The Chazon Ish vs. Rav Soloveitchik

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by R. Gil Student

I. The First Article

In 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) 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), 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.

(Reposted from Aug ’13)

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the founder, publisher and editor-in-chief of Torah Musings.

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