The eighteenth century polemic surrounding the emerging Chasidic movement took place on multiple levels, among them halakhic. One important anti-Chasidic disputant was R. Yechezkel Landau, whose scholarship was so massive that he continues to be a major force in Jewish law even two centuries later. A number of his halakhic rulings can be seen as disputing Chasidic practices, such as his responsum forbidding the recitation of a “Le-Shem Yichud” formula before performing a mitzvah (Noda Bi-Yehudah, vol. 1 Yoreh De’ah no. 93). Another is his forbidding the common Chasidic practice of visiting one’s rebbe on holidays (Noda Bi-Yehudah, vol. 2 Orach Chaim no. 94). The polemic context of these rulings do not diminish from the cogency and authority of these rulings, and scholars continue to discuss their theoretical underpinnings. In his recent book The Commentators’ Shavuos (pp. 283-294), the formidable R. Yitzchak Sender examines the latter example above.

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I. Disputed Practices

The eighteenth century polemic surrounding the emerging Chasidic movement took place on multiple levels, among them halakhic. One important anti-Chasidic disputant was R. Yechezkel Landau (link), whose scholarship was so massive that he continues to be a major force in Jewish law even two centuries later. A number of his halakhic rulings can be seen as disputing Chasidic practices, such as his responsum forbidding the recitation of a “Le-Shem Yichud” formula before performing a mitzvah (Noda Bi-Yehudah, vol. 1 Yoreh De’ah no. 93 – link). Another is his forbidding the common Chasidic practice of visiting one’s rebbe on holidays (Noda Bi-Yehudah, vol. 2 Orach Chaim no. 94 – link).

The polemic context of these rulings do not diminish from the cogency and authority of these rulings, and scholars continue to discuss their theoretical underpinnings. In his recent book The Commentators’ Shavuos (pp. 283-294), the formidable R. Yitzchak Sender examines the latter example above.

II. Visiting Your Mentor

The Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 16b) states that you are obligated to visit your mentor, your rebbe, on festivals. R. Landau, in response to a query why this obligation is omitted from the halakhic codes, states that this mitzvah only applies when the Temple in Jerusalem is standing. In those times, when you visit God in Jerusalem on the festivals, you must also visit your rebbe.

However, you may not show your rebbe more respect than God (see Kiddushin 33b). If you do not make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem then you may not visit your rebbe either. Therefore, R. Landau argued, the codes omitted this obligation because in contemporary times the practice is forbidden.

III. Shabbos Visits

R. Sender asks two question on R. Landau’s position. First, the Gemara (Sukkah 27b) concludes that if a student lives close to his mentor then he must visit him every Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh. This would certainly be more frequent than he visits the Temple in Jerusalem. According to R. Landau, this should be forbidden as an affront to God.

R. Sender responds on R. Landau’s behalf that an affront can only occur when both obligations apply. If a person is obligated to visit both the Temple and his rebbe on a festival but only visits his rebbe, he is detracting from his respect shown to God. However, if, because of proximity, a person is obligated to visit his rebbe every Shabbos, these visits are not an affront to God whom one is not required to visit so frequently.

IV. Talmudic Visits

The second question is that we find sages of the Talmud who lived after the Temple’s destruction visiting their rebbe on festivals. Rav Chisda and Rabba bar Rav Huna (Sukkah 10b), R. Ilai (Sukkah 29b), and R. Yochanan ben Broka and R. Elazar ben Chismah (Chagigah 3a) all visited their mentors on a holiday. Does this not undermine R. Landau’s entire argument?

R. Sender suggests that visiting your rebbe to learn Torah was allowed, just visiting for the sake of greeting him was forbidden. However, that was in the time when Torah was only taught orally. After the advent of the printing press, even visiting for the sake of learning Torah is forbidden.

V. Reasons For Visiting

R. Sender offer multiple possible reasons for this obligation, regardless of whether it currently applies. R. Landau suggested that a teacher receives unique inspiration on a festival and is therefore better able to influence his students. Another possibility is that this is simply a form of showing respect to Torah scholars. Or perhaps it is for the sake of studying Torah. In the time of the Temple, people would often save their halakhic questions for the festivals, when they visited the Temple and could consult with senior scholars.

Another explanation is that such a visit inspires you to greater fear of God. Or perhaps visiting your rebbe adds to the joy of the holiday.

Today, when we lack the Temple in Jerusalem, we also lack the ability to properly fulfill this mitzvah of visiting your rebbe on the festivals. Until the Temple is rebuilt, our holidays will remain lacking this significant and meaningful element.

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.

15 comments

  1. The polemic context of these rulings do not diminish from the cogency and authority of these rulings
    ========================================
    interesting thought – if circumstances later change, does the polemical nature of a ruling not to some extent cause a need for further reflection upon the weight given to rhe sources relied upon (and those not) that would not otherwise be necessary. if the “minim”(inside brisk joke) no linger exist, must you eat knaidlach?
    KT

  2. if circumstances later change, does the polemical nature of a ruling not to some extent cause a need for further reflection upon the weight given to rhe sources relied upon

    Historically, it stands on the strengths of its arguments and its measure of communal acceptance.

  3. Interesting.

    I never realized that the second teshuvah could be seen as relating to a Chassidic practice. While the first teshuvah explicitly states that it is reference to a new group that says lisheim yichud, the second one does not state that it is reaction to a new practice of an emerging group. Also, the questioner states that he has been bothered by the question for years, and the teshuvah is from a time when the Chassidic movement was still relatively small. So is it מוכרח that it is in reaction to Chassidic practice? Is that R. Sender’s interpretation or did it come from someone else?

    By the way, I recall that R. Sender talks about this inyan in an earlier volume of his, and I recall that R. Yonason Eibeschutz argues with the נודע ביהודה and says that חייב אדם להקביל פני רבו ברגל was instituted, so to speak, in place of, in a sense, עליה לרגל after the churban.

  4. The polemic context of these rulings do not diminish from the cogency and authority of these rulings

    In this case, the polemic agenda most certainly DOES diminish the authority of his ruling. At least the way you have summarized the Noda B’Yehuda’s opinion, the objective of condemning the practice permeates all the way through.

    Some clear cases in point:

    The conclusion that if a Gemara-endorsed practice is omitted in the Shulchan Aruch, it is forbidden! Not optional, mind you. But forbidden!

    The next blatant example is perhaps more directed to R Sender, who “suggests that visiting your rebbe to learn Torah was allowed, just visiting for the sake of greeting him was forbidden. However, that was in the time when Torah was only taught orally. After the advent of the printing press, even visiting for the sake of learning Torah is forbidden.” Really now: It is safe to acknowledge the advent of writing and later printing of Torah she’Baal Peh has transformed the mitzvah of Talmud Torah. But the suggestion that these developments render a visit on YomTov to hear Torah directly from one’s Rebbe “forbidden” shows nothing but a polemical agenda, and its resulting diminished cogency of argument. And although this was R Sender’s argument, the fact that the Gemara’s own case law and Maaseh Rav of this practice is post-Churban was left out of the NB’s teshuva seriously undermines the NB’s take as anything but polemic.

    Today, when we lack the Temple in Jerusalem, we also lack the ability to properly fulfill this mitzvah of visiting your rebbe on the festivals.

    I don’t know whose line that is: The NB’s, R’ Sender’s or R’ Gil’s. Either way, it is an unconvincing argument: Who says that this mitzvah has secret kavana or mystical/psychological aspects that preclude one from “properly fulfill[ing]” it?

    If this teshuva stands on the non-polemical strength of its arguments, it does not stand.

  5. Shalom Rosenfeld

    R’ Joel,

    “interesting thought – if circumstances later change…”

    From what I understand of it, several centuries ago, some banned having weddings in a shul, largely out of anti-Reform/Haskala polemics.

    In a responsum about “can a rabbi perform weddings in a shul?”, R’ Moshe says of course so, those who prohibited had done so out of polemics. Now go do your job, rabbi!

    In a responsum about a shul that wanted to design the sanctuary with an Aron Kodesh that would drop into the floor with the push of a button, to make a bigger dance floor for social events, R’ Moshe gave it a thumbs down, adding “and besides, weddings in shuls is something rabbis frowned upon”

  6. MiMedinat HaYam

    shalom rosenfeld:
    the original forbidding of weddings in shul (by the chatam sofer) was because christians do it.

    perhaps it was reinforced (and part of the psak din of michalovce) because of the reformers. haskalah prob never fits into this.

    2. i remember being at birkat cohanim at the the kotel on chol hamoed pesach, and a big tent was set up where the two chief rabbis (the “eliyahu’s) shook everyone’s hand and gave out sponge cake (lekach, i believe; isnt that a (perhaps modern day) chabad custom?) with a big banner outside — “vehayu eneichem ro’ot et mor’echa”

  7. I remember first being shown the NB’s teshuvah about l’sheim yichud about 30 years gao when I was in HS. I thought it was pretty cool. But he makes perhaps an even more pertinent point in the next paragraph then he does in his first paragraph diatribe. He addresses the question about why it would not be proper to say a lesheim yichud in order to properly allign one’s intentions in peforming the mitzvah.

    His answer: That’s why the Anshei k’nesses Hagedolah formulated berachos. In other words stop worrying about verbalizing the mystical effect of mitzvos and start making berachos with Kavana. The mystical effects will take care of themselves. Brilliant.

  8. Just as an interesting side note, Rabbi Yehuda Petaya said he was the gilgul of the Noda Biyehuda in his sefer Minchas Yehuda. If I remember correctly,he claimed that even though Rav Landau was a perfect tzaddik, his avoidance of kabbalistic ideas needed rectification. He seemed to say that his tikun was to be immersed in Kabbalah in order to make up for his last gilgul. Again, if I remember correctly.

  9. “interesting thought – if circumstances later change, does the polemical nature of a ruling not to some extent cause a need for further reflection upon the weight given to rhe sources relied upon (and those not) that would not otherwise be necessary. if the “minim”(inside brisk joke) no linger exist,”
    agree with Joel Rich

    “must you eat knaidlach”
    I once heard a greatgrandchild of R Chaim Brisker state-one who hasn’t eating groboks on the seder night doesn’t know what good is.

  10. When reading about the Nodah byehudah one naturally remembers that machlokes about Rabbis goes way back. Either R Yonasan Eibshutz was a great talmid chacham /zaddik or a mesis umediach.

  11. Or both.

  12. Rav Landau’s (z”l) comment in the first teshuva is both sharp and telling. He writes Darchei HaShem Yesharim, Tzadikim Yelchu Vam VeChasidim (Posh’im) Yikashlu Vam.
    This certainly appears to express his dismay regarding the innovations and practices which arose in the Chasidische Velt.
    Would he still feel that way today?

  13. “Mistabra on May 23, 2011 at 8:17 pm

    Just as an interesting side note, Rabbi Yehuda Petaya said he was the gilgul of the Noda Biyehuda in his sefer Minchas Yehuda. If I remember correctly,he claimed that even though Rav Landau was a perfect tzaddik, his avoidance of kabbalistic ideas needed rectification. He seemed to say that his tikun was to be immersed in Kabbalah in order to make up for his last gilgul. Again, if I remember correctly.”

    The Noda BiYehuda was involved with Kabbalah. The common wisdom that he was totally uninvolved with it, is not correct. He was just hesitant about expressing some things in public at times. Cf The Kabbalistic Culture of Eighteenth-Century Prague, Ezekiel Landau (the ‘Noda Biyehudah’) and his Contemporaries, by Dr. Sharon Flatto.

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