Staying Within the System

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An experienced listener to the public square of halakhic debate might be surprised by the many cries he currently hears evoking moral and emotional concerns. Are they relevant? Despite their popular appeal, do they contain the halakhic power to alter conclusions?

A recurring theme in Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s worldview is that Jewish law is a closed intellectual system. It contains its own inner logic and does not change based on external concerns. Much like a mathematical postulate remains unaffected by a moral argument, so too does a halakhic principle remain unchanged despite critiques based on other disciplines (R. Soloveitchik made this specific analogy in an important 1975 lecture to YU rabbinic alumni).

R. David Bigman (The Fire and the Cloud, pp. 76-78) points this out regarding Elazar and Isamar’s deviation from Moshe’s command. Moshe had told them to eat the chatas offering but they instead burned it completely. On learning of this, Moshe became angry until Aharon calmed him with a logical argument (Lev. 10).

Elazar and Isamar had just lost their two brothers. While they were not mourning, they still felt unable to reach the joy necessary to eat a sacrifice in communion with God. How could they set aside their emotions? How could they morally justify pretending to satisfy the religious requirements? This argument did not convince Moshe. The Gemara (Zevachim 101a) states that Aharon impressed Moshe with an halakhic argument, a kal va-chomer. Why was Moshe appeased by this argument and not by the compelling underlying emotional/moral claim?

R. Bigman explains:

This midrash reflects the transition from human-emotional language to halakhic language. While Aaron’s position has a strong moral basis, it still must be presented in terms of accepted scholarly discourse.

Critiques of halakhic decisions must be presented in both the language and concepts of its historical discourse. Anything else consists of an extra-disciplinary incursion into a sacred enterprise. And even when translated into halakhic language, it must be able to stand on its own. Just as Aharon’s kal va-chomer was a convincing halakhic argument, any moral or emotional argument in its halakhic form must survive and convince within the halakhic genre.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America. He also serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

100 comments

  1. >Critiques of halakhic decisions must be presented in both the language and concepts of its historical discourse. Anything else consists of an extra-disciplinary incursion into a sacred enterprise.

    Does this apply to everything? How can halacha tread on other territories and criticize?

  2. I am curious, Gil, why the name of the highest halachic authority of this closed intellectual system is derived from Greek?

  3. R. Bigman says:
    “This midrash reflects the transition from human-emotional language to halakhic language. While Aaron’s position has a strong moral basis, it still must be presented in terms of accepted scholarly discourse.”

    R. Gil says:
    “Critiques of halakhic decisions must be presented in both the language and concepts of its historical discourse.”

    Eh?

  4. It’s a 3-page devar Torah.

  5. That sounds good but it is only true to a point because the system takes into account emotions

    We are not Vulkans
    Live long and prosper

  6. On the question of what r bigman actually said i don’t have the book so i guess i need to admit that it is
    _possible_ that he says what you want elsewhere. but not in this quote, and from what i know of him and his students i am just not convinced.

    On the larger question, i am troubled by the idea that you want to treat halacha like another “discipline” that can’t consider external “concepts.” in the realm of general knowledge we accept this feature of disciplines precisely because we may have recourse to other disciplines when the nature of the question calls for it. Moreover, to the extent that other disciplines have access to some truth (as mediated by their particular methodologies, etc), what does it mean that halacha excludes them? is this not an argument for killing lice on shabbat? (not that that is necessarily a problem, but it seems to be an unpopular position on this blog.)

    Not even to mention the empirical difficulty with positing that anything other than math works with mathematical precision (even math, i’m sure, doesn’t always, as practiced), or that there even is such a thing as a completely “self-contained” system of thought.

  7. Some of The Rav’s most prominent students wear techelit tzitzit. There is no way that you can get that without information from outside the closed system.

  8. Charlie: that’s a ridiculous example.

    R. Gil: R. Sherlow begs to differ.

  9. It is all well and good to say that halacha is a closed system, but that doesn’t tell you what the axioms of that system are, nor are these axioms stated explicitly anywhere. So who says “It would make women feel badly” is an external concern.
    I would also point out that the comparison to mathematics cuts both ways. Godel proved that any axiom system strong enough to describe arithmetic is incomplete — that is, there are true statements that cannot be proven in the system. So one must realize that pressing this analogy too far will result in concluding that there are some true halachic results that one cannot reach simply using any given set of halachic axioms and methods.

  10. “I am curious, Gil, why the name of the highest halachic authority of this closed intellectual system is derived from Greek?”

    Who’s that?

  11. Mr. Sanhedrin

  12. >A recurring theme in Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s worldview is that Jewish law is a closed intellectual system.

    This argument only works for people who believe that a closed legal system is a possibility. The irony is of course, that R’ Soloveitchik’s POV regarding the underlying pseudo-mathematical foundation of halacha is very obviously influenced by his studies in Herman Cohen’s Marburg school of neo-kantianism on which he wrote his PHD. The very idea that the intelligibility of law is composed of pure mathematical constructs (Marburg neo-kantianism insisted – in opposition to the Southeast/Baden neo-kantianism – that mathematical logic is an essential part of the basic categories of logic).

    In other words, R’ Soloveitchic’s entire philosophical justification of the Brisker approach is itself based overwhelmingly on external sources.

    Also, the very proposition is dubious – this supposed closed system is never described by anyone and therefore can not subject to criticism. What is this “internal halachic logic” – what are its parameters, what are its operators – and most importantly – what is its historical vintage – any advocation of such a system would have to show that people were aware of its existence throughout the entire history of halacha itself. It smells of inauthentic religious opportunism to propose an ad-hoc internal system of legal thought at the very time when historicist analysis of halacha was on the rise. Has anyone, R’ Soloveitchic or one of his students actually described this system instead simply asserting its existence?

    For further reading on the criticism of this brisker philosophical orientation and a proposal for a different more historical approach for religious students, please read R’ Shagar’s zt”l masterpiece בתורתו יהגה:

    http://www.siach.org.il/MoreInfo.asp?id=86

    IMO, the non-sociological ideological schism is not regarding political issues such as women’s roles or homosexuality as much as regarding the viability of an neo-historical-positivist approach to Jewish learning – which orthodox Jewish academics have been advocating for a while and which rings true to many of the educated orthodox laity.

  13. “A recurring theme in Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s worldview is that Jewish law is a closed intellectual system. It contains its own inner logic and does not change based on external concerns.”

    On the other, RAL is very clear in his essays that there is an ethic outside the intellectual framework of halacha.

    “(R. Soloveitchik made this specific analogy in an important 1975 lecture to YU rabbinic alumni).”

    Assuming that you are referring to the RCA lecture on hazakot, RAL has reportedly said that he does not understand it. (Which, of course, would be a polite way of saying that he disagrees.)

  14. I think the amount of counter-evidence to this claim is enormous.

    Let’s take an example from the Rav’s own oeuvre… Explain to me what’s wrong with Women’s Prayer Groups from entirely within the closed halachic framework? Or letting a woman wear a tallis?

    To my own mind the essential problem with these innovations is that halakhah is NOT a closed system, and thus not everything that CAN be justified through legal process OUGHT to be. And in fact, what once you wear down the gray area around the edges, you just create for yourself new grey area, and if one is not VERY careful pretty soon nothing, not even the core legal framework, is left (c.f. Conservative Judaism).

    Or, when RYBS minimized the role of heter mei’ah rabbanim, proclaiming that he would never sign one, just on the grounds that marriage requires symmetry.

    RYBS also speaks of the erev Shabbos Jew, of the person who goes beyond the laws of Shabbos to the anticipation of Shabbos. But that doesn’t mean such concerns are supposed to influence halakhah. Similarly, one can posit a Torah ethic beyond the law and not assume it changes the law one iota. However, it seems to me RYBS uses this ethic to decide the law with some frequency. As do we all.

    -micha

  15. Charlie, about tekheiles… See Nefesh haRav pp 52-54 (see my English summary, here), which is a list of examples where the Rav tells you to neglect scientific findings in favor of mesorah. Tekheiles is among them. The Rav would have been against this new tekheiles as well, as his version of R’ Chaim’s argument against Radziner tekheilies was this very issue of closed system.

    And yet the author of Nefesh haRav, R’ Herschel Schachter, wears it. A talmid does not have to slavishly rule like the rebbe.

    -micha

  16. Micha,

    I think the response to all of your examples would be the same: all of the objections to those things that SEEM to stem from emotional concerns are REALLY actually inherent to the closed halachic system. As I’m sure you can tell, this argument also serves as a convenient way of delegitimizing any emotional concerns that people like R’ Gil don’t like. And of course it’s impossible to disprove this particular argument so there’s nothing anyone else can do.

    And no, R’ Gil and others do not seemed to be bothered by the circularity and self-serving nature of this argument.

  17. One could say that, but the Rav himself did not. He actually used the idiom “political reasons”. At least, that’s how R’ Rakeffet tells it.

    -micha

  18. “And yet the author of Nefesh haRav, R’ Herschel Schachter, wears it. A talmid does not have to slavishly rule like the rebbe.”
    How close does a talmid have to rule like a teacher to be considered a talmid-thus to take 2 examples from Prof Kaplan’s work of revisionism and the Rav-would one include from those who had the Rav as a Rebbe at YU-RHS a talmid? R David Hartman a talmid? from the others both R Yitz Greenberg and R Moshe Meiselman claim to be talmidim of the Rav are either or both that far removed in hashkafa that it is not fair to call them talmidim of the Rav.

  19. ““A recurring theme in Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s worldview is that Jewish law is a closed intellectual system. It contains its own inner logic and does not change based on external concerns.”

    On the other, RAL is very clear in his essays that there is an ethic outside the intellectual framework of halacha.”
    One can’t forget the Rav famous comment that “Halacha is a floor not a ceiling”

  20. Also, the very proposition is dubious – this supposed closed system is never described by anyone and therefore can not subject to criticism. What is this “internal halachic logic” – what are its parameters, what are its operators – and most importantly – what is its historical vintage – any advocation of such a system would have to show that people were aware of its existence throughout the entire history of halacha itself. It smells of inauthentic religious opportunism to propose an ad-hoc internal system of legal thought at the very time when historicist analysis of halacha was on the rise. Has anyone, R’ Soloveitchic or one of his students actually described this system instead simply asserting its existence?

    Another Brisker described this system – Rav Avigdor Amiel – Hamidot LeChecker Hahalcha.

  21. I think that the Rav’s attempt to formalize Halacha occurs in the context of a general extrapolation out from a phenomenological moment to a normative one. I would question that phenomenological moment itself. And even moreso, the jump from there to a normative account. It seems like historically there is no identifiable substance called Halacha. And furthermore, isolating this out via certain internalist modes of description would not mandate that all further Halacha needs to be strictly internalist. Do you see where the logic breaks down?

  22. In my opinion the Rav was explaining the Halachic system.
    However there are variables to mathematical formula and it is up to the Posek to determine the variables to a particular formula,which can then, at times, change the outcome.

  23. The problem is deciding halakha on the basis of moral intuition or other factors which are outside the system. However, if one decides halakha using “internal arguments”, there is no reason why they should not be motivated by outside factors, such as morality. As R. Bigman writes, “it still must be presented in terms of accepted scholarly discourse”. It’s the form of presentation that counts, not the motivation. Of course, that does not mean that poskim may shoot the arrow and then draw the target around it afterwards, but it does leave some room for “outside” considerations.

  24. I have to admit I sometimes wonder whether the Rav constructed certain statements in a way that they would seem absolute because of his concern for the need to defend against certain specific threats at the moment (e.g Tan du vs. the no need for get issue, closed system versus the where there’s a will issue)
    Oh well, fortunately no one relies on me for this 🙂
    KT

  25. joel rich on March 28, 2011 at 8:37 am
    “I have to admit I sometimes wonder whether the Rav constructed certain statements in a way that they would seem absolute because of his concern for the need to defend against certain specific threats at the moment (e.g Tan du vs. the no need for get issue, closed system versus the where there’s a will issue)
    Oh well, fortunately no one relies on me for this :-)”
    Joel -I tend to agree with you-and there is certainly at least one person who is extremely close to the Rav who in the past couple of years stated that he felt that the Rav’s famous prohibition against going to a mixed pew synagogue and not here shofar Rosh Hashana was based on the then threat of mixed pews synagogues not on a pure halachik analysis-if that person has repeated himself elsewhere in the past couple of years publicly it should be brought forward-not merely for the issue of hearing shofar but as an understanding about how the Rav acted.

  26. As chardal said, it would seem that were such a closed system to exist, it would define itself somewhere. It would also be recognizable soomewhere (or all over) rabbinic literature. Neither is true, and in fact, the evidence is largely against this type of closed system. עיקר חסר מן הספר.

    That is not to say that there exist no elements to halacha that are distinctly jewish/halachik, of their own logic. However, elements such as these do not mean that the system as a whole functions solely in this way. Presenting this as a binary choice presents a false choice.

    My opinion regarding this “closed” system is similar to my feeling towards the Brisker method of categorical analysis: sometimes it is true, and sometimes it is not. The Talmud itself is full of examples of Halacha being decided by the populace (חזי מאי עמא דבר), or halacha incorporating elements of general society into itself (an ironic example of this is the appropriate dress during prayer being borrowed from respectable secular dress). This does not even take into account the later, ashkenazic habit of codifying minhagim as halacha.

    Perhaps the Rav was aware of the novel nature of what he was saying (and the fact that he was taking a facet of the halachik system and using it to describe the system in its entirety), and said it hyperbolically. Ironically, it would then be a sociological, meta-halachik concern for the changes happening in his lifetime that elicited his polemical insistence upon a closed system.

  27. * should read “attemts at change happening in his lifetime”, in the last sentence.

  28. Ironically, it would then be a sociological, meta-halachik concern for the changes happening in his lifetime that elicited his polemical insistence upon a closed system.
    ===========================
    otherwise known as blowback.
    KT

  29. there seem to be two empirical claims being raised a lot in these comments:

    1 – there is no evidence that halacha actually operates like a closed system or even contemplates its existence. Furthermore, there seems to be affirmative evidence of “outside” things getting “in” throughout the course of jewish history.

    2 – closed systems in general are impossible. (even math, per mdj at 2:08 am.)

    R. Gil, any response to either, other than “the Rav said so”? (I’m sure the Rav meant something, but if we (and apparently RAL) can’t make sense of it, and others disagree, then I am not sure how one can in good faith deploy the rav’s position in contemporary debates.)

  30. “Another Brisker described this system – Rav Avigdor Amiel – Hamidot LeChecker Hahalcha.”

    J.I.,

    Rav Amiel was a Telzer, as he himself specifically pointed out in that volume.

    As a general comment on this discussion:

    OK, I get the arguments – R. Soloveitchik’s argument is full of holes and was a response to the historical-positivist school &c &c.
    Indeed, while I think these responses go too far, I agree that the Rav overstated his case and contradicted this position throughout his life.

    What no-one here seems to understand is that historicism is an extremely destructive concept, certainly when taken to extremes, and even when taken in measured doses. If we uncritically adopt historicism as a running concept, there is nothing, repeat nothing that can’t be written out of existence by saying it’s no longer “relevant”. Not a mitzva, not a belief, nothing.

    If halacha, as some have said here, is a meaningless concept with no integrity, then Orthodoxy and frankly religion have no conceptual leg to stand on. “Halachic Jewry” in particular will have cut off the branch on which it rests. All you have left is lifestyle arbitrarily adopted because it’s comfortable.

    Perhaps we would do well to understand that the vehemence of R. Soloveitchik’s response was because he understood how dangerous this could be.

    Just a Thought,

    aiwac

  31. Gil states:

    Critiques of halakhic decisions must be presented in both the language and concepts of its historical discourse.

    However, if those halakhic decisions themselves take into account or are influenced by external factors then it must certainly be acceptable to discuss and, indeed, to critique those factors.

    Instead of assuming that Rav Soloveitchik’s formulations can be imposed, in a limiting fashion, on the practical halakhic discourse, we should instead deal with the more fundamental issue, namely what is the nature of brisker schism between the abstract realm of halakhic logic and the application of halakha to real-world situations.

  32. Chardal wrote:

    “The irony is of course, that R’ Soloveitchik’s POV regarding the underlying pseudo-mathematical foundation of halacha is very obviously influenced by his studies in Herman Cohen’s Marburg school of neo-kantianism on which he wrote his PHD.”

    According to your approach we are forced to make the absurd proposition that all philosophical discussions of the nature of mathematics as a closed system which are based – to any extent – on previous philosophical discussions, involve a self-contradiction.

  33. Please forgive me if I don’t have the time to read through all of the previous comments.

    The Rav זצ”ל never said that outside information or change is excluded from the halakhic process. He sad that Halakhah is a discipline with its own integrity. As a result, it should not be enslaved to other disciplines, such as History, Psychology or Philosophy. He, himself, was very conservative regarding ritual and liturgical change, as much on grounds of religious policy as of Hashqafah.

    OTOH, it is obvious that changing circumstances lead (to a certain degree) to halakhic readjustment. However, there are limits to this. The wholesale vivesection of the Torah by the Conservative movement shows where that leads. The Rav, it seems to me, set those boundaries with axioms and legislation of Hazal. Here, too, there is some fexibility in his approach. So, on the issue of American Cheese, or Bigham’s Ice Cream, he was willing to say that denatred gelatins and rennets are kosher. OTOH, I have absolutely no doubt that he would have vigorously opposed the recent suggestion that a zimmun can be created by three men and women.

  34. >According to your approach we are forced to make the absurd proposition that all philosophical discussions of the nature of mathematics as a closed system which are based – to any extent – on previous philosophical discussions, involve a self-contradiction.

    Please explain, I am not sure what you are getting at here. The Marburg school’s position on the matter did not make an historical claim about the nature of all previous epistemologies – they only made a claim about their own and basically took Kant and tried to strip out the metaphysics. What is absurd about that?

  35. “I have absolutely no doubt that he would have vigorously opposed the recent suggestion that a zimmun can be created by three men and women.”

    That is a recent suggestion? I thought that it was an old suggestion that had been rejected. (As opposed to the suggestion that a zimun could be created by three women, which is the normative halachah.)

  36. You wrote: R’ Soloveitchic’s entire philosophical justification of the Brisker approach is itself based overwhelmingly on external sources.

    You claimed that this is ironic. I disagree.

    To suggest that mathematics is a closed system, and to do so on the basis of philosophies themselves outside of that system is comparable to suggesting that halakha is a closed system on the basis of philosophies external to that system. Neither of them involve irony.

  37. >To suggest that mathematics is a closed system, and to do so on the basis of philosophies themselves outside of that system is comparable to suggesting that halakha is a closed system on the basis of philosophies external to that system. Neither of them involve irony.<

    I disagree – Marburg neo-kantian philosophy was almost entirly involved in establishing the philosophical groundwork for math and science. They are to some extent the pioneers of the "philosophy of science" discipline. As such, they engaged in a trancendental analysis of the nature of math and later science – they did not attempt to invoke outside disciplines as much as explain the underlying philosophical basis for such disciplines and further – to explain the underlying makeup of human cognition and intelligibility. They established a method based on philosophical argumentation and [tried to] employ that method to explain the totality of human understanding – math was just their building block.

    To compare their work with math to what is essentially a legal system simply does not work. even according to halachic man, halacha is not a foundational system of congnition (like math can be) but rather a conceptual scheme among others that can be used to account for the data points of our sensual experience. its function in our conciousness comes AFTER the universal building blocks of cognition have been employed. In Kantian terms, it is a categorical system that can participate in the synthesis of the schemata but it is not a building block of the categories themselves.

    To conclude, the neo-kantians were engaged in original philosphy which they intended to create a philosophical foundation for the modern scientific era. Halacha, being by its historical nature an ancient and holy legal tradition can not be explained (purely) by post-kantian epistemology. To do so is to ignore the fact that 2000+ years of halachists simply did not view the world or for that manner think in the manner described by Kant. Which makes this type of philosophy an outside discipline to halacha and makes R' Soloveitchic's statment ironic.

  38. Once again,we see examples of LW revisionism in a shockingly dismissive manner of a very clear statement of RYBS that was an echo of his Shiur on Korach in the early 1970s, and the emphasis on Mesorah, evidence of which is in Igros HaGrid which contains Chiddushei Torah of RYBS that were written decades before the shiur to the RIETS alumni. It is easy to dismiss RYBS’s views of Lomdus, especially the Brisker view of Lomdus or to minimize who is a Talmid of RYBS, or to quote RAL, who IIRC, by 1975, had already made Aliyah at the end of the 1960s. Once again, it is obvious that many who think that they are Talmidim of RYBS, at least here, never understood RYBS’s chumros,kulos, and hanhagos, with respect to Halacha or the Mesorah of TSBP.

  39. Steve, two questions to try to untangle your cypher:

    1. In plain English, what do you believe RYBS stated that is being revised?

    2. Did you personally hear RYBS say (1) consistently throughout his latter years?

  40. Steven,

    I did not understand a word you said. Perhaps you could elaborate?

    BTW, if we’re already on the subject of learning methods, does anyone know of a good “Telz for dummies” article or book?

  41. ” or to quote RAL, who IIRC, by 1975, had already made Aliyah at the end of the 1960s. ”

    what does this possibly mean? That RAL has less to say on this particular topic than you because he was in another country?

  42. Prof. Woolf, the problem for us rationalists arises when the Rav says things that flatly contradict what we know to be historical fact- e.g., the way he seemed to feel that the state of the siddur on the day he was born dated back to Chazal and thus, never having changed, never can be changed.

  43. “BTW, if we’re already on the subject of learning methods, does anyone know of a good “Telz for dummies” article or book?”

    I don’t know of a book but I believe that I saw, in the early years of the internet, that Rabbi Bechhofer had a writeup about different approaches, including Brisk, Telz, and the Rogatchover.

    He may be someone to speak to.

    BTW, my BIL learned in Telz and he told me that the old Telzer method of learning is not really used anymore. Of course, I do know he heard shiurim from R’ Chaim Stein shlit”a and Rav Gifter zt”l but I have confirm with him whether they used the Telzer analysis they must have absorbed in Telz, Lita.

  44. See description aishdas.org site by Rabbi Bechoffer given a review of the Telzer method of learning.

  45. “the way he seemed to feel that the state of the siddur on the day he was born dated back to Chazal and thus, never having changed, never can be changed.”

    Admitting that changes have occurred, yet thinking it imprudent to intentionally introduce further changes, is a quite defensible position. My impression is that’s what RYBS’s actual position was.

  46. Lawrence Kaplan

    I never was convinced by the reasons offered by the Rav for not reciting the special kinot written for victims of the Holocaust. His argument that they are on a low literary level was made without any backing, and his claim that they cannot be compared to the kinot of R. Elazar ha-Kalir, R. Yehudah Halevi, etc, is beside the point. We go with what we have, and not all the kinot we recite were written by those luminaries and are of a high literary quality. Here it seems to me the Rav is just plain uncomfortable with reciting a new text that was not recited in Brisk and was rationalizng after the fact. Fortunately the MO community has ignored his strictures.

  47. MO proponents of this view need to realize that the same move that takes Chazal’s sociological assumptions and accords them astatus where there truth conditions are no longer empirical applies to what they consider the irrational haredi notion (now championed – not entirely by accident- by the Rav’s nephew) that all statements of chazal, achieve this status by dint of being incorporated into halakhic discourse.

  48. IH-Whether I heard the shiur personally is IMO irrelevant. The contents of the shiur in question has never R”L been repudiated except by those who claim that it is not binding on them.

    Have you ever heard a shiur or drasha from RYBS prior to the 1970s in which RYBS viewed the Mesorah of TSBP in a manner which was inconsistent with the drasha given to the RIETS alumni in 1975?

    As far as RAL is concerned, IMO, I think that asking any Posek who lives in Israel, Charedi or MO, about Hashkafic issues that are best defined by Talmdei Chachamim in the US is a questionnable exercise in Kula or Chumra shopping. In that regard, IMO, there is no difference between seeking the Daas Torah of RAL or RYSE when there are Talmidei Chachamim in the US who are far more familiar with the facts on the ground in the US.

  49. MJ wrote:

    “MO proponents of this view need to realize that the same move that takes Chazal’s sociological assumptions and accords them astatus where there truth conditions are no longer empirical applies to what they consider the irrational haredi notion (now championed – not entirely by accident- by the Rav’s nephew) that all statements of chazal, achieve this status by dint of being incorporated into halakhic discourse.”

    WADR, this is an overstatement of RYBS’s perspective. If you listen to the shiur, which is available on line at BCBM or read a verbatim transcription of the same, RYBS eemphasized Chazakos of Chazal and the need to afford Halacha the same respect as an independent discipline as any science.

  50. Emma wrote:

    “what does this possibly mean? That RAL has less to say on this particular topic than you because he was in another country:

    See my post re the questionnable practice of asking Talmidei Chachamim in Israel the same questions that can asked easily of Talmidei Chachamim in the US, especially on issues of Hashkafa,. which IMO require knowledge of the facts on the ground.

  51. “IMO, I think that asking any Posek who lives in Israel, Charedi or MO, about Hashkafic issues that are best defined by Talmdei Chachamim in the US is a questionnable exercise in Kula or Chumra shopping.”

    Like the RCA Va’ad Halacha’s shift from RMF to RSZA as the basis of their view regarding BSD Organ Transplants in the US?

  52. RYGB’s essay on darkhei halimmud is at http://www.aishdas.org/rygb/derachim.htm

    I mention it in a Kol haMevaser article about why I gravitated to Rav Dovid Lifshitz’s shiur rather than the Rav’s
    http://www.kolhamevaser.com/2010/12/brisk-and-telz/
    “Brisk and Telz” … “the problems of removing philosophy from legal questions.”

    Also relevant is R’ Aryeh Klapper’s article in the same issue
    http://www.kolhamevaser.com/2010/12/can-retson-hashem-matter-in-lomdus/
    “Can Retson Hashem matter in Lomdus?: Mitsvah ha-Ba’ah ba-Aveirah and the Limitations of Formalism
    -R. Klapper’s analysis of Mitsvah ha-Ba’ah ba-Aveirah demonstrates the potential shortcomings of extreme legalism.”

    But my point was not just that the Rav’s very legalistic attitude toward halakhah is particular to Brisk, but also that it looks to me that lema’aseh RYBS himself sometimes violated this approach when pasqening.

    -micha

  53. steve b. -” As far as RAL is concerned, IMO, I think that asking any Posek who lives in Israel, Charedi or MO, about Hashkafic issues that are best defined by Talmdei Chachamim in the US is a questionnable exercise in Kula or Chumra shopping. In that regard, IMO, there is no difference between seeking the Daas Torah of RAL or RYSE when there are Talmidei Chachamim in the US who are far more familiar with the facts on the ground in the US.”

    well its seems that the rca had to bother ral on the “rabbah” issue. in which he said to one of his talmidim – why do they have to bother in here (in israel) on this issue? which he was reluctant to get involved in – he was more concerned about motti elon. obviously, rhs no longer cuts it for the rca general membership (especially when he comes out with yaraid yel yavor).

  54. Steve wrote:”See my post re the questionnable practice of asking Talmidei Chachamim in Israel the same questions that can asked easily of Talmidei Chachamim in the US, especially on issues of Hashkafa,. which IMO require knowledge of the facts on the ground.”

    So you are claiming that Hashkafa is determined by the present situation, a claim pretty much indefensible because our tradition is not determined by “the facts on the ground”, and strongly at odds with claims of autonomy.

  55. What no-one here seems to understand is that historicism is an extremely destructive concept, certainly when taken to extremes, and even when taken in measured doses. If we uncritically adopt historicism as a running concept, there is nothing, repeat nothing that can’t be written out of existence by saying it’s no longer “relevant”. Not a mitzva, not a belief, nothing.

    This is simply not true. The nature of halacha has to be understood within the context of history, since that is the medium through which it was developed and through which it evolved. It loses its relevance not if one undestands how it developed and interacted with the realia of human existence, but if its essential authority is rejected. Just because one examines something in a historical manner does not mean he will do that.

    While you are right that there are dangers, I think it is intellectualy dishonest to claim that “because there is a danger in historicism, we must be blind to the truths that it provides”. No one said it is easy to find the truth, but that does not mean that this absolves us of the responsibility to try. If historicism brings us closer to truth, it must be engaged. To paraphrase Dr Leiman, the greatest value in Torah is truth. If we believe that the Torah is true, it has nothing at all to fear from honest and historical examination.

    If halacha, as some have said here, is a meaningless concept with no integrity, then Orthodoxy and frankly religion have no conceptual leg to stand on. “Halachic Jewry” in particular will have cut off the branch on which it rests. All you have left is lifestyle arbitrarily adopted because it’s comfortable.

    I believe you are the only one here who has raised the idea that “halacha is a meaningless concept with no integrity.” Just because I do not see halacha as a closed system, does not mean I see it as meaningless and with no integrity. It simply means that it cannot be boxed as prettily as some would like.

  56. >BTW, if we’re already on the subject of learning methods, does anyone know of a good “Telz for dummies” article or book?

    The book I linked to above by R’ Shagar has a chapter for pretty much every form of lamdut that exists in the contemporary yeshiva world (at least the Israeli yeshiva world).

    Another great book is Ishim veShitot by R’ Zevin.

  57. aiwac 4:43
    The shiurim of R’Shmuel Rozovsky(a prime talmid of R’Shimon Shkop) might also be of some help.

  58. The funniest thing about this whole post is that R. Bigman is one of the signatories to R. Linzer’s statement on brain death.

  59. mevaseretzion,

    1) I have no problem whatsoever with historical context. Nor do I agree with the Rav that halacha developed in a vacuum. All the evidence is to the contrary.

    My issue is with historicism as a value principle (and, I suspect, this was the Rav’s main problem). I stand by my assertion that one can theoretically abolish the whole structure through historicism, barring any contrary principles and rules that restrain this particular impulse. Indeed, the differences in use of this rule between Orthodoxy and other religious and secular streams strike me
    as utterly arbitrary. This is a feeling that is strengthened every time this debate comes up and people take R. Student to task for not realizing the thousand and one cases of historical halachic change.

    [On a side note, while I’m a great lover of history, I continue to be dismayed at how deeply cynical Orthodox Jews become towards their religion once being exposed to historical inquiry. You, sir, may wax poetic about the value of truth for its own sake, but it seems to me that it is simply “yosif daat, yosif machov” and nothing more]

    Perhaps you will retort that we are committed to halacha, so that’s different than others. So here’s the thing – where does this authority stem from, if I may ask (besides asking what the hell halacha is, in your opinion)? I’ve yet to see anyone who criticizes R. Student’s attitudes who gave a convincing alternative rationale for being a halachically observant Jew other than different variations of “just because”.

    Instead of just criticizing and making snarky remarks, maybe people could start presenting positive alternatives?

    2) “I believe you are the only one here who has raised the idea that “halacha is a meaningless concept with no integrity.”

    Er, what do you call this:

    chakira on March 28, 2011 at 7:55 am

    “…It seems like historically there is no identifiable substance called Halacha…”

  60. In the parallel thread “Orthodox Jews Divided?” Steve Brizel raised the issue of pre-marital sex with a non-sequitur comment which led me to ask: do you think it’s mutar for a father to sleep naked in the same bed with his prepubsecent children, in 21st century US or Israel, as allowed by the Gemara and Shulchan Aruch? (see: http://daattorah.blogspot.com/2010/09/family-bed-reality-halacha.html)

    It seems that R. Eidensohn was not able to reconcile his revulsion of the halacha with his (non-MO) values. So, perhaps this is a good test of the concept Gil is espousing that halacha “contains its own inner logic and does not change based on external concerns”?

  61. Lawrence Kaplan

    The Rav in his three English pesakim re 1) Stained glass windows; 2) foundlings; and 3) drafting rabbinical students published in Community, Covenant,and Commitment, while asserting the integrity of halakhah as a system seems to view it in more open terms than espoused in his theoretical writings, particularly Mah Dodekh mi-Dod. (See my article on Rabbi Rackman and the Rav in Modern Judaism.)

    In all candor and with the greatest respect, I must say that the Rav’s views re the hazakah of “tav le-meisav tan du” and re “makhish magideha” as set forth in his 1975 RCA lecture are exceptionally problematic.

  62. aiwac: once again, I am puzzled by your use of the line “Instead of just criticizing and making snarky remarks, maybe people could start presenting positive alternatives?”

    It is you who throw out negative unconstructive comments (e.g. “historicism is an extremely destructive concept”), but then seem to feel slighted when someone responds.

    I don’t see anything in mevaseretzion’s response that deserves your complaint. You are losing your credibility.

  63. IH,

    I didn’t mean mevaseret specifically, but rather the general tenor of these discussions.

  64. I could be wrong, but my impression is that far more problematic to the historicists is the ahistoricism of contemporary rabbis and especially posekim, rather than earlier ones. It’s quite easy to accept the Chasam Sofer as a man of his times. It’s another thing to grant religious authority *only* to contemporaries who seemingly reject things which seem obviously true, e.g., that halacha changes.

  65. The “Staying Within the System” doctrine seems to presume that, given sufficient knowledge of the facts and the law, and sufficient clarity of thought, the halachic system will yield a unique correct answer to any question.

    Anyone familiar with the workings of halacha would have a hard time believing that this is true. It may be true that the halachic process will exclude certain outcomes or certain paths to an outcome. But provide a single answer? Hardly.

    I submit that this is one way in which outside considerations can contribute to halacha–by providing a way of choosing between two or more legitimate outcomes.

  66. >On a side note, while I’m a great lover of history, I continue to be dismayed at how deeply cynical Orthodox Jews become towards their religion once being exposed to historical inquiry.

    Maybe this is because from an early age, they are imbued with a conception of Jewish history that is so unsupported by the sources that they start viewing the entire tradition as a lie once they are exposed to critical historical method. In my experience, people who are raised with an historical mindset within orthodoxy do not find historicism so challenging.

    There is one view of religion that is threatened by historicism – it is, as is obvious from above strongly based in 19th century German neo-kantian thought which saw the religious impulse as the ability to trancend the finitude of this world.

    (There is a great book written on the topic by Dr. David Myers called “Resisting History: Historicism and Its Discontents in German-Jewish Thought” http://www.amazon.com/Resisting-History-Historicism-Discontents-German-Jewish/dp/0691115931 – it follows the anti-Historicism of four major thinkers Hermann Cohen, Franz Rosensweig, Leo Straus and R’ Yitzchak Breuer)

    Of course, such a view of spirituality is not the only model we have. For example, R’ Kook accepted a dialectic view of history that allowed for radical shifts in religious thought while maintaining core meta-principles that guide the process of change. Renak in Moreh Nevuchei HaZeman also embraces historicism and is obviously and sincerely edified by his studies in history. There are, of course, many people out there who are edified by Jewish history and who simply do not feel beholden to this particular view of spirituality which was advocated 100 years ago.

    It seems to me that the fact that you claim many Jews become cynical once exposed to history is more of a problem with orthodox education than with historicism. Further, it is largely counterbalanced by the those Jews who find the blatant anti-historicism and outright shameful ignorance of many rabbinic leaders to be a source of spiritual angst. We can not un-know what we know and making arguments from consequence will not lead us to see the anti-historicism light.

  67. Ruview wrote:
    “well its seems that the rca had to bother ral on the “rabbah” issue. in which he said to one of his talmidim – why do they have to bother in here (in israel) on this issue? which he was reluctant to get involved in – he was more concerned about motti elon. obviously, rhs no longer cuts it for the rca general membership (especially when he comes out with yaraid yel yavor’

    I would suggest that RAL’s views of American MO, which are as critical as they are praiseworthy, do not support the POV that all difficult issues that the RCA views unworthy of relying on RHS should be addressed to RAL.

  68. Before one even gets to modern Jewish historicism and history questions raised by texts such as the Apocrypha and the Qumran scrolls, the Nevi’im and Ketuvim themselves raise many difficult questions.

    While in Israel last week, two people in different conversations observed that Jews who study who study Nach tend to have a deeper understanding of the complexities of Judaism. We did not discuss cause and effect.

  69. Someone wrote:

    “So you are claiming that Hashkafa is determined by the present situation, a claim pretty much indefensible because our tradition is not determined by “the facts on the ground”, and strongly at odds with claims of autonomy”

    That is a mischaracterization of my point. One can find that most Hashkafic trends supplement the basic elements of Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim, as reactions to certain cultural and political trends affecting a certain element of the Jewish People at a certain point and location in Jewish and world history, and retain their effectiveness until the Hashkafic trend tends to supplant the aforementioned basic elements and then loses its effectiveness when leaders following the architect of the Hashkafic trend show a decided and documented inability to comprehend why the hashkafic trend, wbich might have been relevant at one point in history, is no longer relevant. I think that this factor can be demonstrated in any analysis as to the rise and decline of Maimondean based rationalism, Lurianic based Kabalah, Chasidus, Musar, TIDE and TuM. It is IMO simply intellectual hardening of the arteries.

  70. IH wrote:

    “While in Israel last week, two people in different conversations observed that Jews who study who study Nach tend to have a deeper understanding of the complexities of Judaism. We did not discuss cause and effect”

    My chavrusa and I have been studying Nach for years. Two issues are quite apparent-Sefer Shoftim presents a set of religious and political problems that one searches for in vein in Sefer Yehoshoua. The other issue is the observation in the Talmud that the messages of the Neviim were ignored and that the events described in Megilas Esther accomplished more than all of the Neviim, thus leading both the Talmud and Rambam to postulate that in Messianic times, Tanach will consist of Chamisha Chumshei Torah, Yehoshuah and Megilas Esther.

  71. Mevarsetzion wrote:

    “This is simply not true. The nature of halacha has to be understood within the context of history, since that is the medium through which it was developed and through which it evolved. It loses its relevance not if one undestands how it developed and interacted with the realia of human existence, but if its essential authority is rejected. Just because one examines something in a historical manner does not mean he will do that.”

    I think that the facts on the ground indicate that the greatest advocates of a historical approach could not offer a convincing or compelling approach as to why the lay supporters of the historical approach should be observant Jews. I also think that the notion of history as being determinative flies in the face of a Mesorah that is ahistorical in nature.

  72. Mycroft wrote:

    “there is certainly at least one person who is extremely close to the Rav who in the past couple of years stated that he felt that the Rav’s famous prohibition against going to a mixed pew synagogue and not here shofar Rosh Hashana was based on the then threat of mixed pews synagogues not on a pure halachik analysis-if that person has repeated himself elsewhere in the past couple of years publicly it should be brought forward-not merely for the issue of hearing shofar but as an understanding about how the Rav acted.”

    WADR, such an analysis is a classical example of posthumous revisionism without any proof that RYBS actually changed his mind on the issue.

  73. Larry Kaplan wrote:

    “In all candor and with the greatest respect, I must say that the Rav’s views re the hazakah of “tav le-meisav tan du” and re “makhish magideha” as set forth in his 1975 RCA lecture are exceptionally problematic”

    Larry Kaplan-Let’s face reality here. Your superb articl detailed the points of agreement, disagreement and departure between RYBS and R Rackman ZL. Did you ever mention your concerns to RYBS?

  74. lawrence kaplan

    Steve: Thank you for your kind words about my article.

    Et hata’ai ani mazkir ha-yom. The truth is that in those pre-blog days I was not aware of the Rav’s 1975 lecture until it was too late to ask the him about it on account of his ill health.

  75. “Before one even gets to modern Jewish historicism and history questions raised by texts such as the Apocrypha and the Qumran scrolls, the Nevi’im and Ketuvim themselves raise many difficult questions.

    While in Israel last week, two people in different conversations observed that Jews who study who study Nach tend to have a deeper understanding of the complexities of Judaism. We did not discuss cause and effect.”

    IH, could yo be more specific?

    chardal:

    “Of course, such a view of spirituality is not the only model we have. For example, R’ Kook accepted a dialectic view of history that allowed for radical shifts in religious thought while maintaining core meta-principles that guide the process of change.”

    What are these “core meta-principles” of which you speak?

    “In my experience, people who are raised with an historical mindset within orthodoxy do not find historicism so challenging.”

    Is this the case in all periods (e.g. Bible, First and Second Temple &c with all the extant issues of the source and authority of TSBC and TSBP)?

    “It seems to me that the fact that you claim many Jews become cynical once exposed to history is more of a problem with orthodox education than with historicism. Further, it is largely counterbalanced by the those Jews who find the blatant anti-historicism and outright shameful ignorance of many rabbinic leaders to be a source of spiritual angst. We can not un-know what we know and making arguments from consequence will not lead us to see the anti-historicism light.”

    No doubt. But that doesn’t make it any less bitter a pill to swallow.

  76. Larry Kaplan-thanks for your response.

    Re your article, did you ever discover if and how RYBS viewed R Rackman as a possible candidate for YU President? I know that RYBS instructed told a leading member of the RCA, who is in now need of a Refuah Shelamah to deliver the news that he could not support R Rackman ZL for that role.

    Would it be correct that your critique of the shiur in question is based both on your own not insubstantial research as well as the well documented reasons and objections why R Rackman ZL was by 1975 not even one of the candidates to succeed R D Belkin ZL as President of YU?

  77. Steve Brizel Wrote:
    “WADR, this is an overstatement of RYBS’s perspective. If you listen to the shiur, which is available on line at BCBM or read a verbatim transcription of the same, RYBS eemphasized Chazakos of Chazal and the need to afford Halacha the same respect as an independent discipline as any science.”

    I said it was a reasonable extension of his position, not that he said so himself. In fact, if you read EOEM (if anyone can forgive an obscure acronym it’s Steve) he comes off as a saying that his metaphysics supervenes on a thoroughly naturalistic account of the world.

    But his notion of halakah as a closed autonomous system along with his statements about chazakot and makhish magideha lend themselves to a notion of truth that is impervious to reality, and a conception of halakhah that too easily excuses it (or more precisely, those who determine it and the community that constitutes it) from responding to legitimate critique.

  78. lawrence kaplan

    Steve: As I wrote in my article, I have no special information, not in the public domain, regarding the background of the Rav’s 1975 lecture and his attitude towards Rabbi Rackman’s candidcacy for the Prsidency of YU.

    My discomfort with the Rav’s view regarding tan le-meisiv tan du is based on the analyses of Rabbis Bleich and Broyde of the hazakah, both sharp critics of Rabbi Rackman’s Beit Din. My disagreement with the Rav re makhish maggideha is based on my own study of the Rambam. As I understand it -and this seems to me to be pashut peshat– Kofer be-torah shebe’al peh refers to disbelief in the oral interpretations of the Written Torah that God divinely revealed to Moshe, while makhish magiddeha refers to denying the role of Hazal as the authoritative transmitters of those divinely revealed oral interpretations. So the Rav’s question is no question, and there is no need for his explanation. Not to mention that his explanation seems to me to impose very non-Maimonidean categories on the Rambam. I am certain that if the Rav gave this explanation of makhish maggideha as part of his regulat shiur at the Yeshiva, his students would have– justifiably!– given him a very hard time. I would like to believe regarding the Rav’s comments on both these issues that they are both instances of dibru hakhamim be-guzmah.

  79. What are these “core meta-principles” of which you speak?

    There are several model with which he works. On one foot, he sees various core ideas which he calls “HaRaayon HaEloki”, “HaRaayon HaDati” and “HaRaayon HaLeumi”, etc which rise and fall during various historical eras and give a different expression to religous life. Halacha as we know it is the result of the rise of HaRaayon HaDati in the second temple period. See R’ Kook’s essay Lemahalach HaIdiot BeYisrael here: http://he.wikisource.org/wiki/%D7%9C%D7%9E%D7%94%D7%9C%D7%9A_%D7%94%D7%90%D7%99%D7%93%D7%99%D7%90%D7%95%D7%AA_%D7%91%D7%99%D7%A9%D7%A8%D7%90%D7%9C

    Is this the case in all periods (e.g. Bible, First and Second Temple &c with all the extant issues of the source and authority of TSBC and TSBP)?

    Yes, with maybe the exception of Bible – but that is a different story IMHO

    >No doubt. But that doesn’t make it any less bitter a pill to swallow.

    Its not such a bitter pill! at least not for some of us. The bitter pill is the great ignorance of most halachists of all things historical.

  80. Larry Kaplan wrote:

    “Steve: As I wrote in my article, I have no special information, not in the public domain, regarding the background of the Rav’s 1975 lecture and his attitude towards Rabbi Rackman’s candidcacy for the Prsidency of YU”

    I think that it is fairly obvious that RYBS’s public rejection of R Rackman ZL’s advocacy towards Hafkaas Kiddushin as stated in a famous article by R Rackman ZL doomed any hope of R Rackman Z L succeeding R Belkin ZL.

  81. lawrence kaplan

    MJ: you are right about the strong naturalistic approach of Emergnce of Ethical Man. Note the almost complete lack of refences to man’s soul.

  82. lawrence kaplan

    MJ: But note the Rav’s use of an historical approach in his teshuvah regarding the use of human figures on the stained glass windows in the proposed Cornell University Inter-Faith Chapel.

  83. Chardal wrote in part:

    “There are several model with which he works. On one foot, he sees various core ideas which he calls “HaRaayon HaEloki”, “HaRaayon HaDati” and “HaRaayon HaLeumi”, etc which rise and fall during various historical eras and give a different expression to religous life. Halacha as we know it is the result of the rise of HaRaayon HaDati in the second temple period. See R’ Kook’s essay Lemahalach HaIdiot BeYisrael here”

    How about the fact that Rambam in Hilcos Shabbos explains that Zachor and Shabbos were explained and elaborated upon by the Neviim?

  84. “>No doubt. But that doesn’t make it any less bitter a pill to swallow.

    Its not such a bitter pill! at least not for some of us. The bitter pill is the great ignorance of most halachists of all things historical.”

    You know what? For the most part I agree. With the exception of the Tanach, historicism (i.e. factual analysis of halacha in an historical context) is not such a big deal.

    But I still think historicism as a value position has many dangers. This DOES NOT mean I endorse the anti-historicist position as some have assumed. I’m just trying to point out that this isn’t a simple issue.

  85. Larry Kaplan and MJ-My reading of EEOM is that it details the utter lack of any redeeeming moral values from Adam to Noach and then from Noach to Avraham. As far as the human figures on the stained glass windows at Cornell, RYBS merely was pointing out that the same was inimic to the Jewish tradition of Tefilah, which he emphasized was not characterized by an “edifice complex” of gorgeous architechture, etc.

  86. lawrence kaplan

    Steve: As I said, on this matter you know what I know, what everyone who has followed this issue knows. An important scholarly desideratum would be a full scholarly study, with use of the relevant archives, etc., of the contest between Rabbi Rackman, z”l and, yibadel le-yamim tovim arukhim, Rabbi Lamm for the YU Presidency. (The few brief remarks in Prof. Gurock’s book are totally inadequate– to put it mildly.) Among other things it would, I hope, clarify the extent of the role the Rav’s opposition to Rabbi Rackman played in the outcome of the contest. IIRC, Mycroft, ke-darko ba-kodesh, has argued that financial considerations played a greater role in the outcome than ideological ones.

  87. lawrence kaplan

    Steve: Reread the teshuvah. You left out its heart. The point you mention is only made at the end of the teshuvah where the Rav, though not asked to ccmment or rather aked NOT to comment, sets forth his opposition to Inter-Faith chpales in general. The Rav’s explanation of the rishonim’s opposition to the use of human figures in synagogues when Hazal permitted the use of sch figures is based, as he explicitly states, on historical/ halahkic considerations.

  88. Aiwac: the conversations were not about specifics. But, this blurb for Artscroll’s translation of Divrei ha’Yamim speaks volumes: “On what could be the biblical book that presents the greatest challenges and poses the most perplexing questions, the author provides an enlightening perspective on the text, on the role of King David, and on the place of Israel in the scheme of creation.”

  89. But Steve, we’re not discussing some particular ruling WRT life in America — we’re talking about a basic phil0sophy of pesaq. Geography or the subculture of the people for whom he is ruling is irrelevant since the statement isn’t a ruling.

    The notion of closed system is inherent to Brisker derekh. Dates back to R’ Chaim, not the Rav’s study of philosophy.

  90. “As far as RAL is concerned, IMO, I think that asking any Posek who lives in Israel, Charedi or MO, about Hashkafic issues that are best defined by Talmdei Chachamim in the US is a questionnable exercise in Kula or Chumra shopping. In that regard, IMO, there is no difference between seeking the Daas Torah of RAL or RYSE when there are Talmidei Chachamim in the US who are far more familiar with the facts on the ground in the US”

    I am not saying that I disagree with Steve-but logically his position should state a RIETS RY living in America should not be giving his opinion on things happening in Israel. If local guidance is required which BTW was the Ravs position who at times would not pasken for his talmidim issues because he was not there-and there was simply a different city in North America-not a different continent. Thus logically the attempt to maintain that one should not really on ones local Rav but only ask a “baal mesorah” is also flawed following the logic after all a RIETS RY who lives in Washington Heights is not present in other communities.

  91. “Mycroft wrote:

    “there is certainly at least one person who is extremely close to the Rav who in the past couple of years stated that he felt that the Rav’s famous prohibition against going to a mixed pew synagogue and not here shofar Rosh Hashana was based on the then threat of mixed pews synagogues not on a pure halachik analysis-if that person has repeated himself elsewhere in the past couple of years publicly it should be brought forward-not merely for the issue of hearing shofar but as an understanding about how the Rav acted.”

    WADR, such an analysis is a classical example of posthumous revisionism without any proof that RYBS actually changed his mind on the issue.”

    The person who I am referring to was-he is still alive-very close to the Rav-he did not state that the Rav changed his mind-he is stating based on his understanding the Ravs psak was not made on pure technical halachik grounds but as part of the fight against any toleration of the acceptability of mixed pews.

  92. “The Rav’s explanation of the rishonim’s opposition to the use of human figures in synagogues when Hazal permitted the use of sch figures is based, as he explicitly states, on historical/ halahkic considerations”

    The Rav was opposed to anything in a schul that was copied from the church-thus his opposition to stained glass windows in schuls-simply because the idea was copied from churches.

  93. “lawrence kaplan on March 29, 2011 at 6:29 pm
    Steve: As I said, on this matter you know what I know, what everyone who has followed this issue knows. An important scholarly desideratum would be a full scholarly study, with use of the relevant archives, etc., of the contest between Rabbi Rackman, z”l and, yibadel le-yamim tovim arukhim, Rabbi Lamm for the YU Presidency.”
    Agreed-but I doubt it could ever occur-winners write history, appoint their friends to vice presidencies etc. Perspective in history is everything what we call Tories-those who supported England duringthe American Revolution-are called United Empire Loyalists north of the border.

    ” …Among other things it would, I hope, clarify the extent of the role the Rav’s opposition to Rabbi Rackman played in the outcome of the contest.”
    BTW-I think the opposition to R Rackman by the Rav is overstated-it is clear that some at least felt that the Presidency was all about fundraising and not a spiritual issue and thus even supported R Rackman thinking he would be the most successful.
    I also think that people forget that R Rackman was 65 in 1975-he was even older than Dr Belkin!! I also believe based on Prof kaplans piece about R Rackman “In 1970, after having served as Assistant to the President of Yeshiva University since 1962, he was appointed to the post of Provost. Less than a year later, he left that post to become head of Jewish Studies at City University of New York” that by 1971 clearly when R Rackman left YU Provost to take the CUNY post it would be reasonable that R RAckman as an excellent counter of votes knew the count at YU. I suspect it was even earlier-but that would require a slightly different analysis using Prof Kaplans fn 46 on R Rackman-to big a tangent and not necessary for my point by 1975 R Rackman at 65 was not a realistic candidate.

    “IIRC, Mycroft, ke-darko ba-kodesh, has argued that financial considerations played a greater role in the outcome than ideological ones”
    It is obvious in the Belkin and Joel selections and I maintain that was the primary reason in the R Lamm selection. In fact other candidates who were discussed were analyzed generally by amount of money that they could bring in.
    To dreamers that RY could determine selection see Joel selection where leading RYs protested openly to the Board of selection of a non Rabbi to be President.

  94. >How about the fact that Rambam in Hilcos Shabbos explains that Zachor and Shabbos were explained and elaborated upon by the Neviim?

    First, Rav Kook is not saying that there was religious anarchy in the pre-second temple period. No one does, a society can not function without law – which in that day and age included religious law (the very distinction between religiuos and secular law is anachronistic when talking regarding this period. He is just saying that halacha as the developed system we see in the rabbinic period is a result of the accent of the Raayon HaDati which existed in a more latent form previously.

    Second, the Rambam is not the best historical source. He did the best he could with the data he had – but overall, he could not benefit from the tools and data that we have today. Invoking him is somewhat irrelevant to the discussion.

  95. “IIRC, Mycroft, ke-darko ba-kodesh, has argued that financial considerations played a greater role in the outcome than ideological ones.”

    R’ Rakeffet has said something similar: That R’ Rackman may have lost some votes as a result of this, but he wouldn’t have won anyway: R’ Lamm was younger and had a richer shul. (This is not meant with any disrespect to R’ Lamm, of course. R’ Rakeffet has said that in hindsight it’s certainly clear that he was the better candidate.)

  96. “R’ Lamm was younger and had a richer shul. ”

    R. Lamn was certainly younger (as Mycroft correctly points out, R. Rackman was older than R. Belkin), but I would have thought the Fifth Ave Synagogue was at least as wealthy, if not more so, than the Jewish Center. And anyone who knew R. Rackman knew he was a master fundraiser. My feeling always was that it was age and ideology; on money they were really close.

  97. “Nachum on March 30, 2011 at 1:49 am
    “IIRC, Mycroft, ke-darko ba-kodesh, has argued that financial considerations played a greater role in the outcome than ideological ones.”

    R’ Rakeffet has said something similar: That R’ Rackman may have lost some votes as a result of this, but he wouldn’t have won anyway: R’ Lamm was younger and had a richer shul. (This is not meant with any disrespect to R’ Lamm, of course. R’ Rakeffet has said that in hindsight it’s certainly clear that he was the better candidate.)”
    Nachum-I essentially agree with everything you said. I was not aware of R Rakeffet saying simething similar but thanks.
    BTW-the Ravs influence on YUs Board was obviously not determinative-remeber it was only a few yearsearlier that the rav came out publicly against the YU Reorganization-splitting RIETS off from YU-did the Board care no-the influence of the Rav and a fortiori of other RY on the Board is probably even less than bloggers influence on the Board-it ssymptotically approaches zero..
    What is more relevant historically is the YUs Boards influence on religious statements of the presidents of YU.

  98. Joseph Kaplan on March 30, 2011 at 2:26 am
    “R’ Lamm was younger and had a richer shul. ”

    “R. Lamn was certainly younger (as Mycroft correctly points out, R. Rackman was older than R. Belkin), but I would have thought the Fifth Ave Synagogue was at least as wealthy, if not more so, than the Jewish Center. ”

    Fifth Avenue Synagogue was a very small but wealthy schul on the East Side-KJ and Park East certainly much larger-the JC had the more important Bd members of YU. More important R Lamm had been associated with the JC for awhile-R Rackma ncame to Fifth Avenue only a few years earlier.

    “And anyone who knew R. Rackman knew he was a master fundraiser.
    Which is why there were some within the Ravs family who were at least sympathetic to the idea of R Rackman winning the Pres-they didn’t treat the position as a religously important one.

    “My feeling always was that it was age and ideology; on money they were really close”
    Ideology didn’t help R RAckman but look first at the money-those who have the money who they wanted-could have been personal reasons remember who the President of the JC was for decades.

  99. On the matter of brain death, I have personally heard two very distinguished rabbis in the MO orbit make the statement that the Talmudic materials on this subject are insufficient to arrive at a clear decision.

    That presents a challenge to the “Staying Within The System” doctrine: How to decide a question when the system provides no clear answer.

    One can, of course, declare it to be a safek, and apply the general rules for doubtful cases. That does seem unsatisfying, doesn’t it?

  100. Mycroft wrote:

    “I am not saying that I disagree with Steve-but logically his position should state a RIETS RY living in America should not be giving his opinion on things happening in Israel”

    I would disagree with that statement simply because IMO the American Jewish community, and especially the Charedi and MO worlds, have recognized that remaining silent, when a contrary view is required, is one of the means from saving a Jewish community, wherever located, from a poor decision, at least from the Biblical perspective IMO that implicates Lo Saamod Al Dam Chaveiro. That’s why American Jews were vocal with respect to saving Soviet Jews, despite Israeli suggestions that Shtadlanus was preferred.

    The creation of the State of Israel, to paraphrase Justice Jackson in his view of the Bill of Rights, is not a suicide pact, which American Jews have an obligation to sit by in splendid isolation-especially with respect to poor decisions affecting its national security that were never vetted with its own defense and intelligence agencies, but were secured by a legislative putsch organized , aided and abetted by the post Zionist left. WADR, I know all about RYBS’s post 1967 statement-but are you seriously maintaining that RYBS would have approved of the manner that Oslo was presented to the Knesset-without the imput and recommendations of the Israeli defense and intelligence communities?!

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