Volume 11 Number 18
                       Produced: Sun Jan  9 22:43:56 1994

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

         [Saul Stokar]
         [Anthony Fiorino]


From: <sol@...> (Saul Stokar)
Date: 15-Tevet-5754 (29-December-1993) 
Subject: G'dolim

	I read with interest the tail end of an apparently ongoing
discussion about the definition of "Gadlut" and I'd like to add my own
two cents. Since I haven't read the entire correspondence (I'm new to
e-mail), I apologize if I repeat things already said by others. One
correspondent (<A_BERGER@...> (Aliza Berger)

> "the rule that to be appointed a judge, someone must be able to prove 70
> different ways that something impure is pure (sorry, I don't remember
> the case exactly)"

I would like to share an interesting interpretation of that "rule" that
I recently came across. The source of the rule is T.B. Sanhedrin 17a
(and T.B. Eruvin 13b) and the quote (in my own approximate translation)

	"R. Yehuda said in the name of Rav: We may only appoint to the
Sanhedrin (the Supreme Court) one who knows how to prove from the Torah
that vermin (which the Torah explicitly delares to be ritually impure
[see Parshat Shmini]) are ritually pure."  (in Eruvin, loc. cit., R.
Meir's pupil Sumchus is described as being so smart that he could "prove
the ritual cleanliness of vermin in 150 ways")

The commentaries have a difficult time explaining this dictum. For
example, R. Tam asks (in Tosaphot to Sanhedrin 17a) "what is the point
of such vain sharpness ("charifut shel hevel") proving pure that which
the Torah declares impure ?". Because of this objection to the plain
meaning, R. Tam explains the text in a "pilpulistic" manner, the details
of which I will not go into. However, I recently came across an
interesting alternate explanation. The quote is from Meiri (R. Menahem
HaMe'eiri) to Sanhedrin 17a (I have not checked the source directly but
instead have translated the quote from the book "Margoliot HaYam" by R.
Reuven Margoliot).

	"Me'eiri (p. 55) writes: My own explanation for this dictum that
if the sages see that a Biblical Law (din Torah) causes mishaps and
obstacles (i.e. has a negative instead of positive effect) they must
know how to invent new laws and modify old ones as stop-gap measures
("hora'at sha'ah") and to find Biblical support for such legislation.
This is what the ge'onim ("sages") meant in Talmudic law when they said
that the Rabbis and Sages have the power to enact specific or general
legislation to remove (solve) "ugly" problems as they see fit, on the
basis of minor support (i.e. without significant legal precedents).
Referring to this, the great commentator (Ra'vad of Posquires ?) wrote:
The Talmud was only given (i.e. permission to legislate was only given)
to experts that follow tradition (Ba'ali Kabbalah Mumchim) and to those
equiped with proper theoretical background and the necessary clear and
balanced judgement to remove (i.e. negate), add (legislation) and
interpret (homilize). However, this screen is opaque for most people
(i.e. this method cannot be used by all people), and is only suitable
for use by the outstanding men of the generation, those who are
outstanding in knowledge ("yediyah"), sharpness ("charifut"), honest
sophistry ("pilpul meyushar") and considered opinion ("da'at

	According to Me'eri's remarkable analysis, Rav's dictum states
that in order for a person to be qualified to be a member of the
Sanhedrin, in addition to an in depth knowledge of the current Halacha
he must have the strength of character to make changes in the Law when
necessary and not merely to "interpret" the Law on ths basis of previous
legislation. (It goes withotu saying that the Halacha contains
guidelines even for such "emergency" legislation ...).

	I'd like to cite another interesting source on this topic. We
are all familiar with the story in the Talmud (T.B. Gittin 55b-56a)
about the events that lead to the destruction of the second Temple viz.
the story of Kamza and bar Kamza. In an attempt to revenge himself on
the Jews after being insulted, bar Kamza attempts to trick the Jews into
an act of sedition against the Romans by making a blemish in a sacrifice
sentby the Romans as a offering in the Temple. His plan was that the
priests would reject the blemished animal and this rejection would be
taken as a sign of revolt by the Romans (since they didn;t recognize
that particular blemish as being ritually significant). The Rabbis
realized what was happening and they tried two approaches. First, they
suggested offering the sacrifice despite the blemish. This approach was
certainly justified halachicly, since it was a question of life and
death. However, R. Zachariah b. Avkulas objected, stating this future
generations would mistakenly use this a precedent that animals with
blemishes may be offered as sacrifices (even in non-emergency
situations). The Rabbis then suggested killing bar Kamza (and telling
ther Romans that they never received the blemished animal). Again, R.
Zachariah b. Avkulas objected, claiming that future generations would
mistakenly assume that this meant that making a blemish in a sacrifical
animal is a capitol offence (even under normal circumstances). As a
result of R. Zachariah b. Avkulas's objections, no action was taken, the
sacrifice was rejected, the Romans were informed that the Jews had
revolted and they responded by sending their troops to quell the
revolution. In summing up the story, R. Yohanan states: "the humilty
(anavah) of R. Zachariah b. Avkulas destroyed our House (i.e Temple/
Land(?)), burnt our Temple and exiled us from our land".

	The choice of the description of the cause of our troubles as
the "humility" of R. Zachariah b. Avkulas is very puzzling. Rashi
glosses: the tolerance (savlanut) of R. Zachariah b. Avkulas, who
tolerated bar Kamza and didn't allow him to be killed. This
interpretation is difficult to accept. If R. Yohanan meant tolerance why
does he use the term humility ("anavah"). If one compares the parallel
story as related in Lamentations Rabbah i4,3 one finds a clue to R.
Yohanan's dictum. The story in Lamentations Rabba is basically the same
as in T.B. Giitin 56a, with the addition of one point. After telling the
story of bar Kamza's humiliation, the Midrash adds "and R. Zachariah b.
Avkulas was present (during the humiliation) and he could have protested
(i.e. he had the opportunity) but he did not. Taking this detail into
account, we can understand why R. Yohanan refers to the "humility" of R.
Zachariah b. Avkulas as causing the destruction of the Temple. R.
Zachariah b. Avkulas was too humble to stand up and take a stand against
a clear injustice, and in the eyes of R. Yohanan, this was a grave sin.
This point is elaborated clearly in the gloss to Gitin 56a of Maharatz
Chayot (Zvi Hertz Hadjes (?)) who writes:

	"R. Zachariah b. Avkulas, due to his deep humility, lacked the
inner strength to take practical action, fearing he would be accused of
exceeding the bounds of Halacha. He did not consider himself great
enough to take action based on the halachic principle of "hora'at
sha'ah' (temporary emergency legislation). He felt that such action was
only within the domain of the "gdolei hador" (the great men of the
generation) and that he wasn't worthy enough to take stop-gap action
"contrary" to the (usual) Torah laws. Thus, his inaction is refered to
as his "humility" i.e. the fact that he refused to stand up for what he
knew was right caused the destruction of the Temple and of Israel"

	Thus, the story of R. Zachariah b. Avkulas as understood by
Maharatz Hayot jibes with the dictum of Rav as undestood by Me'eri. To
be a "gadol" it is not enough to have an encyclopic knowledge of Halacha
nor of Jewish philosophy or Ethics. Such knowledge is clearly necessary
but not sufficient. It is necessary for the gadol to feel that he has
not just the right but the duty and obligation to extend the bounds of
the Halacha when the times and circumstances call for it. For me, a
necessary condition for a "gadol hador" is his involvment not merely in
"psak halacha" based on precedent, but in their recognition of their
holy obligation to widen the bounds of Halacha when it is called for by
the circumstances.

How many historical/current figures meet this criterion? Too few I fear.

Saul Stokar
Head, MRI Physics Department
Elscint Ltd
Tirat HaCarmel, Israel


From: Anthony Fiorino <fiorino@...>
Date: Thu, 6 Jan 94 17:41:42 -0500
Subject: Gadlus

Hayim Hendeles disagreed strongly with my statement that Rav Shach "at
times appears to have transgressed the bounds of civil behavior."  In
fact, he submitted a very long posting attacking this statement.
Perhaps all of Hayim's time need not have been spent working on his
posting (and consequently all my time need not have been spent on this
reply to his posting) if he had simply read what I wrote (in spite of
the fact that he quoted this comment 4 times) -- "**APPEARS** to have
transgressed."  My whole point was that we don't know what the reality
is, that what some are quick to call an actual fault or problem may only
APPEAR that way to us.  I was very careful to avoid judging Rav Shach,
couching my phrases with words like "APPEARS" and "PERHAPS."  Hayim
brings down many incidents of serious argumentation amongst gedolim.  To
take one example -- the burning of the Mishneh Torah -- this was a
tragedy, and those involved with it felt so afterwards.  We need not be
reserved in our judgement of it; we need not say "when they burned the
Mishneh Torah, it was right, then later, they had a ruach hakodesh and
saw that it was wrong," which seems to be what Hayim's posting implied.
No.  It was wrong *always* -- from the first flame to the last, burning
the Mishneh Torah was wrong.

As for his other examples -- re: the Rav: this example is a poor analogy
for 2 reasons.  First, the Rav was virtually never verbally antagonistic
in a public setting or in his writings, to my knowledge; second, Hayim
claims people like me are applying a double standard because "when a
gadol whose viewpoints we agree with displays this alleged antagonistic
behavior, we can understand it, ignore it, and even forgive it.  But when
a gadol whose opinions we disagree with displays the same behavior, then
it becomes outrageous, unforgivable, and disgusting."  I ask you Hayim --
did I ever call Rav Shach or his statements any of those things,
"outrageous, unforgivable, and disgusting?"  In fact, my posting I think
demonstrated the respect necessary when discussing the views of a gadol. 
If I did not, please point out exactly where.

Re: the arguments between chassidim and mitnagdim -- I think both sides
have much to be sorry for on this issue, I here too I don't see any
reason to withhold judgement -- many mistakes were made.  The argument
that everyone was acting l'shem shamayim doesn't change the fact that
how they acted was wrong.  So too for R. Emden and R. Eibshitz -- two
men fought, and the honor of the Torah was lessened.

Hayim's point, I think, was to illustrate that these numerous incidents
which appeared to transgress the bounds of civil behavior were in fact
the right thing to do.  If that was his point, then I think he failed.
I think he has in fact given us some prime examples of great rabbaim
transgressing the bounds of civil behavior.  In all of Hayim's cases he
claims that the people involved were acting l'shem shamayim, thus it
makes their "crossing the line" OK.  I think this is wrong too.  The
ends don't always justify the means.  If someone tells me they are going
to apostize, should I kill them to prevent that from happening?  I might
act completely l'shem shamayim, but does it justify such an act
halachically or morally?  No, absolutely not.  Do I even have the right
to publicly humiliate a person with whom I disagree?  No.  Are rabbaim
any less bound by these halachot? No.  (To avoid the claim of "double
standard," I apply this to the Rav as well.  Having never experienced
the Rav in shiur, I am not in a position to say, but from what I have
heard about the Rav's shiur before 1967, I would have no problem
qualifying what I have heard as "appearing to transgress the bounds of
civil behavior."  I might point out that although R. Hayim Soloveitchik
in his hesped appeared to favor the pre-1967 shiur of the Rav, others
viewed the Rav's more gentle approach post-1967 positively.)

Hayim asks whether we should toss off of the beis midrash shelves all of
those who engaged in what I would consider behavior apparently
antagonistic -- I happen to think the answer is not as pashut as Hayim
thinks it is.  While I certainly don't think we should remove rishonim
from the shelves, shouldn't it be the case that a person's ethical and
moral conduct impacts the way we view that person in spite of however
much Torah that person knows?  Isn't this a question at least worth

And, in spite of Hayim's claim otherwise, I think the vast majority of
postings, including mine, have shown the posters to be dan l'kaf zchus
to Rav Shach and other gedolim.  The very discussion is a proof of this
-- if we didn't care about what these gedoolim thought, if we weren't
giving them the benefit of the doubt, then we would simply write them
off as having little relevant to say to us as far as public policy
issues go.  Not out of disrespect, but simply out of irrelevance, the
way that the pronouncements of an extreme charedi position on the State
of Israel (like, that it is the work of satan) would fall on my ears as
irrelevant.  I am willing to invest time and thought and energy into
discussing Rav Shach *precisely* because I recognize his gadlus.

Two quick points before closing -- (1) I happen to put very little
weight in the application of pasukim from chumash to contemparary
events; meaning, just because Pinchas was right doesn't mean person X is
right.  And (2), why is it that a number of people on mail-jewish, when
they are disagreeing with a posting, choose to quote that posting
anonymously (ie, "one reader posted the following") even if they have
quoted approvingly from that person's postings other times, using the
person's name?  Is it an attempt to dehumanize the "enemy" by making
him/her a nameless, faceless electronic entity?  (After all, it is much
easier to argue with a "poster" than with a friend).  Or is it that one
is so blinded by anger that one can no longer recognize even the names
flitting across one's computer terminal?  Or is it a good deed, by not
publicly associating a person's name with the blasphemous and heretical
statements previously written by that person?  This sociological
phenomona seems to be "trans-hashkafic" but still, I think bad . . . any
other thoughts?

Eitan Fiorino


End of Volume 11 Issue 18