Volume 38: Number 65
Tue, 11 Aug 2020
Subjects Discussed In This Issue:
From: Eli Turkel
Date: Mon, 10 Aug 2020 10:52:25 +0300
Subject: [Avodah] potato chips and french fries
A nice article on the various opinions of bishul akum for french fries and
Go to top.
From: Micha Berger
Date: Tue, 11 Aug 2020 16:42:35 -0400
Subject: [Avodah] Rav Chaim Brisker on his 102nd Yahrzeit
R Elinatan Kupferburg posted this today on Facebook, lekhavod RCB's
102nd yahrzeit (21 Av).
Translitarations mine, "q"s and all.
Today is the yahrzeit of [Maran shel kol Benei Yisrael, Rabbeinu Chaim
haLevi,] R. Chaim Soloveitchik.
It is far beyond this post, or this site, to capture any of the towering
significance of Rabbeinu. For that, there's only one thing to do. You have
to learn R. Chaim. You sit for hours poring over a sugya without R. Chaim,
only to open the sefer and have R. Chaim, with his penetrating, elegant
brilliance guide you through the depths of the sea of Talmud. It's as
if you were overhearing snippets of a conversation without knowing the
topic and then someone revealed it to you and now everything you heard
suddenly falls into place.
But I do want to make a couple of points about R. Chaim's legacy.
Perhaps the most common metonym used to describe or exemplify what is
referred to as "the Brisker method," is the cheftza/gavra distinction,
often compared to the in rem/in personam legal distinction, though the two
are not entirely analogous. It's part of a broader tendency to describe
or teach "the Brisker method" by means of a few templatic distinctions:
internal/external, intrinsic/accidental, action/result and so on, and
has recently been reinforced by books or pamphlets which attempt to do
Unfortunately, not only are these gross simplifications and reductions,
they entirely obscure what R. Chaim was actually doing, replace it with
a different method of study (albeit one that is more prominent in some of
his students, notably R. Elchonon Wasserman) and thereby miss his genius.
The halakhic discourse, the lomdus, that pervades the Brisk Yeshiva that
grew out of the study group around his son R. Velvel (the Brisker Rav)
or the other yeshivas it birthed (including BMG), is dissimilar to
1. The words [cheftza] and [gavra] do not ever appear anywhere in the
same piece in [Chiddushei Rabbeinu Chaim haLevi]!! Yes, really. (Except
once in [Mekhilah 22:17,] when [gavra] is a quote from the Gemara,
i.e. [hahu gavra]).
There's a very good reason for that. Because making templatic distinctions
is entirely different than what R. Chaim was doing. R. Chaim was
elucidating the concepts that underlie and inform halakhic discourse. What
is nature of a legal document? What type of obligation is the command is
rid chametz? How does a blemish render an animal unfit for sacrifice?
Under which mitzva is this prohibition included? R. Chaim's success is
defined by precision of conceptual description, which is opposed to
The only time that [gavra / cheftza] is actually widely used is in
Nedarim 2b, in the distinction between vows and oaths, since there the
distinction literally is the locus of the prohibition (vows designate
an object as forbidden, oaths compel a person to act in a certain way).
Often his discussion is not remotely similar to any of the popular
"chakiras." For example, the section of the MT that gets the most
attention in R. Chaim is the recondite [Hilkhos Tum'as Meis,] in which
the pedestrian templates fail.
Distinction is a helpful tool in the art of clarity and the halakhic
world is composed of human agents and non-human objects, so parts of
his discourse may approximate the infamous [gavra / cheftza] but it is
by no means central or representative.
To be fair, the templatic perception captures certain aspects of some of
his chiddushim, and it does communicate the notion of underlying dyadic
conceptual distinctions, but I wonder about its ultimate efficacy.
2. The distinctions that approximate [gavra / cheftza] are much older
than R. Chaim. Just to give a few examples:
- Rivash (Shut 98) extends the gemara's analysis in Nedarim to all
- Rid (Eiruvin 48a) uses it describe the prohibition of transporting an
object 4 amos in the public domain on Shabbos.
- Chasam Sofer (Chullin 115b) uses it to distinguish different types
- Beis Halevi (Shut 3:51 - R. Chaim's father) uses it to explain the
nature of the mitzva to eat korbanos.
In a broader sense, this type of analysis can be found most acutely in (to
give a few examples, moving backwords) Minchas Chinuch, R. Akiva Eiger,
the works of R. Aryeh Leib Heller and R. Yaakov Lorberbaum, Peri Megadim,
and, most strikingly, by R. Judah Rosanes, whose [Mishneh laMelekh] and
[Parashas Derakhim,] two centuries ahead of their time, prefigured much
of the Brisker Torah.
Of course, the Gemara and Rishonim (Rashi and Meiri come to mind) are not
absent of this lomdus either. A recent terminological case from Daf Yomi:
take the discussion about perforating an old hole in a wine barrel on
Shabbos 146b, where Rashi describes the halakhic crux as whether or not
[paqa sheim 'pesach' mineih.]
3. R. Chaim did a lot of things.
- He tightened a terminology.
- He sharpened the analysis of halakhic concepts.
- He displayed a new way of visualizing a sugya and working through it.
- He identified the conceptual systematization that forms the substructure
of the Mishneh Torah.
- He developed a proto-philosophy of halakhic hermeneutics.
- He opened the door for gaonim like R. Shimon Shkop to take analysis
in a different direction.
- By shifting the backdrop from practical halakha to halakha itself, he
enabled us to see halakhic concepts not only as useful for determining
practice, but as a way through which to view and interact with the
Each of these deserves a sustained, independent analysis to identify
the existing terminologies and approaches that R. Chaim drew on, and
the extent of his own innovative prowess.
Most powerfully though, he forever changed the halakhic consciousness.
Conceptual analysis is now an inexorable part of the talmudic arsenal. Any
advanced student of traditional Gemara who sits down to learn has been
sensitized to the possibility of a conceptual distinction at play,
even if they have no intention of using what they consider "the Brisker
method." For some, R. Chaim's thought is so overwhelming that one can
never look at Gemara differently again. But I might venture to say that
its power lies in the recognition that even if someone does not walk down
the path R. Chaim cleared, then that is precisely what they are doing:
not learning like R. Chaim. R. Chaim fundamentally defined the contours
of halakhic thought, and we are all in his debt.
[Ki gadol sheim avinu beYisrael, ve'or Toraso male'ah teiveil -- misof
ha'olam ad sofo mamash, umi zeh milomedei Sorah bedoreinu asher lo zarach
alav or shimsho venogah Soraso.]
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