Sunday, April 21, 2013

Truth is too good for mere humans

Divre Rmlby1:

While the seal of Hashem is truth, the seal of rabbanus(rabbinical authority) is sheker(lies). It comes in many forms. The sheker b'ahava(lies made out of love) of Aaron HaKohen, who lied to make peace between men and of Hillel, who said one dances before an ugly bride singing praises of her beauty. The Sheker B'Yira (lies based on awe/respect) of the Chatam Sofer, who said to preserve a rabbinic law it was permissible to say it was a biblical law, and of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, who did just that with his rulings on Mechitza2. The sheker b'tzimtzum (lies of hiding, removal, omission) of Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, who said that when writing a psak where one rules based on kavod habriyot(human dignity), one should give a different reason, even a poor one, because the principle of kavod habriyot is so easily misused.

1. Reb Moshe Leib Ben Yaakov

2. This point is argued - there is no reported statement from RMF saying he was doing this.


Lost and Found said...

Are you quoting Reb Moshe Leib Ben Yaakov? From what I understand from Google, this sefer was originally published in 1935. If we're talking about the same sefer, how is he referring to Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein who was born in 1933?

Larry Lennhoff said...

It wasn't that Reb Moshe Leib Ben Yaacov. I am the originator of the quote, Moshe Leib Ben Yaacov is my Hebrew name.

Lost and Found said...

Oh. Thanks for the clarification.

On what basis are you suggesting that R' Moshe's psak was a Sheker B'Yira?

Larry Lennhoff said...

This is not speaking directly about Rav Moshe's Teshuvah, but has some bearing:

And, finally, a speculation I have heard from many and find personally convincing. In the 1940s in the United States, many, many prominent gedolim spoke and wrote forcefully about the necessity of a mechitzah in an Orthodox synagogue, the prohibition of praying in a synagogue without one.

After the fact, it is unclear why mechitzah should be so central—to some, it is not even clear that mechitzah is a Biblical requirement. I don’t mean to question the necessity of mechitzah, only to note that it is not clear from traditional sources why it became the focus of so much rabbinic attention.

The common answer, which I think both true and importantly instructive, is that in their time, (in their dor) mechitzah was the battleground of Torah. Many wanted to create a ziyyuf haTorah, a forgery of the Torah, that it was acceptable, in some way, for an Orthodox synagogue to forego a mechitzah, and the leaders of the time properly rushed to the ramparts for battle.

Lost and Found said...

The bold text says: "it is not even clear that mechitzah is a Biblical requirement." Should that have said Rabbinic?

I still don't understand how it's a Sheker B'Yira. If there's a debate as to whether it's Rabbinic or Bibilical, how can it be called Sheker in any sense?

If I may ask, what were the circumstances of the Chasam Sofer that "Sheker B'Yira" took place?

Larry Lennhoff said...

I can't read Hebrew, but according to my English language source this is a letter where the Chasam Sofer says one may claim a rabbinical prohibition is biblical to encourage people to follow it..

The circumstance in which the Chatam Sofer issued this ruling are outlined here. A brief summary:

A similar case arose a few years later, regarding whether a kohen could be the doctor to examine a corpse and certify that death had taken place. R. Tzvi Hirsch Chajes ruled that it was permissible, invoking arguments similar to those of Mendelssohn, that the absence of respiration did not conclusively mean that the person was dead and thus the doctor could potentially be saving a life. Chasam Sofer, on the other hand, firmly opposed the idea that a person who was not breathing could be considered even doubtfully alive. He famously wrote that "even if all the winds in the world were to blow against us, we would not move from the determination of death established by Chazal. ... Was he convinced that they were mistaken — or did it have more to do with Mendelssohn’s suggestion that the traditional Jewish practice of immediate burial could be changed to accommodate the new scientific discoveries, and with the fact that the Duke was led to his decree by an anti-Semitic convert to Christianity, Olaf Gerhard Tychsen?

Lost and Found said...

Wow, that is incredibly fascinating. I read the actual teshuva, and while, of course, he does say what you asserted, there is a Ramban that the Chasam Sofer mentioned (although he's definitely the minority opinion in this case).

Thank you for sharing. Very interesting.

Larry Lennhoff said...

I doubt after all these years Lost and Found is still following this post. However, Rabbi Gidon Rothstein in Toran Musings brings up the Ra'avad, who feels baal tosif involves adding to the substance of the mitzah, that is its practice. Quoting Rabbi Rothstein on The Ra'avad, he says in the view of the Peri Megadmin
Ra’avad seems to worry about bal tosif only if the Jew adds something linked clearly enough to the performance of an existing mitzvah to prevent us from seeing it as anything else. Declaring an observance Biblical when it is not does not attach to any existing reality and therefore has no bal tosif problem. [Later, Peri Megadim makes explicit what he only implied here: Ra’avad does not think there is a bal tosif issue if a court mischaracterizes a mitzvah as Biblical, as long as the statement does not become aggud, in some way tied into the mitzvah.]

This would seem to provide support for the Chasam Sofer's choice abvoe.