Monday, March 24, 2008

Do Kabbalists Have A Chelek In Olam Haba?

My answer is that I don't really care. Well, that is not so true. I care in the sense that they are fellow Jews, and would not want them to lose out on their portion of their world to come.

Rather, what I mean is that such a discussion is orthogonal to what I was discussing in posts like this previous post.

This rambles a bit, but bear with me, if you want to.

An anonymous commentator (oh, how I wish they would at least choose pseudonyms!) on my translations of Shadal's Vikuach asked on Shadal in general -- how could we possibly say that kabbalah is false and/or avodah zarah, if so many great rabbonim throughout the ages subscribed to it? To say so would be to say that they were not so great.

One answer (of many) is that truth is truth, regardless of the repercussions. That question perhaps reflects an emotional rather than rational reaction, and should not hold much sway. Of course, it does hold sway for us Orthodox Jews, anyway, for it ties this question to the more general status of the masorah, "Daas Torah," and so on and so forth. Perhaps there is just to much invested to question the status of the kabbalah. Or perhaps, there is indeed so much invested, and so we should discard not just kabbalah but all the rest as well.

But that question might not be the emotional reaction I cast it as above. Rather, to flip the question around -- we know how great a scholar the Gra was. He was a much bigger genius than me. And the same goes for Ramban, and for Rav Yosef Karo. They were unquestionably really really smart and skilled people, in disciplines we respect and appreciate. Yet they were all kabbalists. If we say that kabbalists were foolish, then these people must have been foolish as well. But we know that this is not the case! Therefore, our initial assumption must have been wrong. And thus we have a proof by contradiction for the authenticity of the kabbalah.

It was to these two facets of this question that I addressed this previous post. It was by way of mashal that I brought the gemara about king Menashe, not to say that they are entirely identical. While there are points of similarity, we should consider the points of similarity, and where and how they are similar and different.

The point I attempted to make in the previous post was as follows: People can be great, yet constrained by the sociology and / or intellectual climate of their time. That was the point of the gemara, I think, and the point of Rav Ashi's dream conversation with King Menashe. Of course King Menashe did something that was wrong. Rabbi Abahu sets this out beforehand, that 'Did they abandon [their evil course], that I should abandon [my habit of lecturing upon them]?' And even after Rav Ashi has this dream, he does not say that he will not lecture about them. Rather, he will lecture about them, but refer to them as "our teachers" rather than "our colleagues."

Depending on who you ask in the gemara, these kings did or did not have a portion in the world to come. But that is not the point I am trying to bring out, or that I think Rav Ashi was trying to bring out. Rather, it is that there were certain social influences, and it is not correct to casually dismiss them. There were indeed certain aspects of them that were positive, and furthermore, we do not know how we would react if cast into the same situation, so don't be so smug.

I don't think this is just the frummie position of making everyone in Tanach operate on a much higher plane than we operate on, but rather a peshat position on Tanach that comes out of unbiased reading. Achav is not just a bad guy. He had different religious beliefs. When you have one cult of worship and another one, how do you make a decision? Achav gives Eliyahu mussar about causing the famine. It is hard to understand him, but as a historical figure, he was human. And most humans want to think of themselves as good. The fact is, there was a whole social dynamic that we do not think of, because it is so difficult to cast ourselves into their days.

That is not to say that ultimately Achav, or Menashe, was not wrong, or deserving of Divine punishment, or were deprived of their portion in the world to come. Frankly, that is up to God, not up to me. And it is beside the point for the present discussion. It would be relevant were I learning through that perek in Sanhedrin, perhaps.

To transfer this over to the question of the kabbalists, we could use this mashal to answer those two questions, as posed.

Let us say the kabbalists were wrong. (Yes, I know the second anonymous questioner -- Dovi -- asked about idolatry, but let us push that off for now.) Let us say the kabbalists were wrong in their conception of God, and kabbalah is a forgery, or nonsense and a waste of time. Does saying that mean that we should consider them no longer great?

No. People are bound by their time. If there was a great philosopher who also wasted a lot of time engaging in alchemy, or in astrology, both sciences of the time, that does not mean that I regard all his other contributions as valueless!

Similarly, kabbalists were also great poskim, biblical commentators, ethicists, righteous people, and so on and so forth. Even if I consider their efforts in one realm to be nonsense, this need not devalue their contributions in other realms. And the fact that they did not recognize the realm of kabbalah to be nonsense or a forgery does not mean that they were not brilliant in other realms. There is the social and intellectual climate which influences things like this.

Aristotle was great, even though he believed in spontaneous generation. Isaac Newton was a great scientist and committed Christian, though I think he was wrong about Christianity. And modern scientists, even atheists, consider him a great scientist, even though they would say that he was influenced by his time and culture in this aspect.

Similarly, the few rishonim, contemporaries of Rambam, who thought that God could assume corporeal form, may have been mistaken in these beliefs. And they may even be heretics, if we follow the Rambam in this matter. And the same if we say that Rav Yaakov Emden was right about Rav Yonasan Eibeshitz being a closet Sabbatean. This does not negate his Torah insights. And if he was a closet Sabbatean, is was not out of avarice, malice, selfishness, etcetera, but rather because he thought that this was the correct and righteous path.

I think this answers the two questions I had set out to respond to. Namely, don't despair! for the greats were still greats in the areas in which you look to them most. And there is no proof by contradiction either, for we all are prisoners of our times and culture.

This is separate from the questions raised by Dovi, mentioned above. And this is where I attempt to address him.

We are different people, and what I describe are my own perspectives, and so it is quite possible that I will not convince you. That is fine. I just will delineate some of my own perspectives on the issues.

First, as I mentioned above, my concern is not who gets what in Olam haBa. That is God's concern, not my concern.

Second, my concern is even more surely not with who gets Olam haBa in the distant past. My concern is more with the here and now, and what people nowadays believe and practice.

"Can't this issue make a person evil? Like it did Achav?"
"can't this error turn them into reshaim?"

One difference of course is that Achav at least had an Eliyahu haNavi telling him he was wrong, with messages from God, and with miracles. For kabbalists through the ages, kabbalah was the tradition, taught from their teachers, and was the only game in town.

Furthermore, there is a difference between meizid, which Achav was (because of whatever social influences, etcetera, he still acted wrong bemeizid) on the one hand, and shogeg on the other. And this is less than shogeg. There is not the slightest negligence at play here. Their position is what would be arrived at by righteous, good, diligent people, who were schooled in this teaching. And it was pervasive. Even non-kabbalists simply did not engage in kabbalah, rather than thinking and trying to prove it wrong.
"If you have on the one hand someone who knows very little torah but doesn't believe in zohar and kabbalah, can't a good argument be made that he is much better than a godol who is a baki in shas and poskim but believes in kabbalah which might be avodah zorah and cause a distortion in the halachah and hashkafah as passed down from chazal?"

Are we trying to determine schar veOnesh here? What do you mean by "better?" I am not really concerned with that, or in weighing the value of one holy Jew against another, but more about how people should conduct themselves, and who and what to follow.

In terms of halacha at the least, it is a common practice to document, document, document. We know sources for many, many things. And so we know in many cases where there are kabbalistic influences. When paskening, the role of the posek is to look at all the sources all the way back the the Mishna and Gemara, see how it developed, and see what he thinks is correct. And the interaction between straightforward halacha and kabbalah is an interesting and variegated one -- one which has been dealt with in different ways, and one which I hope to address in a later post. This is an area which concerns me most, I think. I agree with you that in many ways, it is indeed a different Judaism, in terms of halacha and hashkafa, then that of Abaye and Rava.

But to attempt to answer your question, though it is not really my concern, I think:

Do you really know what is avodah zarah, and what is just nonsense?

The Zohar caused the addition of rabbosai mir vellen bentchen at the beginning of mezuman, which I argue against in this post about the proper nusach of mezuman. This is based on an assertion that every davar shebikdusha requires a hazmaza. If I say, based on Pri Megadim, that this is not so, then all we do is add something unnecessary. But is it avodah zarah? No.

If some rabbi holds false beliefs about the nature of God, does that make him a sinner? It might not be so bad if he happens to belief that there are Sefirot, but does not offer sacrifices on an altar to each of the Ten Sefirot, or if he does not pray to specific Sefirot, but rather just to Hashem.

(That said, there are people who know very little Torah but think God has a body, for how else could he put on tefillin.)

For most nowadays, it is a matter of learning chassidus, getting mussar from it, getting inspired by it. (Even Shadal, in his addendum, speaks about these benefits of kabbalah and the way people use it, such that it might not be worthy making this whole hullabaloo.) But not all the beliefs in there are avodah zarah, even if they are incorrect. And even if certain beliefs are idolatrous, that does mean that kabbalists, or gedolim who happen to study some or much kabbalah, are actively engaging in idolatry.

If so, we should certainly correct the errors and get a truer understanding of hashkafa and halacha. And my further concern is kabbalistic beliefs are the basis for still other beliefs which extend them, which cannot be effectively challenged so long as those challenged can appeal to kabbalah. But sins, and schar veOnesh, and weighing their value as people, we need not get into it.

{Update: And just to be clear, I do think they have a chelek in Olam haBa.}

I hope this clarified the context of my initial remarks, and expands upon my thought in the matter you raised.


Anonymous said...

Hi Josh,

Thanks for taking the time to write this post.

I think it depends on how bad kabbalah is.

If kabbalah is a minor issue (only causes a minor non-pervasive bad effect on halachah and hashkafah) then it will have only a minor effect on a person's Avodas Hashem, and will only have a minor bad effect on that persons greatness, however, if kabbalah is a major issue and therefore causes a major pervasive bad effect on their Avodas Hashem then perhaps it can outweigh their other good deeds.

It seems that you are of the opinion that kabbalah does not cause an extreme pervasive distortion of halachah and hashkafah.

However, it seems to me that kabbalah has directly and indirectly caused a major change for the worse.

I will expand further.

Ko tuv,


Anonymous said...

In your post you mention something to the effect that many of the kabbalists are sincere people trying to serve Hashem.

I am not sure why that would change anything.

As the expression goes "nebach an apikoris is also and apikoris".

Also, in every religion there are many sincere well meaning people who all they want is to serve g-d with all their heart. However, that surely does not make them great people. I am sure that in ancient times there were many Ovdei Avodah Zorah who were very sincere and well meaning.

Kol tuv,

Anonymous said...

In regard to the fact that many brilliant people believe in kabbalah,
it should also be kept in mind that there are brilliant people who believe in other religions - even in religions which I think are clearly false - like the mormon religion.

It is true that the Gra was a real genius and believed in kabbalah.
However, I think that if the Gra was born into a christian family he would have been one of the greatest christian scholars. And if he would have been born ino a mormon famil, he would probably have been a mormon scholar. (Yes, I am aware that mormonism was founded in the 1800's, but you get the idea).

Either way, their are many geniuses who believe in other religions.

People are not computers - we all have biases.


joshwaxman said...

simply because "rasha" and "evil" are loaded terms that imply malice on their part.

And they are great people regardless of their kabbalistic accomplishments.

I sincerely *hope* Hashem looks at the overall picture when judging in individual. Christians would condemn Avraham Avinu to limbo because he lived before it was possible to accept Jesus as a personal savior. We recognize that there is a place for chassidei umos haOlam in Olam haBa. I would imagine this would be the case certainly for *all* of the righteous Jews of many past generations, even if they were misled into error due to circumstances beyond their control.

People have suggested similar though not identical things for the Rambam's ikkarei emuna -- that before the Rambam, people held various things, and it was permissible to them to hold it as such. But later it took on a status of denying ikkarei emunah.

At any rate, what do you hope to *accomplish* by declaring all these people reshaim?

Also something else to realize: you and I are *also* bound by historic circumstances, and are bound in terms of how we think by social and intellectual influences. We do not necessarily *recognize* these bounds, but I am sure they are there, just as they were there for all generations in the past. Hopefully, future generations will not be swift to condemn us for our own limitations.

Kol Tuv,

Anonymous said...

Hi Josh,

I agree that I was too rash in implying that all kabbalists don't have a chelek in Olam Haba. I think that I got too excited because this subject is very important to me. I definitely believe that people like the Vilna Gaon have a portion in Olam Haba.

In addition, as you mentioned our discussion shouldn't be which people do or don't merit Olam Haba - that is something for Hashem to decide. And I hope they merit it because I am a compassionate person.

However, my question is, assuming kabbalah is false and causes a distortion of halachah and hashkafah, do you think that it is very important for klal yisroel to abandon it or just of minor importance?

In other words, do you think that the kabbalah problem is of minor or major importance.

Kol tuv,


Anonymous said...

The gemara (Chullin 13b) says that outside eretz yisrael there are no real idolaters, just people who stick with their ancestors' customs. While that's a rather difficult gemara to take at face value, it certainly provides room for judging people favorably despite mistaken beliefs.

I was the anonymous commenter, and in fact i have posted various anonymous comments on this blog for a long time (but probably a minority of all the anonymous comments). Entering a name means that my argument is associated with all the other arguments that name has ever advanced. I would rather have each argument be judged solely on its own merits. Of course this is an unfair playing field since you don't have that privilege, sorry. I guess I could choose a drastically different pseudonym every time, but that would take effort... maybe I will from now on.

Anyway, I'm curious as to how you understand the concept of "emunat hachamim", and whether it is relevant to our kabbalah discussion. (I am not totally sure how I understand it. I think R' Rabinovitch's article on the subject in Hakirah is insufficient, at least in terms of what I was looking for.)

joshwaxman said...

anony mouse:

thanks. and you are right, emunas chachamim and however one understands it, most likely has an impact here.

I admit not being a baki in the possible meanings of the term. Perhaps I will read Rabbi Rabinovitch's article.

In general, where this is raised, I refer to Rav Schachter's definition, here, specifically in the last three paragraphs, and particularly:
"Yes, indeed, emunas chachomim is a very fundamental principle in our faith: we believe Hakadosh Baruch Hu will give divine assistance to an honest and deserving talmid chochom that he should be above his personal negios in issuing a psak; he will not have an agenda. But it doesn’t mean that we should believe in nonsense."

It is a worthwhile article to read, and discusses infallibility, par heelem davar, and emunas chachamim. There are also other links to other articles in which he discusses emunas chachamim.

I'll have to get back to you on that. Al regel achas, I do think it is important, but I also think that "the scandal of Orthodox indifference" bezman hazeh is a reality at the least and quite possibly a positive thing. Fomenting machlokes would be fomenting machlokes, and would likely not even accomplish anything. Better to understand and make oneself sure of one's own position, and be able to present it, and people who will be convinced will be convinced, and those who won't won't. And I also think that *even* stripping away kabbalistic influence will not get you to the halacha and hashkafa of the Talmud. There is also mechkar, among other things.

joshwaxman said...

anony mouse:

also see this quote:
"There are individuals who consider themselves Orthodox who believe that at one time the Jewish people did have a Divine Torah, but the amoraim misunderstood the tannaim, the rishonim misunderstood the Talmud, and the achronim misunderstood the rishonim. “But don’t get me wrong,” they would say “– I’m Orthodox! And therefore I feel that the laws of the Shulchan Aruch are all binding, even though I think everything is in error.” This is not the Orthodox position. If one is really convinced that a certain psak is really in error, he is not permitted to follow it."

"We believe that G-d protects His Torah from errors. Any mistakes made over the years by poskim, will ultimately be corrected. The psak of the rabbis is binding because we have the right to assume that G-d has behind the scenes “revealed His secrets to those who fear him.”"

but of course see both these in context, where it assumes a wholly different flavor.

Kol Tuv,

Anonymous said...

Hi Josh and anony mouse,

Thanks for your thoughts.
I will read the Hakirah article.

Kol Tuv,


Anonymous said...

I have to say, I don't understand R' Schechter.

On one hand, in the links you provide, he make a bunch of statements about the need for intellectual honesty and common sense and accepting the most reasonable explanation as true. "Our Torah is a Toras emes: it corresponds to reality, and does not contradict it!"

On another hand, "There are individuals who consider themselves Orthodox who believe that ... the amoraim misunderstood the tannaim ... This is not the Orthodox position. If one is really convinced that a certain psak is really in error, he is not permitted to follow it." This last practical recommendation I find shocking - if you were to become convinced that the Tzedokim were right, would you start celebrating Shavuot only on Sundays? Beyond that, it seems to contradict his other statements. If the most reasonable interpretation of a sugya is that the achronim misunderstood the rishonim, shouldn't you go with that instead of with the "dochak" explanation that is needed to preserve the achronim's honor? Or do we assume blindly that this situation will never arise?

On a third hand, "G-d protects His Torah from errors. Any mistakes made over the years by poskim, will ultimately be corrected." Here R' Schecter seems to be reversing himself again, saying that poskim *can* make mistakes, so the achronim can be wrong about the rishonim after all! He could have said that any mistakes *you and I* make will ultimately be corrected. That would have represented a quite defensible argument for intellectual humility. But no, he chose to accept that our mesorah does include mistakes, but they will somehow be corrected in the future (and the likely interpretations of how and why this occurs would seem to be big chiddushim).

I am left without a way to reconcile R' Schecter's statements.

BTW, I thought of a more malicious reason for my not choosing a pseudonym. Normally, when thinking of what to write, I ask myself whether it's true, and if not I have to look for something else to say. That's normal thinking process. But I've caught myself doing something much worse: after realizing that something seems dubious and probably false, asking myself whether I can get away with saying it anyway and perhaps winning the argument with it. Were it traceable back to me, personal accountability would remove the temptation for such tricks. Hmm, perhaps something to think about next time.

joshwaxman said...

When this quote was first posted on Hirhurim, it was *cast* as a response to academic Talmud study, and without the all important footnote on the bottom:
"It goes without saying that when evaluating a psak, one must factor in any discrepancy between his own knowledge and qualifications vs. those of the posek espousing the psak in question, and what such a discrepancy may indicate regarding which person is the one who is in error."

Rabbi Gil Student was away at the time, and the comments got somewhat nasty, so Gil refreshed the comment thread. (though I saved a copy for myself for historical purposes.) Even so, there are more than 200 comments in that comment thread at present, discussing this quote.

I cannot speak for Rav Schachter, so you would really have to question him about this in person.

This was a summary of an actual shiur, and he probably said more. But I don't think this is a contradiction.

One can cast it either as:
1) the Orthodox position is that we do things because they are right, *not* because the rabbis say it is right + we must listen to the rabbis; + as a separate fact, the psak halacha as we have it is right. In other words, talking in theory about counterfactuals.

2) If we find something is wrong, we should not heed it, because Torah is truth.

To consider the ambidextrous paradox you presented, I don't think it needs to be contradictory.

Thus, "Our Torah is a Toras emes: it corresponds to reality, and does not contradict it!" That is, our Torah *must* correspond to reality; if it does not, then you are not keeping the Torah and being Orthodox by keeping what you you think to be false. The second hand and the third hand are saying exactly the same thing.

Thus, when you write "Beyond that, it seems to contradict his other statements. If the most reasonable interpretation of a sugya is that the achronim misunderstood the rishonim, shouldn't you go with that instead of with the "dochak" explanation that is needed to preserve the achronim's honor? Or do we assume blindly that this situation will never arise?"
I wonder where exactly Rav Schachter suggested otherwise.

But of course with the caveat of footnote 2.

joshwaxman said...

In terms of Tzedukkim, Rav Schachter did not mention them, but I understand that you are raising them as way of argument via reductio ad absurdum. You would have to ask Rav Schachter himself to clarify.

But one answer might be that the Tannaim did not say what they said misvara. They were relating a lot as an Oral Law, which stands beside Written Law. And of course such Oral Law exists. The Amoraim, Rishonim, Acharonim, attempted to understand misvara the particulars of the meanings of people in the generations before them. The Tzedukkim denied the existence of Oral Law entirely, and went directly to the pesukim. And that might thus be something of a different sort entirely.

But without considering course of action, I wonder whether a person can be truly Ortho*dox* if he believes the Sadducees were entirely correct, but that he is listening to the Rabbis anyway. I don't know.

Please excuse me for answering all this off-the-cuff. I'm very busy today.

joshwaxman said...

I was feeling pretty tired when writing the previous two comments, so I think they are more random and askew than usual.

What I was basically trying to say was:

1) in terms of emunas chachamim, Rav Schachter gave a definition which would not conflict with the topic of this post.

2) in the separate issue of "the Orthodox position," I might categorize it as follows (though of course one would have to ask Rav Schachter):

i) The Torah is one of truth, so the Orthodox position is not to do it as fiction.

ii) There is Divine guidance, so we have a right to *presume* for the *general* case that the rabbis have it right. That is what he refers to as a "right to assume."

iii) In a *particular* case, if we feel there was some misunderstanding, first have some humility and realize that the odds are that you, rather than they, are making the error.

iv) But after *seriously* considering that possibility, "If one is really convinced that a certain psak is really in error, he is not permitted to follow it."

v) Therefore, the statements are not contradictory. The apparently conflicting statements were said "bedibbur echad."

vi) This obviously could have repercussions in terms of things like academic Talmud, but this was not in fact the topic Rav Schachter was addressing.

3) In terms of my own take, if you have been following the blog, you will see that my own assumptions in terms of mechkar are that the Tannaim had it right and that the Amoraim correctly understood the Tannaim. However, there were post-Talmudic savoraim (/setamaim) who misunderstood the Amoraim. When we *reevaluate* the Amoraim, we see that what seems at time to be a misunderstanding is actually a correct understanding of the Amoraim. The rishonim, or some rishonim, correctly understood the gemara, but that damage was already done at a higher level. And usually no position is taken in terms of Acharonim.

There would be a different evaluation in terms of kabbalistic influence, of course.

Anonymous said...

I have been busy and not had time to reply...

Thank you for clarifying things. R' Schachter as you link to him is much less clear than you are, though I guess we can blame the medium (a bunch of transcribed sichot) for that.

Re iii), you don't need emunah for that. Plenty of secular scholars have made claims that look ridiculous a couple generations later. Anyone in search of truth needs a good degree of humility and caution.

Re iv), this seems to be the important line: if you think there's a mistake, then there's really a mistake.

Re ii), I have no idea what "the general case" means. If you think psak is wrong 49% of the time but not 51%, are you OK? I really wonder if it comes down to percentages, or to vaguer quantifications such as the halachic concept of "miut hamatzui" - or if perhaps it refers to more hashkafic issues, subjective feelings of loyalty and continuity, or something of the like. I think this is exactly where the concept of "emunat hachamim" lies, and as mentioned before I have yet to see it satisfactorily defined.

More pointedly, regarding our original topic: perhaps kabbalah is fundamental enough that attacking it inherently involves attacking "the general case"?

joshwaxman said...

again, I don't know that my understanding accords with the true meaning of Rav Schachter's words, but in terms of (ii), I read this not as a percentage, but rather as a general attitude and assumption in every particular case *until* such is proven wrong in the particular case.

(I would assume, BTW, that Rav Schachter personally holds that the psak is right to five nines at least = 99.999%.)

I don't think this would be where "emunas chachamim" lies, because he defined emunas chachamim as something entirely different -- namely, the belief that in issuing a psak, the rabbi is not being motivated by concerns such as money, or wanting to declare a ger kosher because he himself is a ger, etc. That is, we believe that the chachamim are people of *integrity,* and are evaluating and ruling on the metzius based only on their understanding of their metzius and their understanding of the halacha.

If we have faith in the people that they are acting with integrity, but feel that the halacha they are ruling based on developed incorrectly, this would NOT be a violation of emunas chachamim.

Does attacking kabbalah entail attacking the general case? (Not that it touches on emunas chachamim, as per this definition, but treating the question anyway.) I don't know, but I don't think so. Besides gedolim in various generations that reject this kabbalistic influence, I am not so sure that kabbalah itself influences mainstream psak (as opposed to extra kabbalistic hanhagos) 49% of the time. What is the kabbalistic influence on dofen akuma? (There might be a different issue in thinking that Tosafot is incorrect 49% of the time.) But once again, regardless of the percentages, I don't think this attacks the general case, because we would define the general case as follows:
So many rabbis subscribe to kabbalah. Thus, I would assume (and did assume for many years) that it was authentic. Then, in the particular case, I read arguments against the truth of it (including in Shadal), and was convinced they were wrong about this. But still, my assumption in terms of *other matters,* unless and until proven false in the particular case, is that the chachamim are correct in their assumptions.

But this does not have anything to do with emunas chachamim. I have emunas chachamim still, even in the case of kabbalah. I believe that when Rav Yosef Karo made use of Zohar to determine halacha, he did so in all honesty and integrity, believing that this was a valid source.

Anonymous said...

Your definition of emunat hachamim is based on a reality in which we cannot prove most halachic statements true or not true. What if the state of our knowledge advanced to the point that we could in fact verify that 49% of Tosfots were wrong (if that is/were the case)? How would you/R' Schachter understand E.H. then?

Anonymous said...

Maybe this sentence would have made my point clearer:

"What if the state of our knowledge advanced to the point that we could in fact verify that 49% of Tosfots were wrong and 51% right, or vice versa?"

joshwaxman said...

my definition of emunas chachamim has nothing to do with the truth or falsehood of halachic statements. rather, it has to do with a personality assessment -- whether they were genuine in their attitude or not.

Anonymous said...

I'm not aware of anyone who has suggested that the chachamim were guided by ulterior motives. I mean, some feminists say that the rabbis were biased against women. And I'm sure other groups make similar claims. But even if true, such claims would say nothing about other areas of psak. What does it mean to be genuine and who really thinks the rabbis weren't?

joshwaxman said...

As an example of ulterior motives, see this post on parshablog which points the finger at Akavia ben Mehalalel for accusing Shemaya and Avtalyon, about giving a freed maidservant to drink mei sota. And also perhaps Shimon bar Bo in a joking comment about Rabbi Abahu, about teaching girls Greek.

I suggest there that there is the trend in some parts of academic Talmud study. Also, I suggest implicating the motto of "whether there is rabbinic will, there is a rabbinic way."

For concrete examples, just a year or two ago, FailedMessiah claimed that there was nothing to the copepod issue, but the only reason the rabbis (such as Rav Schachter) were saying it was problematic is that they wanted to drum up business for the kashrus industry, by making every get certification on their water. I'm sure there are, unfortunately, plenty of other examples.


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