Sunday, 27 December 2009

Tale of Two Rabbis from La Provence

Here's the story of two great Provencal Rabbis - we'll call them Rabbi David and Rabbi Jonathan

Rabbi David was very outspoken. As many other Provencals, he wrote critical comments. But his criticism was honest and could also be turned upon himself. And so, he was constantly learning, revising, and restating his positions based upon increased learning and feedback. While he grew, his works evolved with him.

It's quite possible that Rabbi Jonathan was even more brilliant. His flashes of insight may have indeed be attributed to Ruach Haqodesh. But once Rabbi Jonathan took a position, he was like the Rock of Gibraltar! He would not budge nor waiver. He was steadfast to the point of obstinate. He felt his writings had a finality that one would associate with Scripture.

Which style do you admire more?

And which style resembles your own style? Or like most, you may be an admixture, occasionally flexible and occasionally rigid



Rabbi Ben Hecht said...

Without implying a perfect comparison and also without voicing an opinion on which style I admire more, I think it may be of interest to point out that a similar distinction is made between Rav Moshe and the Rav.

Someone familiar with Rav Moshe once mentioned to me that it was extremely rare to find a sugya regarding which this great posek changed his mind. In comparison, it is well known that the Rav often would approach sugyot in different ways. This, I have also heard, was one of the reasons that the Rav was reluctant to pasken. This actually would seem to make sense. One would expect a posek to be more definitive and for one more committed to unraveling the intricacies of the gemara to be more open to variant possibilities. So it may be, that both styles are really intrinsically necessary drachim within Torah.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Garnel Ironheart said...

This is a variation on the five students of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai and which is more important - a great memory or the ability to come up with new ideas.

Rabbi David is superior because once circumstances change (and they always do) Rabbi Jonathan will not be able to cope, will announce "Everything new is forbidden by the Torah" and will take his followers into a ghetto, creating a culture in which people refuse to work while accepting money from a government they love to spit on.

But I digresss...

In response to Rav Hecht's point, I would note that Rav Moshe, zt"l, did change his mind once in a while in a psak. For example, he re-examined both heart transplants and the permissibility of smoking with different conclusions the second time.

Rabbi Ben Hecht said...

The switch in Rav Moshe's response to smoking was to a change in the metziut and the knowledge of the metziut, not a change in his understanding of the sugyah -- as I understand it. As for the issue of heart transplants, part of the issue is exactly what R. Moshe said -- and with all these different presentations of R. Moshe's thoughts on the subject, it is difficult to really know what really happended in terms of his understanding of the sugyah.

I did say, however, rarely not never.

Rabbi Ben Hecht