The traditionalist Jewish community does not live in isolation. Even among those who seclude themselves and restrict their interaction with "outsiders," there is still a necessary reaction to the practices of others. Perhaps the most famous example was the removal of the ten commandments from the daily liturgy so as not to unintentionally support the heresies of those who claimed that only these laws are binding. Similarly, the addition of the blessing against "informers" was certainly a response against sectarians. More recently, the Vilna Gaon's abolition of the custom to decorate synagogues with trees on Shavuot reflects a reaction to Gentile religious practice.[3] These few examples, and there are many more, demonstrate an awareness of external developments and a need to adjust normative practice to accurately reflect old distinctions in a new reality. Additionally, any proposed innovation must be weighed within the inverse of this scale. We must carefully consider not only its internal implications but also its repercussions outside of our proverbial ghetto walls.

The Adoption of Heterodox Practices

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(Reposted from seven years ago: I, II. Contrary to the claims of a confused rabbi, this information is not only available on the Bar Ilan CD ROM but also via Google.)

The traditionalist Jewish community does not live in isolation. Even among those who seclude themselves and restrict their interaction with “outsiders,” there is still a necessary reaction to the practices of others. Perhaps the most famous example was the removal of the ten commandments from the daily liturgy so as not to unintentionally support the heresies of those who claimed that only these laws are binding.[1] Similarly, the addition of the blessing against “informers” was certainly a response against sectarians.[2] More recently, the Vilna Gaon’s abolition of the custom to decorate synagogues with trees on Shavuot reflects a reaction to Gentile religious practice.[3] These few examples, and there are many more, demonstrate an awareness of external developments and a need to adjust normative practice to accurately reflect old distinctions in a new reality. Additionally, any proposed innovation must be weighed within the inverse of this scale. We must carefully consider not only its internal implications but also its repercussions outside of our proverbial ghetto walls.

The primary consideration is certainly the biblical prohibition against following the ways of the Gentiles. This is a highly nuanced commandment that is widely discussed in the halakhic literature.[4] Another issue that reflects the impact of external practice on internal developments and also the potential effect of internal custom on external parties is the less famous, although certainly worthy of consideration, prohibition against imitating heretics and thereby encouraging them in their deviant ways. Out of a sensitive concern for their fates and a desire to not even slightly worsen their position vis a vis traditional Judaism, we must carefully ensure not to strengthen any of their misperceptions.

Confirming Sectarians

The Mishnah in Hullin (41a-b) records:

One may not slaughter at all into a pit. Yet, one may dig a pit in one’s own house for the blood to run into. In the street, however, one should not do so lest one confirm the sectarians (minim)[5] in their ways.[6]

The Mishnah here is somewhat unclear. It first states that one may not slaughter and have the blood fall into a pit. This is either because sectarians used this method in order to collect blood for their idolatrous sacrifices[7] or because they collected blood in this way to eat in their pagan services.[8] According to both opinions, this otherwise permissible method of slaughtering is prohibited because of idolatrous sectarian practice; because what is done outside of our community affects what may be done within it.

However, the Mishnah continues to permit the practice in one’s house but not in the street, which seems to directly contradict the immediately preceding prohibition. In the Gemara (41b), Rava authoritatively explains the Mishnah’s language as meaning that slaughtering directly into a pit is forbidden everywhere but slaughtering into a ditch that allows the blood to drip into a nearby pit is permitted in one’s house but not in the street. A baraita is brought to confirm Rava’s distinction and this baraita attaches to the prohibition against slaughtering in this way the verse “You shall not walk in their ways” (Lev. 18:3), the source for the prohibition against following Gentile practices.

The simple way to understand this passage is that these are all examples of idolatrous practices that we may not follow, consistent with the prohibition against “walk[ing] in their ways.” However, Rashi explains differently. As indicated above in our translation of the Mishnah, Rashi writes that slaughtering into a ditch that leads to a pit is prohibited because it will confirm the sectarians in their ways (yahazik yedeihem be-hukoteihem). According to him, the prohibition involved in this matter is not one of following prohibited idolatrous practices[9] but of imitating sectarian practice. Rashi explains that one may not slaughter into a pit, “even in [one’s] home because it looks like a sectarian practice.”[10] Even when the prohibition against following Gentile or idolatrous practice no longer applies, we are still prohibited from appearing to follow sectarian practice so as not to strengthen their resolve and confirm their position.

Rambam has a different way of understanding this issue. In explaining the prohibition against slaughtering into a pit he writes, “because this is the practice of idolaters.” This is Rambam’s explanatory addition to the Mishnaic passage. Rather than maintaining the Mishnah’s explanation of “lest he confirm the sectarians in their ways,” Rambam offered his own explanation that seems to invoke the baraita’s citation of “You shall not walk in their ways” (Lev. 18:3). This was in regard to slaughtering directly into a pit. However, in describing the prohibition against slaughtering into a ditch that drips into a pit, Rambam reverts to the Mishnah’s “lest he confirm the sectarians in their ways.” [12] Evidently, according to Rambam sectarians only slaughter directly into pits and, therefore, only this is considered to be a prohibited idolatrous practice. However, while slaughtering into a ditch that leads to a pit is not technically an idolatrous practice, it is a practice that conforms to sectarian rules and, therefore, gives the appearance of trying to follow sectarian regulations. This alone, appearing to intentionally obey sectarian rules, is prohibited because it strengthens their resolve.[13] When they see another person coming closer to their practices it legitimates them and reinforces their position.

This can be further seen from the exception to the general rule that the day following a holiday – is’ru hag – has a special status that includes a prohibition against eulogizing and fasting. The Mishnah in Hagigah (2:4) states that when Shavuot falls out on Shabbat, the next day, Sunday, is not given any unusual practices. The reason for this exception is that Second Commonwealth sectarians always observed Shavuot on the Sunday following the traditional Shavuot. Because observing a semi-festive day on the Sunday following Shavuot might be seen as partial agreement with sectarians, it is not practiced even though it would otherwise be required.[14] We must not strengthen the position of sectarians even to the point of omitting a rabbinically ordained observance.

The source for this prohibition is, presumably, the Mishnah and Gemara in Gittin (61a, 62a) that one may not encourage sinners in their incorrect ways. Even a mere verbal greeting that could be understood as encouragement is rabbinically forbidden.[15] It stands to reason that active encouragement, including imitation, would also be prohibited, as discussed above.[16]

From all the above, and particularly Rashi’s explicit statement in Hullin, we see a prohibition against observing sectarian practice if it will strengthen the public stature of sectarianism. The application of this prohibition to modern heterodox movements seems self-evident. While the sectarianism referred to in the Mishnah was idolatrous, there is no indication that idolatry per se is a necessary requirement for falling under this prohibition. It is well established among historians that the term sectarian (min) refers to a broad category of deviants[17] and, as R. Samson Raphael Hirsch expertly demonstrated in his open debate with R. Seligman Baer Bamburger regarding Austritt, within the Maimonidean framework the term certainly applies to heterodox movements.[18] If so, and, as we shall see, numerous halakhic authorities have affirmed this, there is a prohibition against embracing heterodox practices when and if such adoption confirms the heterodox in their ways. What remains to be determined is what can be considered sufficient confirmation to be prohibited.

Modern Applications

The first modern halakhist that this author was able to find who applied this passage in practice was the great authority R. Moshe Sofer, the famed Hatam Sofer. Perhaps surprisingly, his utilization of this prohibition was not in the form of a polemic but as part of a responsum to a traditional rabbi who had requested guidance in planning the doors and outer hallway of a new synagogue. The doors to the actual sanctuary must be in the west[19] but, the respondent asked, is there any rule about the doors leading from the outside into the hall? After thoroughly analyzing this obscure topic, R. Sofer added that since Reform synagogues are built with the outer doors in the west, it is forbidden for a traditional synagogue to do likewise and, thereby, imitate the Reform.[20]

However, since R. Sofer is known as having taken an extremely strong stand against Reform some discount his rulings on related issues. While this author shudders at the thought of dismissing this venerable authority, since others have less hesitance to do so this essay will focus on authorities generally considered more tolerant of others who are different and of innovative ideas.

R. David Tzvi Hoffman

The introduction of the organ into the synagogue was one of the earliest Reform innovations in the second decade of the nineteenth century and was roundly denounced in the 1819 collection of responsa from the leading rabbis of Europe titled Eileh Divrei ha-Berit. However, even clear directives from such luminaries as R. Akiva Eiger and R. Moshe Sofer would not deter the budding Reform movement. They had received the permissive rulings they desired, responsa from relatively unknown rabbis that had been previously published in the 1818 book Nogah ha-Tzedek, and no amount of scholarship or rabbinic presssure would deter them.[21]

In 1897, long after Reform had come to dominate German Judaism and Orthodoxy, through the tremendous efforts of R. Samson Raphael Hirsch, R. Azriel Hildesheimer and others, had reasserted itself as a viable minority, the question was presented to R. David Tzvi Hoffman whether an Orthodox synagogue may use an organ during the week. In a monumental responsum, the man who later became the foremost halakhic authority in Western Europe neatly summarized the existing literature on the subject and then formulated his own extensive reasoning as to why an organ is prohibited in the synagogue even during the week.[22] He received approval for his work from R. Azriel Hildesheimer and all but one of the rabbinic authorities he consulted.[23] In addition to the prohibition against walking in Gentile ways, which he thoroughly analyzed from all positions, R. Hoffman also cited the prohibition against imitation, and thereby encouragement, of sectarians. Since the Reform movement certainly qualifies as sectarian, we may not adopt any of their practices which might confirm them in their ways. Once we take a small step towards Reform the public might think that, despite our protests to the contrary, this is only the first of many steps. This is not merely the concern of a dominant majority worried about the potential growth of a small deviant group for, as we have seen, this prohibition was invoked by R. Hoffman long after Reform had become dominant and a healthy Orthodox opposition had become established.

Rav Kook

In the summer of 1935, the issue of an organ in the synagogue was brought before the world-renowned Chief Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook. Evidently, a Sephardic rabbi in Israel had permitted the use of an organ, claiming that all of the previous rulings issued only apply to Ashkenazim. The matter was taken to Rav Kook who, without citing R. Hoffman’s recently published responsum which he may not have seen, arrived at the same conclusion that even if an organ were not a prohibited Gentile practice it would still be forbidden as a sectarian practice.[24]

Rav Kook further cited this prohibition in 1938 regarding cremation. In addition to the obligations to respect and bury a deceased person, about which he wrote at length, Rav Kook further noted that since Reform had accepted cremation as an option it is forbidden to accept or even assist with this sectarian practice.[25] If we are not allowed to encourage their practices through imitation, he argued, certainly the Orthodox “Hevra Kadisha” may not facilitate the Reform practice of cremation.

There is no question that in attempting to understand Rav Kook’s approach to the heterodox we must take much more into account – his love for all Jews and, more generally, all people, his attitude towards the unlearned and non-religious, his approach to pluralism and on cooperation with those with whom he disagreed, his eschatological views, and more. This certainly applies also to R. Hoffman and all the other authorities cited here. However, our focus in this essay is a narrow halakhic issue that will admittedly give us an incomplete picture but one that is still necessary.

Rav Herzog

A few years after Rav Kook’s response, in late 1945, his successor as Chief Rabbi of Israel, R. Yitzhak Isaac Herzog, utilized this prohibition in response to a timely question. Less than two years before the United Nations approved a Jewish state in Israel, Rav Herzog was asked whether an Ashkenazi may adopt a Sephardic, or more likely Modern, pronunciation of Hebrew for praying. While the respondent, R. Levi Rabinowitz, lived in Johannesburg, South Africa, this was certainly a relevant question in the burgeoning community of ingathered exiles in Israel. Responding to R. Rabinowitz’s specific situation in Johannesburg, Rav Herzog wrote that since Reform in that location had grown and was utilizing Sephardic pronunciation of Hebrew, it was forbidden for R. Rabinowitz to change his pronunciation because it would appear to be an imitation of Reform practice which, as we have seen, is prohibited.[26] This was not a “public policy” decision that it would be best not to change pronunciations. Rather, it was an outright prohibition based on the above issue and the realities of Johannesburg at the time.

R. Yehiel Ya’akov Weinberg

R. Yehiel Ya’akov Weinberg, the famed Lithuanian genius who grew to become the leader of pre-war German Jewry, cites this prohibition in three separate responsa. In one responsum[27] he responded to the question of whether an organ may be used in a ceremony to inaugurate a new Jewish cemetery. Citing both the prohibition against adopting Gentile practices and that against imitating sectarian, R. Weinberg clearly distinguished between the two and argued that both applied in that situation. Explicitly affirming R. Hoffman’s approach, R. Weinberg wrote:

If we allow the use of musical instruments at the inauguration of a cemetery, the unlearned and unlettered will say, “The Pharisaic sages have permitted the matter.” It is therefore incumbent upon us to preserve our ancestors’ actions and not to deviate from their customs by even a hair’s breadth.[28]

In a responsum[29] from 1936, R. Weinberg addressed the issue of planting flowers on a grave. After considering all the possible objections, R. Weinberg concluded that this would be permissible except that, since Reform had previously adopted the practice, for the Orthodox to then adopt it would be a prohibited acceptance of a sectarian observance. Since we may not encourage them or lend credence to their practices, we must carefully avoid any innovations they may have initiated, even those that otherwise conform to halakhah.

In a third and oft-quoted responsum,[30] R. Weinberg answered an inquiry about whether the celebration of a Bat Mitzvah is permitted. His main concern was that it might be considered a variation of the Christian confirmation ceremony, an issue he exhaustively analyzed and put to rest. However, a matter that he did not and could not dismiss was that the Bat Mitzvah ceremony was a heterodox innovation and, as such, may not be adopted. Imitating a heterodox practice, even if unintentionally, “has within it the strengthening of the destroyers because they were the first to initiate the new practice of celebrating the Bat Mitzvah.” This, R. Weinberg rules, is a sufficient reason to prohibit the Bat Mitzvah celebration. The only way for such a practice to be permitted is to sufficiently differentiate it from the heterodox celebration. Basing himself on the view of Tosafot,[31] R. Weinberg argued that if it is obvious to onlookers that the ceremony is for a different reason than a corresponding heterodox ceremony would be for then it is permissible. The heterodox Bat Mitzvah is a dry synagogue ritual followed by a party for its own sake; the Orthodox Bat Mitzvah that R. Weinberg permitted is a celebration, specifically outside of the synagogue, of family joy and, more importantly, a time of educational strengthening of the religious development of a budding woman. As R. Weinberg quickly noted, those who do not utilize the opportunity properly and wish merely to have a party like those in the heterodox community have no halakhic permission to do so.[32]

(Continued here: III, IV)



[1] Berakhot 12a

[2] Berakhot 28b-29a. Cf. Lawrence H. Schiffman, Who Was A Jew? (Hoboken, NJ: 1985), p. 53 ff.

[3] R. Avraham Danzig, Hayei Adam, 131:13. Whether the Vilna Gaon abolished only the custom about trees or also about flowers, see R. Yosef Levy, Minhag Yisrael Torah, vol. 2 p. 364.

[4] Cf. Shulhan Arukh, Yoreh Deah 178 and commentators; Encyclopedia Talmudit, vol. 13 sv. hukot ha-goyim.

[5] The Vilna Shas reads “Sadducees” but older versions have “Sectarians.” See Dikdukei Soferim, ad loc. n. 7.

[6] So Soncino, n. 6 translates according to Rashi.

[7] Rashi, ad loc.

[8] Rashba, Torat Ha-Bayit, 1:3 p. 17a. Cf. Rashbam, Ramban, Rabbeinu Bahya on Leviticus 19:26; Seforno on Leviticus 17:7; R’ Yonatan Eybeschutz, Pleiti, 12:1.

[9] Perhaps because there is a rational reason to slaughter into a pit, namely cleanliness. However, this raises the issue of whether a rational idolatrous practice may be followed. See further the responsa of R. David Tzvi Hoffman (below note 22), R. Marcus Horovitz (note 23) and R. Yechiel Ya’akov Weinberg (note 30) where this is discussed.

[10] 41b sv. kol ikar

[11] Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Shehitah 2:5

[12] ibid. 6

[13] Note that according to Rambam we only presume of being a sectarian someone who publicly slaughters directly into a pit. This is further evidence that Rambam’s view is that slaughtering into a pit was sectarian practice while slaughtering into a ditch that leads to a pit was only reminiscent of sectarian practice. Cf. Radbaz, ad loc.; Pri Hadash, Yoreh Deah 12:4.

[14] Cf. Tiferet Yisrael, ad loc. no. 31; Tosafot Rabbi Akiva Eiger, ad loc. no. 8. This seems to be a proof countering R. Daniel Sperber’s claim in The Edah Journal, 3:2 Elul 5763 p. 11 n. 26 that “the concern about appearing to emulate non-Orthodox movements does not arise as long as there are normative halakhic sources that may be relied on.” As we have seen, even something that was permissible in a different time, as reflected by normative halachic sources from that period, can be forbidden in a later situation. This is a prohibition that greatly depends on time and place.

[15] Cf. Nedarim 22a. It is certainly noteworthy that “the ways of peace” override this prohibition, implying that there must be a genuine halakhic need to set aside this consideration.

[16] R. Zalman Nehemiah Goldberg, “Tefillat Nashim Befarhesyah” in Tehumin, 5758 p. 122 cites Avnei Nezer, Hoshen Mishpat no. 149 that such encouragement of antinomians or heretics is biblically prohibited.

[17] Cf. Lawrence Schiffman, ibid. p. 54

[18] R. Samson Raphael Hirsch, Collected Writings, vol. 6 pp. 277-287

[19] Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayim 150:5

[20] Responsa Hatam Sofer, vol. 1 no. 27

[21] Cf. Michael A. Meyer, Response to Modernity, pp. 57-61; Judith Bleich, “Rabbinic Responses to Non-observance in the Modern Era” in Jewish Tradition and the Non-traditional Jew, ed. Jacob Schacter, pp. 40-53.

[22] Melamed le-Ho’il, vol. 1 no. 16

[23] R. Marcus Horovitz, the only rabbi to dissent, agreed with R. Hoffman’s conclusion and his analysis of the prohibition against imitating sectarians. He only disagreed regarding the prohibition of following the ways of the Gentiles. See his entire letter to R. Hoffman in Responsa Mateh Levi, vol. 2 no. 6. This position of R. Horovitz’s regarding following the ways of the Gentiles was later quoted and disagreed with by R. Hayim Ozer Grodzenski in Ahiezer, vol. 4 (Jerusalem: 1992) no. 38.

[24] Orah Mishpat, Orah Hayim no. 36

[25] Da’at Kohen, Yoreh Deah no. 197

[26] Pesakim u-Ketavim, vol. 1 no. 14. Cf. ibid. no. 1.

[27] Seridei Esh, vol. 2 no. 80

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid., vol. 3 no. 111. Cf. R. David Tzvi Hoffman, Melamed le-Ho’il, vol. 2 no. 109

[30] Seridei Esh, vol. 3 no. 93

[31] Hullin 41a sv uvashuk

[32] The omission of this entire issue of imitating sectarians from the responsa of R. Moshe Feinstein on this subject does not indicate disagreement over the prohibition. R. Moshe Feinstein gave brief responses to the question with little halakhic background. As R. Weinberg himself claimed, he and R. Feinstein wholly agreed and the only difference between them was that R. Weinberg discussed at length the underlying halakhic issues. See his letter to Ha-Pardes, Tammuz 5726 p. 37.)

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.

62 comments

  1. Excellent post. One minor quibble:

    While the sectarianism referred to in the Mishnah was idolatrous, there is no indication that idolatry per se is a necessary requirement for falling under this prohibition.

    The Tsedukkim were certainly not idolatrous. Yet, as you quote the Mishnah in Chagigah, Chazal did tone down issur chag that falls on Sunday.

  2. Um who is this confused rabbi you have dedicated that past two post to? Very vague and confusing

  3. Notwithstanding the objections of poskim, westward-facing doors, the use of Modern Hebrew, and Bat Mitzvah celebrations have been widely accepted.

  4. “The Tsedukkim were certainly not idolatrous.”

    According to the Dikdukei Sofrim it originally read “minim.” Artscroll notes this.

  5. GIL:

    the women’s faces have been removed in the picture.
    you’re following the lead of the haredi press in this regard?
    (just kidding)

  6. The problem is that the “Morethodoxer”s’ criticism of Agudah is spot-on, and it shows how the Haredi world has unwittingly laid the foundation for Morethodoxy:

    It is Masorah, “Tradition,” –as defined and understood by the Great Sages of Agudath Israel–that defines Judaism, and not the actual, philologically parsed words of Torah—or the sacred documents of Israel’s official religion Tradition—that define Torah and God’s mandate in our time. Agudath Israel rabbis seem to believe in a continuous revelation whereby Judaism evolves through the intuitive insights of its own select rabbinic leadership. Although the Agudath Israel agenda for change is different, this same idea—continuous revelation—also appears in the liberal Jewish movement called “Conservative Judaism” and in the non-Jewish movement called Mormonism as well.

  7. This appears to be primarily a discussion about the adoption of sectarian aesthetics.

    On this basis the multicolored talit should be considered completely assur.

  8. Define “sectarian practice” please. Would practicing Gerrer customs regarding separation of men and women, for example,at the family Shabbos table qualify? We even have the Chofeitz Chaim’s ma’aseh rav on this point. How about sermons in the vernacular? How about reciting the tfilah for the State of Israel?

    Deciding who is a “sectarian” in this context and which of their practices count is problematic. The Noda B’Yehudah and the Beit din of Vilna considered the early Chassidim to fit the bill, yet no one today would assur saying “l’shem yichud” or using a Chassidisheh challef for schita would they?

  9. By the way, Rav Rakeffet cites Rav Goren permitting him (R. Rakeffet) to daven with Sefardic pronunciation.

  10. Moshe Shoshan

    yasher coach Gil, For the first time in a long time you have presented a solid halakhic defense of you position regarding various LWMO inovations. The ball is in the other sides court. I have some ideas about how to respond but shabbos is comming

  11. Charlie: You have to read the continuing posts to get to exceptions. I disagree on Bat Mitzvahs because the Orthodox intentionally designed those ceremonies to be different from the Reform and Conservative ceremonies, specifically on these considerations (see the responsa of R. Moshe Feinstein and R. Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg on this subject).

    Abba: I removed their faces because I did not have their permission to use their pictures.

    Moshe: Thank you, but I originally posted this seven years ago and even included it in my book. Please also read the continuation where I describe exceptions.

  12. ” This, R. Weinberg rules, is a sufficient reason to prohibit the Bat Mitzvah celebration. The only way for such a practice to be permitted is to sufficiently differentiate it from the heterodox celebration.”

    this is a minor point in his teshuva (as we have discussed before). as he says: “common sense and pedagogical principle almost demand of us to celebrate a girl’s reaching the age of mitzvot.’ and “the distinction made between boys and girls regarding the celebration of their maturity seriously offends the sensitivities of the girl who comes of age, who in other areas has already achieved emancipation, as it were.”
    he focused on bechulotaihem lo talechu and almost nothing – negative- on the reformers – he actually defended the reformers that they were not following gentile custom but wanted to strengthen the girl’s judaism. he argues from a post holocaust view of assimilation and problem of jewish education.

  13. r’ gil – with regards to the reformers one most r’ weinberg’s observation that is most applicable even today:
    he disagrees with those who equate reformers as imitating gentile practices and their intentions:
    “it does escape me that among the God fearing there are those who are stringent and forbid the practice, who regarding questions of religious practices, pay NO attention to logical considerations nor even halakhic clarifications. Rather, they decide according to THEIR FEELINGS OF THE HEART ALONE. The jewish heart that clings to the traditions received from parents and teachers recoil to ANY CHANGESin religious practice…”
    sound all too familiar of his criticism.

  14. Joseph Kaplan

    “Please also read the continuation where I describe exceptions.”

    This gets to the crux of this issue as has been discussed on this blog time and time again. AISI, the most critical word you use in discussing the exceptions is “subjective,” and the most critical idea is that only a few gedolim/poskim can decide that subjectivity. I wonder if that is historically true, though, with respect to the exceptions. My observations tell me that it’s not within the MO community.

  15. It, again, would be helpful to separate the emotion from the factual. R. Alan Yuter’s comment to which Gil’s introduction refers is:

    I [earlier] outlined the prohibition to confirm the Heterodox in their positions. It is very likely that ordaining women as rabbis falls under this prohibition and, therefore, must not be done. The contra-halakhic trends of egalitarianism are still very much with us and we may not support them, even indirectly or unintentionally. Let us not be naive about these very real matters.
    I failed to find this putative “prohibition” anywhere on my Bar Ilan 19+ CD Rom. It just might be the case that great rabbis are indeed authorized in this version of Orthodoxy to legislate Torah for all Israel. They alone may speak in the name of Orthodox “Tradition.” For this version of Orthodoxy, no argument is tolerated and no alternatives may be offered because only the great rabbis know how to “learn” and read between the lines of Torah in order to read the mind of God.

    It would be so much more productive if discussions like this were stripped of the emotive polemic and follow the talmudic principle established in Eiruvin 13b:

    מפני מה זכו בית הלל לקבוע הלכה כמותן
    מפני שנוחין ועלובין היו
    ושונין דבריהן ודברי בית שמאי
    ולא עוד שמקדימין דברי בית שמאי לדבריהן

  16. And for the avoidance of doubt: I mean it in both directions!

  17. You have to be a Bayis in order to merit quotation.

  18. Question: given the context provided in Mishna Chulin (e.g. 2:10), do you accept that the words “שלא יחקה את המינין” in 2:9 must be understood in their pre-Churban context?

  19. Also, with all due respect to Soncino יחקה does not mean “confirm”. How does Artscroll render it?

  20. IH: must be understood in their pre-Churban context

    I believe it must be understood as the poskim have understood it.

  21. I am still curious how Artscroll translates it (and any commentary) as they claim to represent the “mesorah”.

    It seems we have the first layer of disagreement: what the mishna says and what your selected poskim say. I’m as simple guy and start with the source text you made a big deal about both here and:

    Hirhurim on December 5, 2011 at 11:09 am

    Misrepresentation to a ridiculous extreme is not strong disagreement. If he had made a real argument I would take him seriously. For crying out loud, he claims I invented a prohibition that is explicit in a Mishnah!

  22. Once again, you’re clouding the issue. If you want to say that you disagree with how the rishonim and acharonim read a Mishnah and Gemara, that’s one thing. If you want to say that I invented the entire idea and that it doesn’t exist — you can’t even find it anywhere on the Bar Ilan CD ROM because I’ve created a new kind of fantasy Orthodoxy — that’s entirely false.

  23. “As R. Weinberg himself claimed, he and R. Feinstein wholly agreed and the only difference between them was that R. Weinberg discussed at length the underlying halakhic issues. ” from footnote 32.

    one could also claim the r’ weinberg was being deferential to RMF while only agreeing to not holding a bat mitzvah in the shul (as oppose to its adjacent hall). rabbi feinstein saw no justification for or benefit from a bat mitzvah celebration(and therefore maybe did not deal with it at length) and obviously, r’ weinberg saw tremendous benefit if done with proper intent from an educational, psychological and halachik perspective.

  24. “However, a matter that he did not and could not dismiss was that the Bat Mitzvah ceremony was a heterodox innovation and, as such, may not be adopted…..This, R. Weinberg rules, is a sufficient reason to prohibit the Bat Mitzvah celebration.”

    actually i think this is a gross misinterpretation of his view and wrong. its a side point and he dismisses very quickly as oppose to the time spent on “following gentile customs”. actually he quotes the tosafot you mentioned – footnote 31 – for reasons not to do in a shul but not not to do a bat mitzvah at all. r’ weinberg never said he would assur this for that reason – he was bringing up issues others have raised and found solutions that will make everyone happy unless you are a zealot- in the end its all about intentions and not what others do. if you disagree please quote the teshuva in context and not out of.

  25. Not that I’m LWMO, but while we’re talking about bat mitzvahs, anyone wanna maybe mention the Ben Ish Chai?

    No?

    Okay, I’ll go back to my hole…

  26. “one could also claim the r’ weinberg was being deferential to RMF”

    Is that really likely? Why would R. Weinberg, his elder, have been deferential to RMF? Or did you mean something else?

  27. anonymous – read the the teshuva – it mainly focuses on the first teshuva written againt bat mitzvahs based on 3 reasons which violate torah law. the most important being bechukatecheim lo taleichu.

    it seems that r’ weinberg incorporated rmf objection to having it in a shul. RMF was against having a bat mitzvah period. r’ weinberg wasn’t against based on what i wrote above but took into account objections raised before and offering solutions. he looked it as an opportunity on an educational level and psychological one as well. rmf teshuva was written before (and his opinion change from the first to the last one) r’ weinberg’s and he try to avoid machloket when possible.

  28. Gil – now that you have confirmed your reading of the Mishna is interpretive (“I believe it must be understood as the poskim have understood it”) rather than explicit (the plain meaning) I have re-read your post. I can’t seem to find where the poskim you cite in Modern Applications specifically use “שלא יחקה את המינין” from Mishna Chulin 2:9 as a prooftext.

    I have no doubt some cite Lev. 18:3, but which ones specifically reference in Mishna Chulin 2:9?

  29. “…how the rishonim and acharonim read a Mishnah and Gemara…”

    For those interested, I have made the relevant Artscroll page available at: http://tinyurl.com/d8ref8r

  30. Apologies. The correct URL is: http://tinyurl.com/cgh56rt

  31. IH-IMO, R Gil is correct. When trying to understand a Mishnah, we try to see how Rishonim and Acharonim understand and interpret the same before we try to offer what we think is either explicit or “pshat.”

  32. Steve — Gil wrote “explicit in a Mishnah” not ~”as Rishonim and Acharonim understand from the Mishnah”~. There is a significant difference between these two in terms of what Gil found objectionable in R. Yuter’s comment as quoted above.

  33. But, I’d prefer if we keep focused on the analysis of Gil’s post.

    Can you answer my question as to which Poskim specifically cite Mishna Chulin 2:9 with reference to Gil’s “Modern Applications” discussion?

  34. FWIW there is no indication in Artscroll’s translation or commentary that this has any application post-Temple. And, in fact, on the excerpted page you can see they go directly into 2:10 which is explicitly only relevant when the Temple existed.

    I would have expected Artscroll to make Gil’s issue explicit were the sources available.

  35. IH – it may be more ‘explicit’ in the mishna than you think.
    (With all do respect to Artscoll, their translations are valulable, but fallible.)
    יחקא is translated in the artscroll as imitate, akin to the modern hebrew לחקות. The modern hebrew word means to imitate. However, the root is closely related to an arabic word, roughly חקק (sorry no arabic keyboard) which means ‘justfied’ or ‘enacted’ – kind of like the hebrew חק.
    Thus the word, while it took different trajectories in modern hebrew and arabic, in its mishnaic context, may be closer to the arabic, and that certainly explains why many of the rishonim interpret it as such. (after all, imitation may be a form of confirming that someone is correct.)

  36. I fully agree on the limits of Artscroll, Yehuda. I referenced it as a check on what is “normative” in that velt. And, note that I did not offer a meaning of יחקה aside from saying “support” is not correct.

    Let’s turn this around — you are confirming that multiple readings are possible. And this is even truer in respect of מינין which has a long history of scholarship.

  37. also see מחקא on Megillah 19a – it means parchment (basically חקא had a much more legalistic connotation than the modern hebrew חקה which lends credence to the Meiri, cited on the artscroll page)

  38. BTW, Artscroll renders “so that he does not lend support to the practices of the Sadducees” which is in line with Gil on יחקה but out of line on מינין (see their notes as well).

  39. Gil’s bridge between the discussion of the Mishna and its interpreters and his Modern Applications section is:

    From all the above, and particularly Rashi’s explicit statement in Hullin, we see a prohibition against observing sectarian practice if it will strengthen the public stature of sectarianism. The application of this prohibition to modern heterodox movements seems self-evident. While the sectarianism referred to in the Mishnah was idolatrous, there is no indication that idolatry per se is a necessary requirement for falling under this prohibition. It is well established among historians that the term sectarian (min) refers to a broad category of deviants…

    But, where is the textual support for what “seems self-evident” to him? Without prejudice to sources being produced, it is neither evident precisely what יחקה means in this Mishna, nor that this Mishna’s מינין has applicability in Modern Applications.

    Let’s see the textual evidence and we can then evaluate Gil’s position analytically.

    Shabbat Shalom

  40. IH: I’m not quite sure whether IH is disagreeing with my post or just discussing it.

  41. Oh, I see. The poskim I quoted all explicitly reference the Mishnah in Chullin.

  42. Ruvie: You are correct that R. Weinberg spends lost of his Teshuvah on other issues. But then he raises this issue and rather than dismissing it works within it.

  43. ‘support’ and ‘justify’ would confer the same meaning! All you’ve succeeded in doing is showing that Artscroll’s editorial team can be sloppy, which is no great feat. However, Artscroll Mishna is meant to roughly educate people who don’t know languages, not to undermine Rishonim and Acharonim. I’d trust their parsing of the words over Artscroll’s.

    It’s stupid to distinguish between ‘explicit meaning’ and ‘meaning through the lens of the rishonim and acharonim.’ Unless you speak Mishnaic Hebrew or Talmudic Aramaic, I doubt you’re gonna be able to speak intelligently on the topic without using (a) comparative linguistics or (b) the rishonim, which essentially will always lead you to the same conclusions. e.g. My explanation conforms with the Meiri, R’ Ovadia M’Bartenura, etc.

  44. r’ gil – agree. he doesn’t dismis any issue as well (that i could see but correct me if i err). but earlier in his teshuva before discussing this he had already concluded more or less that its permissible.

    what i objected to was the slant you came away from that issue to the broader topic which i think is incorrect. shabbat shalom and ty for responding (last time i almost missed this 2nd to last paragraph of the teshuva).

  45. Yehuda — It was Gil quoting Tzvee Zahavi who offered “imitate”. I should have looked at רע”ב myself. He has a succinct response on the linguistics — יחקה לשון חק — thanks.

    Now want to take a crack at the query to which that was an aside: IH on December 9, 2011 at 10:09 am?

  46. ah, i apologize, i got the translations mixed up in my head.

    not sure i understand your question, but i guess it’ll have to wait, shabbat shalom!

  47. What I find particularly important about all these sources beyond the narrow context of imitating non-Orthodox practices is this:
    It emerges that the notion of “public policy” is squarely within the halachic realm which requires serious halachic expertise. It is not left to the purview of every pulpit rabbi to decide what is appropriate for his congregation in isolation.

  48. This factor also makes the task of finding precedents for a particular controversial practice much more complex. You have to take into account whether the earlier precedent did not have this issue of imitation of the non-Orthodox in the background.
    For people who pride themselves in their awareness of academic scholarship and historical context, it makes no sense to transplant a practice blindly with total disregard of the different contexts.
    This has direct bearing on the precedents that were invoked for Sarah Hurwitz’s induction as a “full member of the clergy” (Rabbi Avi Weiss’ words).

  49. From Shabbat reference checking, some contextual answers as to what the Mishna may mean by “שלא יחקה את המינין”…

    From Prof. Schiffman’s “Text and Tradition” (p. 153, bold emphasis mine):

    After the destruction, the tannaim immediately recognized the need to standardize and unify Judaism. One of their first steps to was to standardize the Eighteen Benedictions, which along with the Shema, constituted the core of the daily prayers. At the same time, they expanded an old prayer to include an imprecation against the minim, Jews with incorrect beliefs. In this period, this could only have meant the early Jewish Christians, who observed the laws of Judaism but accepted the messiahship of Jesus. Although the rabbis continued to regard the early Christians as Jews, they reformulated this prayer in order to expel them from the synagogue, as testified by the Gospel of John and the church fathers. In addition, the tannaim enacted laws designed to further separate the Jewish Christians from the community by prohibiting commerce and certain other interrelationships with them.

    And an additional observation by Prof. Shaye Cohen in “From the Maccabees to the Mishnah” (2nd ed. p.217):

    Except for Samaritans and Jewish Christians, sects disappeared after 70CE. Many Jews, perhaps most Jews, did not yet regard the rabbis as the standard of behavior and belief. The rabbis themselves refer to ammei ha’aretz, literally “peoples of the land,” Jews who observe the Sabbath and various other commandments but who slight or ignore the rules of purity and tithing, or who simply do not affect a rabbinic way of life. These are the Jews, we may presume, who built and frequented those synagogues in which the rabbis did not feel at home. The church fathers refer to Jews who deny the resurrection of the dead, pray to angels, and do various other things of which the rabbis would have disapproved. And outside the rabbinic pale altogether were the Greek-speaking Jews of the diaspora who had minimal contacts with the rabbis of the land of Israel and were well established in their own communities with their own religious traditions.

    I am still uncomfortable with reading this into our particular mishna, Chulin 2:9, due to the juxtaposition of Chulin 2:10 which is clearly only pre-Churban. But, it is understandable how this perception of history would replay in regard to German Reform.

    The Rabbinic debates about how to deal with Karaism in the intervening period between Early Christians and German Reform may also be useful. See, e.g. Prof. Kellner, in his “Must a Jew Believe Anything” (1st ed. p.42) cites a number of sources (including Prof. Leiman) and summarizes:

    On this [Prof. Daniel] Lasker comments: ‘In other words, Rabbanite Judaism can co-exist with major doctrinal differences as long as they do not lead to substantial behavioral divergences. It is not able to abide ritual changes which involve, for example, the existence of a different calendar. Theological heresy is pardonable; observance of Passover on a different date is not. ‘Here we have a medieval discussion predicated upon the distinction between heresy (‘the manifestation of unbelief’) and sectarianism (‘differences in the observance of holidays’): Lasker is absolutely correct: the rabbis of the Mishnah and the Talmud tolerated the former with relative equanimity while being absolutely unwilling to countenance the latter.

    I recognize the above is irrelevant for those who believe that halacha is a formal, abstract, self-contained system impervious to societal and historical context. But, this is not what many of us believe.

    And I suspect this meta-issue is actually the nub of the emotional rhetoric on both sides of this debate. In my experience, the root of most disagreements is in the unvoiced assumptions made by each side.

  50. One more thought on the Mishna in question: there is a specific behavior identified — slaughtering into a pit at the market

    אין שוחטין בגומה, אבל עושה אדם גומה לתוך ביתו, בשביל שייכנס הדם לתוכה; ובשוק לא יהא עושה כן, שלא יחקה את המינין

    If the מינין discussed were post-Churban sects (e.g. Samaritans and Jewish Christians), I would expect we would be able to identify them given our accumulated knowledge. Have we?

  51. IH- one can believe that the halachik system is ahistorical and thereby most flexible in the right hands of poskim while still believing in analyzing the development of halacha through an historical lens.

    halacha is not impervious to history (i do not think that many people believe that anymore but i could be wrong) but its internal logic and concepts may be.

  52. Is that really a good idea? Why should the historical-minded person who believes in halacha allow it’s reigns to be held only by those who are ahistorical? How is this different from appointing a R. Menashe Ha-kattan your rav and posek? Does it make sense?

    Maybe we have to look in the mirror and regret that such poskim cannot pasken for us?

  53. s/ – “allow it’s reigns to be held only by those who are ahistorical”

    i didn’t say only but one can argue that an ahistorical approach allows for more flexibility to the application of halacha. do you disagree? please do not misunderstand – i am not advocating ignoring the world outside in applying halacha but stating that an halachik approach is generally ahistorical. in that you do not limit yourself less arrows in one’s quiver because of history. i though the difference is obvious – my assumption may be wrong.

  54. It’s neither black nor white. There is a spectrum and the lens used should be commensurate with the issue.

    Seems to me this is a pretty good test case for where history counts (as opposed to during the 20th century culture wars which were justified on the basis of sha’at dchak).

  55. To be blunt: שלא יחקה את המינין is absurd in the 21st century context (especially given what I wrote above).

  56. “According to the Dikdukei Sofrim it originally read “minim.” Artscroll notes this”

    S., are you talking about the Mishna in Chullin or in Hagigah? The former, I agree, seems much more likely to apply to Minim than Tsedukkim. The latter, however, concerns one of the classical disputes between the Tsedukkim and the Perushim, namely when to start Sefiras ha Omer and when Shavuos falls out.

  57. IH: the early Jewish Christians, who observed the laws of Judaism but accepted the messiahship of Jesus”

    Because as we know from your past comments, the only theological concept which you consider illegitimate is belief in Jesus.

  58. S/ – “Maybe we have to look in the mirror and regret that such poskim cannot pasken for us?”

    Why regret? Who says any posek is binding to you if you disagree with the logic of the position? Especially if you have a different hashkafa as well?

  59. Eric — sorry, but I missed your point. Did you have an educated view as to who the מינין discussed in Chulin 2:9 were?

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