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