A Grand Theory of Halachic Everything

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11 Responses

  1. Baruch Gitlin says:

    Thank you for linking to and reviewing this most thought-provoking article.

  2. S. says:

    “I will be surprised (and disappointed) if it does not generate as much discussion as Dr Haym Soloveitchik’s “Rupture and Reconstruction” article did in its time.”

    That was very possible when it appeared in Tradition in 1994. I’d be surprised if such a single article generating so much discussion and thought is possible anymore, no more than there can really be epoch-defining record albums.

  3. Shades of Gray says:

    “I found his general theory especially compelling in his overall observations about the speed at which change can occur within halacha, and whose voices will and will not be trusted in suggesting those changes.”

    I think that the basic hashkafah/affiliation of someone who suggests something can raise a red flag of caution as far as the motivation being in the wrong direction, but ultimately thinking through and explaining an issue is a much more important response than who originated the idea. There is however a joke about an European Rav who did the opposite of what people in the street did, due to the “sechel of the baal habayis being [automatically] the opposite from the sechel of the Torah”, and at times one may sorely tempted to apply such advice 🙂

  4. joel rich says:

    It became immediately apparent that he did not intend to imply in any manner or form that ikarei ha-dos are contrivances meant to find meaning in a way of life, rather than a legitimate parts of the mesorah.
    I’m sure R’MK didn’t intend such an inference, but does it give you pause for thought that such an inference could explain the facts on the ground? Probably not, since we do believe that mesorah, but it makes it a bit more understandable why not everyone else sees it the way we do.

  5. Leon Zacharowicz MD says:

    In short, what we generally think of as principles of faith is simply a narrative that codifies the sense of meaningfulness that accompanies true commitment to the moral system

    Silly me. Here I thought, all these years, that halacha stemmed from the rigorous application of principles of Talmudic methodology, as understood by generations of scholars, whereas it is merely a narrative aimed at meaningfulness.

    My question is: how does this theory make any meaningful difference to those whose life’s work is understanding halacha and in some cases effecting change (as some of us have tried to do, with varying degrees of success, in fields such as medical halacha)?

  6. dr. bill says:

    prof. soloveitchik addressed the important question of “why” a set of changes occurred. prof. koppel is addressing “how,” creating a useful analogy between how language and halakha transform. It would be entirely erroneous to ascribe, particularly to a discussion of “how,” any valuation of changes or any claim to what constitutes legitimate change. if anything, prof. koppel’s excellent essay adds depth to what is well known: absent a mimetic tradition, words can be badly misconstrued.

  7. joel rich says:

    dr. bill,
    To me the interesting question is how self aware are poskim of the sociological analysis of the how; if not acutely, would their becoming aware of it change their own how?? (a partial analogy, do websites that predict airline pricing patterns for future fares impact the future fares?)
    Joel Rich

  8. E. Fink says:

    Wow. This might just be the most amazing article I have ever read. Thank you for sharing it.

    I think your concern about Section V can be solved another way. There is a reason that our mesorah includes articles of faith. There is a reason they were codified. There is a reason they were accepted. These reasons fit in neatly with Dr. Koppel’s theory. It didn’t HAVE to be that we had articles of faith and it didn’t HAVE to be that these are our articles of faith. They are there because they serve an important need. A need that Dr. Koppel identifies.

  9. Bob Miller says:

    Is this one of those theories that seems to fit what already happened but has no ability to predict?

  10. dr. bill says:

    Joel Rich, I am not so convinced we know the “how.” The language analogy is a good one, but not all that exact. In terms of a feedback loop, I tend to doubt it. If rabbis paid more attention to the “how” they might try to accelerate adoption of their POV; I do not think it axiomatically changes (or impacts) their decisions all that much. (Some rabbis might choose a decision more likely to be accepted under a “half a loaf..” rationale.) Your airline example, and the documented cases in other industries where pricing policies and strategies were made (more) public are more analogous to publicizing not the “how” or the “why” but the “what.” I suspect that greater exposure of psakim does give some rabbis pause, particularly from rendering liberal decisions. Sadly, I do not think it works the other way.

    i have seen psakim by RMF ztl privately addressed that differ from his public tshuvot in Igrot Moshe. His rationale is more than legitimate; if RMF says someone like person X, but not everyone, can do action Y, many people will say – I am also like X. for that reason he asked that his psak not be made public. BTW, when the addressee’s son died, his daughter found letters to her grandfather from RMF in her father’s library. they were was not revealed to anyone for over 50 years. she cherishes the knowledge of how RMF viewed her grandfather and trusted he would use a heter judiciously.

  11. YEA says:

    The title of this post reminds me of my time in yeshiva in 2005 when the mashgiach gave a shmooze on the subject of the Slifkin books and the heresy contained therein. One of the highlights was when he picked up one of the books and read from Rabbi Adlerstein’s review on the back cover, “The Jewish Theory of Everything has arrived!” As I recall, this, plus Rabbi Adlerstein’s use of the phrase “responsible Kabbalah”, was said to epitomize everything that is wrong with the books. From the tone in which he read it, I surmise that he didn’t have the slightest clue as to what the Theory of Everything is, and he was under the impression that Rabbi Adlerstein had coined the phrase himself.

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