Sunday, 3 January 2010

Who Counts for a Minyan?

First, this halacha was sent out to its list:


"One may not count one who denies the truth of Torah Sh'baal Peh - aka The Oral Torah (and certainly one who denies The Written Torah received at Sinai via Moshe Rabbeinu) towards a minyan. [One may not count Conservative or Reform Jews towards a minyan.] Shulchan Aruch w/Mishnah Berurah 55:11, Piskei Tshuvos 55:21"


Then there was a "special clarification" on this sent out:


"Jews who sin out of a lack of knowledge of the mitzvos (aka 'tinok shenishba') [even if they sin in a mitzvah that the Torah prescribes the death penalty for] may nevertheless be counted towards a minyan. Shulchan Aruch w/Mishnah Berurah 55:11

One may not count one who denies the truth of Torah Sh'baal Peh - aka The Oral Torah (and certainly one who denies The Written Torah received at Sinai via Moshe Rabbeinu) towards a minyan. [One may not count Conservative or Reform Jews towards a minyan.] Shulchan Aruch w/Mishnah Berurah 55:11, Piskei Tshuvos 55:21

Clarification: Conservative or Reform Jews who believe in Conservative or Reform dogma that denies any portion of the Oral Law - Torah Sh'baal Peh, may not be counted towards a minyan. They may pray with the minyan, but are not counted towards the 10. However, Jews who consider themseleves Conservative or Reform, but do not knowingly deny the truth of The Oral Law (or any portion of it) are classified as Tinok Shenishba, and may be counted towards a minyan [bolded in the original email]."


Someone sent me the first email to ask me for my comments. I responded with a short presentation on variant viewpoints on this matter. This is clearly a situation of machloket on many different fronts. It is a most complex issue. Included in my comments, I specifically mentioned the view of Rav Moshe who makes a distinction between the Conservative/Reform laity and the Conservative/Reform rabbinate in regard to brachot.

It was thus not surprising to me that a "clarification" was sent out and that it specifically presented the distinction presented by Rav Moshe. How could one, in this age, discuss this issue without even mentioning Rav Moshe? But what really got me was that this list still presented the Halacha as monolithic. Even as it sent out one opinion and then sent out a clarification -- which really should just show that the matter was complex and there were divergent opinions on the subject -- they had to present the halacha as absolute, certain and clear -- i.e. no machloket.

It just seems that the idea of machloket within Halacha is terrifying to so many people. Let me re-phrase that: it just seems that the reality of machloket within Halacha is terrifying to so many people. What does that state about the state of Torah in our world? Do these people really believe that the only way to express Torah to the masses today is by deviating from its very truth?

Rabbi Ben Hecht

3 comments:

Shosh said...

Your article raised within me a certain level of anxiety as I have personally been a 'victim' of the 'no-machloket view' (as I am sure many others have been as well).

I use the word 'victim' as I do believe it is quite damaging.

After first being introduced to the 'no-machloket view’ and then being fortunate enough to find NISHMA, I am now struggling with the very issue you bring up in your post.

I have consoled myself, as thanks to NISHMA I now see eilu v'eilu as intrinsic to Torah, by answering your last question in the affirmative: Yes. Because they think it is the only way for Torah Judaism to survive the massive onslaught of assimilation.

If the people teaching these things are respected Rabbeium (an assumption, but I think often an accurate one), why would they ‘deviate from its very Truth’?

I want to postulate that the lack of a desire to put effort into learning is also behind this sad state. Not amongst the Rabbeium necessarily, but among the congregants. I think the world, so infected by robotic action and the fast-food mentality, has infiltrated the Torah world.

I think the Rabbis are responding to the congregant’s lack of desire to really learn and so the Rabbis are afraid that if they don't present things in a black and white fashion, their congregants won’t investigate the matter and will slip further and further away from Torah.

With that said, I wish so much it weren't the case, as I believe the no-machloket mentality has perpetuated the chasm between the religious and the non-religious and has also driven away many from a life of Torah.

I hope so much that Torah, in its complexity, can again be free to be expressed and learned and argued instead of compressed, truncated and distorted.

Thank you for presenting the spectrum and for bringing life back into Torah by teaching us that 'Grey Matters.'

Mikewind Dale said...

Maybe the person just doesn't know Rav Moshe's view off the top of his head? Not everyone has the shu"tim memorized.

Also, his email did include Rav Moshe's view. To quote the email: "... but do not knowingly deny the truth of The Oral Law (or any portion of it) are classified as Tinok Shenishba ...".

Read that again: KNOWINGLY. This is very vague and broad, and offers the opportunity for extensive interpretation.

Perhaps in Rav Moshe's day, Reform and Conversative rabbis were b'meizid, but today they are not. The email's wording offers a myriad of possibilities.

As Rn' Toby Katz put it once, the Reform and Conservative rabbis learn less Talmud than an Orthodox day school student; can we really consider them b'meizid, even if they are called rabbis?

And by the way, Rav Moshe wasn't the first to make his distinction; Rav S. R. Hirsch made the distinction between rabbi and layperson long before Rav Moshe did. I'm not sure if Rav Hirsch's teacher, Rabbi Ya'akov Ettlinger, made the distinction, but Rav Hirsch certainly did. How can you mention Rav Moshe without first mentioning Rav Hirsch?

Rabbi Ben Hecht said...

My post was not really intended to deal with the substantive matter itself of how we should relate halachically to Conservative/Reform Jews or rabbis. There is alot that can be said on this topic and the viewpoint of RSR Hirsch and his rebbi are clearly important voices in that regard and must be included in any presentation of the subject.

I also don't expect a person to know every opinion before commenting on a topic. My point specifically concerned how this list dealt with what it termed a "clarification." My theory is that someone commented on the first email that was sent out -- perhaps even mentioning the view of Rav Moshe (which I believe would be of concern to the author of these posts) -- and a decision was made that the view of a distinction between the laity and rabbinate had to be presented. It is in the second email that this theory is presented, not the first, and this is the focus of my comment.

My specific point was then that, rather than present the machloket on the issue, which has many different viewpoints, there was an overriding need to still present the halacha as monolithic. The correction was not that some hold there is a distinction between the laity and the rabbinate (and some disagree fully in substance with the first email even as it would apply to the rabbinate, especially today), but simply a new statement of THE law even though this was contradictory to what was said in the first place. And it wasn't even stated as a "correction" but as a "clarification."

'This is what we even meant although we said the opposite. And this is what every yoreh Shomayim, who really follows Halacha, holds. Whatever you do never present a machloket (okay, maybe in some limited circumstances.'

The mantra is very simple:
Whatever you do, don't teach the truth.
After all, to paraphrase Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, the people can't handle the truth.

Rabbi Ben Hecht