Dignity and Difference: In Defense of R. Sacks

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I. Critique

Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks is not only a creative theologian but one who is both remarkably prolific and consistent. While the claim of prolificity is unassailable, that of consistency was recently challenged by Dr. Alan Jotkowitz in a respectful critique (link). I believe that a stylistic point resolves, in one fell swoop, nearly all the questions Dr. Jotkowitz poses.

Dr. Jotkowitz raises four main difficulties regarding R. Sacks’ theology:

  1. R. Sacks claims that all religions are equally true, which is difficult to uphold within Orthodox Jewish tradition
  2. An over-reliance on Scripture, with explanations that contradict rabbinic interpretations
  3. R. Sacks explicitly rejects pluralism within Judaism. If all religions are equally true, why not all Jewish denominations?
  4. R. Sacks opposes multiculturalism’s equality of culture but favors equality of religions.

I believe that the key to R. Sacks’ theology is recognition that he is a global religious figure. He speak not only internally, inspiring and instructing Jews, but also to the broader public. Necessarily, he speaks differently to different audiences. When speaking to Orthodox Jews, he invokes Talmud, commentaries and codes. However, when addressing gentiles, particularly Christians, he primarily utilizes a common language — the Hebrew Bible — and avoids legal niceties that outsiders to Orthodox Judaism find foreign to theology.

II. Speaking to the Nations

When speaking to gentiles, as R. Sacks does in The Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations, he mentions the Noahide code but only briefly (pp. 20, 54 & 57). Of course he believes all humans are bound by it, and hence its prohibition against idolatry, but his goals in this book are not furthered by overemphasizing it. He is speaking to the nations of the world and using Christian terms like “faith” (meaning religion, not specific beliefs) and telling them that they can follow their own tribal paths to God (as long as they fall within the boundaries of the Noahide covenant).

All of those religions contain some truth and, figuratively, God speaks to all people. R. Sacks is not, to my reading, saying that every truth claim of every religion is true or that every (or any) sacred religious text is divinely revealed. He is merely saying that God cares about every human being and manifests Himself in their lives. When they feel God’s presence, they are genuinely experiencing a religious moment. And perhaps, even stronger and following the Rambam’s view in Mishneh Torah (Hilkhos Melakhim 11:4), God providentially directs the founding and spreading of those religions.

III. Pluralism and Noahides

This book is not the place to assert the unique place of Judaism and its sacred texts. R. Sacks is speaking to the vast majority of the world about the vast majority of people and their relationships with God. All religions within the Noahide covenant that uphold universal values are equally true but those that contravene the Noahide covenant and universal values are invalid. In contrast, within the Mosaic covenant only one religion — Judaism — can be true. Pluralism is an aspect of the Noahide covenant. Within the Mosaic covenant, however: “Orthodoxy is defined in terms of truth and authority, not interpretation and option. This fact cannot be translated into pluralism” (One People, p. 151).

And even within the Noahide covenant, beliefs that undermine universal values of community and family or that otherwise endanger society are invalid. “There are indeed moral universals — the Hebrew Bible calls them ‘the covenant with Noah’ and they form the basis of modern codes of human rights. But they exist to create space for cultural and religious difference…” (The Dignity of Difference, p. 20). “[L]iberalism in its modern guises, and still more in its postmodern one, denies that there is such a thing as a shared moral code” (The Home We Build Together, p. 5). Failing to recognize this, and thereby risking society’s collapse, is multiculturalism’s fatal error.

IV. Theology of the Stranger

While we already explained why, in certain books, R. Sacks portrays his religious thought almost exclusively through Scripture, I’d like to address an important example that Dr. Jotkowitz raises. Over many books, R. Sacks develops a theology of the stranger. He returns again and again to this theme, which he argues is essential to the Jewish outlook. Dr. Jotkowitz correctly points out that “[t]he verses he quotes, according to the Oral Torah, refer exclusively to a stranger who is a full convert to Judaism (ger tsedek) or at the very least some[one] who agrees to follow the seven Noahide laws and live peacefully under Jewish sovereignty (ger toshav)” (p. 61).

R. Sacks is well aware of this and, in a text directed toward Jews that Dr. Jotkowitz overlooks, explains his approach within the traditional framework of Talmud and commentaries. In Covenant & Conversation: A Weekly Reading of the Jewish Bible (Exodus, pp. 179-186), R. Sacks quotes two passages from Bava Metzi’a and from Ramban and Or Ha-Chaim in his analysis of the moral obligation toward strangers. If I understand correctly, his main basis for generalizing these commandments is that the Torah is commanding Jews how to properly treat strangers who live among them. In a settled land of Israel, the only strangers who may live among us are converts and gerei toshav. However, the lessons from these commandments refer, at the very least in spirit, to the way any native population should treat strangers living in its midst.

R. Sacks is only human and may be guilty of inconsistencies and errors. However, I fail to see how Dr. Jotkowitz has successfully critiqued R. Sacks’ theology, nor, for that matter, do Dr. Marc Shapiro’s criticisms ring true. In the posts linked below, I explain some issues in more detail and show where the revised edition of The Dignity of Difference differs from the original.

See also these posts: I, II

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor 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 currently is serving his third term on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and also serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazineand the Board of OU Press. He has published four 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.


  1. While in general I don’t care for the herems of Rabbi Elyashiv, I think in this case we have to read Rabbi Sacks book carefully. Even though he was writing to a non-Jewish audience, there are things in the book which really cross the line.

  2. Your quotation from p. 151 of One People is taken out of context. He is not addressing non-Jews at all. Rather, that section is one of the best expositions I have seen regarding the intra-faith problem between Orthodoxy and Reform.

    After the sentence you quote: “Orthodoxy is defined in terms of truth and authority, not interpretation and option. This fact cannot be translated into pluralism”, CR Sacks continues: “We are left with the traditional alternative, inclusivism. But…”

    Then on p. 153 is the succinct summary:

    […] in the contemporary Jewish world the pursuit of unity is inherently divisive. Pluralism denies the self-definition of Orthodoxy. Inclusivism denies the self-definition of non-Orthodoxy. Were liberal Jews to accept Orthodoxy at face value, they would be forced to abandon the terms of pluralism and argue that Orthodoxy is false. Were Orthodoxy to accept liberal Jews on their own terms, they would be forced to conclude that they lay outside the covenantal community. Inclusivist and pluralist conceptions of unity are incompatible. The one cannot absorb the other. We here come face to face with one of the most profound collisions between tradition and modernity.

    The problem, to restate it, is that inclusivism assaults the self-respect of the liberal Jew. It rests on a distinction between liberal Jews and liberal Judaism. To legitimate the former it must delegitimize the latter. To include dissenting individuals, it must exclude dissenting ideologies. Tradition can only interpret the covenantal community as a community of faith and practice. To include those who stand outside the boundaries of traditional faith and practice, it must see their stance as non-essential, the result of environmental influence and excusable error. What is essential is their desire to be counted in the community, to be identified as Jews, even on terms to which they do not explicitly subscribe. Inclusivism, in driving a wedge between the dissenting individual and his or her beliefs, deliberately marginalizes the central virtues of modernity: authenticity, integrity, the deep congruence between the self and its expressions. Liberal Judaism asks Orthodoxy to respect its integrity. That is precisely what Orthodoxy, for the sake of Jewish unity, proposes not to do.

  3. What’s the sechel in saying that he really says one thing but means another in a public forum? I’m trying to understand why undermining him, “a global religious figure,” is being supportive. I’m thinking of Rabbi David Zintzheim and Napoleon’s Sanhedrin. The Chasam Sofer thought he was megaleh tefach but mechaseh tfachaim. But he didn’t blog it.

  4. Strike the 2nd sentence in 11:45pm – He is not addressing non-Jews at all.

  5. From you summary it appears that Jotkowitz agrees with Shapiro


    On a different issue, can someone from England weigh in on whether there was a political context to the haredi attempt to destroy CR Sacks? Did he do something to anger them?

  6. In his speech to the “kinus sheluchim”- Rabbi Sacks speaks of how the “Rebbe” inspired him to reach out to non-Jews, to which he reports that the response was incredible. He definitely, on principle, reaches out to the non-Jews to teach them the universal truths of Judaism.

  7. IH: Your quotation from p. 151 of One People is taken out of context. He is not addressing non-Jews at all.

    Agreed, and that was my point. Yes, there is more to his argument in One People. But I couldn’t quote the whole book.

  8. S: What’s the sechel in saying that he really says one thing but means another in a public forum?

    He isn’t hiding anything from anyone. He just didn’t discuss internal Jewish politics in a book to gentiles because it would have been out of place. If he quoted Ramban and Or HaChaim to gentiles rather than just Scripture he would be less understandable. The ideas are the same but the styles are different.

  9. “On a different issue, can someone from England weigh in on whether there was a political context to the haredi attempt to destroy CR Sacks? Did he do something to anger them?”

    I think the trend in Cheredi communities trying to find any way to not be holden to Rabbis who speak out on their own, is very obvious.

    Is there any Rabbi today who the Charedim say are kosher who publish their own words and speak openly in public?

  10. Non-Jewish religions err in fundamental principles of faith- the issue is not just the details of “every truth claim.” There is a big difference between saying religion X contains some truth and saying it is a true religion.

  11. Anonymous: I think in this case we have to read Rabbi Sacks book carefully. Even though he was writing to a non-Jewish audience, there are things in the book which really cross the line

    That is precisely what I did but I came to the opposite conclusion.

  12. Re England, when he started as CR a very famous reform rabbi, one of England’s most prominent religious leaders (bad stuff has come out since but that is another story) died. Everyone wanted to know whether the new CR, expected to be radical in some circles, would go to the cremation etc and break new ground in improving O/Reform relations. Had he ignored the event he would have been criticised in the national press so he had pressure both ways.

    He went to some reform ceremony, which was much more than any CR had ever done but not to the cremation itself. As a result he made no-one happy. he later wrote some funny sounding letter to the Charedi leaders explaining why he did what he did and they, highly ethically, leaked the letter to the media which made it even worse.

    Things have improved since then, and while he is not seen as a leader per se among the charedim, they will support him as required as he carries weight in articulating orthodox interests

  13. Please don’t turn this into a bashing (or political defense) session.

  14. CR Sacks has a very tough balancing act due to the role he plays. For better or worse, the leader of the United Synagogue is viewed by Her Majesty’s government as the official representative of all the Jews in her dominion.

    There are fewer than 300,000 Jews in the UK, of which about 70% affiliate with United Synagogue. There are those both on the left (Masorti, Liberal, Reform and just Jews) and those on the right (Chassidim) who do not affiliate with United Synagogue. And yet, the Chief Rabbi still represents them from Her Majesty’s perspective. He is in a no-win situation, but despite occasional missteps has admirably balanced his responsibilities.

    This also sheds light on why CR Sacks has thought so deeply about pluralism vs. inclusivism as an intra-faith issue. Using the distinctions he makes, one could answer Anon’s question by saying the Chareidim are inclusivist about United Synagogue and CR Sacks. To wit: in their eyes, he is a tinok she’nishbah.

  15. Shalom Rosenfeld

    R’ Gil,

    From what I’ve heard, I believe Sforno wrote a philosophical work (“Or Amim”) critiquing Aristotelian philosophy. First version was in Hebrew, quoting Gemaras. He then wrote one in Latin and sent it to his Christian friends — that one cites Scripture but not Talmud.

    So it’s a pretty solid precedent.

  16. I believe Rav Heschel in God in Search of Man says that there are multiple truths. So Christianity, for example, could never be a Jew’s truth, but it could be a gentile’s. (This can also be relflected in the differing Rishonim’s interpretations of “akum.”)

  17. R Gil’s point, as I understand it, is that CR Sacks speaks and writes in different tones and uses different sources, depending on the audience. Isn’t that how the Rambam wrote in his various works? For that matter, that is how R M Willig eulogized and illustrated how RYBS was able to work in so many different styles as a Talmid Chacham.

  18. Heshy, are you quoting Heschel in order to offer support for R. Sacks or to criticize him (by showing who else holds to his position)?

  19. With the kind permission of our Rosh Yeshiva R. Student, I have written in my comments at https://www.torahmusings.com/2011/12/new-periodical-tradition-443/#comments that in my opinion it is forbidden for a Jew to believe that there is any religious doctrine that is true other than the Torah. Since the 1948 declaration of universal human rights passed by the United Nations specifically allows freedom of religion, international law protects the freedom of Jews to espouse this belief.

    The Rambam in Hilkhot Melakhim correctly cited by our Rosh Yeshiva R. Student establishes that there is great righteousness in the devotees of the Church and Islam, but Rambam also affirms that the only religious doctrine that can be granted credence by a Jew is the Torah. Ha-Rav Ha-Ga’on R. Sacks is himself a Jew (quite obviously) and so he is bound by this Halakhah.

    In truth, the Noahide Code – as the religion imposed by the Torah upon all humanity – is actually a hybrid of the Church and Islam. Noble ideas such as the sanctity of the Pentateuch – espoused by the Church – are hallmarks of the Noahide Code. Likewise, noble ideas such as the Unity of the Creator – espoused by Islam – are hallmarks of the Noahide Code. Obviously, devotees of the Church and Islam will receive eternal reward from HKB”H for championing these noble ideas.

    We are not expected to attempt to convince the nations of the world of our belief, and indeed RMF specifically instructs us (in IM YD 2:53) not to even raise the issue with the nations of the world. Let every religious community live its own way in peace, with no theological dialogue between them. In the meantime, it is our obligation as Jews to simply love and care for every human being, irrespective of that human being’s race or creed.

    Accordingly, I believe Ha-Rav Ha-Ga’on R. Sacks was correct to revise his book.

  20. R’ Spira — Jews have benefited greatly from the reforms led by Pope Paul VI in the Second Vatican Council’s 1965 Nostra Aetate, that absolved Jews (as a people) from almost 2 millennia of Christian persecution as Christ killers. I don’t think anyone seriously believes this would have come about without interfaith discussions that started in the 1950s.


    If your view that “Let every religious community live its own way in peace, with no theological dialogue between them” carried the day, we Jews might still be getting spat on (as some of our ignorant brethren do to Christians in Yerushalayim Ir ha’Kodesh) or worse.

  21. R’ Anonymous (Dec. 21 at 11:21 p.m.),
    Thank you and ye’yasher kochakha for your comment. I agree with you that Ha-Rav Ha-Ga’on R. Sacks was correct to revise his book, as explained in my previous comment.

    When you write that you refrain from favouring the pronouncements of R. Elyashiv, I am sure you mean affirm what the Artscroll biography of RMF (revised edition, 2011) posits on pp. 170-171, as follows:

    “Recently, when the venerable Rav Elyashiv, who today rules on the most difficult she’eilos from around the world, was asked why he does not publish his teshuvos, he responded with classic humility: “Who am I to write a definitive teshuvah which becomes Torah for all generations after it is published? …Chas v’shalom! …Rav Moshe Feinstein – he had the ability to pasken (issue halachic rulings) for all generations, he had the ability to write exactly what needed to be written, but as for me …?”

    [end of quotation from Artscroll biography of RMF]

    Thus, R. Elyashiv has candidly acknowledged (as you indicate) that he does not meet the stature of RMF, and that he is incapable of composing responsa like RMF.

  22. ” For better or worse, the leader of the United Synagogue is viewed by Her Majesty’s government as the official representative of all the Jews in her dominion.”

    There is no illusion that the CR represents the views of Jews of the UK-just as no illusion that the Israeli CR represents the views of Israelis.

  23. “…Rav Moshe Feinstein – he had the ability to pasken (issue halachic rulings) for all generations, he had the ability to write exactly what needed to be written, but as for me …?””
    RMF due toi the breadth of his tshuvas might have been respected by all -but it is pure revisionism to state that just becasue RMF wrote something all accepted it. Obvious differences to all include MO who follow RYBS on a lot of chlapei chutz dealings.

  24. “speaks and writes in different tones and uses different sources, depending on the audience. Isn’t that how the Rambam wrote in his various works? For that matter, that is how R M Willig eulogized and illustrated how RYBS was able to work in so many different styles as a Talmid Chacham”
    Fair enough but there is only one Rambam, one RYBS and everything that they wrote is emes for them-thus one cant ignore either the Yad or the Moreh or for the Rav his halachik writings or his philosophical writings they are all emes for them.

  25. I once heard him speak to a mixed religious and non-religious audience. He told over the famous story of why Moshiach will not be accepted because in each shul he won’t be what they are. When he said that the Ortthodox won’t accept him if he’s Reform, I lost all respect for him. He seems willing to pander to his audience and say things that are not defensible.

  26. R’ IH
    Thank you for your illuminating response, which is greatly appreciated. I agree with you that the Torah forbids people from expectorating on each other (other than in the case of chalitzah, where it is a mitzvah for the lady to spit before her brother-in-law), as per the gemara in Chagigah 5a, in exposition of Eccleasiastes 12:14. [N.B. Although Numbers 12:14 speaks of a father expectorating at his daughter, that is clearly an anthropomorphism for divine judgment. The Sovereign of the Universe is entitled to (ke-veyakhol) expectorate at His subjects when reprimanding them for misconduct. A human being, by contradistinction, cannot do the same (other than the case of chalitzah).]

  27. putting aside the issue of beliefs and truth claims, what about the issur to be mechadesh das?

  28. Some say that mechaadesh das only applies to observing Torah commandments. See Mahaarsha to Beitzah 16a sv. I Hachi

  29. Ye’yasher kochakha to our Rosh Yeshiva R. Student on the mar’eh makom.

    Maharsha – approvingly citing Rambam in Hilkhot Melakhim 10:9 – only forbids Sabbath observance by a Noahide if the Noahide is doing so for the sake of fulfilling the Torah’s commandment to keep Shabbat. If the Noahide just wants to cease from creative labor for a day because of an aspiration to relax or an aspiration to socialize with friends, etc. and thereby coincidentally observe Shabbat (but not for the sake of fulfilling the Torah commandment), then he is allowed to keep Shabbat. [By contradistinction, for all other mitzvot (other than Shabbat), the Noahide is allowed to volunteer to keep the Torah mitzvah that Jews observe, as per Rambam in Hilkhot Melakhim 10:10.]

    Where this leaves the Church and Islam – well, again, RMF and RYBS have instructed us to not to tell the nations of the world how to lead their religious lives, so its not my place to tell the devotees of the Church and Islam what to do. But if a human being will ask a rabbi for a pesak halakhah he should live his life according to the Torah, and the rabbi cannot evade the question, presumably the rabbi should answer that the Torah encourages every human being to adopt those righteous elements of the Church and Islam which correspond to the Noahide Code. And as for the Sabbath, every human being can take off the weekend from work as he pleases, but should intend to do so for purposes of relaxation and socialization, not for reasons of fulfilling a mitzvah.

  30. existentialist

    Ok grant that the CR is prolific and consistent, but is he right? You are alleging to prove that he writes a lot and says the same thing. Nu? Does that mean that any of what he says is kosher? Also, and less debatable, your Jotkowitz link leads us to this:

    “No Article Summary Available.”

    “To purchase a single download of this article, please click here.
    Alternatively, you may choose one of our subscription plans and receive complete access to our entire online archive.”

  31. Update on the Noahide observing Sabbath: R. J. David Bleich has a chapter devoted to this subject in Contemporary Halakhic Problems IV, addressing what should a person do if he is a ger she-mal ve-lo taval, and there is a doubt whether he must keep Shabbat (as a Jew) or whether he is forbidden to keep Shabbat (as a Noahide). R. Bleich fails to mention the Maharsha to Beitzah 16a, and so ye’yasher kochakha to our Rosh Yeshiva R. Student for rendering the sugya more complete by citing the Maharsha.

    However, R. Bleich does (on pp. 169-170) cite R. Jacob Chai Zerichan (a nineteenth century Sefardic posek in Tiberias), who espouses a position identical to Maharsha. R. Bleich expresses doubt whether R. Zerichan’s solution will actually be effective for the ger she-mal ve-lo taval (since one can hardly term it a “coincidence” that the ger she-mal ve-lo taval is refraining from labor). Moreover, as R. Bleich observes in a footnote (previously on pp. 159-160), R. Zerichan’s solution is subject to a dispute between Yad Ramah in Sanhedrin 58b (who holds that that a Noahide may concidentally observe the Sabbath out of a secular wish to relax) and Radbaz to Hilkhot Melakhim 10:9 (who holds that Noahides are divinely commanded to perform creative labor every day, and that Noahides may not rest even for purposes of secular relaxation).

    In any event, given the important contribution of R’ existentialist, I return to my original thesis: Ha-Rav Ha-Ga’on R. Sacks was correct to revise his book. It is not our job to reconcile different religions, and it is not our place to modify Jewish theology (nor the theology of alternate religions) in order to accommodate the existence of multiple religions. The second edition of Ha-Rav Ha-Ga’on R. Sack’s book is truthful to Jewish theology and certainly belongs in our hearts and all of our batei midrashot.

  32. To be fair, if I am to pass a value judgment on Ha-Rav Ha-Ga’on R. Sacks’ book in this discussion, I must do the same to R. Bleich’s aforementioned chapter regarding a Noahide observing Shabbat. With all due respect to R. Bleich, that chapter would benefit from several minor corrections, as follows:

    a) On p. 151, R. Bleich erroneously cites Midrash Rabbah, Deuteronomy 1:18. This should be corrected to Midrash Rabbah, Deuteronomy 1:12, commenting on Deuteronomy 2:31.

    b) Also on p. 151, R. Bleich writes “For reasons that elude this writer, R. Moses Schick, Orah Hayyim, no. 145, contends that a literal reading of the verse which begins “all the days of the earth” would indicate that the reference is to natural phenomena rather than to human activity and, accordingly, the concluding phrase should be understood as meaning that day and night shall not cease all the days of the earth”. R. Bleich seems to have erred with his pen, as he then proceeds to cogently explain why Maharam Schick wrote what he wrote. Thus, the original expression “for reasons that elude this writer” should be deleted.

    c) On p. 152, R. Bleich cites an opinion that writing, erasing and dyeing do not contribute to yishuv ha-olam and so are insufficient to satisfy the quotidian Noahide obligation of creative labor. I am surprised that R. Bleich allows this opinion to stand without immediate objection, on the grounds that Tosafot (Shabbat 2a, s.v. yetzi’ot and s.v. shetaim) explicitly write that 38 melakhot are creative, and the only melakhah geru’ah (non-creative labor) that exists is transportation from one domain to another.

    d) Also on p. 152, R. Bleich erroneously writes “See infra, note 19.” This should be corrected to “See infra, note 20.”

    e) On p. 159, R. Bleich cites the Yad Ramah to Sanhedrin 58b in one paragraph, and then duplicates the exact same message in the next paragraph and attributes it to the Hemdat Yisrael of R. Meir Dan Plocki. R. Bleich then proceeds – rather incongruously – to argue that Hemdat Yisrael misquoted Yad Remah.

    f) On p. 168, R. Bleich cites the opinion of R. Jacob Ettlinger that a Noahide who carries a heavy burden in a private domain has done enough work for a Noahide but has also kept Shabbat as a Jew. I am surprised that R. Bleich allows this opinion to stand without immediate objections, on the grounds that “im ken natata devarekha le-shi’urim!” What is supposed to constitute a “heavy burden”?

    g)On p. 169, R. Bleich erroneously writes “Cf., the opinion of Radbaz cited supra, note 17.” This should be corrected to “note 20”.

    h) On p. 170, R. Bleich cites the opinion of Magen Avraham OC 448:4 that a Noahide who instructs another Noahide to perform work as his agent has done enough to comply with the Noahide Code interdiction against resting. I am surprised that R. Bleich neglects to cite the balance of the Magen Avraham’s remarks, who actually writes as follows: “but this requires analysis, because in the Yerushalmi at the beginning of Demai chapter 6, it says that a gentile cannot appoint his fellow gentile as an agent. See there. And such is also the simple meaning of the Talmud at the beginning of Kiddushin chapter 2. Therefore, one may not be lenient on this basis.”

    That said, aside from those minor corrections, R. Bleich’s chapter on a Noahide observing the Sabbath is an illuminating treatise.

  33. R’ Mycroft,

    Thank you very much for your illuminating response to me on Dec. 23 at 3:37 a.m., which is much appreciated. Allow me to counter-respond as follows. I agree with you that RYBS was a Gadol who rivaled (in a friendly manner) RMF. Each one (RMF and RYBS) was extraordinary in his own unique way. Their mutual (friendly) rivalry surely contributed to each one’s sparkling success in leading Klal Yisrael, as per the dictum “kin’at sofrim tarbeh chokhmah” (Bava Batra 21a). Basically, they made a fantastic team.

    Indeed, although I have no inside information, I assume that R. Elyashiv will candidly acknowledge this if asked. R. Elyashiv’s remarks that I quoted, in context, were focused on the greatness of RMF; R. Elyashiv was explaining why he does not publish sefarim like RMF. But if R. Elyashiv (she-yich’yeh le-orekh yamim ve-shanim tovim) will be interviewed by Artscroll in the future before it publishes its 25th yartzeit sefer for RYBS (which I assume should be issued in 2018; speak to R. Nosson Sherman and R. Meir Zlotowitz about this), I am sure R. Elyashiv will offer wonderful praises as a tribute to RYBS, which will then be recorded by Artscroll for posterity.

    By the way, there is a marvelous photograph in the 2011 RMF biography of RMF, RYBS and R. Aharon Kotler all shaking hands at a Chinukh Atzma’i dinner (p. 249). I cherish that scene because it represents a conference of the three great exponents of the three opinions on the required height for a synagogue partition. [See http://www.wepapers.com/Papers/155211/Synagogue_Partition ] “A conference of the righteous is beneficial to them and beneficial to the universe” (Sanhedrin 71b).

    In terms of pesak halakhah, my impression is that a talmid chakham should study both the rulings of RMF and RYBS, as per the gemara in Chagigah 3b which says to study all the opinions of all the Sages before arriving at a decision. I don’t think anyone believes one can follow RMF solo or follow RYBS solo. Thus, although RYBS prohibited urban eruvin altogether, I would be hard pressed to find a moreh hora’ah today who is that stringent. When a moreh hora’ah is asked whether one can carry within a typical urban eruv (N.B. not the eruv in Flatbush, which arguably enjoys a special status in that it was specifically challenged by RMF), I think the answer will generally be in the affirmative, contrary to the pesak halakhah of RYBS (-although the moreh hora’ah will add that a ba’al nefesh should be stringent, as per Mishnah Berurah). Likewise, although RMF permitted hearing havdalah on the telephone, I would be hard pressed to find a moreh hora’ah today who is that lenient. When a moreh hora’ah is asked whether one can hear havdalah (or megillah, etc.) on the telephone, I think the answer will generally be in the negative, contrary to the pesak halakhah of RMF. In each case, there is a consensus of poskim that has overridden RYBS or RMF.

  34. R’ IH,
    Thank you and ye’yasher kochakha, again, for your scholarly insights on Dec. 22, at 4:02 p.m. In my counter-response to you on Dec. 23 at 1:58, I admittedly only commented about the “expectorating” issue but I did not yet offer a more substantive acknowledgment of the important issues you raise. The reason for my delay is that I wanted to carefully study R. Ovadiah Yosef’s responsum (Yabi’a Omer VII, YD 19) regarding how Orthodox Jews should relate to the scholarly achievements of R. Abraham Heschel of blessed memory (whose activities are described by the important link you quoted). It is a complex responsum with nuances, reflective of the reality of life, B”H.

    Essentially, I think that R. Heschel accomplished many great achievements, and his soul will surely be eternally rewarded for that. Having said that, my reading of R. Ovadiah Yosef’s responsum is that the theological seminaries at which R. Heschel taught should be encouraged to formally become Orthodox. This would certainly be “tif’eret le-Oseha ve-tif’eret lo min ha-adam”, as per the mishnah in Avot 2:1. I presume that an institution like the Agudath Israel of America or like the Rabbinical Council of America would be honored to send representatives to those institutions to provide guidance how they can meet this exciting challenge.

  35. The link to the Jotkowitz article can now be found at http://traditionarchive.org/news/article.cfm?id=105662

    (traditionarchive.org instead of traditiononline.org)

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