No Apologies Necessary, Rabbi Gordimer!

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10 Responses

  1. Bob Miller says:

    In marshaling the academic disciplines to examine a Gadol or his literary output, it’s important to recognize the special characteristics of Torah transmission to each generation. There’s a type of apprenticeship.   Also, lifelong self-improvement goes on at all levels.  It includes the reexamination of past resolutions of thorny situations, problems, or contradictions.

    There are times when an inner circle (large or small) understands someone or something in the greatest depth and with the greatest fidelity.


  2. dr. bill says:

    the Rav ztl differentiated between the motivation versus the basis for a particular psak or approach.  many of his closest talmidim knew the basis, which would discuss publically; what motivated him was known to a much smaller group with whom the Rav would discuss a particular situation.

    factually the logic of a psak is transmitted from generation to generation; the motivation is often lost.  it is only in more modern times, where disciplines beyond those normally employed by poskim have been used, that the complete nature of the situation in which the psak was given has been established.  The works of many from the late Profs. Jacob Katz and Israel Ta Shma to Profs . Chaim Soloveitchik and Elisheva Baumgarten to name just a few, illustrate the new perspectives provided.

    how  or even if those perspectives should enter the halakhic process, is an important issue.

    perhaps, prof. kolbrener’s literary approach is something yet harder to integrate into a more holistic view of an individual.  in general, many writers on this site, do not (choose or want to) integrate newer methodologies (historic, literary, etc.) in to their halakhic perspective, a topic of critical importance.

    • Yaakov Menken says:

      Perhaps because that’s never how Mesorah worked?

      • dr. bill says:

        I agree that the mesorah has not incorporated such methods historically.  However, changes in how the mesorah operated have occurred many times in the past. Three critical examples.
        1     The transition to the written word and its eventual dominance is perhaps the most important.  The amount of important precedent expanded dramatically.
        2)    Similarly, the reliance on general knowledge modified the mesorah as the nature of ever changing general knowledge continued.  (interestingly reliance on general knowledge may have led to significant issues where the understanding of that knowledge was faulty.)
        3)     In a somewhat different vein, baalei hamesorah identified changes in circumstance that have not been explicit in previous decisions.
        Like the previous three examples, greater knowledge of the circumstance surrounding previous precedent may similarly be considered by poskim, particularly in more debatable cases.

      • Bob Miller says:

        Heterodox movements have often used similar historical or psychological arguments to undermine the Halacha, so such arguments need to be used and received very cautiously.   The arguments often come enveloped in clouds of obscure language.

    • Mycroft says:

      But to the best of my knowledge many who discussed the reasons with the Rav for his psak in were cautious of extending his psak in because each psak was Sui generis.

  3. Steve Brizel says:

    R Menken deserves a Yasher Koach for pointing out a number of important facts: I would just add the following:

    1) The Yerushalmi in Horayos tells us that Moshe Rabbeinu “shteiged” for 40 years until finally like a light bulb that went on in the night, he gained clarity over all of TSBP. Anyone who has learned whether in the highest shiurim on the planet , a daf Yomi level or a beginner’s level, can tell you that learning Gemara is an extraordinarily humbling experience just by realizing the scope of the subject matter of the Yam haTalmud and the difficulty in understanding the same. Yet, the truest love of HaShem is spent breaking one’s head over a dificult sugya and a cryptic phrase in a Rishon or Acharon. We all have the tools and crutches available for aides in learning, but in order to truly become a Talmid Chacham you have to be able to walk without the use of a crutch.Yet, in order to get to this level, you must have a rebbe who links you back to Matan Torah.


  4. William Kolbrener says:

    A former teacher of mine – a Rosh Yeshiva in Jerusalem – used to speak pejoratively of S-L-O-T – an acronym for Special Logic Of Torah.  He would say that according to this special ‘law’: if you want to know about physics, you ask a physicist; if you want to know about biology, you ask a biologist, but if you want to know about Torah…, you just ask anybody!’ By this I understood, he was saying that in every other field, the authority of disciplinary languages was maintained, while in the world of Torah, somehow, with no or little learning one could have the license to say just about anything (he may have been paraphrasing a Netziv in Devarim).

    If R. Menken needs to look up the word ‘antiquarian,’ he probably should not comment on my understanding of the representations of epistemology and hermeneutics in R. Soloveitchik’s work. Philosophy and even literary criticism are also areas of expertise, and without understanding the disciplinary languages that inform such studies, one should best remain silent.  As I tell my students at the university, I always trust a scholar who is able to say ‘I don’t know.’  When he or she acknowledges an area in which they do NOT have expertise, I know I can trust them better in areas in which they claim they do.

    Despite the unembarrassed foray into Merriam-Webster, R. Menken misconstrued my meaning. Leaving R. Soloveitchik to the antiquarians would be akin to leaving him to someone looking for an old book in an antique book store, or a scholar finding a curiosity in a museum.  But the teachings of the Rav, like those of the Torah, should continue to live, I was suggesting, giving meaning to our present and futures

    Apparently my former Rosh Yeshiva’s special law does not – these days – apply only to Torah.

    • Yaakov Menken says:

      The story about SLOT is appreciated. It is worse than the Professor says; it is relatively routine to see people quoting the Rambam or other sources, in order to challenge the positions of Gedolim who know the entirety of the Rambam by heart.

      Nonetheless, Prof. Kolbrener’s condescension is rather foolish, unless he wishes to assert that he knows every word in the dictionary as well as those Gedolim know the Rambam. I wasn’t going to say anything, but I once took on online vocabulary test “on a lark,” and learned that my knowledge of English stands at a “Shakespearean” level. Why does he imagine I was unembarrassed to admit lack of familiarity with “antiquarian?” I knew most readers would share my need for the definition.

      It is also foolish because that word has nothing all to do with epistemology, hermeneutics, Rav Soloveitchik, or the points I have made above — in other words, one could as easily claim that I should refrain from any intellectual pursuits if I don’t know the meaning of a particular word used with similar frequency to “querulous” — a word which I would assert is far more relevant here.

      Finally, while he claims I “misconstrued” his meaning, Prof. Kolbrener then confirms I was correct. [Note that he offers no defense of his illogical assertion that batei medrash are a “contracting circle.”] In his comment above, he claims that without literary criticism, Rav Soloveitchik’s teachings will be left to those “looking for old books;” his literary approach is needed in order that the Rav’s teaching “should continue to live.”

      But of course, the Rav is studied daily by scholars at YU and across the Jewish world. His teachings and thought are very much alive, unless you consider traditional Torah study akin to searching for dusty antiques. In fact, the thoughts of great teachers of Torah are alive to an extent unknown outside those “contracting” batei medrash. There are no disciples of Aristotle today, nor those who directly trace their scholarship back to Shakespeare. Yet our understanding of the Shulchan Aruch, the Rambam, Rashi, and the Gemara are all greatly impacted by the education provided by teacher to student, all of whom are part of one common Mesorah.

      As I said in my essay, “Prof. Kolbrenner believes it would ‘kill off’ the reputation of the author of Halakhic Man to leave his legacy in the hands of those studying Halakha.” That is, in fact, the best way to ensure that his teachings live in perpetuity.

    • Bob Miller says:

      When do you use a dictionary?

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