Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Does Psak Apply to Matters of Hashkafa? - My Essay in the current Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society

My essay in the current (Pesach 5774/Spring 2014) issue of
The Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society

(Courtesy of R' Shmuel Yosef Elbinger, the essay in pdf:


  1. The pdf I have is of an older version of the essay. Evidently I accidentally deleted the final version. I will keep looking for it.

    An important מהרלב"ח on the topic was brought to my attention today. See סימן ח at

    דע כי בעונותי עדיין לא זכיתי לחכמה הזאת יען כי לא ניתן לאדם רשות להבין בה מעצמו ולחקר עליה אלא כשמה כן היא - שצריך שיקבל אותה מרב שקבל גם הוא, ובזמן הזה בארצותינו לא היו נמצאי' אנשים כ"כ שלמים בה. האמנם בדבר הזה הפרטי כבר ראיתי ובינותי בספרים ומצאתי כי חכמינו ז"ל אותם שהיו אחרי חתימת התלמוד ימים רבים נחלקו לשני כתות: הכת האחת כת החוקרים בעיקרי האמונות כפי שכלם לבד ומתעסקים בחכמות החצונות. ובלבם של אלה קשה להאמין האמונה הזאת יען כי כפי השכל יש עליה קושיות שלא השיג שכלם לישבם.

    אמנם יש כת אחרת גדולה מאד מחכמי ישראל המאמינים, וכֻלם כתבו עליה כי היא אמונ' אמתית ועיקר מעיקרי התורה לתרץ קושית צדיק ורע לו. וכלנו אנחנו מחוייבים לשמוע דברי אלו האחרונים. ולהאמין האמונה הזאת בלי שום פקפוק וספק כלל. האמנם לדרוש בה ברבים נראה ודאי שהיא דבר בלתי הגון מאד, כי לא טובים אנו מאבותינו ורבותינו ע"ה, אותם שכתבוה בספריהם ולעולם לא דברו בה כי אם ע"ד רמז וחידה וכתבו עליה שהיא סוד גדול... לוי בכמהר"ר יעקב ן' חביב ז"ל:

  2. 1) I think you cut-n-pasted too little. I had to follow the link to figure that he was hondling about whether you're me'chuyav to believe in gilgulim.

    2) He seems more to be saying that it's necessary to believe in them otherwise tzaddik v'era lo doesn't make sense- more than a 'psak' in hashkafah per se.

  3. I don't think he really means a psak. I think he means that "Anash" - viz., fellow early 16th century Kabbalists - must accept the doctrine, especially because it explains one of the world's most profound conundrums.

  4. BTW, I am very grateful to the correspondent who brought the Maharalbach to my attention. After seeing it, I was intrigued by the phenomenon that I had not seen earlier. This indicates that the proponents of a notion of psak in Hashkafa do not cite it. I assume they were queasy and loathe to cite it, as many people who are fine with the notion of psak in other areas of Hashkafa are not necessarily thrilled with applying it to Gilgulim. (Caveat: I, myself, do accept the doctrine of Gilgulim - although I tell other people that they need not do so.)

  5. Re Satmar and Rav Kook:

    The SR is pretty clear that he doesn't think this a psak in hashkafah. His points are mainly that if you believe in ge'ulah without teshuvah you're a kofer in be'feirushe pesuklim, that voting in an election means actively participating in a system of shittuf bavodah zarah (based on diyyuk in the megillat ha'atzmaut) etc...

    As far as Rav Kook: doesn't he consider the Chareidi anti-zionist ideology to be necessary also? If so, you can be a Satmar chussid le'chol ha'deyos. :)

  6. If the SR really thought that way, then he held many fellow rebbes to be Ovdei Avodah Zarah - and R' Aharon Kotler as well. I doubt that. He was prone to hyperbole.

  7. I've wondered the same thing. But there's no getting around the fact that he wrote that voting is avodah zarah and any sefer in ivrit is worse than a sefer shekosav min. And he didn't write this on a pashkevil. He's at pains to stress in his intro that he's writing ha'lacha le'maaseh.

  8. Now that I've read the article in full- Courtesy of R' Shmuel Yosef Elbinger- I'm left wondering how Rav Shachter can be such a religious zionist. Le'shitaso...

  9. Rav Yaakov Shapiro said: a common error in some circles is the idea that we do not “pasken” Hashkafa. The truth is we do. Rav Hutner used to cite a Gemora that says this explicitly.

    “Agadita is also considered Halchah, as is proven from the Gemora in Eruvin (13b), that the disagreement between Bais Shammai and Bais Hillel was decided by way of vote, that noach lo shelo nivra. Thus, psak halachah is also applicable to Deos, and that is what is referred to as ‘Hilchos Deos and Chovos Halevovos’, for the difference [between Halachah and Agada] is only in respect to how and with what they are fulfilled: The Chovos HaEvarim are fulfilled with the limbs, and the Hilchos Deos are fulfilled with the understanding of the mind of those who accept the Torah … this idea the Rosh Yeshiva ZTL planted within us very much, pertinent to the fundamentals of Hichos Deos and Chovos Halevovos” (Rav Yonason David, Kuntres Shavuos, p.34)

    The Rambam paskens in several places regarding hashkafa as well as action-Halchah, and the fact that he codifies 13 Ikarim in Mishna Torah is the simplest example of that. The Chasam Sofer, in his last Teshuva on Yoreh Deah, points out that there is an opinion in the Gemora – that of R. Hillel - that there will be no Moshiach (rather, Hashem Himself will redeem Klall Yisroel). Of course, one of the Rambam’s 13 Ikarim is belief in Moshiach. If so, he asks, why would R. Hillel not qualify as a heretic?

    The Chasam Sofer answers that if anybody nowadays would hold like R. Hillel he would indeed be considered a Apikores, but when R. Hillel said this, the Halachah that Bias HaMashiach is a required belief had not yet been paskened and therefore it was, at that point in time, permitted to hold such an opinion. Today, however, after the dispute between R. Hillel and his peers has been paskened, anybody who holds like R. Hillel’s opinion is a heretic and has no share in Olam Habah.[1]

    But besides the Ikarim there are many non-halachic disputes the Rambam paskens. As but one example of many, the Gemora in Brachos (34b) brings a dispute between R. Yochanan and R. Avohu whether a Baal Teshuva is on a higher level than someone who never needs Teshuva in the first place, or someone who never sinned is higher than the Baal Teshuva. The Rambam (Hilchos Teshuva 7:4) rules that a Baal Teshuva is on a higher level than someone who never sinned. There is no practical instruction here; just a Hashkafa.

    Another example is the Gemora in Sanhedrin (91a) regarding what will be when Moshiach comes.

    רבי חסדא רמי כתיב וחפרה הלבנה ובושה החמה כי מלך ה' צבאות וכתיב והיה אור הלבנה כאור החמה ואור החמה יהיה שבעתים כאור שבעת הימים לא קשיא כאן לימות המשיח כאן לעולם הבא ולשמואל דאמר אין בין העולם הזה לימות המשיח אלא שיעבוד גליות בלבד לא קשיא כאן במחנה צדיקים כאן במחנה שכינה

    The Rambam in Hilchos Melachem only cites the opinion of Shmuel, not R. Yochanan. The Abarbanel (Yeshuos Meshicho end of ch. 7) asks on the Rambam that the Halachah is like R. Yochanan when disagreeing with Shmuel. Clearly, the Abarbanel understood the Rambam to be paskening this Agada like one side, and he voices his disapproval, as based on the principles of Halachah he should have rules like the other side.

    The Abarbanel does not think to explain that because this is Agada, with not practical Halachic difference, the Rambam is entitled to follow whichever opinion he chooses.

    1. We do pasken Hashkofo, even with no difference in Halachah, if we have academic reason to do so
    2. We do not pasken Hashkofo if the posek cannot find any academic advantage in one side over the other
    3. Academic advantage includes sufficient evidence or authoritative power on one side of the dispute, or a sufficient level of understanding of one opinion over the other.
    4. Where we do not pasken the issue, one may profess any side of the dispute that he chooses but under no circumstances can he believe in the correctness or superiority of one opinion over the other.

  10. There is a Halachah that says you must have the right Hashkofos. “Lo sosuru acharei levavchem”, You may not follow your heart, meaning, you may not believe “meenus” (apikursos). The Mishna Brura rules (his source is Sefer Hachinuch almost word for word, but without attribution) that apikursos includes any opinion that is contrary to Daas Torah. Meaning, even if you follow all Halachos, if you have an opinion that conflicts with that of the Torah, you violate this laav. Hashkafa can often be Halachicly binding. Sometimes a Hashkafic violation can be worse than a Halachic one - such as in the case of an Apikores vs. a Mechalel Shabbos.

    There is a simple proof from the Gemora, which is said over in the name of both Rav Hutner and Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky, that we pasken hashkafa: "nimnu vegamru - noach lo shelo nivrah". "They counted and ruled" according to the majority - noach lo shelo nivrah, a purely hashkafic, non-halachic issue, ruled due to the majority count.

    Someone who tries to live Halachicly without proper Hashkofos will not succeed. At best, he will be living a schizophrenic, self-contradictory Jewish life, and he will be in a constant state of spiritual disarray trying to reconcile his Halachic lifestyle with his Hashkafic deficiencies. Jewish Halachah and Secular Hashkofos are contradictory.

    Rav Yitzchok Hutner ZTL once described the incongruous “Halachic Judaism” syndrome as comparable to someone who puts on his shirt in the morning and accidentally buttons the lowest button in the wrong hole. Instead of undoing it, he decides to solve the problem by putting the next button in the wrong hole as well, and he keeps buttoning up his shirt like that, always one hole off, thinking everything is OK. Until he gets to the top of the shirt. Now he has to either undo the entire shirt, or wear it lopsided. So, too, Rav Hutner said, are those who want to “reconcile” Halachah with the values and way of life of society. It is lopsided. You can maneuver around the Halachic pitfalls again and again, but eventually you will see that it doesn’t work, you paint yourself into a corner, and there will be no choice except to either undo your entire philosophy or live with a self-contradictory Judaism.

  11. You didn't read the essay, did you? But I invite you to write a letter to the editor, to which I would respond in the next issue of the journal.

  12. A comment, offhanded, but significant, on the position of R'Hillel on Moshiach, made here by RALS:

  13. Hi, I met a guy today who rejects the Rambam, he says that Rambam broke the seal of Rav Ashi in Talmud by removing aggadah from his Mihsneh Torah (not true). But then he provided an example, which threw me off my feet. He says that in Hilchot Malch'im, Rambam makes an halachic ruling on the 7 mitzvot bnai noach, problem is, the tractate in Gemara is from Sanhedrin, which employs an aggaditah!

    The teaching comes from Devarim on trief meat, it can be given to a Ger Toshav, who can sell it to a Na'Cree, Baba Kama teaches that a Na'Cree, who lives within the boarders of Eretz Yisrael, qualifies as a hostile foreigner. This isn't so for the Ger Toshav, who has civil and political rights. Why? Because he swore an oath upon his life to keep the 7 mitzvot of Noach. He therefore claims that Rambam changed the parameters of the Ger Toshav to a universal commandment applicable to all Goyim, anywhere on planet earth. Therefore, his halacha ignores the fact that if the Goy failed to keep the 7 laws, he'd be considered a Na'Cree, and if he's still in the boarders, that's a capital crime, the Sanhedrin would put him to death (though their jurisdiction is only limited to the Israeli state, but if Rambam is right, than a Goy in the US could be put to death by the Court!). Not only did he do this, but he chose a source from aggadah, and made it halacha, something he said in many places we're not to do, so, did he contradict himself?

    Point is, is any of this true? Did Rambam say we could psak halacha from aggadah (my research, via yours and others, say no), and what about this example of his? Does it merit anything, can it be refuted? Thanks!