The Parameters of Polemics

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17 Responses

  1. dr. bill says:

    I am amazed by the facile assumptions that X is like Y and should be treated similarly. The (continued – it goes back to the 20’s) association with the SCA with an ascending conservative movement, both the respect and condemnation of some early figures of what we now term the Haskalah, the role of the community versus its rabbinic leaders, the complex relationship between changed circumstance and rabbinic attitudes to Rabbinic and perhaps Torah law, etc. are all areas where the careful reading of the historic context is necessary. Facile assumptions of similarity add to the rhetoric but not to the understanding of the situation.

    The books of perhaps the greatest figure in recorded Jewish history were burnt. I think it would be unfair to draw rhetorical analogies of individuals/groups in today’s society with the book burners and their attacks on Rambam’s embrace of Greek philosophy, his ikkarim and his interpretations of Torah literature. Similarly, attacks on streams of Judaism by gedolai olam, streams that were eventually accepted despite aberrations in both hashkafah and halakha, ought to give us pause. As documented by Prof. Shapiro, letters to leaders of the conservative movement in 20’s to 40’s from gedolai olam, were not all just chanifah. Drawing analogies is unfair and it can cut both ways.

  2. DavidF says:

    By Dr. Bill’s standards, we can never use precedent to set policy because no two situations are ever exactly alike. Thus, nothing is ever out of bounds and tolerance must be demonstrated for all opinions [unless of course we’re using precedent to criticize Charedim – in which case everything can be used to make one’s point].

    The reality is that while of course no two situations are alike, there is much to be gleaned from the approaches of our leaders in recent generations. YCT is clearly not exactly like Conservative Judaism, but if they continue down their agenda-driven path, they very likely may end up looking very similar or doing damage in other ways. The reason folks like Rabbi Gordimer and others have spoken out so strongly against is [in my estimation] to afford them the opportunity to self-correct at this relatively early stage and recalibrate their efforts.

    Personally, I hope that they do so, not only because it would prevent the forthcoming harm that will result from failure to do so, but also because I truly believe that they have so much to offer a significant segment of the Jewish community. They can reach them in ways that others cannot. They bring much to the table if they left some of their unique dishes off the menu. Halevai they would choose to do so and they would then be heartily welcomed and supported by the greater Jewish community.

  3. dr. bill says:

    DavidF, you write: “By Dr. Bill’s standards, we can never use precedent to set policy because no two situations are ever exactly alike.” I apologize for assuming I would be understood without the need to elaborate. Yes, there are (always) distinctions between situations. The question is whether those distinctions matter relative to the issue at hand. As RAL said on occasion, “a distinction without a difference.” That is what makes use of precedent without identifying and evaluating distinctions, a mark of shallow protagonists. History has a great deal to teach to those who can identify distinctions and evaluate their relevance.

  4. Dan M says:

    “lomdus (traditional halachic conceptual methodology)”
    Rabbi Gordimer—isn’t the idea that a sophisticated conceptual methodology is necessary for understanding talmudic texts actually quite innovative and revolutionary? Although conceptualization was used on and off even by Amoraim and Rishonim, a systematic approach with well-defined categories was not in play accross the board until Reb Chaim—otherwise why would his students have remarked how they merited to live during the generation of matan torah, kiveyachol.
    Deeper sophistication and analysis build on the groundwork laid by earlier authorities, but abstraction cannot be said to be the traditional approach without ignoring the dominant school of thought during the Geonic and early Rishonim periods, especially in Muslim Spain.
    Hind-sight is 20-20.
    Shabbat shalom!

  5. DavidF says:

    “The question is whether those distinctions matter relative to the issue at hand.”

    Exactly. And the point that Rabbi Gordimer has made consistently is that those distinctions are rather inconsequential to the issue at hand. The agenda-driven innovations that have been introduced by the YCT crowd are unfortunately very reminiscent of what we saw not that long ago at the hands of the C and R movements. Even if there are some slight distinctions, one who heart beats with יראת שמים and אהבת ישראל cannot fail to be frightened, very frightened indeed, by what the future holds, distinctions notwithstanding.

  6. mycroft says:

    “(Rav Soloveitchik, despite not signing the 1956 ban by other roshei yeshiva against membership in the Synagogue Council of America (because he felt that the SCA’s function as an organ to address issues that were of a general nature rather than a religious nature, such as anti-Semitism and Jewry behind the Iron Curtain, did not warrant prohibition, balanced against other factors),”
    The Rav approved of and worked to keep Orthodox participation in the SCA- there is a a feature of the SCA that was crucial to the Rav: veto power-any of the 6 constituent organizations could veto ANY action of the SCA-thus either the RCA or OU could prevent anything that they opposed-it was not a majority vote situation. The SCA had lay organizations as members-although the to the best of my knowledge the President, and vice presidents always came in rotation from the 3 Rabbinic members-the 3 synagogue organizations were also members with equal veto rights.
    The Rav was opposed to Rabbis belonging to groups such as the NY Board of Rabbis-no veto power, majority vote, strictly Rabbinic- however I believe that he was not opposed to Rabbis of an area belonging to fellowships where they would get together and discuss issues of common interest eg anti-semitism, Israel etc.

    ” the Rav was firmly against Orthodox rabbis collegially joining non-Orthodox rabbis for religious dialogue.)”

    one must be very careful in not being misleading in this term. The Rav certainly believed that one could not engage in negotiations about changing halacha with people. However, he was NOT opposed to people giving lectures in scholarly conferences and engaging in discussions on the same platform as non Orthodox Rabbis as long as not being a negotiation.

  7. Avrohom Gordimer says:

    Dan M: My intent was to describe the deep abstract analysis involved with learning Gemara and Rishonim, regardless of the specific methodological school.

    Mycroft: Please see the quote from R. Dr. Walter Wurzburger in the hyperlink, in which it is written that the Rav would have preferred that the SCA and the like had never come into existence in the first place.

  8. Jewish Observer says:

    “isn’t the idea that a sophisticated conceptual methodology is necessary for understanding talmudic texts actually quite innovative and revolutionary”

    – very much so. Reb Chaim was mocked by contemporaries (could have been R Meir Sincha) as “der chemiker”

  9. Dan M says:

    Rabbi Gordimer, my point was also applying to te General idea–the idea that deep analysis is necessary for comprehension of the Talmudic text IS an innovation (of the baalei hatosafos?). In Spain and north Africa the readings were less convoluted and sophisticated. A person only needs deep analysis to escape the plain meaning of a text in order to resolve a problem that you seem to consider heretical–that we do not like the text as it stands.
    Further, regarding how much of Torah shebeal peh was given at Sinai, aggadic questiond aside, Rambam thinks the beit din hagadol has the power to reevaluate halachot given even by the pshat of the text and by derashot, even if they are not gadol bechochmah uveminyan. reinterpretation is part of our authentic halachic process and our laws would not exist as they are without it.

    • Avrohom Gordimer says:

      Yes, Dan, but when the shakla v’tarya contains an answer that appears to not respond to the question, or a phrase loosely meaning “sort of, and sort of not” is offered to explain something, there is a nuanced concept that requires elaboration.

      BD Ha-Gadol interpreted Torah as it believed was the objective meaning. The interpretation referenced in the article is to intentionally state what one knows is not the objective meaning of Torah, in the interests of a social agenda.

  10. Marty Bluke says:

    R’ Gordimer,

    The Seridei Eish (R’ Yaakov Yechiel Weinberg) was asked whether R’ Chaim Soloveitchik’s analyses of the Rambam are historically true. He answered (in both a yeshiva and a published letter) no. He writes that it is clear that the Rambam’s derech was not R’ Chaim’s. All you have to do is look at the Teshuvos Harambam where he deals with some of the issues/contradictions. The Rambam never gives any lomdus to explain his psak, rather he gives what we would call Baal Habatish answers. He had a different girsa in the Gemara, their copy of the Mishne Torah was wrong, he made a mistake, etc. Not once does he employ anything close to Brisker lomdus.

    The implications are clear.

  11. Pusilanimity says:

    וכבר אמרתי שחידושי רבינו הגר”ח הם אמתיים מבחינת העיון העמוק אבל לא תמיד במובן היסטורי כלומר בכוונת הרמב”ם עצמו שדרך לימודו היתה אחרת מזו של הגר”ח ואין זה מקפח ערכו של גאון שכלי זה שראוי הוא ליקרא “רמב”ם חדש” אבל לא תמיד כמפרש הרמב”ם אלא שמרן הגר”ח הגיע בחריפותו לאותן מסקנות שהרמב”ם ז”ל הגיע להן בדרך לימודו הוא
    (Seridei Eish 2:144)

    כבר נועזתי ואמרתי להג”ר משה סולובייציג ז”ל (אביו של הגרי”ד נ”י) שחידו”ת של אבי’ הגאון ר”ח הם אמת מבחינת ההגיון אבל לא מבחינת אמת ההיסתורית לר’ חיים הי’ דרך לימוד אחרת משל הרמב”ם
    (Kisvei Hagaon Rabbi Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg p.219)

    קראתי את מאמרו של הגרי”ד סולובייציק על דודו הגרי”ז זצ”ל השפה היא נהדרה ונאדרה והסגנון הוא מקסים אבל התוכן הוא מוגזם ומופרז מאד כך כותבים אנשים בעלי כת כמו אנשי חב”ד ובעלי המוסר מתוך מאמרו מתקבל הרושם כאלו התורה לא נתנה ע”י מרע”ה חלילה כי אם ע”י ר’ חיים מבריסק זצ”ל אמת הדברים כי ר’ חיים הזרים זרם חדש של פלפול ע”ד ההגיון לישיבות בהגיון יש לכל אדם חלק ולפיכך יכולים כל בני הישיבה לחדש חידושים בסגנון זה משא”כ בדרך הש”ך ורעק”א צריך להיות בקי גדול בשביל להיות קצת חריף ולכן

  12. Avrohom Gordimer says:

    Marty Bluke and Pusilanimity: Thank you, but I know that Reb Chaim and his sons/grandsons/talmidim who rose to Torah greatness were aware of the words of their critics and were unmoved by them, and I am confident that the former took into account how to understand the Teshuvos HaRambam.

  13. Pusilanimity says:

    R’ Gordimer:

    I did not mean to imply any illegitimacy on the part of R” Chaim and his methodology; I was just quoting what I assumed Marty Bluke was referring to. However, you wrote “without lomdus (traditional halachic conceptual methodology), the words and flow of the Gemara or Rishon at hand are totally incomprehensible and lacking logic. In other words, the depth, categorical sophistication, beautiful inner flow and harmony that are compellingly revealed by the traditional approach to Torah learning inspire a potent and dynamic reaffirmation and recommitment to the Mesorah.”
    I believe Dan M’s first point was that (you implied that without R’ Chaim’s style of learning one can’t properly understand Gemara, yet) before R’ Chaim came along surely the Geonim/Rishonim/Acharonim understood it. So the question is not whether R’ Chaim’s derech is legitimate, rather, whether it is necessary.

    (Thank you for the reply. I did not mean that one cannot understand Gemara and Rishonim without R Chaim’s derech per se, but rather than without conceptualization (of whatever derech), the ideas and discussion often cannot be understood. In other words, deep analytical thinking is necessary here, and its reveals the greater inner flow and beauty of TSPB. – AG)

  14. dr. bill says:

    Rabbi Gordimer, Yes they were unmoved, but do not for a moment believe that the Rav ztl doubted their fundamental validity, albeit not their precise wording. One of the reason, I believe, that the Rav was so enamored with finding an intellectual basis for minhagim was his belief in a mimetic tradition. This allowed him to stress the innovation of Brisk along with its conservative religious views. While he occasionally) used the Brisker methodology for some of his famous kulot, more often it lead him to (privately practiced) chumrot. The Rav was well aware that modes of abstraction change and the Brisker mode of analytics was a construct that was foreign to many rishonim. (I remember once in shiur, he mentioned one or two rishonim who exhibit a tendency to brisker formulations.) I often wonder if the Rav’s rare, very rare, historical/philosophical musing in shiur were noticed let alone understood. But ask those (few) talmidim of his who were attuned to this aspect of his thinking, and they will tell you categorically what he meant. I had the privilege to take philosophy classes with one of the few (I know only of four and there are probably others) with whom he discussed philosophy. How to reconcile a mesorah with evolving conceptualization, is a complex topic related to an understanding of eilu ve’eilu.

  15. Daniel says:

    “Similarly, when my chavrusa and I evaluate statements in the Gemara and Rishonim that bespeak a very nuanced and sublime theory and literally make no sense when read at simple face value, my chavrusa often comments how without lomdus (traditional halachic conceptual methodology), the words and flow of the Gemara or Rishon at hand are totally incomprehensible and lacking logic.”
    Rabbi Gordimer,
    As an Orthodox Jew who has spent years, since childhood, in various yeshivot learning Gemara, and continues to learn to this very day, I am shocked at both your and your chevrusa’s statements about Gemara. “Totally incomprehensible?” “Lack logic”? How can you say such a thing about our most important text, arguably! I think the Rishonim have a tremendous amount to add to our understanding of the Gemara, but I would never think that the peshat meaning is illogical. How can you justify such a thing? Are you implying that when Ravina and Rav Ashi were commenting in the Gemara, that time stood still for hundreds of years until Rashi and Tosfos came around to explain their statements? That they were just mumbling things they do not understand? How about the fact that in many yeshivot, the halachic conceptual methodology is not the standard way of learning? My rebbe, a talmid of the Mir and Lakewood, would spend hours poring over the words of the Gemara on its own terms, without engaging in Brisker Lomdus. Brisker lomdus is a very particular methodology that a) is admittedly and consciously Mechudash (see Chaim Saiman’s seminal article on the matter) and b) not at all universally accepted, even by frum Jews! This is all not to mention that there is an entire field of studying Talmud in academia that is devoted to understanding the words of the Gemara on its own terms!
    If anyone’s comments were out of line, it is not the people you rant about, Rabbi Gordimer, but rather yours.

    • Avrohom Gordimer says:

      Daniel:As I noted to other commenters, I refer lav davka to Brisker methodology, but rather to conceptualization and abstraction in general. The Rishonim elucidate and flesh out the ideas in the Gemara – ideas that were there but needed exposition.

      What I mean by things that make no logical sense at face value, for example, is when the answer to a question posed in the Gemara or Rishonim is obvious – yet we know that the Amora or Rishon who posed the question was not ignorant of the obvious. Hence, what was his hava amina? It was surely something mechudash and subtle. So too, when the Gemara or Rishonim answer that something is a “miktzas” of something else, or it is between two categories, and it hence embodies a hybrid identity, we need to know the theory and nature of that identity. The Gemara and Rishonim were not chas vshalom offering cop-out or unclear resolutions, yet unless one conceptualizates and categorizes, the shakla v’tarya and many of the answers appear to be very weak. The truth is that the flow is very nuanced, and our goal is to understand it. Such nuance is clearly part of the text; we are not doing anything new per se but expressing it in terms to which we can relate.

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