Monday, January 16, 2012

The Hazon Ish and R. Shlomo Goren

In general, doctoral dissertations are not so meticulously edited as published books, neither are they written as well. Nevertheless, dissertations make a very interesting and may sometimes have enlightening details not included in the book. The sloppy editing applied to the dissertation can sometimes give us gleanings that would otherwise not pass a meticulous editing.

The following is an example of such. Dr. Benjamin Brown’s groundbreaking book on R. Avraham Yeshayahu Karelitz, a.k.a. the Hazon Ish (1878-1953) “The Hazon Ish: Halakhist, Believer and Leaser of the Haredi Revolution” (Jerusalem 2011) is a must-read.  And while I read the book cover to cover, the dissertation still made for a very fascinating read. And as a bonus, the sloppy editing provided me with a few interesting tidbits. Here’s one example.

Dr. Benjamin Brown

This is an excerpt of an interview Dr. Brown had with Dr. Zvi Aryeh Yehudah who in his youth learned with the Hazon Ish. While in the text itself Dr. Brown censored out - upon Dr. Yehudah’s request - two of the rabbis the Hazon Ish didn’t like or hated, we have their names outright in the header: R. Shlomo Goren (1917-1994) and R. Menachem Mendel Kasher (1895-1983) Actually there’s reason to believe that this is an intentional mistake on Dr. Brown’s part. I say so, because in the book (p. 579 n. 45) the following passage appears:

החזון איש לא אהב את הרב גורן (ראה ... בראון, דוקטורט, נספח ב, עמ' 16).

But if you’ll look at that page in the doctoral dissertation you won’t see anything on R. Goren besides for the header. It is actually not such a big secret that the Hazon Ish didn’t like R. Goren. In Pe’er hador (vol. 4 Bnei Berak 1973, p. 250 n. 41) the following story is recorded:

As the story goes, more than 30 years prior to 1973 (when Pe’er Hador was published) R. Goren - then Gorenchik - visited the Hazon Ish, and had a discussion with him about halakhic topics. After Goren left, the Hazon Ish commented to his student R. Shraga Feivel Steinbereg that Gorenchik doesn't know how to learn well, and in the future he will cause suffering (for the Haredim, presumably). This, says Pe’er Hador, came true many years later in 1972, when R. Goren famously gave out his “brother and sister” ruling which brought upon him the wrath of the Haredi rabbinical establishment who strongly condemned him, some of them going so far as saying that his halakhic rulings have no value and it’s prohibited to rely on them.

There’s a very interesting letter written by R. Goren to R. Saul Lieberman in the period after the condemnations were issued in which he expresses his newfound freedom now that he doesn’t have to abide politically with the Haredim. The letter was printed by Dr. Marc Shapiro in his “Saul Lieberman and the Orthodox” (Scranton 2006), Hebrew section, pp. 9-10:

Returning to Goren’s visit, I believe that part of the Torah discussion R. Goren had with the Hazon Ish is recorded in R. Goren’s Nezer Hakodesh (Jerusalem 5695) which R. Goren published when he was a mere 17 years old (not 18 as R. Kook writes in his haskamah):

Pe’er Hador also mentions a line out of the Hazon Ish‘s rebuttal of an halakhic essay R. Goren wrote in which R. Goren argued that electricity on Shabbat is prohibited only miderabbanan (a rabbinical prohibiton, not a biblical one). The Hazon Ish wrote a rebuttal of this opinion, but apparently he never published it. It was eventually printed in Kovetz Iggerot (collection of the Hazon Ish’s letters) (Kovetz Iggerot II:78) but severely censored (the two dashes at the beginning and end of the letter are indications of the censored parts):

-- ואמנם אין הדבר נוגע למעשה כלל, כי אין לנו מזבח להביא חטאת, ולא הסנהדרין לד"נ (=לדיני נפשות), ועלינו רק לדעת המותר ואת האסור, והבא להכריז בין המון העם כי חכמים גזרו עלינו דברים שהתורה  לא אסרתן כונתו ידועה... והתוצאות ידועות... ואמנם, לקושטא דמילתא יש כאן מלאכה דאוריתא - -

Dr. Brown can hardly swallow the Hazon Ish’s words. In his book (ibid.) he writes as follows:

אלו דברים קשים ביותר, והקורא עומד ותמה: האם לא קדמו לרב גורן בעלי הלכה רבים שסברו שאיסור החשמל הוא רק מדרבנן? ויותר מכך, האם בכל ויכוח הלכתי שבו טוען אחד מן הצדדים שאיסור זה או אחר הוא איסור מדדרבנן - וכאלה ישנם למאות ולאלפים בתולדות ההלכה - יטען החזון איש כי 'כוונתו ידועה [...] והתוצאות ידועות'?!

 In Dr. Brown’s interview with Dr. Yehudah he mentions an interesting discussion he had with the Hazon Ish regarding R. Goren’s article and the Hazon Ish’s reaction to it (this also appears in Brown’s book, p. 580):

In a future post I hope to return to the Hazon Ish’s issues with R. Moshe Avigdor Amiel, R. Menachem Mendel Kasher and R. Michel Tikunchisky. 


  1. I have never seen the essay of R. Goren. Hypothetically though, if one were to announce to the המון one's belief that the חכמים manufactured halakhot יש מאין, in that tone and lacking all sense of tact, one would be seriously undermining the חכמים in the eyes of the המון, to the extent that the statement כוונתו ידועה והתוצאות ידועות would be quite apt. I would guess that it was something along these lines, and not merely the fact that R. Goren challenged the Hazon Ish's halakhic approach, which caused the Hazon Ish to react this way.

    Great post, by the way.

  2. I can't believe I forgot to link to R. Goren's article. It should be available on, in הפרדס כג‚ י"ב אלול תש"ט, סימן ע"א. When I have a chance I'll upload the article to google docs and link to it in the article.

    I didn't study the article in depth, but I don't think R. Goren claims that Hakhamim "manufacture" halakhot יש מאין. The truth is probably that it depeneds on the point of view. If Dr. Yehudah is correct, the Hazon Ish's PoV was that even telling the המון that electricity is not a דאוריתא is undermining the חכמים.

  3. Friends,
    Thank you for the interesting discussion. Regarding the "sloppy editing": The truth is that it's not altogether an accident. After I interviewed Dr. Yehudah (a fascinating experience!). I promised him that before I print the interview I would let him revise it, and so I did. He deleted the names in the text, but probably forgot to delete them in the title, and so I could have the actual information left - and reference to it in the book. You may say I was a naval bi-reshut haTorah, but the readers got the info!

    All the best,
    Benny Brown

  4. Can the thesis be found online anywhere? I have bought the book, but would like to compare it to the thesis (as Brown describes the differences in the introduction)

  5. Rabbi Sedley, please email YoavPearlman AT gmail DOT com.