Breaking News: Soloveichik (and Rav Soloveitchik) Agrees with Lopatin, according to Lopatin…

I am including as a post below a letter from Yitzchak Zev Soloveichik commenting on my post in Morethodoxy regarding outside influences on Halacha. Yizchak Zev is the grandson of Rav Ahron Soloveichik, zt”l, my rebbe, and also the son of Rav Moshe Soloveichik, shli’ta, Rav Ahron’s oldest son, and also a formative rebbe of mine – my first rebbe at Yeshivas Brisk.

Before posting the whole letter, I want to start with his “p.s.” which is a big, big deal:

YZS: “P.S. Here’s a freebie for you. I believe I have heard from family members that the Rov said Shasani Yisrael.”

RAL: Wow!  So now we have the Gemarra in Menachot, the Rosh, the Gra, the Rama (with a varient, but still a positive b’racha) and the Rav.  Maybe a string of minority opinions, but a pretty good string!

Also, before the letter, I want to state that I was overjoyed when I read it because I think that Dr. Soloveichik is agreeing with the main idea I was pushing that outside factors lead us in certain halachic directions.  I also agree with Dr. Soloveichik that these outside factors should never dictate what the halacha will be.  To decide halachic practice we need to go back to all our sources and our mesorah and also to consult and work with the poskim of our generation and previous generations.   I am a puny when it comes to p’sak and knowledge of the masoret.  However, Rashi interprests Mishlei (Proverbs) (20:5) that “A halachih in the chacham’s heart (in the heart of our mesorah) is sealed; but it takes an understanding pupil (even a small one) to draws it out.” We, even the small of knowledge and judgement, have to use these outside factors, emotions, philosophies, methodologies and ideas to draw out the true Torah and law from the wisest of our generation and the generations before us.  That is why with She’asani Yisrael, I do not rely on my own judgement: I look to Rav Benny Lau, to an important Centrist Orthodox posek, and to, Rav Soloveichik, zt”l, for guidance to tell me if my small halachic suggestion has validity or not.  And it seems it does.  To me, Orthodoxy is about how we respond to the outside pulls and pressures: If we go back to our tradition and our traditional thinkers and teachers to find the answers, we are being Orthodox.

OK.  The letter:

Dear Rabbi Lopatin

Thank you for honoring me by responding in such a formal fashion. To write an article just based on a very short comment I posted shows me great and undeserved deference. Though I feel that you have mischaracterized what I have said. This, I am sure, is because of some lack of clarity in my writing (an unacceptable indiscretion for a Soloveichik).

You make the following statement about my opinion:

Basically, the argument is that genuine halacha, Orthodoxy or Torah true Judaism should not be influenced by the outside world: by philosophic trends, cultural currents, ideas of the society around us. Thus, Soloveichik argues that first we need to come up with the halacha – which blessing to say, in this case – and then we work on how it interrelates with the world around us.

This is a poor clarification of my position for a number of reasons; allow me to address just a few of them:

1.    You desire to boil the totality of my views on halacha to a statement I did not make. what I did in fact say was “The most important lesson I think I have ever learned from my grandfather’s Halachik positions is that it was first and foremost what is the true Halacha and then how is it applied to the situation at hand.” There is no inference in this statement to suggest “genuine halacha, Orthodoxy or Torah true Judaism should not be influenced by the outside world: by philosophic trends, cultural currents, ideas of the society around us” Indeed any attempt to paskan Halacha must take into account the seeming infinite influences of the world, our personalities, the societies we live in, in short  Hakadosh Baruch Hu’s Hascacha Pratis that synthasizes all this to create the reality  that molds who we are, how we think, and thus how we approach halacha. Not just as laypeople, but Poskim as well.  Indeed all this forms what is the true psak Halacha. Nevertheless, I

believe, as do my forefathers, whom you quote to discredit a position you apply to me which I do not actually adopt, that psak must begin by first understanding the axiomatic principles of the Torah, gzearah shave, kal vichomer, tzad hashaveh shebahem and so on.  This is what I am certain Rav Chiams’ often quoted “parallel world of Halacha” is referring to (Kudos by the way for not Channeling the GRa”Ch as a refutation for your misunderstanding of my position).

It is only when those basic formulations of halachic principles are upheld and firmly established can we then begin to try to come to the appropriate solution. Those next steps require, really demand, that one look at the all the great external forces at work to ascertain what the unique psak of that unique moment is. Not to first decide what you desire the outcome to be simply because liberal (or conservative, but mostly liberal) social ideas and philosophy hold greater sway over you (not you personally of course) then great moral and ethical truths of the Torah, and as an afterthought try to find shaky halachik reasoning to support your world view. I would add that the former position requires a much greater understanding of the world and a superior sensitivity to human emotion psychology and vitality then the latter dogmatic narrow-minded approach the Morethodox (I assume it is not a pejorative) rabbis take.

2.    The central point of my comment was not a halachik critique, as I made clear in the opening sentences of my comment. (those certainly not my world view of Morethodoxy, which is far more complex than one sentence). Rather it was a critique on the apparent lack of Halachik sincerity you and your compatriots take in this and other matters. The willingness to change your view of whole lessons learned from the Torah, to besmirch the those great generations of Jews whose sacrifices are the sole reason for our peoples continued existence, is I believe the central theme of my criticism.

3.    My last point is about your initial assertion that “ Yitzchak Zeev Soloveichik sent in a comment that crystalizes the debate over whether She’asani Yisrael – Who created me an Israelite! –  is the right blessing for men and women to say in the morning or the three negative blessings, Not a Goy, Not a Slave, Not a Woman/by God’s will.” This is an attempt to cast the whole argument as based on a position which you falsely attribute to me and once you brush aside the straw man you built you imply that that is the totality of your opposition. Rabbi Lopatin you can be wrong for a whole host of reasons beyond what we debate. Beyond my critique is the critique of a  great many scholars who find your position repugnant for a whole host of reasons, some better then others (scholars and reasons).

P.S. Here’s a freebie for you. I believe I have heard from family members that the Rov said Shasani Yisrael.

End of Dr. Yitzchak Zev Soloveichik’s letter.

RAL: All I can say, is thank God I am an Israelite, and thank God halacha allows me to say that b’racha every day.  For being an Israelite means I can struggle, think, question and have full ownership of the Torah and tradition that God gave the Jewish people.

Rabbi Asher Lopatin

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26 Responses to Breaking News: Soloveichik (and Rav Soloveitchik) Agrees with Lopatin, according to Lopatin…

  1. Adam says:

    What does “I believe I have heard from family members that the Rov said Shasani Yisrael” mean? He is not sure he heard it? Or the family members aren’t sure what they heard?

  2. Nachum says:

    “All I can say, is thank God I am an Israelite, and thank God halacha allows me to say that b’racha every day.”

    Wow, what a racist thing to say.

    “I believe I have heard from family members”

    What a compelling statement!

    • Adam says:

      Nachum: I think you are missing the point — it is the negative formulation which is seen as particularly insulting, since the negative form explicitly identifies a group that is worse. The positive formulation doesn’t. One could thank God for winning the lottery without any insult intended, but to thank God for not making one a poor slob has a different meaning entirely. I think R. Lopatin and others see a difference in kind; you might see only a difference in degree. But the sarcastic comment doesn’t convey the content of your disagreement.

    • Aaron says:

      Nachum said: “All I can say, is thank God I am an Israelite, and thank God halacha allows me to say that b’racha every day.”
      Wow, what a racist thing to say.

      My Reaction to Nachum’s comment: A racist thing?! And “she-lo asani GOY” is NOT racist?? Give me a break!

  3. Anonymous says:

    R. Lopatin, for a man of your stature to mention the “maybe, could be, should be” quote about R. Soloveitchik borders on irresponsible. C’mon, chachamim hizaharu bidivreichem. Unfortunately, this kind of reckless disingenuousness will make me read your future articles from a different perspective. Chaval.

  4. Disappointed says:

    R. Lopatin, for a man of your stature to mention a “maybe, could be, should be” quote like the R. Soloveichik one above speaks of a reckless disingenuousness (or lack of self-awareness) that unfortunately will make me read your future articles and statements with a more jaundiced eye. Chaval.

  5. In one of the very early episodes of the hit show “Parks and Recreation” the character Leslie Knope, who is trying to get a park built despite the objections of the neighbourhood where it will be located, is accosted at a town hall. “You suck, park lady!” says the man as he stomps out. Without missing a beat Leslie turns to the camera and see “See? He called me ‘Park lady’!”
    Rabbi Lopatin, this post seems to be your Leslie moment. The letter repeatedly accuses you of misrepresenting and misunderstanding Dr Soloveitchik’s position. He uses the word “repugnant” in describing your position. He teases you with a “maybe” that has no solid substantiation. And your conclusion? “See? The Soloveitchiks said it’s a great idea and totally okay!”
    Listen, at the JTS this kind of logic might work but out in the real halachic world it just won’t fly.

  6. Aryeh Frimer says:

    In Nefesh Harav, p. 107, Rav Hershel Schechter writes that the Rav said sheLo asani nochri (instead of goy). Dr. Arnie Lustiger cites this in his Mesoret HaRav Yamim Noraim Mahzorim. The Rav Davened quite loudly. If he regularly said SheAsani Yisrael, people would have known and publicized it.
    Unfortunately, Rav YZ Soloveitchik’s unsure memory of what he heard from someone else is hardly a source to rely on when so many others testify to the contrary.

  7. Micha Berger says:

    More on Nachum’s comment…. There are a number of collections of the Rav’s minhagim and shinui nusachos. This one isn’t listed. My friends who were talmidim of the Rav and those who grew up hearing him daven in Boston — and the Rav didn’t daven quietly — never heard of such a thing. Rather, firsthand testimony from YU and Boston is that RYBSA said “shelo asani nachri”, which is also what the Perushim of Y-m say. (Where a woman would conclude it “nachriah”.)

    So, aside from your focusing on a PS rather than the body of the letter which is a scathing attack of your methodology, you also focus on an eid-mipi-eid (2nd hand testimony) that it itself is equivocated and tacked on to the end. The letter you quote actually advises abandoning the project you are on. The subject line is misleading.

    • Asher Lopatin says:

      Micha,

      The body of the letter of YZ Soloveichik supports my general thesis of accepting influences from the outside in order to better understand Torah and halacha. That is the main point. The fact that YZ yells at me is not important.

      The point about Rav Soloveichik is that whether he said nochri, goy or that some may mistakenly think he said “she’asani” in the positive means that whatever version of the bracha you say, is not the end of Orthodoxy as we know it.

      • Micha Berger says:

        Actually, not really. Thanks to censors, we have multiple nusachos of the same berakhah even if we just limit ourselves to ones accepted by sizable qehillos. Many German qehillos have a tradition of saying “nakhri” dating back through the Tosafists to time unknown. Unlike revival of a discarded shitah, this is taking sides in a longstanding and still open machloqes.

        In other words, what is important is not what version of the berakhah you say, but why you are saying it. RYZS is saying, as I just did, that your legal rationale steps beyond normative halachic process. And while that isn’t the end of Orthodoxy as we know it, the more frequently one invokes new modes of legal interpretation, the less Orthodox is one’s result.

        (That isn’t to be taken to mean that I LIMIT the definition of Orthodoxy to law or legal process. I am speaking of a necessary requirement, not a sufficient one.)

  8. Aryeh Frimer says:

    The Rav Davened quite loud. If he had regularly said she-asani Yisrael the world would have known. In nefesh HaRav page 107, Rav Schachter reports that the Rav said she-lo Asani Nochri. Arnie lustiger cites this in the Mesorat haRav Machzorim.

  9. Aryeh Frimer says:

    Rabbi Lopatin,
    You seem to be missing the point that I and Micha are making. The Rav NEVER used the the positive form. All those who Davened with the Rav testify that he said Shelo Asani Nochri! You are being blinded by an iffy second hand report by R.YZS. You’ve already started treating this iffy report as fact without checking it out! R YZS never Davened regularly with the Rov. Which family member did he speak with? Lo zo ha-derekh.

    • Asher Lopatin says:

      The statement “lo zo haderech” drives me crazy. Who is in charge of saying what the “derech” is. Ask all the rabanim who disagree with what the Rav said about … – each of them thinks the other is wrong… I would bet that that Rav also just didn’t like using this language of “goy” because it sounds offensive – a little bit like Rabbi Kanefsky! True, grammatically and minhag wise it is more normative to say “nochri” than to make the change to positive, but there is the same dynamic going on. Just as the Rav had to adopt a Yekishe minhag because “goy” is unpalatable, someone else can choose the Gemara in Menachot, the Rosh and the Gra and the “mistaken” siddurim that the Mishna Brurah encountered which all support saying “She’asani Yisrael.”. The key point is using outside influences to help us understand Torah. Once we recognize this, then Orthodox methodology kicks in, and we go back to the sources and our poskim and see how that squares with our outside influence. In this case, there is quite significant support for She’asani Yisrael. We have not even talked about the Chazon Ish and the idea that even if something was erroneously put in the tradition, if it becomes and accepted part of the tradition it becomes fully legitimate.

      • Micha Berger says:

        The rules of how to make law are themselves law. There is a well-defined range of “haderekh”. Among them is that you can’t pasqen from chazal if the machloqes was dead by the days of the rishonim.

        Your methodology would allow someone to decide to make chicken parmesan, since he holds like R’ Yosi haGelili, or allow a mohel to decide he can hold like R’ Eliezer and he can drive to brissim on Shabbos.

        However, an old German custom, one also found in parts of Sepharad, which is still in use, which acharonim never stopped discussing and debating, was not buried by the authority of consensus.

        BTW, RYBS would submit and follow the unpalatable. Submission was a recurring theme in his public lectures. Here the problem (which runs back to talmidei haGra or the Gra himself, not RYBS in particular) it language. We Jews are a “goy” — “ve’atem tihyun Li mamlekhes kohanim vegoy qadosh”. If we belong to a “goy qadosh”, then in earlier Hebrew the words “shelo asani goy” were simply false.

        Pointing out a third problem now — motivation by personal ethic standing in judgement of halakhah.

      • wfb says:

        1. Why make up reasons for why the Rav said “nokhri,” when in fact he said it because he thought that “goy” was the result of censorship. 2. You have done well not to talk about the Chazon Ish, because there is no such Chazon Ish–see Shnayer Leiman’s enlightening article on this point (http://leimanlibrary.com/texts_of_publications/32.%20Hazon%20Ish%20on%20Textual%20Criticism%20and%20Halakhah%20A%20Rejoinder.pdf ). 3. Even had there been such a view, it would be irrelevant. Is your goal to introduce your own mistakes so that they can then become fully legitimate?

    • Micha Berger says:

      Actually we are raising distinct points:

      1- RAF is noting that we don’t have a reliable first-hand source that the Rav actually said this, and even RYZS didn’t claim surety.

      2- I am noting that it would be astounding if this is what RYBS (“the Rav”, in your lexicon) had said in davening, because digging up an old shitah from the dustbin of history isn’t halachic process.

    • Anonymous says:

      I agree, which is why I only reported it as I heard. I didn’t say I heard b/c of some TV show reference against RAL, I said I heard it because I heard it, not that difficult. Also you are correct in that I did not regularly daven with the rov which is why I didn’t say that I did. I only mentioned it as an aside b/c it was the issue in question. Needless to say when I spoke with my father latter on and he told me it was not true I had words with my kinsman who told me the original statement. I guess even family tries to recreate the Rov. I personally don’t care what the Rov said, he wasn’t my grandfather, Rabbi, Rebeh, Rebbi or Possek (I not sure he considered himself a possek at all). I also corrected myself via email as soonas I found out that though I quoted correctly, the quote was incorrect.
      YZS

  10. Aryeh Frimer says:

    Dear Rabbi Lopatin,
    In light of Rabbi YZS’s correction (“What I heard was wrong”), I Believe that time has come for you to do the same and retract at least part of your post. As others have shown above, the Rov most deffinitely did not support your position, nor you halakhic methodology.

    • Asher Lopatin says:

      My guess is that Rav Soloveitchik said “Shelo Asani Nochri… Shelo Asani Isha”. The point is not so much what he said – he’s just one opinion, after all – but that people can imagine that he might have said “She’asani Yisrael”. It just means that that would not be the end of the world, or Orthodoxy. We have a clear, and living and active halachic stream, from the Gemarra in Menachot, to the Rosh, to the Rama, to some interesting siddurim written in Italy, to the Gaon miVilna, to siddurim contemporaneous with the Mishna B’rura (beginning of 20th century) which all have “She’asani Yisrael/Yehudi” instead of “Shelo Asani Goy”. I realize that many say that each and every one of these sources is mistaken, or the fault of the censor, or a mistake of the printer. But no one can dismiss that from early times to the present era the observant, Orthodox and Torah world always entertained the possibility of “She’asani Yisrael/Yehudi” instead of “Shelo Asani Goy”. So let’s not dismiss things as “not the derech” or “dormant” – let’s argue on the merits rather than trying to dismiss the legitimacy of something we disagree with or are afraid of.

      RAL

      • Gil Student says:

        R. Asher Lopatin: The point is not so much what he said – he’s just one opinion, after all – but that people can imagine that he might have said “She’asani Yisrael”.

        I’m just highlighting this because I find it so important and don’t want others to pass over it without noticing.

  11. Micha Berger says:

    Again, your sources are still incorrect. “She’asani Yisrael” dies with the rishonim. It’s *not* in the Rama OC 46:4. The Gra is RYBS’s source for “she’asani nochri”. (The Mishnah Berurah has “shelo asani aku”m”.) Before saying “we have the Rama”, did you explore why he omits this from his actual maqanah? For that matter, the variant is notably *dropped* by the Rif and Rosh when they cite the conclusions they reach on Berakhos 60b. The Rosh *rejected* this language. I just didn’t want to get into the inaccuracies, as that buries my primary point about the definition of Orthodoxy including certain facts about halachic methodology. But now it looks like there is systemicly less seriousness about what constitutes sufficient basis. And that too is methodological.

    It really does matter if a shitah died and you want to revive it, or if it didn’t. (BTW, note that the word “pesaq” etymologically has more to do with ending shitos than decision-making.) Your taking it off the table for discussion is part of what I’m complaining about. You’re dismissing a critical part of the difference between your approach and how halakhah is usually done. You don’t see it as critical — which is itself part of the difference.

    Even if you were to show that the nusach “she’asani Yisrael” survived into modernity, and there for us to select, you already evidenced that this isn’t relevant to your considering it an option.

  12. […] ▪ Agunot, DNA Evidence, And Shooting Down Hijacked Planes: An Interview ▪ SALT Thursday ▪ Soloveichik Retracts re SheAsani Yisrael ▪ R. Broyde: Jewish law is more paternalistic than U.S. law ▪ September 7 Declared ‘Gilad […]

  13. […] able to recite this ancient benediction for having not been made a woman. Rabbi Asher Lopatin hastened to make the blowup even less timely and relevant by bringing in the ghost of the Rav. Religious […]

  14. Anonymous says:

    I was listening to a shiur from R’ Noach Weinberg Z”L titled “Happiness”, and in it, he states that when we wake up we thank Hashem for giving us intelligence and then we thank Hashem for making us Jews.

    Not that he was paskening halacha, I just find it interesting in light of this discussion that this Gadol framed his gratitude attitude in the positive and not the negative.

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