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Toward a Halakhic Philosophy of History

 

I. Is History Permitted?

The study of history is an important and often enjoyable way to learn about humanity and leadership but it is also morally dubious. Most people enjoy discovering important details about famous people and events from the past, complex stories from different times and places that inform their understanding of the present and future. But because learning about the past involves discovering and repeating negative stories about people, we must ask whether Judaism permits it. Are we allowed to publicly dig around someone’s closet simply because he has died?

In the foreword to his controversy-sparking book Making of a Godol (pp. xxiv-xxvii), R. Nathan Kamenetsky discusses a disagreement between two scholarly brothers over the value of history. Both agree that history is an instrument; its study is not a goal in itself but a means to an end. According to R. Shimon Schwab (Selected Writings, pp. 233-234), history serve to inspire: “We do not need realism; we need inspiration from our forefathers.” His brother, R. Mordechai Schwab, saw history as educational. According to the former history must be inspirational while according to the latter it must be instructional. R. Kamenetsky explains at length why he prefers the instructional model.

This instructional value of history leads to a difficult religious dilemma. If halakhah forbids history, we run the risk of submitting to Santayana’s truism about those who fail to remember the mistakes of history. Does Judaism demand that we run a society without looking in the rearview mirror?

III. Two Types of Speech

In an article in last year’s issue of Beis Yitzchak, Yeshiva University’s Torah journal, Zev Eleff wrote about the intersection of history and halakhah (link – PDF). I’d like to expand his first section to address this question more fully, even if only tentatively.

The Mordekhai (Bava Kama 106) quotes an ancient ban on falsely libeling the deceased, codified in Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chaim 606:4). Eleff quotes the father of the aforementioned R. Nathan Kamenetsky, R. Ya’akov (Emes Le-Ya’akov al Ha-Torah, vayeishev p. 194), who states that this ban only forbids false libel. One may tell true negative stories about people from the past.

The key distinction here is between lashon ha-ra, true stories that reflect poorly on their protagonists, and hotza’as shem ra, false negative stories. While you may not say either about the living, you are only forbidden, according to R. Ya’akov Kamenetsky, to say false negative stories about the deceased. Honest history, with all the warts and pimples, is an approved subject. However, this does not constitue carte blanch permission for historical study, as we will see shortly.

III. The Strict Position

Others disagree with R. Kamenetsky’s lenient view. R. Binyamin Yehoshua Zilber (Az Nidberu 14:68) quotes the following from the Rema (Shulchan Arukh, Choshen Mishpat 420:38): “One who speaks negatively about the deceased must fast, repent and pay a fine as a court decides.” R. Zilber deduces from there that one may not say anything bad about the dead, whether lashon ha-ra or hotza’as shem ra. The ancient ban was an enactment to reinforce an already existing prohibition, a not uncommon occurrence.

Interestingly, R. Nathan Kamenetsky seems to agree with R. Zilber. In the foreword mentioned above (p. xxvi), as part of a discussion of his philosophy of history, he writes, “It goes without saying that R’ Mordkhai Schwab did not approve of revealing faults in any man without constructive purpose; and neither do I.” Apparently, the younger R. Kamenetsky does not approve of lashon ha-ra about the deceased without a constructive purpose.

IV. Permitted Gossip

What, then, of history? If lashon ha-ra is a limitation on the study of history, then the exceptions to the prohibition reflect the permitted types of history. Chafetz Chaim (2:10:2), the classic halakhic work on forbidden speech, allows for lashon ha-ra when the following conditions are fulfilled:

  1. You repeat the information for a legitimate, constructive purpose (to’eles)
  2. You carefully investigate and become certain about the facts or include appropriate disclaimers (link)
  3. You do not exaggerate
  4. You have no other way of resolving the need
  5. You first try satisfying the need by approaching the subject
  6. You have no ulterior motives
  7. The subject is not overly penalized by your repeating the story

When it comes to history, all of the conditions are fulfilled or inapplicable except the first two. What to’eles can you have to study and teach negative historical information? How certain can you be about most of history? The indisputable fact rarely appears. The bulk of the historical enterprise consists of interpretation of evidence, deduction and speculation.

V. The Uses of History

I tentatively suggest that the study of history is sometimes so valuable as to permit lashon ha-ra (assuming the other conditions apply). Understanding yesterday’s politics is crucial to succeeding in today’s politics. Understanding the nature of human interaction offers critical insight into maneuvering in current and future environments. If knowledge of history helps us avoid past mistakes, then it is valuable and necessary.

The implications of this questionable thesis to the study of history are two-fold. First, study must revolve around useful topics. Gossip that is trivial and forbidden about living people does not become valuable once the people die. Scholarship of gossip is not inherently permissible unless it offers valuable insight.

Second, speculation must be clearly labeled as such, if not entirely avoided. Anything other than clear fact must be preceded by proper disclaimers. Because so much of history rests on interpretation, this rule requires use of a language of intellectual humility. You must clearly acknowledge the limits of your historical assumptions and deductions.

This latter point applies equally to the lenient view. Because this view only approves of true negative stories, a story would presumably be forbidden whenever there is any reasonable doubt of its accuracy. This applies, I believe, to the bulk of history. The only saving grace would be appropriate caveats that acknowledge the speculative nature of the assertions.

I freely admit to a lack of certainty about the above analysis. I welcome other suggestions.

 

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Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the founder, publisher and editor-in-chief of Torah Musings.

 
The opinions and facts here are presented solely by the author. Torah Musings assumes no responsibility for them. Please address religious questions to your rabbi.
 

111 Responses

  1. MBP says:

    The first section of your post is titled “Is History Permitted?”

    Given that you’re investigating this question for the Modern Orthodox community, I contend that the question is “How is History Permitted?” All of our gedolim were and are conversant in history. All of our schools teach it. Any posek of the Modern Orthodox community who would attempt to outlaw the study of history would fail miserably. People read history for pleasure, and it’s taught in all of our schools. Given this state of affairs, the permissibility of studying history is a datum, not an open question. And halacha recognizes such “closed questions.”

    So why is the study of history permitted? I’m not prepared to defend this here, but I think that the Chafetz Chaim doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny. His halachic theory fails to explain the evidence from the gemara and rishonim.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I agree. I don’t know why the question isn’t on the recently revealed Laws of Leshon Hara rather than on what MBP calls the datum itself.

  3. mycroft says:

    “Apparently, the younger R. Kamenetsky ”
    Comparatively younger-if one wants to see a couple of interesting pictures see Rakeffets book about the Rav. The first 2 pictures are of the Rav and his brother at Rav Nasons sheva brachos-easy to remember date-just before the Rosenberg execution. See when they were and were not wearing hats and what colors were the hats.

  4. mycroft says:

    “If halakhah forbids history, we run the risk of submitting to Santayana’s truism about those who fail to remember the mistakes of history.”

    It is not clear at all that ” Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Just as plausible is those who fight the previous war are doomed to lose.

  5. mycroft says:

    The Rav was opposed to try and mislead-he believed we have a good product that could be sold honestly.
    Sheker ein lo raglaim-thus eventually the fake Jewish history will eventually boomerang.

  6. joel rich says:

    I suppose one might rely on the example of hkb”h and his torah which seemed to favor truth telling of inconvenient history?
    KT

  7. Mike S. says:

    Chazal seem to find it appropriate to tell negative stories about figures from the past if necessary to impart a lesson. The Gemara is replete with examples of negative stories about both of figures in Tanach and Tannaim and Amoraim.

  8. Shlomo says:

    An important point is that many stories are “negative” only from an arbitrary viewpoint, and in fact serve to prove the falsehood of that viewpoint. For example, a report that 19th century gedolim read secular newspapers or novels is nowadays considered “negative” and “lashon hara” according to many. But in reality, that report is simply proof that nothing is actually wrong with reading newspapers or novels.

  9. Lawrence Kaplan says:

    As Benny Brown showed in his article about the Hafetz Hayyim, his seferon lashon hara was considered a mussar sefer, not an halakhic work. Brown also showed the work’s tendentiousness and its unfitness as a guide for conducting public discourse in a modern society. I am sorry I do not have the reference at hand.

  10. ruvie says:

    the first sentence says it all:…..but it is also morally dubious.
    is that the author’s perception and bias? lets kvetch about studying history. the charedei world never accepted the subject – its bitul z’man at best.

    how about the history of mishnah and talmud and not people.

  11. shmuel says:

    Somewhat tongue in cheek I have been known to say that as a people we believe in objective history ie if it meets our objective its the history we report.

  12. e-man says:

    According to Rav Shimon Schwab, is learning Gemara that talks about the faults of an Amorah, Tana, or anyone else prohibited if it is not inspirational? Is learning the parts of Tanach that are negative and not inspirational prohibited? I honestly don’t understand his point of view. Unless it is, well we would have prohibited Tanach and the Gemara stories, but they already existed. Now, since we can control what people know about history, we should only teach inspirational stories.

    I think a struggling teen that is wondering how G-D is going to love him because he sins a lot will find a story about great men that had the same struggle and overcame much more inspirational than a story about a great man that was great ever since he was five.

  13. Rafael Araujo says:

    I figured that questions about Sefer Chofetz Chaim would come out of the woodwork after you posted this.

    “As Benny Brown showed in his article about the Hafetz Hayyim, his seferon lashon hara was considered a mussar sefer, not an halakhic work.”

    Take a look at Sefer Chofetz Chaim and this thesis quickly falls apart. If its a mussar sefer, I have never seen a mussar sefer that reads so much like a halachic work, with halachos by chapter and paragraph and extensive footnotes. I’m sorry, but to take such a view seems an attempt to discredit it.

    Did Brown maybe mean Sefer Shmiras HaLashon, which would certainly fit the bill as a mussar sefer?

  14. Jerry says:

    This is an interesting post, based on an excellent article by Mr. Eleff. However, the restrictions that the strict position imposes on writing history need to be sharpened a bit. Let’s say we all agree to abide by the CC’s conditions (although taking account of Lawrence Kaplan’s important note above). We’re still left with the question of defining “negative.”

    There are several legitimate options, it seems to me, for determining what constitutes “negative” data.
    1) Data that reveals a person to have done something wrong according to the standards of that person’s day.
    2) Data that reveals a person to have done something wrong according to the standards of our day, but not the standards of that person’s day.
    3) Data that reveals a person to have done something wrong according to standards that the hamon/some rabbonim/many rabbonim assume to have been operative then (and possibly now), while the purpose of this data is to question anew that assumption.
    4) Data that reveals a person to have done something wrong according to one/many interpretation(s) of past and/or current standards, but not according to another/many other interpretation(s) of past and/or current standards.

    I’m sure there are other options, and I would appreciate any other suggestions, but it seems to me that at the very least options 2-4 might possibly not even be subject to the restrictions on lashon hara at all. That being the case, these restrictions would definitely have to be taken into account when writing history, but would apply only to a mi’ut she’b’mi’ut of cases.

  15. Charlie Hall says:

    ‘It is not clear at all that ” Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” ‘

    It is clear to any student of history.

    “The Gemara is replete with examples of negative stories about both of figures in Tanach and Tannaim and Amoraim.”

    And Tanakh is replete with examples of negative stories about the most important figures in our history. Chazal clearly knew Tanakh inside and out. As did many rishonim. Rashi wrote commentary on the whole thing! “History is forbidden” is not something Chazal would have ever imagined.

  16. Hirhurim says:

    MBP: Given that you’re investigating this question for the Modern Orthodox community, I contend that the question is “How is History Permitted?”

    OK

    I’m not prepared to defend this here, but I think that the Chafetz Chaim doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny. His halachic theory fails to explain the evidence from the gemara and rishonim.

    But what about the Shulchan Arukh (OC 606:4; CM 420:38)?

    mycroft: “Apparently, the younger R. Kamenetsky ”
    Comparatively younger

    Huh? One is the father and the other his son.

    joel rich: I suppose one might rely on the example of hkb”h and his torah which seemed to favor truth telling of inconvenient history?

    That is R. Ya’akov’s context — how could the Torah tell the story of Yosef and his brothers? But that is only the starting point. We still need a halakhic theory to explain the data points.

    Shlomo: An important point is that many stories are “negative” only from an arbitrary viewpoint, and in fact serve to prove the falsehood of that viewpoint.

    True, but some stories are unquestionably negative — like a famous person committing murder. Let’s focus on those types of stories.

    Lawrence Kaplan: As Benny Brown showed in his article about the Hafetz Hayyim, his seferon lashon hara was considered a mussar sefer, not an halakhic work.

    That seems like a tough thesis to support but I’m open to reading his article. Regardless, we still have two passages in Shulchan Arukh (OC 606:4; CM 420:38) that we can’t ignore. Believe me, I’d like to just as much as anyone else.

    ruvie: I don’t understand your criticism. Are you quibbling about style? You don’t like the lead sentence?

    e-man: R. Shimon Schwab presumably believes that all of those stories have an inspirational purpose.

  17. Hirhurim says:

    Jerry: I believe the Chafetz Chaim’s standard is anything that would cause someone to think less of the person, although I do not have a citation handy.

    Charlie: Even if what you say is true, we can still ask why it is permitted.

  18. joel rich says:

    llimud v’lo lmaaseh I always go back to the same question – why was there no real compendium on lashon hara rules until the C”C? My unsubstantiated theory is that it was taught mimetically and that the “here are the rules” approach which basicaly are taught in a way that tells people that just about anything they say about anyone is lashon hara needs to be analyzed. I wonder about the impact of the cognitive dissonance reinforced by a machsom lfi that says to pick 2 hours not to speak lashon hara -it reminds me of the matir of “nicht on shabbos geret(my yiddish is poor)”. I ownder if people just (subconciously?) say (a la what R’YBS taught about a rabbi not being too distant from his congregatns) look noone can really do this so let’s pay lip service but not differentiate between hard core dangerous lashon hara and passing the time of day lashon hara lite?

    just a thought.
    KT

  19. Len Kofman says:

    I am not too knowledgable about this topic but I read in a couple places that the entire study of history has changed over time. The view and approach to knowledge that we have today is fundementally different from the one that exists in any time other then the modern era. Shouldn’t that be a consideration when looking at what the Shulchan Aruch said? Was it written with our approach and understanding of what history even is and should this be a consideration in the Halacha?

    I am not an expert in the study of history and would love for some one more knowledgable to add to (or invalidate) what I said.

  20. aiwac says:

    If I may add here:

    Forget critical history – what about ostensibly improper conduct in our sources?

    What about the often mean and hurtful Rishon polemics (The Rashba and the Ra’a, The Baal Hamaor and everyone else)? Or the war between Mitnagdim and Hassidim (which included the harshest of language and worse)? Or the Emden-Eibshutz controversy?

    On the one hand, these sources show Jewish conduct that is certainly hard to swallow. On the other hand, surely these periods can be seen as an educational example of how NOT to conduct arguments? In this fractured age, I can think of no greater educational cause than this.

    Ugly mudslinging between Jews did not start in this generation. Perhaps we should leanr history in order to learn how to avoid it.

  21. S. says:

    ” If halakhah forbids history, we run the risk of submitting to Santayana’s truism about those who fail to remember the mistakes of history. ”

    Is it a truism?

  22. Skeptic says:

    Benjamin Brown, “From Principles to Rules and from Musar to Halakhah: The Hafetz Hayim’s Rulings on Libel and Gossip,” Dine Israel 25 (2008): 171*-256*, esp. n.265 (English).”

  23. S. says:

    “R. Shimon Schwab presumably believes that all of those stories have an inspirational purpose.”

    I don’t think that’s relevant. Firstly, he explicitly says that only a Navi has the right to write the unvarnished truth, and that’s why Jews can’t have historians like the rest of the world can have. This would not apply to Chazal, who were not Nevi’im. Secondly, if all one has to do is call whatever is reported inspirational than the whole issue falls apart.

  24. Hirhurim says:

    joel rich: why was there no real compendium on lashon hara rules until the C”C

    Why was there no real compendium on aveilus before Gesher HaChaim? Because compendia on single topics was not in style until the late nineteenth century (aside from commentaries on the Shulchan Arukh like Mateh Ephraim and Mekor Chaim).

    aiwac: Forget critical history – what about ostensibly improper conduct in our sources?

    Exactly. In the Talmud, we have the Chavos Yair’s responsum which the Chafetz Chaim reprinted in his book. But what about post-Talmudic history? Notice how in some circles the war between Chasidim and Misnagdim is papered over and prettied up.

    S: Secondly, if all one has to do is call whatever is reported inspirational than the whole issue falls apart.

    It’s not a matter of calling it inspirational. You have to interpret it as such.

    J: Thank you!

  25. aiwac says:

    When we’re talking about flaws – do we mean flaws that have a religious educational purpose (i.e. don’t repeat this mistake)? Or do we mean all flaws such as physical deformities or illnesses that are not germane to their person?

  26. S. says:

    “It’s not a matter of calling it inspirational. You have to interpret it as such.”

    What’s the difference? The point is that you can darshan negative stories to be inspirational and then they are permitted even according to Rav Schwab.

    How about this? The Emden-Eybescutz controversy shows how serious rabbonim were about heresy and the use and misuses of practical kabbalah. It’s an inspirational model of how one can take one’s religion seriously.

    Or to take a slightly nicer example, in Rabbi Yisroel Reisman’s Pathways of the Prophets he reviews the grammar controversy between R. Zalman Hanau and R. Yaakov Emden; the latter tried to rip the former to shreds, and Rabbi Reisman is inspired to think that the correct vocalization of single words in tefillah could matter so much to them. He envisions them sparring in Heaven.

    The point is that if it all becomes subject to our ability to interpret negative or contentious behavior in an inspiring manner, than R. Schwab’s proscription simply disappears. So this cannot be what he meant, and therefore the question that Chazal, who were not Nevi’im, yet wrote negative things about various rabbis, remains.

  27. joel rich says:

    Because compendia on single topics was not in style until the late nineteenth century (aside from commentaries on the Shulchan Arukh like Mateh Ephraim and Mekor Chaim).
    ========================
    I knew I should’ve chosen a different word! I meant like the s”a summarizes hilchot kavod for parents or the Rambam summarizes hilchot priority categories for tzedaka…
    KT

  28. Hirhurim says:

    The Rambam and Rabbenu Yonah wrote about hilchos lashon hara.

  29. J. says:

    My doubts about the value of ‘codifying’ hilchos bein adam lachaveiro were compounded a hundred-fold when I discovered that a famous rabbinic author of halachic works on this topic is known to encourage people to lie on their tax forms in Israel (it’s only the Tziyoinim, who will just use the money for mixed-swimming pools and other aveiros). Look how often hilchos lashon hora have been used to silence those who want to raise awareness about abuse and abusers, and how mentioning specific names of known abusers or their rabbinic facilitators is often censored on frum blogs. We have to see the wood from the trees and sometimes framing broad ethical principles in legalistic terms hinders us in doing so.

  30. Lawrence Kaplan says:

    Thank you sceptic for providing the reference to Brown’s article and J.for providing the link. I see I misrepresented the article’s thesis. That will teach me to rely on my memory! To the contrary, Brown argues that the HH was an attempt at the halakhacization of mussar, though he argues that the process of halakhacization was incomplete. My point that Brown’s argues that the HH is a tendentious work and unfit for providing guidance for speech in a modern society was correct. I hope Gil wll read the article and express his opinion about it.

  31. aiwac says:

    I have more issues with how “loshon hara” is understood today than the question of history. Loshon Hara in many circles today is like the Mafia code of silence. In other words – don’t be a rat, ever. It doesn’t matter what the offense is (unless it’s a violation of religious standards of your community).

    Don’t believe me? Witness the attitude towards people who blow the whistle on sexual offenders. I never cease to be amazed at commenters on blogs who quote chapter and verse from various sources (including Chofetz Chaim) to explain why one should never tell.

    So, I have difficulty taking “loshon hara” seriously anymore. It seems to mean whatever people consider convenient.

  32. Jerry says:

    “I believe the Chafetz Chaim’s standard is anything that would cause someone to think less of the person, although I do not have a citation handy.”

    That makes sense, but then based on the different options I spelled out (and I’d be glad if anyone had any others), this applies to maybe 1% of historical writing. The only exception would be a lot of critical Biblical scholarship, but that’s not the real problem with critical Biblical scholarship!

    And in any case, S. makes a good point. Rav Schwab’s position can be used to interpret anything as inspirational.

  33. joel rich says:

    The Rambam and Rabbenu Yonah wrote about hilchos lashon hara.

    ==================
    IIRC The Rambam devotes a few seifim at most in hilchot deyot without any of the detail that the C”C goes into (which is part 2 of my unsubstantiated thesis – you can’t write an algorithm that will contain it because it is so nuanced-you can only provide very general guidelines if you want people to act on it)
    KT

  34. Ruvie says:

    Hirhurim– your opening statement assumes all types of history to be morally dubious. That is what I was critical. Jerry flush out nicely some options. Your assumption seems that studying any history has a morally component that at best is dubious without qualifying it. It sets atone of where your head is at.

  35. Ruvie says:

    Hirhurim– your opening statement assumes all types of history to be morally dubious. That is what I was critical. Jerry flush out nicely some options. Your assumption seems that studying any history has a morally component that at best is dubious without qualifying it. It sets a tone of where your head is at. Is it intentional ?

  36. Ari says:

    Despite the title, you don’t seem to be discussing general history, but either way, you should quote the relevant passage in Shulchan Aruch (hilchos shabbos) which says the study of history is assur (nothing to do with lashin hara).

  37. aiwac says:

    R. Gil,

    On the subject of the halachic nature of “loshon hara” may I suggest you pay special attention to pages 192-199 of Brown’s article. Here he makes a very thorough case that loshon hara prior to the Chafetz Chayim was very much considered a musar area (principles-based) not an halachic one (rules-based).

  38. Rafael Araujo says:

    How could it be mussar when everybody agrees these are explicit mitzvos in the Torah? Rechilus is a clear pasuk in Sefer Vayikra! How do we perform the mitzvoh without clear halachic guidance?

  39. aiwac says:

    Rafael,

    Clearly most authorities prior to the Chafetz Chaim thought it possible. May I recommend you read the article and see for yourself.

  40. HAGTBG says:

    There is a criminal law axiom: the cover up is often worse then the crime. So it is with history, in my view at least.

    I have always found R’ S. Schwab’s views on historical recording and censoring offensive. Nothing here changes that.

  41. Steve Brizel says:

    FWIW, RHS has commmented on more than one instance that the real issue in Hilcos Lashon Harah is not when Lashon Harah is prohibited, but rather when it is permitted and that far too many people mistakenly think that Sefer CC is strictly a “musar sefer”, when in fact, it is a halacha sefer built on statements of Chazal and Rishonim.

  42. Steve Brizel says:

    Larry Kaplan-How else do you understand Halachos and Mitzvos Bein Adam Lchavero if you view what the CC did as the Halachization of Musar? Do you view the same as simply a non-binding Eitzah Tovah and/or a Midas Chasidus that have no relevance for MO Jews and the 21st Century?

  43. Steve Brizel says:

    It helps to see why an author wrote a sefer before engaging in revisionist claims about the author and his purposes from a contemporary POV.

    Let me offer my own hypothesis as to why the CC wrote a Halacha sefer on Lashon Harah. The CC viewed the budding movement of settling in EY with great favor as a prelude to Binyan Bayis Shlishi. That is why the CC wrote a sefer on Kodshim that was patterned after the Rif and was positive about learning Daf Yomi, because it would revive interest in Sefer Kodshim. The CC was also keenly aware that a proper Shmiras Shabbos was also a key element in hastening the Geulah-as one can discern from the Hakdamah to the third volume of MB, which had a haskmamah from R C Brisker, who commented that the CC’s Gadlus was masked by his Tzidkus. Obviously, since Sinas Chinam via Lashon Harah was a key cause of Churban Bayis Sheni, a sefer which focused on remedying the same as yet another means of hastening the Geulah.

  44. Steve Brizel says:

    FWIW, I heard R K Brander mention at last year’s Hirhurim get together that the Torah itself mentions all of the places that Am Yisrael traveled through and encamped in the desert for 40 years so that we can learn that we don’t skip the bad news and that we can learn from the good and bad events that occurred therein-which would be one of the basic purposes of studying history in a non-ideolgically rigged manner as opposed to from such ideologues such as Arnold Toynbee and Howard Zinn.

  45. Jerry says:

    “It helps to see why an author wrote a sefer before engaging in revisionist claims about the author and his purposes from a contemporary POV.”

    If you’re referring to Benny Brown’s article, it’s not revisionist. He makes explicit that he’s not interested in discussing WHY the CC wrote the sefer. He’s interested in what he accomplished and how. Why don’t you read the article?

    As to your question about bein adam l’chavero and mussar: you’re thinking about mussar and halacha the way contemporary yeshiva bochurim think about it – halachos are things you have to do, and mussar is just stam nice ideas. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that this is not strictly accurate (and suffice it to say not what I understand Benny Brown to have in mind in this article).

    Benny Brown makes a different distinction at the outset of his article, however, between the rule-centered domain of halacha, and the principle-centered domain of mussar, as well as between the “morality of aspiration” and the “morality of duty.”

    He is also quite careful in my opinion to make this about libel, rather than mussar in general (although he does talk at length about mussar in general). He lays out his goals as follows:

    “I will introduce the theoretical framework for the examination of the relationship between halakhic literature and musar literature. I will then demonstrate that the prohibition against libel had usually been considered a branch of musar, and that it was the Hafetz Hayim who transformed it into a branch of halakhah. After having analyzed the methods used to implement this transformation and its consequences, I will try to evaluate its degree of success.”

  46. Jerry says:

    “which would be one of the basic purposes of studying history in a non-ideolgically rigged manner”

    Umm…the ONLY type of history in Tanach (as well as in Chazal for the most part) is “ideologically rigged.” That’s the entire point of history in Tanach and Chazal – it’s completely theologized. Judaism doesn’t really have much of a tradition of objective history (or at least a history which tries its best to describe ancient realities as accurately as possible), which is in any case much more of a modern conception. Be that as it may, it is a very useful modern conception, which is why efforts like Mr. Eleff’s and R. Gil’s are so important.

  47. Steve Brizel says:

    Jerry wrote in response:

    ““which would be one of the basic purposes of studying history in a non-ideolgically rigged manner”

    Umm…the ONLY type of history in Tanach (as well as in Chazal for the most part) is “ideologically rigged”

    That’s assuming that Tanach is historically accurate as opposed to reflecting the spiritual ups and downs of the Jewish People and the commandments given by HaShem and expanded upon in Neviim and Ksuvim.

  48. Steve Brizel says:

    Jerry wrote in part:

    “He makes explicit that he’s not interested in discussing WHY the CC wrote the sefer. He’s interested in what he accomplished and how. Why don’t you read the article?

    As to your question about bein adam l’chavero and mussar: you’re thinking about mussar and halacha the way contemporary yeshiva bochurim think about it – halachos are things you have to do, and mussar is just stam nice ideas. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that this is not strictly accurate (and suffice it to say not what I understand Benny Brown to have in mind in this article).

    Benny Brown makes a different distinction at the outset of his article, however, between the rule-centered domain of halacha, and the principle-centered domain of mussar, as well as between the “morality of aspiration” and the “morality of duty.”

    1) I would suggest that an author’s intent in writing a book is as equally important as historical background as opposed to solely focusing in isolation to what effect the work had on later generations. That’s why most books have an introduction- so that the author can set forth what motivated the writing of the book.

    2)I was never taught or brought up on any divide between Halacha and Mitzvos Bein Adam LChavero as mere Musar by my RY . R D Z Feldman has demonstrated in his works on Mitzvos Bein Adam LChaveiro that Bein Adam LChavero is hardly mere Musar, and has much “morality of duty” as “morality of aspiration”.

  49. Mechy Frankel says:

    J. on March 16, 2011 at 11:18 am
    My doubts about the value of ‘codifying’ hilchos bein adam lachaveiro were compounded a hundred-fold when I discovered that a famous rabbinic author of halachic works on this topic is known to encourage people to lie on their tax forms in Israel (it’s only the Tziyoinim, who will just use the money for mixed-swimming pools and other aveiros). Look how often hilchos lashon hora have been used to silence those who want to raise awareness about abuse and abusers, and how mentioning specific names of known abusers or their rabbinic facilitators is often censored on frum blogs..

    I agree with sentiment that names ought be named and people ought be held accountable. But am I then the only one to note the irony here that this note fails to inform the readership of the identity of the “famous rabbinic author” who, in the poster’s estimate, holds such positions?

  50. Steve Brizel says:

    Jerry wrote:

    “halachos are things you have to do, and mussar is just stam nice”

    Perhaps, this is yet another reason why ignorance of CM is rampant and the penitentaries have no shortage of MO and Charedim serving time for white collar crime-viewing OC and YD as critcial, but viewing CM as Stam Musar.

  51. aiwac says:

    Jerry,

    I think you have a very idealized conception of what objective “modern” history is and isn’t. While it is certainly possible to be honest and open about facts, interpretations and judgments are always going to be subjective. Even the decision “not to judge” is a value judgement since it implies that both sides are equal.

    Furthermore, “ideologically rigged”? Would you prefer the Tanach give equal credence and legitimacy to those who worship God and those who worship Molech/Baal &c (because that’s what a modern historian must do)?

  52. Steve Brizel says:

    Aiwac wrote:

    “Would you prefer the Tanach give equal credence and legitimacy to those who worship God and those who worship Molech/Baal &c (because that’s what a modern historian must do)?”

    If one studies Tanach with just Rashi and Mtzudos, one sees much evidence of the ongoing conflict between the Ovdei AZ and their opponents up to and including Churban Bayis Rishon. There is no whitewashing of the performance of those who erred in their ways.

  53. Shalom Spira says:

    Another interesting halakhic issue with studying history is that reading history books is generally prohibited to Jews by Shulchan Arukh Orach Chaim 307:16, both on the Sabbath as well as weekdays. Exceptions are if the history books are written in Hebrew (Rema), or the books identified by Mishnah Berurah in se’if katan 58.
    http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=14171&st=&pgnum=208
    Parenthetically, though I am an admirer of R. Joel Teitelbaum, zatz”al, I have to say this Rema is a powerful support for the concept of the revitalization of Hebrew as a spoken language, as Eliezer Ben Yehudah successfully orchestrated (contrary to the assertion of R. Teitelbaum in Vayo’el Mosheh).

  54. Steve Brizel says:

    I think that Brown’s article merely is the equivalent of Dr CS’s article on the effect of the MB et al. Let me offer a few observations on the article:

    1) Merely because we view a particular subject as Musar is not the final word. How many Mitzvos Bein Adam LChavero on the second side of the Luchos would we view merely as Musar , an Aitzah Tovah or Midas Chasidus merely because we view them as the same, as opposed to Halachos, merely because we find them difficult to reconcile with the mores and ideals of contemporary society?

    2)the Sefer that the CC wrote for Jewish soldiers was a Halachic guide.

    3) Relying on Aggadic and Biblical texts for proofs is , as Brown admits in a footnote, does not mean a work is Aggadic or Musar oriented per se as opposed to Halachic in nature.

    4) There are many places in the Yad at the end of a sefer where Rambam engages in what could be considered Divrei Chizuk and Mussar. Yet, I find it difficult to accept that Rambam included Hilcos Deos, which has many concrete halachos and contemporary applications, in the Yad, merely as a Sefer Musar. One cannot dismiss the location of Hilcos Deos in the Yad so easily.

    5) Professor Brown’s classification of SMaG, SmaK and Yereim ( and presumably Sefer HaChinuch as well) ignores the fact that Monei HaMitzvos is a genre among Rishonim that is viewed both for the Halachic and Hashkafic/Musar statements contained therein but which has never disqualified the halachic statements therein from being viewed as such.

    6) One can find many comments made in the heat of the Beis Medrash about the weight or quality of an argument that would not be tolerated elsewhere but for the search for the truth,

  55. Nachum says:

    Steve, R’ Leiman has pointed out that the Chafetz Chaim didn’t have an overarching plan in writing his sefarim. If he saw a need, he wrote a sefer, which is his particular greatness.

  56. Steve Brizel says:

    Mechy Frankel wrote:

    “Look how often hilchos lashon hora have been used to silence those who want to raise awareness about abuse and abusers, and how mentioning specific names of known abusers or their rabbinic facilitators is often censored on frum blogs”

    You aren’t seriously implying that MO constitutes a model of adherence to these halachos?

  57. Steve Brizel says:

    Nachum-thanks for R D Leiman’s comment. I think that one can question that premise from the introduction to each of the sefarim that I mentioned as well as his well known positive views towards the early settlers in EY. Why else concentrate on areas of Torah and Halacha that had been subject of codification or were identified as the keys to a Geulah or a Kollel that studied Kodshim?

  58. Jerry says:

    Steve: “That’s assuming that Tanach is historically accurate as opposed to reflecting the spiritual ups and downs of the Jewish People and the commandments given by HaShem and expanded upon in Neviim and Ksuvim.”

    Right. This is precisely my point. Tanach doesn’t believe in “non-ideologically rigged” history as you seem to.

    Steve: “I would suggest that an author’s intent in writing a book is as equally important as historical background as opposed to solely focusing in isolation to what effect the work had on later generations. That’s why most books have an introduction- so that the author can set forth what motivated the writing of the book.”

    No one’s saying it’s not important. It’s just not what the article is about. If you want to write an article about the CC’s motivation in writing the Sefer CC, you’re more than welcome.

    Steve: “I was never taught or brought up on any divide between Halacha and Mitzvos Bein Adam LChavero as mere Musar by my RY”

    And THAT, dear Steve, is the very point that Benny Brown makes! Baruch she’kivanta!

  59. Jerry says:

    Steve: “Perhaps, this is yet another reason why ignorance of CM is rampant and the penitentaries have no shortage of MO and Charedim serving time for white collar crime-viewing OC and YD as critcial, but viewing CM as Stam Musar.”

    Well…this isn’t what I was saying, but good point nonetheless.

    aiwac: “While it is certainly possible to be honest and open about facts, interpretations and judgments are always going to be subjective.”

    Undoubtedly correct – and quite post-modernist of you! And, in fact, being open and up front about this aspect of historical writing, as well as a focus upon reading critically, are some of the main points that distinguish “modern” scholarship from that which came before. Indeed, this modern phenomenon is actually quite useful, so the real question becomes to what extent halacha allows us to utilize it. To that end, Mr. Eleff and R. Gil are making an important contribution.

    aiwac: “Would you prefer the Tanach give equal credence and legitimacy to those who worship God and those who worship Molech/Baal &c (because that’s what a modern historian must do)?”

    Absolutely not! I simply said modern historical scholarship is useful. Why did you take that to mean that anything else ever written is therefore worse? I mean I think toilet paper is useful – but when I’m at the dinner table I’d much rather have a plate of food than a plate of toilet paper…

  60. Steve Brizel says:

    Jerry-thanks for your responses. Yet, I think that the following are critical, and were missed in Brown’s article:

    1) One does not study the effect of a book in and its author in splendid isolation and without considering why the author wrote a book.

    2) Tanach is not history and should not be viewed as such.

    3)Based on Dworkin’s model, Brown divided Mitzvos Bein Adam LaMakom and Bein Adam LChavero into Halacha and Musar. Such a division relegates much of the Mitvos Bein Adam LChavero to mere Musar, when in fact we are told that the entirety of the Torah can be found in the shorthand of the Aseres HaDibros. My RY never made such a division, but underscored that our responsibility was to maintain the integrity of the entire Decalogue, to use RYBS’s phrase. I think that Brown’s model reduces the importance of Mitzvos Bein Adam LChavero to mere Midas Chasidus despite the fact that Chazal emphasize that we are dealing with halachos, that suffered from not being cofified until the CC wrote his sefer. I suspect that such Brown’s model might find favor among those members of the Charedi and MO community who are serving time for white collar crime, but other than rejecting CC’s model as not helpful for those seeking careers in the arts or journalism as mere Musar camouflagued as Halacha, it denigrates the importance of adhering to Mitzvos Bein Adam LChavero, which have a Halachic context, as opposed to being either merely nice ideas rooted in Musar or Hashkafic concepts.

  61. aiwac says:

    aiwac: “While it is certainly possible to be honest and open about facts, interpretations and judgments are always going to be subjective.”

    Jerry: Undoubtedly correct – and quite post-modernist of you!

    I must demur here. I agree there are such things as hard facts (something many PoMos deny). I also think that there are interpretations that are more likely than others. Interpretations, however are a judgement call, and one can never be as “exact” with them as with facts. Judgments, moreover, are always subjective, and even the most rigorous modernist will admit this.

    Jerry: “To that end, Mr. Eleff and R. Gil are making an important contribution.”

    Could you elaborate?

    Jerry: “Why did you take that to mean that anything else ever written is therefore worse?”

    This is often the view of people towards non-modern scholarship/historiography. It seemed to me that this was your attitude (especially with your “ideologically-rigged” comment). If this is not the case, then I apologize.

  62. Jerry says:

    Steve: If you read the whole article instead of combing through it quickly, you’ll see many if not all of your points either directly or indirectly addressed.

    As for this: “Relying on Aggadic and Biblical texts for proofs is , as Brown admits in a footnote, does not mean a work is Aggadic or Musar oriented per se as opposed to Halachic in nature.”

    This is not at all his point, as far as I can remember. Please provide the reference so we can check it.

  63. aiwac says:

    Steve,

    “Based on Dworkin’s model, Brown divided Mitzvos Bein Adam LaMakom and Bein Adam LChavero into Halacha and Musar. Such a division relegates much of the Mitvos Bein Adam LChavero to mere Musar,”

    Where does he say this (I read the whole article)?! I think you’ve made an extreme extrapolation from the singular issue of lashon hara to Bein Adam Lechaveiro. That’s quite a leap.

  64. Jerry says:

    “One does not study the effect of a book in and its author in splendid isolation and without considering why the author wrote a book.”

    Sure you can. Or more precisely, as long as you describe what an author tried to accomplish and how he accomplished it, the why is very much secondary – aside from being quite difficult to determine.

    This happens in real life all the time. In fact, in constitutional theory, this is almost exactly why the textualists (Antonin Scalia is one prominent example) reject the theory of original intent. Without passing judgment on this critique, or even on originalism as a whole, I simply mean to note that setting aside authorial intent is an extremely common form of analysis.

  65. Steve Brizel says:

    Jerry

    1)I think that Scalia is merely the conservative equivalent of Hugo Black who also limited his otherwise expansive view of civil liberties to the four corners of the Bill of Rights.

    2)Divorcing a book from its author’s intent is akin to saying that you have no interest in deciphereing why an author wrote a book.

    3)Brown’s whole premise that Lashon Harah is Mussar is based on Dworkin’s rationale. Many of the Mitzvos Bein Adam LChavero IMO can be easily subsumed under such a flawed analysis.

    4)See Footnotes 70, 85.

  66. Jerry says:

    Steve: “Tanach is not history and should not be viewed as such.”

    I’m a little confused as to what it is you think I’ve been saying this whole time but…yes, this is my point. You claimed that Tanach shows us the importance of ‘non-ideologically rigged’ history (presumably as opposed to ideologically based writing). I countered that it does no such thing, and in fact does the opposite, as it is not even interested in ‘history’ as we understand it at all. You seem to agree with me, in which case perhaps I misunderstood your original point.

    Steve: “Based on Dworkin’s model, Brown divided Mitzvos Bein Adam LaMakom and Bein Adam LChavero into Halacha and Musar.”

    It’s been a bit since I read the article in depth, but as those terms never once appear in the entire article, you must have misunderstood his point. You’ll have to provide page numbers so we can check your reading of the article.

    In fact, he ends up modifying Dworkin for this context and cites with approval R. Aharon Lichtenstein to this effect.

  67. Steve Brizel says:

    Jerry wrote:

    “Steve: If you read the whole article instead of combing through it quickly, you’ll see many if not all of your points either directly or indirectly addressed”

    I have read the article in its entirety, and it strikes me as an attempt to discern why certain Mitzvos were not deemed worthy of codification based on the conclusion that the relevant Mitzvah is purely in the mind of the author nothing more than a Midas Chasidus. I can assure both you and the author that my RY do not view the sefer in question merely as a Mussar sefer.

  68. S. says:

    The whole argument about whether “history” is objective is ridiculous, but especially the idea that as a consequence of the fact that all historians cannot be perfectly objective, therefore all history is equally subjective and so we may as well prefer our own subjective history.

    History writing varies widely. To give one example, not all historians carefully back up their work with detailed and exact citations. Those who do, write better history than those who don’t. And when the footnotes and citations actually say what the text claims, all the better. There’s just a huge difference in the quality, reasonableness and accuracy in different styles of history writing and of different historians.

  69. Jerry says:

    aiwac: “I must demur here. I agree there are such things as hard facts (something many PoMos deny). I also think that there are interpretations that are more likely than others. Interpretations, however are a judgement call, and one can never be as “exact” with them as with facts.”

    Any association with post-modernism always sends people running for the hills :-)

    I tend to think the truth lies somewhere between your last position and your new position, but in any event, the interest in describing facts, where possible, with as much accuracy as possible, coupled with the willingness to be forthright about the large degree of subjectivity required to understand and speculate about ancient texts and their varied perspectives is what sets (or should set!) the modern practice of historical scholarship apart from previous models. And as I said, although this is not the only way to look at the past, it is extremely useful.

    aiwac: “Could you elaborate?”

    Modern historical scholarship is very useful to us as a people that care very deeply about our past, are committed to emes, and also hope to learn from our ancestors (both about what to do and what not to do, as per Steve’s point). But since it is a relatively recent phenomenon, it is unclear what place it should play within a halachic framework. Eleff and R. Gil therefore do us a great service when they address this question.

    aiwac: “If this is not the case, then I apologize.”

    No sweat :-) But the “ideologically rigged” reference was actually a quote from Steve!!!

  70. Steve Brizel says:

    Jerry wrote :

    “It’s been a bit since I read the article in depth, but as those terms never once appear in the entire article, you must have misunderstood his point. You’ll have to provide page numbers so we can check your reading of the article”

    See Pages 176-181 where Brown states that he is relying on Dworkin’s definitions as explained and refined “slightly”
    ( page 176) and that RAL elsewhere stated that he was working with a definitions rooted in morality of duty and morality of aspiration as developed by Lon Fuller, which Brown notes in footnote 18 that several scholars rejected, and which Brown by no means adopts as his own working definition. In fact, Brown also states in footnote 19 that he rejects RAL’s formulations of Lifnim MiShuras HaDin and Midas Chasidus and other categories as derived from autonomous morality.

  71. IH says:

    Gil — would you be so kind as to define what you mean by “history” within the context of your post?

    Do you mean http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/history

    or perhaps: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/biography

    I am not trying to be pedantic, but I am struggling to understand what you are trying to articulate in your post.

  72. Jerry says:

    Steve: “See Pages 176-181 where Brown states that he is relying on Dworkin’s definitions as explained and refined “slightly””

    Right, but he nowhere applies this in the manner you describe. Indeed, nowhere in his article does he mention the terms “bein adam l’chavero” or “bein adam l’makom.”

    I believe you are extrapolating (incorrectly) from something else (although I really don’t know what…) that Brown uses Dworkin to somehow categorize all “bein adam l’makom” as mussar. In fact, Brown modifies Dworkin and deploys him in a different context entirely.

    Steve: “RAL elsewhere stated that he was working with a definitions rooted in morality of duty and morality of aspiration as developed by Lon Fuller, which Brown notes in footnote 18 that several scholars rejected, and which Brown by no means adopts as his own working definition.”

    His note that some scholars dispute RAL’s thesis is merely standard scholarly practice. If you cite an authority on a point that is disputed, you must note that. If one concurs with the dissenters it would be stated, and here it is not (with the exception of a tangential point in the following note).

    As far as Brown himself is concerned, he calls RAL’s demonstration of Fuller’s distinctoin “convincin[g]” (and merely disagrees, as noted above, with his location of lifnim mishuras hadin in autonomous morality, which is not at all central to Brown’s point in citing him).

    Furthermore, you state that Brown disagrees with RAL about a list of things, but it seems to me to just be lifnim mishuras hadin.

    As for Fuller, I’m a little perplexed as to how you read the pages you cited. You seem to admit that Brown “modifies” Dworkin, but seem to have missed the point that he modifies him IN LIGHT OF FULLER! And indeed, the terminology regarding morality that Brown adopts and employs throughout the rest of the article is taken DIRECTLY from Fuller!

  73. Steve Brizel says:

    Jerry-One otherb point-Hilcos Shabbos also is characterized by a few Biblical verses and lots of Halachos. Hilcos Muktzeh is also based on at least in part on one Biblical passage which leads to numerous Sugyos which classify different types of Muktzeh. The fact that the Hilcos Lashon Hara developed from a few Biblical verses in and of itself into numerous Torah and Rabbinic prohibitions is hardly unique. Furthermore, contrary to Brown, I know of many people, both Charedi and MO who follow Hilcos Lashon Hara very carefully and still manage to have very fine casual conversations. I would like to see how Brown, based on Dworkin, views such clearly halachic principles as Mitzvah HaBaah Baveirah and Ain Shaliach LDvar Averah which also reflect a sense of ethics as well.

    Like it or not, there are numerous mitzvos that have never received their own codified works.

  74. Mechy Frankel says:

    Steve Brizel on March 16, 2011 at 5:22 pm

    you are not reading carefully. t’wasn’t me who wrote that (as would be obvious to anyone familiar enough with my own transliterational prejudices, a lack of familiarity which can perhaps be forgiven). i was merely quoting mr.J. who did, and for a quite different reason. i thought it both ironic and amusing that a post which seemed to decry censoring the names of rabbinic “offenders” (if such they be) did precisely that in the very same note, wherein the poster registered his dismay at some allegedly well known but still name-withheld rabbinical miscreant.

    all that said, and excepting his diqduq, i can’t say i disagree with any of the sentiments expressed by poster J. i do think names should be named and people held accountable for their words.

    And so Reb Steve,I finally come to your own rhetorical question, to wit “You aren’t seriously implying that MO constitutes a model of adherence to these halachos?”. Parse this question as I will I can’t make head or tails of it. It is utterly divorced from the preceding subject matter, whether my own contribution or Mr J’s, which never mentioned MO or any communities adherence to halokhos etc. I’m told that some individuals, in the heightened sensitivity that may accompany ingestion of certain controlled substances may access a realm where deep and hitherto unperceived connections suddenly become very clear. Alas, I am unable to perceive either the relevance or point of your question but -if unaided by external chemistry – I do admire the insight which perceived such qesher where i only see a terminal non-sequitor.

  75. Steve Brizel says:

    I stand by my reading that Brown’s view of Sefer CC is based on a minimalist view of Mitzvos Bein Adam LChavero that views the same as Musar with Lashon Hara as the model, as oppposed to Halachic obligations that are binding on all Jews.

  76. Lawrence Kaplan says:

    Steve: You were challenged to cite texts from Brown’s article in support of your contention that he views mitzvot bein adam le-havero as belonging to the category of musar and not halakhah. You brought no such texts, and my rereading today of Brown’s article has failed to bring to light any such texts. Your “standing by you contention”– one of your favoite locutions– is simply substituting obduracy for evidence. Or is my saying that lashon hara?

  77. Jerry says:

    I admit I’m more than a bit confused, Steve, by your conviction that Brown is arguing that any laws derived from the Bible should be considered mussar. That would indeed be an utterly ludicrous position, as it is the foundation of…well…Judaism. Fortunately for Benny Brown, however, he does not in any way shape or form espouse such a position.

    Lawrence Kaplan: “Your “standing by you contention”– one of your favoite locutions”

    Ah, so someone else has noticed? :-)

  78. Jerry says:

    By the by, Steve, you seem to have adopted in your bizarre attack on Brown’s article a semantic distinction between “mussar” and “mitzvos” – a distinction that Brown does not make. In fact, in laying out a framework of “rules” and “principles,” he pretty much excludes this distinction from consideration.

    Thus, when you say, “there are numerous mitzvos that have never received their own codified works” – Brown would no doubt heartily agree!

  79. Steve Brizel says:

    Larry Kaplan-I detect nothing in Hilcos Deos, especially the last chapter, which enumerates part of the CC’s structure in Sefer CC, that the same was anything other than Halacha. The entire Perek sets forth what constitute Lashon Harah, Avak Lashon Harah and Recilus in considerable detail.

    I don’t consider a body of Halachos in the Rambam to be Musar, especially given their location in Sefer Mada immediately after Hilcos Yesodei HaTorah. It should also be noted that the Koseres to Hilcos Deos lists the prohibition against Lashon Hara and Recilus as one of the Lavim that will be discussed therein.

  80. Steve Brizel says:

    Mechy Frankel wrote:

    “And so Reb Steve,I finally come to your own rhetorical question, to wit “You aren’t seriously implying that MO constitutes a model of adherence to these halachos?”.

    Take a look at your own post which was clearly an exercise in Charedi baiting.

  81. Steve Brizel says:

    I don’t think that my critique on Brown’s article was bizarre in the least. It is obvious that he views a body of Halacha as mere Musar when it is manifestly clear that Rambam in Hilcos Deos did not. The last portion of Brown’s article is a long jeremiad that the CC’s approach offers no help to modern society. I would suggest tht modern society, with a self invented “public need to know” and inflation of constitutional liberties beyond all normal needs, even when national security is threatened as in the case of Wikileaks, is in dire need of the CC’s emphasis on confidentiality and privacy

  82. J. says:

    “Take a look at your own post which was clearly an exercise in Charedi baiting”.

    I don’t think the Chofetz Chaim would have approved of this sentence.

  83. Jerry says:

    Steve: “I don’t consider a body of Halachos in the Rambam to be Musar, especially given their location in Sefer Mada immediately after Hilcos Yesodei HaTorah. It should also be noted that the Koseres to Hilcos Deos lists the prohibition against Lashon Hara and Recilus as one of the Lavim that will be discussed therein.”

    For the last time, Brown distinguishes between PRINCIPLES and RULES. Not between IDLE IRRELEVANT SPECULATION and RULES. You seem not to have grasped this distinction, which admittedly is quite subtle. Although since he spends roughly 50 pages carefully laying out his theory, I still would have expected you to have understood (assuming you read the whole article). To boil it down: principles and rules are EQUALLY binding, with differences including their manner of articulation, and the framework of expectations for their fulfillment.

    As for the objections you’ve been raising: aside from the ones that reflect your failure to read carefully, most of them actually prove Brown’s point (and, of course, there is considerable overlap between these two mistakes of yours). Some examples:

    On Hilchos De’os, Brown writes (191, n. 3): “These laws expectedly emphasize principles, but also enumerate rules as illustrations. The fact that Maimonides placed Hilkhot De‘ot as the second section of laws in his book, between the theological section Hilkhot Yesodei ha-Torah and regular halakhic sections, shows that he was aware of the special character of these laws, and of the special status of musar as a more principled normative area.”

    He also states (191) that the Rambam “added musar norms and theological assertions at the end of some halakhic sections of this work. This structure shows that he was cognizant of the uniqueness of the musar sections, a uniqueness that he wished to preserve.”

    He goes on to argue there: “Indeed, even if the Jewish thinkers of all generations gave little attention to the theoretical question of the distinction between halakhah and musar, the living Jewish tradition knew very well how to distinguish between them. Even without being equipped with analytical conceptual tools, every bookseller of religious literature knows that the Mishneh Torah, the Tur and the Shulhan Arukh should be placed in the section of halakhic books, while Hovot ha-Levavot, Sha‘arei Teshuvah, Orhot Tzaddikim, Mesillat Yesharim and the like should be placed in the
    collection of musar books. If at times uncertainties arise, it does not undermine the distinction, as the existence of the grey area does not negate the black and the white. This distinction was created throughout the generations by a healthy intuition, but it seems that the test I proposed above – principle-centered vs. rule-centered literature – can reflect ex post facto the premise underlying it.”

  84. Jerry says:

    Steve: “inflation of constitutional liberties beyond all normal needs, even when national security is threatened as in the case of Wikileaks, is in dire need of the CC’s emphasis on confidentiality and privacy”

    And you conclude with a baffling non-sequitur. Classic Steve.

  85. Steve Brizel says:

    Jerry-

    1) who says that Hilcos Yesodei Torah and the other Seforim of Sefer Mada are not Halachically binding works, as opposed to Musar?

    2) I could find works in Lashon Kodesh and English in any bookstore on such subjects as marital harmony,Chinuch, business ethics , etc in any so called Musar section of any bookstore. That does not mean that the halachic contents of the same is merely Musar.AFAIK, Vahavta Leacha Kamocha and Vasisa HaYashar VHaTov are Mitzvos with halachic content, as opposed to merely Musar of an aspirational nature. Merely claiming that a Halacha does not comport with the spirit of the times does not mean that it is wrong? Would Brown argue such a proposition as to any of Aseres HaDibros.

    3) FWIW, the Al Chet or Vidui HaAruch clearly refers to the Chet of Lashon Hara. Even if Lashon Hara is a Lav Shein Bo Maaseh, one must do teshuvah for the same. Without knowing what is permissible and prohibited speech, how could one possibly do teshuvah.

    4) We live in a society where privacy, whether of a national, communal or individual nature is viewed with disdain. Perhaps, we need more of an emphasis on a right to privacy, which the CC clearly supported at the expense of a right to know, which is nowhere in the Bill of Rights, can easily be distinguished from freedom of press or speech.

  86. Steve Brizel says:

    Jerry wrote:

    ” He also states (191) that the Rambam “added musar norms and theological assertions at the end of some halakhic sections of this work. This structure shows that he was cognizant of the uniqueness of the musar sections, a uniqueness that he wished to preserve”

    That’s Brown’s argument as to such Halachos as the end of Shmitah vYovel and Meilah, , but I don’t think that it can be extrapolated as a basis for the inclusion of Hilcos Deos in such detail in Sefer Mada. Such a view detaches the halacic structure and content in Sefer Mada from its roots therein.

  87. Steve Brizel says:

    Jerry wrote:

    “For the last time, Brown distinguishes between PRINCIPLES and RULES. Not between IDLE IRRELEVANT SPECULATION and RULES. You seem not to have grasped this distinction, which admittedly is quite subtle”

    I read the article with great care, including the above distinction, which I don’t think can be justified in terms of the structure of Sefer Mada as opposed to the last Halacha of Shmitah VYovel or Meilah. I think that any careful and objective reader of the last section of the article in question would conclude that the author has posited that Sefer CC, has limited applicability and poses undue limitations to any MO Jew in his or her adherence to the same. Would Brown or a similarly oriented writer claim that the complexities and demands of such Mitzvos as Shabbos, Kibud Av VaEm, Shalom Bayis, etc are similarly impossible to adhere to in our complex world?

  88. Steve Brizel says:

    Jerry-I don’t think that Brown’s distinction holds up simply because all of us are obligated to adhere to Dvar HaShem. Reducing the same to a convenient distinction such as Brown’s or viewing the same as Musar or claiming that Rambam included Hilcos Mada or Sefer Mada as Musar blurs and IMO tends to negate that fact.

  89. lawrence kaplan says:

    Steve: Actually, I agree with you– as opposed to Jerry– that Brown erred in viewing Hilkhot Deot as musar, just as he erred in viewing Hilhkot Yesodei ha-Torah as theology. I also agree with you that Brown’s proofs for his contentions from, say, the ends of Shemittah ve-Yovel, Meilah, etc. are not to the point. But that was NOT what I and others criticized you for originally. It was for your unsubstantiated and untrue contention that Brown reduces all mizvot bein adam le-havero to musar. Rather than seeking to support the insupportable, you have now conveniently shifted your concern elsewhere– where you are, indeed, on firmer ground. But your inability to apologize for your original unjusitifed critcism does not speak well for you.

    I am thinking of perhaps writing an article (or blog post) elaborating on my critique of Brown’s misunderstanding and developing my own understnding of the Rambam’s views of halakhah and how he orders his halakhot in the MT and Sefer ha-Mitzvot.

  90. Jerry says:

    Lawrence Kaplan: Nicha. I do not entirely agree with Brown’s characterization of Hilchos De’os either. What bothered me, however, is that I do not think Steve grasps his distinction between mussar and halacha – especially in the context of Hilchos De’os. Steve argues that Brown is distinguishing between optional helpful advice and obligatory norms, which is not what he is doing. It was on those grounds that I defended Brown.

    Furthermore, Steve seems to think that the fact that NOWADAYS you can find lots of halachization of mussar in bookstores refutes Brown. But that is precisely Brown’s thesis – that mussar has DEVELOPED in such a way as to make this possible, and that moreover the CC played an important role in this process.

    Another point, Steve: you still have not responded with any evidence (page numbers, quotes, etc.) to back up your reading of Brown as relegating all bein adam l’chavero to mussar. I asked you repeatedly for this.

    Steve: “Without knowing what is permissible and prohibited speech, how could one possibly do teshuvah.”

    By having a moach b’kodkodcha. How do you know what constitutes v’ahavta l’reichacha kamocha? How do you know what constitutes tov v’yashar? Etc. I don’t even really understand your question.

  91. Mechy Frankel says:

    Steve Brizel on March 17, 2011 at 12:54 pm
    Mechy Frankel wrote:
    “And so Reb Steve,I finally come to your own rhetorical question, to wit “You aren’t seriously implying that MO constitutes a model of adherence to these halachos?”.
    Take a look at your own post which was clearly an exercise in Charedi baiting.

    Reb Steve. Let me lay this out for you real carefully, although I despair that will do any good. The sum total of my own remark was, and I quote myself:
    “ I agree with sentiment that names ought be named and people ought be held accountable. But am I then the only one to note the irony here that this note fails to inform the readership of the identity of the “famous rabbinic author” who, in the poster’s estimate, holds such positions?” i.e., I was merely noting the irony of withholding a name in a poster’s complaint about withholding names. From that you have managed to produce one incomprehensible rhetorical question about a completely different topic, and then compound this orgy of reading incomprehension by alleging that my remarks, quoted above, somehow equate to “chareidi baiting”. if you want to criticize somebody else, you gotta at least keep to the topic.

    As an irrelevant aside, I note I do not in fact self-identify as MO (although I’d concede that others might so choose to dentify me) nor with any of the adjectival variations including the ever so nuanced modern taxonomical designators with even longer acronyms. Indeed, I do not even much like being called orthodox since my doxa are free and my own, whether “right” or not.

  92. lawrence kaplan says:

    Jerry: I am glad that we are in agreement about Brown’s characterization of Hilkhot Deot. I am sorry if I criticized you unfairly. I agree with you that Steve misunderstands the distinction that Brown draws between musar and halakhah. Both involve duties for him.

    Steve : We are all waiting for you to get back to us re Brown supposed comment on bein adam le-havero. However, from past experience, I am not holding my breath.

  93. lawrence kaplan says:

    Mechy: You may not self-identify as MO, but, as you yourself appear to realize, others do in fact so choose to identify you. Indeed, I dare say that followers of this blog who have read your comments over time view them as offering learned, intelligent, and witty expressions of MO ideology. At least I do.

  94. Joseph Kaplan says:

    “Perhaps, we need more of an emphasis on a right to privacy, which the CC clearly supported at the expense of a right to know, which is nowhere in the Bill of Rights, can easily be distinguished from freedom of press or speech.”

    You do know, Steve, that it’s your conservative heroes on the Supreme Court who love to point out that it’s the right of privacy that is nowhere in the bill of Rights (or anywhere in the constitution).

  95. Steve Brizel says:

    “By having a moach b’kodkodcha. How do you know what constitutes v’ahavta l’reichacha kamocha? How do you know what constitutes tov v’yashar? Etc. I don’t even really understand your question”

    Wrong again-There are halachic norms that define each of the above Psukim. It is not just doing what you think is the right thing to do.

  96. Steve Brizel says:

    I think that Brown’s rationale and critique of Sefer CC as out of tune with the demands of the modern world can easily be used as a critque on why a Jew R”L should not adhere to any Mitzvos-Bein Adam LaMakom or Bein Adam LChavero.

  97. Steve Brizel says:

    Joseph Kaplan wrote:

    “You do know, Steve, that it’s your conservative heroes on the Supreme Court who love to point out that it’s the right of privacy that is nowhere in the bill of Rights (or anywhere in the constitution).”

    IIRC, Justice Douglas differed from Justice Black on this issue, with Black, Kdarko BaKodesh, despite his noticeably liberal POV elsewhere, finding no such right within the Bill of Rights.

  98. Steve Brizel says:

    Larry Kaplan-Thanks for your 3:18 Post. I do believe that the last section of Brown’s article is a jeremiad masked as a critique of Sefer CC vis a vis its application today and consider his views re both Musar and Halacha and his arguments from within the Rambam not convincing, to use the mildest possible phrase. Merely using one’s brain does not tell you what speech is permitted or prohibited or what behavior and actions are part of Vahavta Lreacha Kamocha or Vasisa HaYashar vHatov-which R D Z Feldman has outlined for us in three wonderful books.

  99. Steve Brizel says:

    Jerry wrote:

    “Furthermore, Steve seems to think that the fact that NOWADAYS you can find lots of halachization of mussar in bookstores refutes Brown. But that is precisely Brown’s thesis – that mussar has DEVELOPED in such a way as to make this possible, and that moreover the CC played an important role in this process”

    That is a grossly inaccurate parahrasing of what I said. I stated:

    “I could find works in Lashon Kodesh and English in any bookstore on such subjects as marital harmony,Chinuch, business ethics , etc in any so called Musar section of any bookstore. That does not mean that the halachic contents of the same is merely Musar.AFAIK, Vahavta Leacha Kamocha and Vasisa HaYashar VHaTov are Mitzvos with halachic content, as opposed to merely Musar of an aspirational nature. Merely claiming that a Halacha does not comport with the spirit of the times does not mean that it is wrong? Would Brown argue such a proposition as to any of Aseres HaDibros

  100. Jerry says:

    Steve: “Vahavta Leacha Kamocha and Vasisa HaYashar VHaTov are Mitzvos with halachic content”

    What does “halachic content” mean? That they are binding? This is one of Brown’s premises. But before you start talking about R. Feldman, why don’t you take a look at what the Mechaber has to say about “v’ahavta l’reiacha kamocha” and get back to me. Is this a binding albeit more abstract principle, or a basis for a fully developed set of rules, like shor mu’ad, or melacha on Shabbos?

    Even the Rambam, who mentions this far more than the Shulchan Aruch (where “v’ahavta l’reiacha kamocha” appears but once that I could find) articulates v’ahavta as a general moral (positive!) obligation that is basically the source for all chesed. But as for specific acts of gemilus chasadim: those, according to the Rambam, are d’rabbanan!

    R. Feldman himself struggles with this part of the Rambam. To me (and I believe that many mefarshim say this as well) this indicates that “v’ahavta…” itself doesn’t have specific content (other than the very general ideas mentioned in Hilchos De’os, like speaking well of others, watching out for their money like you would your own, etc.) – and that the specific acts of chesed are later independent categories that are subsumed under the general principle of “v’ahavta.”

  101. chardal says:

    >Wrong again-There are halachic norms that define each of the above Psukim. It is not just doing what you think is the right thing to do.

    Ignoring the false dicotomy in this statement – can you please point me the the section and siman of the shulchan aruch that discusses these topics? Thanks!

  102. Lawrence Kaplan says:

    To elaborate on Jerry: In Hilkhot Deot the Rambam devotes exactly ONE paragraph to the mitzvah of ve-ahavta, which, as R. Feldman correctly mentions, contains only the abstract requirements of seeking the welfare of others and to look out for their money as one would for one’s own money. Indeed, contrary to R. Feldman there is no “etc.” A principle, if there ever was one–though not musar as opposed to halakhah.

    in Hilkhot Avel the Rambam points out that the mitzvot de-rabbnan of gemilut hasadim are concretizations of ve-ahavta.

  103. [...] has an interesting post on the halakhic permissibility of studying history, where it requires digging up unflattering facts about a person’s [...]

  104. MDJ says:

    Steve,
    As someone who is not a party to this current discussion, I must urge you to stop using the phrases “Wrong” and “Wrong again” in the way you have recently taken to doing — as direct, simple, assertions. You never used to be obnoxious, but with this simple turn of phrase, you become one of the most obnoxious posters on Hirhurim.

  105. Steve Brizel says:

    Jerry and Larry Kaplan-The Rambam views Vahavta as the rubric under which various acts of Gmilus Chasadim, which are rabbinic in nature, are subsumed.Parenthetically, I should note that in the Sefer Hamitzvos, Rambam clearly lists prohibitions against Lashon Hara and Recilus. I think that other Monei HaMitzvos list many, if not all of the various forms of Gmilus Chasadim as Torah obligations. Obviously, Rambam views the same as subsumed under Vahavta, with the question remaining if there is a Kiyum HaMitzvah on a Torah level by fulfilling an act of Chesed which is rabbinic in nature.

    I have read through all of R Feldman’s superb works in this area. Please provide a page reference where he wrestles with the view of the Rambam.

    Whether or not a Halacha is listed in the SA does not render it binding. There are many Mitzvos and Halachos that are not listed therein, but are still binding. Kedoshim Tihiyu and Tzaar Baalei Chaim are two of many examples. R Y Sacks in his commentary on Pirkei Avos and R Asher Weiss in his essay on Ratzon HaTorah emphasize this fact.

    MDJ-I accept your critique re the usage of “Wrong” and “wrong again”.

  106. Jerry says:

    Steve: What other Monei ha’mitzvos have is irrelevant to the Rambam.

    You keep trying to wriggle out of the criticisms of your position by using the word “mitzvah” to describe V’ahavta, as if that itself makes your case. It does not. Principles and rules are both “mitzvos.”

    I don’t have Rav Feldman’s book handy, but listen to his shiur on “Viahavta Lireiacha Kamocha” from Wednesday April 21, 2010 (on YUTorah), starting from 15:37.

    As for the SA: I’m glad to inform the Hirhurim community that Steve Brizel has definitively stated that just because the SA says something does not make it binding halacha! (“whether or not a halacha is listed in the SA does not render it binding”)

    You realize by the way what your mistake is? The question that occupies us in this context is not whether anyone – at any time, ever, in the history of Judaism – believed that Mitzvah X is binding, but what the authority in question believed. Thus, while Rav Yonason Sacks may be a very important rav, and his conclusions crucial for our Torah knowledge, his opinions don’t really tell us much about the SA.

    Furthermore, it’s not as if the SA doesn’t mention V’ahavta (I see you didn’t actually look up what you were asked to look up…as usual). He does – he even refers to it as a mitzvah. But he does not elaborate upon this mitzvah at all, and does not list any “rules” in connection with it (at least as far as I know), nor, to the best of my knowledge, does it receive individual treatment. It is a “principle”-type mitzvah if ever I saw one!

  107. Lawrence Kaplan says:

    I think, in fairness to Steve, that part of the problem was caused by Brown. He seems to equate musar with principles and halakhah with rules. I would rather modify his view and say that there are two types of halakhah: rule halakhah, e.g. Hilkhot Shabbat; and principle halakhah, e.g., ve-ahavata. Thus what the Hafetz Hayyim did was neither to legalize ethics nor halakhacize musar, but shift from lashon ha-ra from one type of halakhah (principle halakhah) to another (rule halakhah).

  108. chardal says:

    >I think, in fairness to Steve, that part of the problem was caused by Brown. He seems to equate musar with principles and halakhah with rules.

    He places them both under the rubric of law.

    Its not like he sees musar as non-binding!

  109. Steve Brizel says:

    Jerry wrote;
    “You keep trying to wriggle out of the criticisms of your position by using the word “mitzvah” to describe V’ahavta, as if that itself makes your case. It does not. Principles and rules are both “mitzvos.”

    I don’t have Rav Feldman’s book handy, but listen to his shiur on “Viahavta Lireiacha Kamocha” from Wednesday April 21, 2010 (on YUTorah), starting from 15:37.

    As for the SA: I’m glad to inform the Hirhurim community that Steve Brizel has definitively stated that just because the SA says something does not make it binding halacha! (“whether or not a halacha is listed in the SA does not render it binding”)

    You realize by the way what your mistake is? The question that occupies us in this context is not whether anyone – at any time, ever, in the history of Judaism – believed that Mitzvah X is binding, but what the authority in question believed. Thus, while Rav Yonason Sacks may be a very important rav, and his conclusions crucial for our Torah knowledge, his opinions don’t really tell us much about the SA.

    Furthermore, it’s not as if the SA doesn’t mention V’ahavta (I see you didn’t actually look up what you were asked to look up…as usual). He does – he even refers to it as a mitzvah. But he does not elaborate upon this mitzvah at all, and does not list any “rules” in connection with it (at least as far as I know), nor, to the best of my knowledge, does it receive individual treatment. It is a “principle”-type mitzvah if ever I saw one”

    Jerry, let me offer this response upon which I will elaborate on after Purim, if this thread is still up:

    1) A mitzvah is a mitzvah, that describes a prescribed course of conduct, regardless of whether someone classifies or attempts to rationalize the same via a contemporary philosophical approach is a principle or rule.

    2) There are many Mitzvos that we fulfill despite the fact that they are neither explicitly codified or hinted at in SA.

    3)There are numerous Halachos that reflect the Rabbinic application of Vahavta that still result in at least a Kiyum HaMitzvah of Vahvavta. Tzedaka, Bikur Cholim and Nichum Aveilim and many other Chesed rooted mitzvos such as Hachnasas Orchim, are but a short list of the most classic examples. Looking at how Rambam classifies Vahavta in splendid isolation as if there were no other Monei HaMitzvos with a possibly differing view begs the question.

    4)Please explain why an authority’s “belief” is critical, as opposed to attempting to define the views of a Tana, Amora, Rishon and Acharon and the application of the same to our lives.

  110. [...] this post where we explored the issue of public benefit regarding lashon ha-ra in history: link) Share and [...]

 
 

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