Friday, July 20, 2007

psak on hashkafa and formulating a torah theology

I have been trying for 3 days to complete a post on the subject of ikkarei emunah, hashkafa, and psak, and I keep putting off finishing it, but by coincidence Matt posted on the same topic yesterday and got me to crystallize my thoughts a little more (see comments to his post). Let me start with this: There is a notion of there being no psak in matters of hashkafa, leading in its most extreme formulation to the premis “out there” in jblogger velt which says that in areas of hashkafa one can basically formulate one’s own theology without any regard to mesorah, opinions of Rishonim, achronim etc. If there is no psak, then in a machlokes between me and the Rambam there can be no final world on who is right and who is wrong. (Just for the record: this is NOT Matt’s view!) All that psak halacha can determine is behavior, but in matters of belief, anything goes. Is such a view compatible with Judaism? I would have thought the answer "No" is obvious, but I underestimate the degree people can misinterpret Judaism : )

The first point to be made is that many people who point to the Rambam’s statement in a few places in Peirush haMishnayos that he cannot offer a “psak” on hashkafa and note that this position was adopted by R’ Aryeh Kaplan z”l in one of his essays seem to forget R’ Aryeh Kaplan’s other point made in the same speech: “So the first principle is that, in any question of hashkafah, one must go back to sources. If a person wants to develop a hashkafah, this is the way it must be. A person must be careful to make sure that the great gedolim of the past did not say the opposite.” Hashkafa is not a free for all. Hashkafa is not about what theology you choose to espouse and feel comfortable with, but what theology the giants of the Jewish people have espoused and said a Jew should be comfortable with and live by. There can be no machlokes between me and the Rambam in hashkafa any more than I can decide to read a gemara differently than the Rambam and think my version is correct. This is obvious and should go without saying, but I’ll just put it on record because there is a “yesh omrim” that doesn’t even get past this stage.

But now we get down to more serious business. The Rambam after all does say that in disputes among Tanaim in areas of emunah he cannot offer a psak where there is no practical ramification. Meaning, when there is a dispute among Tanaim, Amoraim, gedolim (not me vs. the Rambam!) involving matters of belief, there is no concept of being bound to one view over the other.

Tosfos (Yevamos 86b d”h mipnei) in the middle of a halachic discussion makes the passing comment (relevant to the construction their argument) that “kayma lan Malachi zeh Ezra”, we pasken that Malachi is the same person as Ezra (see Megillah 15 for other opinions). The Mahartz Chiyus asks: how can Tosfos possibly pasken on an issue like this? The entire discussion of who Malachi was is a historical fact, and the issue is one of aggadita, belief, not halacha. You can’t pasken an aggadita or pasken historical facts!

So what shall we say – do we want to turn this issue into a machlokes Rambam and Tosfos about whether you can pasken an issue like who we believe a historical figure was? Or is there a way to reconcile the two positions?


  1. Mike S.11:14 AM

    While you and I can no more pasken hashkafa than halacha, one could make an argument that no one today could declare any beliefs that the Tannaim and Amoraim did not consider to be k'firah (in the sense as to render the shchita of someone professing the belief invalid) to be so. I do not know of any posek who addresses this directly, but I have seen some who do so indirectly. One that I read recently (and can cite without looking up) is Tshuvot Bnei Banim 4:27 which is addressing the question of whether the Meshichists among Chabad should be considered heretics (he says no, by the way.) In the course of his discussion Rav Y. H. Henkin mentions the Talmudic authority who argues that Yemot Hamashiach was in the time of Chizkiayu HaMelech; while this view is rejected, it was not considered k'firah. I infer (although not stated explicitly) that Rav Henkin is of the opinion that we cannot have a broader definition of k'firah than the Talmud, even though there are beliefs around which we have developed an overwhelming consensus in post-Talmudic times, or even more recently, as Dr. Shapiro's book on the Ikkarim demonstrates in some cases.

  2. Excellent post.

    1. Eilu ve'eilu seems to indicate that hachra'ah is impossible. The best we can do is pasken hanhagah. That only applies where there is hanhagah, but not in hashkafah. I don't believe that Tosfos could argue with that.

    2. Regarding R' Eliezer and R' Yehoshua Be'Nissan/BeTishrei nivra ha'olam: we pasken like both, even though they are mutually exclusive.

    3. In Reishis Hagez, we pasken that it is a chiyuv in Chutz La'aretz, but the minhag of being meikil was finally dispositive. Would minhag affect hashkafa? Of course, that sounds ridiculous. So how could psak affect hashkafah?

    4. As I've mentioned before, in cases of hefsed me'rubah, we can pasken like a yachid. Can you do that in Hashkafa too? Come to think of it, that's a great tool for kiruv. Something might be kefira for most people, but for yechidim, who would be turned off by the more fundamental reading, we can pasken like the yachid. Certainly, going off the derech is a hefsed merubah.

    I am looking forward to interesting comments on this subject.

  3. >>>1. Eilu ve'eilu seems to indicate that hachra'ah is impossible. The best we can do is pasken hanhagah. That only applies where there is hanhagah, but not in hashkafah. I don't believe that Tosfos could argue with that.

    Why - if we can decide what people should do, why can we not decide what people should believe? What do you do with my Tosfos in Yevamos?

    Re; when nivra ha'olam, there are many answers to reconcile, e.g. briya b'machshava vs. briya b'ma'aseh, so both may be true. Rashi in Kesubos says if 2 Amoraim have different reports of what a Tanna said both can't be true even using eilu v'eilu (I forget what daf), so there must be a way to reconcile.

    I don't understand your proof from reishis hageiz.

    As for #4, let me ask you this: b'makom hefsed would you allow machshirei milah to be doche shabbos? I'm pretty sure the answer is no - even though such a view existed among Tanaim, it is categorically rejected. So why in some cases of halacha do you make allowances to be someich on a shitas yachid for hefsed merubah and in other cases not? Whatever your answer for not, apply it to hashkafa.

    Mike S., I have not seen R' Henkin's tshuvah inside so I can't comment. Is it online somewhere?

  4. > Hashkafa is not a free for all. Hashkafa is not about what theology you choose to espouse and feel comfortable with, but what theology the giants of the Jewish people have espoused and said a Jew should be comfortable with and live by

    Sure. But the people inventing the new Hashkafas hold that Spinoza, Mendelsohn and Heshchel are the giants of the Jewish people.

  5. All I can say is: Exactly.

  6. Tal Benschar1:28 PM

    Part of the problem is that the word "hashkafa" -- which to my knowledge was coined fairly recently -- is elastic and covers anything from basic ikkarei emunah all the way to vague attitudes about things in the world (e.g. is the founding of a modern Jewish state to be viewed positively or negatively? Are we to encourage or discourage intellectual interaction with the non-Jewish world).

    Ikkarei emunash are halakha with well-defined nafka minas. As to them a psak is not all possible but likely.

    As to other things covered by the penumbra of "hashkafa," I am not so sure.

  7. Mike S.1:42 PM

    Chaim B.:

    I don't know of an on line source. I have the sefer in hardcopy; Gil Student (Yashar books) will be happy to sell you one for $10.00 last I checked.

  8. After reading Matt's posts and yours, and reflecting upon both positions for a while, I think the distinction to be made is as follows:

    Just as we must develop practical norms that define and shape our communal hanhaga, so too must we reach a consensus with regard to what beliefs will or will not be considered legitimate in our community. The Tanach explicitly presents some fundamental Jewish beliefs while only alluding to other tenets, the Rabbis of the Talmud elaborated on them, as did the Rambam, etc. Both the range of theological opinions we hold, and the range of behaviors we engage in must be governed by a system which is put in place by the Baale Hamesora.

    At the same time though, neither our normative practice nor our normative beliefs have any impact on objective reality. We may ultimately be wrong about our halachic positions "in the eyes of Heaven" while being on firm ground from the standpoint of the halachic system itself.

    The same goes for the realm of theology and belief. Our acceptance of certain principles may have social significance in terms of setting the parameters of the community's self-definition religiously, but cannot possibly be held to determine the objective truth of metaphysics or hashqafa.

    In this sense, Judaism is differentiated from, say, the Catholic Church, in which Popes can promulgate statements that definitively establish whether certain events did or did not happen a certain way in actuality, thousands of years later in retrospect. Once the Pope speaks ex cathedra, the event in question is considered to have happened the way he says it did, even in the absence of any further evidence or proofs.

    As a system rooted in "lo bashamayim hee", we must, to a certain extent, satisfy ourselves with fealty to a divinely ordained, Baale-Mesora-driven system which may or may not represent the ultimate Divine reality in every detail but still carries Divine authority.

  9. Chaim,

    Great post, and excellent question. I'd answer off the top of my head, but I think I'll exercise some emunas chachamim and get back to you later!

    P.S. Thanks for making sure people don't misunderstand my view!

  10. great post.

    Mike: Reb Elchonen hy''d writes in Koveitz Maamarim that the Amora Hillel in Cheilek who maintains that we already had Moshiach in times of Chizkiyahu was a kofer!

  11. Ben, I will bl"n get to that amora in the next post on this topic, but (and I haven't seen this R" Elchanan inside) the Sefer haIkkarim is explicit that you can't possibly say as amora in a kofer; this is proof that the Rambam's list of ikkarim is too broad.

    RJM - this is another topic to delve into in greater depth, but I am not sure I agree that halacha does not determine "objective" reality. I touched on this 2 days ago in the post on bechira chofshis, but much more to be said on it.

  12. There is an interesting Shev Shmaitsa in his introduction, letter Pei, where he brings the Gemora in Kesuvos 111 and the Gemora in Chelek that "ha'omeir ein techiyas hameisim min hatorah ein lo chelek le'olam haba." He says this means that you believe in techiyas hameisim, but you don't believe it is in the Torah, then ein lo cheilek.

    Anyway, there are a bunch of ein lo cheileks. Someone paskened that way. The reason I mention this one is because the Gemora in Kesuvos is mashma, according to the ShSh, that it is tolui in a machlokes. And even so, it says that if you pick the wrong side, ein lo cheilek...

  13. Am enjoying this topic very much, yashar koach.

  14. Mendel2:09 PM

    This was posted a long time ago so I don't know if it will ever be read, but the Younger Light blog:

    has posted what seems to be a clear and compelling approach to paskening Hashkafa, by Rav Yaakov Shapiro: