Monday, December 27, 2010

Quiet Revolutions

Someone by the name of Aryeh wrote an excellent, insightful comment on the previous post which requires discussion:

I think you miss a lot of subtleties here.

Yes, the final authorities on all issues are contemporary posekim. This is how it's supposed to be: each community must follow its own leaders in its own generation. This is what we learn from Parshas Shofetim, where the Torah says "ובאת אל הכהנים הלוים ואל השפט אשר יהיה בימים ההם". As Rashi explains ad loc., the Torah says "in those days" to teach us that we must follow the leaders in our generation even if they're lesser than previous generations.

In the time of the Sanhedrin, this was explicit. As with modern legislatures, the ruling of a later Sanhedrin superseded any previous ones. Although the earlier ones were presumably greater -- the members of some were nevi'im -- the later ones had more authority, because they were expected to take into account the earlier rulings and only overturn them for good reason.

This is the key point. Judaism does not operate according to a purely traditional model in which nothing can ever change. But neither does it give complete authority to each generation to do as it will. Each generation's leaders must decide for themselves how to rule, but only as far as they pay great respect to past rulers.

So the correct summary would be that the current posekim are the final authorities. But they must give very great weight to the rulings of the Acharonim, who must give very great weight to the rulings of the Rishonim, etc. In most cases, if the Gemara decides an issue the Rishonim will not overrule it; if a clear majority of Rishonim agree on an issue the Acharonim will not overrule it; and so on.

Now, in every generation you can find plenty of places where earlier generations are actually overruled. But this is part of the system, as long as it's done with great respect and in limited doses. Almost any major posek will overturn at least a few significant precedents. This is true for the modern/rationalist world just as much as for the chareidi world, or probably more so.

An unwritten rule is that when overturning an established ruling, posekim must try to explain how the earlier ruling wasn't really wrong. This can range from saying it wasn't really talking about our situation, to saying it was a copyist's error or forgery or "don't ask questions". The explanation can be elaborate or implausible, but it should be there.

This rule is unwritten, of course, because to write it down clearly would be to admit that you're being a bit dishonest. But it's clearly present in the Gemara already -- הכא במאי עסקינן? That phrase and those like it are the sign that an illogical, contradictory, or otherwise problematic Mishna or Beraisa is being reinterpreted. Out of respect, the Gemara maintains the fiction that the Tanna'im meant something that they clearly did not. Subsequent posekim follow in their footsteps.

(This is why your essay on the kezayis was "disrespectful". Normally we take pains to pretend we don't think earlier posekim were wrong even if we're overruling them. You demonstrated at great length that they were wrong, without even the reason of needing to overrule them.)

Since each generation pretends to agree completely (not just almost completely) with all the earlier ones, someone who doesn't think about it much might be fooled into thinking the agreement is real. This isn't a bad thing -- it lends legitimacy to the religion. "We've always followed the same halacha" is much easier to teach and accept than "We generally follow the same halacha, except when particularly influential rabbonim change it." Most people will not cope well with sophisticated or subtle theology.

Anyone with much learning is not going to really be fooled, though. No one who knows anything can claim that the Amora'im would have agreed with all the halachos in the Shulchan Aruch. For the more sophisticated, we have principles like לא בשמים היא, and the story of the tannur shel Achnai and others in that vein. These emphasize that the accepted halacha is correct even if it's not exactly what earlier generations accepted.

But this isn't what's emphasized publicly, because it appears to undermine traditionalism. Talking about it undercuts respect for earlier generations.

As far as the gedolim not having the freedom to rule as they please -- this is inevitable until we once again have a central religious authority that can rule by fiat. The general population must choose whom to listen to somehow, if they're given a choice. It would make little sense to suggest that they should choose one posek according to their whim and then follow him forever no matter what, without ever considering a change to a different posek. Whatever guided their original choice can also guide subsequent choices.

Rabbonim always have to tailor their messages so that their flock will listen to them, whether that means supporting the political-religious ideology du jour, not mentioning halachos that their congregation doesn't want to hear about, or anything else. Rabbonim are not supposed to just mechanically produce halachos, they have to get people to follow them, and thereby follow Judaism. This will always involve political decisions.

I think nothing I've said here and nothing you've said in this blog post is specific to charedim or anti-rationalists. The only difference is perception and presentation. Modern and rationalist posekim overrule old decisions too, while also not claiming to be as great as the ones they're overruling. They're only somewhat more honest (i.e., less respectful) about what they do. The big difference is that they less often deny the validity of alternative positions, not that they have a different idea of how to arrive at halachic conclusions.


I would basically agree with everything that Aryeh said (except for his comments on my kezayis essay!). In fact, I have long studied and taught similar such ideas myself. Menachem Fisch, in "Rational Rabbis," argues that this is basically the purpose of the Gemara; to show how to change the rulings of previous eras without making it look as though that is what one is doing. Traditional societies are based on the idea of the authority of previous generations, and thus revolutions cannot be presented that way. Concepts like nishtaneh hateva are sometimes invoked even when those invoking them know full well that this is not the case, but by describing the situation in this way, they can change the halachah without undermining the authority of the earlier decisors.

Was not my previous post then seriously flawed in its focus? Was it not a criticism of the standard halachic process rather than a particular group of anti-rationalists?

It's true that the standard halachic process does involve quite a lot of this effective overruling of earlier authorities under the guise of doing no such thing. And this is something that is often bothersome to me, as much as I appreciate the necessity for it. And I do recognize that some of my writings undermine the values behind this process (I justify it on the grounds that people today are more knowledgeable and benefit from being filled in more). So, the basic approach that I criticized in the previous post is really a fundamental part of Judaism. Nevertheless, with the rationalist approach, it is significantly less troubling, for several reasons.

With the rationalist approach, it is understood that the authority of rabbinic decisors from previous eras is institutional. It does not stem from their being of superhuman intelligence or possessing divine inspiration, but rather from their unique historical situation and the consequent canonization of their rulings by those of subsequent eras. Since their authority is institutional, changing their rulings via halachic sleight-of-hand does not really undermine this authority. Furthermore, it is understood that any changes in halachah or theology do not reflect negatively on the earlier figures. People think differently in different times and places, and we are able to benefit from the advances of earlier generations, but we still respect the accomplishments of earlier figures and understand how they reached their conclusions even as we quietly diverge from them.

In contrast to this are the anti-rationalists, who will loudly insist that everyone acknowledge that the earlier generations were infinitely more intelligent and knowledgeable and holy, and yet toss their views out of the window and declare them a perversion of Judaism whenever it suits them. Deep down, they don't really respect the Rishonim at all; they just capitalize on certain mantras such as Rishonim k'Malachim in order to boost their own authority. Moreover, they attempt to suppress the right of others to still respect these earlier authorities and follow their approach, and they engage in large-scale revisionism of history in order to delegitimize those who follow the earlier approach. Now, I do understand their reasons for this - maintaining a certain way of life in face of the threats of modernity - but the aggression with which they impose this on others is jarring.

Furthermore, when there really are very good reasons to quietly diverge from earlier authorities - such as with organ donation - it is never done. Whereas in the past, this sort of divergence from earlier positions was done for pressing public benefit, today it only seems to be done in order to advance anti-rationalist agendas. The people ultimately wielding the power in determining the direction that these revolutions take appear to be the less-than-savory kanna'im and askanim rather than rabbinic leaders with wisdom and sensitivity to the needs of the generation.

It is true that the anti-rationalists are following a traditional approach of engineering revolutions that are deemed necessary (and I do appreciate the reasons why they see it as necessary) by effectively rewriting history. But the extreme nature of this revolution, in conjunction with the intolerance for those who really do want to follow the Rishonim for excellent reasons, the selectivity with which this approach is applied, and the nature of the people driving these revolutions, is what I personally find extremely disturbing.

49 comments:

  1. Natan:
    Am I stupid, or is this post a rehash of George Orwell's doublethink?
    Just for one example, did the Gra claim that Rabbenu Tam didn't really hold that tzeis was much later than he (the Gra) did?

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  2. The Gra was a pre-Orthodox figure. With the advent of Orthodoxy, as a reaction to emancipation and haskalah, traditionalism became much more important, and Jews became vastly more sensitive to the idea of making changes and overtly diverging from earlier generations.

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  3. Natan:
    So do you feel this rewriting of history is the right thing to do in this day and age?

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  4. Aryeh's post that was quoted here is interesting and has some important points. However, I think that in the context of the present situation, he is wrong in his conclusions. Maintaining the illusion of agreement throughout the ages was beneficial - in the past. Today, however, making up fraudulent excuses like "nishteneh ha'teva" often has the opposite effect. For most of Jewish history the vast majority of Jews were simple, relatively uneducated (either in secular or Jewish studies), and lacked the ability to question such fine points of halachic evolution. Today, however, the ruse of continuity is more likely to turn people off of Judaism - at least Orthodoxy - making them believe it is a farce. Using excuses like "nishtene ha'teva", which any educated person will quickly see through as being utterly absurd, make the damage even worse. Today it is far more appropriate to deal with the evolution of halacha openly and honestly. Most Jews today are not only mature enough to accept it, for many it would enhance their understanding of and respect for Orthodoxy. Unfortunately, however, I think most of the Haredi world has already come to believe the myth of agreement between the generations, and even hold it up as a principle of faith. I recall once I showed a rosh yeshiva a quote from the pe'at hashulchan in the name of the Gr"a that "hisuri michsra w'haci ketani" is an acronym for HMUK, or Himuk - the rabbis of bavel disagreed with the mishna, but wanted to veil (le'hithamek) their disagreement. Needless to say the R"Y was none too thrilled; how can someone have the hutzpa to say that the Gr"a believed that hachmei bavel simply threw out a mishna?!

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  5. This theory creates a lot of questions.
    Why would the Gemara ask questions from Mishnayos?
    Why would the Gemara state tiyuvta if the Ammora or the Gemara itself couldn't answer?
    Why would they bother telling us that Rav tanna upallig - sounds like he is the exception?
    What is the meaning of sof hora'ah?

    That is all for the rabbis of the Talmud. Once we get past that, it isn't set in stone that latter rabbis don't argue on earlier ones. plenty of Rishonim argue on Geonim And plenty of Acharonim argue on Rishonim. It seems that there were those who did it such as the Shach and the Gra and there were those who didn't. (Note R YY Weinbergs anger at the Rogachover Gaon for arguing on a Rema and Chasam Sofer - case of chalitza of a meshumad)

    Even when Acharonim argue on Rishonim, they generally do so only because they feel that the Gemara doesn't agree with that Rishon's opinion. Hence you see this view that that they don't accept that a Rishon can argue on the Gemara.

    (I once heard from R Moshe Meiselman, that the reason why Rishonim argue a lot on the Geonim, is because that the Geonim had a direct tradition, and went with it even if it contradicted the Talmud. The Rishonim came along later, and decided that since they lacked the mesorah they were required to return to the Talmud. I have never researched the accuracy of this, and I lack the bekkius to do so.)

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  6. @dlz:
    Its in the introduction of Pe'at HaShulchan.


    וידע רבינו כל חיסורי מחסרא שבש"ס בשיטותיו, שלא חסר כלל בסדר שסידר רבינו הקדוש, ולאו אורחיה לחסר דבר, רק שרבי סבירא ליה כחד תנא ואליביה סתמיה, ואליביה לא חסרה כלל, והגמרא סבירא לה כאידך תנאי ואליביה קאמרא הגמרא חסורי מחסרא והכי קתני . והיה דורש על פסוק חמוקי ירכיך ר"ל ר"ת חסורי מחסרא והכי קתני ירכיך מה ירך בסתר אף ד"ת בסתר שנסתרים גדולת דרכי תורה שבע"פ.

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  7. So you agree with his comments about הכא במאי עסקינן?

    Please say no! This isn't just against chareidi values, it's just plain wrong.

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  8. Natan:
    So do you feel this rewriting of history is the right thing to do in this day and age?


    For some people it's necessary, but for an increasing number of other people, it's a very bad idea, as Dawidh says.

    yakov r said...
    So you agree with his comments about הכא במאי עסקינן?


    I have absolutely no idea if it's true or not. But even if the Amora'im were not deliberately disputing the Tanna'im under the guise of agreeing with them, it seems that this sort of thing effectively takes place very often during history.

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  9. It is true that the anti-rationalists are following a traditional approach of engineering revolutions that are deemed necessary (and I do appreciate the reasons why they see it as necessary) by effectively rewriting history. But the extreme nature of this revolution, in conjunction with the intolerance for those who really do want to follow the Rishonim for excellent reasons, the selectivity with which this approach is applied, and the nature of the people driving these revolutions, is what I personally find extremely disturbing.
    =============================
    But it is the logical continuation of the approach and HKB"H will paskin through history as to who is viewed as mainstream and who is viewed as not. Who knows, in some future publication it may be stated that you were needed to keep the anti's from going to far off course!
    KT
    Joel Rich

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  10. I think a classic example of “disagreement” is the Heter Iska which is a post Shulchan Aruch development. There aren’t any novelties in the Heter that were unknown to previous generations. I think the Heter was driven by economic considerations and was made to “fit in” to the Talmudic literature. Obviously, Chardeidim did not feel the same need when it came to the Heter Mechira. Perhaps this is because the people affected didn’t belong to their constituency (this is pure conjecture.)

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  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  12. I think Aryeh is correct. Nor do I think he really contradicts anything R. Slifkin proffers in his approach to Judiasm. I think the operative issue is who is doing the deciding? It's one thing if indeed it is gedolim, ba'alei mesorah, who in their erudition and keen insight make determinations that may run contra to established norms, or even stretch our logical sensibilities. That's the power of chiddush and neizel kebatrai and Ein lo ledayan elah ma sheinav ro'ot. I think if people honestly believed that it was those great people making the decisions, there would be greater acquiesence to those pronouncements. (By way of analogy, when a ba'albos goes to his local rabbi and asks a shailah, rarely will he reject the p'sak as false, since he knows that the rav himself has paskened based upon the facts presented by him, the asker. He may choose to not comply with the p'sak, but that's an entirely different issue.) These days however, there is an over riding sense that it is not gedolim who are paskening, but rather the askonim, or even worse, the "street" is dictating how gedolim pasken. People know that they muct respect the pronoincements of gedolim. but they equally know that they are free to ignore and even deride the prattlings of lesser men even when they are made in the name of the gedolim; especially when those lesser men foist a rejection of tradition upon the masses in order to be "frum."

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  13. A few comments:

    1) Concerning the later sanhedrin overturning the former the mishnah explicitly conditions it upon being gadol bichachmah uviminyan. Or perhaps that condition was for an explicit overturning and not a (hush we all do it but don't admit it) "reinterpretation"? Interesting hypothesis.

    2) The idea is all well and good except that the rabbis doing this actually believe it. (Obviously I don't mean to say always but those who know charedi roshei yeshiva know that generally they don't just pay lip service to the idea that halachah and even hashkafah was pretty much always the same.) Maybe this is sociologically necessary, but it turns the whole thing into a joke for those in the know.

    3) Concerning your point regarding the rabbis needing to keep the confidence of the masses, I find it cynical beyond belief even for a cynic like myself. You give legitimacy for people who are supposed to be spiritual inspirations and leaders to warp public ideas of right and wrong to keep themselves "in power?" And to justify the groveling by implying that people would leave Judaism if they didn't do this is both a lame excuse and absurd.

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  14. You all crack me up. Mistakes in Mishna and Torah and Mesorah, what a crock. Our entire faith is based on the impossibility of error in the Divine and the Mesorah we have, from Moshe all the way to the Gedolim of today. Every Rav on the Moetzes is a link in that unbroken chain, and therefore beyond question.
    Then you actually posit that the Gedolim of today are under some influence of businessmen and askanim? HAHAHA! No Rav has ever taken a gander at the populace before deciding a psak halacha. Give us a break.

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  15. Nunya:
    "Every Rav on the Moetzes is a link in that unbroken chain, and therefore beyond question."

    How about the gedolim who weren't on the Moetzes? It's a good thing there is Aguda, otherwise Hashem wouldn't know which rabbonim to save from making mistakes.

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  16. 1) Concerning the later sanhedrin overturning the former the mishnah explicitly conditions it upon being gadol bichachmah uviminyan.
    ====================
    IIUC that is for takkanot and gzeirot but biblical interpretations not so!
    KT
    Joel Rich

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  17. "Our entire faith is based on the impossibility of error in the Divine and the Mesorah we have, from Moshe all the way to the Gedolim of today. Every Rav on the Moetzes is a link in that unbroken chain, and therefore beyond question."

    I'm not sure if this comment was made seriously, but just for fun:

    Rabbis Moshe Feinstein and Aaron Shechter were/are both members of the moetzes. From what I understand, R' Shechter was misarev lidin by R' Moshe. How do you explain this situation?

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  18. Aryeh,
    I think the other view ( I don't want to say anti rationalist because it isn't necessarily) isn't this Mishna dogma. Rather that the Amoraim are interpreting the Mishna the way it was taught to them. That doesn't mean that every machlokes among the Amoraim was taught in earlier generations, rather sometimes it was, and sometimes different schools of thought developed different answers and "okimtos." the view insists that the Mishna was only written as a hora'as sha'ah and therefore was kept to a minimum and left cryptic. It was left to the scholars to explain. According to this view, the practice among Klal Yisrael was already like the explanation of the Amoraim, and the Amoraim are rehashing the basis with their shakla vetarya.

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  19. IIRC, R. Shlomo Fisher posits a similar idea about the gemara in Derashos Beis Yishai, as quoted in R. Natan's recent book. Unfortunately I don't have it to hand to check it up.

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  20. Pretty good post. Though I'm not sure why you say the general population has to "choose someone to listen to." You should decide for yourelf, if you're capable. Even if you're not, Tosfos on Niddah 20b says its perfectly all right to shop around until you get the answer you want. And anyone who knows anything about the history of halacha knows that this is exactly how it's always been done.

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  21. "When this happens, we cast it as reinterpretation rather than overruling, out of respect for earlier authorities."

    As I've commetned earlier, this is even true for the very Torah itself. When phrases like "ufarshu hasimlah" or "ayin tachas ayin" fell into disfavor, they were reinterpreted (not overruled or rejected) out of respect. Likewise, when phrases like "lo tivashel gedi bichaleiv immo" became unintelligible, it was reinterrted in a way that gave it meaning.

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  22. And anyone who knows anything about the history of halacha knows that this is exactly how it's always been done.

    I dont know anyone who does this. We each have a Rav, and his psak is final. People who shop around for the answer they want have no place among us. You won't find higher level Rabbanim, ie Rosh Yeshivos, etc. paskaning out of the mainstream. No RY is going to permit turning on lights on Shabbos. So if someone's shul rabbi says its ok, it wont be long before his congregation disappears.

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  23. ... Using excuses like "nishtene ha'teva", which any educated person will quickly see through as being utterly absurd, make the damage even worse...

    There are clearly some instances where it is quite reasonable to accept hishtanus of nature. Thus when the talmud explains the b’khor status of a cow kiddy (for cohen rights) may be determined in some cases of doubt by a principle that cows less than three years will not previously have given birth, tosofos notes this contradicts what every local farmer eyeballs every day in tos’ era– that two year old cows indeed may give birth. tos’ solution is nishtaneh hattevoh (NT), an entirely reasonable conjecture even for the uber rationalistas that inhabit this forum. it is not very reasonable to think that chazal, living within an agrarian society, did not get the simple fact of farm life right. There is similarly some evidence of changes in age of adolescence, and at least anecdotal evidence of changes in menstrual regularity. So (some) slowly unfolding NT are indeed quite reasonable. Of course some aren’t – the eight month baby, changes to internal human plumbing, etc.

    ..That is all for the rabbis of the Talmud. Once we get past that, it isn't set in stone that latter rabbis don't argue on earlier ones. plenty of Rishonim argue on Geonim And plenty of Acharonim argue on Rishonim..

    There is a paper by the late Prof Ta Shma, that argues that the principle of halochoh k’basroi, was originally applied only to amoraim, and restricted to the amoraic generations following abbaye and rovoh. it is his thesis that for about another eight hundred years it never occurred to anybody to apply this to chakhomim after the Talmudic period. Thus gaonim would not be troubled in principle about disputing later amoraim and most rishonim would not have had the slightest qualm about disputing gaonim because these were supposedly “greater” than themselves.

    Nunya said...
    ..You all crack me up. Mistakes in Mishna and Torah and Mesorah, what a crock. Our entire faith is based on the impossibility of error in the Divine and the Mesorah we have, from Moshe all the way to the Gedolim of today. Every Rav on the Moetzes is a link in that unbroken chain, and therefore beyond question…

    for those of you still pining for “poshiter yid”, even for those who suspect anyone so perfectly reflecting a caricature of mindless charedism must be putting you on – surely such people don’t truly exist amongst am chokhom v’novon haggoi haggodol hazzeh, be of good cheer. invincible ignorance is alive and well. Of course one entertains a possibility poshiter yid is sneaking back to pursue his enjoyable shtick under a different pseudonym.

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  24. Nunya

    Our entire faith is based on the impossibility of error in the Divine and the Mesorah we have, from Moshe all the way to the Gedolim of today.


    So how is it if our mesora is so perfect that we don't know something as basic as how to blow the shofar on Yom Kippur? If there is a perfect, unbroken chain of tradition, how could something so simple and basic become lost?

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  25. I agree with Avi that the overwhelming majority of poskim do not believe they are disputing earlier authorities but pretending not to. The overwhelming majority believe that times have really changed or that the situation really is different.

    Rabbi Slifkin,

    You wrote, "[I]t seems that this sort of thing effectively takes place very often during history."

    Maybe so. Maybe the outcome is the same. But there is a world of difference between rabbis who honestly think they're following earlier authorities and rabbis who know they are not but pretend and make elaborate excuses to cover their tracks. I find it very hard to believe that a truly religious person would ever do such a thing intentionally. Frankly, I would not want to belong to a religion whose leaders acted in such a fashion.

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  26. Frankly, I would not want to belong to a religion whose leaders acted in such a fashion.

    Neither would I but it is what it is. Face it.

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  27. Whho says we don't know how to blow the shofar on Yom Kippur? Everyone blows it right, 1 blast at the end. Perfectly right.

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  28. כלל בסדר שסידר רבינו הקדוש, ולאו" אורחיה לחסר דבר, רק שרבי סבירא ליה כחד תנא ואליביה סתמיה, ואליביה לא חסרה כלל, והגמרא סבירא לה כאידך תנאי ואליביה קאמרא הגמרא חסורי מחסרא והכי קתני . והיה דורש על פסוק חמוקי ירכיך ר"ל ר"ת חסורי מחסרא והכי קתני ירכיך מה ירך בסתר אף ד"ת בסתר שנסתרים גדולת דרכי תורה שבע"פ"

    Call me a kofer for aruing on the Gra but this simply makes no sense in 95 percent of the times the gemara employs chisurei mechsera.

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  29. I think an important point that needs to be made is that we are still in the era of Acharonim. R' Elyashiv or R' Schachter are Acharonim just as much as, say, the Vilna Gaon. I remember this came as quite a surprise when one of my rebbeim casually mentioned it: We (in the general sense, throughout history) like to think we're living in special times, but we're not really.

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  30. By the way, Joel Wolowelsky had a funny story in Tradition once: A woman asked him about mezuman for women, and he told her she should. She didn't agree with him, so he told her to ask R' Shlomo Zalman- she was on her way to see him. She comes back and says, "I've never been so embarrassed. I asked him if should bench with a mezuman, and he answered, 'Yes, and men should answer.' I was so shocked, I blurted out, 'That's impossible!' and he smiled and said, 'Nu, so don't say it.'"

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  31. Robert:
    I have never heard the shofar blown on Yom Kippur at all.

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  32. Our entire faith is based on the impossibility of error in the Divine and the Mesorah we have, from Moshe all the way to the Gedolim of today.

    This is not a caricature. Many, many people I know believe this way and insist that their children believe this. Which is why I think it is dangerous. When you teach people to base their entire faith and religious life on an erroneous belief, in a modern world where information that proves otherwise is only a click away, or a conversation away, it is a big risk you are taking. And the risk is not only to the faith of the believer, but to the psyches and overall lives of these people.

    Have any of you read the blogs of people who struggle with having grown up Chareidi and then loose their faith and have to choose between going off the derech or living double lives where they feel they are living a lie? This situation is happening in large numbers, and it is a HUMAN tragedy of extensive suffering and pain. It is not only teenagers who are "going off the derech" but adults with children and families who wake up one day and realize they were brainwashed and taught lies and find the house of cards come tumbling down around them. It breaks apart families, causes suffering to children, and all for the sake of what exactly? For a hope that the lie being told will be bought by enough people to insure the continuity of the Jewish faith, even if that faith is based upon lies? And this makes sense to rationalists?

    Also, if that is what we're doing then what makes us any different than Christianity?

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  33. just passing throughDecember 28, 2010 at 3:16 PM

    I hate to chime in here and ruin everybody's party, but this sounds like an argument among people playing Dungeons and Dragons. I can imagine two people arguing about some arcane rule and which is correct.

    Even with Torah MeSinai, the whole halachic system as we know it being essentially a human enterprise, man makes up the rules and can change them. So an argument about what is "authentic" or correct is kind of pointless.

    Each person should follow his conscience.

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  34. "Our entire faith is based on the impossibility of error in the Divine and the Mesorah we have, from Moshe all the way to the Gedolim of today."

    Much of the mesechta of Horayos is preocuppied with the proper procedure to follow, once the Sanhedrin has erred in an halachic ruling. This fact flatly contradicts the assertion made above.

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  35. Robert, Yhe answer usually given (he Ran?) is that all of the various kolot were acceptable and later they decided to unify.
    KT
    Joel Rich

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  36. Nunya, Azoi and Poshuter are all gilgulim of the same nogoodnick. As soon as he got himself mentioned in the post he chose to exit with a bang and immediately reappear. People, your lack of street smarts is shocking. Can't you distinguish between someone real like our Doctor and a phantom like Poshuter?

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  37. Nunya said...

    Whho says we don't know how to blow the shofar on Yom Kippur? Everyone blows it right, 1 blast at the end. Perfectly right.



    משנה תורה - ספר זמנים - הלכות שופר וסוכה ולולב


    ב תְּרוּעָה זוֹ הָאֲמוּרָה בַּתּוֹרָה, נִסְתַּפַּק לָנוּ בָּהּ סָפֵק לְפִי אֹרֶךְ הַשָּׁנִים וְרֹב הַגָּלִיּוֹת, וְאֵין אָנוּ יוֹדְעִין הֵיאַךְ הִיא: אִם הִיא הַיְּלָלָה שֶׁמְּיַלְּלִין הַנָּשִׁים בִּנְהִיָּתָן בְּעֵת שֶׁמְּיַבְּבִין, אוֹ הָאֲנָחָה כְּדֶרֶךְ שֶׁיֵּאָנַח הָאָדָם פַּעַם אַחַר פַּעַם כְּשֶׁיִּדְאַג לִבּוֹ מִדָּבָר גָּדוֹל, אוֹ שְׁנֵיהֶם כְּאֶחָד הָאֲנָחָה וְהַיְּלָלָה שֶׁדַּרְכָּהּ לָבוֹא אַחֲרֶיהָ הֶן הַנִּקְרָאִין תְּרוּעָה, שֶׁכָּךְ דֶּרֶךְ הַדּוֹאֵג מִתְאַנֵּחַ תְּחִלָּה וְאַחַר כָּךְ מְיַלֵּל; לְפִיכָּךְ אָנוּ עוֹשִׂין הַכֹּל, הָאֲנָחָה וְהַיְּלָלָה. [ג] וְהַיְּלָלָה, הִיא שֶׁאָנוּ קוֹרְאִין תְּרוּעָה; וְהָאֲנָחָה זוֹ אַחַר זוֹ, הִיא שֶׁאָנוּ קוֹרְאִין אוֹתָהּ שְׁלוֹשָׁה שְׁבָרִים.

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  38. As Michapeset said, the more extremist factions that teach purely based on irrational faith have a problem in this age of information.

    Judaism, in my humble opinion, survived because its always been the information system. There were scholars like Rambam, Rashi, Ibn Ezra, etc. who kept things up and educated others.

    Now that we are in this Age of Information(which I'd say started with formal schooling, trains, and the start of mailing systems for the general public--perhaps the 1800s), everything you need is at the tip of your fingers.

    Remember how behind the goyim of Europe were until Gutenberg's printing press? Remember how ahead of the curve the Muslims were because they were massively making use of their time to publish, explore, and discuss new ideas?

    One could surely say that the internet has become the 2nd printing press. The danger here is that rather than simply having the goyim catch up intellectually, now we have the added danger of access to information beyond your community's Torah scroll or small library that has subsisted for hundreds of years. Sites with historical revisionism, inaccuracy, heresy(J4J anyone?), pornography and inappropriate matter.

    Introducing information to the equation always has drastic effects, as we see with Galileo(who was almost killed over the simple statement that the Earth revolves around the sun), or with the many other historical examples.

    Heck, even the big response to Rabbi Slifkin's books would be an example of what happens when you teach purely on faith with limited information.

    Not that I disparage the information age-- it has its benefits. However, I would like to highlight the dangers within the context of our talking about people who hide from the world to such a tremendous degree and root their beliefs in the "I'm simply a believer and nothing more" mentality.

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  39. OK, now we have a contradiction. The Gra in Kol Eliyahu on Mesechet Beitza says that "there is to say" that chisurei mechsiras are only an explanation on what Rebbe Yehuda Hanasi meant, and we lost that understanding, so we need to fill it in. Check it: http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=34797&st=&pgnum=84

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  40. Michapeset said...

    Have any of you read the blogs of people who struggle with having grown up Chareidi and then loose their faith and have to choose between going off the derech or living double lives where they feel they are living a lie?


    It's much worse. I was reading in Yediot a few months ago about these people called ha'anusim ha'chadashim. It discussed one such case where a charaidi guy who as a married adult learned about dinosaurs, the age of the world, etc.. and his faith and whole world came crashing down around his ears. He eventually committed suicide. Here's an article I found in Haaretz from a few years ago:

    האנוסים החדשים

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  41. Michapeset makes an important point that last week’s study from Brandeis University quantitatively illustrates: despite overall growth in the population that defines itself as "Jewish by religion" in the US, there is marked decline in affiliation with a denomination. 6% of these self-identified Jews were raised Orthodox, but only 5% consider themselves Orthodox today. This is a net attrition rate of 17% despite all the kiruv from NCSY, Chabad, et al.

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  42. off topic but what do you think of the latest discovery in Israel?

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20101228/wl_mideast_afp/israelafricaarchaeology

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  43. Robert I have no idea what that says, I speak and read English. We blow 1 blast when Yom Kippur is over because thats how it is.

    And if some nutcase blew his brains out becuz he heard about dinosaurs and didnt bother to learn what Harold Gans and Andy Goldfinger say about the age of the universe and reconciling it with what the science frauds say, then he didnt need that head anyway. Idiots.

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  44. Carol,

    How do you know what rabbis are thinking when they claim their situation is different than the one earlier rabbis discussed?

    You claim they are lying and pretending. I claim they honestly think their situation is different. I'm not sure what makes you so certain that you're right and I'm wrong.

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  45. Mechy Frankel: "it is not very reasonable to think that chazal, living within an agrarian society, did not get the simple fact of farm life right."

    I disagree. (Respectfully.)In the first chapter of Sanhedrin we are told Rav needed to spend 18 months among sheperds to understand what a passing animal blemish was. The implication is that others, despite living in an agrarian society, would have no knowledge of this fact.
    Likewise, all members that make up chazal lived in times when looms and the waeving process were used routinely. Yet we find towards the end of Bava Basra that some of chazal didnt know the difference between arev and shesi.

    Living among agrarians does not mean everyone understood it, just like me living in a house with a piano in it doesnt mean I know the first thing about pianos.

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  46. "An unwritten rule is that when overturning an established ruling, posekim must try to explain how the earlier ruling wasn't really wrong. This can range from saying it wasn't really talking about our situation, to saying it was a copyist's error or forgery or "don't ask questions". The explanation can be elaborate or implausible, but it should be there."

    I don't agree with this. There is no such rule, written or unwritten. When overturning a "previous ruling," posekim seek to prove it wrong in the text. I put "previous ruling" in quotation marks because no post-shas figure has the authority to make a "ruling," and in truth it's merely a shita for explaining the gemara/issue. The posek may rely on another shita (it's quite often not unanimous) contemporary to the view in question with other authorities on its side, or in rare cases he innovates his own. But even in those cases, saying the original shita was not applicable to our case is not to eagerly assert its correctness because we have to be so frum and reverent, it's simply a way to say that the author(s) of that shita would even agree to the posek's ruling here (even if it seemed they didn't or you thought they wouldn't) and 'here's why.' Explanation then follows.

    This is my understanding. I can't see I've seen that many teshuvoth, but out of the ones I've seen, I never saw anyone bending over backwards in order to stress how right the shita he's disagreeing with actually was. I've seen them try to disprove shitoth.

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  47. "But this isn't what's emphasized publicly, because it appears to undermine traditionalism. Talking about it undercuts respect for earlier generations."

    I also find this part absurd. Any Talmud teacher worth his salt will try to demonstrate and explain these (above) points (which preceded this quote) to his students so that they can actually learn and not just pretend to follow some abstract religion. If people aren't interested in learning for real, no one can force them, they can go on with their happy lives. They don't have a right to throw stones (no pun intended) at those who prefer to learn and teach in a serious manner.

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  48. How do you know what rabbis are thinking when they claim their
    situation is different than the one
    earlier rabbis discussed?

    The same way I know that Nunya is Poshuter - the fifth Shulchan Oruch. However, if I turn out to be wrong I will happy.

    I will explain more in my comments on the next post.

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