Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Pleading The Fifth

It's well known that the Chazon Ish, zt"l, ordered the Israeli sheirut leumi program to be considered yehareg v'al ya'avor.  As the story goes, when he was asked what section of Shulchan Aruch he based his p'sak on he replied "The Fifth Section" which is apparently an unpublished work available only to certain poskim.  In other words, Daas Torah.
I have a great problem with this story.  When it comes to conventional p'sak there is no question that the Chazon Ish was and remains a preeminent halachic authority.  It's when things stray into the region of Daas Torah that I get uncomfortable, especially when the reason for such a wide ranging and important decision is based solely on a text that doesn't actually exist.
I've heard other versions of what the fifth section of Shulchan Aruch is; the most frequent seems to be "common sense".  The idea that it's the repository for innovative decisions completely unsupported by any obvious precedents or existing rules is a completely different concept.
For one thing, halacha is supposed to be about conversation.  Ours is not a random dictatorship in which a small group of theocrats shout out orders and threaten severe discipline if questioned.  P'sak should be transparent and open to question and discussion.  We are expected not to simply do but to understand why we do.  Last week's parasha, for example, contained the famous na'aseh v'nishma which amplified on the preceding na'aseh.  Yes, we must follow the Torah which includes the rulings of the great halachic authorities but we have a right to know why we're doing what we're doing.  Quoting a diktat from a non-existent book defeats that process.
It's also another thing if it's someone like the Chazon Ish, a gadol who genuinely had the entire Torah in his mind, doing something like this.  There is a similar story floating around about the Chasam Sofer, zt"l, who pushed his halachic position despite his opponent having a more detailed defence of the opposite view and justifying it by saying "He may have the precedents but I know I'm right".  Again, that's the Chasam Sofer, a once-in-a-generation mind that towered over his contemporaries.  The idea that anyone labelled a "Gadol" nowadays is automatically entitled to the same deference is somewhat difficult to swallow.
What therefore should be the approach to such claims nowadays? 
The response is to ask "Was it political in nature?"  It is no secret that the modern day version of Daas Torah has been abused ad nauseum to create the fiction of a uniform halachic community in order to deligtimize non-Chareidi Torah observance.  The p'sak of the Chazon Ish regarding the sheirut leumi can easily be seen in this regard.  The Chazon Ish was quite involved in trying to define "Torah True Judaism"(tm) and part of it was overt rejection of the State of Israel and all its organs (but not its money, 'natch).  Once a decision crosses the line into politics it loses much of its efficacy.  Chareidi PR folks may huff and puff to the contrary but the bottom line is that they are not the only form of legitimate Torah observance and commands by their leaders do not apply automatically to Orthodox Jews outside their community. 
Why is this so?  It seems more than ever that the dividing line between Chareidism and the rest of Torah-observant world is the issue of submission.  For Chareidim it seems to be all about giving up one's freedom to think and personal initiative and living life according to the rulings of "the Gedolim".  I think that such a derech is not the ideal Jewish one and there is much support for my position in the literature but there's also some support for mindless observance, I guess so kol hakavod to them.
But to say that this is the authentic approach to Judaism?  Sorry, it's not.  When Chazal said there were 70 facets to Torah they weren't kidding.  For modern Chareidism eilu v'eilu mayu be verboten but for the rest of us, a debate regarding halachic and hashkafic issues within the bounds of Torah principles must remain part of our Judaism.
Thus the response to the cherem on sheirut leumi has to be "Why?  Based on what?  With what justification?  What precedents?"  These questions must be asked respectfully but they must be asked, and not just in this situation but in any that seems to take the plurality out of halacha and replace it with a singular political vision.  Only in that way do we actually preserve the authentic tradition.

1 comment:

RAM said...

Many issues with a halachic dimension need resolution at a local or maybe regional level. The idea that each local issue has to be referred quickly to a Gadol in Israel who is unaware of special circumstances and facts on the ground is wrong and dangerous. Issues can framed to the distant Gedolim in a distorted way by design, to get a desired response. The Gedolim themselves are often very elderly and unable to devote enough time to these things that don't even belong in their court. This disintermediation also stifles the natural generational growth of new halachic leadership.