Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Sociological Changes and Halakhah

Here's a passage from Derekh Pikudekha, by R. Zvi Elimelekh Shapira of Dynów. R. Shapira, a.k.a the Benei Yisaskhar as the name of his most famous sefer, was a close disciple of R Yaakov Yitzhak Horowitz, the Hozeh (Seer) of Lublin, and other great Hasidic rabbis. He became a Hasidic leader in 1815 (5575), and he went on to become one of the greatest figures in Hasidic history. He was a prolific author and penned many books on many topics, from Halakha to Kabbalah, to Hassidut. He passed away at the age of 58 in 1841 (5601).

In the following passage[1] R. Shapira defends the common practice of ignoring Hazal's dictum "Do not engage in excessive conversation with the woman" [2]. When I read it, Dr. Haym Soloveitchik's "Rupture and Reconstruction" came to mind. Also of note is how R. Shapira pulls the "times have changed" card to explain the presumed leniency in behavior, something that I doubt would've been employed nowadays by a good frum yid , never mind a big-name Hasidic rabbi. Although, it has to be pointed out, this argument has been used (ingeniously, if you ask me) to defend changes to the stringent side[3].

The text is sic, besides for the abbreviations which I opened. My comments and additions are in the footnotes.

עוד נכלל בכלל אזהרה זו [4], אזהרה מדיבורי המותרות עם האשה כמו שהזהירו חז"ל [5] "אל תרבה שיחה עם האשה, באשתו אמרו קל וחומר וכו'"[6].
ומידי דברי בזה אזכור להזכיר זה לי ולבני גילו [7] מה שנראה לי בזה. דהנה לפי הדין כמעט הוא דבר שאי אפשר להיזהר, כי צריך האדם לספור ולמנות התיבות שמוציא מפיו בעת דברו עם האשה, שלא יוסיף תיבה אחת בשפת יתר. כמו שכתוב בגמרא [8] בההוא דשאל לאיתתא "באיזו דרך ללוד?" והשיבה לו "ריקה! לא כך אמרו חכמים: אל תרבה שיחה וכו'?", דהיה לו לומר "באיזה ללוד" - הנה על שאמר תיבה יתירה שהיה אפשר לקצר, הוכיחתו. הנה בענין הזה כמעט אי אפשר ליזהר, ובפרט העוסק במשא ומתן וכיוצא. הנה המון עם הדבר הזה הוא להם כשחוק, ולא יחשבו לעון אפילו המרבה לספר בדברי שחוק וליצנות עמהם, וחושב שהמחמיר בזה ממדת חסידות, והנה עוברים על דברי תורה בשאט נפש, ועונשם סגי - אין התימא עליהם, כי לא יבינו אל פעולת י"י [9], הן המה דברי חכמינו ז"ל אשר רוח י"י דיבר בם.
אבל מן התימא על בעלי תורה ויראת שמים, אינן נזהרים בזה לשקול בפלס הדיבורים שמדבר עם האשה, שלא יעדיף תיבה אחת הבלתי מוצרכת. ולא מצאתי לי היתר מספיק בעניינים כאלה, רק תמכתי יתידותי על הענין הנאמר בספר חסידים [10] הובא בבית שמואל באבן העזר [11] דבסעודות חתונה עם ישנם לשם אנשים ונשים בחדר אחד לא יאמרו בברכת הזימון נברך שהשמחה במעונו כי כביכול אין שמחה במקום שיצר הרע שולט. והנה, לא ראינו מעולם מי שחושש לזה! ומצאתי בלבוש במנהגים [12], כתב דעכשיו אין נזהרין בזה אפשר דמשום נשים מורגלות בינינו עכשיו הרבה בין האנשים (היינו במשא ומתן ואומנות וחניות וכיוצא) ואין כאן הרהורי עבירה כ"כ דדמיין עלן כי קאקי חיורי [13] מתוך רוב הרגלן בינינו וכיון דדשו דשו, עכ"ל.
וצריך לומר לפי זה, דבעת שהיו קרן ישראל על מכונו והיתה הפרנסה מצויה, לא הי' רואים שום אשה בחוץ כי לא  היו עוסקים במשא ומתן. ואם כן כאשר הזדמן לאדם לראות איזה אשה היה חידוש ונפל ההרהור במחשבה ובלב. מה שאין כן עתה בכובד הגלות וקשוי הפרנסה, הנשים עוסקות במשא ומתן, אין כאן חידוש בראיית נשים כי הוא דבר המורגל, ולא יתפעל האדם כל כך בהרהור. אם כן הכי נמי בנידון דידן בענין מרבית הדיבור לבא לידי הרהור מחמת ההרגל המצוי.
אבל אף על פי כן יש לדון שאין הנדון דומה לראיה, דהלא כאן במרבה השיחה עם האשה אסרו אפילו באשתו שרגיל בה, (כי הדיבור והקול הוא מענייני ערוה כי הוא מהאמור בפסוק  [14] כי קולך ערב ומדברך [15] נאוה) ואפשר בזמן שהיה הדיבור עם האשה בחזקת איסור ועלול להרהור, עשו גדר לגדר לאסור גם באשתו, אבל כעת שאין מסוכן [16] מחמת ההרגל אין כאן בית מיחוש.

[3] In case you did not click on that link, let me quote to you what R. Pesach Eliyahu Falk writes in his (in)famous book "Oz Vehadar Levushah" p. 56 (everything is sic): "[ If a woman or girl were to adopt the principle that she will wear whatever can be proven from T'nach or Shas that our Imahos or other nashim tznuos wore, maintaining that such items must be fully tznius'dik, she would be making a serious blunder. Times have changed, and that which was fully acceptable in those times, would be strange and even extremely unrefined when worn in present-day society!

For example, Avraham Avinu sent jewelry with Eliezer his servant to be given to the girl who would be chosen to be the wife of Yitchak. Among the items sent was a nose-ring - see Breishis 24:47. Evidently, in those days a nose-ring was a refined and respectable piece of jewelry. Nonetheless, it goes without saying that, if a woman wore such an ornament within our society, she would be considered a prutza, as she would be adorning herself with something which is ostentatious and extremely unrefined according to present-day norms. This underscores the point stated: places and times differ very much from one another, and one must not assume that everything which is acceptable in one society is likewise acceptable in another.]", ad kan leshono.
[4] The biblical prohibition "שלא לבוא על אשת איש".
[5] Mishna, Avot ibid.
[6] According to R. Shapiro, Hazal's dictum not to shmooze with women, is just an extension of the biblical prohibition to engage in adultery.
[7] Should probably be amended to בני גילי.
[9] Tehilim, 28:5
[10] בסעודת חתונה? H/T to Ovadya (in the comments section) for pointing this out.
[11] 62:11 (here it is 62:9)
[12] I haven't found it. Lvush Hahur, appendix (Minhagim) 36 (H/T to Ovadya).
[13] An expression taken from BT Brakhot 20a. Literally it means "white geese", figuratively it means that one can look at women without getting turned on.
[14] Shir Hashirim 1:14
[15] sic, the verse actually reads ומראיך. The phrase ומדבריך נאוה comes from another verse in Shir Hashirim (4:3). Such conflation of verses and passages is actually quite common in Hasidic sources.
[16] = dangerous!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Hazal Vs. Science Redux

In the near future I’m planning to post regarding several halakhic statements in Talmud which do not conform with the reality known today. As a preface to these posts I decided to rehash the basic opinions of the Hazal  versus science debate. I do not take any position in this post, as this is only intended to be an overview of the various positions on this matter.

One of the most famous scientific discrepancies found in Talmud is that of the sweat-louse. The Gemara states in BT Shabbat 107b that one may kill a louse in Shabbat, since lice do not reproduce sexually. Since this is one of the most popular Hazal vs. science case, I chose this as the prototype of the Hazal vs. science debate.

All was well, until the world discovered in the 19th century that there is no such thing as spontaneous generation, and lice actually do sexually reproduce.

Two questions arose: First, how do we deal with this statement in Talmud? Can it be that they erred in science? If the Torah is God-given, how can there be mistakes in it? The second question is: what are the halakhic ramifications of this scientific discovery? May we continue killing lice? Should we abstain?

There are two basic approaches regarding the first question, with some saying that the science in Talmud were based on their own observations and therefore fallible, while others insisting on the infallibility of Hazal in science. These two groups have been dubbed by some “The Rationalistic School” and “The Traditionalistic School”. 

Within the Traditionalists, who posit that Hazal are infallible in matters of scinece, several approaches arose as to how to deal with the contradictions between Hazal and science. One approach is to say that nature has changed. Lice used to reproduce spontaneously, but have ceased to do so since. Another approach posits that Hazal referred to a different species of lice, not our every-day head-lice. Yet a third, somewhat extreme approach is to invalidate science altogether.

A third school of thought, which as per Bar Uryan's suggestion in the comments I shall refer to as synthesists” (since they synthesize elements of both the rationalistic and traditionalistic schools), takes the following approach: Hazal did not at all refer to the physical reality, rather they discuss a distinct "Halakhic reality" so to speak. In our example of killing lice on shabbat, their approach will be that Hazal allowed it because the eggs are to small to be seen with the naked eye, and anything not visible to the naked eye is considered non-existent, at least as far halakha is concerned. The followers of this approach take no stance on the "did Hazal know modern science" question. It is irrelevant, for according to them there is a distinct halakhic reality according to which the halakha was determined regardless of the factual reality. A similar approach, which I will also include under this term, says that Hazal didn't refer to the physical reality, rather they spoke about an inner metaphysical reality. This approach is very similar to the above approach that there is a distinct halakhic reality, the only difference being that it does not seek to explain this halakhic reality in terms of physical explanations like saying that halakha does not concern itself with invisible reality and therefore lice-eggs are non-existent according to halakha. Rather, this approach posits that lice do not sexually reproduce in some metaphysical form which does not have any bearing on its physical reality. 
 All in all, these approaches deal with the first question only.

The second question is far more complicated. In the classic poskim, there’s much less consistency when it comes to deal with this question than with the first question. The basic approaches can be summarized as follows. In the Rationalistic School, we have two opposing approaches. One approach says that since we now know better, we must change the halakha, at least in a case where Hazal’s errant science leads to a leniency. For example, in the case of killing lice on Shabbat, this approach says we should abstain from killing them, since the leniency of Hazal that one could kill them is based on errant science. We’ll call this class of thought “reformists”. The second approach says that even though Hazal were mistaken, we must accept their halakhic rulings, even in place of a leniency. The explanation of this is that due to the power of so-called “canonizing” of halakha that Hazal possessed, we cannot uproot their halakhic rulings, even when the rulings were based on false data. According to this approach, we sure can go on killing on Shabbat those annoying little creatures messing with our hair. For the sake of simplicity, we shall dub this class “conventionalists”.

The Traditionalistic School also gets divided in two on this matter. According to the approach that say “nature has changed” or that we do not know what species Hazal were talking about, of course in theory the halakhah remains the same. But practically, we have to change the halakhah since nature has changed, or because we now have different lice species rummaging in our hair. The ones in this class are the “rectifiers”. (If you have a better idea for name, feel free to let me know in the comments!) But according to the approach that Hazal refer to an inner reality invisible to the naked eye, or the approach that science cannot contradict Hazal and is therefore wrong, the halakhah remains the same in reality. This class I will call “conservatives”.

Most of those who follow the "synthesists" approach that there is a so-called "halakhic reality", agree that the halakha does not change in light of modern scientific discoveries, since the halakha was not determined according to external scientific knowledge in the first place. (I'm indebted to Dov for pointing this out to me below in the comments.) This is definitely true for those who say that Hazal refer to a metaphysical reality.

This basically sums up the different opinions in the Hazal vs. reality debate. And in future posts dealing with issues related to this debate, keep in mind that when I refer to conservatives I’m not at all referring to members of the right wing political party in the United States.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Weather Forecasting Proves the Torah is True

One of the classic sefarim on halacha is R. Eliyahu Shapiro’s (c. 1660-1712) “Eliyah Rabbah”. While he originally wrote it as a commentary on R. Mordechai Yaffe’s Levush Tekhelet Va-Hur, it not published adjacent to the Levush but with the Shulkhan Aruch, something that caused misunderstandings, since he is commentating on the words of the Levush and not the Shulkhan Aruch. However, since it was printed together with the Shulchan Aruch it became popular as a classic post-Shulchan Aruch sefer halacha.

I recently came across the following interesting passage in Eliyah Rabbah (685:4):

מצאתי כתוב, לעולם כשחל ר"ח שבט ביום ד' אז הוא קור ושלג גדול באותו חורף, והסימן הוא ויג"ש, ר"ת י'ום ו' ג' ש'בט, כי אז הוא כך בדוק ומנוסה, והיירא דבר ה' הניס וגו' (אייזק דרשן).

I have found it written, whenever Rosh Chodesh Shevat will be on a Wednesday, it will be a very cold and snowy winter that year, and the sign is Vayigash, which is acronym for Y’om V’av G’immel Sh’evat, because then it is so, tried and true, and whoever is afraid of the word of God (Exodus 9:20) etc. (Isaac homilist)

This is strange for obvious reasons. First of all, what geographical area does this rule apply to? Also, isn’t it strange that the source of this statement is given as Isaac Darshan, with not even a “R.” prefacing his name?

Another baffling thing is that R. Yosef Te’umim found this factoid significant enough to repeat it in his Pri Megadim (ad. loc.):

באליה רבה ... מצא כתוב בשם הגאון מוה' אייזיק דרשן כשחל ר"ח שבט ביום ד' אז יהיה קור ושלג גדול באותו חורף וסימנך ויג"ש, יעוין שם.

Here he gets upgraded from simple “Isaac Drashan” to “Haga’on Moreinu Harav Isaac Darsahn”. Strange.

Truth is, the winter is still not over and it might still change, but this hasn't been a particularly cold winter, much less a snowy winter. At least here in New York. And in Israel. But one Kiruv site took the opportunity to predict that this will be a very cold and snowy winter, which in turn will prove that the Torah is true (note that this was written back in November 2011):

ישנם הטוענים כנגד חכמי התורה, כי הם "חכמים לאחר מעשה", שלאחר שמתרחש אירוע הם באים ומראים שאירוע זה כבר כתוב או מרומז בתורה. אותם אנשים מעוניינים בתחזיות הקודמות לאירוע.

אז הפעם לשם שינוי, נביא תחזית שנכתבה לפני הרבה מאד שנים, בספר "אליה רבה", שחובר על ידי רבי אליהו שפירא, ראש מתיבתא ודרשן מפראג, חי בין השנים1660-1712, (לפני 300 שנה בערך). ספריו נחשבים לספרי יסוד בפסיקה האשכנזית.

ואלו הן דבריו בסימן תרפ"ה אות ד': "מצאתי כתוב, לעולם כשחל ראש חודש שבט ביום ד' [רביעי], אז הוא קור ושלג גדול באותו חורף. והסימן הוא ויג"ש, ראשי תיבות, י'ום ו' = גש'בט [אם יום שישי יחול בתאריך ג' שבט, שאז ראש חודש שבט חל ביום רביעי, וכנ"ל, אז אנו דורשים את הראשי תיבות של המילה "ויגש" בסדר הפוך ש'לג ג'דול י'רד ו'קור], כי הוא כך בדוק ומנוסה, והיירא את דבר ה' הניס וכו' [כלומר, מי שמאמין לדברי חז"ל שנאמרו מפי ה', יכין עצמו בחורף זה לשלג ולקור]". עד כאן לשונו.

דבריו הובאו גם בספר "מגן אברהם" – ספר יסודי מאד בפסיקה, בחלק "אשל אברהם", סוף סימן תרפ"ה.

לתשומת ליבכם, ולתשומת לב "חברת החשמל" וה"מועצות המקומיות"! השנה הנוכחית, שנת תשע"ב, חל ראש חודש שבט ביום רביעי, ולכן היכונו לשלגים כבדים ולקור גדול.

I like the cute addition that backwards, Vayigash is the acronym of "שלג גדול ירד וקור". And I also like how the writer confuses Pri Megadim with Magen Avraham.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Holier Than Thou - 16 Satmar Rabbanim Ban Frum Magazines

16 Williamsburg rabbis, all of them members of the R. Zalman Leib faction within the Satmar hassidut, signed a letter banning three popular frum magazines: Mishpacha, Ami and Binah (which - as the ban points out - is published by Hamodia). Below is a copy of the ban.

This ban which also includes Mishpacha magazine, has no connection to the Israeli ban on Mishpacha a few weeks ago. Rather, this comes after Ami magazine published an article in which they portrayed the Eideh Hacharedis as moderates who are under siege be extremists, and the recent extremists acts in Bet Shemesh and elsewhere do not really represent their true values. While Ami subsequently published a retraction in which they wrote that they were requested by the Gaavad of the Eideh Hacherdis to publicize that no one is authorized to speak in his - or his organization's - name, and that it seems that some of the acts by the extremists were actually justified and do represent the true values of the Eideh Hacharedis, the extremists in Williamsburg decided that Ami magazine is too liberal for them and therefore a campaign against it was launched. I guess the rabbis decided that since we're already banning, we might ban some others too, so they banned Mishpacha and Binah too.

According to this poster (from here) that hung in all Satmar (R. ZL's) Shuls in Williamsburg, 29 groceries have signed themselves up to obey the ban - at least partially, as the Binah magazine was still sold by most groceries on the list. The Muslim-owned newsstand on the outskirts of Williamsburg reported that early Friday morning he was out of stock of Ami.

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. 

Sunday, January 8, 2012

New Avoda Zara Takes World by Storm

From here:

Sweden recognises new file-sharing religion Kopimism

A "church" whose central tenet is the right to file-share has been formally recognised by the Swedish government.
The Church of Kopimism claims that "kopyacting" - sharing information through copying - is akin to a religious service.
The "spiritual leader" of the church said recognition was a "large step".
But others were less enthusiastic and said the church would do little to halt the global crackdown on piracy.
Holy information

The Swedish government agency Kammarkollegiet finally registered the Church of Kopimism as a religious organisation shortly before Christmas, the group said.
"We had to apply three times," said Gustav Nipe, chairman of the organisation.
The church, which holds CTRL+C and CTRL+V (shortcuts for copy and paste) as sacred symbols, does not directly promote illegal file sharing, focusing instead on the open distribution of knowledge to all.
It was founded by 19-year-old philosophy student and leader Isak Gerson. He hopes that file-sharing will now be given religious protection.
"For the Church of Kopimism, information is holy and copying is a sacrament. Information holds a value, in itself and in what it contains and the value multiplies through copying. Therefore copying is central for the organisation and its members," he said in a statement.
"Being recognised by the state of Sweden is a large step for all of Kopimi. Hopefully this is one step towards the day when we can live out our faith without fear of persecution," he added.
The church's website has been unavailable since it broke the news of its religious status. A message urged those interested in joining to "come back in a couple of days when the storm has settled".
Despite the new-found interest in the organisation, experts said religious status for file-sharing would have little effect on the global crackdown on piracy.
"It is quite divorced from reality and is reflective of Swedish social norms rather than the Swedish legislative system," said music analyst Mark Mulligan.
"It doesn't mean that illegal file-sharing will become legal, any more than if 'Jedi' was recognised as a religion everyone would be walking around with light sabres.
"In some ways these guys are looking outdated. File-sharing as a means to pirate content is becoming yesterday's technology," he added.
Piracy crackdown
The establishment of the church comes amid a backdrop of governmental zero-tolerance towards piracy.
The crackdown on piracy has moved focus away from individual pirates and more towards the ecosystem that supports piracy.
In the US, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) aims to stop online ad networks and payment processors from doing business with foreign websites accused of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement.
It could also stop search engines from linking to the allegedly infringing sites. Domain name registrars could be forced to take down the websites, and internet service providers forced to block access to the sites accused of infringing.
The government is pushing ahead with the controversial legislation despite continued opposition.

[See the U.S. website here: http://kopimistsamfundet.org/Copy is holy, copy is right. Copy and seed. Data be with you.- Yeedle]

Monday, January 2, 2012

Was Satmar Rav a Kofer?

The correct answer is, probably not. According to Rabbi Dov Halperin, Rabbi of Knesset Hasefer, Yardley PA, in accordance with what Rambam and Hatam Sofer write, the answer is: very likely. In his recently published sefer, Rabbi Halperin wrote (Hemdah Tovah [Lakewood 5772], p. 296 n. 143):

Translation of the highlighted section: The very idea that the Ve-Yeol Moshe wrote, that the redemption will come from heaven with sounds of sounds by itself, and we don’t have any part in it, seems somewhat similar to what R. Hillel said “there will be no messiah for Israel” and Rashi interprets “but God will reign himself and he will redeem them himself” and on this the Hatam Sofer wrote that it is prohibited to say, “I accept R. Hillel’s opinion” since the sages of Israel outnumbered him, see there.

Rabbi Halperin’s claim is actually much bolder than it seems. Not only is it prohibited to say I accept R. Hillel’s opinion, but in fact, the Hatam Sofer writes that someone who says it is guilty of Kefira! I.e. according to Rabbi Halperin, the Satmar Rav’s view is נוטה לכפירה.

Here's the Hatam Sofer in his own words:

והנה ר' הלל בפ' חלק צ"ט ע"א אמר אין משיח לישראל פירש"י אלא הקב"ה בעצמו יגאלם בלי שליח ופי' זה מוכרח הוא... דודאי גם לר' הלל יש גאולה אלא שאין משיח מלך. וגם בזה לית הלכתא כוותי', והאומר אין משיח וקים לי' כרבי הלל הרי הוא כופר בכלל התורה, דכיילי אחרי רבים להטות, כיון שרבו עליו חכמי ישראל ואמרו דלא כוותי', שוב אין אדם ראוי' להמשך אחריו.

Trans.: Behold, R. Hillel in BT Sanhedrin 99a said, “There is no messiah to Israel”, and Rashi explains that [there is no messiah,] but God himself will redeem them, without an emissary. And this interpretation [of R. Hillel’s words] is compelling… of course, even according to R. Hillel there will be a redemption but without a messiah king. And even with this, the Halakhah is not according to him, and whoever says there will be no messiah and I accept R. Hillel’s opinion, is a kofer in the whole Torah, and that’s so because we go after the majority, and since the majority ruled otherwise than R. Hillel, no person has the right to go after [his opinion].

Of course, as Dr. Marc Shapiro’s has long argues, “traditional Jewish theology has allowed for much more latitude than found in [Rambam’s] Thirteen principles” (The Limits of Orthodox Theology [London 2004], p. 2) and “many outstanding sages did not regard the Thirteen Principles as the last word in Jewish theology” (ibid.) But according to Rambam himself, anyone who deviates from his formulation of the Thirteen Principles is guilty of kefirah, heresy. And according to the Hatam Sofer, one who accepts R. Hillel’s view on the Mashiah (even if only with Rashi’s interpretation) is also guilty of heresy. Is this the case with the Satmar Rav? Yes, says Rabbi Dov Halperin.

While I think Halperin has a point, I also believe he is exaggerating. There can be no doubt that the Satmar Rav believed in a human Mashiah. He mentions it countless times in his magnum opus, Ve-Yoel Moshe. Therefore, according to the Hatam Sofer, the Satmar Rav is not guilty of kefirah. But the Satmar Rav does have some very interesting views regarding the Ge'ulah, the Final Redemption, which are probably not what Rambam had in mind with his 12th Principle. Was he a kofer according to Hatam Sofer? I think the answer is, no. Was he a kofer according to Rambam? well, I think he comes close. Very close. In a future post, I hope to elaborate more on the Satmar Rav's opinion regarding the redemption and why I think it may violate the 12th Principle of Rambam's 13 Principles.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Chasam Sofer Disparages R. Moshe Kunitz for his Anti-Discriminatory Opinions

About a week ago I posted about the Me’iri’s anti-discriminatory views. I wrote that there are some who say the Me’iri wrote what he wrote because he wanted to appease the non-Jews. I then added that this was already mentioned by the Chasam Sofer, and I commented on the Chasam Sofer’s referral to R. Moshe Kunitz’s Ben Yochai. Here’s what I wrote:

… regarding the notes printed in the name of the Me'iri in the Vilna edition of the Talmud Bavli, Bava Kama 38a and 113a[, the] Chasam Sofer writes as follows:

התם בב"ק... הפסק בשם המאירי מצוה למוחקו כי לא יצא מפה קדשו והוא דעת האומרים לרשע צדיק באמונתו יחיה, ויעוין בהקדמת בן יוחי.

It is interesting that the Chasam Sofer cites Ben Yochai. Ben Yochai was authored by R. Moshe Kunitz as a response and a challenge to R. Yaakov Emdin's anti-Zohar polemic Mitpachat Sefarim. As Dan Rabinowitz notes ("Nekkudot: The Dots That Connect Us", Hakirah vol. 2) "What is truly fascinating is that nothing in R. Kunitz’s biography would cause one to choose him as a defender of the authenticity of the Zohar. He was solicited by R. Aaron Chorin, a primary founder of the Hungarian branch of the Reform movement of Judaism, to write a responsum permitting various innovations. The fact that R. Kunitz allowed an organ in the synagogue is certainly indicative of his reformist tendencies". And the Chasam Sofer specifically didn't like him. As Dan writes in that article "R. Simeon Sofer (1842-1906) writes that his father, R. Moses Sofer (Hatam Sofer) had wistfully hoped the authorship of these two works could have been reversed, i.e., with R. Emden defending the Zohar from the attacks on it by R. Kunitz." Dr. Marc Shapiro also wrote recently about it, but he didn't elaborate as he is planning to write about it in the next issue of Milin Havivin. As he later wrote in the comments to the linked post, he will specifically address the Chasam Sofer's issue with R. Kunitz.

The said article has since appeared. While it cites two quotes reportedly said by the Chasam Sofer about R. Moshe Kunitz and Ben Yochai, it doesn’t deal substantially with the Chasam Sofer’s contempt for R. Moshe Kunitz.

When I wrote the post, I stole a quick glance at the short Hakdamah to Ben Yochai, I didn’t see anything that ties in with the Chasam Sofer’s or the Me’iri’s view. But an inquiry about it a few days later made me re-check. I discovered that I have missed a page that is entitled מודעה. It basically is a long disclaimer about how all the derogatory terms for non-Jews that Chazal say are only referring to the non-Jews of their times, etcetera. He finishes of with the following words:

The highlighted words כל צדיק באמונתו יחיה, every righteous should live by his faith, is a play on the verse in Chabakuk 2:4 which is traditionally interpreted to mean that whoever has faith, is considered as righteous (See BT Makkos 24a). R. Kunitz uses the verse to refer to the faith of the non-Jews, that we must let them live with their faith and beliefs and not hate them or belittle them because of it.

I’m not sure if R. Kunitz’s disclaimer is what he indeed believed, or he only wrote it because of the non-Jews, but the Chasam Sofer seemed to believe that this was R. Kunitz’s genuine opinion. Therefore the Chasam Sofer writes that the views printed in the Vilna edition of the Talmud in the name of the Me’iri could not have been said by the holy mouth of the Me’iri, rather they are the opinion of one who wrote about the villains (=non-Jews) that they are righteous and that they should live by their faith. We can see therewith how little the Chasam Sofer thought of R. Kunitz. (For a defense of R. Kunitz, see Dr. Shapiro's article, note 10.)