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by Joel Rich

I found the following thoughts on the Brisker method by R’David Bigman in the recent “Conversations” of great interest.
“The advantage of this method is that Talmudic study becomes a fascinating philosophical discussion. But it has three significant drawbacks: The first disadvantage, which is recognized in the yeshiva world, is that sometimes its innovative insights simply do not fit the text; the text is exploited to make the abstraction attributed to it. The second problem is that despite the initial interest that such study creates, at some point all the Talmudic passages begin to sound alike. There are predetermined arguments the student anticipates. Patterns of thought are repeated until almost all the halakhic discussion is given over to this type of analysis. For each question that arises there is a prepackaged answer. The third problem is the loss of the learner’s awareness that the halakhic discussion almost always addresses a human, down-to-earth reality. The sages who dealt with the issues throughout the ages were intimately connected to reality. The discussions in the Talmud are often tied into the experiences, culture, and conceptions of justice of the individuals making their case. The rapid leap to abstraction loses the appreciation for the complexities and alternative explanations of the subject at hand”.
Me-Having been “raised” in Brisk (to the extent I had any early interest) I applied that style for years [when I returned to learning]. At some point I realized it had great power but sometime seemed very forced. My current thinking (oy, I sound so pompous) is that much like in math, where some knotty problems are attacked by multiple strategies (at least until we reach a TOE) such as topology, algebra, number theory…, so too until the TOE of torah is rediscovered, differing approaches may be appropriate in differing cases. (Put another way, R’Glickman, R’Rosensweig, R’Sacks and R’Wieder all have made deposits in my tool box).


From R’ Aviner -Ha-Rav Dov Lior explained how absurd is the thought-process of those who travel to Uman: “People travel to the grave of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai in order to ask him to help them to travel to the grave of Rebbe Nachman so they can make a request of him.” {me- absurdity is in the eye of the beholder I suppose}


  • Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz -Ten Minute Halacha – Shaliach Tzibur for Selichos and Yomim Noraim

    Picking a chazzan for slichot & yamim noralm [me – midot, midot, midot – just like a future spouse]. Chazakah does apply. Slichot/talit issue putting it on before time – safeik bracha (use a friend’s). Shatz for slichot is supposed to be for other prayers of that day (me – does anyone really do this?). R’YBS – perhaps it’s because slichot are really prayers that other prayers be accepted, so it’s all one mitzvah and he who starts a mitzvah should complete it.

  • Rav Binyamin Tabory- Hilchot Teshuva 5771 #1, Is there a Mitzvat Aseh of Teshuva?2

    First in a series on the Rambam/Tshuva – Is tshuva (repentance) itself a mitzvah? Approaches of R’Kook and R’YBS. [Me – and if not, would you prioritize it behind doing another mitzvah?? hmmm?]

  • Rabbi Yehoshua Grunstein -My community 3- Diversty within the same is Lechatchila

    Importance of diversity and recognition of differing approaches in avodat hashem (a life of service to HKB”H) and individual roles which are not cookie cutter [me – of course the boundaries are subject to debate (e.g. post orthodoxy ϑ?)].

  • R’ Asher Weiss-Ki Tavo

    Discussion of whether the focus of the mitzvah of shofar is on the blowing or on the hearing. Mussar from R’Weiss – perhaps the focus for us is “hearing” to do tshuva but the blowing is for HKB”H (to do his part).

  • Rabbi Mordechai I. Willig -Halachot of the 9/11 Agunot: Corresponding With the Gedolim of Eretz Yisrael

    Discussion of specific case issues from 9/11. [me – interesting who the focal beit din for the actual determinations was] Issues in determination of agunah status included was there a possible escape? were there witnesses? was there cell phone or e-mail communication? MTA reliability (rely on them to assume someone got their schedules), DNA evidence – only evidence available.
    Most fascinating halachic issues (to me) related to:
    * “mayim shein lahem sof” and modern communications (if someone survives they can let you know right away).
    * R’OY meta approach (reminded me of R’YBS halachic heart and Manhattan project analogy rolled into one)
    * would it make a difference if someone weren’t happily married or had credit problems [should we assume they might have had another reason to “disappear”]

  • Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz-Ten Minute Halacha – Torn Tzitzis Strings :

    My summary – if string cut, even just below knot, it’s Kosher (might want to fix), other situations CLOR (it’s complicated).

  • Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz -Sanhedrin Shiur 11 – Tzarich L’varer

    Don’t judge a book by its cover – I was hoping for a shiur on when do you have to verify a rov or chazakah. Here we’re discussing if you make a double claim (I have contract and chazakah) do you have to prove both (and, if so, lchatchila or bdieved) if one would be enough win? [me – if yes, great meta issue!!]

  • Rabbi Moshe Taragin -Mission , History and Community

    Worthwhile sidebar – texting policy during shiur!? Conveying experiential information is much harder than intellectual info. Plea to kids at Gush to live a life of vision and engagement in true avodat hashem. If you don’t live in Israel (you should but….) live Israel.
    Great discussion of going to secular college in U.S. vs. outside U.S. (there they generally live at home) – In U.S. try to connect by contributing to Jewish community.
    A must listen, and not just for Shanna Alef kids, 60 year olds too! (As Coach Halpert once said “Let’s try to at least win the second half”)

  • Harav Mosheh Lichtenstein-Shofarot #1 – Shofar as a Form of Communication

    The shofar as it relates to both malchut (kingship) and zicharon (memories, like the corners of my mind?). It is both a sophisticated message and a primal cry.

  • Rabbi Yoni Levin -The Battle Between Talmud Yerushalmi and Talmud Bavli: Which is superior?

    How does one reconcile various statements in the Talmud concerning the relative superiority of Babylon (and their learning) and Eretz Yisrael (and their learning ) [me – maybe there were different opinions?? No, too baalabatish an answer] Perhaps it’s related to issues of approach (individual focus vs. community) or inherent holiness of the land?
    Depending on the reason you understand for the eventual primacy of the Bavli (e.g. they lasted longer and saw more, stress in aretz due to local conditions lead to lower focus, other) you may choose to give more or less weight to the Yerushalmi.

  • Rabbi Moshe Taragin -Transience and Tranquility

    There are many messages to the tocheichot – here focus on the dialectic between being cast out of Israel yet still being chosen, so at any time we may have both prosperity and transcience.

  • Rabbi Hershel Schachter -Parsha Shiur – Ki Tavo 5771

    The usual wide-ranging discussions including:
    * The reading of tochecha was before Rosh Hashana even in the triennial cycle.
    * use of singular vs. plural – the brit in Nitzavim was for all Klal Yisrael (vs. Sinai which was only for the individuals there) [me – and what’s the meta message of needing 2 covenants?] * we are doresh smuchim (give extra meaning to contiguity) in Dvarim because this was given over based on Moshe’s logical organization.
    * Vidui Maaser was said quietly (humility!!!)
    * Kdai Shelo lvayesh (making a general rule so as not to embarrass those who can’t)
    * standing for chatan – R’Yaakov did (he’s on his way to do a mitzvah). R’Moshe didn’t (the mitzvah isn’t immediate)
    * vhalachta b’drachav (imitato dei)
    * don’t give psak before age 40 (unless no one else available)

  • Jeffrey Saks – Reuven Ziegler -4 new books by and about the Roshei Yeshiva of Har Etzion – Rav Yehuda Amital zt”l and Rav Aharon Lichtenstein shlit”a:

    LeAvdekha BeEmet – Memorial volume for Rav Amital (Maggid Books)
    By Faith Alone: The Story of Rabbi Yehuda Amital by Elyashiv Reichner (Maggid Books)
    Mevakshei Panekha – R. Chaim Sabbato conversations with Rav Lichtenstein (Yediot Sefarim)
    Varieties of Jewish Experience – Collected Essays of Rav Lichtenstein (Ktav)

    Essays about R’Amital and a biography – some history on R’Amital and his educational philosophy, simplicity and three dimensionality. R’Lichtenstein on various topics – showing his depth of thought and perspective (living the vida dialectic).

  • Rabbi Mordechai Torczyner -Kiddush Materials – White wine, Red wine, Mevushal, Grape Juice, Whiskey and more

    Talmud discusses wine but must understand winemaking now and then (which is discussed in this shiur). Grape juice and mevushal (“cooked”) wine issues discussed – is the issue one of quality (lack thereof) or ability to be used on the altar (and implications of the differing reasons). Use of chamar medinah (national drinks) liquor, milk, tea, soda, and oven bread for various ritual purposes [many differing opinions].

  • Rabbi Netanel Wiederblank -Free Will and Divine Foreknowledge

    Varying opinions on freewill (Rambam – we each can do it all at any point in time, R’Dessler – very limited point of choice) and how to deal with HKB”H’s foreknowledge (full range from HKB”H has full control to withdraw from this and all steps in between). I’m partially with the Rambam/Ravaad – there is no 100% answer that we can understand (that’s why he’s HKB”H and we’re not).

  • Rabbi Yehoshua Grunstein -My community # 4- is Talmud Torah a THING for us?

    Does M.O. community encourage baalei batim to undertake independent torah study? Does it show respect for individuals who do this and provide them with positive reinforcement? Does it understand that Talmud torah kneged kulam means (IIRC this is the GRA) when you’re not involved with other “mitzvot” this is the priority (and will keep you busy with the right things rather than the wrong) or do we have too many conflicting priorities that we put on an equal par [me – who you honor at community “dinners” may provide a partial answer]

  • About Joel Rich

    Joel Rich is a frequent local lecturer on various Torah topics in West Orange, NJ and supports his Torah listening habits by working as a consulting actuary.

    8 comments

    1. Great pieces from R. Bigman and R. Aviner in beginning.

      Is this a sign of a long overdue pushback against the hegemony of the Brisker derech in some circles? I wonder if R. Chaim Brisker z”l himself would be happy with some of the excesses passed off in the its name today.

    2. “differing approaches may be appropriate in differing cases. (Put another way, R’Glickman, R’Rosensweig, R’Sacks and R’Wieder all have made deposits in my tool box).”
      Interesting who is listed and who is not listed.

      “* would it make a difference if someone weren’t happily married or had credit problems [should we assume they might have had another reason to “disappear”]”

      which I believe did happen

      “Discussion of specific case issues from 9/11. [me – interesting who the focal beit din for the actual determinations was] ”

      what gets forgotten is that nobody an be matir an asheis ish-a bes din is simply sysying that given these facts a woman can remarry-we are willing to take the risk. Aren’t all 9/11 type questions simply how much of Type 1 or type 2 errors one is willing to have.

      “Picking a chazzan for slichot & yamim noralm [me – midot, midot, midot – just like a future spouse].”
      How about R Chaims quip but first one has to be a chazzan to enter that question.
      I have a couple of shaliach zibbur Yamim noraim queries?
      Can a person who is eating bheter on Yom Kippur be a shaliach zibbur-IMHO at least two potential problems can one be a shaliach zibbur on another fast day when one is not fasting why shouldYK be any different-one who is eating beheter still must minimize his eating isn’t it likely or a safek karov levaday that the exhaustion of being a shaliach zibburt on YK would likely increase one who is eating beheter needs for additional food/water. Of course, similar to recent JA piece it is probable that one who is eating beheter should not go to schul at all on YK to minimize ones eating.
      Is drinking water a hefsek? If so, why doesn’t one replace a SZ assuming one in them iddle of chazaraa hashas all of a sudden needs water-most likely time is RH musaf very long chazaras hashas?

    3. “don’t give psak before age 40 (unless no one else available)”

      I had the pleasure to attend a Hilchos Shabbos shiur by RHS in his 20s.

      In Brody’s Yale Judaisca series book on Geonim this issue is tangentially discussed-it certainly was not clear before Saadiahs time that the Bavli had supremacy. IMHO Brody is worth reading-Brody math expert with Joel Rich.

    4. Moshe Shoshan

      There is certainly push back against Brisker Derech, in different forms and to differing a degrees in the DL world here in Israel. This comes from pressure not only from academic approaches, but also from other achronish approaches as well as neo-chassidus.

    5. Interesting who is listed and who is not listed.

      =================================
      These are individuals in whose shiurim (adult ed talmud) I have taken up space.
      GCT

    6. R’ Mycroft
      I love it when people note the type I, type II error when it applies to halacha – thanks!
      GCT

    7. R’ Ovadyah is reputed to have given shiur, telling people to ignore the psakim of the Ben Ish Hai (the Sefardi equivalent of the Mishna Brura at the time), at age 18.

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