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?