Halachic Process and Rabbinic Authority: R. Yissocher Katz’ Response to R. Schachter

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15 Responses

  1. Steve Brizel says:

    Once again, R Gordimer deserves a huge Yasher Koach and round of kudos for demolishing the “arguments” raised by a YCT faculty member. R Gordimer’s article demonstrates that the same are a huge and complete intellectual smoke screen for the practices and approaches advocated , supported and defended by YCT’s leaders, supporters and fellow travellers-all of which are intended and will have the consequences of inflicting grave harm to the proper transmission of Mesorah and Torah She Baal Peh, and which establish beyond doubt that the YCT instututionally, and via its faculty lack the key and necessary element of deference to greater Halachic authorities-whether on “easy” or “difficult” halachic issues, hashkafa and minhag.

  2. Bob Miller says:

    “I have read many, many halachic debate responsa, yet I have rarely, until now, observed someone challenge and present himself to a senior posek and rosh yeshiva as an equal of sorts as one observes in R. Katz’ critique of R. Schachter, R. Katz’ honorific verbiage regarding R. Schachter notwithstanding.”

    The self-inflation noted above is one reason why quality standards need to exist for determining whom we will call a posek, rosh yeshiva, rabbi, etc., regardless of how people present themselves.

  3. Rafael A. says:

    A couple of comments.

    1) I have not read R’ Katz’s response “inside”. However, if this is an accurate portrayal of his response, it appears to me to largely rely on episodes in Tanach and aggadata to find support for OO’s radical changes. Whereas, R’ Shachter’s approach, while some have categorized as “meta-halachic” musters straightforward halachic sources. Aren’t the Right always accused of using aggadah to support halachic stances/decisions? Maybe I am wrong here?

    2) Its ironic that the Left and OO always champion the pulpit rabbi as having the best assessment of “facts on the ground” when it comes to halachic shailos and yet we have a RY being debated by the chair of the Department of Talmud.

    3) I see that R’ Katz has learned many years in established litivishe yeshivos in EY. Is it fair to say that his methodology, illustrated by his response, is grounded in his “charedi” training in learning? Or, does it show he has abandoned that traditional methodology and is engaging in a new methodology, one that is expressed more publicly by OO musmachim and its leaders?

    I hope, as Rabbi Adlerstein does, that this is the first of many attempts by mainstream Orthodoxy poskim and leaders that OO’s approach is a foot deep and a mile wide when it comes to halochoh. For too long, there has been silence as OO keeps approving deviations and claims it has halachich backing. I think R’ Shachter’s teshuvah shows that OO has a very weak approach and that relying on a daas yachid here or there will doesn’t cut it.

  4. Tal Benschar says:

    C. R. Katz subsequently argues that the Sadducees were not the first to challenge perceived inequity in Dinei Yerushah, for B’nos Tzelophchad (the daughters of Tzelophchad) objected directly to Moshe Rabbeinu on this very point; there is thus Biblical precedent for objection in such Yerushah cases.

    Somtimes I feel that I am living in a Kafka novel. Bnos Tzelophchad did not object to any gender inequity. Their father had no sons! Their point was, where there are no sons, the daughters should inherit, not the uncles, so that the father’s name should be maintained. Rashi, quoting Chazal, makes that clear on Bamidbar 27:4, and in fact adds that they understood that, had their been a son, they would not demand anything, which teaches us how wise they were! (כי אין לו בן: הא אם היה לו בן לא היו תובעות כלום. מגיד שחכמניות היו)

    More broadly, in terms of halakhic process, the parsha of Bnos Tzelafchad proves R. Schachter’s very point! They had an unusual situation that needed halakhic resolution. What did they do? Convene a JOFA conference? No, they went to the Elders of Israel — Moshe, Elazar and the Nesiim, for a psak. Halevai those who see themselves as the feminist heirs of Bnos Tzelafchad would do the same.

  5. Eli B. says:

    I would have thought to note that in Section II, part C, where Benos Tzelaphchad are mentioned, that they went to Moshe Rabbainu with their question (who obviously was the Posek of Klal Yisroel). If the partnership minyan would have gotten their approbation from the Poskim of our generation, the innovation would have been allowed, similar to Sara Shnierer’s innovation of Bais Yaakov which was approved by the Choftez Chaim.

    There is nothing wrong with asking, but you do have to ask!

  6. mycroft says:

    “that the Left and OO always champion the pulpit rabbi as having the best assessment of “facts on the ground” when it comes to halachic shailos”

    The debate in America in the 40s between R A Kotler who championed the Rosh Yeshiva as the ultimate decider and R Y Kamenetzky and R E Silver who championed the traditional power of local Rabbonim was not one that involved the “Left and OO”
    Most relevant to the current debaters is that the Rav ( R J B Soloveitchik) would on occasion when asked a shaila by talmidim would answer -how do you expect me to answer you’re there-it is your responsibility to answer. Thus, when Talmidim who clearly wanted an answer from the Rav he at times would offer to review the relevant sources but insisted the local Rabbi answer the sheila.

  7. R. Gordimer,

    Amazing work as akways. Key for klal Yisroel.

  8. joel rich says:

    I think the difference is that while The Rav would very appropriately do that, imho for major issues (e.g. hafkaat kiddushin) he would agree that the local rabbi shouldn’t go on his own.

  9. Reb Yid says:


    No, we have horrendous modern day examples all around us. Take the recent 12 man (that’s right, all male) Congressional panel on contraception, which had the added embarrassment of having YU’s Soloveitchik on it:

    If you are a woman, why would you put up with this? Is it so hard to imagine that the current structure within Orthodoxy is much different?

    [YA Enormously different. While many women (and men) would find an all-male panel on contraception to be lopsided and unfair, that is not the case with the vast majority of Orthodox women who have solid Torah chinuch, hew to halachic standards in all areas (including dress and hair-covering) and genuinely keep avodas Hashem as a conscious daily goal. Those women see halacha is coming from HKBH, not from men, and have zero interest in putting on tefillin, layning megilla, or listening to what the local rabbah has to say. They may be unhappy about sundry other parts of contemporary frum life (like being expected to be Supermoms, and to pay exorbitant tuitions), but they are not tempted in the least by the prospect of egalitarianism. It is difficult, if not impossible, for the outside to know this.]

  10. mb says:

    Eli B,
    You have also bought into the myth of Sara Shnierer and BY.
    For nearly a century before that event, Jewish free School in London had admitted girls to their Torah and secular studies programmes. 50 years before any such school existed in Eastern Europe, JFS was the largest Jewish day school in the world.
    Were the founders of JFS wrong? I don’t think so.

  11. Michael says:

    I was honestly excited to see R’ Katz had wrote a response, especially one in Hebrew with mekorot. The absence of serious halakhic responses to the center/right’s attacks was bothersome to me, and I thought publishing in that kind of forum would help establish the left as a more “serious” movement. Yet, I was disappointed. I was hoping for more from R’ Katz – the collection of sources about paskening are mostly either well-known or completely irrelevant. The point is that the people paskening these shaylahs aren’t of the level to deal with complex and new questions. Just as I hope he’d agree not every person with semicha should be paskening agunah shaylahs, so too with issues that are major Klal issues/involve a changing of mesorah.

    This was an opportunity for serious scholarship from substantive people, but one I feel was lost.

  12. mycroft says:

    I think the difference is that while The Rav would very appropriately do that, imho for major issues (e.g. hafkaat kiddushin) he would agree that the local rabbi shouldn’t go on his own.”

    Joel do not read more into my comments than I wrote ” best assessment of “facts on the ground” when it comes to halachic shailos”

    Obviously, a Rabbi is required to follow halachik principles which includes following what has been accepted as halachik practice for hundreds of years. I was limiting myself to the comment of facts on the ground. Ignoring laws of gittin is not a fact on the ground-it is ignoring halacha. It is clear that the Rav was in favor of local decision making by those who accept halacha and the halachik process. Obviously any Rabbi does not act on real shailos without attempting to get advice-assuming not an emergency shaila on Shabbos or Yom Tov and clarify issues. The Rav was willing to review the relevant sources with the local Rabbi when he stated that the local Rabbi must make the decision but the decision he insisted was the Rabbis. Joel I get the feeling that the Ravs position on local authority was different than many current RYs.

  13. L. Oberstein says:

    This morning I heard a sermon from a learned rabbi who put this in the context of history. Just as Aharon saw that it was impossible for him to put a stop to the Golden Calf and had to let it run its course , so too, throughout history there have been episodic movements that have flourished and died out.This is just the way it is. When there is a tremendous desire to do something, logic and debate don’t stop it. If, indeed, as you all are absolutely sure, Open Orthodoxy is a newGolden Calf, then your polemics are only for the purpose of assuring yourselves that you are on the side of truth and they are not. You won’t win them over,no matter what you write. It is what it is.
    I just wonder, does anyone believe that Partnership Minyanim are the wave of the future in mainstream orthodoxy and that if this is not nipped in the bud ,it will spread and become nomative?

  14. Dov says:

    From R’ Katz
    “Two observations:

    1) Is this, once again, an example of the opposition ascribing malicious intent to people-their protestations to the contrary not withstanding?

    2) I can think of hundreds of examples of cross-generational debates in the responsa literature.”

    His usual reply would be pages of made up/misconstrued sources . It seems we need more responses like this to silence the YCTers and bloggers who do what they do without an ounce of Daas Torah behind them. While i understand unlike that group, R’ Gordimer does not need to legitimize himself through the “Yes” people that are the readers of these blogs. I wish he would write more often taking down others who inflate their egos and argue with individuals who they can not hold a candle to .

  15. Dave says:

    Yasher koach to R’ Gordimer for continuing to take up the fight for Emes.

    Just to add one point- the fact that some people have religious zeal does not mean that whatever they decide to do is right B’einei Hashem, and therefore does not qualify as Ahavas Hashem. Two examples:

    A – Nadav and Avihu brought an eish zara and were cut down on the spot. Their zeal inspired them to perform an avoda that was not prescribed. It is also interesting that many meforshim cite the fact that they did not ask a shaila first to Moshe Rabeinu that was the reason for their death. (In our day, we have no lightning bolt from the sky to tell us what is wrong. This is how secular society sneers at the religious as in “see – the sky’s not falling, so we can do xyz…)

    B – King Shaul not following the dictates of Hahem in the war with Amalek. Shmuel Hanavi’s mussar shmooze was very direct – Hashem does not want korbonos from the animals He commanded you to annihilate – i.e. your actions are the opposite of Ahavas Hashem, regardless of your intentions.

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