Category: Process

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Textualism and the Mishnah Berurah

I Dr Haym Solovetichik, in his famous paper “Rupture and Reconstruction“, describes a difference between the the Mishnah Berurah and the Arukh haShulchan as follows: This dual tradition of the intellectual and the mimetic, law as taught and law as practiced, which stretched back for centuries, begins to break down in the twilight years of the author of the Arukh ha-Shulhan, in...

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Halakhah and Virtue Ethics

In 1967 Phillippa Foote raised a thought experiment philosophers call the Runaway Trolly Problem. Here is how wikipedia describes it: There is a runaway trolley barreling down the railway tracks. Ahead, on the tracks, there are five people tied up and unable to move. The trolley is headed straight for them. You are standing some distance off in the train...

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Baal Nefesh Yachmir

Continuing on the prior post… A recurring topic on Avodah is the Mishnah Berurah’s use of the concept of ba’al nefesh yachmir, that while the halakhah itself allows for some leniency, “one who masters their nefesh should be stringent”. (By the way, the idiom only appears 24 times in the MB, although the general notion of going beyond the letter...

1

Eilu va’Eilu part II

[Updated 1/9/2014. The story so far: In part I I gave a survey of opinions from rishonim discussed in essays by RM Halbertal and Rav Michael Rosensweig.] RMHalbertal spelled out three approaches to machloqes: (1) retreival — all machloqes are about recovering forgotten laws, attributed to many ge’onim; (2) accumulative — Torah is built analytically, which means different people can...

2

Halakhah and Orthodoxy

(Much of this is a popularization of things already posted in this category, originally posted to Facebook.) As I see it, halachic decision-making involves the weighing of numerous items — the strength of the legal logic, the authority of one’s sources, the breadth of acceptance (in both time and population) of the particular ruling, and which ruling better enables the...

6

Tzav

Halakhah is the means G-d gave us to actively and creatively complete ourselves, to use our Image-of-G-d ability to be who choose to make ourselves and become ever close to that “Image”. The word we generally use is “mitzvah” — that which someone commanded. Notably it is not the more direct conjugation, “tzava” — commandment. It is written as though...

2

Halakhah: Truth or Law?

R’ Moshe Halbertal’s paper on the nature of machloqes found three classical positions. (I blogged on this back in 2005; and you can see RMH’s original 1994 paper “The History of Halakhah, Views from Within: Three Medieval Approaches to Tradition and Controversy“.) As I summarized it then: RM Halbertal proposes that there are three basic positions on plurality in halakhah:...

2

Today’s Daas Torah

Here’s a theory that I developed recently [when this was posted in its first, much shorter, version on 26-Nov-04]… The gemara uses the term “da’as Torah” in a sense totally different than today’s usage. It appears once, in Chullin 90b, to ask whether a cited opinion on a halachic matter was from sources, which it calls “da’as Torah“, or whether...

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The Eilu vaEilu Paradox

The notion of eilu va’eilu is taken by many to be quite literal — that two conflicting halachic opinions can both be equally correct, both equally truly representing the Will of G-d. This is a product of halakhah being a mapping from Hashem’s infinite Thought to human reality and/or His leaving us a process that has room for our creativity...

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Midgets on the Shoulders of Giants

Someone recently (when I first wrote an earlier version of this post, Feb 2007) asked me about nisqatnu hadoros, the decline over time from one generation to the next. How is this possible, given that we now have universal education, and the masses know more Torah than any other generation in millennia? Pigmaei gigantum humeris impositi plusquam ipsi gigantes vident....

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Any Torah Which Has No Ancestral Home

Certain mitzvos must be done on a specific day, such as the beris milah of a boy who is healthy on the 8th day, or the Qorban Pesach. In these cases, the mitzvah overrides Shabbos. According to Rabbi Eliezer, this includes even preparatory steps before the mitzvah itself, such as carrying the milah knife in a public domain, things that...

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Pesaq Without Resolution

In “Invoking Tradition” I suggested that the amora’im of the Yerushalmi would not add their own interpretations to the words of the tana’im. The traditions must be preserved in their integrity. (And in “On Nets and Pieces” I added that instead the Israeli amora’im saw their job as finding patterns that allow them to apply the quotes to other topics...

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On Nets and Pieces

The story so far: In the first post, I suggested that it was Rav Yehudah, founder of the Yeshiva in Pumbedisa, who really developed the style of shaqla vetarya (dialectic) that we find in the Talmud Bavli. Which implied that we wouldn’t expect to find the similar argument style in Israel. In the second post, I tried to show how...

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Invoking Tradition

So, I recently described Rav Yehudah’s trip down to Pumbedisa, where he founded a yeshiva where learning was based on the dialectic method, the style of shaqla vetarya (question and answer) that typifies the gemara. So what was happening back in Eretz Yisrael? To put the same question in a more straightforward way — after learning the first six mesechtos...

2

Falluja

Now that the US’s role in Iraq has formally changed, I want to mention something about the city of Falluja. During the early years of US presence in Iraq, we heard a lot about violence there. E.g. four contractors were dragged from their cars, beaten and set on fire — and then their bodies were dragged through the streets and...

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Balancing Community and Authenticity

This post, like the one I blogged last week, reflects a conversation with R’ Rich Wolpoe and R’ Ben Hecht on NishmaBlog and email, on the topic of R’ Nathan Lopez Cardozo’s “On the Nature and Future of Halakha in Relation to Autonomous Religiosity“. That issue appears to be closely tied to the role of communal pesaq, and why do...

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Balancing Simplicity and Authenticity

This post is in response to R’ Nathan Lopez Cordozo’s “On the Nature and Future of Halakha in Relation to Autonomous Religiosity” on the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals web site. First to quote some points with which I firmly agree: I teach Jewish Philosophy. I am confronted daily with countless young Jews who search for an authentic Jewish...

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Halakhah leMosheh miSinai

מעשה ברבי ישבב שעמד והחליק את כל נכסיו לעניים. שלח לו ר”ג, “והלא אמרו חומש מנכסיו למצות?” ור”ג לא קודם לאושא היה? ר’ יוסי בר’ בון בשם ר’ לוי: כך היתה הלכה בידם, ושכחוה, ועמדו השנים והסכימו על דעת הראשונים. ללמדך שכל דבר שבית דין נותנין נפשן עליו הוא מתקיים, כמה שנאמר למשה מסיני. ואתייא כיי דאמר רבי מנא: “כי...

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Because they did not serve…

In response to my previous post, Shmuel commented: “They learned facts from their rabbeim, but without spending the time that comes from watching them live, they didn’t learn attitude.” That statement alone is worth its own post, or many, for that matter… So, a little more elaboration. Here’s the section we’re discussing: Qabbalistically, Beis Shammai is described as embodying the...

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Reality vs. Potential

משנה אלו דברים שבין בית שמאי ובית הלל בסעודה בית שמאי אומרים מברך על היום ואח”כ מברך על היין וב”ה אומרים מברך על היין ואח”כ מברך על היום: Mishnah: These are the things which separate Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel with [respect to the laws of] a meal. Beis Shammai say: [In Qiddush] bless the day [i.e. make the berakhah...

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Modern Consciousness and Mesorah

The Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks wrote the following in an article included in the 1992 book, Rabbinic Authority and Personal Autonomy (Dr. Moshe Sokol ed.), pp. 165-167: [S]urely we are sociologically and philosophically sophisticate enough to realize — given the wealth of studies on this very point — that it is this modern consciousness that is radically subversive of...

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Postmodernism and Mesorah

I I don’t think I can touch this topic without first defining what I mean by Postmodernism. The old way of doing things, from the Enlightenment until the middle of the 20th century, was to encounter texts by trying to determine the author’s original intent. This requires finding the historical context of the author, learning about his mental state, etc…...

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Osniel ben Kenaz

אמר רב יהודה אמר רב בשעה שנפטר משה רבינו לגן עדן אמר לו ליהושע שאל ממני כל ספיקות שיש לך אמר לו רבי כלום הנחתיך שעה אחת והלכתי למקום אחר לא כך כתבת בי (שמות לג) ומשרתו יהושע בן נון נער לא ימיש מתוך האהל מיד תשש כחו של יהושע ונשתכחו ממנו שלש מאות הלכות ונולדו לו שבע מאות ספיקות...

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Ge’ulah and the Halachic Process

Last week I drew the conclusion from the Qetzos haChoshen that Torah is not Truth, it — combined with the Jewish People — is the process by which “Truth will bloom from the earth”. As I wrote then: One wonders if this is related to the Maharal’s explanation of machloqes (disputes in halakhah). In an earlier entry, I described his...

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Halachic Process, addenda

With this post, I am closing the series (for now) with three other thoughts that came up during the Avodah discussion, but aren’t part of my core thesis. I The concept of minhag hamaqom impacts two different things — actual minhagim and local pesaqim. I’m now addressing only the latter. A community can’t survive with too much variation, so we...