Volume 47 Number 59
                    Produced: Tue Apr 12  6:17:20 EDT 2005

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Developing Halacha
         [Bernard Raab]
Developing Schism in the National Religious circles
         [Mark Steiner]
Historical Truth
         [Binyomin Segal]
Lubavitch and shtreimel
Lubavitch and Shtreimel
         [S Shapiro]


From: Bernard Raab <beraab@...>
Date: Fri, 08 Apr 2005 16:45:42 -0400
Subject: Developing Halacha

>From: Avi Feldblum
> > From: Bernard Raab <beraab@...>
> > In fact, I wonder why anyone would take exception to my thesis. The
> > advent of new technology alone is insufficient to trigger a halachic
> > response unless and until it starts to impact our lives.
>The question is what exactly is your thesis. The points you put forward
>in the original submission that started this thread, had a thesis that I
>and I think many others take strong exception to. Let me try and state
>what I heard as your thesis:
> A common / dominent element of halachic development is based on
> individual members of the community acting without the use of a
> psak from a halachic decisor for some period of time. As this
> behaviour becomes more common in the community, the rabbinic
> leadership views this activity and validates it with halachic
> underpinings.
>If that is your thesis, then indeed, I take great exception to it. The
>following is I think a more realistic thesis:
> A common / dominent element of halachic development is based on
> a new situation rising which creates social pressure for a
> halachic response. Based on requests from individual members of
> the community, local halachic decisors issue initial rulings. As
> the situation becomes more prevelant, and is dealt with by more
> local halachic decisors, the issue issue is discussed by the
> recognized major poskim, and one or more common approaches are
> taken by the major poskim, and following those responsa, the
> majority of local halachic decisors follow that approach or one
> of those common approaches.

Here is the latest statement of my thesis, as published in V47no.45:

"What I suppose some may find controversial about my statement is my
claim that practice tends to precede the formalization of change. I will
modify my statement to say that either practice, public pressure, or
severe necessity *always* precedes halachic change. I will also grant
that sometimes, or maybe most of the time, a local orthodox rabbi in
some remote community or yeshiva will approve the practice in question,
usually privately, but this gets spread around, leading to a growth in
the practice until it becomes one which more and more rabbis can approve
without feeling alone in "left field". At some point some well-known
poskim and roshei yeshiva get on board, but this may take years, perhaps
after the practice is pretty well entrenched."

I believe the major difference between Avi's position and mine is the
difference between what is and what should be. Certainly Avi's position
is the way an orderly system should work. The real world is not so
orderly. Most frequently, the "initial rulings" of the local halachic
decisors is negative to change, and this is probably the way it should
be. We want our rabbis to resist change in the first instance and to
uphold tradition. In any truly conservative society, change comes about
only when driven by demand, and this is why the lay population has a
role to play: This is where the demand originates.

Some listers seem to have gotten upset with my thesis in the mistaken
belief that I am advocating widespread violation of halacha by
unqualified laypeople. I am not advocating. What I have been trying to
do is to illuminate the way that halachic change actually occurs in
practice. Several listers who have written to me offline suggest that
there is *always* a prior (if minority) halachic opinion to support the
positions of those who decide to depart from long-established halacha,
for reasons which they find compelling. Considering the variety of
opinions expressed within the talmud itself, and the considerable body
of scholarship we have since the closing of the talmud, this would seem
to be a slam dunk. Nevertheless, thanks to the march of science and
technology, there are issues which are "brand new". The issue of organ
transplants and the concommitant issue of brain death which arose as a
result, could not have been foreseen by the classical sources.

The question, then, is this: Did no orthodox Jew sign an organ donor
card in advance of R. Moshe Feinstein's ruling? Or did they act without
even suspecting that it might be controversial? And did they weigh the
arguments of those poskim who continue to oppose brain death as a
definition of death? Two more examples of many out there:

 *  The first Jews who bought a refrigerator were certainly unaware that
    opening its door on Shabbat might be forbidden, since it could cause
    the motor to come on. Was there a heter in place to allow it? Of
    course not. When the issue was raised, did anyone stop using the
    refrigerator on Shabbat? I seriusly doubt it: what choice was there?
    Eventually, the heterim followed.

 *  Was every Jew who educated his daughter in Torah in the 18th and 19th
    century (and before) aware that he was in violation of
    well-established halacha? Did he seek a heter in all cases before
    doing so? Talk about controversy!

In Avi's well-ordered world, every Jew is aware of the halachic
implications of everything he does, and has researched the issues
carefully before deciding on an action. But this is fantasy, not
reality.  In many ways, this parallels the discussion in M-J regarding
the teaching of history. There is historic reality and then there is
"his-story" as we would like it to have been. Personally, I just prefer
the former and always have.

b'shalom--Bernie R.


From: Mark Steiner <marksa@...>
Date: Fri, 8 Apr 2005 16:25:20 +0300
Subject: RE: Developing Schism in the National Religious circles

This is a question for Shmuel, who pointed out that there is a
developing schism in the National Religious circles over attitudes
toward the State of Israel in light of the planned evacuation of Gush
Katif.  I am sure he is right, but I'd like to know whether the the
great divide manifests itself in other matters.  I.e., does
discontinuing saying Hallel over the State Of Israel correlate with
other religious or social characteristics?

Mark Steiner


From: Binyomin Segal <bsegal@...>
Date: Fri, 8 Apr 2005 14:37:51 -0500
Subject: Historical Truth

Hello - 

I find the discussion about historical accuracy - and the possibility of
purposeful distortion for the sake of inspiration - disturbing but
unfortunately not entirely surprising.

I find it very likely that Rav Schwab did take a position like the one
attributed to him. I recall an article of his that dealt with the length
of the Babylonian exile (and I apologize, but I do not recall the source
of this article). As most of you know, the traditional sources give the
length of the exile at 70 years, while secular academic sources record a
much longer exile. In trying to resolve the discrepancy, Rav Schwab
suggested that chazal deliberately lied about the 70 year exile in order
to match recorded history with earlier prophecy. His understanding of
chazel's actions seem to be very much in accord with the position that
has been attributed to him here.

Personally, I have always found this approach very disturbing on many
levels. It is comforting for me to note therefore that this is far from
a universal charedi approach.

Rav Hutner (Pachad Yitchok:Igros:128) states that one of the sicknesses
of our generation is our tendency to whitewash the lives of our
gedolim. He points out that this whitewash makes true inspiration more
difficult: since the gedolim are perfect, of course they act this way,
but I can't possibly reach their level. He explicitly states that the
greatness of the gedolim comes from their successful battle with real
challenges - and that to miss that part is to lose any hope of learning
from their lives. As an example, he mentions that it is obvious that
little Yisroel Meir certainly spoke lashon hara - but that he battled it
to become the "Chofetz Chaim". To miss the first step is to miss both
the true greatness and accomplishment of the Chofetz Chaim and the
lesson that we too can battle our yetzer hara and become great.

Related to this is the observation that I recall hearing over and over
in day school that the chumash must be true because it even includes the
faults of our great leaders. The faults are a testimony to the truth of
the torah. And in an ironic twist - I recall hearing Rav Wein comment on
many of his tapes that we acknowledge the faults of our biblical
personalities because G-d reports them, but no one acknowledges the
faults of the Chofetz Chaim. To me this (and other statements of his)
suggest to me that his intent was to be honest. I believe he never
consciously wrote something he knew to be false. In fact, I recall a
rumor that Shaar Press was created so that Rabbi Wein could be more
honest, without implicating artscroll. Of course this is all just rumor
and supposition.

I suspect that part of the issue with Rabbi Wein is not that he
purposefully lied - but that he accepts as possible things that secular
academics would dismiss out of hand because they are "impossible". By
way of analogy - consider that historians have begun in recent years to
accept the biblical narrative as a relatively accurate description of
certain events (see for example Paul Johnson's discussion of this issue
in his History of the Jews). But while they accept that there was (or
may have been) an Abraham and a Moses, they will not accept that they
both spoke with God and Moshe split the sea. These things are
"impossible" and so the source can not be accepted as perfectly accurate
because it includes these events.

As an example (and I do not recall what position if any Rabbi Wein takes
on this example) - in secular academic circles, the existence of a golem
is a non-starter. It is clearly impossible. But from a religious
position, there is evidence that they are possible (see for example the
Mabit's tshuva about counting one for a minyan!) - so while we might
remain skeptical (and frankly - just to be clear - I am relatively
certain that the Maharal did NOT have a golem) we must - I think -
acknowledge that it is a possiblity. This is all summed up in the famous
line - "if you believe all the chassidic stories of miracles you are a
fool, but if you believe that any of them are impossible you are a

Rav Wein is pretty clear in a number of places that his standards of
evidence are religious ones - and so I think reporting anecdotes - that
might be true, and that might give us insight into the real person - is
both honest and appropriate.

just my thoughts -


From: doctorklafter <doctorklafter@...>
Date: Fri, 8 Apr 2005 10:44:57 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Lubavitch and shtreimel

The version of events related to me by a very knolwedgeable Lubavitcher
Hassid (as I remember his account) was as follows:

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak z'l, as we all know, wore a shtreimel.  His
rebbitzen z'l took possession of the shtreimal with many of his other
possessions.  Rabbi Menachem Mendel ztz"l asked to be given the
shtreimel during the year of time when their was no clear successor to
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak.  The rebbitzen refused to give it to him
(presumably because he was not yet confirmed as the next Rebbe).  After
he took leadership as Rebbe, she offered to give him the shtreimel, but
he declined it at that time, and made some remark to the effect that
"that opportunity has passed" [i.e., in some way, it was now
inappropriate to take possession of the shtreimel since initially he had
been denied].

Following his ascent to leadership and the deepening of the loyalty of
Hassidim to him, numerous changes occurred in the garm of Lubavticher
Hassidim.  Most of them stopped wearing long jackets during the week,
and began wearing more colorful or stylish suits (as their Rebbe, before
he became Rebbe, had dressed in fashionable suits with short jackets).
They also began wearing a black hat like the Rebbe's.  Interestingly,
the Rebbe very often before he became Rebbe wore a light grey hat, but
this never took hold in Lubavitch.

It is correct, however, that there was no official declaration of
uniform in Lubavitch.  There is informal peer pressure, like all other
communities.  Also there are many devoutly loyal Hassidim
(e.g. Prof. Herman Branover) who never adopted this style of dress--he
continues to wear his characteristic french beret.  In the spectrum of
Hassidic dynasties, Lubavtich is much more flexible on clothing than
other groups.  This is true for women's clothign as well: very stylish
sheitels are encouraged, very colorful and stylish dresses are
commonplace, and even red dresses are permitted in Habad (unlike many
other dynasties who adhere to a halakhic ruling which associates red
with prostitution and idolatry).

(Interestingly, I was told by another Hassid that the shtreimel of 5th
Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom Dov Ber, was withheld from the Rabbi
Yosef Yitzchak by his own mother! It was given to another hassid, Reb
Itch Der Masmid, ztz"l.  I am less certain about this story.  Perhaps an
informed mail-jewish reader can confirm this.)

From: <SShap23859@...> (S Shapiro)
Date: Fri, 8 Apr 2005 16:30:51 EDT
Subject: Lubavitch and Shtreimel

> Why indeed did RMM not adopt the wearing of a fur hat after assuming the
> leadership? I can only guess, but I think that a very reasonable
> explanation is simply that he had never worn one during RYY's lifetime,
> and saw no reason to start afterwards, particularly during the first
> year when he was refusing to accept the position of Lubavitcher Rebbe.

I may be wrong, but I believe that the Rebbe was very strongly
supportive of the concept that America is no different than things were
in Europe, Yiddishkeit wise, and yet, we should "integrate" into the
community, without compromising our Yiddishkeit. So, he took on the
Fedora hat which was customary, or even available, here in the States
and then the Chassidim followed him.

The Kapote, however, remained, and he did bring that with him, since he
was married, from Europe.  But he did not use the silk fancy ones of the
other Chassidim.

Susan S.


End of Volume 47 Issue 59