Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The "Problem" With sefer Chafetz Chaim

I will admit up front that I have never really learnt through the entire sefer Chafetz Chaim in depth, and that doing so would be a good thing.

However, I recently started to do so, and I think the following observation has some degree of accuracy to it.

The big problem (IMHO) is that the sefer Chafetz Chaim, and the laws of lashon hara in general, lack the diachronic and synchronic debate and development that occurs for almost all other halachot.

For example, take a particular din in kriat shema, whatever it may be. The chances will be that it comes from a particular Bavli and there may or may not be a parallel Yerushalmi.

That source will be taken and interpreted not just by Rif, but also by Rambam and Rosh. And Rif, Rambam and Rosh may disagree as to the meaning of that statement, how to balance that statement with other statements in the gemara, and whether that statement ends up being lehalacha. Each of these works (Rif, Rambam, Rosh) has supercommentaries, with competing ways of understanding their words. And upon the Rif is the Baal HaMaor, who argues on the Rif, and the Ramban, who attempts to defend the Rif.

Then we have Tur, with Beis Yosef, Bach, and Darkei Moshe each providing their own, sometimes differing commentary. Then, the Beis Yosef, after writing commentaries on Rambam and Tur, wrote the Shulchan Aruch, those we have the Rema giving another view side by side.

Upon the page of Shulchan Aruch, we not only have Shach, but we have e.g. Taz. And while later we have the the Chafetz Chaim reworking and harmonizing past material into the Mishnah Berurah, we also have his contemporary who wrote the Aruch haShulchan.

That these halachot of kriat Shema were organized systematically, and received their own simanim and seifim in Shulchan Aruch, means that they were touched upon and debated by multiple generations of Rishonim and Acharonim. It has been highly processed. And in any particular din, we can read through many different perspectives on that din and come to some conclusion.

Contrast that situation to that of the dinim in sefer Chafetz Chaim. Sure, he bases himself on gemaras and various rishonim. But these dinim, with their particulars, are resource-poor, such that we do not get the type of in-depth debate and development throughout generations. And where is the Chafetz Chaim's bar plugta? We would normally have Aruch haShulchan, but Aruch haShulchan did not (afaik) write as extensively on these halachos.

Looking at particulars, I can see certain assertions which I think would be questioned. And Mishnah Brurah has a certain derech of satisfying multiple positions that others would not necessarily go along with. I won't go into the particulars here. It does not really matter; that such debate would have come up is almost certain. For why should these halachos be any different from halachos in every siman in Shulchan Aruch?

A certain sophistication comes about from this debate and development. And while the Chafetz Chaim wrote for his time, certain day-to-day situations come up that require application of principles to "hairier" situations. And people can readily misapply these rules, as is bound to happen when one takes common sense and formalizes it, and when tries to apply rules to extremely complicated situations with many factors.

I think that he needs a bar plugta. I was thinking that it might eventually be a project of this blog, not just translating and expanding on Shmiras haLashon or Chafetz Chaim as others do, but analyzing the sources and arguing with them at times. Of course, people's reaction may well be to question who this Josh fellow thinks he is, and what chutzpah to do so! And for various other reasons, those capable of doing this who would be accepted likely would not dream of taking up the task.


Anonymous said...


I am probably wrong, but is sounds like you have a juicy piece of L"H, and you are looking for a way to release it from the inner depths of your heart/tongue.
I think that considering this sefer has been around for a long time, well over 100 years, as it was written when he was young, and no one has argued with it all of these years,(no need to) and inspite of all of this, L"H is still very strong and people are ignorant of the basic halachos, I don't think a Bar Plugsa is needed.
The chofetz Chaim brings down the sources in the Gemora, quotes all of the Rishonim who comment on it, and then brings down the halacha after being M'taritz all of the stiros in the sugyas.
From the experience I had, leading me to make my posts, I decided it was time to go back to learning the sefer once again. In fact just today I saw where the Chofetz Chaim brought down the Halachah, that "the chiuv to dan L'chaf Zcus someone who is muchzak not be a rashah, and even if you see them do something that really looks so suspicious, that it is almost impossible to dan l'zcus. He brings the halacha that it is still proper to Dan L'kaf zcus, (nachone M'ode L'fee R. Yona) But, down below he is mdyek from the loshon, that this is just a middah tovah, and not l'chiuvah(I think that this what you were looking for!!)
Anyway I really believe that you should begin studying this heleger Sefer, WITH the beer Mayim Chayim, and I think that you will be impressed.
But really Josh, as much as I respect you, once again you B"H preface your post with the Emmes, that you have not really delved into this sefer in depth....."
This is one of the most fundemental requirments before making any judgement about anything.Therefore I think that it behooves you to put this on the back burner and to begin studying.
R.Yitzchak Berkowitz shlitah, who is perhaps one of the few truly well versed in Hilchos L"H commented, that out of all of the Torah he learns, he spends most of his chazarah time on these halahcos since they are so complex, and relevant.

Anonymous said...


BTW. I think to play it safe, you should change the title from,

"The problem with the......

to read: "MY problem with the....

joshwaxman said...

Firstly, let me explain that I often preface posts of mine with caveats. I find that in general those who are really sure of their own knowledge and mastery are in error on that account. It is important to lay out up front, for one's audience and especially for oneself, one's limitations.

Even if it gives people who may be looking to criticize a foothold to launch into claims that I do not know what I am talking about. I am fine with that.

I do *not* have a juicy piece of lashon hara I am preparing to introduce. This particular perspective on sefer Chafetz Chaim occurred to me weeks ago, and since then I was planning on sharing that thought. (I have a lot of topics I sit on for weeks, months, and in one case, years, before publishing.) Being dan lekaf zechut may well have compelled you to not assume I had a juicy piece of lashon hara to reveal.

In terms of
"I think that considering this sefer has been around for a long time, well over 100 years, as it was written when he was young, and no one has argued with it all of these years,(no need to)"

I think that I *do* have some measure of understanding of meta-halacha. It is *impossible* that such dispute is impossible for such a detailed sefer, while every single other siman in Shulchan Aruch has plenty of dispute. The reason people have not argued is that initially, it was the Chafetz Chaim's pet project, and he was the big promoter of it. Subsequently, the reason is sociological, as sefer Chafetz Chaim is accorded quasi-canonical status.

In truth, this *does* have something to do with Megirot. The immediate impetus for posting this thought, which I have had for weeks, particularly *now*, is your own claim to mastery of the sefer and knowledge of how to apply this to the complex situation of megirot, such that everyone else should just be quiet. Bli neder, if I ever get around to posting on what bothers me about megirot in *theory* (rather than any juicy particulars, which I should stress am not privy to), I will try to explain why minor revelations of this sort by disparate individuals might be a good thing. (Hint: it has to do with "an army of Davids.")

Also, I *was* talking about studying it WITH the Be`er Mayim Chaim. And yet I had this reaction to it. Just from the beginning, I think he is coercing the Rambam into harmony with other positions when he should not; and that the second view in the Tosefta which cites two interpretations of "lo sisa shema shav" is likely *not* endorsed by the gemara lehalacha, which only cites the former. And so on and so forth.

Here is not the place to go into critiques of the sefer, though.

BeEzrat Hashem, I will eventually get around to the analysis of the sefer I hope for. But there is plenty other things I have planned first, before undertaking such a massive project.

Kol Tuv,

joshwaxman said...

"I think to play it safe..."

no thanks. obviously everything on this blog is my own opinion. and note that I put "problem" in quotes.

Kol Tuv,

Anonymous said...

The Chofetz Chaim has been made into a Chassidishe Rebbe of sorts. For a Litvak, that is problematic.

"I think that he needs a bar plugta."

Yes, we need a ראב"ד for Shmiras Haloshon. Maybe speak to the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation (CCHF) about sponsorship ? ;-)

Anonymous said...

Litvish Chassidish one thing is for sure YOU are not a Bar Plugta on the Chofetz Chaim and he happens to bring other opinions in his sefer and he does come out L'halacha so essentially if someone would want he could quote the other Shittos he brings.

Anonymous said...

Who is this Josh guy who thinks he can argue with the Heilige Chofetz Chaim? A Groise Shande!


joshwaxman said...

"and he happens to bring other opinions in his sefer and he does come out L'halacha so essentially if someone would want he could quote the other Shittos he brings"

true, and this is true in general with Mishnah Brurah. *However*, there is also the *interpretation* of such shittot, to see what those shittot are actually saying, and whether or not they are arguing in the first place. See e.g. the extensive quote I quoted in the post about folding one's tallis on Shabbos, and compare with Mishnah Brurah's treatment of the issue.

In the two particular example "problems" I clarified above in response to Yehuda, the Chafetz Chaim casted Rambam as being in agreement and the gemara as being in agreement, not being a different shitta. It is quite possible (though not open and shut in any particular case) that a "bar plugta" would disagree with him in one of these cases...

Anonymous said...


In your quest for a bar plugsa on sefer chafetz chaim, you commented:

"Just from the beginning, I think he is coercing the Rambam into harmony with other positions when he should not; and that the second view in the Tosefta which cites two interpretations of "lo sisa shema shav" is .....

I don't follow your point. The sefer C.C. was meant to be a halacha sefer, halacha L'meise, with Psak halacha concerning shmiros L"H. In what you quoted above, I see no difficulty legabey the halacha L'meise,The C.C. was bringing the clear source for the Lav of lo sisa shema shav. He quotes the pasuk in the Torah, the Targum is clear, Rashi, mentions the Targum, which is clear,and he quotes the Rambam as well, who is quoting from the Gemorah. (just as the c.c. claims)it clearly states that Lo sisa, is referring to L"H, just as the Gemora, clearly states in Pesachim......

joshwaxman said...

Thanks. I may indeed be wrong about these particulars. I'll look back at the sefer at some point. It was a while since between reading the sefer and posting that comment, as I noted earlier. Note the semicolon -- if I recall correctly, I was not talking about Rambam on lo sisa shema shav. No promises of a response, though. I really do not want to get into specifics, and was only drawn into these specifics off the top of my head by your comment. If I eventually make substantive posts, it would be there I go into details. But I do not really have the time, at the moment.

Regardless -- I know the sefer Chafetz Chaim was meant to be a halacha sefer. Who said otherwise? My point in any of this is not that he is wrong about point X, point Y. But rather that in any complex halachic system, Acharonim take different turns and come to different results at various particular points.

Kol Tuv, and good Shabbos,

joshwaxman said...

In terms of the gemara with lo sisa, just to go into slight details, I personally think the chafetz chaim (citing Rambam) may be correct. *But*, the gemara in Pesachim is making a *homiletic* rather than halachic point (about deserving of being cast to dogs), and there, a broader definition of lo sisa may be admitted.

In the other gemaras, Shavuot and Sanhedrin, it seems that only one derasha is brought -- about hearing only one baal din. If it indeed a davar acher, and each pasuk should have a valence of 1 in terms of the derashot it teaches -- that is, we see often in the gemara that once a phrase is used for one derasha, one cannot use it for another -- I am not convinced that this should be sufficient to establish this as a deOrayta. The Rif skips right over this gemara in Pesachim, even though it is in the 10th perek. I did not look yet to see what Rosh said.

You may find this convincing, or not. That is fine.

I have to find the point in the Rambam I was referring to -- IIRC it was not about lo sisa.

Kol Tuv, and Good Shabbos,


Blog Widget by LinkWithin