד מערכת כ אות קט-קי
  • שעת הדחק כגורם בפסיקת ההלכה- הרב נתנאל הלפגוט
  • כללי הוראה בהלכות מסופקות – הרב אלישע אבינר

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)