Monday, June 16, 2008

Interesting Posts and Articles #44

  1. All the mezuzos stolen off apartment doors. It could well not be a bias crime, but just someone seeing that these expensive religious articles are available for the taking and reselling. On a separate note, remember the midrash in which Avraham argues with the idolator, and asks: "If they cannot defend themselves, how can they defend you?" If mezuzos are to provide shmirah, how can they do so if they cannot even defend against their getting stolen themselves. There may be a valid answer to this.
  2. The influence of non-Jewish maids, at Daas Torah. Though it is from "Jersey Girl," who is generally a bit over the top: par
    I have repeated similar incidents many times over the years. When I meet frum children who I know have been cared for by maids, I converse with them in Spanish (in front of and with the permission of their parents). More often than not, when the young child is spoken to in Spanish, he will repeat parts of the Catechism etc.
  3. Saudi women not revealing their faces even to their husbands. This might not be particularly Muslim practice, but might be a Bedouin custom among some Bedouins.
  4. JewishAnswers discusses how we don't believe in a Divine messiah:
    If you read Isaiah 9:5-6 in the Hebrew text, you get a distinctly different understanding than when you read an English translation in a Christian bible. Read correctly, the text is as follows:
    For a child has been born to us, a son has been given to us; and the government is upon his shoulder; and his name is called, “A wonderful counselor is the mighty God,” “The everlasting father,” “The ruler of peace,” that the government may be increased, and of peace there be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it through justice and through righteousness from henceforth, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts does perform this.
    The implication of this statement is that this particular king is going to bring glory to God. Without writing an entire book on the subject, Rabbinic authorities and historians alike have said that this passage was about king Hezekiah.
  5. Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Frimer reviews Rabbi Dr. Daniel Sperber's book. I did not read Sperber's book, so I cannot really intelligently comment. But to my mind, an important excerpt:
    One was penned by R. Mendel Shapiro[3] who argues that kevod ha-tsibbur is a social concept – and a woman’s general standing in society was lower than men’s. Nowadays when this is no longer true, a community can be mohel on its kavod – voluntarily set aside its honor. He errs, however, since the vast majority of rishonim and aharonim disagree with his analysis.
    How does the fact that the vast majority of rishonim and acharonim disagree with his analysis mean that "he errs?" The question is what Chazal meant when they used the term in the gemara? How does Rabbi Dr. Frimer know that it is not Rabbi Mendel Shapiro who is correct in his assessment, and the "vast majority" who are in error?

    The answer is that precedent, and specifically precedent of interpretation, indeed has an important role in the determining of the halacha (particularly in choshen mishpat). But there is still place for chiddush within the determination of any individual rabbi. Indeed, the only thing which is really binding are the words of the Mishna and Gemara. Anything past Ravina and Rav Ashi is fair game, including interpretations of rishonim. People often do not argue, but that they argue does not automatically put them into a place where they are in error. The sefer Maaneh LeIgros criticized Rav Moshe Feinstein's Igros Moshe for repeatedly deviating from understandings of gemaras as given by various rishonim and acharonim, but the truth is that such chiddush is valid.

    Along these exact lines, Sperber makes a point about the way Chazal make use of a particular phrase:
    Indeed, ke-darko ba-kodesh, Prof. Sperber surveys all the places where it states אבל אמרו חכמים and shows that some cases are merely expressions of the ideal, while others refer to things that are actually assur.
    And Frimer argues that that is not the way Meiri understands it, the way Semag and Rambam understand it, and the way various acharonim understand it. Great! But the question is perhaps a methodological one -- should we care? Perhaps this is a dispute, and we should hold like Sperber because of his demonstration of Chazal's use of this phrase.

    It is possible that Sperber has a line of defense even within this methodology, and can appeal to other Rishonim and acharonim, or reinterpret the ones cited. But this was just one point that struck me.


Eliezer Eisenberg said...

1. Mezuzos: the shemira, such as it is, is from spiritual danger.

5. Dr. Sperber's methodology is a scholarly one, while Rabbi Frimer's is a halachic one. Halacha grows and develops organically, not from the roots, but rather from the branches. If the legal precedent through the generations is clear, then what Ravina and Rav Ashi meant is totally irelevant. The Chazon Ish famously said that the sifrei rishonim found in genizos and Church libraries cannot be cited as primary sources for the same reason: halacha must go through the crucible of time and application. Any other method is intentionally destructive of the stability of the halacha and minhagim.

joshwaxman said...

1. that is a possible teretz, both here and in many other instances. yet it does not work out with some stories and sources, which may cause one to either reject this thesis or reevaluate those stories and sources.

5. I would agree with that characterization, which means that one is not really a critique on the other. Rather, they are using different methodologies, and Dr. Frimer should have been clearer at the outset. Also Chazon Ish's approach is not the only possible one in the halachic realm. I do not have to resort to this, but to quote Rav Schachter, though perhaps one could or could not argue with this application:
"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."

It would seem that he is saying that there is truth to halacha, and we don't follow a Torah we believe to be untrue. Within this approach, following the Chazon Ish to the extent described above would not be the Orthodox position. What Ravina and Rav Ashi meant surely *is* relevant, because it is truth. Ignoring that in favor of some explanation of Rishonim or Acharonim that one believes is in error is not the Orthodox position, according to this.

Kol Tuv,

Eliezer Eisenberg said...

"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.“
That is a perfect description of Dr. Sperber's approach. It also describes the approach of the Meraglim; of course, the land is beautiful, BUT.... Of course, the Torah is true, BUT... the poskim and rishonim and achronim were off the tracks. This is another means of breaching the sense of tradition and consistency in halacha and mesorah.
If the Chazon Ish's approach and Rabbi Shachter's approach are mutually exclusive, then can we guess which one would be more consistent with classical Jewish thought?

joshwaxman said...

Perhaps I will have time to respond at length later, but I don't think you are necessarily correctly understanding Rav Schacter's statement. And Sperber is perhaps only saying one thing -- though I am reluctant to put words into his mouth -- that the rishonim misunderstood the Talmud. And for that, there is precedent on the basis of Ravina and Rav Ashi being sof horaah, for example.

Calling it the position of the meraglim comes close to ad hominem. The Torah is true and *therefore* (not *but*) where there is an error, we have an obligation to rule halacha in accordance with truth. Did the meraglim also come up with the idea of par heelem davar shel tzibbur?

*If* the Chazon Ish's approach and Rabbi Shachter's approach are mutually exclusive, then *both* might be consistent with classic Jewish thought. There is room for machlokes, after all, in attitudes. Or Rav Schacter's position (if that is his position) might be more consistent. *If* he holds this, I can assure you he has firm basis for holding this. This is not the place for frummie gadol-worship. The Chazon Ish's approach might equally well have been a reaction to the threat of overturning all of Shulchan Aruch from by academics.

E.g. I heard in the name of Rav Soleveitchik that the proper way a rav is to decide halacha is to read all gemaras, rishonim, acharonim, etc., and decide what you think is the correct meaning. If your understanding is at odds with the rishonim and acharonim, then you are obligated to read through all the sources again. If you are still convinced you are correct, you have an *obligation* to rule in accordance with what you think is the correct interpretation of the gemara. Of course, this is targeted towards someone who is of a caliber capable of making sure a determination, not your average guy who happened to get semicha, but your true posek.

As another example of precedent of such an approach, the Rambam overturned halacha as established by the geonim (in the laws of modeh bemiktzas, IIRC) on the basis of a 500 year old Talmudic manuscript he discovered.

To determine this, we need to go through thousands of sources, and see whether the methodology, or precedents to the methodology, are acceptable, or required.

At any rate, it is a big dispute, and will in no way be resolved in the comment section of this blog. It is an important dispute to resolve, though, as more and more academic readings come to the fore.

Anonymous said...

I am unaware of any posek (Rav Soloveitchik, Rav Moshe Feinstein, Hazon Ish, Rav Shachter etc.)- indeed any Acharon - who would knowingly disagree with an explicit Rishon, if he doesn't have the support of another Rishon, explicit or through interpretation, to rely on.

joshwaxman said...

ah, but is that as a matter of the bounds of psak on the one hand, or is it a matter of the self-assessment, confidence in the rishonim's position, personal practice of the posek, or a desire to reinterpret quasi-ambiguous rishonim to further buttress one's views and be accepted, on the other hand?

from the above, it would appear that at least on a theoretical level, it is within the bounds of psak. and if it is, then one is not "erring" just because all rishonim and acharonim argue. And from the above, it also appears that if Rav Shachter, or Rav Soleveitchik, *were* really convinced that a position was correct, they would maintain it even if it *were* against all the rishonim.

Bli neder, I will see if I can find any concrete example of an acharon arguing with all rishonim. E.g. if Vilna Gaon ever does this.

Off the cuff, the "best" example I can come up with is how Rav Schachter maintains that one should use Dr. Richard Steiner's nusach of the ketubah, using his corrected Aramaic. This, I think, differs from the nusach of the ketubah as it was thought to be by Acharonim and (I am pretty sure) Rishonim. Though this is admittedly somewhat different, as it is nusach rather than a halachic position.


joshwaxman said...

ps: good concrete examples *might* be found from Vilna Gaon and Shages Aryeh. but bli neder I will see if I can find one.

Anonymous said...

Yes, certainly the Shagas Aryeh and the Pnei Yehoshua argue with rishonim. But with the passage of time, this simply doesn't happen any more. Just as the Ibn Ezra's singular attitude toward Chazal cannot justify a similar approach on our part, the rare cases of achronim arguing with rishonim have no practical relevance.

joshwaxman said...

there seem to be two questions here:

(1) it such arguing legitimate?
(2) do people do it?

That Vilna Gaon, Pnei Yehoshua, Shages Aryeh saw fit to do it shows that *their* answer to (1) and (2) was yes. And that people don't automatically discard their positions where they argue is *arguably* a partial yes on (1).

If any of the aforementioned rabbis (Rav Schachter, Rav Soleveitchik, etc.) indeed maintain that, at least from a theoretical perspective, the answer to (1) is yes, then whether or not they practically do (a "no" to question (2)) is immaterial. I *have* seen a lot of people assume that because the answer to (2) is no, the answer to (1) is no as well.

There are probably many factors which lead to the general "no" on (2). Foremost is that many people maintain the "no" on (1). They assume that just as the formal division of Tannaim to Amoraim was encoded in halachic discussions, and the formal division of Amoraim to Geonim was encoded (as Ravina and Rava Ashi are sof horaah), so too other generational divisions. I have explicitly heard a contrary theory from one of my rabbeim, that this distinction does not apply to Geonim, Rishonim, and early Acharonim. I would add Savoraim to this list.

Some factors also probably are how the existence of a Shulchan Aruch, with rishonim and acharonim in place on topics sort of frames the debate. And there are the methodologies of learning, and whether one *trains* oneself to think outside the box in analyzing gemaras, or whether one learns it beIyyun trying to understand how the various rishonim understood the gemara and one another. I know about myself that I had to break myself of the habit of learning gemaras and psukim through the eyes of the classic meforshim in order to develop skills of independent analysis of the gemaras. (In other words, rather than learning Rashi on a pasuk, learning how to learn like Rashi or another medieval pashtan.) If people don't learn like Rishonim, they cannot practically compete with Rishonim. It would similarly be a different skill set to develop to learn like an Amora or Tanna.

But if someone *does* do this, and arrives at "Truth", would we discard it on methodological grounds. As I understand Rav Schachter (but this is my understanding of his words), of course we would not. Torah is Emes. However, it would seem that he just does not think much of the academic Talmudic methodology in place, and so thinks that the Truth in almost all instances dwells with the Rishonim. But if Rabbi X did rule against Rishonim in interpreting the gemara, such would be legitimate. And the cases of Vilna Gaon and Shages Aryeh illustrate that such arguing is legitimate.

Unless you are arguing that popular trends determine what is legitimate and what not, such that back then it was OK for those acharonim to argue with rishonim, but not now. This would not seem to be the position advanced by (some of) the aforementioned.


Anonymous said...

I am willing to concede that my use of the word "erred" was unguarded. The main point is that there is a difference between academic analysis and pesak. The majority view and accepted practice may be questioned - even seriously - when it comes to analysis. Pesak, however, has it's own rules and there, majority, precedent, custom and usage, as well as the standing of the posek, carries much weight. Even if Giants of the caliber of the Gra, Sha'agas Aryeh and the P'nei Yehoshua argued in rare instances with Rishonim - IMHO, much lesser scholars certainly don't have that authority.


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