Thursday, July 10, 2008

Gra's derech in Halacha & Hashkofa I - not mainstream?

Recipients and Publicity wrote

Understanding the GRA in the context of Halachah and Hashkofa is a complex business.

Whilst we are at it, it is important to note that Minhag Ashkenaz is not the Minhag HaGRA because the GRA developed his own views on Halachah, most of which were not adopted in the length and breadth of the lands where Ashkenazi Jews found themselves. The exceptions are those few of his talmidim muvhakim who took on themselves his minhagim and his followers who made it to Yerushalayim where the GRA's minhag becme the so-called "Minhag Yerushalayim".

Thus the Jews of Litte (Lithuanian Jewry) while mostly rejecting Chasidus as per the GRA, did not follow his derech in tefila and Halachah but rather continued to follow in the derech of the Chayei Odom that was later reinforced by the Mishna Brura and most notably the Igros Moshe that does not go down the path of Halacha delineated by the GRA.

It was the Bais HaLevi who somehow reached back to the GRA and created that unique so-called "Brisker derech" that is machmir in so many ways and justifies itself by relying on the GRA, while at the same time, those Litvaks who reject the Briskers and their chumras, notably most of the talmidim of Slabodka and disciples the Alter of Slabodka, especially those like Rav Ruderman, Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky, and Rav Leizer Yudel Finkel, and in the case of Rav Hutner he made a point of even calling himself a "talmide HaGRA" in Kabbalah but did NOT follow the GRA's piskei Halachah Lema'aseh since they all taught and held that the Mishna Brura was the posek ha'acharon and that the Igros Moshe went along such a path, neither of which paskens like the GRA. (Unlike the Briskers and Rav Moshe Shternbuch, who is a Briker after all, who still fight the GRA's wars...against Chasidim and whatever and whoever else meets their disdain.)

It is known that the GRA's son wrote that his father was not allowed to complete three things min hashamayim: making a golem; moving to Eretz Yisroel; and writing a final updated Shulchan Oruch reconciling all the dei'os and shittas once and for all. The reason for the latter not happening was that the GRA's derech was not the only universal derech, there were others and most notably the Baal HaTanya's Shulchan Oruch haRav became the definitive answer of Chasidus to the claim that they were not oisgehalten al pi Halacha, yet if the GRA would have written a "Shulchan Oruch" noone would have been able to dispute him (monopolies are never a good thing it seems, even in Halachah and Avoda !)

Thus when talking about the GRA, one MUST proceed with great caution, because there are complex layers of how he is to be understood and taken.

11 comments :

  1. Your assertions are very interesting - but where are your sources? Your statement regarding Rav Hutner is more complex - certain practices of the Gra were incorporated by him. The Mishna Berura was not automatically followed. However your main thesis that the Gra was actually outside the mainstream is clearly true as certified by the Introduction of the Mishna Berura and the Igros Moshe I cite below.

    I wrote a relevant post on Avodah
    "The historical fact is that the Chofetz Chaim was not viewed as a posek or gadol in
    learning during his lifetime. He was viewed as the tzadik hador. The current status
    of the Mishna Berura was established after world war II. A friend of mine told me
    that his grandfather learned in Radin and the main halacha work there was the Aruch
    HaShulchan. Rabbi Heineman told me that his rebbe Rav Aaron Kotler used to carry a
    mishna berura around to give status to the sefer. It seems that with others such as
    the Chazon Ish the status of the Mishna Berura as the basis of halacha was
    established after the war. Rabbi Winter told me that Rav Hutner told him that the
    Chofetz Chaim was not considered a major lomdin in his life time. Rav Chaim Ozer
    said in his hesped that the Chofetz Chaim's tzidkus was so great that his gadlus in
    learning was not noticed. Rav Henkin is reported to have stated on the Chofetz Chaim
    that the tzadik hador can not be the posek hador - the middos are not compatible.
    In sum - the way the Chofetz Chaim is viewed today is not the way he was viewed
    in his life time.

    This is not tangential - it is an illustration of my point. . The Mishna Berura was
    not a major halacha sefer in his life time. Nevertheless the Chofetz Chaim was
    viewed as a major influence in his time as to defining what Yiddishkeit should be.
    His influence today is also a major influence but it now also involves his halachic
    authority and his lomdus e.g., the biur halacha.

    The Gra seems to have been in a similar situation. In his life time he was not
    considered the final authority in halacha. In fact - even in Vilna he did not
    determine the halacha. For example he tried to reinstitute Birchas Cohanim during
    the week and ended up in jail. Rav Moshe states (Igros Moshe vol 8 #24.6 page 78
    "The position of the Gra [tefilin chol hamoed] was not accepted by all. Not even in
    his own city and they were not makpid on it. the reason seems to be that the minhag
    is not altered just because the Gra was much greater. We see that the minhag takes
    precedent..." [SEE also Igros Moshe vol 8 #18.26 page 200.] I was told that one of
    the purposes of the Mishna Berura was to make the Gra to be more main stream.[see the Introduction of Mishna Berura]

    http://www.aishdas.org/avodah/vol04/v04n003.shtml

    ReplyDelete
  2. Recipients and PublicityJuly 10, 2008 at 10:40 AM

    Very importantly, what the GRA symbolozed and brought to unequaled heights was the notion of LIMUD HATORAH and AMEILUS BATORAH and that is why he is called Der Vilner GAON, because he was first and foremost a GAON in TORAH lishma in ALL its facets.

    So therefore it is fitting that it is from the GRA that a number of key disciples diverge to spread his derech and dei'os of Torah, which he divulged to one or two at a time since he did not grant entry into his daled amos to most Yidden.

    Most notably, it was Rav Chaim MiVolozhin (=known in Yiddish as Chaim Volozhiner) who subsequently set up the Volozhiner Yeshiva, the key mother-of-all-yeshivas in the modern era, with derachim and mahalchim of how and what to do in such an instititution (i.e. yeshiva). It was only the elite of the elite of mostly Lithuanian Jewry that gained entry. They essentially only accepted (potential) gaonim.

    After Volozhin was shut down in the sad days in struggles against Haskala by the NETZIV in the 1880s, other yeshivas opened up but none followed in the purest of the pure ways of Rav Chaim Volozhiners yeshiva, because they had to face new realities and dislocations and displacemnnt.

    But the two main divergences of opinion of what the "true" derech of the GRA really was can be summed up in two words that denote two yeshiva ways of learning: Slabodka and Brisk with each claiming it has and applies and teaches "the corrrect derech" of the GRA, when the truth is probably somewhere in between, and then some, because the GRA was also a Kabbalist, an avowed scholar of the PURE secular sciences especially mathematics and astronomy, in fact there is a so-caalled "Kramer's theorem" for a math problem that he reputadly solved in a unique way.

    The GRA was also unusual that he tried to be "one of the people" and undertook a few trips as an anonymous person. He IS the greatest rabbi and scholar since the times of the Rishonim but he held no official title. In his seforim he is actually called "Hagaon HACHOSID MeVilna" (not related to the Baal Shem Tov) and of course, I cannot resist, he is very famous for his involvement with the notable conversion to Judaism of the Polish Count Valentin Potocki who the GRA guarded and when der Vilner ger, the Ger of Vilna (as Potocki came to be known) was executed by being burned alive by the Polish Inquisition, the GRA sent people to scratch up the few remains, they say it was not more than a few fingers, and have them buried and subsequently the Vilna Gaon was buried next to the Ger and that is still how it is unto this day, even when they moved both graves a few decades ago to make way for constsruction.

    How many rabbis do we know today who would want to be buried next to righteous converts, especially those they took into Judaism? The only one I know of is the Vilner GRA and the Vilna Ger.

    (Guess the Gaon was not Syrian!)

    ReplyDelete
  3. The acceptance of the Gra in various areas of halacha is reflected in the following.
    ====================
    http://www.berachot.org/halacha/07_shiurkviat.html

    "Therefore, Ashkenazic halacha ultimately follows the GRA’s interpretation. The Mishna Berura quotes the halacha that we really following the opinion of “a meal like breakfast and dinner” yet he also advises to be cautious of the 3/4 egg opinion.
    Sephardim hold definitively that the correct halacha is like the A. Thus the shiur without a doubt is the size of 4 eggs. (I say size because there is a machloket between volume and weight which is discussed …) If one ate the size of 3 eggs then he would be in doubt, since after all the Rambam holds the Shiur of Eruv is 3 eggs.
    Ok, back to Ashkenazic halacha, it seems like an overwhelming majority of Ashkenazic poskim side like the GRA (including the Nishmat Adam, Magen Avraham, Mishna Berura, Igres Moshe, and Chosam Sofer)."

    ReplyDelete
  4. Dr. Chaim Solovetichik is quoted in Rupture and Recontruction:

    ... In light of my remarks above, I should take care to add that though
    the GRA is noticeably absent as an authority in the Arukh ha-Shulhan, that
    work is written in the spirit of the GRA, whereas the Mishnah Berurah,
    for all its deference to the GRA, is penned in a spirit antithetical
    to the one of the Gaon. The crux of the Gaon's approach both to Torah
    study and pesak was its independence of precedent....
    further embodied in the
    Hayyei Adam and the Arukh ha-Shulhan, and has continued on to our day
    in the works of such Lithuanian posekim, as the Hazon Ish and R. Mosheh Feinstein. The Mishnah Berurah rejects de facto this approach and returns
    to the world of precedent and string citation....

    ReplyDelete
  5. Recipients and PublicityJuly 10, 2008 at 11:06 AM

    You say: "A friend of mine told me
    that his grandfather learned in Radin and the main halacha work there was the Aruch
    HaShulchan."

    As they say in the classicas, that was then -- this is now because quite sadly the Aruch
    HaShulchan has indeed been eclipsed. Perhaps at the time when your friends grandfather was learning in Radin the Chofetz Chaim had still not finished his Mishna Brura which took him literally a lifetime to complete, but once the great lamdonim of Europe saw it and digested it they were unanimous in praising, supporting and publicizing it, and it still goes from strength to strength in our days.

    In fact, the Shulchan Oruch itself seems like a closed book until one learns it (or more accurately tries to learn it) through the eyes of the Mishna Berurah, with his clarity, compassion, knowing where to put the emphasis, not relying on "frumkeit" to resolve Halachic dillemmas but displaying gaonic capabilities and awesome bekius. He wrote it with an eye to who he was dealing with and there is not one note of an agenda or a desire to manipulate people, just a desire to teach the derech hayasher vehatov al pi Halachah.

    Yet, in the modern yeshiva world, it seems the rosh yeshivas themselves did this, the Aruch HaShulchan was not promoted because of certain alleged kullas he touted (the most famous is his supposed kulla to allow women to go with uncovered hair, which had apparently widespread in Lithunaina Jewry), so they used "examples" like this to "demote" the Aruch HaShulchan and instead promote the Mishna Berura. But there are still poskim that rely on the Aruch HaShulchan and its freely part of any yeshivas otzar.

    By the way, the Chazon Ish, was not a product of either Brisk or Slabodka, in fact Rav Hutner said on him that that he (the Chazon Ish) was the last gadol baTorah to come out of Europe without having been in a formal yeshiva, just from the holy environment and upbringing, so that today their is no way but to go to yeshiva to become great in Torah learning.

    But the Chazon Ish is in some ways like the GRA, both were from Vilna and both were geonim and leaders of their age without having official positions but yet both wrote in way that requires one to be a gaon and it is difficult even for the average Torah scholar to fathom the true meaning of what either the Chazon Ish or the GRA are truly saying and intending.

    By the way, the Brisker Rov, Rav Velvel was an opponent of the Chazon Ish in matters of the state, since the Chazon Ish said one must vote in Israeli elections and the Briskers are "purists" against the State of Israel.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Recipients and PublicityJuly 10, 2008 at 11:23 AM

    While: "The acceptance of the Gra in various areas of halacha is reflected in the following"

    is valid, but not deep nor universal, this is MORE true:

    "whereas the Mishnah Berurah, for all its deference to the GRA, is penned in a spirit antithetical to the one of the Gaon."

    And this is shady:

    "The crux of the Gaon's approach both to Torah study and pesak was its independence of precedent....
    further embodied in the Hayyei Adam and the Arukh ha-Shulhan, and has continued on to our day in the works of such Lithuanian posekim, as the Hazon Ish and R. Mosheh Feinstein"

    because, note the words "the Gaon's approach both to Torah study and pesak" but it does NOT mean that any of them were 100% proteges of the GRA's pesakim because while they, like most Litvkas, were INFLUENCED by the GRA's DERECH HALIMUD ie, "APPROACH", they did not become his strict disciples in every detail like the literal Talmidei haGRA did try to do.

    NOONE is denying the GRA's INFLUENCE on the world of Lomdei Torah and Poskim but they still do not amount to his absolute true heirs since the GRA is essentially his own posek not needing latter-day poskim to clarify him. So while they are influenced by him and may follow in his derech in many ways, they are still not taken as "his" poskim and machri'im.

    ReplyDelete
  7. "and then some, because the GRA was also a Kabbalist, an avowed scholar of the PURE secular sciences especially mathematics and astronomy"

    This is the crux. In truth, the Derech of the GR'A is despised among today's "orthodox".

    "He IS the greatest rabbi and scholar since the times of the Rishonim but he held no official title."

    Indeed.

    ReplyDelete
  8. RaP wrote:
    I cannot resist, he is very famous for his involvement with the notable conversion to Judaism of the Polish Count Valentin Potocki who the GRA guarded and when der Vilner ger, the Ger of Vilna (as Potocki came to be known) was executed by being burned alive by the Polish Inquisition, the GRA sent people to scratch up the few remains, they say it was not more than a few fingers, and have them buried and subsequently the Vilna Gaon was buried next to the Ger and that is still how it is unto this day, even when they moved both graves a few decades ago to make way for constsruction.

    How many rabbis do we know today who would want to be buried next to righteous converts, especially those they took into Judaism? The only one I know of is the Vilner GRA and the Vilna Ger.

    =================
    Before you get all excited about your "proof" against the Syrian Takana - please read the Wikipedia article on the subject.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_ben_Abraham

    ReplyDelete
  9. Concerning the burial site of the Gra and who is buried/reburied there see Prof Leiman's article

    http://www.ou.org/publications/ja/5759winter/leiman.htm

    ReplyDelete
  10. Recipients and PublicityJuly 10, 2008 at 11:41 PM

    Dr. Eidensohn/"da'as torah" said: "please read the Wikipedia article on the subject. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_ben_Abraham"

    And indeed I am very familiar with that article and how it was disputed by the non-Jewish Polish editors who wish to impose their uniqque revisionist interpretation of the Vilna Ger going so far as to argue that he did not even exist.

    This is not surprsing because it is a well-known fact on the English Wikipedia that many of the editors of articles relating to Polish and Ukrainian history are hostile (many are obviously anti-Semitic) to the Jewish editors who have a different take on things.

    The Polish editors at Wikipedia often try to pin the blame for all that has ever alied Poland on the Polish Jews, and will often resist any information that is unflattering to Poland, especially if it casts Jews in agood light and makes the Polaks into the bad guys. (All this can be verified by follwoing the many talk pages and revision histories of the Polish-Jewish Wikipedia articles, especially on the one about the Vilna Ger.)

    Thus, for example, they will underplay and miscast the cooperation of Poles under the Nazi occupation of Poland, especially with regard to the Holocaust, and when they saw the article about Count Valentin Potocki the Vilna Ger they had an absolute fit and went into over-drive on an all-out editorial offensive to undermine the article and to question and challenege all assertions about the actions and cruelty of the Polish Catholic Church.

    There is still a Potocki noble family in Poland, as most of Europe's nobility is still around (excluding Russia's that were mercilessly eliminated by the Bosheviks), and in most of Europe, still exists, and they are ashamed and mortified of the conversion of one of their own such as Valentin Potocki to Judaism. So to bring "proofs" from them, in this regard, is very weak indeed.

    I read the book "Avraham ben Avraham" a few years ago and it seemed like a very credible depiction of what happened and in that work it mentions what I stated that the GRA sent people to collect the remains of the Vilna Ger for burial and as far as I know noone disputes that the GRA is buried near the Ger.

    See:

    Avraham ben Avraham
    By

    SELIG SCHACHNOWITZ

    ADAPTED BY YEHOSHUA LEIMAN

    FELDHEIM PUBLISHERS
    Jerusalem " 5738/1978
    ISBN0-87306-166-7
    233 pages
    © Copyright 1978
    Feldheim Publishers Ltd
    Jerusalem
    Second, revised edition, 1978

    THIS POIGNANT, MEMORABLE historical novel, Selig Schachnowitz takes the few known facts about the legendary geir tzedek of Vilna. Valentin Pototski...Valentin, the son of old Count Pototski and the hope of Lithuania's Catholics for the cardinal's mantle, converts to Judaism...

    THE AUTHOR

    Bom in Jurborg, Lithuania in 1874. Selig Schachnowitz, studied at the Yeshiva of Rav Yechezkel Lipschitz, where he received semi-clia (rabbinic ordination). He then became spiritual leader of the Jewish community of Endingen, Switzerland, and there began his notable literary career. In 1908 he came to Frankfort-on-Main, Germany, to become editor of the renowned orthodox weekly, Der Israelit, the able champion of traditional Judaism founded by Rabbi Dr. Meir Lehmann of Mainz. There Schachnowitz first published many of his fine literary works, in weekly installments,. He filled his post with distinction till 1938, when the Nazi program of atrocity forced him to flee. Then he settled in Zurich, Switzerland, where he continued writing, while devoting himself to the welfare of fellow-refugees. In 1952, aged 78, he died after a rich and fruitful life in the service of Torah-Judaism.

    from

    http://www.jewishbktown.com/st/Jewish_children_and_teen_books_Avraham_Ben_Avraham.htm

    ReplyDelete
  11. Sorry to jump in to your conversation about halacha with a trivial point, but it is highly unlikely that the Gaon wrote a mathematical formula. The mathematics that is contained within Ayal Meshulash (which allegedly the Gra had translated from the Greek) is pre-Newton, which was way behind the times by the 18th century. There is no evidence to suggest that he knew modern mathematics.
    Also Kramers' Law was only derived in 1923, which would have been a bit difficult even for the Gra. http://www.daviddarling.info/encyclopedia/K/Kramers_law.html
    I've checked wikipedia and the rest of the web and haven't found any scientific sites which give any evidence of the Gra's contribution to mathematics.
    (Ralbag on the other hand .... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gersonides)

    ReplyDelete

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