Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Take this, dead horse - bamm, pow!


This has been simmering inside me since Hirhurim put up a post about the Rabbeinu Tam and Rashi tefillin. It's an old beef and really there is not much to discuss, but here it is for my own selfish, cathartic purposes...

We all know that the unbreakable chain of mesorah is one of the cornerstones of rabbinic Judaism. Yet it never ceases to amaze me how this argument can hold despite major evidence against it. Is it me, or is there serious denial going on?

Exhibit A: Rabbeinu Tam disagrees with his grandfather Rashi on how tefillin should be put together. Say that to yourself once again one more time in the context of unbreakable chain of tradition. Rashi, not some am ha-aretz. Rashi, in whose yeshiva his father, brother, uncles all studied. And furthermore, RT doesn't say that he received this "mesorah" from some alternative source, some stranger from a distant land who shared some secret knowledge with him. No, like most of his ideas, he arrived at it by analysis of the texts and his own thinking.

Exhibit B: The Lost Kiddush Cup. Read this article! In it is a story of Dov Genachowski, whose family was very close to the Chazon Ish, the preeminent Chareidi authority in EY. Dov's great grandfather was a talmid of R' Salanter and was a chavrusah of the Chazon Ish's father back in Lithuania. Dov himself would often go to the Chazon Ish's house.
In the 1950's a new halakhic concept began to sweep the Chareidi world - the shiur of the Chazon Ish. it was well known for centuries that the Talmudic halakhic measurements did not seem to map to reality and so the rabbis theorized that "Nature had changed" - eggs and olives, etc, were much bigger in Talmudic days. The Chazon Ish also upheld this view. However, unlike previous rabbis who basically kept the discussion at a theoretical level, the Chazon Ish ruled that these new measurements were part of practical halacha.
When Dov heard about this, he came over to the Chazon Ish's house with kiddush cups from the Or Sameach and his grandfather, which according to the new ruling did not hold a revi'is of liquid and were not kosher. The Chazon Ish did not comment.
Other anecdotes recall the daughter of the Chafeitz Chaim complaining that her children would not use their grandfather's kiddush cup because it was not kosher according to the Chazon Ish!

After reading these stories, how can anyone have faith in a perfect mesorah is beyond my comprehension!

30 Comments:

Blogger Lubab No More said...

Word.

March 11, 2008 11:29 AM  
Blogger -suitepotato- said...

Yo, what up.

Okay, the street slang theme acknowledged, I don't buy perfect mesorah, but don't need to. It's a way that encompasses important personal, spiritual, moral, ethical, psychological and intellectual concepts. It doesn't have to be literally true and if you are worried about that, then you're not getting the actual point.

Besides, rabbinic Judaism is already painted into a corner since it is based on being the evolutionary stand-in for the temple, kohanim and leviim system of old. Rabbis are supposed to be holding on to the flame in diaspora but dogmatically that can't change back until the temple is re-established and that just isn't happening anytime soon.

Yet, the predicate is that we trying to make that happen either through action or through invoking G-d and trying to get Him to do it. So we sit here spinning our wheels with a zillion splintered schools and no central authority to finally rule.

Nevertheless, I will submit to the majority themes and ways and keep praying for an end to the impasse and an end to the schisms.

March 11, 2008 3:01 PM  
Anonymous Rabban Gamliel said...

The debate between Rabbeinu Tam and Rashi concerning Tefillin existed before them. Also you fail to realize that principles were passed down and so arguments could be made about their inferences. How is it that the supreme court can have the constitution and still have differences and there, there are no oral elements?

March 12, 2008 12:00 AM  
Blogger Tobie said...

I don't believe I have met anybody- including my really right-wing friends- who believes that the unbroken chain of mesorah has continued up until today and that modern poskim do nothing but plunk down on paper what they had learned from their own teachers. So the poor thing that you're shooting is really a dead straw horse.

March 12, 2008 3:26 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

Ok, let me step back with a little humility. I did not have a yeshiva education and it is very likely that there are huge mountains of things I do not know. However, I did not make up the phrase "unbroken chain of mesorah" and as a matter of fact, that is the main argument for the practice of Orthodox Judaism that is espoused by the kiruv movement, but also I think by most of Orthodox Judaism. So then the question becomes:
a) did I misunderstand what they are saying?
b) are they being duplicitous?
c) do they honestly represent their position, and my original points stand?

OK, now to address the individual points:

1) suitepotato, I am not addressing the content of the "mesorah" but the state of its transmission. So spiritual and intellectual evaluations of the tradition are outside the scope of this discussion.

2) RG, your point about the arguments preceding RT and Rashi nonewithstanding, my point is - in my conception of a "mesorah", it should be impossible to have them disagree about something so fundamental because RT should have accepted the tradition of Rashi, just as we hope Rashi accepted the tradition of his teacher. I can see scholars from different schools, who have received different traditions from their masters, disagree with each other (e.g. school of Hillel vs Shammai or R Akiva vs R Yishmael) but it should not be the case for RT and Rashi.

3)Tobie, referring to my opening paragraph, if it is a straw horse, it is still propped up by a lot of people who promote it as correct. I cannot see myself being so dense that I misunderstood what I read and was told. In terms of what modern poskim do, I agree that it is a different situation. I think the notion of a "tradition" has broken down a while back (which is really my original point) and so the paskening process is something altogether different.

Furthermore, I open the floor to my audience. I would like to see a paragraph or two describing what Orthodox Judaism means when they say "unbroken chain of mesorah". Note, I am not asking for personal interpretations, but an objective assessment of mainstream dogma.

March 12, 2008 7:21 AM  
Blogger Lubab No More said...

Tobie,

> I don't believe I have met anybody... who believes that the unbroken chain of mesorah has continued up until today

I personally know a Rabbi who told me that the arguments in the gemara are obviously not about what halacha to follow -- because they were all tzadikim and knew what the messorah was -- but rather the debates were about what was the proof for following the accepted ruling. He honestly believed that there was no debate about what to do in practice and there was universal agreement. This is a man who believes in an unbroken chain.

March 12, 2008 9:06 AM  
Blogger Lubab No More said...

Let me add, this is a man who has his own congregation.

March 12, 2008 9:07 AM  
Anonymous Rabban Gamliel said...

Ekvechtcher you're whole post is a red herring. What is argued is that there is an unbroken Mesorah, not that it is not admitted by anybody at least, that parts of the Mesorah were lost and had to be reconstructed if at all found. Also as I said principles were passed down and principles require interpretation and interpretation means disagreement can follow. So what is meant by an unbroken Mesorah will vary according to interpretation.

"2) RG, your point about the arguments preceding RT and Rashi nonewithstanding, my point is - in my conception of a "mesorah", it should be impossible to have them disagree about something so fundamental because RT should have accepted the tradition of Rashi, just as we hope Rashi accepted the tradition of his teacher. I can see scholars from different schools, who have received different traditions from their masters, disagree with each other (e.g. school of Hillel vs Shammai or R Akiva vs R Yishmael) but it should not be the case for RT and Rashi."

But scholars have differed from their teachers. Your conception of Mesorah is off. The Mesorah is national not private. “A Mesorah” as opposed to “the Mesorah” is private. Also I don’t know if Rabbeinu Tam had Rashi as his teacher.

March 12, 2008 9:53 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

RG,

please define what you believe is meant by "unbroken chain of mesorah" vis-a-vis its argument for the exclusive validity of Orthodox Judaism.

If a scholar differs from his teacher, how does that further the unbroken chain argument? Once you start using reasoning, the "correctness" of a tradition becomes suspect.

March 12, 2008 10:07 AM  
Anonymous Rabban Gamliel said...

"RG,

please define what you believe is meant by "unbroken chain of mesorah" vis-a-vis its argument for the exclusive validity of Orthodox Judaism."
If you mean Frumkeit then it is very simple. The argument is not about the details being the proof but the proof of Judaism being the reason for belief in the details. The Kuzari argument as explained on the internet after awhile starts to stop resembling what it ever claimed. I have never seen Jewish Philosophers using every detail of the Mesorah to prove the Mesorah. Instead I only see arguments made by them for Judaism on the grand scale and then it followed by logic that you believe in what was passed down. The Kuzari argument focuses on the Revelation or in more modern terms in the experience of the Jewish people as more sound a basis for its truth than any philosophizing. It does not follow that the Kuzari disbelieves in any Mesorahs being broken as far as details.

"If a scholar differs from his teacher, how does that further the unbroken chain argument? Once you start using reasoning, the "correctness" of a tradition becomes suspect."
If you believe in the truth of Judaism it follows that if certain things are left to reasoning then it is a legitimate form of revelation. When a Posek rules on contemporary Halachic issues it is believed that it is a part of the revelation at Sinai.

March 12, 2008 10:53 AM  
Anonymous Rabban Gamliel said...

"If a scholar differs from his teacher, how does that further the unbroken chain argument?"

We don't care about the teacher. We care about the teachings. It's the national Mesorahs we care about.

March 12, 2008 10:57 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

I don't know what "believe in the truth of Judaism" means. What I do know is that I am told that Moshe was told how to slaughter a cow on mt Sinai and that knowledge was handed down through the ages and we slaughter our cows the same way now, and if you slaughter it some different way then you are doing it wrong.

A collection of similar traditions is what I call the Mesorah and this is what constitutes the basis for orthodox Judaism

March 12, 2008 11:01 AM  
Anonymous Rabban Gamliel said...

Look if one teacher says one thing and another, another that is not the Mesorah. When both say the same that is the Mesorah. We are talking about the national Mesorah. Why should someone believe in what his teacher happens to say if he knows of another teacher saying differently. What has lent credibility to the Mesorah is that each ones teachers get challenged beyond being told of a contrary teaching.

March 12, 2008 11:19 AM  
Anonymous Rabban Gamliel said...

"I don't know what "believe in the truth of Judaism" means."

It means what you feel it should mean. What I see from skeptics is that they adopt the most fundamentalist view of Judaism and then attack that. This becomes like Artscrollization for reverse purposes. You hagiographisize Judaism and then attack it.

March 12, 2008 11:33 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

>It means what you feel it should mean.

Thanks for a meaningful conversation - not! Don't have the will to go in circles with you again and again. Thanks for stopping by my blog.

March 12, 2008 11:49 AM  
Anonymous Rabban Gamliel said...

"e-kvetcher said...
>It means what you feel it should mean.

Thanks for a meaningful conversation - not! Don't have the will to go in circles with you again and again. Thanks for stopping by my blog."

EKvetcher think! It means Judaism as a religion. You do the following: You decide why you believe in Judaism and then you believe in the details. This was the approach of at least everyone I heard of concerning proving Judaism.

March 12, 2008 12:21 PM  
Anonymous Rabban Gamliel said...

It would have been good if you had taken the time to simply ask me what I meant.

March 12, 2008 9:25 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

EK: I don't know what "believe in the truth of Judaism" means.

RG: It means what you feel it should mean.

EK:Thanks for a meaningful conversation - not!

RG: It would have been good if you had taken the time to simply ask me what I meant.


PLEASE GET SOME HELP! I AM TALKING TO YOU AS A FELLOW JEW AND A CONCERNED HUMAN BEING. I DON'T EVEN CARE ABOUT RELIGIOUS ARGUMENTS RIGHT NOW. YOU NEED HELP. I KNOW YOU DON'T SEE IT, BUT EVERY SINGLE BLOG YOU COMMENT ON, PEOPLE TELL YOU THE SAME THING. PLEASE LISTEN!

March 12, 2008 10:00 PM  
Anonymous Rabban Gamliel said...

e-kvetcher said...
EK: I don't know what "believe in the truth of Judaism" means.

RG: It means what you feel it should mean.

EK:Thanks for a meaningful conversation - not!

RG: It would have been good if you had taken the time to simply ask me what I meant.

PLEASE GET SOME HELP! I AM TALKING TO YOU AS A FELLOW JEW AND A CONCERNED HUMAN BEING. I DON'T EVEN CARE ABOUT RELIGIOUS ARGUMENTS RIGHT NOW. YOU NEED HELP. I KNOW YOU DON'T SEE IT, BUT EVERY SINGLE BLOG YOU COMMENT ON, PEOPLE TELL YOU THE SAME THING. PLEASE LISTEN!”

No they don’t. You’re being libelous. What is a matter with you. Shame on you. What kind of help am I supposed to ask for? Just because you’re freaking out?

“EK: I don't know what "believe in the truth of Judaism" means.

RG: It means what you feel it should mean.”

I meant that the approach is to define what one feels prooves Judaism as a religion and then one believes in the details. People haven’t been looking for proof all the details to prove the all the details. Have you so lack of a response that the best you can do is try to make a strawman?

March 13, 2008 12:45 AM  
Anonymous Rabban Gamliel said...

You say I need help? Fine you give me detail or else it is evident you are being hateful. Right now it just looks at best like your stupid so you struck back.

March 13, 2008 12:51 AM  
Anonymous Rabban Gamliel said...

Apologize. Let's see how big you are.

March 13, 2008 12:54 AM  
Anonymous Rabban Gamliel said...

HELLO BONE HEAD. IT'S TIME TO APOLOGIZE.

March 13, 2008 7:41 AM  
Anonymous Rabban Gamliel said...

"E-Kvetcher
Search for Emes"

Baloney. As long as you are smart enough to have an answer. Where you are dumb like here you blacklist. Shame on you for being a lowminded jerk!

March 13, 2008 7:46 AM  
Anonymous Rabban Gamliel said...

You stupid small minded idiot. Even if what I wrote would not be able to be understood by people smarter than you they would think that maybe I didn't express myself well. You felt you didn't know how to respond to me so you became a Prost idiot. You then slided into bringing up what mainly was a troll trying to shut me up and so trying to silence me and with your stupid feeble saying you are saying it for my sake. How stupid are you? I should have seen this when you said that here you want people to write without spelling mistakes. Something I am mostly not guilty of with others being.

March 13, 2008 10:22 AM  
Anonymous Rabban Gamliel said...

You stupid small minded idiot. Even if what I wrote would not be able to be understood by people smarter than you they would think that maybe I didn't express myself well. You felt you didn't know how to respond to me so you became a Prost idiot. You then slided into bringing up what mainly was a troll trying to shut me up and so trying to silence me and with your stupid feeble saying you are saying it for my sake. How stupid are you? I should have seen this when you said that here you want people to write without spelling mistakes. Something I am mostly not guilty of with others being.

March 13, 2008 10:22 AM  
Blogger Miri said...

I'm not reading all the comments so I apologize if this is redundant: Unbroken mesora= people passed their thoughts and opinions down from one generation to the next. Unbroken Mesorah does NOT = everyone thought the same exact thing since Moshe Rabbeinu.

March 13, 2008 11:03 AM  
Anonymous Tobie said...

Um.....anyway.

Lubab- firstly, I have no idea how anybody who has ever learnt a daf can believe that. But more importantly, it has nothing to do with my point. Lots of people believe that the talmud was based on chains of mesorah, distorted to various degrees or all mutually co-existing valid opinions, but all essentially received from their teachers.

Nobody I know believes that Poskim TODAY or even in the middle ages had the same sort of deal. The farthest they will go is claiming some sort of ruach hakodesh, which is problematic enough. But NOBODY I know thinks that Rashi, or Rambam, or any Rishon was simply reporting what he had learned from others. In fact, I am hard pressed to see how somebody could say that, after reading Teshuvot that very clearly state which bits of things are from others, which bits are according to the logic of the author, and which bits are interpretations of earlier sources. So I don't think any examples of machloket after, say, the gemara can really be brought against the 'unbroken chain of mesora'. It's simply not what people believe.

March 13, 2008 11:12 AM  
Anonymous Rabban Gamliel said...

E-Kvetcher gave me a smiley in his newest post so I forgive him. I am crazy afterall.

"Miri said...
I'm not reading all the comments so I apologize if this is redundant: Unbroken mesora= people passed their thoughts and opinions down from one generation to the next. Unbroken Mesorah does NOT = everyone thought the same exact thing since Moshe Rabbeinu."

It depends what you mean. I have simply thought of it as being tradition being passed down including info that we lost some info. If you press the definition too far it really breaks down.

March 13, 2008 11:17 AM  
Blogger Lubab No More said...

Tobie,

> I have no idea how anybody who has ever learnt a daf can believe that.

I agree. But I didn't bother to argue with him. He clearly was ignoring the obvious.

> But more importantly, it has nothing to do with my point.

Actually, I was specifically addressing your point. I think you were trying to say that the argument presented in the post is a straw-man because no one thinks of mesorah as being consistent back to Moshe. But the fact of the matter is people believe in the idea of an "unbroken chain of mesorah" as something that hasn't changed to 3,300+ years. Some of these people are as described by e-k and others are like my (extreme) example. Mostly they are charedi but just because you haven't met them doesn't mean they don't exist.

> It's simply not what people believe.

You may want to amend that to "It's not what people I know believe."

Just to be clear, I am simply arguing that e-k's description is valid. I am not claiming to know what is the proper way to interpret the phrase "unbroken chain".

What do you think the phrase "unbroken chain of mesorah" means?

March 13, 2008 12:11 PM  
Blogger Tobie said...

Lubab: Your example regarded a position in the gemara. Do you know anybody who has said something similar about modern poskim- that they all basically agree on what the law should be and just disagree about how it is derived? I personally do not.

Do you know anybody who believes that all of current halachic decisions are based solely on tradition, so that everything currently in any halachic work was learned, by the author, entirely and directly from his predecessors? I do not.

People will apply unbroken chain of mesorah to modern times- at least to my knowledge- extremely rarely and always referring to basic philosophical/theological principles- the validity of the Torah, Matan Torah, etc. I personally have never heard it used to apply to the content of a contemporary (or semi-contemporary) halachic source. Again, as I acknowledged in my first post, I speak only of those with whom I am acquainted- which span reasonably far right. But maybe I should be having this discussion in the other thread? Multiple threads always confuse me.

March 13, 2008 4:30 PM  

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