Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Poskim and Styles of Psak

Listening to R' Jeremy Wieder's introductory shiur to teaching Yoreh Deah and Chullin this year. He was talking about supplementary materials one might learn in addition to Tur, Beis Yosef, Shulchan Aruch, Shach and Taz. Here's a paraphrase:

You can learn the Aruch haShulchan, you'll get a great review of the material, and a strong grasp of minhag. Many people think the Aruch haShulchan is meikil, compared to the Mishneh Brurah, but as Rabbi Broyde has shown, he's a defender of minhag, the way we do things. The Mishneh Brurah is full of his own chumras, contrary to minhag, phrased as "baal nefesh yachmir", the master of his soul should be strict here.

R' Schachter tells of R' Amital, who said that when he was a kid in yeshiva, learning Mishnah Brurah, he would come across stuff for the baal nefesh, and say "I'm no baal nefesh, that's not for me." Nowadays, everybody thinks they're a baal nefesh, and has to be machmir.

There was a late lamented Left-Wing Modern Orthodox group, part of whose mission was to translate the Aruch haShulchan, believing that that was the ideal halacha book for the Modern Orthodox. You know, I agree with that - if all of the Modern Orthodox behaved according to the laws in the Aruch haShulchan, Moshiach would come.

There are two kinds of poskim, you'll find - those that respond to the sho'el (asker) and those that respond to the sh'eilah (question). R' Moshe Feinstein was the first kind. You look at his responsa on hearing aids and microphones on Shabbat - the halachic principles are the same - and you see what he says about the hearing aids, it's clear he's trying to help the sho'el. R' Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, on the other hand, in Minchas Shlomo, his arguments are so clear, so lucid.

A hundred years from now, I don't think anyone will be learning the Igros Moshe. You all, well, were at best toddlers when R' Moshe died. I was a teenager, I never met him, but people around me treated him as this giant. Any talmid chacham in the beit midrash can poke holes in a lot of his arguments. But he was responding to the sho'el. RSZ Auerbach was responding to the question. I think, 2-300 years down the line, Igros Moshe may have vanished, but people will still refer to the Minchas Shlomo.


micha said...

I think you're (R' Wieder is?) making the same error as Dr Haym Soloveitchik did in Rupture and Reconstruction.

Textual, formal, law has at least two antonyms: mimetic behavior and aggadic values. IOW, one can deny the word "textual" or one can acknowledge that Jewish guidelines go beyond law. That is how RDrHS conflates mimetic halakhah (eg the Arukh haShulchan) with the "erev Shabbos Jew"'s value-based life. One can (although shouldn't) live by submission to the AhS's halakhah without imbibing underlying values either.

True, those uncodifiable values are best relayed mimetically, by inhaling them with one's culture. But they're very different things.


thanbo said...

I don't think he was making that point, quite - I think he was being snarky, saying that it would be a great thing if the MO-Lite used the AhS as their posek acharon, and actually lived up to their ideals. Not that the AhS' approach is necessarily better, but that strong adherence to halachic behavior is better than not.

micha said...

There is someone on Avodah who is either LWMO (not to be confused with MO-lite, particularly not in his case!) or perhaps UTJ, who made the following two claims on list in the same sitting. It's a few years back, but the inconsistency seemed so glaring to me, it stuck in my head:

1- His wife needn't cover her hair, because we know from minhag Litta that there is no such obligation.

2- She could, however, be active in her WTG, since it is conducted in a manner that conforms to the technical details of the law.


thanbo said...

#1) I don't think I need to tell you that the AhS does not permit women to go around with uncovered heads.

#2) Listening to the next shiur, R' Wieder does address the Dr. Grach article in response to a question, saying that we can't really pasken from minhag the way Tosfos does (citing Jacob Katz for the idea that Tosfos' program involves reconciling the Gemara with Ashkenazi practice), because we don't really have the kind of kehilla kedosha that they had in Europe and before. We don't have the "community of observants", whatever the source of the textually-deviant minhag was.

A posek takes into account (for R' JW) mekoros, the cultural context, the questioner, etc.

He also talked a bit about RMF and milk, apparently he's not aware that R' Henkin and others were ruling the same way for decades before, since he just took it for granted that people were drinking milk on the assumption that it was OK, not realizing that new technology (centralized dairies and refrigeration) made it more difficult to verify the integrity of the product stream.

He put the change at refrigeration, probably not realizing that before modern compressive refrigeration, milk was shipped daily from the Mountains to the City with ice-based refrigeration.

I'm rather into the local railroads that used to serve my parents' area in the Catskills, so I've been learning about the dairy industry as it was from the late 19th century onwards.

With the advent of trains, dairy farming became practical - farmers brought raw milk to a creamery, the creamery made milk, cream, butter, etc., and put it in tanks surrounded by ice water, then moved it to reefer cars that were also tanks surrounded by ice water, for shipment to the cities.

In the wintertime, the railroads were kept busy harvesting ice from local ponds, and shipping it to the creameries to store in icehouses, padded down with sawdust to keep it cool.

So the milk that was drawn this morning, and yesterday afternoon, went to our grandparents' apartments tomorrow morning. My mother remembers hearing the horse-drawn milk and ice carts, before the War, when she was very small.

We were drinking centralized milk decades before the War, before modern refrigeration.

Anonymous said...

"It's a few years back, but the inconsistency seemed so glaring to me, it stuck in my head:

1- His wife needn't cover her hair, because we know from minhag Litta that there is no such obligation.

2- She could, however, be active in her WTG, since it is conducted in a manner that conforms to the technical details of the law."

The inconsistency can be resolved by saying, as the gemara does, that "ein 'lo rainu' raayah".

Michael Kopinsky said...

anonymous: Kindly explain what you mean.

(I was actually a fetus when Rav Moshe passed away - I was born 36 days later.)

thanbo said...

It shouldn't need pointing out, but for some reason it always does, that even if it was "minhag Litta" or "minhag America" not to cover the hair, that never became law. Both the AhS and RMF say that one can pray in the presence of uncovered hair, because so many women uncover that b'avonoseinu harabim, it has ceased to have the subjective effect of ervah, but it is still objectively necessary to cover.

Michael Kopinsky said...

I understood what you said. I was perplexed by Anonymous's resolution of the inconsistency. Do you know what he's trying to say?

micha said...

Anonymous doesn't seem to be answering but I think he attacked one side of the paradox I repeated from Avodah, the fellow who would pick whether to go with mimetic or texual evidence inconsistently. I saw him rejecting the evidence from Litta (the side where the writer went mimetic), by saying "lo ra'inu eino ra'ayah", the lack seeing any hair coverings is no ra'ayah.

Not a real resolution of the inconsistency, but a rejection of it.


Michael Kopinsky said...

I thought he was saying that with regard to WTG, there is no particular minhag against them, it's just that the question was never asked before. I wasn't sure if that's what he meant, which is why I asked him for clarification.

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

i was assuming like michael kopinsky's last comment

Anonymous said...

B. Brown makes much the same point as R' Wieder. Great post!