Monday, August 29, 2011

Shut HaRid: Truth is more important than authority

Shut HaRid(#62): "Whatever does not make sense to me – then even if Yehoshua ben Nun said I would not agree [Chullin 124a]. And I don’t stop myself from expressing what appears correct to me according to my limited intellect. Thus I do what it says in Tehilim (119:46), I speak regarding Your words even against kings and I am not ashamed…. Because even when it appears to me that I have successfully refuted the words of the early authorities – G‑d forbid for me to be so arrogant to say that it is because of my superior wisdom (Koheles 2:9). Rather the reason that I can argue with the early authorities is because of the rationale provided by philosophers. I heard that a group of philosophers asked the greatest amongst them, “We acknowledge that the early scholars were wiser and more intelligent than us. But at the same time we acknowledge that we argue with their ideas and refute them in many issues and in fact our criticisms of them are correct. How could that be?” He replied to them, “Who can see farther – a midget or a giant? It is obviously a giant because his eyes are much higher than a midget. However if a midget stands on the shoulder of a giant – who can see farther? Obviously it is the midget because his eyes are now higher than the eyes of the giant. So it is with us. We are midgets riding on the shoulders of giants because we know that it is their wisdom that elevates us. Therefore our wisdom is based on their wisdom.” Thus what we say is not because we are greater than them. We can comment regarding the early scholars in a situation where we see that they disagree with each other – one permitting and the other prohibiting. So which authority should we rely on? … We cannot simply say that one is greater and therefore the words of the others are refuted. Rather we must analyze all their words because they are the words of the living G‑d. We need to debate and investigate their words to see which way the law seems to be going. That in fact is what the sages of the Mishna and Talmud did. We see the later Talmudic scholars did not refrain from disagreeing with the early scholars and to decide amongst what the early sages disagreed with each other as well as to contradict their words. We find that the Amoraim would refute a Mishna and say that it was not the halacha. The fact is the wisdom transcends the individual sage and there is no sage who is free from error. Only G‑d is free of error.


  1. That is what I like to hear!

    This teshuva has an approach to Truth being Intrinsic - ie it is a discoverable truth, accessible to all of us, according to our toil.

    The alternative view, which is more prominent in ... certain circles, and probably mainstream, is that "truth" is not connected with chakirah, since chakira is a goyish or /tumah subject. Blind obedience to Rabbonim is truth, whatever they say we must accept.

    The statement in Chullin, I have only read in Rambam, in the context of Neviim who give a different interpretation or tradition to that of Chazal, eg how is Halitzah made.

    Assuming this is the meaning of the Gemara, it takes u back to the issue of Akhnai.

    But there is the problem of Horiot. Sanhedrin could make errors. There is no guarantee that the Sanhedrin in the time of the MIshna was error free ( this is precisely what David bar Hayyim argued in the video on VIN a few months back.)

  2. But most halachic arguments (those that have any legs) aren't between right vs wrong, and don't involve errors. Rather, there are two valid interpretations, eilu va'eilu divrei E-lokim Chaim, and deciding which aspect of the truth is to be halakhah is about authority.

  3. micha said...

    But most halachic arguments (those that have any legs) aren't between right vs wrong, and don't involve errors. Rather, there are two valid interpretations, eilu va'eilu divrei E-lokim Chaim, and deciding which aspect of the truth is to be halakhah is about authority.
    That is the understanding of Rav Yisroel Salanter and kabbala (Shomer Emunim HaKadmon). However Rav Moshe Feinstein basing himself on Rabbi Akiva Eiger has a different approach.

    Igros Moshe (Introduction): And therefore I also found it appropriate to publish my teshuvos, since I am merely clarifying the halacha and every talmid chachom and posek is able to examine my words and decide for himself whether to make halachic rulings in accord with my views. They can see that I did not blindly rely even on the writings of our great rabbis. I analyzed them with all my strength to understand their correctness - as we find stated by Rabbi Akiva Eiger. Similarly I request that all those who read my writings that they should carefully examine my words and only then [if they are acceptable] to make practical rulings in accord with them

  4. Even R' Moshe's position is nisht azoi pashut, as his haqdamah isn't the only place where RMF discusses the topic.

    (Cut-n-pasting from an Avodah post of mine from Nov 2006.)

    Compare IM OCh 4:25, where Rav Moshe discusses the notion of eilu va'eilu as being limited to machloqes lesheim Shamayim, and his haqdamah to IM, where RMF
    is clear that only one shitah is actually truth. In OCh III (pg 303, I forgot the teshuvah number) RMF similarly writes there is only one true accent for reading Hebrew, although one should follow one's mesorah of that that is rather than attempt to recreate it.

    -- ad kan cut-n-paste --

    RMF in his discussion of havarah is clearly rejecting RDbH's approach to halakhah-as-science. Authority apparently trumps clean-slate opinions about truth, but given the haqdamah this may simply mean that RMF holds

    How to actually be meyasheiv all the citations to get RMF's peshat... I leave that to our host, who in his guise as the compiler of Yad Moshe (the index to the Igeros Moshe), must know IM far better than I do. I don't know how.

  5. Is the RID R' JB Soloveichik?And is this really a teshuva? since much material available from R' JBS is 'transcribed' and 'adapted'. If this teshuva is genuine though then I stand corrected. The 'dwarf on giant's shoulders' argument was the subject of much contention in the pages of the Jewish Observer years ago following its use by R' Norman Lamm to argue against yeridas ha'doros. The point was made that its source was Isaac Newton and its context was completely irrelevant to a discussion of Torah concepts.
    Also I remember a teshuva from RMF, I think quoted on this blog before, where he's clear that the posek has to rely on his own understanding, not on the standing of previous authorities. Anyone know where that is?

  6. RID
    R. Yeshayah ben R. Mali of Trani, one of the foremost Torah scholars in Italy, was born in Trani, Italy, ca. 1180. He is also known as R. Yeshaya di-Trani Ha-Zaken ("the Elder") or Ha-Rishon ("the first"), or by the acronym RiD, to distinguish him from R. Yeshaya di-Trani Ha-Sheni ("the second") or Ha-Acharon ("the later"), also known as RiAZ. R. Yeshayah studied in the yeshiva of R. Simcha of Speyer. He maintained close contact with the leading Torah scholars of Germany, and his responsa are quoted in Or Zarua, by his contemporary R. Yitzchak ben R. Moshe of Vienna. Together with R. Eliezer ben R. Shmuel of Verona, he founded a yeshiva in Trani, where the Tosafist methodology of Talmud study was employed. R. Yeshayah died ca. 1260.
    R. Yeshayah authored numerous works. These include Piskei Rid (published by Yad Ha-Rav Herzog in numerous volumes), a collection of halachic decisions arranged according to the order of the Talmud, hundreds of which are cited in the Beit Yosef and other poskim; Sefer Ha-Machria, first published in Livorno, 1779, which includes discussions of various complex halachic issues; responsa; a commentary on the Torah, and piyyutim.
    His best known work is Tosefot Rid, on 19 tractates of the Talmud. (The Tosefot Rid on tractates Yevamot, Ketubot, and Gittin are really Piskei Rid.) R. Yeshayah frequently quotes Rashi, referring to him as Ha-Moreh ("the teacher"). Moreover, many of the anonymous comments quoted by R. Yeshayah were taken from Rashi.
    The Responsa Project CD includes the text of the standard edition of Tosefot Rid, first published in Lvov, 1860-1869.



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