Friday, July 27, 2007

final thoughts on psak, hashkafa, and ikkarei emunah

For some reason I really don’t enjoy writing about this topic so I’m going to make it brief. Some more (final?) thoughts on psak and hashkafa:

1) Shapiro writes, “I have said, and I repeat now, that no rishonim that I am aware of, and certainly not Rambam, believed that Principles of Faith can be decided in a halakhic fashion.” I’m really confused by this one: aren’t there dinim that tell us who is a min? Wasn’t that the whole point of the 13 ikkarim?

2) I assume Shapiro meant the more narrow claim that halacha cannot decide between different shitos of theology. His proof: since Rishonim critique the Rambam as having rejected views which were at one time espoused by Chachamim without considering that the Rambam chose to pasken against those views, QED psak is impossible. I don’t follow the logic here. These Rishonim assumed that an ikar must be axiomatic, not something over which there was different views (see Sefer haIkkarim 1:3). Even Rishonim like the Sefer haIkarim who do not have substantive disagreement with the Rambam still take issue with his labeling matters upon which there was disagreement as ikkarim. While Shapiro highlights these views, he seems to forget that the Rambam himself obviously disagreed with them! And, as Shapiro himself demonstrates in the first chapter of his book, most achronim accept the Rambam’s 13 ikkarim despite the critique leveled against them. This is no different than any other area where Rishonim stake out different position and tradition has accepted one view over the other, namely the view of the Rambam that labels an ikar as a significant belief even though views to the contrary may have once existed. Note as well that Rishonim like Albo do not disagree with the notion of deciding which beliefs are correct (e.g. Albo assumes one must believe in mashiach even though a Rabbi Hillel in the gemara did not hold of such a belief) - they disagree only with the semantic issue of labelling these beliefs as ikkarim.

3) There is a recurring claim in comments that belief is different than action, but no one has gone beyond stating this as a truism to adequately explain why or what source would indicate this. Furthermore, and this is a critical point: isn’t every statement about what to do implicitly a statement about belief? One cannot don Rashi’s tefillin every morning and simultaneously believe that Rabeinu Tam was correct in how the parshiyos should be ordered. If you put on Rashi’s tefillin it is because you believe that such an act fulfills the will of G-d. Actions are just expressions of our beliefs, So why the distinction?

4) With regards to paskening on a “metziyus”, e.g. as raised in the comments, how can we use the rules of halacha to determine the historical truth of who wrote the last 8 verses of the Torah. Answer: we are not defining a metziyus, but deciding that one version of the mesorah is more authentic than another version. For example, if most historians date the birth of Ploni to July 4 and one historian claims his birth was July 5, assuming that Ploni was born on July 4 is simply choosing to accept the consensus view as a good indicator of what is factually accurate. The Mahartz Chiyus explains Tos, in Yevamos (to finally get back to that!) as properly claiming Malachi was Ezra because the targum proves that version of the mesorah more reliable.

5) None of the places in Peirush haMishna where the Rambam says he cannot pasken deal with necessary beliefs. I don’t see why these statement have any bearing on ikkarei emunah, which are necessary beliefs - you can't just throw up your hands and say you have no idea, because by definition these are required beliefs. Nor do these statements contradict Tos, because Tosfos needed to decide a historical question for the sake of bolstering a halachic argument. Where there are equally valid sevaros and claims and there is no pressing need to choose one mesorah over the other, or where the debate is of such a nature that one cannot choose one over the other, why should one do so? That's all the Rambam was saying. Why has this simply rule become a mantra among those who want to claim halacha cannot decide ikkarim?


  1. Mike S.12:42 PM

    With regard to point 3, that is not quite true. Consider the machloket of Tanur shel Achnai: Rabbi Eliezer believed that HaKadosh baruch Hu said it was Tahor. And a Bat kol supported his belief. Nonetheless, the halacha required him, after his colleagues had voted otherwise, to treat it as tamei, even to the point of burning what he believed to be trumah tehorah. The halacha did not require him to change his belief, as this is not an ikkar emunah; just that his actions had to conform with the halacha pesukah of the Beit din hagadol.

    With regard to 4, the Maritz Chayes seems to me to be questioning Tosphos's use of the phrase "V'kayma lan" which would imply a p'sak, about a matter in which there is no halachic consequence. He answers,"Sure, it's not a psak, but since Targum Yonaton follows it, we need have no doubt." I think his point is that even Tosphos wouldn't call someone who didn't believe that Malachi was Ezra a kofer (or there would be a consequence, for example, it would be forbidden to eat from his shchitta).

    One has to, it seems to me, accept that the halacha can decide questions of belief--what else is the mitzvah of "Anochi Hashem Elokecha" after all, but a required belief. The only question I would like to raise is whether a post-talmudic consensus about a matter not resolved by the Gemarra, i.e. one in which we have no Mesorah ish me pi ish to Moshe Rabbeinu, has any bearing. It seems to me that that is hard to see how, despite the apparent view of the Rambam, since consensus cannot decide empirical facts.

  2. >>>The halacha did not require him to change his belief... just that his actions had to conform with the halacha pesukah of the Beit din hagadol.

    Someone who acts contrary to what they really believe is a hypocrite. Aside from the fact that the Rambam calls someone who is "makchish magideha" a min (and nowhere does it say this applies only to acting on contradictory belief), what does religion amount to if someone can say "I really think the Rabbis are nuts but I will play along anyway"? The whole point of actions mitzvos may in fact be to inculcate true beliefs (as the Sefer haChinuch often writes); you are putting the cart before the horse and reversing the whole system.

    >>>Sure, it's not a psak,

    Tosfos says, "kayma lan", which is the whole basis for the Mahart"z Chiyos' kashe. The answer is you can have a psak where there is a consensus of mesorah.

    >>>I think his point is that even Tosphos wouldn't call someone who didn't believe that Malachi was Ezra a kofer

    Of course not - a kofer is someone who denies ikkarei emunah. Disagreeing with Tos. psak on who Malachi was no more makes you a kofer than disagreeing with a Tosfos in Bava Kama somewhere.

    >>>since consensus cannot decide empirical facts

    Aside from your isolated example the last 8 pesukim of the Torah (dealt with in comments to previous post), what other facts do the ikkarei emunah relate to?

  3. Mike S.1:44 PM

    See my comments on the other thread.

    1) So what was Rabbi Eliezer supposed to do? Reject his belief despite explicit Divine support in the form of a bat kol? Reject his colleagues' ruling? Or live with the contradiction? He chose to ignore his colleagues which, the Gemarra makes clear, was not the correct choice. I suppose you would say he should reject his earlier belief, but that choice is certainly not explicit in the Gemarra. Rabbi Yehoshua's reply to the bat kol, and Rabbi Natan's(?) conversation with Eliyahu indicates that Rabbi Eliezer's error is not so much about HaKadosh Baruch Hu's intention regarding the oven as it was regarding "Lo Tassur" taking precedence over any lesser form of Revelation, such as a Bat Kol. The requirement to respect the decision of the Beit Din Hagadol does not require him to accept a false belief regarding G-d's intention for the oven. The fact that many mitzvot are designed to inculcate proper beliefs does not mean that there can be no exceptions.

    2) Machish magideha refers specifically to rejecting a claim coming from a mesorah ish mi pi ish from Har Sinai. See the Rav's essay mentioned on the other thread. (Note: that doesn't mean it is ok to reject the p'sak of Chazal derived from midot she hatorah nidreshet bahem.)

    3) I am not sure I understand what you think Maharitz Chayes question was. I think his question is how Tosphos uses the lashon of "Kayma lan," which implies p'sak, regarding a matter without Halachic consequences, since he says "v'gam eich nofel binyan zeh lashon 'v'kayma lan' d'harei ein nafka mina l'dina." If his question was about how Tosphot resolves a machloket regarding a fact in the Gemarra, his answer makes no sense, since the Amoraim knew targum Yonaton at least as well as Tosphot and Maharitz Chayes.

  4. I guess me must agree to disagree, because I find the notion of behaving outwardly in conformity to halacha while inwardly thinking it is all false to be a mockery of true belief, and you seem to be okay with it. What to be is a reductio ad absurdum is to you the normal course of events, so I do not know what else to say.

    Since you cite the Rav, I must wonder how you square your belief that "The requirement to respect the decision of the Beit Din Hagadol does not require him to accept a false belief regarding G-d's intention for the oven" - i.e. do what B"D says even if you believe they are wrong - with the statement of R' Hershel Schachter, who has written ( "There are individuals who consider themselves Orthodox who believe that at one time the Jewish people did have a Divine Torah, but the amoraim misunderstood the tannaim, the rishonim misunderstood the Talmud, and the achronim misunderstood the rishonim. “But don’t get me wrong,” they would say “– I’m Orthodox! And therefore I feel that the laws of the Shulchan Aruch are all binding, even though I think everything is in error.” This is not the Orthodox position. If one is really convinced that a certain psak is really in error, he is not permitted to follow it."

  5. R. Chaim . How do you lern this halacha?

    אין זקן ממרא חייב מיתה, עד שיהיה חכם שהגיע להוראה, סמוך בסנהדרין, ויחלוק על בית דין בדבר שחייבין על זדונו כרת ועל שגגתו חטאת, או בתפילין; ויורה לעשות כהוראתו, או יעשה הוא על פי הוראתו; ויחלוק עליהם, והם יושבין בלשכת הגזית

    How do you explain
    או יעשה הוא על פי הוראתו
    if he believes he is right?

    This is just a side issue. I think that you miss that consensus is not an accross the board rule. it applise where halacha tells us it does and nowhere else. Chidush hu ve'ein lach bo .... Rambam is telling us that things that are not noge'a lema'asseh consensus does not apply.

  6. Mike S.3:02 PM

    In general, of course we must believe that the Halacha as we practice it reflects Mattan Torah. Otherwise, what are we doing? We would be both hypocrites and fools. But when it comes to each individual p'sak, I don't know. How does Rabbi Schachter understand the continuation of the Gemarra in HaZahav after the decision? Is there some way to read it as approving of R' Eliezer's conduct? Without reading it as disapproving of the conduct of the chachamim who placed him in herem (which is the normative halacha)? I had heard Rav Schechter's shiur (or maybe some other one where he used the same words) on the web, and deeply wished I had been there in person to ask.

  7. One more point. If I recall correctly the idea of following rov in halacha nowadays is a Beit yossef chidush. Our Chabura once worked through it and if i am correct even the Rivosh did not have that idea. The chidush of BY had quite a few detractors . It is hard enough that we accept Maran's chidush in halacha, (not all do but it is the consensus!) dont put hashkafa under the same umbrella!

  8. Re your discussion about R. elezer. Again you have to go to Mamrim:

    א בית דין הגדול שדרשו באחת מן המידות כפי מה שנראה בעיניהם שהדין כך, ודנו דין, ועמד אחריהם בית דין אחר, ונראה לו טעם אחר לסתור אותו הדין--הרי זה סותר, ודן כפי מה שייראה בעיניו: שנאמר "אל השופט, אשר יהיה בימים ההם" (דברים יז,ט)--אין אתה חייב ללכת, אלא אחר בית דין שבדורך.

    IOW when it is not a dvar mekubal and chazal used the 13 midot each BD, even if not Gadol mimenu... could revisit and decide anew. Consensus was binding on all. R. eliezer was stubborn so according to some that is why Shamuta Hu.

  9. >>>It is hard enough that we accept Maran's chidush in halacha, (not all do but it is the consensus!) dont put hashkafa under the same umbrella!

    How you choose who to pasken like is a seperate question entirely.