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!