Volume 16 Number 94
                       Produced: Tue Nov 29 23:52:38 1994

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

         [Yitzchok Adlerstein]
         [Alan Cooper and Tamar Frank]
Allegory in the Tanach (2)
         [David Charlap, Yaacov Haber]
Innovative Psak
         [Isaac Balbin]
Rabbeinu Tam's Tefillin
         [David Phillips]


From: <yitzchok.adlerstein@...> (Yitzchok Adlerstein)
Date: Mon, 28 Nov 94 22:59:41 -0800
Subject: Aggada

Sometimes I have to pinch myself to remind myself that mail-jewish is an
Orthodox group.  While I find the openess of the forum, and the
intellectual acuity of many of its participants exhilarating, sometimes
the diversity of opinion gets oppressive.  I wonder how people who,
after all, share a profound committment to halacha and the thirteen
principles of the Rambam, can still disagree so passionately on basic

These last few weeks on mail-jewish make a traditionalist feel as
comfortable as Benjamin Hooks at a Klan reunion.  We've seen the Mabul
[Flood] dry up, midrash reduced to fairy tales, Esav and Yaakov reverse
roles, and Daas Torah uncovered as the invention of 19th century
spin-doctors.  I'd bet that I am not the only one who feels frustrated
for not having time to respond to all these important points.  More
important, though, than the consternation of those of us with
unshakeable belief, must be the confusion of those who did not have the
zechus [merit] to spend years in a bais medrash to be able to firmly
formulate their beliefs.  They don't know whom to believe, and in some
cases that there is even another viewpoint that should be considered.

In this vein I offer the perceptions of one unabashed traditionalist
concerning the Aggada, at least in outline form.  I believe that I
present nothing new, but that they are all based on the major thrust of
our literature and our mesorah of previous centuries.  I do not offer
them as a doctrinal statement, but as one traditional view, for those
who wish to learn about such views, that I received from my rabbeim, and
continue to teach my students.

1) All of Torah was authored by Hashem, including the narrative

2) Hashem had a purpose in writing every letter of the Torah.

3) Not all interpetations of Torah are created equal.  One who argues
that the "pri etz hadar" we are to take on the first of Sukkos is a
papaya, is mistaken, even if most Hawaiins will agree that its a nicer
fruit than an esrog.  One who maintains that the three evocations of a
Divine Name in the first line of the Shma allude (chas v'shalom) to the
Trinity has no place in Jewish society.

4) To find the true intentions of the Author in what might otherwise be
an infinite number of good, bad, and ugly ways of interpreting the text,
we turn to the Oral Torah.  This is what He instructed us.  This
reliance on traditional interpretation is a more important way that we
differ with Protestantism than in the nature of Jesus.

5) Torah She-b'al Peh [the Oral Law] did not skip the narrative portions
of Chumash.  While we do not always come to binding conclusions about
Aggadic material (as we do in halacha), we really attempt to discover
within Aggada what we do in Halacha.  We try to discover what lessons
Hashem wishes us to learn.  He wrote the Torah in a way that multiple
truths may be wringed out of a given text.  But not all that may be
squeezed out of a text is Truth.

6) Midrashim are the earliest, and therefore most authoritative way of
discovering the approach Chazal took to a topic in Chumash.

7) Midrashim can be more profound than halachic portions of the Talmud.
For this reason, they were not committed to writing (Gemara Gittin) when
much of the rest of the Oral Torah was.  There was greater reluctance
here that the true meaning would be lost or perverted (MaHaRaTZ Chayes).
Sometimes, Chazal deliberately couched their profundity in obscure or
even bizarre language, so that those without the proper readiness and
orientation would cast it aside, and not gain access to its secrets
(Ramchal).  Those who understand the genius of the Sages of the Talmud
will understand that those same contributors are incapable of spewing
nonsense, and thus will try harder to uncover their real intention

8) Not all midrashim come from the same source.  Some are entirely
traditional.  They contain information whose source was direct
revelation at Sinai.  This is particularly likely in the case of
statements that reflect basic principles of faith (Maharatz
Chayes). Other midrashim are not traditional in this sense.  They
express the opinion of the individual author. (Avraham ben HaRambam).
Even here, though, these opinions are not shots in the dark.  They
incorporate a) elements of general approach that are entirely
traditional (e.g. Just how "good" were the Avos?  How trustworthy is
prophecy? Were the heroes of Nach bloodthirsty warriors, or G-d fearing,
intense souls?).  They also include b) the honing of mental skills by
years of incomprehensible depth of Torah understanding.

9) Not all midrashim were meant to be taken literally.  But they are
always correct. (Maharal of Prague, one of our greatest "bulldogs" for
the sactity of every letter of Chazal, is nonetheless notoriously
non-literal in his approach to countless passages.)  We often do not
know which should, and which should not.  We should apply the same tools
to them as we do in studying the halachic parts of the gemara.  None of
us within Orthodoxy would think seriously of opening a Shas and
deliberately ignoring Rashi in favor of our own understanding .  We
should treat the Aggada the same way.  We should allow greater minds
than ours to guide us to our conclusions.  If we can't find that
guidance, then at least we should understand that any difficulty lies
with our comprehension, not with the product they served up.

10) Because the "real" intent of the author of a passage in the Aggada
is often ellusive, we cannot as often fix a legally binding meaning to
many passages.  In particular, if a passage seems to convey something to
us that completely violates our sensibilities, it is likely that we have
missed its real thrust, and therefore do not learn from it.  This is the
meaning of "Eyn lemaydin min ha- aggados" [We do not learn from Aggados]
(Michtav Me-eliyahu).  Nonetheless, there are many, many examples of
practical laws that have been codified, whose only source is the Aggada.
This is particularly likely when the source is an aggada that was
incorporated by the editors of the Gemara. (Maharatz Chayes)

11) Chazal often used the scientific knowledge common in their times as
vehicles for expressing their wisdom.  Science may change.  The task of
Chazal was to know and disseminate the timeless Torah that was revealed
at Sinai, not the science that is revealed with the passage of time.
The task of the student is to get beyond the scientific assumptions, and
to the core of the teaching they wish to convey. These teachings
transcend time and any particular cultural form of expression. (Maharal,
many places; Michtav Me- Eliyahu vol. 4)

12) Can we sometimes arrive at truths about the Torah without their
guidance?  Sure.  Patients can self-prescribe too, and sometimes live to
talk about it.  Good medicine it isn't.

There.  I feel better just writing all of this!


From: Alan Cooper and Tamar Frank <Alan.Cooper@...>
Date: Tue, 29 Nov 1994 12:27:16 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Allegory

Yisroel Rotman has hit the nail on the head with his question: how can
we determine what we must take literally and what we may interpret
allegorically?  Simple answer: we cannot, except as guided by tradition.
See what Ibn Ezra has to say about the Karaites and Christians in his
Torah introduction: lacking guidance from tradition, the former err on
the side of overliteralness and the latter allegorize wildly.  But there
are two hermeneutical problems: what is the meaning of "literal," and
what if the tradition is inconsistent?  On literalness, note the fact
that the traditionally-sanctioned "literal" interpretation of Song of
Songs is allegorical!  Indeed, one can find many instances of
commentators collapsing the distinction between the literal and the
parabolic sense.  Yisroel cites Job, and n.b.  the opinion that Job
never lived is idiosyncratic.  More common is the view that Job really
lived, but that he is, nevertheless, to be viewed as a parable (mashal).
A classic statement of what I take to be a more or less normative
position is in Book 3 of Albo's _Sefer ha-iqqarim_: we take the halakha
literally, and we retain the literal sense of the stories as well, while
acknowledging that they also contain profound mysteries.  In all candor,
I don't think that anyone makes a doctrinal issue out of the absolute
historical reliability of Scripture until the rise of evangelical
Christianity.  But that's another story.

Cordially,  Alan Cooper 


From: <david@...> (David Charlap)
Date: Tue, 29 Nov 94 11:13:52 EST
Subject: Allegory in the Tanach

Yisroel Rotman <SROTMAN@...> writes:
>Question:   how can we determine what MUST be taken literally
>vs. what may be taken as an allegory.

 From reading the text, you can't.  It's the Oral Torah that lets us
know.  In order to really know, you must learn it from a qualified
rabbi - one who is well versed in the Talmud (which is the written
embodiment of the Oral Torah.)

>P.S.  I once had it told to me that some midrashim must not be taken
>literally and some must be taken literally; when I asked how to tell
>the difference, I was told it is obvious.

Well, it isn't obvious.  You should only learn these things with
someone who already knows them, either a rabbi or a learned friend.

From: Yaacov Haber <haber@...>
Date: Wed, 30 Nov 1994 14:38:32 +1100 (EST)
Subject: Re: Allegory in the Tanach

A couple of years ago I was privileged to listen to a Shiur of Rav Y
Weinberg Shlita at the AJOP convention. The Shiur was in Hilchos Talmud
Torah. In it he explained that the definition of Torah SheBaal Peh is
the "uniquely Jewish way of understanding Torah Shebksav". This is
different, he pointed out, than what the Rambam calls "Gemoro".

It seems to me that it is possible to interpret Chumash in hundreds of
ways (and this is done) but we have a PARDES of how traditionally these
pesukim are interpreted, ACCORDING TO JEWS. This is the essence and
purpose of Torah SheBaal Peh.

I presume that there is no harm done in inserting a little vertel into
the text but I wouldn't make Birchas HaTorah on it. If one's vertel is
changing practise or taking the Posuk out of it's pashtus I maintain
that one must find a Chazal to back himself up or otherwise prove that
his interpretation is part of the Mesorah.

As far as how to interpret Chazal ....

Rabbi Yaacov Haber, Director                  
Australia Institute for Torah                
phone: (613) 527-6156                    
fax:   (613) 527-8034                     Internet:<haber@...>


From: Isaac Balbin <isaac@...>
Date: Tue, 29 Nov 1994 18:20:55 +1100
Subject: Re: Innovative Psak

In respect to Innovative Psak, Moishe Kimelman writes:

  | But if a Rabbi today paskened differently to the Rema 
  | based not on one of the earlier poskim, but merely on his interpretation of 
  | Gemara his psak would not be considered within the bounds of legitimate 
  | halacha.  Do you disagree?

Well yes, in a way. Consider this. An Ashkenazi Posek who has a question
on a Gemora and based on this question goes against the Ramoh, and all
the Ashkenazi Nosei Kelim [supra commentators] and decides to pasken
like the Mechaber [R' Yosef Karo].  Is that not innovative enough? The
basis of the P'sak is NOT that the Posek is simply relying on the
Mechaber. Rather, it is the opinion of the latter day Posek that the
Ramo and Nosei Kelim do not fit in with the Gemora as he sees it,
whereas the Mechaber does.  If that satisfies your criteria of
innovation then I can supply the precedent.

Another example involves questions that are not explicitly addressed by
the Gemora, but *are* addressed by Poskim. Now, I don't mean newish
questions such as electricity. I mean things such as the International
Date Line which was addressed as early as the Ba'al Hamoor. If a Posek
decides that the B'aal Hamo'or `got it wrong' is that okay? Is it okay
because the B'aal Hamo'or wasn't the Ramoh?

  | >Reb Moshe paskened almost out of the Gemorah!
  | Yes, but did he pasken against Shulchan Aruch et al based solely on his 
  | interpretation, or did he base his psak on earlier poskim?  

I would say that the most accurate way to describe Reb Moshe's method in
Psak was that he would learn the relevant Gemoras and based on this he
would then pasken, and then relate his psak to other Rishonim such as
Shulchan Aruch. In his latter T'shuvos one finds more examples of a
discussion of his opinion as it relates to Acharonim, but I digress.

 | >Are you a subscriber to the (non-grain) dictum of Chodosh Assur Min HaTorah
 | >[anything new is forbotten]?

 | If it is like the Melech Chodosh that did not know Yosef, then the answer is
 | yes.

Yes, but if it is simply the explanation of a new Pharoah, then the analogy
is that a new issue cannot be permitted. Why pray not?


From: <davidp@...> (David Phillips)
Date: Tue, 29 Nov 94 18:48:33 EST
Subject: Rabbeinu Tam's Tefillin

I remember once hearing/learning that although Rabbeinu Tam paskened
"intellectually" about the order of the parshios being different from
Rashi, Rabbeinu Tam wore "l'ma'aseh" (on an actual basis) Rashi's
tefillin out of respect for his grandfather.  In other words, Rabbeinu
Tam never wore Rabbeinu Tam's tefillin!

Did anyone else ever hear this?  Do you know of a source?  (Or is this a
bubbeh-ma'aseh (a fairy tale) or am I hallucinating?)

--- David "Beryl" Phillips


End of Volume 16 Issue 94