Thursday, March 13, 2008

What does "unbroken chain of mesorah" mean to you?

OK, this started as a bit of a rant, but now I am curious. The way it was explained to me, the notion of an "unbroken chain of mesorah" had to do with the transmission of Oral Laws from Sinai to latter generations of Rabbis. To give an example from a previous thread:
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
However, Miri just commented that to her it means this:
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.

So, there is quite a difference there in terms of implications. I am talking about concrete Laws - kashrut, korbanot, etc. Miri is talking about thoughts and opinions. Which is right? Can they both be right?

And "this just in..." - Tobie argues that nobody believes in this "unbroken chain of tradition" in my sense of it after the time of the Gemorah anyway. So does this mean that I am a poor listener, or is the kiruv movement trying to be disengenuous?

Of course I always am wary of this kind of discussion because there are many folks out there, especially in the jblog world that will take the position of "if you only understood the true meaning of X, you would see how mistaken you are". Unfortunately, their "true meaning" is always some minority stretch that most of the mainstream does not hold by. So even though they are in the fold, this "mad scientist" stance is not exactly a convincing argument.


Anonymous Rabban Gamliel said...

The classic version is the idea that there was a Mesorah of Halacha and perhaps some ideas, certainly that there is one G-d who said hello at Mt. Sinai. If you get to extremes then what is the classic universal view becomes the inflated idea that every little idea or implication of law was all given at Mt. Sinai. It's basically Miri's dichotomy of mesorah versus Mesorah.

March 13, 2008 11:45 AM  
Blogger Lubab No More said...

Here is a piece on Masorah from Rabbi Herschel Schachter:
On the Matter of Masorah

(The article mostly focuses on breaking with tradition but it is relevant to the conversation).

March 13, 2008 12:23 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

Interesting article - I especially like the gratuituous swipe at Blu Greenberg

March 13, 2008 1:47 PM  
Blogger Tobie said...

Um... so now that I see my opinion out there, my lawyerly instincts force me to backtrack and limit: To the best of my knowledge, nobody believes in a full and total chain of mesorah lasting until modern times. Everyone with whom I am acquainted, to the best of my knowledge, believes that current poskim operate with a combination of interpretation, general moral/spiritual/religious principles that are part of the communal or national consciousness, interpretations learned from others, legal principles passed down through the years, and possibly ruach hakodesh stemming from their general holiness and immersion in Torah. If this counts as mesorah, then I suppose they still believe in it, but it is quite different than believing that every ruling is based directly on the words of the preceding generations.

March 13, 2008 4:24 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

A propos, a good read. No chiddushim, but presnts things nicely.

March 14, 2008 11:10 AM  
Blogger Miri said...

"if you only understood the true meaning of X, you would see how mistaken you are".

The way to avoid this trap is by pretending not to understand the concept to begin with, going through it step by step with the other person, making sure you got the whole concept, and then saying "Yes, but, what about x? I still don't get it." The smarter among them realize you're calling them stupid, but not everyone does.

March 15, 2008 11:23 AM  

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