Friday, May 01, 2009

the command to be mechadesh -- for the right reasons

The Netziv understands the warning, "U'shmartem es chukosai v'es mishpatai asher ya'aseh osam ha'adam v'chai bahem" (18:5) not as a general exhortation to observe mitzvos, but as a specific command to be an "oseh", to create and innovate in Torah. We ask Hashem daily in Ahavah Rabbah to give us the ability to "lilmod u'lelameid, lishmor, v'la'asos, u'l'kayeim" -- "la'asos" is distinct from the shmiras hamitzvos of "kiyum" and is connected to the process of limud haTorah. Study, limud, must eventually lead to la'asos, creative insight and chiddush.

The Mishna at the end of Kiddushin that tells us "Avraham asah es kol haTorah ad shelo nitna" may be interpreted to mean not that Avraham practically fulfilled every aspect of the Torah, but that he intuited and was mechadesh halacha even before it was given.

Using this insight, the Netziv offers a brilliant answer to a famous question posed by the Rishonim. The gemara (Brachos 17) darshens the paskuk "seichel tov l'chol oseihem" to refer to those who are "osim lishma", because if one engages in Torah shelo lishma it would be better if he/she were never born. Rashi and Tosfos are bothered by this gemara's harsh critique of shelo lishma when Chazal tell us that l'olam ya'asok adam b'Torah u'mitzvos afilu she'lo lishma as that will eventually lead one to the higher level of lishma. Netviv answers that when Chazal tell us that she'lo lishma is acceptable, they are referring to the study of Torah, the accumulation of knowledge and wisdom. The gemara in Brachos, however, refers to those who are "oseihem" -- "osim lishma", meaning those who are engaged in new interpretation and insight, chiddush. Study can be pursued for any aim, but chiddush and change demand pure motive and intention.

This novel interpretation of the Netziv is echoed by many poskim. R' Moshe Feinstein writes (Igros Moshe 4:49) regarding women innovating practices like wearing a talis, etc. in the name of equality that while there is nothing technically wrong with the action involved, it is a chiddush in the sense of departing from previous tradition, and therefore must be undertaken only with the purest intent and motive. Rabbi Arye Frimer quotes the policy of the Chief Rabbi of Britain in his paper on women's minyan: "The most important consideration, however is the motive underlying the request. If this is genuinely put forward by observant students seeking, as you write, "a religiously fulfilling experience," it is one thing... But if the true intention is to challenge the accepted by symbolic reforms, then clearly greater caution is called for. As a protest action, what begins with relatively minor modifications may well end with far more serious violations of accepted practices. . . . " Rav Hershel Shachter has similarly stated, "How much more so when one wants to be mechadeish to reverse an accepted position, we must be sure that the author of the original idea is not formulating his chidush shelo lishma - just to gain popularity or for some other ulterior motive. Although it is permissible, and even encouraged, for one to learn shelo lisham, for one to be mechadeish shelo lishma is not allowed (see pg. 26 in B'Ikvei Hatson)."

Two final observations: firstly, because of this concern for motive I think in recent times we have seen a reactionary pull away from all chiddush, a la the Chasam Sofer's famous dictum "chadash assur min haTorah". Even where innovation is clearly called for and undertaken with the best intentions, there are those reject it in the name of preserving the status quo. This approach abrogates the ideal of "la'asos" entirely.

Secondly, my wife has observed that the criteria of lishma does not seem universally applied. "Amein groups" and "amein parties" are widely accepted even by those who would frown at the thought of a women's "minyan", but there may be little or no difference in the motivation of the attendees. Nearly every week our inbox has an e-mail from someone advertising their efforts on a local e-mail list to try to get 43 women in total baking challah as a segulah for that week's needs for yeshua -- is this not a chiddush (I am not aware of any source for it in general, and in particular wonder why the modern orthodox community in which I live is so adopting of segulos and minhagim from outside sources) that should be communally adopted only with proper motivation? Yet, practices such as these pass unquestioned. A feminist or cynic would perhaps rightfully wonder if our concern for lishma only extends to areas where the male dominated heirarchy is at risk.

In short, each situation demands careful evaluation. We must personally aspire to innovate and be mechadesh for the right reasons, but at the same time must be careful of crushing others creative insights by questioning their sincerity and motive. A very delicate balance indeed.

17 comments:

  1. Nothing to add. Excellent post.

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  2. Anonymous3:17 PM

    I second.

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  3. Anonymous5:36 PM

    similarly, theres also a chasam sofer that learns an issur gamur for someone who is mechadesh shelo leshma from the fact that the whole heter to write chiddushim is from eit laasot lashem which implies if its not leshma theres no heter

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  4. Anonymous7:47 AM

    Note: It is Eis *LaAsos* LaHashem...it fits nicely with theMiHaleich

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  5. very nice... where is the chasam sofer?

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  6. Anonymous10:30 PM

    the chasam sofer is in o.c. 208, last teshuvah in o.c. a famous one written to the mahritz chiyus. the quote is in the beginning of the teshuva but the entire teshuva is very interesting as you could imagine being that its written to the mahritz chiyus. other topics in the teshuva include purim and chanukah being deorisa, ain navi rashai lechadesh davar, and what is ruach hakodesh. the link is here-http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=14663&pgnum=156

    the lashon of the chasom sofer is that theres an issur deoraisa if you write shelo leshma. now even though the yearaim in 128 and tos yeshanim in yoma 70a hold that devarim shebalpeh ee atah etc. is an asmachta, but the chasam sofer leshitato in o.c. 68 holds lefi rov poskim its deorissa. also see hakdamah to y.d regarding the issur.

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  7. Tal Benschar6:18 PM

    "Amein groups" and "amein parties" are widely accepted even by those who would frown at the thought of a women's "minyan", but there may be little or no difference in the motivation of the attendees. You must be joking. The motivation of the two groups could not be more different.

    The former simply are looking for some mitzvos to do. Someone told them that saying Amein is a big zechus (which it is), so they decided to get together and say multiple ameins. (I am not a big fan of such groups, but they are harmless, like a group of women getting together to say tehillim.)

    The latter are looking to erase distinctions between men and women -- which is why they try as much as possible to imitate men and men's form of tefillah, such as holding a "krias ha Torah" with a "saved up" Birchas ha Torah, and other narishkeit.

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  8. Who told you the agenda is to erase gender distinctions and not simply to partake of the spirituality of mitzvos that are otherwise viewed as the purview of men alone? In Haviva Ner-David's book, just to take one example, she views herself on a spiritual quest and feels inspired by the mitzvah of tzitzis.

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  9. Tal, how do you know what their motives are. Are you endowed with special powers to look into each person's heart and be able to conclude that all women who go to Amen groups are sincere while women who call their groups tefilla groups are simply looking to upset the status quo? Perhaps some are. Perhaps some lawyers deserve the stereotype that make people agree with Shakespeare's, "Kill all the lawyers" statement. But would it be fair of me to tar you with that brush on the basis of your profession alone?

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  10. Tal Benschar8:06 PM

    Tal, how do you know what their motives are. Are you endowed with special powers to look into each person's heart and be able to conclude that all women who go to Amen groups are sincere while women who call their groups tefilla groups are simply looking to upset the status quo? While only HKBH can fully judge a person's intentions, one can surmise a person's state of mind from both his or her statements and the totality of how they act and what they do. That is called inference.

    The organizers of women's "minyanim" (a misnomer if there ever was one) are on record as stating that they find problematic any gender distinctions in the Torah. Furthermore, their actions speak loudly -- much of what they do is an attempt to imitate a men's minyan (such as a pseudo kriyas ha Torah with "saved up" Birkhos ha Torah) even where the imitation creates no additional kiyum ha Mitzvah other than imitating men.

    (or at times even resulting in a ziuf ha Torah -- such as a well known group in Jerusalem that insists on having 10 men and 10 women before they start davening.)

    The point has already been discussed exhaustively by the poskim who have reviewed the issue -- and they all have come to a very negative view of the matter.

    I don't know of any "amein clubs" but I do know groups of women who get together to say Tehillim. They completely lack any trappings of trying to be or act like men or take on men's mitzvos. Saying Tehillim is a time-honored tradition for both men and women. The group simply allows an opportunity for the zoggers to get together without distraction for 20 minutes. (The group also tries to split up the entire sefer Tehillim. Maybe that's an extra kiyum.)

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  11. Tal Benschar8:14 PM

    "to partake of the spirituality of mitzvos that are otherwise viewed as the purview of men alone"

    What does this mean? Are you taking about kiyum ha Mitzvos? Spiritual Feelings? From the following it appears the latter:

    " In Haviva Ner-David's book, just to take one example, she views herself on a spiritual quest and feels inspired by the mitzvah of tzitzis."

    "Feeling inspired" is nice, but not especially important or valued in Jewish tradition. (As opposed to, say, develping Ahavas Hashem or Yiras Shomayim). So in light of the yuhara problem mentioned in the poskim, I am not bowled over.

    One can "feel inspired" by listening to religious music, probably alot easier than putting on tsitsith.

    In any event, you mentioned women's minyanim, not wearing tsitsith. (I'd have a lot less of an issue with a woman who put on tsitsith in a way no one noticed. Although one still wonders why she cannot find spiritual fulfillment in the numerous mitzvoth open to men and woman alike -- learning, davening, chessed, tsedaka, etc.)

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  12. Anonymous8:35 PM

    any response/feedback to the chasam sofer post?

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  13. By coincidence I saw the same C.S. quoted elsewhere just this week. I like your connection to the Netziv, but the C.S. is a difficult chiddush, no?

    Tal, you are missing the point. Whether it is minyan ot tzitzis or anything else, the bottom line is that purporting to know people's "real" motives and dismissing their intentions on the basis of such suspicions in the absence of evidence is wrong.

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  14. Anonymous7:16 AM

    at first the chiddush sounds difficult but...

    in regards to how he can just make up a new derasha of "lashem", i found rashi in temura 14b lechora says it mefurash.

    then in regards to eit laasot not being a blanket heter, is an old issue... in yoreh deah (forgot which siman) shulchan aruch paskens based on a teshuvat rambam not to do sirtut to a talit. the shach there quotes eit laasot and says "keven dnitpashet nitpashet" which basically means you dont judge every individual eit laasot to see if its within the boundaries. however, mishnah brurah bring 3 times beshem the magen avraham not this way, and probably the most famous one is by using a klaf for haftorah where in m.b. he says its all kasher but if you have the money its better to spend it on a klaf than wasteful stuff for the beis kneset, and in shar hatzion he spells out b.c the heter of eit laasot is only when you cant do it the right way. similarly here too, the heter has its boundaries. in truth its not really a good comparison the shach and magen avroham but maybe it could be worked in. i think b/t/w that the c.s. says somehwere else like the magen avrahon which would be good as well

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  15. Let's move this discussion to a new post...

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  16. http://divreichaim.blogspot.com/2009/05/issur-of-writing-torah-shebaal-peh.html

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