Friday, June 27, 2014

Did Rav Moshe Feinstein read newspapers?

Recently, Rabbi Yosef Mizrachi posted the following on Facebook, presumably copied and pasted from this Revach post:
Rav Moshe Feinstein reading a newspaper.
Brought to my attention by
Mississippi Fred MacDowell.
The Steipler once sent a shaliach to Rav Moshe Feinstein regarding an important issue which the Steipler wanted Rav Moshe to become involved in. The shaliach discussed the issue with R' Moshe and told him all the details. When he was finished, he pulled out a Hamodia newspaper, explaining that this newspaper happens to have an article about the inyan. Rav Moshe declined to take the newspaper, saying that he had already heard the details so there is no need for him to see the article. The shaliach persisted, explaining that it was possible that he missed one or two important details. 
Rav Moshe responded, "I have not held a newspaper in my hands for seventy years. As soon as I read a newspaper, I will no longer be qualified to pasken because my mind will not be one hundred percent Da'as Torah."
This is an interesting story. It puts forth the idea that Gedolim have daas Torah, seemingly defined here as an oracular quality in which their pronouncements reflect the Divine Will, and that this daas Torah could be spoiled by paying attention to secular sources of information such as newspapers. We are perhaps meant to deduce that we should not read newspapers either, that we should respect Gedolim more than sources of secular knowledge, and should be impressed with deliberate ignorance of the world, because that is more likely to lead to an accurate, Torah-sourced, answer. The idea is that secular influences are a pernicious, corrupting force, and one should avoid it at all costs.

It is strange that the shaliach could discuss the details with Rav Moshe orally, and this didn't spoil Rav Moshe's daas Torah. Even though the shaliach had read HaModia. Or that, had the shaliach written down the details in the newspaper, then reading those same details from the shaliach but in newsprint would have spoiled Rav Moshe's daas Torah, such that he would not be qualified to pasken.

Besides the picture above, which shows Rav Moshe Feinstein holding a newspaper in his hands, and even (lo aleinu!) reading it, there are other reasons to believe that the story is bogus:

1) Rabbi Moshe Tendler has stated (see here, which excerpted from a Mevaser article here) that this claim about his father in law (Rav Moshe Feinstein) is in all the books, but that he and a thousand talmidim can testify that it is false, and further, that Rav Moshe's teshuvot benefited from this window to the world:
My shver was uniquely sensitive to society. Despite what they write in all the books about him, my shver never failed to read the Yiddish newspaper – either the Tog in the early years or the Morgn-Zhurnal later on – cover-to-cover every single day. People publish that he would walk down the street and avert his eyes when he passed by newspaper stands. There are a thousand talmidim of his who will testify, “I bought the paper and handed it to him in the lunchroom in the yeshivah,” but it does not make a difference for some people – they do not want to hear that. Even when he was not well and the doctor insisted that he must lie down to sleep for an hour, he would go home, put on a bathrobe, and smuggle a newspaper into the bedroom so that his wife would not see it. He sat there reading the whole time, rather than sleeping. I used to ask him, “Why do you read this chazeray (junk)?” He would respond to me, “Dos iz mayn vinde” – this is my window [to the world]. He understood society and his piskei Halachah show that. He used to say, “People think that because I’m aware of society, I became a meikel (lenient decisor). What do they want me to do – paskn incorrectly? I’m not a meikel – I paskn the way it has to be. The Halachah takes into account societal factors.” This willingness to be exposed to society made his teshuvos more meaningful and more acceptable.
2) Rabbi Dovid Feinstein, Rav Moshe's son, says something which falsifies the part of the story in which Rav Moshe asserts daas Torah as the basis for his authority and thus as a necessary qualification for a posek:
Rav Dovid Feinstein (personal communication): In response to the question of whether his father ever justified his halachic decisions Rav Feinstein told me the following, “I never heard my father claim that his authority was from Daas Torah. He always insisted that the authority of his rulings was because they involved correct reasoning.”
3) On that Facebook thread, someone (a named person) writes:
Did it occur to you to confirm this? Cause i just confimed with Reb Moshes family that its false.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Yiftach was necessary

This week's parsha is Chukas, and in the haftara (Shofetim 11) we read about Yiftach.

The sense one gets of Yiftach is that he was not the most refined or educated of individuals. Of ignoble birth, he left home and gathered a band of idle men.

Yet sometimes a situation calls not for the refined, and educated, but for the coarse and uneducated. Think to the present day, with abuse that was covered up or mismanaged by the Jewish leadership. It took a few Yiftachs to lead the charge and change Jewish society for the better.

Yiftach was tapped in order to deal with the immediate threat, but they appointed him as chief on a more permanent basis. And as a Shofet, which means governor or war leader, rather than necessarily a legal / "halachic" judge, he was a good pick.

The rest of the story is ambiguous. I am not sure if we are supposed to respect Yiftach's commitment to his vow, at the expense of his daughter. (Don't retroject our values onto the Biblical text!) Or what we are to think of the slaughtering of Ephraimites, who it does seem unjustifiably picked a fight with Gilead in the aftermath of the successful fight. Chazal did not think too highly of his halachic erudition, and criticized both Yiftach (lay leadership) and Pinchas (halachic leadership) for not seeking each other out and resolving the issue of Yiftach's daughter.

Even if a Yiftach is necessary for a given issue, we might be wary of ceding greater control to uneducated and unrefined individuals, and turning away from our previous leadership.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

YUTorah for parashat Korach

parsha banner

Articles on Korach
Parsha Sheets on Korach
Haftorah Shiurim on Korach
New This Week

Friday, June 13, 2014

YUTorah on parashat Shelach

parsha banner

Articles on Shelach
Parsha Sheets on Shelach
Haftorah Shiurim on Shelach
New This Week


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The juxtaposition of sending scouts to Miriam's leprosy

At the start of Shelach, Rashi explain the reason for the juxtaposition of parshiyos:

"Send out for yourself men who will scout the Land of Canaan, which I am giving to the children of Israel. You shall send one man each for his father's tribe; each one shall be a chieftain in their midst."ב. שְׁלַח לְךָ אֲנָשִׁים וְיָתֻרוּ אֶת אֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי נֹתֵן לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אִישׁ אֶחָד אִישׁ אֶחָד לְמַטֵּה אֲבֹתָיו תִּשְׁלָחוּ כֹּל נָשִׂיא בָהֶם:
Send for yourself men: Why is the section dealing with the spies juxtaposed with the section dealing with Miriam? Because she was punished over matters of slander, for speaking against her brother, and these wicked people witnessed [it], but did not learn their lesson. — [Midrash Tanchuma Shelach 5]שלח לך אנשים: למה נסמכה פרשת מרגלים לפרשת מרים, לפי שלקתה על עסקי דבה שדברה באחיה, ורשעים הללו ראו ולא לקחו מוסר:

We can see this in Midrash Tanchuma here:

דבר אחר: 
שלח לך אנשיםמה כתיב למעלה מן העניין? 
ותדבר מרים ואהרן במשה (במ' יב א). 
ואחרי כן, שלח לך אנשים. 
זה שאמר הכתוב: לא ידעו ולא יבינו כי טח מראות עיניהם מהשכל לבותם (ישע' מד יח). 

מה ראה לומר אחר מעשה מרים שלח לך אנשים?
אלא שהיה צפוי לפני הקדוש ברוך הוא, שיהיו באין ואומרין לשון הרע על הארץ. 
אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא: לא יהיה להם פתחון פה לומר, לא היינו יודעים עונש של לשון הרע מה הוא. לפיכך סמך הקדוש ברוך הוא העניין הזה לזה, כדי שידעו הכל עונשו של לשון הרע, שאם בקשו לומר לשון הרע, יהו מסתכלין מה נעשה במרים. אף על פי כן לא רצו ללמוד. לכך נאמר: לא ידעו ולא יבינו. 
לכך כתב הקדוש ברוך הוא שלוח המרגלים אחר מעשה מרים. הוי, לא ידעו ולא יבינו, כי טח מראות וגו'.

Rav Yonasan Eibeshitz, in Tiferes Yehonasan, after citing the pasuk and Rashi, writes:

"And the oylam asks what is this question, of why the juxtaposition? For in truth, the juxtaposition is such, that prior to this is written 'and they encamped in the wilderness of Paran', and from there, the scouts were sent. However, it appears in sefer Devarim,

'And all of you approached me and you said 'Let us send men before us' ', and in this as well the question of the oylam applies, why did they not send them prior to this, if it was in their mind to send?

But it appears that earlier, the Israelites thought that the scouts would slander Eretz Yisrael and did not with to send, for that reason. But after they saw Miriam punished because slander, such that certainly they would not lie in order to slander Eretz Yisrael, for the same thing would happen to all of them, both they and Miriam -- therefore they said just then, let us send scouts before us. And this is what Rashi explains, why the juxtaposition? And by this he meant, why did they wait until after the leprosy of Miriam. This is only to tell you that prior to this, they did not want to send, because they worried that it would come to slander. But now that they saw the destruction which would come to their souls, to see the harm to themselves, to any who would stand for falsehood and emptiness, so say things which they had not seen -- and not take mussar?! As a rhetorical question, for certainly they would do this, namely take mussar."

End quote from Tiferes Yehonasan.

Rav Yonasan Eibeshitz, zatza"l
I like the question of the oylam. It basically supplies its own obvious peshat-based answer for the juxtaposition, and then uses that to question the derasha.

However, I am not convinced by this rereading of Rashi. It supplements with too many additional facts, which are not mentioned in Rashi's source, Midrash Tanchuma. Tanchuma has Hashem knowing beforehand that the spies would sin, but makes no mention of the background of the bnei Yisrael even suspecting this. Nor does Tanchuma mention any such expectation on the part of klal Yisrael that now the scouts would not sin. And in opposition to reading the closing words of Rashi as a rhetorical question, the text of Rashi's source, the Tanchuma itself speaks of, and indeed darshens a pasuk, about the fact that the scouts did not listen, which makes it likely that in Rashi's channeling of the midrash, he also meant it as a straightforward statement.

I think the answer is more straightforward (but not necessarily as satisfying as a reread). This statement is meant to be homiletic. Yet, there are peshat reasons for the juxtaposition as well. But this is part of a genre of midrash which looks at juxtapositions and speaks to motivations and emotions of various actors. So, for instance, this is an opportunity to make a statement of the kind made by the juxtaposition of nazir and sotah -- he saw the dire effects of drunkenness and so swore off wine. And Aharon got the service of the menorah in Behaalotecha because of jealousy of the korbanot of the nesiim. And it is sparked at least in part by the sidra divisions as well. That it starts a sidra also is a likely factor in Rashi's decision to repeat the midrash here, rather than omitting it.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Was Calev ben Yefuneh the same person as Calev ben Chetzron?

According to Chizkuni, the father of Kalev was Chetzron. Thus:

"Calev ben Yefuneh: He is Calev ben Chetzron, and his name is called Yefuneh because he [Calev] turned [פנה] from the counsel of the scouts."
This is based on the statement of Chazal in Sotah 11b:
'The son of Hezron'? He was the son of Jephunneh!42  — [It means] that he was a son who turned [panah] from the counsel of the spies. Still, he was the son of Kenaz, as it is written: And Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother, took it!43  — Raba said: He was the stepson of Kenaz.
To explain what is happening here, in 1 Divrei Hayamim 2, there is a section regarding the lineage of a specific descendant of Yehuda. Skipping to relevant pesukim:

ה  בְּנֵי-פֶרֶץ, חֶצְרוֹן וְחָמוּל.  {ס}5 The sons of Perez: Hezron, and Hamul. {S}
ט  וּבְנֵי חֶצְרוֹן, אֲשֶׁר נוֹלַד-לוֹ--אֶת-יְרַחְמְאֵל וְאֶת-רָם, וְאֶת-כְּלוּבָי.9 The sons also of Hezron, that were born unto him: Jerahmeel, and Ram, and Chelubai.
יח  וְכָלֵב בֶּן-חֶצְרוֹן, הוֹלִיד אֶת-עֲזוּבָה אִשָּׁה--וְאֶת-יְרִיעוֹת; וְאֵלֶּה בָנֶיהָ, יֵשֶׁר וְשׁוֹבָב וְאַרְדּוֹן.18 And Caleb the son of Hezron begot children of Azubah his wife--and of Jerioth--and these were her sons: Jesher, and Shobab, and Ardon.
יט  וַתָּמָת, עֲזוּבָה; וַיִּקַּח-לוֹ כָלֵב אֶת-אֶפְרָת, וַתֵּלֶד לוֹ אֶת-חוּר.19 And Azubah died, and Caleb took unto him Ephrath, who bore him Hur.
כ  וְחוּר הוֹלִיד אֶת-אוּרִי, וְאוּרִי הוֹלִיד אֶת-בְּצַלְאֵל.  {ס}20 And Hur begot Uri, and Uri begot Bezalel. {S}

I would have to guess that Celubai in pasuk 9 is the same as Calev in pasuk 18.

Is this Calev the same as Calev ben Yefuneh? Chazal had a closed-canon approach, in which they readily equate unknowns with knowns. Further, Chazal simply revel in the contradictions between the lineages in Divrei Hayamim and the rest of Tanach. Rather than take it as evidence of error, and of uninspired authorship, they have canonized Divrei Hayamim on a midrashic level. Each of the seeming contradictions is meaningful, such that either Divrei Hayamim or the alternate account reflects the true name, while the other given name is used to reflect upon the individual's character. And they make a statement about the nature of Divrei Hayamim,  לא ניתן דברי הימים אלא לדרש, that it is only given over for derash. (Which is why I've argues elsewhere that one should not take such contradictions from Divrei Hayamim so seriously. It is sefarim chitzonim on the level of peshat, and we are not bothered by contradictions between other sefarim chitzonim, such as Jubilees or Susanna. You cannot first reject the level of derash and then, while looking only at peshat, suffer angst about the contradictions.)

But on the level of peshat, we need not say that this is the same Calev, even though both are from the tribe of Yehuda.

One reason to think it might be the same person is that we might expect Scriptural attention in particular upon important people, and so why should we focus so much on a random Calev? The answer might well be the terminal person, Betzalel ben Uri ben Chur.

However, if we want to say that Calev is identical, then maybe we can salvage this without making Yefuneh the same as Chetzron. Perhaps Celuvai is not the same as Calev, in which case we never see him born to Chetzron directly. So make him a descendant, with Yefuneh as his father. I am not convinced by this though.

Some folks raise the objection that Calev ben Yefuneh could not be the same as this Calev ben Chetzron. Because they claim, in the "Kenizzite Hypothesis", that Calev ben Yefuneh, whom the Torah identifies as the one sent from the tribe of Yehuda, was actually a Kenizzite, one of the native Canaanite people, who somehow was absorbed into the tribe of Yehuda.

They will point to pesukim such as:

יב  בִּלְתִּי כָּלֵב בֶּן-יְפֻנֶּה, הַקְּנִזִּי, וִיהוֹשֻׁעַ, בִּן-נוּן:  כִּי מִלְאוּ, אַחֲרֵי יְהוָה.12 save Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite, and Joshua the son of Nun; because they have wholly followed the LORD.
I don't find this hypothesis persuasive. The "out" to this hypothesis is that Kenaz is a family name. Thus, as the proponents admit, we see he has a brother Kenaz, and this can well be understood as the name of a person, namely an ancestor. From sefer Shofetim:

יג  וַיִּלְכְּדָהּ עָתְנִיאֵל בֶּן-קְנַז, אֲחִי כָלֵב הַקָּטֹן מִמֶּנּוּ; וַיִּתֶּן-לוֹ אֶת-עַכְסָה בִתּוֹ, לְאִשָּׁה.13 And Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother, took it; and he gave him Achsah his daughter to wife.

Thus it need not be the name of his nation, and I rather doubt that it is.

This still does not mean that Yefuneh == Chetzron, or that ben Yefuneh is an appellation for Calev rather than his ancestry.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin