As I steadily make my way through Dr. Benny Brown’s monumental biography of R. Avraham Yeshayahu Karelitz, known as “The Chazon Ish”, I came across an exchange between R. Karelitz and R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik about which I had been previously unaware. R. Moshe Soloveichik was quoted in the rabbinic journal Ha-Pardes (5:3 Sivan 5691) as saying at the end of an Agudas Ha-Rabbanim convention a complex Talmudic insight in the name of his son, R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik. The subject is very technical and the style is classic Brisk. The Rash (Pe’ah 1:6) explains an enigmatic Tosefta as meaning that ownerless fruits that are acquired before growing a third are obligated in terumos u-ma’aaseros but exempt from matenos aniyim. Why the distinction if growing a third (hava’as shelish) seems to be the measure of when a growth becomes a fruit? Since the fruits reached the point when they were owned, they should be obligated in everything.

The Chazon Ish vs. Rav Soloveitchik

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I. The First Article

As I steadily make my way through Dr. Benny Brown’s monumental biography of R. Avraham Yeshayahu Karelitz, known as “The Chazon Ish” (The Hazon Ish: Halakhist, Believer and Leader of the Haredi Revolution), I came across an exchange between R. Karelitz and R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik about which I had been previously unaware.

R. Moshe Soloveichik was quoted in the rabbinic journal Ha-Pardes (5:3 Sivan 5691 – link) as saying at the end of an Agudas Ha-Rabbanim convention a complex Talmudic insight in the name of his son, R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik. The subject is very technical and the style is classic Brisk. The Rash (Pe’ah 1:6) explains an enigmatic Tosefta as meaning that ownerless fruits that are acquired before growing a third are obligated in terumos u-ma’aaseros but exempt from matenos aniyim. Why the distinction if growing a third (hava’as shelish) seems to be the measure of when a growth becomes a fruit? Since the fruits reached the point when they were owned, they should be obligated in everything.

R. Soloveitchik explains that hava’as shelish is the unique point of obligation in terumos u-ma’aseros but other obligations (matenos aniyim) entail when a growth becomes a fruit. Each species has its own measure of when a growth becomes a fruit which generally differ from hava’as shelish. However, hava’as shelish also factors into the definition of harvesting. If you cut the fruits too early, you have not really harvested them. In other words, hava’as shelish is a shi’ur for terumos u-ma’aseros but just a tenai in ketzirah.

With this, he explains the Tosefta and many apparent contradictions in the Rambam. Since the growths had already reached their species’ definition of fruit while still ownerless (before hava’as shelish) they acquired the exemption from matenos aniyim. However, the obligation for terumos u-ma’aseros would not have devolved on the fruits until hava’as shelish, at which point they were owned and became obligated.

II. The Response

The Chazon Ish thought that this article was not just wrong but mistakenly attributed. He strongly disagreed with many of the details but particularly the premise that there are different measures of when a growth becomes a fruit. The definition for all species is growing a third (hava’as shelish).

Additionally, he suspected that the insight was really authored by the father, R. Moshe, who had attached his son’s name to the article. According to his brother-in-law, the Chazon Ish critiqued the article in order to negate R. Moshe Soloveichik, who affiliated with Mizrachi [by serving as rosh yeshiva of Tachkemoni?] (Dr. Brown, pp. 55-56 quotes this explanation from Orechos Rabbenu 5:169 in the name of R. Chaim Kanievsky, the Chazon Ish‘s nephew, from his father). The Chazon Ish sent a rebuttal to a different journal (Knesses Yisrael Adar 5692, published by his brother and brother-in-law – link), harshly criticizing the original article on many specific points. Additionally, rather than sign with one of his usual pseudonyms, he used the name of one of his young students, R. Shlomo Cohen.

III. Final Rebuttal

R. Soloveitchik, the younger, ably responded to the critique in a letter to the original journal (Ha-Pardes 6:2 Iyar 5692 – link). Both this and the original article were relatively recently published in a 2001 collection of R. Soloveitchik’s early Hebrew letters, Iggeros Ha-Grid (pp. 130-141). The book contains extended versions from manuscript of R. Soloveitchik’s original article and response. Additionally, and most interestingly, it reprints a letter from R. Moshe Soloveichik to his son about the essay. The father and son regularly corresponded on Talmudic topics, so much that the letters make up the entire book.

According to R. Joseph Soloveitchik’s son, Dr. Haym Soloveitchik, his father first published this article while studying in Berlin. At the time, his father, R. Moshe, responded that the underlying idea is brilliant but, he believes, incorrect. Harvesting without hava’as shelish would surely prevent an obligation of matenos aniyim from attaching to the fruits. While agreeing with his son on the soon-to-be contentious topic of whether different fruits have the same measure, R. Moshe Soloveichik privately disagreed with his son’s article. It is not clear why he repeated the insight at a rabbinic convention if he disagreed with it. but presumably when the journal asked for details on his insight, he provided his son’s article.

While this letter by R. Moshe Soloveitchik disproves the Chazon Ish‘s suspicion, the beginning and end of R. Joseph Soloveitchik’s rebuttal undermine his intent completely. The rebuttal begins by profusely thanking R. Shlomo Cohen (i.e. the Chazon Ish) for taking his article seriously. “This demonstrates that my words entered the study hall and found a path among those who stand in God’s courtyard, for which I always pray.” After a long response, R. Soloveitchik concludes: “I thank R. Shlomo Cohen again for his interest in my words. I am certain that in the future he will pay attention to my insights that occasionally appear, with God’s help, and for this I give him my heartfelt thanks.” R. Soloveitchik turned the negation of the critique into a collegial discussion, an invitation to the rabbinic table.

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 and as Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance 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.

33 comments

  1. Seems like he knew exactly why the article was being attacked in the first place. Pretty smooth political maneuvering. I can only imagine that this infuriated the Chazon Ish.

  2. Dr Brown’s book was very harshly reviewed in HaMaayan:
    http://www.shaalvim.co.il/torah/maayan-article.asp?id=561

  3. R. Soloveitchik ably responded to the critique in a letter to the original journal (Ha-Pardes 6:2 Iyar 5692, not available online).

    Please clarify which R’ Soloveitchik

  4. J: That review is very unfair, even if it might be right on certain things. Dr. Brown weighs various testimonies and pieces of evidence, which are often contradictory, and chooses the one he thinks is most reliable and best fits the bigger picture he sees. To then argue that he rejects evidence is beside the point.

    And the whole section about how the Chazon Ish never changed his mind or developed his ideas is ridiculous.

  5. “R. Soloveitchik ably responded to the critique in a letter to the original journal (Ha-Pardes 6:2 Iyar 5692, not available online). ”

    I uploaded it, so it can be read here: http://goo.gl/pMeDm

  6. Shlomo: R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik responded to the critique.

  7. S: Thanks. I added it to the post. Very interesting editor’s addition at the end of the article!

  8. This perhaps ties in with the Rubenstein controversy in Vilna. See

    http://seforim.blogspot.com/2011/08/new-writings-from-r-kook-and-assorted.html

  9. Gil – I tend to agree with you, although I haven’t read the book carefully yet, so I’ll have to reserve judgement. An earlier version of that review was circulating a couple of months ago – I’m somewhat surprised that HaMaayan didn’t ask the reviewer to subdue his demagoguic tone.

  10. J: On further thought, the author considered the biographical section to be the least important so it’s odd that a review would only address that section.

    I’ll have to check but my impression is that the reviewer misrepresents what Dr. Brown said about the Chazon Ish in his youth. My recollection is that he claims the Chazon Ish was influenced by Maskilic ideas, most notably rationalist theology. The review doesn’t really address that, particularly the clear rationalist vocabulary the Chazon Ish uses.

  11. Just curious-does Dr Brown discuss how the CI in Orach Chaim has almost a running critique of the MB for changing what had been previously accepted Psak Halacha?

  12. IIRC, RHS, in one of his hespedim for RYBS, given in the immediate aftermath of RYBS’s petirah, commented that RYBS encouraged his Talmidim to study the works of the CI because of the breadth and scope of coverage of Torah topics therein.

  13. Ye’yasher kochakha to our Rosh Yeshiva R. Student. This is a fascinating and illuminating debate, even for me (who is unfortunately not so well versed in Tractate Pe’ah). However, I would respectfully question (ketalmid ha’yoshev bakarka vedan lifnei Rabbo) one particular nuance in this post, viz. the statement “the beginning and end of R. Joseph Soloveitchik’s rebuttal undermine his intent completely”. Perhaps the Chazon Ish was actually shepping nachas from the expansion of Torah knowledge that occurred thanks to the debate between R. Soloveitchik and himself. Can we see the text of Orchot Rabbeinu 5:169 inside? Thank you.

  14. “Steve Brizel on October 19, 2011 at 11:13 am
    IIRC, RHS, in one of his hespedim for RYBS, given in the immediate aftermath of RYBS’s petirah, commented that RYBS encouraged his Talmidim to study the works of the CI because of the breadth and scope of coverage of Torah topics therein.”

    Just as relevant is that the Rav felt that one would have to follow the positions of a R Chaim Ozer in Vilna because he had an officiial communal position-but one would not have to follow the positions of the CI because he had no official position of authority.

  15. Mycroft wrote:

    “Just as relevant is that the Rav felt that one would have to follow the positions of a R Chaim Ozer in Vilna because he had an officiial communal position-but one would not have to follow the positions of the CI because he had no official position of authority”

    That IMO is irrelevant to my point above stated, and especially since the views of the CI became excepted amonmg a large segment of the Charedi world well beyond his residence in Bnei Brak.

  16. “Steve Brizel on October 23, 2011 at 10:34 pm
    Mycroft wrote:

    “Just as relevant is that the Rav felt that one would have to follow the positions of a R Chaim Ozer in Vilna because he had an officiial communal position-but one would not have to follow the positions of the CI because he had no official position of authority”

    That IMO is irrelevant to my point above stated, and especially since the views of the CI became excepted amonmg a large segment of the Charedi world well beyond his residence in Bnei Brak”

    It may be irrelevant to your POV of view but it was very much relevant to the Rav-the Rav was aware that much ofthe Chareidi world accepted the CI that is their perogative as it is your perogative to accept RHS-but noo ne else is requiredto accept either of them as neiher have been appoined by a geographicarea as their manhig. Both RHS and the CI /were/are great talmeidei chachamim but no one is required to accept their piskei halacha accordingto the Ravs analysis.

  17. R’ Mycroft,

    Ye’yasher kochakha for raising this important issue. The question of rabbinic jurisdiction and rabbinic sovereignty (i.e. is Halakhah like political science such that a Jew must only listen to the local rabbi who is officially accepted as the decisor for the community, or is Halakhah like natural science in that a Jew must weigh the opinions of all rabbis who exist everywhere) is a subject of tension between two sugyot. On the one hand, the gemara in Avodah Zarah 7a seems to take the natural science approach: if there is an unresolved dispute on a matter of Torah law, a Jew must follow the stringent opinion; if there is an unresolved dispute on a matter of rabbinic law, a Jew is permitted to follow the lenient opinion. On the other hand, the gemara in Shabbat 130a seems to take the political science approach: the townspeople of Rabbi Eliezer were rewarded for following their spiritual leader Rabbi Eliezer and completely ignoring Rabbi Akiva’s countervailing opinion.

    How to resolve the tension between these two sugyot has previously been explored on Torah Musings, and the discussion between R’ Steve Brizel and R’ Mycroft is a further manifestation of this phenomenon. My own personal approach (which has benefited from the constructive criticism delivered in this forum by Mori VeRebbi R. Kaplan and R. Doron Beckerman in this forum) is found on pp. 43-47 of http://www.wepapers.com/Papers/155211/Synagogue_Partition .

  18. Mycroft wrote in response:

    “It may be irrelevant to your POV of view but it was very much relevant to the Rav-the Rav was aware that much ofthe Chareidi world accepted the CI that is their perogative as it is your perogative to accept RHS-but noo ne else is requiredto accept either of them as neiher have been appoined by a geographicarea as their manhig. Both RHS and the CI /were/are great talmeidei chachamim but no one is required to accept their piskei halacha accordingto the Ravs analysis”

    That was not my point-I merely pointed out that RHS quoted RYBS as saying that one should study the works of the CI because of the breadth and depth of his writings-a completely different issue from whether one accepted the CI or any other Posek for halachic issues.

  19. I’m sure the Rav appreciated the breadth and depth – and was disgusted with his attitude in this context.

  20. Anonymous wrote:

    “I’m sure the Rav appreciated the breadth and depth – and was disgusted with his attitude in this context”

    How then do you understand the following analysis by R Gil?

    “While this letter by R. Moshe Soloveitchik disproves the Chazon Ish‘s suspicion, the beginning and end of R. Joseph Soloveitchik’s rebuttal undermine his intent completely. The rebuttal begins by profusely thanking R. Shlomo Cohen (i.e. the Chazon Ish) for taking his article seriously. “This demonstrates that my words entered the study hall and found a path among those who stand in God’s courtyard, for which I always pray.” After a long response, R. Soloveitchik concludes: “I thank R. Shlomo Cohen again for his interest in my words. I am certain that in the future he will pay attention to my insights that occasionally appear, with God’s help, and for this I give him my heartfelt thanks.” R. Soloveitchik turned the negation of the critique into a collegial discussion, an invitation to the rabbinic table.”

  21. lawrence kaplan

    Kill ’em with kindness.

  22. lawrence kaplan

    IIRC, in one of his volumes on the Rav, RHS refers to this exchange and mentions that years later when learning these sugyot the Rav offered an analysis closer to that of the HI. When one of the “old-timers” referred to the exchange, the Rav replied that this was the way it seemed to him now.

  23. Steve – Prof Kaplan got it exactly right. And since I know there’s no way of convincing you with logic or evidence, I’m hoping you’ll take an argument from Prof Kaplan’s authority on the Rav.

  24. “Steve Brizel on October 24, 2011 at 2:13 pm
    Mycroft wrote in response:

    “It may be irrelevant to your POV of view but it was very much relevant to the Rav-the Rav was aware that much ofthe Chareidi world accepted the CI that is their perogative as it is your perogative to accept RHS-but noo ne else is requiredto accept either of them as neiher have been appoined by a geographicarea as their manhig. Both RHS and the CI /were/are great talmeidei chachamim but no one is required to accept their piskei halacha accordingto the Ravs analysis”

    That was not my point-I merely pointed out that RHS quoted RYBS as saying that one should study the works of the CI because of the breadth and depth of his writings-a completely different issue from whether one accepted the CI or any other Posek for halachic issues”

    I know that was not your original point about the CI and the Rav but I simply used your comment openly as a pretext to give a differen take on the Rav andthe CI than you gave-neither of our stories contradict each other but both give a different nuance of the Rav-oce you wrote on a tagent from Gils post I wrote a different tangent.

    thus I wrote
    “mycroft on October 23, 2011 at 9:48 pm
    “Steve Brizel on October 19, 2011 at 11:13 am
    IIRC, RHS, in one of his hespedim for RYBS, given in the immediate aftermath of RYBS’s petirah, commented that RYBS encouraged his Talmidim to study the works of the CI because of the breadth and scope of coverage of Torah topics therein.”

    Just as relevant is that the Rav felt that one would have to follow the positions of a R Chaim Ozer in Vilna because he had an officiial communal position-but one would not have to follow the positions of the CI because he had no official position of authority.”

    Just as relevant-not claiming a respone to what you wrote-if I didn’t write it clearly enough my fault.

  25. “How then do you understand the following analysis by R Gil?

    “While this letter by R. Moshe Soloveitchik disproves the Chazon Ish‘s suspicion, the beginning and end of R. Joseph Soloveitchik’s rebuttal undermine his intent completely. The rebuttal begins by profusely thanking R. Shlomo Cohen (i.e. the Chazon Ish) for taking his article seriously. “This demonstrates that my words entered the study hall and found a path among those who stand in God’s courtyard, for which I always pray.” After a long response, R. Soloveitchik concludes: “I thank R. Shlomo Cohen again for his interest in my words. I am certain that in the future he will pay attention to my insights that occasionally appear, with God’s help, and for this I give him my heartfelt thanks.” R. Soloveitchik turned the negation of the critique into a collegial discussion, an invitation to the rabbinic table.”

    lawrence kaplan on October 24, 2011 at 8:57 pm
    Kill ‘em with kindness”

    Agreed

  26. Personally I think the English abstract in the book overhyped the book itself. After reading it, I expected to find out that the CI ZTL was a closet Maskil and beat his wife during the early days of their marriage. The book itself turned out to be much more tame/lame depending on your POV. As a semi staunch chareidi (moderately ultra) myself, I breathed a sigh of relief.

  27. I can’t speak for the particular hesped that Steve is referring to. But numerous times in shiur and the Beit midrash Rabbi Schachter quoted the Rav as recommending to the boys they should study the works of the chazon ish (as to my recollection specifically on yoreah deah-but I wouldn’t swear to that particular)…except the reason that he gave for it was VERY VERY different than what Steve is quoting. Does anyone else have a different recollection for the reason of the Rav before I publish mine?? It’s a reason that could def. be misunderstood and I’d like some confirmation before I put it out there…

  28. Haven’t yet read the book. But, heard from an expert that the author tries to liberalize -inaccurately the Chazon Ish.

  29. Brad-the hesped in question was given in the series of hespedim given by the RIETS RY in the month following RYBS’s petirah.

  30. c y,

    I’ve read the first four chapters of the book, and that’s not my understanding at all. Quite the contrary, the Chazon Ish was quite the machmir (even within his own community) and Dr. Brown shows it pretty well.

    What he does show is that the CI’s method of chumra was a kind of solid, balanced attitude towards halacha and not the kind of borderline-OCD (called “nerven” in Yiddish) that the Brisker Rav seemed to indirectly encourage. (See, for instance, Dr. Brown’s very long, but very illuminating article ‘five types of chumra’).

    The CI was also revolutionary in terms of the authority he gave to what might be called “halachic intuition”, which is a trait that for him belonged only to gedolei Torah after years of study (THIS is what he meant by the fifth volume of the Shulchan Aruch).

    This is present not only in his psak but also his famous (or infamous?) statement “libi anasani”, which many have incorrectly interpreted to mean that the CI was arbitrary in his rulings. What it really meant was that his halachic “sixth sense” compelled him to decide one way and not the other.

    I also think the MO world has much to learn from the CI’s derech limmud if not from his ‘murder of minhag’ as a consideration in halacha or his excessive humrot.

  31. Fantastic and informative!

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