Forwarded to my website, following a piece about good rebbe vs. bad Rabbi
Eyes to see – Recovering Ethical Torah Principles Lost in the Holocaust” by Rabbi Yom Tov Schwarz, published by Urim Publications (NY and Jerusalem). The author has the credentials. Hes from the old school – grew up in pre-holocaust Poland where he was a recognised Torah prodidgy. He studied at Yeshivas Chochmai Lublin etc etc. Anyway, this work is a scathing critique of the current relgiious / chareidi communities! And its all expressed in halachic terminology, and referenceing tradititonal Jewish sources. He speaks out against the Kollell system, the standard of rabbinical training, the sectarianism of the charedidi and Hassidic world, the trend of diaspora Jews of wearing tallises in the street, the shithouse leadership of the Jews and so on. Its a big book, and its got big balls.
Independance is not new to this guy. He used to write responsas critiquing Rabbi Moshe Feinstein! Awesome!>>
This is one of the more popular ideas amongst the undergroud sages in Yerushalayim: The current state of what’s called orthodoxy is the only newest movement in Judaism, that traditionally, communites all had so much more lee-way to decree what their local law was, and that having Rosh Yeshivas claim to decree the law for everyone is actually a radical co-opting of our tradition, and not really the way it’s “supposed” to work.
any feelings? insights? I consider myself orthodox, like Daniel Boyarin, maintaining that “orthodox” judaism doesn’t have to mean a particular belief, as much an a engagement with halacha and a relgious community that is serious and dedicated. “orthodoxy” is a diverse plane of fundamentally different perspectives and beliefs in the world and how to deal with it, ranging from the mystically quasi-dualistic to the rationalist scientific, to the exctatic to the ascetic, with alot more different streams and movements through out history. The whole religion tends to turn on it’s head pretty often, the founding of what’s now Rabbinic Judaism being the rejection of the prophetic authority that dominated the bible. Writing it down was our original sin, and all our traditions and how to use them, what to do with the gifts our mother gave us, are utterly in our hands, to use as we see fit.
The term “Orthodoxy” is troublesome, Hirsch commented bitterly in 1854 that

…it was not “Orthodox” Jews who introduced the word “orthodox” into Jewish discussion. It was the modern “progressive” Jews who first applied the name to “old,” “backward” Jews as a derogatory term. This name was at first resented by “old” Jews. And rightfully so…

Nonetheless, I claim it, as a commitment to the tradition of teachers I have recieved from, and want it to be an adjective not limited to those obeying certain artificial limitations on thought, because that can’t be what God wants from us, not the true God, anyway.
Excerpt from the Nishmat website by R Zvi LEshem, about how Halacha is made, and what authority we have to make it

The Netziv, in his introduction to his commentary to the Sheiltot, creates a dichotomy between the decision making process of the Talmud Yerushalmi, and that of the Bavli.(In his commentary on the Chumash he attributes these models to Moshe and Aaron, but I prefer to deal with rabbinic literature only).The Yerushalmi tends to make decisions based upon accepted traditions, whereas the Bavli decides based upon sefora, Halachic reasoning.The Geonim and the Rambam are seen as the continuation of the Yerushalmi‘s approach, with the Baalei HaTosaphot in the tradition of the Bavli.
He starts the piece with a very deep anecdote about his shiurim on the Mishna Berura:
For many years I taught Halacha at various schools, including Nishmat, both for beginners, with the basic text being Mishna Brura, and for more advanced students, where we would use the research method of tracing the development of the Halacha from Talmudic sources through the latest responsa.In both the goals were threefold; to teach methodology, to foster an appreciation of the Halachic system and its logic, and to arrive at a decision regarding Halacha leMaase. Initially I would ask the students, according to whom did they think the final decision would be based. The answer would often be that the Halacha goes according to the Mishna Brura.I would then surprise them with the answer, (hopefully given with humility) that in my shiur, the final Halacha is according to me!

It’s clear to me that when he says me!, he means you, the reader.

Of course intrinsic to the study was that the students would learn to go through the process with me, to understand my analysis of the sources, how I weighed the evidence, and what factors went into my decision-making process.
It was not a case of being told to blindly accept my “mysterious” rulings! I was reminded of myself going through a similar stage.I once asked my Rav, Yehoshua Reich regarding a question in Orach Chaim.When I pointed out that his answer was not in agreement with the Mishna Brura, he put me in my place with a simple “you didn’t ask the Mishna Brura-you asked me!”

There’s that me again.

The Rosh however, goes further than to give permission for a posek to question earlier decisions, he demands it!Anything less is falsehood!Here the qualified posek, is enjoined to exercise his autonomy.Similar to the critique of the Raavad on the Rambam, the posek may not rely upon early authority unless he is convinced that his decision is true.Returning to my own Halacha class, the answer that the Halacha is decided according to me, is in fact the only legitimate position. It would have been forbidden for me to “take the easy way out”, and give the Mishna Brura’s answer as final simply because he is the Mishna Brura

Before discussing contemporary authorities, let us make one important observation regarding the “Ashkenazi” approach.While it is easy to understand the “Sefardi” approach of “playing it safe” in relation to fulfilling the word of God, the “Ashkenazi” view seems difficult to fathom.This search for the truth seems to be a very risky venture.If we really believe that the Halacha represents the will of HaShem, how dare we take chances of this sort?This question becomes even more acute when seen in light of its more radical formulations.For example, the Maharal of Prague writes in Netiv HaTora, that:

“It is proper that the posek decide from the Talmud, and even though there is the possibility that he will not …give a ruling in accordance with the truth, nonetheless the only criterion is what he understands based upon the Talmud, and even when his understanding leads him astray he is still beloved to HaShem…and he is better than someone who decides from a Code without understanding, for he is like a blind man stumbling along the way.”

Whoa. really?
Bottom line. You are the Rabbis of the generation, if you let yourselves be, and it’s not heresy to say that, not in my tradition anyway. Please try to find a better way, all the time, because we’re counting on you. And don’t give up, just because it’s hard. Like Dan quoted the pschisker awhile back, if you search for true teachers, If you pray from them with all your heart, they will be revealed to you.
Authority in this generation may not be as top down, give in to the Rabbi as it may have been, or at least that’s probably not the true ideal. If everyone is learned, and is given permission by their teachers to be their own teachers, could it be that’s more how Hashem wants us to live and learn?
The Mei Hashiloah maintains that the sin of the spies, why did they insist on not going right into The Land, was because they knew that if they went in, Moses would have to die, and they would be forced to become their own masters. They wanted so much just to be able to depend on him for Torah, and didn’t trust that it could really come through them, so they insisted on spending 40 years in the desert with him. And that’s what Moshe was so angry about, don’t you know that Hashem can give the Torah through you as well as through me?
interesting examples of the fight to clarify what halacha really means vs. what it seems to literally say:The story of Shmuel Klausenburger , a nice piece about elul and history,
any insights?

15 thoughts on “OrthoWHATsy?

  1. I’ll have to look at this a little later but you are absolutely right. The real scholars don’t follow others just because others say it – only what they personally know to be right. Otherwise they are not scholars at all…

  2. Yosef-
    You say respecting the R. Leshem piece you link to that
    “It’s clear to me that when he says me!, he means you, the reader.”
    In the second paragraph of the piece, it says
    “Nor will I deal with the autonomy of the “average Jew” in relation to the posek and to the Halacha.”

  3. right, it’s true, i’m assuming anyone who made it to this website is more than the average jew. Could be wrong.
    Or, i’m challenging us to be more than average?

  4. Hey man, I’m sorry I didn’t read through your whole treatise (it’s very long) but I get the idea, and definitely agree with it. Dig this quote on the subject – it really changed my view of things some while back –
    “It is the sure sign of the death of a religion when its mythic presuppositions become systemized, under the severe, rational eyes of an orthodox dogmatism, into a ready sum of historical events, and when people begin timidly defending the veracity of myth but at the same time resist its natural continuance-when the feeling for myth withers and its place is taken by a religion claiming historical foundations.”
    Ah! I love it. That’s Nietzsche. Boyarin would agree, I’m sure. He’s all about myths. (though btw i dont know how a cannabis chossid can have enough concentration to read him. i couldn’t even read kerouac when i was high. pls provide the training some time).

  5. I don’t read while high. Language, intake of new information externally recieved an marijuana don’t mix, ideally. I read, then maybe smoke. maybe.
    Ironically, all the great psychedelic thinkers from the last genration, R.A. Wilson, Terraence mkenna, etc, are almost completely incomprehensible while stoned.

  6. p.s. It’s nice sometimes, just to print the page out, read it on the bus… I do that with any thing I download more than a few pages long.

  7. Yoseph-
    So much for the polite approach. Look, you completely distorted the intent of the piece you quoted at length. The author was as clear as he could be in arguing for greater halachic autonomy for POSKIM, not for anyone else. His view in this regard is quite mainstream among the Orthodox (though it is hotly debated, and current trends may be turning against it). You hijacked his piece to say something radical – that anyone can determine halacha for himself – that the author clearly did NOT want to imply. If honesty has any value to you at all, you should retract that part of your post.

  8. Yoseph,
    You are being more than a bit naive. Just because an authority figure with deep training says that he can question near-contemporaneous authorities (the Mishneh Berurah hasn’t been around for that long), does not imply that Judaism is at all individualistic.
    Look at any point in “textually recorded” Jewish history. Mishnah. Talmud. Geonim. Rishonim. Acharonim. Sure, we see variations…alternativ e practices. But they are no more than variations on a theme. When the Rema was about to put together his “shulkhan aruch”-type code, he realized that he had been pre-empted by the sefardi authority, Rav Karo. Though there were differences between ashkenasi and sefardi halakhic systems, they were so close, that the Rema tossed the project and just wrote glosses on the Shulkhan Aruch. The Hassidim were too “out there” for the Litvaks, but they would look pretty “orthodox” to us nowadays.
    You source is criticizing a much smaller aspect of orthodoxy, not the orthodox system itself. He is criticizing the homogeneity of halakha that has resulted from powerful organizations and publishing houses (halakha l’Artscroll?).
    When he says “me,” he means not you, not me, not the reader. He means him. Because he is a highly-knowledgeable rabbi. An authoritative rabbi can certainly offer a halakhic ruling…even one contrary to the Mishneh Berurah. A layperson cannot. Like anything in life, authority is derived from education, practice, and communal acceptance.
    You are entitled to your views. I certainly have some opinions that are not “orthodox.” But this rabbi is in no way supporting your conclusions and would likely disagree strongly with them.

  9. >
    Yeah, you’ve got me there. I feel like communal acceptance is probably the main one, with an educated and practicing community demanding the first two in order to give the third.
    Ultimately, any community will get the poskim they deserve, the ones that somehow impress them, and/or are trust worthy.
    I was using this rabbi and his piece out of context, more to give over how it works a little bit. Even knowledge and practice won’t help if no one is interested or trusts what you’re paskening, and that’s one of the fun things about this generation: communites can find each other and come together on ideological bases easier, setting whatever standards they want to live in, and we get to see, very quickly, what’s going to work for a longer while and what won’t.
    One could totally argue, the most successful reform jewish movement ever was Christianity, having boiled the rules down and openened the gates to inlude and educate everybody. Co-opted and used to justify whatever it wants to justify, what is the standard we use for authenticity? It’s not just education, or else we’d never tell Zusia of Anipoli stories, It’s not just practice, or else the practice itself would become false, for the purpose of proving oneself to the certifiers, and not for the sake of heaven.
    It’s not dogmatically keeping certain rules just because we always have, or else R Yehuda Hanasi wouldn’t have written down the mishna no matter what. If he could get away with that, he could get away with anything.
    It’s gotta be something that makes it both feel alive, and is pass on-able to the kids, in a way that lets them want to keep it going.
    how can we do that? The problem with making the religion itself of a priority, independant of the kids, is that we’re not doing it for the religion, hopefully, as much as for the kids.

  10. “Anyway, this work is a scathing critique of the current relgiious / chareidi communities!”
    Schwartz was a wierdo who attacked Rav Moshe Feinstein, perhaps the most moderate halachic authority in America. He wrote a book, in the same format as Igrot Moshe, belittling the halachic decisions of the greatest halachic decisor in American history. Certainly, Schwartz is not someone to quote on the state of Orthodoxy today.

  11. well, if J is against it, what reasonable person cannot consider being for it?
    “that anyone can determine halacha for himself”
    We are put in mind of Crowley’s dictum, “do what Thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.” No honest person familiar with religious technology and history can miss it and so almost all evangelical crossworshippers do. It isn’t you, it’s Thou, and this is all the difference on and beyond the World. Far from proclaiming a second childhood it would be more profitably compared to Augustine’s trick command, “Love God and do whatever you want,” since if you truly love God his laws will be as a groove you get naturally into, not a rut you hide in to protect yourself from uncertainty, a bourgeois blessed assurance of pertpetual nonthreatening conformity or a resented oppression.
    We despise organized religion but speaking generally our reasons for hating it are here limned in sunbursting hellpitch! If you must do it, this is how! You certainly aren’t going to defend any of your actions before the Almighty like a lawyer by muttering “but…precedent…it’s in the book…”

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