Wednesday, October 1, 2008

מענה למענה - ועל גדולתו של ר' משה פינשטיין

I happen to come across this sefer Maaneh L’ Igrot (see here for another book by the same author) and I decided to attempt a refutation of some of his points. I didn’t really research the issues under discussion so this is only a preliminary refutation.

I do not know very much about the author or what his intentions were in writing this book. His polemics are rather crass, but upon examination he uses the same three expressions repeatedly and applies them rather mechanically. It doesn’t seem as if his heart was really in it.

I am writing very concisely (and perhaps not as clearly as I should) so it is best to look up the original.

1 (OC 28) - Partnership with a non-shomer shabbos washerwoman – R’ Moshe – if she can manage without a partner there is no problem of לפני עור Maaneh 1 – No-one makes a unless they can’t manage alone. – This isn’t true. One might make a partnership to lighten the workload, even if one can manage alone. Second, she might take a different partner. 2 – Even if there is no problem of לפני עור there is a Rabbinic prohibition of מסייע לידי עובר עבירה. – R’ Moshe might say that she isn’t considered an עובר עבירה per se – but rather in the category of תינוק שנשבה perhaps מסייע doesn’t apply.

2 (EH 166-167) - Artificial insemination - R’ Moshe – Majority non-Jews – therefore no problem of שמא ישא אחותו Maaneh – 1- מעלה עשו ביוחסין so that we don’t follow Rov (argued at length) – I don’t see his point. There is no prohibition on the actual insemination. On the status of the child himself, even he would agree that he is permitted (as per Ran- since the child has no options – the מעלה applies chiefly to Kohanim where there are other options. He provides no sources that one must prevent such a situation from occurring. 2 – The child of a Gentile and Jewess will have זוהמה , etc. etc, and pilpul in the various sources. – R’ Moshe will say (as he consistently does) that said sources only apply for actual intercourse not artificial insemination.

(NB - What are the דיעות חיצוניות that R’ Moshe refers to in the following Teshuva – Genetic?, Eugenics?!!) [FP is correct that he is referring to the Catholic influence - see Shut Chelkas Ya'akov EH 14:1 where he invokes the Catholic opposition as a reason to forbid AI]

3 (OC 21) – On the heter of the Aruch Ha-Shulchan to recite Shema before a woman with uncovered hair – R’ Moshe adds an additional proof in that the Gemara (Berachot 24a) cites a Passuk in Shir HaShirim rather then the biblical prohibition from ופרע. This proves that the prohibition to keep the hair covered doesn’t automatically give it the status of ערוה. This being the case the fact that one can recite Shema across from a פנויה shows that it is permitted to recite before regularly uncovered hair. (In truth, I favor the literary solution to this problem (proposed I think by the SE in his monumental responsum 3:233) that notes that R’ Sheshet is part of a cluster of such ערוה statements all quoting Shir HaShirim. This is why R’ Shehshet chose to cite a Shir HaShirim prooftext for hair despite the availability of the Biblical prohibition. I doubt such a “literary” solution would be looked upon with favor by halachists – not sure why not.) b) Maaneh 1 – The biblical prohibition alone would not suffice as one would say that a covering because of a גזירת הכתוב does not make it into a ערוה. We need the Shir HaShirim text to demonstrate that the biblical prohibition is because of ערוה. – The biblical prohibition is form the passage of Sotah and its point is that she uncovers he hair in order to show that she does not have the מידה of צניעות that is the trait of the Jewish Woman. The ערוה component is clear from the context of the verse. Secondly, if R’ Schwartz were correct then the biblical verse ought to be cited and the ShS verse added as a ואומר.

[S. had an interesting post awhile back about hair covering ( Regarding his main point: A review of A. Schremers book about Jewish Marriage in JQR writes:

"The most convincing and innovative chapters in the book are those on the marital age of men and women in Palestine and Babylonia. Schremer tentatively estimates that men in Palestine did not typically get married until their late twenties, or even early thirties. Girls were married sometime after reaching sexual maturity (around twelve or thirteen), perhaps up until their late teens. In contrast, in Babylonia both boys and girls married much earlier, boys in their late teens and girls were frequently married before reaching puberty. As Schremer demonstrates, awareness of these differences in marital age informs our understanding of numerous other halakhot, as well as some of the differences between Babylonian and Palestinian practice. In his chapter on the choice of spouse he points out that the older a person marries, the more likely s/he will choose a partner with less aid from parents, and the more likely that that partner will be chosen based more on personal rather than societal or familial preferences. In his chapter on the financial arrangements of marriage, he suggests that the lower marital age in Babylonia may have contributed to a lowering of the ketubah value. To the extent that knowledge of the typical age of marriage is important for understanding any society, Schremer's hypothesis makes a substantial contribution to our understanding of Jewish society in antiquity. "

R’ Sheshet was from Babylonia.


This is not the only sharp polemic that was published against R’ Moshe. During the heat of the Artificial Insemination controversy, the journal HaMeor published a series of letters from various Rabbis condemning R’ Moshe’s stance on this issue. His talmud R’ Ephraim Greenblatt penned a sharp response in his Rebbi’s honor to which the editor R’ Amsel responded with a letter delineating all of R’ Moshe’s many “sins” (lenient rulings). R’ Moshe mentions in his letters that this caused much aggravation but even so he did not yield an inch – a living embodiment of לא תגורו מפני איש – for to do so would be to compromise the integrity of Halacha (as he writes in his Igrot). In general, the matter of AI deserves a complete study. In my opinion, the criteria laid out in H. Soloveitchik’s “Halacha, Hermeneutics and Martyrdom”:

When we do encounter an agglomeration of logical leaps and farfetched interpretations on a specific topic, then (and only then) are we justified in saying that a sensitive subject is deflecting the course of tosafist thought from its usual exegetical channels.

exists in abundance in the literature surrounding this issue. In fact, I mentioned this once to a prominent Rov and he admitted that the issue here was not how to intrpret the soutces but the essentially meta-halachic issue of Kedushas Yisroel.

On the issue of polemics against R' Moshe, I recall hearing a story according to which “one of the Briskers” announced in midst of a discussion that “There is a Rabbi who is destroying Torah in America – and his name is Feinstein.” To which someone countered “There is a Rabbi an America who is responsible for far worse – and his name is Soloveitchik.”


Anonymous said...

What's the point of attempting a refutation of some of this author's points if you are not going to research the issues? These are complex matters, and while this author might have been somewhat impudent he was no fool and was not ignorant.

I remember once looking through it a bit myself, and got the impression on the whole that the guy was just pointing to alternative explanations that make RMF's conclusions less compelling, but considering himself to have "refuted" RMF on that basis. Not a whole lot, although in one instance he did appear to have caught RMF misreading a Shach (misplaced comma).

But that was just my impression. I too didn't look into it all that thoroughly, and would not hold myself out as having refuted him.

I vehemently disagree with you about the AI issue. RMF may have had solid grounds to stand on, but his critics also did. (Read for example, R' Breisch's discussion of it in Chalkas Ya'acov.)

I don't believe the "Brisker" story. RMF didn't (& doesn't) have nearly the same stature in EY & Europe as he has/had in the US, but I never heard of such sentiment even in Brisker circles.

(According to Orchos Rabbeinu, the Steipler was contemptuous of Ma'aneh L'Igros and - IIRC - it's author.)

Anonymous said...

Re the "דיעות חיצוניות", I think all it meant was that the idea that this was "disgusting" was drawn from secular society and possibly Christian influence.

Anonymous said...

Who said there is a "point"? I do this for fun - rather like yourself.But I am basically familiar with the relevant sources.

You are correct that is is the Catholic influence he refers to see - Shut Helkas Ya'akov EH 14:1 -will correct.

I agree of course that R' Moshe's opponents had some good points but there are definitely sources and arguments cited that would never be cited in a less emotional issue ואכ"ם

"I don't believe...I never heard" - לא ראינו אינו ראיה

Anonymous said...

My point was that I don't think you're adding anything if you attempt a refutation of complex matters without looking at them in depth. If that floats your boat, that's fine with me, but from the perspective of someone else, your words have little value.

Re the "emotional" issue, I seem to have misunderstood you. I thought you were saying that the entire basis of the opposition to RMF was these meta-halachic considerations, which is generally what Dr. Soloveitchik intends when he is utilizing the principles enunciated in your quote from him. Also that seemed to be what the "prominent Rov" was saying as well.

If all you mean is that in addition to the legitimate halachic issues there was also a lot of emotional over-the-top carrying on, you'll get no argument from me. No doubt about it.

[I've always felt that the reason RMF came up with so many highly original and controversial psakim is because of his unique combination of highly original thought process and a willingness to go wherever his logic took him. Most of these Hungarian or Chassidisher poskim have a freewheeling approach and say a lot of wild things in the course of arriving at their conclusions, but they mostly determine their conclusions in advance on issues like this, so they will never actually base a far out conclusion on shaky logic or contorted arguments. And if they arrive at a conventional conclusion based on shaky logic no one will pick it apart.]

לא ראינו אינו ראיה but it can be used to determine likelihood, in cases where one might expect to have heard of such things. In this case, someone with familiarity with Brisker circles and their attitudes might be expected to have heard of such vehement opposition (if not the actual story) if it existed.

Anonymous said...

Your statement in the brackets is very interesting. I'd like to put it up as a post - if you don't mind?

Which Chassidic posekim do you have in mind?

(Note that the SE had the highest respect for the Hungarian posekim 0 "for they are all of the Beis Medrash of the CS and have a special "sense" for paskening.")

Anonymous said...

No problem.

I don't have specific poskim in mind. Most of them.

They say RA Kotler said (paraphrasing) that "you can see the seyata d'shmaya that poskim have from looking at the Ungarisher t'shva seforim, because their reasoning is worth little but they generally manage to arrive at the correct psak". My own feeling, as above, is that it's not (just) because of seyata d'shamaya. Their style of pilpul is such that they can bend it whichever way they want, and the actual conclusion is thus determined largely by gut instinct, most particularly on hot-button issues.

RMF, on the other hand, famously wrote in a t'shuva that a posek has to deal with every issue without any preconceived notions as to the outcome.

I think the SE's comment can be interpreted along these lines as well.

Anonymous said...

For every Chassidisher posek you mention that you believe had a freewheeling approach I can counter with one who had solid reasoning. I believe that RMF reached his original conclusions because he did not have preconceived notions; however, the reason why he didn’t have preconceived notions was because he didn’t learn Achronim. No one can fault the Chassidisher poskim for learning Achronim and therefore having preconceived notions. RAK’s supposed statement is racist and is just Lithuanian elitism.

Anonymous said...

f-p, the Brisker story is well known in the yeshivishe velt. The "brisker" was R' Avraham Yehoshua Soloveitchik. He was reacting to R' Moshe's kula in the shiur of mechitzos. The one who replied was the editor of one of today's leading chareidi news organizations.

MYG said...

"In truth, I favor the literary solution to this problem... that notes that R’ Sheshet is part of a cluster of such ערוה statements all quoting Shir HaShirim. This is why R’ Shehshet chose to cite a Shir HaShirim prooftext... I doubt such a “literary” solution would be looked upon with favor by halachists – not sure why not."

Because R' Sheishes would have known that the choice of Pesukim would make a difference in the Halachah.

Creative Commons License
Ishim V' Shittos by is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at