Guest Post by R. Ysoscher Katz: Translation of a Letter to Rav H. Schachter shlita

In response to numerous requests for a translation of my response to Rav H. Schachter’s letter on Partnership Minyanim, I am posting a translation

When translating from one language to another one runs the risk of losing some of the specifics; the nuance of an argument, and the intricacies of a line of thought oftentimes get lost. Therefore, if at all possible, I urge you to read the original Hebrew version.

כבוד הרה״ג ר׳ צבי שכטר שליט״א, ר”מ בישיבת יצחק אלחנן

אחדשה״ט כראוי לכבוד תורתו.

I read your Teshuvah on partnership minyanim and with your permission I would like to respond to some of your arguments.

Kevodo [your honor] wrote, “In my opinion not all who have learned in yeshiva, in kollel, or even those who have been ordained with the title Rav are permitted to give legal rulings.  To be considered a “sage who has attainted the ability to give rulings” one needs not only to have knowledge of the entire corpus of Torah, but also to be a person who is level in his learning.”

Clearly, one who is not trained to adjudicate cannot give halakhic instruction. Chazal (Sotah 22a) have already warned about the damage that can result from this in their reading of the verse Ki rabim halalaim hapilah/for she has felled many victims (Proverbs 7:26), which refers to a student who has not achieved the ability to give halakhic instruction. However, it is important to remember that by the same measure they also warned against the opposite, a student who has been ordained to give halakhic instruction, but doesn’t rule.  Regarding such a situation, the sages interpreted the second half of the above verse: Ve’atzumim kol harugaha/the number of her slain is great – “this refers to a student who has achieved the ability to give halakhic instruction but doesn’t.”

It is interesting to note that the Maharsha in his commentary Chidushei Agadot, explains that the word atzumim is from the language of greatness and importance.  It would seem, at first glance, that he agrees with Kevod HaRav’s [your] position, that a judge is permitted to issue rulings only if, in addition to being ordained, he is also “great and important.”  However, Rashi disagrees with the Maharsha.  Rashi explains that atzumim is from the language of “shuts his eyes” (otzem ainav, Isaiah 33), that they close their mouths and do not give halakhic instruction to those in need of such instruction.  It is clear that Rashi does not agree with the Maharsha and that according to this opinion one who “has knowledge of the entire corpus of Torah”, even if he is not “great and important”, is allowed, and even obligated, to give halakhic instruction.

The halakha codified in the Shulchan Arukh follows Rashi’s opinion, not the Maharsha’s. The Mechaber writes (Yoreh Deah 242:14) “Any scholar who has achieved the ability to give instruction but does not, stands in the way of Torah and places stumbling blocks before the masses. And of such a person it is said, the number of her slain is great (Prov 7:26).” It is important to pay attention to the fact that the Beit Yosef (the author of the Shulchan Arukh) is careful in his language and writes “any”, which appears to exclude from his view the opinion of the Maharsha who teaches that only the elite few are permitted to issue rulings.  So too, the Pitchei Teshuva writes (ibid seif katan 8): ” ‘Any scholar’ – Refer to the Maharsha in the Chiddushei Agadot of the third chapter on Sotah who writes that in our generation those who give halakhic rulings straight from the Shulchan Arukh, without knowing the reasons behind the issue – if they have not first looked into the sources of the Talmud – err in their rulings and are considered amongst those who destroy the world and therefore it is proper to ridicule them.  It is possible that this was true at the time of the Maharsha, when there wasn’t a single commentary on the Shulchan Arukh, but today, after the Taz, Shach, Magen Avraham, and other commentaries have been written, and every halakha’s reasons and sources have been discussed, it is perfectly fine to issue a ruling from the Shulchan Arukh and later commentaries.”

The great sage the Maharsham elaborated on this topic in the introduction to his book Mishpat Shalom on Choshen Mishpat.  According to his opinion, not only is it prohibited for a rabbi to restrain himself from issuing a ruling, but he is also obligated to respond to halakhic questions as quickly as he can, and to do otherwise would be considered “delaying justice.” (See Mishna Avot 5:11.) He even tries to claim that it might be forbidden for the rabbi to take an afternoon nap out of a fear of causing an unnecessary “delay of judgement.”

In Sefer Chassidim 530 (Margaliot edition) Rabbi Yehuda HaChasid writes, “Anyone to whom God has revealed something, but who refuses to write it down even though he is capable of writing it, steals from He Who Has Revealed it to him, because He revealed it only to be written as it says:  God’s secret is with those who fear Him and His covenant to inform them (Psalms 25:14). And it says, Your springs will spread outwards(Proverbs 5:16).” Rabbi Chayyim Palagi, in his book Chikekei Lev (Yoreh Deah Siman 42), writes that a scholar cannot refrain from issuing a psak, for doing so is tantamount to one who suppresses prophecy whose punishment is death (Rabbi Ovadia Yosef zt”l quotes his words in responsa Yechave Daat 1:13). And according to the Gemara in Gittin (56a) the Beit HaMikdash was destroyed because of a judge who didn’t have the courage to speak his mind.

(Tangentially, perhaps it is important to point out the disagreement between the Rama and Rabbi Chayyim Loew, the brother of the Maharal, in his book Mayyim Chayyim.  The brother of the Maharal strongly disagrees with the Rama’s position supporting a centralized judiciary.  In the introduction to his book, he fiercely refutes the Rama using as a support the concept that “a judge rules only according what his eyes perceive” (Sanhedrin 6b) and is therefore opposed to the notion of a centralized authority which decides from a distance what should be prohibited and what should be permitted, what is correct and what is incorrect)

Kevodo continues: “Compare what Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik z”l wrote in the year 5720 (in his book Divrei Hashkafah, p 243) “From the yeshivot emerged students who were punctilious in Mitzvah observance down to the very edge of the yod of the tradition…Bnei Torah who slept in the depths of halacha…  I am troubled by three negative phenomena… We have yet to educate great Torah giants of whom we can be proud of.  We have people who are immersed in Torah and even Torah scholars, but no men of great Torah stature. The buds can be seen in the land, but the vine has not flowered in all its glory… On the one hand, American youth tend to veer towards an extremism that is shocking in its braziness.  On the other hand, often they will tilt in the oppisite direction and agree to compromises, choosing the paths of least resisitence.  In a word, they are confused in the paths of yidiskheit and this confusion is the consquence of a flimsy word view.”

The alert reader will notice that Rav Soloveitchik z”l complains as much about those who are too strict as he does about those who are too lenient.  When I was a student of Rav Avraham Yehoshua Soloveitchik Shlit”a in Yeshivat Brisk in Jerusalem, I would often hear him quote Rav Baruch Baer Leibowitz z”l who would say in the name of Reb Chayyim zt”l (basing himself on the verse in Proverbs 17:15) that to condemn a righteous person is no less an abomination than to exonerate an evil person.

Teshuvat Meimonit (Kedusha 15) quotes the Yerushalmi (at the end of the fifth chapter of Terumot) that just as it is prohibited to permit that which is prohibited, so too it is prohibited to forbid that which is permitted.  And this is how the Shach rules in his Guide To Pesika (Yoreh Deah 242:9). Similarly, it says in the Yerushalmi (Nedaraim 9 halakha 1), “Is what the Torah itself prohibited not sufficient for you?!”

In particular, in our generation, one should be cautious not to be excessively strict, when any stringency can become “a stringency which leads to a leniency,” since needles stringencies can cause many to leave a life of Torah and Mitzvot.  And these are the words of Rav Kook zt”l (Orach Mishpat, O”C 112) “I understand clearly the character of our generation, that only by virtue of seeing that we permit all that can be permitted according to the depths of the law will they come to understand that that which we don’t permit must be because it is the truth of the law.  We will find that as a result of this approach, many will attach themselves to Torah and will listen to the voices of legal instructors.  This will not be true if it were discovered that there are matters that, according to the rule of the law, should be permitted, but by not being sensitive to the struggles and pain of Israel, rabbis allow these things to remain prohibited.  And through this, God forbid, God’s name will be defiled, and more people will say regarding certain areas of Torah that if only the rabbis wanted to they could permit.  And through this, a corrupt judgment will emerge.” Although the Chatam Sofer famously wrote to the Maharatz Chayut that “we need to elevate the prohibited,” this is a singular opinion. Throughout hundreds of years of halakhic rulings, not a single decisor advanced such an idea, and after the Chatam Sofer, nearly no other decisor supported this approach.

Kevodo continues: “It is known that during the period of the vaad of Arba Arzot there was a decree not to publish any halakhic books without the approbation of Torah sages.”

Kevodo is correct, the sages of Hungary, who followed in the footsteps of the Chatam Sofer, were careful not to publish any books without an approbation.  However, a cursory glance will reveal that the the same was not true of the sages of Lithuania and many of the sages of Poland.  Many of them printed their collections of responsa without approbations. (For example: the Achiezer, Iggerot Moshe, the Seridei Aish, and many others) It is clear that, in their opinion, the ordination and permission to issue halakhic rulings that they received from their teachers or rabbis is sufficient enough approbation.

Kevodo: continues “One who wishes to demonstrate his love for their parents or wife does things for their benefit even if unasked; this is also the case with God.  In Song of Songs it is written, “your beloved is better than wine”.  Commenting on this, the Gemara states that the words of the scribes are better than the wine of Torah, with scribes refering to the rabbinic commandments, and these are all under the category of “your beloved”.  This is to say, in order to demonstrate our love of God, we perform acts that we were not commanded, acts that we understand, on our own, to be pleasing to God, as it were.”

I was surprised since these words buttress, rather than undermine, the very claim that Kevodo is criticizing. If I understand correctly, this is precisely Kevodo’s analogy: If one who loves someone does more than is requested by the beloved out of their own will, does it not follow from here that those who are not obligated in a particular Mitzvah should find ways to perform it nevertheless?

Related to this: I was surprised that Kavodo Shlit”a derides those who seek additional ways to express their yearning for connection to God, when our Sages praise them. Chazal say (Makkot 10a): R. Simlai gave the following exposition: What is the meaning of the verse, one who loves silver shall not be satisfied with silver, nor one who delights in multitude, with increase?  One who loves silver shall not be satisfied with silver- this refers to Moses, who, while knowing that the three cities beyond the Jordan would not harbor refugees so long as the other three in the land of Canaan had not been selected, nevertheless said: The charge having come within my reach, I shall give [partial] effect to it, now.” One who loves silver shall not be satisfied with silver- this refers to Moses. Rabenu Chananel (ad loc) writes: “Moses loved Mitzvot and, therefore, felt that the ones he was obligated with were not enough, he wanted more of them. “

The Mordechei, in Bava Metzia, went even further. In his opinion, there are cases where one is obligated to act beyond the letter of the law, and the requirement to do so has the full status of the law, so much so that, at times, according to his opinion, it is possible that we can even coerce someone to act beyond the letter of the law. In my opinion, the two stories that are found at the end of the chapter “Hasocher et Ha’omanin” (Bava Metzia 83a) clearly support this opinion (see the Ritva ad loc)

We also find in the achronim a positive approach to those who seek extra-halackic opportunities to serve God. One opinion that particularly stands out is the Chatam Sofer. In his famous responsa to the Matesdorf community (O”C 191 and in other places) he writes that the “Matesdorf Purim” that the citizens of the town added according to their own opinion to commemorate the miracle that they experienced has the status of a biblical law. (His ingenious opinion is based on the Gemara in megillah 14a that Israel sang praise when going from slavery to freedom, all the more so when going from death to life).

(With your permission, I will say that I know from personal experience that Kevodo’s appraisal of those “innovators” is not correct.  Many of my friends and acquaintances pray in these minyanim and nearly all of them are completely God-fearing; their intention is to dwell in the house of God, to behold His graciousness, and to visit His sanctuary.  Their goal is to increase commitment to God’s Torah and to worshiping Him in a way that decreases the dissonance between what happens inside the synagogue and how they experience life outside of it.

Additionally, as a general principle, it is impossible to judge the intentions of another, for, “Man looks into their eyes, while God peers into their hearts” (Samuel 1:17) The Mishna is Avot (2:4) is well known: “Do not judge your friend until you’ve stood in his place.”  The Gurer Chassidim quote a saying in the name of the Chiddushei Ha’Rim who adds on to the mishna: And you will never reach their place, therefore never judge. Insightful words)

Kevod HaRav continues: It is known that this claim was the claim of the Sadducees against the Sages in the time of the Tanaim: that the Torah discriminates against the rights of women regarding issues of inheritance.  Therefore the Sadducees claimed that a daughter is to inherit with the daughter of the son (Bava Kama 115b).  And the Tanaim had strong words for them.”

With apologies to Kevod HaRav, the Sadducees were not the first to complain about discrimination against women in issues of inheritance; they were preceded by hundreds of years by the daughters of Zelaphchad who complained (Num 27:4) “Why should the name of our father be lost among his family because he had no son?  Give us a possession among the brothers of our father.” And in the language of the Sifre “Their eyes saw that which Moses’ eyes did not see” (that is that there are times when women can see something that even someone as great as Moses, who spoke with the Shechina “mouth to mouth,” did not see.) And God consented to their words unequivocally: “Correctly have the daughters of Zelaphchad spoken.”  God listened to their claim (“God conceded the truth!” Avot D’Rebbe Natan Ch. 37) and changed the laws of inheritance to make them more egalitarian (relatively, as should be understood)

Further on Kevodo describes the excessive responsiveness towards women as a reason for the downfall of Christianity.  Kevod HaRav writes: “It is stated in the Gemara Shabbat (117b) that the first Christians would make legal decisions counter to Torah Law (that a son and daughter would inherit as one, which has already been discussed (the connection of the Sadducees to the Heretics and first Christians) by the author of the Tzafnat Paneach (in his responsa 313), that the Christians inherited their approach from the Sadducees. And this type of motivation, to create new practices, is certainly prohibited, as is known to us from history.  Go and see just what the end was for the Sadducees and the early Christians.”

I was surprised by these words, since the Sages say exactly the opposite. The Gemara at the end of Gitin (90a) says: “It has been taught: R. Meir used to say: As men differ in their treatment of their food, so too do they differ in their treatment of their wives. Some men, if a fly falls into their cup, will put it aside and not drink it. This corresponds to the way of Papus b. Judah who, when he went out, used to lock his wife indoors. Another man, if a fly falls into his cup, will throw away the fly and then drink the cup. This corresponds to the way of most men who do not mind their wives talking with their brothers and relatives. Another man, again, if a fly falls into his soup, will squash it and eat it. This corresponds to the way of a bad man who sees his wife go out with her hair unfastened and spin cloth in the street with her armpits uncovered and bathe with the men. Bathe with the men, you say? — It should be, bathe in the same place as the men. Such a one it is a religious duty to divorce.”

According to this Gemara, Papus Ben Yehuda is the negative example of what happens to one who behaves in an extreme manner with his wife.  Rashi, as printed in Chisronot HaShas writes that Papus Ben Yehuda is Miriam Magdalin’s husband, the father of Jesus. What emerges from this is that, according to the Sages, Miriam, Jesus’ mother, became pregnant because of the extremism of her husband.

In my humble opinion, the message of this Gemara is exactly the opposite of what Kevod HaRav writes. The Sages are claiming that Christianity came into the word as a result of extremism and discrimination against women and they warn us about the detrimental consequences of such an extreme attitude towards women- heresy (Christianity) was born from this behavior.

Kevodo continues: “Even according to the achronim who think that the consent of the community helps permit publicly reading from the Torah, here, regarding women reading from the Torah, the essential concern begins from the woman’s perspective – that she shouldn’t have to compromise her modesty, from which it follows that it isn’t proper for her to serve as a Shaliacha Tzibur for Pesukei D’Zimra or Kabbalat Shabbat or to read the Ketuba under the Chuppah.”

The Torah, Prophets and Chazal all write the opposite, that, at times, it is permitted to give into the desire to do God’s will, even if this leads, in a specific manner, to the breaching of bounds of modesty.  Two examples of many that stand out are the story of David when he returns the Ark of the Covenant (Shmuel II 6) and the incident of the mirrors of the women who had set up the legions that were used in the Tabernacle.

When David returns the Ark of the Covenant, he becomes so enthusiastic, to the extent that he forgets the bounds of modesty.  He wife, Michal, criticizes him saying: How did the king of Israel get himself honor today, who uncovered himself today in the eyes of the handmaids of his servants, as one of the vain fellows shamelessly uncovers himself”.  David ignores the criticism and justifies his immodest behavior by saying that he acted this way to serve God (ibid ver. 21).  As is known, this story serves as the Rambam’s source (The final halakha in the laws of Lulav) that there is an “additional” obligation to rejoice during the performance of a mitzvah (as Rabbi Yerucham Fishel Perlow expounds in his book on the Sefer HaMitzvhot of Rav Sa’adya Gaon).

We find a similar idea in the story of the mirrors (Ex 38:8) And this is how Rashi explains its importance.  “From the mirrors of the women who had set up the legions” – Israelite women owned mirrors, which they would look into when they adorned themselves. Even these [mirrors] they did not hold back from bringing as a contribution toward the Tabernacle, but Moses rejected them because they were made for temptation [i.e., to inspire lustful thoughts]. The Holy One, blessed is He, said to him, “Accept [them], for these are more precious to Me than anything because through them the women set up many legions [i.e., through the children they gave birth to] in Egypt.” When their husbands were weary from back-breaking labor, they [the women] would go and bring them food and drink and give them to eat. Then they [the women] would take the mirrors and each one would see herself with her husband in the mirror, and she would seduce him with words, saying, “I am more beautiful than you.” And in this way they aroused their husbands desire and would sleep with them, conceiving and giving birth there, as it is said: Under the apple tree I aroused you (Song 8:5). This is [the meaning of] the mirrors of those who set up legions]. From these [the mirrors], the washstand was made.”

These women merited for their mirrors to be fixed in the Tabernacle precisely because of their immodesty, since their actions all along were done to fulfill God’s will.

Kavod Toratoh HaRamah concludes:  In addition to all the above it also appropriate to recall what I wrote an article Tzei lach in Ikvei HaTzon (11) in the name of the Rav “That anything that becomes a symbol of destroying religion, even if, in truth, according to halakha it doesn’t inherently violate any prohibitions, since it has become a symbol of breaching the bounds and of destroying religion, this causes it to become prohibited [and this has already been written about in the book Nefesh HaRav (page 233)].  And it is well known that the Reform and Conservative Jews breached the bounds in including women in a minyan, and counting women as rabbis, and calling women to the Torah.  It is clear, then, that it is forbidden to imitate the heretics (See the Mishna in Chulin 41a)

Astounding! What is the difference between this and Modernity and Zionism? Modernity and Zionism are also, at their core, impure. The intention of their founders was “to destroy religion” (modernity: the Maskilim and Reformers; Zionism: Herzl, Gordon and the like).  Nevertheless, they were purified through Rav Kook z”l (Zionism) and Rav Shimshon Refael Hirch z”l and Rav Soloveitchik z”l (modernity) (See Bechorot 6b: “an unclean animal born from a clean animal is not Unclean, but clean.”)

In conclusion, in my humble opinion, all of the above arguments are secondary to Kevodo’s innovative twofold claim: 1) That what Kevodo calls the spirit of the law has halakhic standing equal to that of what you call the letter of the law. 2) That adjudication of the spirit of the law can be done only “with the agreement of giants of Torah who have knowledge of the entire corpus of Torah, and who can understand what is the spirit of the law”.  Kevodo bases his claim on the verse in Isaiah (59:21)

It is clear to me that this verse was brought as eisegetical support.  Certainly, Kevod HaRav has solid proofs for such broad claims.  As one who still struggles with the concept of partnership minyanim and who attempts to present a position that fits with what I understand to be the correct “spirit” and “letter” of halakha on these matters, I want to ask if Kevodo could graciously elaborate on the topic.  Personally, I would also like to hear more specifics about the criteria for successfully deciphering the true “spirit”: who, how, and what establish what is the correct “spirit” in any event?  What are the parameters that we need to establish for ourselves in our search for the “spirit” of halakha generally and specifically, when we come to adjudicate a topic as difficult and complicated as ours, one that has far reaching ramifications for our future?  If the “spirit” is essential to judgment, it is important that both sides of the argument strive to articulate their approach to “the spirit” of the topic “clearly and with meaning” (Nehemiah 8:8).

May it be His will that the Shechina rests in the deeds of our hands and that God’s name shall be sanctified by our work.

11 Adar 1, 5774

Sincerely,

הצב”י יששכר כ”ץ

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11 Responses to Guest Post by R. Ysoscher Katz: Translation of a Letter to Rav H. Schachter shlita

  1. Brooklyn Refugee Sheygitz says:

    THis was a very important piece by Dr. Hanna Hashkesfrom this weekend.
    very important…MUST reading for ALL of the rabbis and teachers participating in this forum.

    http://musaf-shabbat.com/2014/02/21/%d7%a8%d7%a6%d7%99%d7%9d-%d7%9e%d7%94%d7%a8-%d7%9e%d7%93%d7%99-%d7%97%d7%a0%d7%94-%d7%94%d7%a9%d7%a7%d7%a1/

  2. Anonymous says:

    I see you quote Rav Avrohom Yehoshua. I wonder what he thinks about your evolution.
    GNS

  3. […] acceptance if one still challenges the decisions of the superiors. See the various responses to the Rabbi Ysoschar Katz’s more politically correct essay.. […]

  4. […] them the new litmus test of whether you are Orthodox or not. Supporters of Partnership minions have responded, although I do think that this issue is going to be the catalyst for a realignment within Modern […]

  5. Anonymous says:

    R. Katz has yet to respond to the Frimers, whose arguments are extensive and who cite many of the leading gedolim of our generation.
    See: “Women, Kri’at haTorah and Aliyyot” Aryeh A. Frimer and Dov I. Frimer, Tradition, 46:4 (Winter, 2013), 67-238, online at http://www.rcarabbis.org/pdf/frimer_article.pdf.

  6. Brooklyn Refugee Sheygitz says:

    a very important follow up to the Dr. Hanna Haskes article written by Dr. Einat Ramon

    http://musaf-shabbat.com/2014/03/07/%d7%aa%d7%92%d7%95%d7%91%d7%95%d7%aa-%d7%9c%d7%92%d7%99%d7%9c%d7%99%d7%95%d7%a0%d7%95%d7%aa-%d7%a7%d7%95%d7%93%d7%9e%d7%99%d7%9d-865/

    These two articles should be MANDATORY READING at YCT and any other Morethedox establishment training leaders.

    It seems pretty clear to me that Morethedoxy is on a path to accepting nearly every western “value” as a given and will deteriorate even faster that conservative Judaism. If – as Dr. Ramon points out – conservative judaism began as an attempt to “defend” traditional Jewry against the incursion of western values and then accepted academic dogma, and it took over a 100 years before conservative judaism devolved to the point that it basically accepts intermarriage and same gender marriages as acceptable, it will take Morethedoxy perhaps less than a generation to reach this point. maybe 30 years – no longer.

  7. […] the English translation of R. Katz’s letter, he writes (link): With apologies to Kevod HaRav, the Sadducees were not the first to complain about discrimination […]

  8. […] * There is actually a very heated debate going on in the Orthodox community right now over women wearing tefillin (also referred to as partnership minyanim).  See WOMEN IN TEFILLIN: Rav Hershel Shachter Slams Rabbis Permitting Women To Wear  and see: Rav Ysoscher Katz: Translation of a Letter to Rav H. Schachter shlita […]

  9. […] changed the laws of inheritance to make them more egalitarian (relatively, as should be understood) see this quote in a lengthy polemic between R. Ysoscher Katz in a letter to Rav H. Schachter in […]

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