Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Commonsense morality and empathy can be corrupted by religion and theology

The most bizarre and troubling aspect about child abuse in the religious community is not the abuse itself. It is the lack of seichel and moral outrage about children being harmed. It is common for victims of abuse and their family to be more traumatized and angry at the community and its leaders - than at the sick person who did the abuse. A child who runs to his rabbi or parent to report being abused - and is slapped and humiliated by these authority figures whom he viewed as his protector and role model - often suffers more psychological damage than he does from the abuse itself. The victim who is silenced or driven out of the community for complaining about the abuse has been horribly betrayed by those who are at the foundation of his existence. 

I have often wondered how great rabbis who spend their whole life seeking spirituality and immersed in Torah study - react in a more boorish and insensitive fashion than not only the ignorant religious masses - but also the non-religious or non-Jew. What has happened to their human feelings?  The answer obviously is that their understanding of religion and halacha has displaced their natural feelings. In fact they will proudly tell you that emotions and feelings can only follow - not lead an intellectual understanding from Torah. This loss of commonsense is the loss of the sense of yoshrus which I discuss at length in my books on abuse. There obviously are exceptions to this and the exceptions are becoming more numerous as the result of learning about the reality of the harm of abuse. 

update  June 17, 2014 See Post - Biblical Slavery and Morality

update: 6/13/14 Dr. Marc Shapiro on Seforim Blog noted that not only did Rav Kook emphasize the value of commonsense to distinguish right and wrong but Rav Itzele Ponovezh stated that the masses not the gedolim are the repository of Daas Torah - apparently because of their collective commonsense. And that this idea is clearly acknowledged by Chazal and Rishonim and Achronim.

In previous posts I have commented that one of the novelties of haredi ideology is the notion that the “Gedolim” are the carriers of all truth. See here where I quote R. Itzele of Ponovezh’s assertion that it is the people, עמך, not the Gedolim, who represent what today is referred to as Daas Torah.[13] This idea can be found in the Talmud and later rabbinic literature as well. When the Talmud and post-Talmudic authorities state אם אינם נביאים בני נביאים הם  or פוק חזי מאי עמא דבר  or קול המון כקול ש-די  or מנהג ישראל תורה  they are not referring to the Gedolim but to the masses of pious Jews, the ones who make up the kehillah kedoshah.

 update 6/16/2014:   Rabbi Yitzchok Isaac Sher (Leket Sichos Mussar 1:59): The Rambam (Hilchos De’os 1:7)  teaches concerning the perfection of character that a person should not chose an extreme position in character traits but rather he should pick the moderate middle position which is the path of G-d Who has commanded us to conduct ourselves in that manner. This raises an important question – who decides that a trait is in the middle? Furthermore why is this middle path called “the path of G-d”?  The answer is that it is clear that the Rambam’s meant that a person should rely on his commonsense (seichel) to guide him in finding the middle path. Therefore when a person conducts himself according to seichel (commonsense) rather than his basic lusts – this is “the path of G-d”. In fact this is the path that G-d taught Adam from the beginning of his creation and He implanted in him good commonsense to guide him properly. And even after we received the Torah and the 613 mitzvos in order to guide our commonsense according to the Divine intelligence – we are still told “It is not in Heaven” (Devarim 30:12 – Bava Metzia 59b). We are not to rely on Heaven to teach us what G-d’s will is but rather we are to rely on our commonsense [as we were before the Torah was given] in order to clarify the path of the Torah and the path of G-d. If we do that we will be successful – as the Rambam concludes there, “This is the heritage that Avraham taught his descendants –as the Torah (Bereishis 18:19) states, “For I have known him so that he will command his descendants...to keep the path of God.". One who follows this path brings benefit and blessing to himself, as [the verse concludes]: "so that God will bring about for Abraham all that He promised.

update: Read the Seichel Deficit from Yated

update: One of the children of a young kollelman developed a very high fever on Shabbos. Being a talmid chachom he researched the halacha and concluded that while it was permitted to call the doctor or even take the child to the hospital - he decided that he would be machmir and not violate Shabbos. When Shabbos was over - Rabbeinu Tam - he rushed the child to the hospital where the doctor said that his son had suffered irreversible brain damage from the fever. The broken father went to Rav Moshe and asked him how his son could have been harmed when he had been so careful to observe halacha? Rav Moshe replied that this was a case of pikuach nefesh and seichel should have told you that it wasn't time to be machmir.

update There are many sources describing the need to follow commonsense as well as the oligation to observe that which commonsense dictates. This is the issue known as natural law. I have a chapter devoted to this issue in my sefer Daas Torah. Spirtuality and Decency: Torah and Natural Law
Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky[(Emes L’Yaakov): According to the Halacha, Avraham was not obligated to risk his life to save his nephew Lot…. Avraham risked his life because the Patriarchs were yeshorim (upright) [Avoda Zara 25a]. That means that their actions were not governed only by the strict letter of Torah law - but by straight thinking. G‑d made man inherently yashar (upright). According to uprightness, there was an obligation to try and save Lot… Avraham felt responsible for Lot’s welfare because Lot’s father had died in a furnace because of his belief in the G‑d of Avraham. Therefore, according to uprightness (menshlikeit) Avraham had to organize his men and pursue after Lot’s captors. In truth the lives of the Patriarchs - which was before the giving of the Torah - was based on the attribute uprightness. This is the meaning of the expression [Vayikra Rabbah 9:3] that derech eretz (civility) preceded the Torah… Therefore, this civility and menshlikeit can be expected even from non‑Jews. Even though they weren’t given all the mitzvos, but everyone can live in accordance with the inherent uprightness - if he wants.

update: The Netziv says that commonsense obligates one as well as the Torah. Where there is a contradiction then Torah takes precedence. On the other hand where there is no Torah directive but there is from commonsense - then one must follow commonsense. For example he notes that while there is no obligation from the Torah to honor a non-Jewish father - but there is one from commonsense.

Netziv(Approbation to Ahavas Chesed): ….It says in Yevamos (79a): There are three inherent characteristics of the Jewish people – they are merciful, shy and they do acts of kindness to others. … Nevertheless there are explicit commands in the Torah to do acts of kindness such as Vayikra (25:35): You shall support your brother who has become poor, Shemos (22:24): Do not lend money with interest. The reason for this is to teach us that besides being obligated to do acts of kindness because we are human beings we have an addition obligation from the Torah – just as we have for all the mitzvos which we wouldn’t know from commonsense. The consequences of having both an inherent commonsense obligation as being part of mankind as well as an explicit command in the Torah is illustrated by the obligation to honor parents. The Torah command teaches that even though there is a command from commonsense that all of mankind is obligated to keep and receives reward for do it, nevertheless G‑d has in addition explicitly commanded us to do it as an aspect of the Torah (Shemos 20:11)… As a Torah mitzva honoring parents is a statute which must be done simply because it was commanded and not because it makes sense. For example if a non‑Jew fathers a child with a Jewish woman, than according to the Torah that child has a mother but no father. Therefore there is a greater obligation of honoring the mother than the father because the honor of the mother is dictated by not only commonsense but also from the Torah. …There are also consequences for lending money to a needy person. Even though it is clearly a commonsense obligation but it is also governed by Torah law. In this case the obligation from commonsense is inconsistent with the obligation of the Torah. The contradiction occurs in regard to charging interest. For example, in the case of a person whose life depends upon lending money with reasonable interest. From the commonsense point of view he still performs a great mitzva of lending money – even with interest – to sustain another person who desperately needs the loan. However the Torah specifically prohibits charging interest. Therefore according to the Torah a Jew would not be able to lend the money and thus he is prohibited from doing the kindness to the other person as well as sustaining himself. [This was explained in Harchev Davar - Bereishis 48:19 – concerning the Tabernacle at Shiloh…]
I recently came across two statements of Rav Kook which while acknowledging the reality of this process - explicitly reject it as an invalid Torah process. Rav Kook notes that a religious education that make one less sensitive and aware of commonsense morality and concerns - is invalid. While I have translated his words, it is best to see the Hebrew text.
Rav Kook(Shemonah Kevatzim (1:463):  The people who rely solely on their commonsense - because they are not learned - actually have an advantage in many respects over those who are learned. That is because their natural understanding and sense of decency has not become corrupted by errors that result from scholarship and or by the exhaustion and emotional frustrations that result from the burden of study. Nevertheless the unlearned masses obviously need the guidance of the scholars to know the particulars of the halacha. On the other hand, the scholars need to adopt and utilize as much is possible of the unadulterated commonsense of the unlearned masses – whether it is the approach to life or recognizing the natural moral values. This will result in the continued proper development of their understanding. This approach is even for tzadikim and even for those wicked people who retain a natural part which provides them with the potential to build on their natural power and purity to the same degree as the righteous at their highest level. The same can be said in regards to the nations in their relationship with each other – in particular non-Jew and Jews.
Rav Kook(Shemonah Kevatzim 1:75): It is prohibited for fear of heaven (yiras shamayim) - which is the result of learning - to displace natural commonsense ethics and morality. Because if it does - then it is no longer pure fear of heaven. Fear of heaven is only pure and genuine if the native moral sense itself is developed and elevated to a greater degree than it was before. However if one imagines that fear of heaven is something that without its influence, life is more likely to be good and to produce results that are beneficial to the individual and the community and that its influence actually reduces the goodness of life – such fear of heaven is not genuine.

רב קוק (שמונה קבצים א:תסג): האנשים הטבעיים שאינם מלומדים, יש להם יתרון בהרבה דברים על המלומדים, בזה שלא נתטשטש אצלם השכל הטבעי והמוסר העצמי ע"י השגיאות העולות מהלימודים וע"י חלישות הכחות וההתקצפות הבאה ע"י העול הלימודי, ומ"מ הם צריכים לקבל הדרכה בפרטי החחים מהמלומדים. והמלומדים צריכים תמיד לסגל לעצמם, כפי האפשרי להם, את הכשרון הטבעי של עמי הארץ, בין בהשקפת החיים בין בהכרת המוסר מצד טבעיותו, ואז יתעלו הם בפיתוח שכלם יותר ויותר, וכן הדבר נוהג אפילו בצדיקים ורשעים שישנם רשעים כאלה, שהחלק הטוב שנשאר אצלם הוא מבונה בכח טבעי עצמי וטהור כ"כ, עד שצדיקים במעלתם העליונה, וכן הדבר נוהג גם בכלל האומות ביחש כל אחת מהם לחבירתה, וביחוד בין אוה"ע לישראל.

 רב קוק (שמונה קבצים (א:עה): אסור ליראת שמים שתדחק את המוסר הטבעי של האדם, כי אז אינה עוד יראת שמים טהורה. סימן ליראת שמים טהורה הוא כשהמוסר הטבעי הנטוע בטבע הישר של האדם, הולך ועולה על פיה במעלות יותר בגוהות ממה שהוא עומד מבלעדה. אבל אם חצוייר יראת שמים בתכונה כזאת שבלא השפעתה על החיים היו החיים יותר נוטים לפעול טוב, ולהוציא על הפועל דברים מועילים לפרט ולכלל וע"פ השפעתה מתמעט כח הפועל ההוא יראת שמים כזאת היא יראה פסולה.


  1. There are two things, Torah and Derech Erets. The Ari z"l says that Derech Erets is higher than Torah and more demanding. In this sense, anger can be a terrible thing. But Derech Erets has no book to refer to. It requires something else, a human holiness apart from words, higher than words. It is thus that one who is without Derech Erets and reads words can use them to go in the wrong direction. First we must have Derech Erets and humanity, and only then are we safe with the words.

  2. I very much agree with this post, and not [only] because it is based on Rav Kook's teachings, but because this is the source of my struggles with certain aspects of Halachic Judaism. R' Daniel asked me a while ago why many of my comments are inflammatory to many respected commentors. If we look at what this post is saying, and keep it in the boundaries of a specific contemporary issue, i.e. sex abuse, then it is a reasonable objection. Rightly or wrongly, I have this approach to much of halacha - i.e. does it go well with the seichel or the intuition? It seems to me that R' Kook's words here, and elsewhere are predicated on his belief that we have a G-d given intuition which is our moral compass. This is not what is generally taught in the yeshivish world, or even the YU world. Their approach is the the total opposite - eg by learning gemara, we learn everything else from it. If someone wants to learn philosophy or science, he simply needs to become expert in gemara!
    Now i do not expect my views to be accepted or welcomed, but it is of interest to learn whether Rav Kook's ideas were accepted (ie the ones above).

  3. "to displace natural commonsense ethics and

    So what about cruelty against non-jewish spouses, homosexuals, mamzerim, kohanim?

  4. Rav Kook did not assume that commonsense is the judge of halacha. A similar view is expressed by the Netziv in the haskoma that he gave to the Chofetz Chaim's Ahavas Chesed.

    There are times where there is a contradiction between Torah and seichel - he uses the example of ribis - where the Torah obviously takes precedent.

  5. I think aeiou's comment is prescient.

    WHO gets to decide when Torah takes precedence and when commonsense wins out? How does win reach that decision? What criteria should be used?

    There are numerous examples of commonsense being dead wrong - in fact, too many to mention!

    This gem is from Dr.Jim Taylor PhD, adjunct professor at the University of San Francisco:

    "In fact, I think that so-called common sense is a fallacy that has been
    foisted on us by our culture of ideology (any ideology that wants to
    tell us what we should think and do) that prefers us to be stupid, ill
    informed, and poor decision makers".

    source: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-power-prime/201107/common-sense-is-neither-common-nor-sense

    I think this post opens up a real Pandora's box.

    Caveat emptor!

  6. thank you. an excellent post.

    and that is why so-called "Daas Torah", as defined in recent times and obviously an invention cannot possibly be true. Common sense tells educated people that persons cutoff from life in general and lack knowledge on how the world functions socially and scientifically cannot and should not be followed blindly as many do.

  7. You have seriously misread my post and my point.

    BTW Who do you think really knows about the world - that you would follow blindly? Obama, Bill Clinton, George Bush etc etc.

    Typically the gedolim who are viewed as having Daas Torah do in fact have a lot of contact with the real world - certainly much more than you or I do.

  8. While commonsense is not infallible and in many cases is wrong - what alternative do you propose?

    Democracy is based on the judgment of the common people.

    Justice is determined by the jury system ruled by commonsense.

    A lot of psychotherapy and medicine would be vastly improved if commonsense were more widely used and relied upon.

  9. Which world are we talking about? For example did George Bush know much about the world when he went to war with iraq, who had nothing to do with 9/11? Clearly not.
    Daas Torah of gedolim - big subject. Sometimes Gedolim show very good insight into matters,whether religious or secular, but not always. Also, if there are maybe 2-3 Gedolim with true daas Torah, how can B'H millions of Jews, frum, traditional or even secular ask them for guidance? usually it is the lower ranking rabbis who pretend to imitate Gedolim with their pronouncements, but fail miserably.

  10. Most areas of life that involve make decisions which are typically subjective. You seem to be implying that major decisions are typically objective decisions. Invading Iraq was an objective decision? A decision to explel a child or how to disclipline him is an objective decision? A psychologists diagnosis that the problem is from low self-esteem is objective? In fact I think your IOED is an accurate description of many "expert" decisions perhaps more so than with commonsense. Your multivariate analysis model implies that the variables picked are obejctive ones - when typically they are not. In addition the weighting given them is also not objective.

    I think you need to try a bit harder

  11. Ploni, I had a Professor who was very critical of "common sense" as well, but common sense can have several meanings. An economist or specialist in any field might be upset by people making commonsense statements about that field - but sometimes even the experts can be trapped in a theoretical or ideological framework.
    As for Multivariate analysis, that is a statistical method - i have never heard of statistics forming a part of a psak. To put it another way, several Gedolim objected to the Shulchan Aruch, and said people should learn from the Gemara, even if there is a risk of being wrong. So in a sense you are describing the "issue" from precisely the viewpoint which is being criticized. The Maharal would say go back tot he Talmud, and Rav Kook is going even further, saying rely on human morality in some cases, and that Talmidei Chachamim might learn from the common folk in this area!

  12. I never saw this in inside but understand that the Ramban sort of addresses this issue in his introduction to milchamos. There he writes (in the introduction to his sefer Milchamos Hashem)
    that the study of Talmud is not like mathematics. In Talmud study, a
    halachic analysis is not a geometric proof. In other words, halachic decisions are not purely logical. They always involve an element of subjectiveness, of context, of applying your own judgement (coloured by your own experience with the world). So I would say that common sense must always plays a part in deciding halacha.

  13. I think the Pandora's box goes is called natural law.

  14. Ramban (Introduction to Milchemes HaShem): For those who look at my sefer, don’t say in your heart that all my responses to the Baal HaMeor are in my eyes absolutely correct and obviously true and would therefore force everyone to acknowledge them. For everyone who studies our Talmud is well aware that concerning disputes between the commentaries that there are no absolute proofs or absolutely unanswerable questions. In fact, in this area of wisdom, things are not clear and unambiguous as we find in mathematical proofs. The main effort is to show that one position is more likely and more reasonable than the alternatives - rather than to show that one is entirely correct and the other is entirely wrong.

  15. yes you are correct - we are dealing with the issue of natural law. I have many sources on this in my sefer Daas Torah. The Netziv I cited is one of them

  16. A psychologists diagnosis that the problem is from low self-esteem is objective?

    WHY NOT?

  17. Yes indeed - and defining "natural law" is in of itself a confusing and highly subjective exercise.

    For example, in deciding what should be included in the natural law theory of ethics, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy notes:

    "Even though we have already confined ‘natural law theory’ to its use as a term that marks off a certain class of ethical theories, we still have a confusing variety of meanings to contend with. Some writers use the term with such a broad meaning that any moral theory that is a version of moral realism — that is, any moral theory that holds that some positive moral claims are literally true (for this conception of moral realism, see Sayre-McCord 1988)— counts
    as a natural law view. Some use it so narrowly that no moral theory that is not grounded in a very specific form of Aristotelian teleology could count as a natural law view".

    A REAL Pandora's box!

  18. Natural law is critical - despite some definitional problems - because it is a significant part of our mesora.

    For example
    Rabbeinu Nissim Gaon (Introduction to Talmud): The reason that there is punishment for activities not specifically commanded is because all those Mitzvos which are derived from commonsense are obligated on everyone from the day that G-d first created Adom HaRishon. Not only him but also all his descendants afterwards for all generations.

    Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim 3:17): A person is rewarded for any good deed and punished for sin - even though these activities were not commanded by a prophet. This is because a person is held accountable for those things which are dictated by commonsense.

    Ramban (Bereishis 6:13): The generation of the flood was punished for theft because it was an obvious sin. Our Sages (Sanhedrin 108a) say that this sin sealed their fate. That is because it was commonsense that it was a sin, there was no need for a prophets to warn them. Furthermore it was evil to both heaven and man.

    Eruvin (100b): Even if the Torah hadn't been given it would be possible to learn proper conduct from observing animals. Modesty from the cat, avoidance of theft from ants, avoidance of adultery from the dove and sexual conduct from the rooster.

    The following written by the last mashgiach at Slobodka in Europe is part of a major disccusion of the importance of commonsense in serving G-d and doing the right thing.

    Toras Avraham (Toras HaSeichel HaEnushi #2): … Intellect (seichel) which characterizes man is not simply a means of knowing and understanding data. In fact the intellect is a moral faculty to know what is truly straight. G d created man with this faculty in order to teach him the path of life. Therefore it is obligatory for man to use it to know what is right and wrong and not to distort his straightness and wholesomeness. It enables him to be a moral judge to understand things in full. Thus man is obligated to keep things which he knows are right - as well as that which he has been commanded directly by G d. Both obligation serve to direct him properly…

  19. Another example of commonsense, or seichel, is the war agasint Balak and the Midian/Moabites, where Bnei Yisraoel did not take vengeance against the women, and Moses was furious. In other words, they didn't use their seichel. Was Shaul Hamelech's failure to slay Amalek a lack of commonsense? There he had direct Mitzva to kill Agag, but didnt for whatever personal/political reasons - one could call that Bal Tigrau - he subtracted from the mmitzvot, but it was not based on seichel.

  20. Hi Eddie! Nice to meet again (I was tied up lately, so I didn’t post much).

    I’m not advocating blind trust in authority figures, but rather careful analysis of the facts in every case, without using mental shortcuts and heuristics. So I wholeheartedly agree with your observation that “sometimes even the experts can be trapped in a theoretical or ideological framework”.

    Nobody should get a free pass. That’s what S”A says, and
    that’s what good research says, too.

    Put simply, it means that decision-makers need to be aware of our inborn tendency to follow biases and therefore we need to make a conscious effort to attempt to engage in self-distancing during the decision-making process, thereby allowing for a careful examination of ALL the evidence, unencumbered by emotional biases and distortions, whether based on “commonsense” OR specialist knowledge. Equal
    weight is given to opposing viewpoints during the decision-making process, so that decisions are only reached when satisfactory resolutions for seemingly opposing evidence are attempted.

    I agree that some things remain subjective, I’m just making
    the case for an argument that careful analysis often widens the scope of what’s objective vs. what’s subjective.

    In another comment, I used treatment of anorexia as an
    example of this process.

    As far as my reference to Multivariate analysis, I admit
    that it was a borrowed term in the context that I used it. What I meant was the “analysis of alternatives” (AoA) aspect of MVA, defined in the Air Force manual as “an analytical comparison of the operational effectiveness, cost, and risks of proposed materiel solutions to gaps and shortfalls in operational capability. AoAs document the rationale for identifying and recommending a preferred solution or solutions to the identified shortfall(s)”. In other words – good, clear thinking.

  21. http://www.yated.com/the-seichel-deficit.0-556-0-.html

    The Seichel Deficit

    By Rabbi Avrohom Birnbaum

    “How can they go public without asking rabbonim?” my friend asked indignantly, the anger recognizable in his voice.

    It was the vaccine issue that set him off.

    First a little background.

    Recently,there have been a number of reported cases of whooping cough in
    Lakewood, NJ. In fact, two infants were hospitalized in critical condition due to untreated whooping cough. Neither of those infants had been vaccinated against the disease. Doctors have also reported that whooping cough has spread to those who were not vaccinated at an alarmingly quick rate. As a result, Lakewood’s famous senior pediatrician, Dr. Reuven Shanik, publically declared that he would not see any patients whose immunization records were not up-to-date.[...]

    No one ever said that it is a mitzvah to relinquish one’s seichel before asking a shailah. In fact, a common refrain in the early teshuvah seforim is that “she’ailas chochom chatzi teshuvah - the question of a wise man contains within it half the answer.” What do our sages who coined that wise phrase mean?

    The meaning is that a wise person breaks down a question to its essence. He
    has already analyzed all of its myriad components. He has weighed the pros and the cons, he has considered the various scenarios, he has done thorough research on the issue at hand, and only then, once he has boiled down his sefeikos - the components that still remain uncertain - does he approach his mentor with the real question at hand. Thus, frequently, by the time the wise man has analyzed it, the question no longer exists. And if it does, it has been broken down in a way that the person whom he is asking will be able to pick up from where the wise petitioner left off.

    A rov or rosh yeshiva is not a crutch or a substitute for using one’s own seichel.On the contrary, if one just runs to ask without contemplating the
    question, analyzing it rigorously, and truly weighing all of the issues,
    he is liable to ask the wrong question and thus get the wrong answer. A
    chochom, unless he has ruach hakodesh,can only answer the question that he is asked. If the question is askedincorrectly or foolishly, then the answer one gets might not be the real answer.

    Very often, when one truly uses one’s own seichel,so many of the questions that he thought he had turn out to not even bequestions. So many apparent uncertainties fall away when one gives realthought to matters and uses the seichel and critical thinking skills with which Hashem endowed him.

    It is high time we learned how to use our rabbonim and sages, not abuse them. They should be our final resort after boiling a question - if it still
    remains - down to its essence, not as a first resort and certainly not
    as a substitute for using our seichel.

    P.S. Please,
    no letters to the editor from well-meaning, misguided individuals, even
    those who call themselves doctors, telling us how terrible vaccines
    are. If you want to go back to the age when whole populations were
    decimated by diseases such as small pox, tuberculosis and scarlet fever,
    please go live on a desert island, where your unimmunized children
    won’t endanger the lives of others.

  22. YY – I happen to wholeheartedly agree with the gist of your observation, especially the part about “our kids need much more education in Derekh eretz kadma l'Torah”.

    And I’ve often commented on these pages about the shortcomings of what you term “present day standards of halakha and hashkafa -
    even that of "Gdoilim".

    My point is actually that PRESENT DAY standards of Halacha and Hashkafa often CLASH with Torah-true standards, and that both “commonsense “and “experts” (including both secular and unfortunately also Rabbinical authority figures) seem not to notice.

    The example you bring – the Pasuk of ועשית הישר והטוב, is a prime example.

    A quick search uncovers the concept of ועשית הישר והטוב mentioned in:

    Shulchan Aruch C”M 103

    and C”M 419,

    besides being mentioned in:

    Bava Metzia 16, 35, 108,

    Avoda Zora 25,

    Rashi on Bava Basra 5,

    Tosfos on Bava Basra 139.

    Hardly an obscure concept!!!

    So the “commonsense” that’s worth emulating has lots of
    sources in the texts we hold dear. It’s just ignored, in the favor of what you term the “sloppy, convenient indulgence in "the way I see it". Even amongst talmidei khakhomim”.

    It’s barely a week since Shavous and Kabolas Hatorah. Wouldn’t it be nice if we actually attempted to give the texts some serious thought and seriously used them to inform our decision making process?

  23. DT, it's a nice piece, but I dunno why you posted this in this thread.

    "a wise person breaks down a question to its essence. He
    has already analyzed all of its myriad components. He has weighed the pros and the cons, he has considered the various scenarios, he has done thorough research on the issue at hand".

    Do you really think that the "commonsense" guy you speak of so highly actually went through that process before reaching his conclusions.


  24. Eddie - I don't get you comment. In my humble opinion, In both examples that you bring "commonsense" would dictate NOT killing innocents. The direct command of Hashem OVERRIDES common sense.

    Doesn't the pasuk clearly state:

    {ט} וַיַּחְמֹל שָׁאוּל וְהָעָם עַל אֲגָג

    and see the Malbim:

    החמלה הוא ענין מחשביי, שחושב שאין מן הראוי והיושר להשחיתם ושלא בצדק צוהו הנביא דבר זה, זה עון פלילי כי רוצה להתחכם נגד ה' וע''כ צוהו בל תחמול עליו, רצה לומר אל תחשוב מחשבה שראוי לקיימו ושלא להשחיתו, ובאמת בזה נכשל שאול שחמל על אגג ועל מיטב הצאן ובזה הראה כי האמונה מתרופפת בידו

  25. DT, WE as believing Jews - as opposed the the profs at Stanford - have divinely ordained guidelines of what constitutes "natural law". The concept of natural law becomes worthless if we ignore or deviate from those guidelines.

    Yes - there is indeed something called commonsense that needs to be honored, but the context in which you've used it - dealing with "abuse" is IN MANY CASES not one of them.

    Abuse is an area where emotions often skew the "common" senses, and therefore clearer guideposts are required before succumbing to the temptation of calling everything "abuse".

    My example of anorexia treatment might be illustrative.

  26. This argument is totally backwards. The so called common sense of the average unlearned person might lead to some of the following conclusions -

    It's unfair that some people have more than others whether or not they've worked for it so the excess wealth must be stolen from them and distributed to the non productive poor.

    White people have abused people of color in many instances so all White people should now be subjugated by the masses.

    Animals are being wiped out by human habitats so humans must be restricted in their places that they live so animals should benefit.

    The poor man has suffered much so even if he is wrong he should win any din torah.

    There is no universally understood standard for common sense. Learning torah and understanding its principles lead people to know what is hayoshor and hatov and what is darchei noam.

    Unfortunately, some talmidei chachomim have become warped in their absolutist application of strict halacha without understanding Torah based common sense. However, to allow every misguided am hooretz the right to discard a Torah approach is insanity and evil.

  27. What divinely ordained guidelines?

    The examples I gave indicate a normal - non-Yeshiva educated commonsense for which we - and the non-Jews are punished if we don't keep it.

    we are not dealing with the issue of specialized knowledge such as with anorexia - commonsense means that which is common. Rav Kook clearly notes that that is where we start from and the purpose of education - even in Torah education - should be to elevate it but not destroy it.

  28. on what basis do you decide which talmidei chachomim are correct? On what basis do you decide what view of the masses is correct?

    As the Maharal has pointed out - any evalatuion based on human seichel can be twisted in many different directions - even when evaulating halacha and hashkofa - How do you know what is right?

  29. The Chovas Halevovos has indicated that Hakodosh Boruch Hu has given us a powerful tool called seichel which we can use to understand the world. The understanding is that although the seichel can be fooled, Hashem will grant us success if our desire is the seek the truth and do the ratzon Hashem.

    One has to find those talmidei chachomim that appear to have vast Torah knowledge and exhibit a purity of Avodas Hashem which is often publicly acknowledged. There are also those individuals that are publicly known as pikchim. If one makes a true and sincere search and requests from Hashem to be led on the right path, he can be confident that he will find a suitable person.

  30. The Netziv you posted answers your question, DT. We first do
    a thorough analysis to see if the commonsense contradicts TRUE Torah, which requires breaking down a question to its essence and analyzing all of its myriad components ....weighing the pros and the cons ... considering the
    various scenarios ... doing thorough research (as noted in your yated article).

    In the examples that FOL notes - משקל המידות, or the “golden rule” as dictated by Torah informs us that:

    … נדיבות is the correct midda for the wealthy fellow, but המבזבז אל יבזבז יותר מחומש.

    … We need to act decently in dealings with both Jews and
    non-Jews alike regardless of color of skin, as noted in C”M 348:2. Those guilty of subjucating people of color need to do amends, and not ALL white people.

    … Human needs take precedence over the needs of animals, but only human NEEDS and the frivolous taking of animal lifes is prohibited.

    … Din Torah needs to ascertain who is right and who is
    wrong, as the Torah tells us ודל לא תהדר בריבו.

    As the Rabeinu Bechya notes in the very beginning of the כד הקמח (אות אמונה):
    והתורה הזאת הצלחת נפשו של אדם בה יושע תשועת עולמים, בה ילמד לישר מעשיו ועמה ידע גרכי החיים בכל פרטי פעולותיו

    And he notes elsewhere the necessity to always be מתייעץ עם התורה.

    I think the real problem is – as I’ve stated earlier, that we allow our biases (whether להחמיר או להקל) to COLOR our conception of what Torah wants.

    That’s clearly the case in the story you posted of the fellow who caused his child to suffer irreversible brain damage by being Machmir IN CONTRAVENTION to Torah that says ספק פיקוח נפש דוחה שבת. He is the personification of the חסיד שוטה mentioned in Sota 21.

    That’s clearly the case in what Rav Kook mentions, as he clearly attacks specifically השגיאות העולות מהלימודים וע"י חלישות הכחות וההתקצפות הבאה ע"י העול הלימודי.

    Could it be that we ourselves have a bit of a biased idea concerning what constitutes Torah, and THAT is what leads us to conclude that we need to “work around” it?

  31. Divenely ordained guidelines that tell us when to follow the common man's sense of Yashrus, and when to override it because the commonsense is nonsense.

    You may not WANT to deal with issues of specialized knowledge such as with anorexia, but unfortunately people routinely apply the "commonsense which is nonsense" approach to such issues, day in and day out.

  32. Ploni - if "commonsense" in these cases goes against the argument, then fine. But You are correct - in the case of Shaul HaMelech , it may well have been some kind of political corectness not commonsense - i.e. he had explicit instructions to kill Agag. with the Midian, i just remembered that case because I heard a shiur once saying the same thing, that they didnt use their commonsense, and came back to Moshe to ask what to do.
    There can also be a "machloket" for commonsense - if someone is an idiot or has some kind of issue, can say stupid things and claim they are common sense.

  33. Rabbi Michael TzadokJune 11, 2014 at 8:21 PM

    But common sense isn't so common. Yes I know a bit of a cliche, but true none the less. This was the problem with many early IQ tests. They tested "common sense", but not everyone from every culture had the same "common sense".

    Further your Eruvin quote is actually a stira against many of your other quotes. It is saying that man does not have an innate moral instinct(i.e. natural law) but that given logic we could posit out that certain animal behaviors would be beneficial to society.

  34. There is yet another take on the matter. Rav J.B Soloveitchik gave a famous drasha on korach, regarding his rebellion, and his use of "common sense". Part of the drasha was about the all techelet beged, with no tzitzit, and the claim that it did not "require" tzitzit. I am not sure if this beged was Korach's or allegedly the karaites. (as far as i know the karaites do have tzitzit).
    I think the purpose of the drasha was about using commonsense to change halacha. As far as korach is concerned, I don't think he used commonsense or rationalism, but populism. Just like Yashke used populism to gain supporters. And i think there is a distinction between seichel-commonsense and populism.

  35. That is the 64 million dollar question, isn't it?

  36. maybe i don't know what you meant by common sense. maybe in the future you define the terms you are discussing.
    as for "daas Torah", i can't possibly know what the "Gedolim" know/knew and what info goes into their decision making, but reverse engineering of decision already made by them, tell my "common sense" that there is likely a huge gap in their information flow. no need to elaborate.

  37. However since you don't have all the facts - your commonsense might see things differently if you had been fully informed.

  38. FOL - any source that you could perhaps quote, showing that "If one makes a true and sincere search and requests from Hashem to be
    led on the right path, he can be confident that he will find a suitable

    I'm honestly not aware of any.

    The Torah does indeed guarantee that:
    וּבִקַּשְׁתֶּם מִשָּׁם אֶת ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ וּמָצָאתָ כִּי תִדְרְשֶׁנּוּ בְּכָל לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל

    However, no mention is made about finding A PERSON. Could it be that when we make a true search Hashem will help us find Him, by learning how to utilize the wisdom of Torah ourselves?

  39. Eddie - didn't you mention earlier that even very intelligent people can say some stupid things because they feel committed to a theoretical or ideological framework that turns out wrong?

    I recently saw a book by Prof. Ruth and Dr. Gerald Caplan titled "Helping the Helpers Not To harm - Iatrogenic Damage and Community Mental Health".

    They describe some real horror stories, mostly set in Israel, of how MH professionals botched up big time.

  40. Why isn't a diagnosis of low self-esteem as a cause of MH issues objective?

    Low self-esteem diagnosis assumes that tending more to the "self" is always therapeutic. There's plenty of research that points out the negative results of self-esteem when it doesn't match ability. Among other things:

    a. a fragile sense of self that needs to be protected at all costs, which often leads to using lies and deceptions.

    b. a lack of emphasis on proper skills acquisition.

    c. the lack of motivation to face difficult life challenges that may impinge on the fragile self.

    d. research showing that a higher sense of subjective well-being/happiness can be attained from altruistic endeavors that don't focus on self and focusing on character traits like gratitude.

    I believe that these criticisms are valid, and well supported by torah sources.

  41. I can only hope that by this point of the discussions you've slightly amended your position!

  42. I'll add two quotes that perhaps illustrate the Rishonim's view of unfiltered "commonsense".

    In the first, the Chovos Halvovos eloquently describes how the physical advancement of society bears a negative correlation to the advancement of intellect and reason. It's in שער הפרישות, פ"ב:

    אשר נוסף העולם יישוב, נוסף שכלם חורבן. עד אשר
    חשבו דרכו הרעה כי היא הטובה, ותעותו כי היא הישרה, ושמוהו
    לחוק ולמוסר, ויורישו אותו האבות את בניהם, וגדלו
    עליו צאצאיהם, וציוו בו המונם, והתקנאו
    עליו שריהם, עד אשר נתבסס היצר בהם ונתמלא ביתם הבל, ושב
    בהם הדבר הנכרי בעולם נודע, והדרך הנכונה בו נכריה, והמספיק
    ממותריו, קצור בחובותיו. ועשה
    כל אחד מהם כאשר ראה שעשה רעהו, והאוחז ממנו די ספקו נקרא עצל, והמתעצל
    מהרבות בו - מקצר. והמסתפק
    במספיק ממנו - חלש. והעובד
    אותו - משתדל. משתבחים
    בו ומתנשאים בעבורו. מתחברים וכועסים ורוצים.

    In my second quote, the Ibn Ezra points out how unusual it is to find someone NOT enslaved by his instincts. This one is in Bamidbor 6:2, on the Pasuk אִ֣ישׁ אֽוֹ-אִשָּׁ֗ה כִּ֤י יַפְלִא֙ לִנְדֹּר֙ נֶ֣דֶר נָזִ֔יר
    לְהַזִּ֖יר לה. He explains the usage of the Shoresh פ-ל-א, which means a marvel or wonder. He writes - short and to the point:
    יפלא. יפריש או יעשה דבר פלא כי רוב
    העולם הולכים אחר תאותם:

    'nough said about commonsense.

    My two cents are therefore that first and foremost we need a strong "filter" and lots of due diligence. As R' Kook says, we should use commonsense to keep the mistakes that Lamdonim make in check and NOT to make rash judgements.

  43. So is it true torah or not that the bechor should inherit a double portion and daughters nothing at all when there are sons?

  44. aeiou - your comment indicates you didn't read what I posted.

  45. Where do you see that he talks specifically about formal education, as opposed to the corrosive effects of an unchecked חומר. It has nothing to do with education or culture - it's part and parcel of the same "natural law" that you speak about.

    is a common theme in the C"H, see for example in שער עבודת אלקים פ"ב,
    where he notes among the natural disadvantage of the intellect in
    relation to the תאוות:
    האדם מדברים שונים זה מזה, וטבעים מתגברים זה על זה, ומעצמים
    זה הפך זה. והם: נפשו
    וגופו. ונטע
    הבורא יתברך בנפשו מידות וכוחות יכסוף בהם לדברים, כאשר
    יתנהג בם האדם יגדל בהם גופו ויתחזק על ישוב העולם הזה, ויישאר
    המין האנושי על עניינו, ואם יפסדו אישיו. והמידה
    הזאת היא התאווה להנאות הגופיות, והיא כוללת כל מיני החי הגדל.

    ... ומפני שהיו ההנאות הגופיות קודמות אל נפש האדם
    מנעוריו, וצוותו בהם מתחילת עניינו חזק וגדול עליהם ונחוץ לו
    יותר, הגבירה
    מידת התאווה על שאר מידותיו, עד שגברה על השכל שנוצר עליו האדם, וטחה
    מראות עינו ואבדו סימני חמודותיו.

    You write that "a
    person is capable - through commonsense to know right from wrong even
    without the revelation of the Torah" see the המשך of the above
    mentioned C"H where he says the opposite:

    האדם בעבור זה לדברים שהם חוץ לו, לעמוד
    בהם כנגד מידתו המגונה, והיא התאווה להנאות הבהמיות; ולהחיות
    בהם סימני מידתו המשובחת, והוא השכל. והדברים
    ההם ענייני התורה, אשר הורה בהם האל ברואיו דרך עבודתו על ידי שלוחיו
    ונביאיו עליהם השלום.

    Please remember that I'm not "knocking" commonsense, I'm simply
    observing that it's EXTREMELY prone to bias, and needs a "strong" filter
    - which is Torah. I'm pretty sureR' Kook would have said the same. He
    was just pointing out that there were areas where the lomdim strayed and
    the common folk didn't - and I'm sure that he made that judgement based
    on Torah.

  46. Eddie, I only wish I'd have the evidence to mount a strong objection to your observation ....

  47. @Ploni you are ignoring the sources that I cited that man has a commonsense of right and wrong and that he is held accountable for not living up to that standard. There is no question that commonsense can be distorted - but by the same mechanism so can Torah knowledge.

    Let me try again

    Koheles (7:29): Behold, only this have I found, that G-d has made man upright; but they have sought out many schemes.

  48. I just wanted to point out that your "common sense" approach does not resolve the conflict between halacha and morals.

    There are many incompatibilities between halacha and basic human rights. We just have to aknowledge it.

  49. I never claimed that common sense resolves the conflict between halacha and morals.

    The Netziv clearly states that halacha takes precedence in case of conflict.

    My point is merely a corrective to the view that commonsense is at best worthless and perhaps is dangerous. Torah without commonsense can lead to conclusions that clearly go against Torah values. We are obligated to keep commonsense obligations - even when there is no explicit texts or mesora dealting with them. This is clear from the rishonim as well as the baalei mussar. This point seems to have been forgotten by many today.

  50. Rabbi Michael TzadokJune 12, 2014 at 2:32 PM

    Ploni the Chovos HaLavovos is simply saying that culture i.e., formal education has an inverse relationship to commonsense.
    So then children are born Tzadikim, Baalei Chesed ect? Really if there was a natural law, an inborn instinct to do what is right and upright, that isn't learned from our experiences, then toddlers ought to be the most shining examples of this.
    Parents should never have to tell their young children twice to do something. If honoring our parents is part of said natural law, they should simply automatically know, and thus immediately do without question whatever their parents tell them.
    Likewise babies and toddlers should never be greedy, they should never hit one another ect. While that may have worked some how in Aristotle's ivory tower, anyone who has raised children should see the failure.
    Again going back to the Gemarra in Eruvin. A newborn kitten acts in its behavior the same as an adult cat. That is the way with animals... The natural laws that guide any species do not have be learned, they are simply instinctual.
    However you don't need to have a PhD in child psychology to know that these high moral behaviors are simply not instinctual.
    Thus the idea of natural law fails. If you want to say that שיכל means that a person has the ability to learn from his enviroment and reason out what is right, fine, but to say that it is simply inborn does not make sense.

  51. Rabbi Michael TzadokJune 12, 2014 at 2:47 PM

    I just wanted to point out that your "common sense" approach does not resolve the conflict between halacha and morals.

    Is G-d immoral or does G-d define morality? According to what you posit here, G-d is immoral, as His will does not match up with your idea of morality.

    I would argue rather that your idea of morality is simply wrong.

    Not only is the so called Universal Declaration of Human Rights ignored by most nations that signed off on it, it simply is absurd and a farce.

    Take article 25 Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

    Find me a nation anywhere in the world where poverty does not exist. Every member nation in the United Nations signed off on this, yet every one retains poverty within its borders.

    Further it was adopted in 1948, and article 4 abolishes slavery. Yet Saudi Arabia(a member since 1945) did not stop the importation of black africans as slaves until 1983. Kuwait(a member since 1963) did not stop the importation of black africans as slaves until 1989. Perhaps Saudi Arabia is understandable, they were grandfathered in, but how could Kuwait be accepted as a member state while in direct and blatant violation?

    In short the declaration isn't worth the paper it is printed on.

  52. I'm a bit flabbergasted by your comment. You yourself note that "commonsense can be distorted" and you actually quote the part of the Posuk that says " but they have sought out many schemes".

    Shouldn't that logically lead to the conclusion that "man" needs some sort of checks and balances to know whether his standards of "commonsense" are not perhaps informed by "many schemes" & whether they have been "distorted"?

    Are you intimating that it isn't hard to make that differentiation?

    Chazal don't seem to think that its easy differentiating between decision that are "upright" and those that are based "seeking many schemes". Good research doesn't, either.

  53. @Ploni and Rabbi Tzadok why don't you explain the sources that I have brought for example

    Toras Avraham (Toras HaSeichel HaEnushi #2): … Intellect (seichel) which characterizes man is not simply a means of knowing and understanding data. In fact the intellect is a moral faculty to know what is truly straight. G d created man with this faculty in order to teach him the path of life. Therefore it is obligatory for man to use it to know what is right and wrong and not to distort his straightness and wholesomeness. It enables him to be a moral judge to understand things in full. Thus man is obligated to keep things which he knows are right - as well as that which he has been commanded directly by G d. Both obligation serve to direct him properly…

  54. Yes, we are born with common sense. But as R' Tzadok pointed out,
    from simply observing children it becomes pretty obvious pretty quickly that the are also some strong forces pulling humanity in other, less "sensible"

    I think the following Rebeinu Yona captures the essence of the problem very eloquently.

    He explains 1) that like DT noted - we DO have a naturally endowed intellect. 2) However, RY that this naturally occurring intellect is NOT instinctive - it requires לחקור ולהבין, in other words we need internal checks and balances. 3) Bad habits and bad friends etc.cause us to LOSE the ability to properly analyze things - והוד שכלו יהפך עליו למשחית כי התאוה תעור עיני השכל ... . .h 4) In circumstances where we lose our שכל, we tend to offer bad counsel to others - כאשר יוכיחון את חבריהם ויתכונו להורות להם הדרך הנכונה ילַמדו אותם לעשות

    רבינו יונה, (משלי משלי
    ט"ז-כ"ב): עה"פ "מקור חיים שכל בעליו" – השכל הנתון באדם
    מקור חיים הוא לבעליו, לפי שהוא ראוי לחקר ולהבין בשכלו הדרכים הרצויים לבורא
    יתברך ולהתרצות עליו בהם. "ומוסר אולים אולת" אף על פי שהשכל הטבעי
    הנתון באדם תולדתו להכיר הרע והטוב ולהבין הדרכים הרצויים... אבל יכול האדם לעות
    שכלו הטבעי ולסלף ישרו על ידי הֶרְגֵל החמדה והחירה ברע, כי אחרי שיחמד פעל העבירות
    ויבחר באהבת הרשעים או בחברתם יהפך לבבו, והוד שכלו יהפך עליו למשחית, כי התאוה
    תעור עיני השכל והחפץ והחמדה יסלפון ההכרה... והאוהב לא יראה חובה לאוהבו, ומפני
    זה ... כאשר יוכיחון את חבריהם ויתכונו להורות להם הדרך הנכונה ילַמדו אותם לעשות
    הרע, להתגאות ולהלוך בדרכי לבם ולעשק ולחמד ולהחליף עולם עומד בעולם חולף, לפי
    שעצמו האוילים עיני בינתם וסתמו מקור שכלם הטבעי על ידי התאוות, עד שיורם שכלם על
    הרע כי טוב הוא...

  55. @ Tzadok "A newborn kitten acts in its behavior the same as an adult cat. That is
    the way with animals... The natural laws that guide any species do not
    have be learned, they are simply instinctual."
    Is that what the Gemara says in eiruvin? Actually, this does not apply to many species, especially the ones that are raised by their parents and taught how to socialise and hunt. why do you think that lions who are raised by humans are generally less wild than those raised in the wild? Also with apes, eg a chimp who is raised by humans thinks it is human, and cannto socialise with other chimps if it never sees them.

  56. In one of the Peter Wimsey mysteries by Dorothy L. Sayers, her aritocratic protagonist is having a conversation about primogeniture. The objection is raised that primogeniture was hard on the other children; Wimsey's answer was something to the effect that giving something to every child is hard on the property.

    Absolute egalitarianism isn't the only position with logic behind it.

  57. I'm not sure what you see in the Toras Avraham that contradicts R' Tzadok's & my own words. words.

    Does the T"A say that this intellect is readily available to the normal person at any time without the proper forethought, checks & balances? No he doesn't.

    He is simply saying that we need to stay away from making judgement that don't incorporate Yosher. - to avoid being a נוול ברשות התורה - to do הישר והטוב, etc.

    I've pointed out you in my past comments that you need to first DEFINE what is good and bad in the context of abuse, before relying on gut reactions. There's a real problem in DEFINING WHAT CONSTITUTES ABUSE.

    Didn't you once post what Rav Elchonon zatzal says - that אונאת דברים מותר לתועלת?

    Do you know how many professionals today don't make that distinction, and instead consider all אונאה EMOTIONAL ABUSE?

    A proper evaluation would need to see the evidence base - both from Chazal & secular research - to decide if there indeed Toeles, then decide accordingly...

    Are you aware of how much damage the WRONG commonsense causes?

    I'm not talking about protecting sexual abusers, but rather the "commonsense" approach that favors flattery over skills-building ... fake self-esteem over mastery and self-efficacy.. All in the name of "being nice" (which is often actually based on a patronizing & demeaning approach to the weaker "outgroups").

    These problem are in my opinion ENDEMIC and VERY widespread.

    I think you're reading things into the Seforim you posted that they never intended.

    They're talking about not using Torah for nefarious purposes, similar to what the Mishna says אוי לי אם אומר וכו' במס' כלים פי"ז מט"ז

    I think you're extrapolating things that can do a lot of unintentional damage.

    Also, did you attempt to make sense of the preponderance of evidence that commentators brought here to the opposing viewpoint? Are you implying that you can pick and choose without trying to do so?

  58. Perhaps we should stop a moment to define what “Commonsense” means, before continuing this discussion. I believe that it makes sense to do so, because disagreeing over ill-defined terms is a waste of time and electronic bandwidth.

    My understanding of how DT defines Commonsense is something along the lines of a “gut reaction”, which the Macmillan dictionary defines as “something that you feel or believe strongly without stopping to think about it”.

    Dear DT: Is my understanding of your position correct? If not, would you
    kindly state in clear terms what your definition would be?

    I know that you’ve already stated some limitations to commonsense, but I’m
    not sure where you draw the line. Are there any general rules you could share? Do you believe that the determination needs to be done on a case-by-case basis (which I think would in of itself prove that commonsense is too subjective to be applied “without stopping to think”)?

  59. I don't think you are paying attention to what I am saying.

    Again the sources I cited have said man has a native capacity to determine right and wrong. You counter by saying that it is hard to define and that professionals say this or that.

    That is not the point. Man has an inborn sense of right and wrong - independent to whether he has learned Torah. There are major consequences whether you believe that there is such a thing as commonsense right and wrong or that only something written in a sefer has significance.

    Let me try a mashal. People are taught that they can only do math if they have a computer. Therefore they don't try to do math and develop no math skills. Self fulling prophecy.

    However somebody discovers that in fact there is an innate ability for math which can be improved upon with proper education.

    He is attacked since it is known that humans make math mistakes and the consequences of mistakes can be huge. Therefore he is urged not to even try to be independent of either a computer or an expert who knows computers.

  60. DT - I see that part of the reason we are misunderstanding each other is because of our different conceptualizations of what commonsense is.

    I would actually have brought your mashol as a proof NOT to rely on commonsense - since I understood your definition of commonsense to mean "gut feeling" (as I commented elsewhere). In your moshol, the commonsense dictates using a computer for math, and the deliberate thinker "rediscovers" the possibility of improving on the innate ability to do math WITH PROPER EDUCATION.

    In other words - your "commonsense" assumes the understanding that more stressful long-term goals (learning how to do math) are more worthwhile than the short-term satisfaction of pressing a few buttons and getting an answer.

    I'd appreciate a clearer definition of what your conceptualization of commonsense. I hope you agree that this is a pivotal point in this discussion.

    I'll also iy"h post a piece I just saw from Harvard Business School, which I think is mostly צו"ם זאך.

  61. I'll post a piece from the Harvard Business School website concerning the issue of commonsense.

    I think it does a pretty good job explaining the shortcomings of commonsense.

    It actually has two parts. In the first part, sociologist Duncan Watts challenges the worth of relying on commonsense and explains why he does so. In the second part the webmaster (?) James Heskett sums up the reactions of many commentators to Watts' thesis.

    I'm only posting snippets. Perhaps - if DT would like - he could post the rest. The source is at http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/6785.html.

    Watts' thesis, in short:
    ...sociologist Duncan Watts' thesis is that, in predicting outcomes and
    acting accordingly, we give far too much credence to such things as our
    own experiences, our ability to determine what is important, and history
    itself—mainly because complex phenomena are based on events that never
    repeat themselves and can't be examined scientifically. Once we know
    the outcome of a situation, we rationalize the reasons why it occurred
    and convince ourselves that we've learned something from it that we can
    use in making future decisions. As a result, we give unwarranted credit
    to such things as experience, intuition, and even common sense.
    ...If this research were valid, Watts argues, why wouldn't we be able to
    predict the success of a strategy, a new disruptive technology, a
    product, or an advertisement? The reasons he gives are that these
    phenomena are too complex, involving so many variables that they can't
    be repeated or even tested effectively.

    Summation, according to Heskett:

    Common sense is the decision-maker's friend when the decision has to
    be made rapidly, with a minimum of research or formal theory, with no
    more than moderate risk or consequences, and by individuals who have
    accumulated experience and wisdom. If those conditions don't prevail,
    watch out. At risk of oversimplification, that sums up the responses to
    this month's column, in which most readers accepted to some degree
    author Duncan Watts' description of how common sense fails us.

    First things first. Several offered definitions of common sense.
    Tomy Tharian, for example, said "common sense is quite often related to …
    wisdom (from accumulated experience vs. the knowledge that the younger
    generation acquires so rapidly through social networks)." Noting that
    Webster's Dictionary defines common sense as "sound and prudent judgment based on the simple perception of the situation or facts," JR adds that "Common sense is not in the knowledge but in the application of the
    knowledge." Others placed emphasis on the word "common." S. A.
    Visotsky, for example, said that "Common sense is defined as beliefs or
    propositions that most people consider prudent …" Duncan Watts himself
    found it "surprisingly hard to pin down. Roughly speaking, it is the
    loosely organized set of facts, observations, experiences, insights, and
    pieces of received wisdom that each of us accumulates over a

  62. R' Tzadok:

    I think you've touched on a very important reason why so many people that go to therapy end up becoming lax in their religious observance.

    Many therapists work from a model balancing "wants" against "needs". Religion is put squarely in the "need to do" category. We "need to do our religious obligations, but to avoid emotional distress we should balance our time by giving ourselves time and space to sort of recuperate, by catering to our "wants".

    One of the reasons is perhaps the issue you mention - that most people's attitude towards religion is one of begrudged acceptance, since it doesn't match their understanding of morality.

    As they are taught to be more autonomous thinkers (another mainstay of therapy) this negative attitude often becomes a slippery slope leading to compromises in religious behaviors.

    The concept of balance has its' place in Chazal (see Shemone Perakim L'Rambam), but definitely NOT as a balance against religious beliefs that by definition cause pain and ambivalence. After all, we have "affective" mitzvohs like loving Hashem, and affect can't be faked. Nobody would love a immoral God, unless he himself is immoral.

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

  63. DT, perhaps you'd like to check out the wiki article on "Cognitive-Experiential Self-Theory".

    It's @ http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Cognitive-experiential_self-theory ,

    The theory is based on the idea that people use two parallel systems to produce conscience thought and decisions: "analytical-rational and

    We're basically arguing that both Torah and good research has the analytical-rational lead in anything complex, with intuitive-experiential following.

    See שלה"ק שער האותיות אות מתינות - he says the same.

  64. @Ploni you are focusing on the wrong issue. I am not saying commonsense is intuitive or analytic. The result of education or is inherent.

    I am simply saying that man has the knowledge of right and wrong just as I say man has free-will and he is conscious. The exact mechanism is not the issue - it is the acceptance of the existance of this ability.

    In the same way that a man who denies there is free-will acts and thinks differently than one who accepts it, someone who accepts the fact that he has a moral perception and inner voice - acts differently than who deniesit.

    The Rishonim clearly state there is such an ability - there are many frum people today who deny it or at least say it can not be used.

  65. "The exact mechanism is not the issue - it is the acceptance of the existence of this ability".

    Very interesting. So, we are engaging in a philosophical discussion with no practical application???

    "someone who accepts the fact that he has moral perception of good and bad and an inner voice" - "inner voice sure DOES sound to me like you're choosing intuitive thinking, and that would contradict what you just wrote.

    Should he follow his "inner voice" and turn it into specific conscious thought & behavior or not.

    I suspect that you need to think this through a little bit more to make it coherent.

  66. @Ploni I disagree with you on this. The sources are not as concrete as you would like them - but they clearly are there and state the abiity exists. Again - free-will and consciousness important concepts which are used - without the specificity you are asking for.

  67. What sources are not as clear as I'd like - מוח שליט על הלב is not clear?

    What ability exists?

    I'm afraid that shying away from specificity is EXACTLY the problem - anyone can interpret it anyway they want.

    Do you know how many Gittin come about because of this seemingly esoteric detail?

    In one famous recent case you posted about, the major complaint of the wife was that her hubby wasn't social enough. She understood that as proof that he wasn't "normal". Surely she felt that it was "commonsense".

    Do you want to have a part in the disintegration of so many families, because you're afraid to be more specific?

  68. Did my response get lost?

  69. One reason why I’m convinced that we must be more specific about when to rely on our commonsense “inner voices” and when not, has to do with instances
    that our commonsense impinges on the Halachic rights of other people.

    I think that forcing other people to suffer because of our subjective commonsense in interpersonal relationships is plain wrong. This is especially
    so in cases where our subjective commonsense makes us stigmatize & discriminate against others.


    In one publicized recent case of divorce in the frum community, it seems that one of the wife’s main reasons for leaving her husband was that he wasn’t
    social enough & didn’t enjoy getting together with her family.

    I have no personal knowledge of the inner going-ons, but it’s not a stretch to assume that she felt that the husband was therefore mentally ill. Many therapists that don’t check for “context” would readily agree, as Schizoid personality disorder (SPD) is a noted in the DSM as a personality disorder characterized by a lack of interest in social relationships and a tendency towards a solitary lifestyle.

    So therapist “A” lends credence to the woman’s “commonsense” “inner voice” that says that since hubby doesn’t like parties and “normal” people do like parties, “something” is wrong with him. Case closed. The husband is told that he MUST change, or she will leave him. Or perhaps she just leaves him without warning, because she’s convinced that he
    “can’t” change.

    However, an astute therapist whom we will call therapist “B”, has a deeper understanding of diagnosis. He’s aware of the fact that not
    taking context into consideration is one of the DSM’s
    shortcomings, which is clearly noted in the DSM Guidebook, (but as Dr. Allen Frances points out still routinely ignored). He “digs deeper”. He carefully
    listens to both sides and therefore becomes aware that the husband possibly has a good reason for avoiding the wife’s family, perhaps because he feels
    stigmatized by the family for his intellectualism / rationality and lack of spontaneity (which often go hand-in-hand).

    Therapist “B” explains his observation to the wife and
    suggests that she NOT follow her “inner voice”. Instead, he sets up a family meeting and explains the husband’s feeling to her family. If he is a Ben Torah,
    the therapist also points out that the C”H actually might favor a more solitary lifestyle in specifically such cases, so that this is a case that both good diagnosis and Torah match. The wife’s concernes are allyed and the marriage is saved.

    This is one reason why I believe we need SPECIFICITY on WHEN to follow our commonsense “inner voices”. There’s a lot of nuance and detail that needs to go into decisions, to avoid being שופך דמם
    against Halacha.

    PS: A fuller discussion of how counselors can improve
    outcomes using these skills can be found in: Ridley, C. R., Mollen, D., & Kelly, S. M. (2011). Beyond Microskills Toward a Model of Counseling Competence. The Counseling Psychologist, 39(6), 825-864.

  70. Rabbi Michael TzadokJune 13, 2014 at 8:15 AM

    Not true. While animals that are raised with close human contact will learn to suppress their instincts, and thus not be able to hunt or socialize with their wild counterparts, that is because humans raise them in such a way so as to intentionally cause said suppression.
    Lions instinctually see anything smaller and moving as food. However their handlers do not want to become their lunch. So they utilize a Lion's instincts for self preservation by denying the lion food and the affliction of pain in order to suppress its hunting instinct.
    Likewise with primates. They interact with one another in a very violent manner, therefore when they are young their handlers will teach them to suppress said instincts with deprivation of food and affliction of pain.
    However, because said behaviors are so instinctual human attempts at suppression are always tenative at best. Hence every now and again the Lion "snaps" and attacks its handlers or the zoo goers. The pet chimp that has been so loving for so long, one day rips its owner's arm off(as chimps eat other primates and to it a human is just another primate) and settles in to lunch.
    What has in fact happened is that the instincts of these animals won out over years of conditioning. Thus the reason that it is generally a bad idea to keep them as pets. Such reversion to basic instinct happens at an unpredictable rate.

  71. Rabbi Michael TzadokJune 13, 2014 at 8:35 AM

    I am not saying commonsense is intuitive or analytic. The result of education or is inherent.

    Yes you are. Once you invoke terms such as "natural law", "moral instinct" and even to a certain degree "common sense" you are very specifically stating that it is intuitive, instinctual and inherent.
    As such they should be as present in toddlers as they are in talmidei hakhamim. Such is simply not the case.
    I understand שיכל as an ability developed and conditioned into man by means of his education, social conditioning, and upbringing.
    A person raised on a free love psychadelic commune will have a very different "common sense" regarding more and uprightness regarding sexuality and drug use then will a person raised in meah shearim.
    One will see monogamy and a certain restriction in sexual gratification as upright, and polyamory as giving in to every sexual desire as wrong. The other will see polyamory and free sexual expression as upright, and monogamy and suppression of sexual appetite as wrong and destructive. To each their view is "common sense". In reality their views are the outcome of social conditioning.
    If Mr Freelove were to become frum it would take years(or even decades) before his "common sense" about certain things ever aligned with Frum cultural norms(if ever). Many things would have to be conscious decisions on his part.
    If you are going to say that a person given a proper Torah education with a healthy diet of musar and hashkafa thrown in as well should have a certain innate, nearly instinctual ability to determine what is right and wrong, then fine. However that there some sort of natural law is simply not true.

  72. I don't understand your problem with slavery. According to you, slavery is perfectly moral. Or is your holy sense of moral also corrupted by decadent 21st century occidental values?

  73. A grown lion or tiger is extremely powerful, and the same with a chimp, which is 7x as strong as a man. Of course it is a bad idea to keep them as pets. But the point i was making is that if you do raise such an animal as a pet, and feed it like you would a cat or dog, it will not be able to survive in the wild , unless it is trained to do so. That is what a lot of animal conservation is doing. I actually saw a programme about the jaguar (S. American leopard), and how humans had to train cubs to hunt, before they could send them back into the wild. Even a bird, has to learn hwo to fly and hunt. In other words, yes, animlas do have a lot of instinct, but they still need to be taugth many skills by their mother. If you look at the amazing Orang utan, this is very clear. maybe the closer they are to humans, (eg apes) the more they need to be taught survival skills.

  74. Rabbi Michael TzadokJune 13, 2014 at 1:02 PM

    Slavery as defined by Torah is moral. Unless again you are saying that G-d is an immoral being.

    Slavery as practiced in most places in the world is completely immoral.

  75. "Slavery as defined by Torah is moral."
    Of course, it has to be, since by definition everything that is in the torah is moral. Genocide as defined by Torah is moral too.

  76. Do you agree that slavery was once universally viewed as moral? that captial punishment was viewed as moral? that wife beating was viewed as moral?

    What is the basis of saying something is moral/

  77. A quote from the Rambam concerning the subject of relying on commonsense-cum-inner voice: שמונה פרקים פרק ד':

    המעשים הטובים הם המעשים השווים, הממוצעים בין שני קצוות, אשר שניהם "רעים": הראשון תוספת והשני חסרון. והמעלות הן תכונות נפשיות וקניינים ממוצעים בין שתי תכונות גרועות: אחת מהן יתרה, והאחרת חסרה. ומן התכונות האלהיתחייבו המעשים ההם.

    והמשל לזה: הזהירות, שהיא מידה ממוצעת בין רוב התאווה ובין העדר הרגשת ההנאה.
    הרי שהזהירות היא מן המעשים הטובים. ותכונת הנפש, אשר תתחייב ממנה הזהירות, היא מעלה מן המידות.

    אך רוב התאווה היא הקצה הראשון, והעדר הרגשת ההנאה בכל הוא הקצה האחרון ושניהם רע גמור. ושתי תכונות הנפש, אשר מהן יתחייב - רוב התאווה - והיא התכונה היתרה והעדר ההרגשה - והיא התכונה החסרה. - שתיהן יחד פחיתויות מפחיתויות המידות.

    והרבה פעמים יטעו בני אדם במעשים האלה, ויחשבו אחד הקצוות - "טוב" ומעלה ממעלות הנפש.

    ופעמים יחשבו שהקצה הראשון הוא "טוב". כמו שיחשבו את ההעזה מעלה, ויקראו את המעז - "גיבור". וכשיראו מי שהוא בתכלית ההעזה והקפיצה לתוך הסכנות, שמפקיר נפשו למות במתכוון וניצל במקרה, ישבחוהו על זה ויאמרו: "הרי זה גיבור". ופעמים יחשבו שהקצה האחרון הוא "טוב". ויאמרו על - פחות הנפש שהוא סבלן, ועל העצל שהוא מסתפק, ועל
    נעדר הרגשת ההנאה, לגסות טבעו, שהוא זהיר. ועל האופן הזה של הטעות, יחשבו גם את הפזרנות והיהירות למעשים המשובחים. וזה כולו טעות.

    So much for relying on common sense.

    Yes there are times and there are times.


  78. רבי יצחק אייזיק שר (לקט שיחות מוסר ע' נט): ובזה נבין את דברי הרמב"ם )פ"א מהלכות דעות ה"ז( שכתב והורה את תיקון המדות, שלא יהיה האדם קיצוני במדותיו לאחד מן הצדדים, אלא ילך בדרך הממוצעת שהיא דרך ה' שציונו ללכת בה, וקשה, מי יברר לאדם מהי הדרך הממוצעת? ומדוע נקראת הדרך הממוצעת דרך ה', אלא ברור שכוונת הרמב"ם היא שעל האדם לסמוך על שכלו שיורה לו מה היא הדרך הממוצעת, והמתנהג על פי שכלו ולא על פי רצונותיו זוהי דרך ה' אותה הורה לאדם מראשית יצירתו ונטע בו שכל טוב להורות לו את דרכו, ואף לאתר קבלת התורה ותרי"ג המצוות ליישר את השכל האנושי ע"פ השכל האלוקי, נאמר לאחר מכן לא בשמים היא (דבדיס ל יב, וב"מ נט ב), אין לנו צורך ללמוד מן השמים מהו רצון ה', אלא השכל עודנו בתוקפו לברר לפיו מהי דרך התורה ומהי דרך ה'. ואז יעשה ויצליח, כמו שמסיים הרמב"ם שם שדרך זו היא שלימד אבדהם אבינו לבניו שנאמר כי ידעיו למען אשר יצוה את בניו ואת ביתו אחריו ושמרו דדן ה' וגו' וההולן בדרך זו מביא לעצמו טובה וברכה כמו שנאמר למען הביא ה' על אבדהם את אשר דיבד עליו )בארשית יח יט).

  79. It is clear to me from all the sources that a person needs to use his seichel to decide whether to rely his seichel.

  80. @Ploni "I think you've touched on a very important reason why so many people
    that go to therapy end up becoming lax in their religious observance."
    That is a big generalisation to make, and it is not clear why they go to therapy in the first place. So your general statement is not very useful.

    Next, it is not clear that your measurement of "observance" is valid. Is someone who keep glatt kosher but abuses children in the mikva to be considered "observant"?
    Finally, I don't accept Ramatz's claims on what the Torah considers "moral". Slavery was an economic reality, just like war was and is. Capital punishment - if done according to the Torah may or may not be moral, but it is a legal obligation - and this is to to biur, - v'biarta hara m'Yisrael. The Torah tells us how to be act when involved in slavery, even when a slave does not wish to be freed. To say this is ipso facto moral might not necessarily be the case.

  81. ופרי הנפש הוא השכל. ואולם לא ... כל נפש יש לה שכל טוב. אך ... כפי טוב יסודות הגוף ... וכפי טוב יסוד הנפש ... וכפי טוב המוסר אשר הוא
    השמירה, כן
    יהיה טוב השכל. ... וכפי טוב השכל כן יהיה טוב האהבה והיראה ושלימותן, ובו תהיה העבודה נכונה.

  82. Several "takeaways" from the Rabeinu Tam:
    1) In #3 he states that without Sechel there is no Yiras Shomayim. The obvious deuction is that WITH sechel there IS Yiras Shomayim. I'm not sure that most of us check to see if our "commonsense/inner voice" actually corresponds with Yiras Shomayim.

    2) In #2 he states that without Sechel we don't believe in Reward - he obviously means that Sechel is meant to train us to look out for the long term good, since שכר מצוה בהאי עלמא ליכא. Once again - does that correspond with most commonsense?

    3) He states that "good" sechel needs THREE "good" antecedents: a. יסודות הגוף, b. יסוד הנפש, c. מוסר. In other words - WITHOUT THESE THREE, SECHEL IS NOT RELIABLE.

    All those good Jews you quote filtered the commonsense with THEIR three antecedents.

    Case closed!. lol

  83. As to knowing מי יברר לאדם מהי הדרך הממוצעת .....

    There's a Sefer called ארחות צדיקים and he spells it out in GREAT detail.

  84. Not sure where you get your conclusion from

    1) what are these antecedent condtions
    2) It seems seichel is more reliable with high levels of the antecedent conditions but does not become infallible and even without the antecedent condtions it is possbile that the personis is accurate.

    So we have people that are 90% correct and some that are 40% correct on hard issue but perhaps most will be 90% on common problems. The lack of perfection does not mean that commonsense can't be used.In addition a person can be trained to use his seichel and he is better off even though he will sometimes make a mistake.

    Again I am simply advocating a paradigm shift to the view of the rishonim and the baalei mussar.

  85. See this discussion which notes that commonsense works best within a group but not between groups that don't share common values and goals


  86. @Ploni - why call it my thesis? I am reporting what it says in Rishonim and Achronim.

  87. Rishonim? I didn't see you mention a SINGLE source from a Rishon.And to the best of my knowledge, the sources from Achronim have also been synthesized in the framework I mentioned. If I missed something, please point out the specifics.

    In any case, before you can take a stand הלכה למעשה, there's the Halachic responsibility to be מיישב the sources that contradict the stand you'd like to take,

    Do you agree to this concept? It's common sense, but I've seen in שו"ת משפטים ישרים ס' רפ"ד that he specifically talks about it - no Psak Din without resolving contradictory proofs (if you want, I can upload the text).

  88. The link was broken. But I think that just reading that Greene believes in utilitarianism and wants morals to be defined as "what maximizes human happiness" - shows just how shallow he is. Is he aware of the problem in defining what happiness is & figuring out which actions maximize it?

  89. These are rishonim I mentioned 3 days ago in the comments. Here they are again. There are more sources in the rishonim

    For example
    Rabbeinu Nissim Gaon (Introduction to Talmud): The reason that there is punishment for activities not specifically commanded is because all those Mitzvos which are derived from commonsense are obligated on everyone from the day that G-d first created Adom HaRishon. Not only him but also all his descendants afterwards for all generations.

    Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim 3:17): A person is rewarded for any good deed and punished for sin - even though these activities were not commanded by a prophet. This is because a person is held accountable for those things which are dictated by commonsense.

    Ramban (Bereishis 6:13): The generation of the flood was punished for theft because it was an obvious sin. Our Sages (Sanhedrin 108a) say that this sin sealed their fate. That is because it was commonsense that it was a sin, there was no need for a prophets to warn them. Furthermore it was evil to both heaven and man.

    Eruvin (100b): Even if the Torah hadn't been given it would be possible to learn proper conduct from observing animals. Modesty from the cat, avoidance of theft from ants, avoidance of adultery from the dove and sexual conduct from the rooster.

    The following written by the last mashgiach at Slobodka in Europe is part of a major disccusion of the importance of commonsense in serving G-d and doing the right thing.

    Toras Avraham (Toras HaSeichel HaEnushi #2): … Intellect (seichel) which characterizes man is not simply a means of knowing and understanding data. In fact the intellect is a moral faculty to know what is truly straight. G d created man with this faculty in order to teach him the path of life. Therefore it is obligatory for man to use it to know what is right and wrong and not to distort his straightness and wholesomeness. It enables him to be a moral judge to understand things in full. Thus man is obligated to keep things which he knows are right - as well as that which he has been commanded directly by G d. Both obligation serve to direct him properly…

  90. It still works on my computer here it is again


  91. Thank you for taking the time to repost you מקורות.
    I hope to IY”H address them on my next comment on this issue.

    In the meantime, I’d appreciate you thoughts concerning the point I raised at the end of my comment – that “before you can take a stand הלכה למעשה, there's the Halachic responsibility to be מיישב the sources that contradict the stand you'd like to take”.

    Several מקורות:

    שו"ת משפטים ישרים ס' רפ"ד (מהרה"ג מוה"ר רפאל בירדוגו זצ"ל, נדפס בקראקא שנת תרנ"א לפ"ק) עוד ראיתי להעיר אזן המעיין בפרט אחד ששגגו בו רבים והוא, כל ששני החכמים מתוכחים זה עם זה ומקשה אחד על חבירו על סברתו קושיא
    חזקה שלא מצא שכנגדו תשובה הוגנת כי אם דחיות של הבל חובה עליו לחזור מסברתו אף שלסברתו נראה לו שהוא דין אמת מכל מקום כיון שהקשה לו חבירו מגמרא או מפוסק וכיוצא מחויב לחזור וכל עוד שלא חזר ואינו חושש לקושית חבירו רק אומר כך נראה לי זה אינו מן המנין ואין לנו לחוש לדבריו כלל וראיה שכך היה מנהג החכמים האחד לחזור בהם מכח קושיא ומחויב לכפוף ראשו ממעשה דר' דוסא בן הרכינס בצרת הבת יבמות דף ט"ז אמר
    התם כשיצאו יצאו בג' פתחים כתבו התוס' כדי שלא ימצאו כולם יחד ויקפחם בהלכות ויצרכו לפסוק הלכה כמותו, ע"כ. הרי שאע"ג שהעיד משם חגי הנביא אם הי' מקשה להם היו צריכים לפסוק הלכה כמותו. ומיהו נראה שאם הי' בידו קבלה מאדם גדול מאד לא
    הי' צריך לחזור מכח קושיא ותדע שהרי אקשי לר"ע ואוקמי' ואפילו הכי לא חזר בו ושמא משום כן תירץ התוס' שאדרבא לשמוע תשובתו ומיהו ודאי במלתא שהיא שקולה מחויב לחזור בו מכח הקושיא כמעשה (יבמות עז) דלא יבא עמוני כו' אמר בעו לאכרוזי עלי' עד שבא יתרא הישמעאלי ואמר כך מקובלני באופן שכל שיש קושיא גלוי' על דבריו ואינו חוזר בו הרי זה דיין שקר ודבריו אינם מעלין ולא מורידין ובסוד הדיינים ובמנינם לא יבא וכמאן דליתי' דמי ויתקיים בדין ביושבים לפני ה' ומודים על האמת.

    עיקר עלי' בתורה היא להבין דעת הניגוד תמיד, ואחר כך לשקול בפלס איזו דעה מכוונת טפי וכו', וחובה למי שקבע בדעתו את התמיהה להעמיק ולשמוע דעה השני' ואחר כך לשקול. (קובץ אגרות לחזון איש, ח"א ל"ג).

  92. Eddie: Please note that I was careful to write "a very important reason" – using “A” instead of “THE” pretty much addresses you concern about over-generalization.

    Insofar as your comment concerning very religious people that abuse children in the Mikva – I don't think you understood the gist of what I was trying to say. I wrote that “most people's attitude towards religion is one of begrudged acceptance, since it doesn't match their understanding of morality”.

    My point is that a person who learns appropriate coping skills and also EXPERIENCES (as opposed to “believes”) religion as fulfilling a POSITIVE emotional
    need (akin to Aristotle’s “flourishing”) has the tools to withstand his urges to abuse children in the mikva. Religion then falls into the category of “wants”
    and then becomes one important reason why the person refrains from disgusting compulsions, if not the MOST important reason.

    As to your point of aversive practices in the Torah not matching morality but rather being borne out of necessity – Where such practice is a positive
    commandment, this is surely NOT the Torah view. The Mitzvah of ובערת הרע מקרבך that you mention is a case in point. The purpose is indeed moral, to stem the
    tide of law-breakers, which in turn leaves society as a much more pleasant and inhabitable place. See Sefer Hachinuch 47.

  93. The link works, but I get a "server not found" message when trying to play the video

  94. Ploni, thank you for your thoughtful comments.
    My question still is what re the numbers of people who having been to therapy leave or change their observance, and what are the causes? Perhaps therapy can teach them that a strict Haredi life was causing them problems , eg OCD.. Or that a strict orthodox life was causing them some kind of deprivation. Or perhaps they realized that they had been lied to by people they trusted. In any case, who are we to judge the why and the wherefore - Hashem is the True Judge.

    It is interesting that you mention Aristotle. I saw one of the Greek philosophers, maybe PLato, saying the same thing, i.e. about the Greeks learning to resist the desire for a young boy (which was the done thing in ancient Greece). So is Orthodoxy only on the same moral madreiga as the Greeks were?

    It is precisely issues like this which prove there is a need to change the morality of the Mikve culture (and other aspects of orthodox world).

    The point about Morality and biur - it is a complicate issue, or I would need to write a lengthy spiel to explain what my point was. Briefly, Slavery itself was not moral, but it seems to me that Torah is bringing morality to it. If we consider that Israelite slavery 3000 years ago was more moral that American slavery of 150 years ago, it does say something important.
    If someone has to execute a murderer l'fi HaTorah, it is serving a Morality, but the executioner would still become defiled - that is perhaps an example of what I am trying to argue.

  95. Regarding amkha: journalist James Surowiecki in "The Wisdom of Crowds" attempted to identify the factors that contribute to or detract from a group's ability to make the right judgements. He opens his book with an anecdote: Francis Galton, the English polymath (which included his being both a eugenicist and a pioneering statistician) attended a county fair. A live ox was on exhibit; the punters paid to guess the weight and closest guesses to the ox's dressed weight once slaughtered won prizes. The six hundred plus people who guessed included experts – farmers and livestock buyers – as well as people with little expertise. A tabulation of the results showed that nobody's guess, not even the experts' was as close as the mean of the guesses, which was only a pound off the true weight – within a tenth of a percent.

    In some cases, groups are remarkably intelligent and are often smarter than the smartest people in them, in some cases they are stupider. Surowiecki asks how can this happen.

    Here's one summary of what he concluded, with my comments on the bulleted items

    •The three conditions for a group to be intelligent are diversity, independence, and decentralization.

    Yeshiva centric society tends to minimize these factors and tends to chase experts (see below.) For a group, having its members work in different fields in which – as a group – people gain diverse experience in a whole range of fields and interact with a wide variety of people may tend to maximize these factors.

    •The best decisions are a product of disagreement and contest.

    The beit midrash is nothing if not the home of intellectual disagreement and contest in an effort to gain knowledge – but it may not maximize the group's decision making and also the modern drive is for homogeneity in its residents.

    •Too much communication can make the group as a whole less intelligent.

    Cell phones?

    •Information aggregation functionality is needed.

    In Galton's agricultural fair, this was the jar the guesses were collected in. But that was a simple situation.

    •The right information needs to be delivered to the right people in the right place, at the right time, and in the right way.

    •There is no need to chase the expert.

    On the other hand,

    hierarchical centralized decision with no real input from lower echelons

    no way to aggregate the information
    a tendency to imitate past decision makers
    emotionality and peer pressure

    all tend to make crowds less wise.

  96. DT had expressed his opinion that the idea of using commonsense-intuition
    was not his own thesis, but rather based on reliable sources. As a retort I
    noted that we can never form any final opinion when sources are contradictory, until we somehow manage to resolve those sources that seem to contradict the conclusion that we’d like to reach, and I quoted the שו"ת
    משפטים ישרים and the חזון איש as sources for this concept.

    At the same time, I need to “practice what I’m preaching”, and resolve the
    sources that seem to support DT’s stand.

    I believe the basic answer to this seeming dilemma – when to use commonsense-intuition as opposed to when to use analytical-rational skills – can be found in the של"ה הקדוש.

    According to the Shelah in שער האותיות אות מתון, we need to use commonsense-intuition in cases where:

    מצוה שכבר היא מפורסמת ומושכלת אצלו כגון לילך לבית הכנסת ולבית המדרש וקיום כל מצות המעשיות שבתורה

    On the other hand, we need to use analytical-rational skills in cases where:

    אבל בדבר שצריך התבוננות למשל מי שבדעתו ליתן כיס מלא מעות לחלק זה לעניים
    ופגעו בו עניים לא ימהר עד שיתבונן מתחילה איזה עני חשוב והחשוב חשוב קודם
    והכל לפי צרכיו המרובים וכיוצא בזה הרבה, ומכל שכן וקל וחומר בדבר הרשות שלא יעשה
    מעשה א דיבור עד יקח מועד וישכיל ובקל וחומר בן בנו של קל וחומר אלף פעמים אם הוא מעשה או דיבור של איסור כגון הכאה או ריב ומחלוקת כיוצא בזה שיהי' בשובה ונחת ואל ימהר.

    I’m very aware of the fact that beurocracies use option “b” as an excuse for
    inaction … writing reports … making meetings … and doing nothing. That’s not what the shelah means. In his example of giving Tzedaka, he makes it clear quite clear that his concept of analytic-rational thinking means taking the time to ascertain facts and learn the relevant Halachos, which in this case are in יו"ד ס' רנ"א, as he writes:

    שיתבונן מתחילה איזה עני חשוב והחשוב חשוב קודם והכל לפי צרכיו המרובים

  97. Here's the full text of the Shelah:

    בשלה"ק שער האותיות אות מ' מתון כ:

    "זה התוכחת מוסר הי' מרגלא בפומיא הקדוש ה' אבא
    מורי זלה"ה שאל יבהל בשום מעשה הן גדול או קטן רק ישים עצה בלבו ויהי' חכם
    רואה את הנולד כי כל העושה בחפזון על הרוב מקולקל.... על כן ידבק האדם במידה זו
    ויעשנה טבע אצלו שלא יעשה שום מעשה בעולם הן גדול או קטן ולא שום דיבור בעולם ...
    עד שישים אל לבו ויתייעץ עם שכלו כדת מה לעשות ויזכור בהשי"ת ובתורתו הקדושה
    וישים לנגד עיניו מדות תרומיות ואז ילך לבטח דרכו ולא יכשל ... ולא זו בדבר הרשות שיעשה
    כן אל אפילו בדבר מצוה יעשה במתון ... והא דאמרינן זריזין מקדימין למצוה וצריך
    לעשותה בזריזות זהו ענין מצוה שכבר היא מפורסמת ומושכלת אצלו כגון לילך לבית הכנסת
    ולבית המדרש וקיום כל מצות המעשיות שבתורה אבל בדבר שצריך התבוננות למשל מי שבדעתו ליתן כיס מלא מעות לחלק זה לעניים ופגעו בו עניים לא ימהר עד שיתבונן מתחילה איזה עני חשוב והחשוב חשוב קודם והכל לפי צרכיו המרובים וכיוצא בזה הרבה, ומכל שכן וקל
    וחומר בדבר הרשות שלא יעשה מעשה א דיבור עד יקח מועד וישכיל ובקל וחומר בן בנו של קל וחומר אלף פעמים אם הוא מעשה או דיבור של איסור כגון הכאה או ריב ומחלוקת כיוצא בזה שיהי' בשובה ונחת ואל ימהר ואז יבא שלו' וינוח וישקוט כל ימיו ממכאובות וימצא חן ושכל טוב בעיני אלקים ואדם".

  98. I don't agree with your reading. Commonsense includes intution and analytical-rational skills. It involves the normal thinking processes of a normal person with normal experience and normal educatation. It doesn't require a navi or advance knowledge of Talmud or Shulchan Aruch - though as Rav Kook said they can sharpen and improve commonsense. It also doesn't require a PhD either

  99. @Ploni commonsense - seichel - includes analytical skills
    Rambam(Shemona Perakim #2)
    אמנם המעלות הן שני מינים, מעלות המדות ומעלות השכליות, וכנגדן שני מיני פחיתות, אמנם מעלות השכליות הן תמצאנה בחלק השכלי, מהן החכמה, והיא ידיעת הסבות הרחוקות והקרובות אחר ידיעת מציאות הדבר אשר יחקרו סבותיו, ומהן השכל, אשר ממנו השכל העיוני והוא הנמצא לנו בטבע, רצוני לומר, המושכלות הראשונות, וממנה שכל נקנה, ואין זה מקומו, ומהן זכות התכונה וטוב ההבנה, והיא לעמוד על הדבר ולהבינו מהרה בלא זמן או בזמן קרוב. ופחיתות זה הכח הפך אלו או שכנגדם. (פרק ב)

  100. Seichel is a gift from G-d
    Rabbeinu Yonah
    ...כי שכל האדם מאת ה' הוא, כמו שאמרו הפילוסופים: השכל מתנה - המוסר קנין. (אבות ה יג)

  101. Nobody ever thought commonsense requires a navi.
    As to advanced knowledge of Talmud or Shulchan Aruch:

    Are you claiming that the גבאי צדקה in the Shelah's case can ignore יו"ד ס' רנ"א? Are you claiming that he can learn it superficially? Wouldn't it depend on the complexity of the case?

    Will you say the same for secular law? While anyone with rudimentary reading skills can follow Parking laws, will you say that anyone can deal with estate taxes and mergers & acquisitions?

    BTW, this is the first time I've seen you mention that commensense includes analytical-rational skills.

  102. Of course it is. In fact the Rishonim consider it a חלק אלוק ממעל.

    The problem is that it can be corrupted - both intentionally and unintentionally, as many commentators here have mentioned from many reliable sources, including the Rabeinu Tam.

    If we were business partners, would you allow me to shortchange you and skim funds from the business, based on my intuition that I was working much harder than you & therefore DESERVED more?

  103. Nu ... And WHAT - pray tell me - is ANALYTICAL THINKING - if not resolving seemingly contradicting concepts???

    How can one still make a blanket statement that "It doesn't require .. advance knowledge of Talmud or Shulchan Aruch"?

    Isn't it obvious that the degree of knowledge would depend on the circumstances? And that opposing viewpoints must be resolved.

    BTW, are you disagreeing with the Chazon Ish and שו"ת משפטים ישרים? If so, why?

  104. Indeed so - and the same Rambam also writes, in the same שמונה פרקים about how we corrupt or midos: As he says concerning דרך הממוצע:

    והרבה פעמים יטעו בני אדם במעשים האלה, ויחשבו אחד הקצוות - "טוב" ומעלה ממעלות הנפש

  105. ontheleftcost:

    1) Those of us taking the side against "commonsense" in cases that the Shelah mentions are also arguing for exhaustive analytical thinking and not the rubber-stamp thing that passes as Daat Torah.

    2) I'd hope that Surowieckiwasn't refering to issues that require specialized technical or legal knowledge. Diversity, independence, and decentralization won't make a good rocket-ship - unless your pool is made up of rocket scientists.

    Look in any of the thousands of written Halachic Responsa involving exchanges between Rabbis & I think you'll find plenty of disagreement and contest, no censorship and (usually) very little emotionality.

  106. Sorry for the delay, Eddie.
    "re the numbers of people who having been to therapy leave or change their observance" - I haven't studied it formally, so it's just anecdotal.

    "strict Haredi life was causing them problems , eg OCD" - real Haredi life is the polar opposite of OCD, as OCD is anxiety over outcome and real observance has numerous Halachos based on clearly defined rules of best efforts, as opposed to rigid outcome. I do have to agree that ppl never gave religion the proper forethought & therefore misunderstand it.

    Same with "orthodox life was causing them some kind of deprivation" - there are clear rules for that, too. Yes, we are enjoined not to work on Shabbos, even in the face of severe deprivation (but not פיקוח נפש). Otherwise, religion is a trade off, where there's less hedonistic happiness but more wellbeing stemming from a sense of meaning and purpose.

    "is Orthodoxy only on the same moral madreiga as the Greeks were" - no, we have Torah to guide us through the grey areas, the Greeks didn't. Still the Rambam is known to have written that Aristotle got the closest to truth without Torah.

    "xecutioner would still become defiled" - please see אור החיים עה"פ ונתן לך רחמים- דברים י"ג:יח, that by a מלחמת מצוה we assured not to become defiled

  107. ontheleftcoast:

    I was never the one to argue that 2000 faculty members of Harvard University are better at finding a lost spaceship or guessing the weight of a live ox. Rather, I mentioned MAKING, as in engineering a spacecraft. Big difference.

    I think that if you should step back a bit from
    your argument and you might notice that you’re conflating different TYPES of problems, each of which require different problem SOLVING skills.

    While scholars will surely disagree on the exact categorization of problem types, one example that would suffice for illustrative purposes is that of
    Jonassen. You can read his taxonomy @ http://web.missouri.edu/jonassend/problems.htm.

    The author notes that “the ability to solve problems is a function of the nature of the problem, the way that the problem is represented to the solver, and a host of individual differences that mediate the process. Each of these factors will be addressed in turn.

    “It is clear that problems vary in their nature, in their presentation, in their components, and certainly in the cognitive and affective requirements for
    solving them. Jonassen (1997) distinguished well-structured from ill-structured problems and articulated different kinds of cognitive processing engaged by each. Smith (1991) distinguished external factors, including domain and complexity, from internal characteristics of the problem solver. And Mayer and
    Wittrock (1996) described problems as ill-defined/well-defined and routine/nonroutine. There is increasing agreement that problems vary in substance, structure, and process. In the next section.

    The problems of FINDING a lost spaceship or GUESSING the weight of a live ox are both ill-structured, ill-defined and domain and context specific. Surowiecki might be right & the mean of guesses might be the best approach. I don’t
    know, and I don’t claim to know everything.

    What I do know is, that BUILDING / MAKING a spacecraft is a totally different matter, requiring a different set of problem solving skills.

    Spacecraft design brings together aspects of various disciplines, namely: Astronautics, Systems engineering, Communications engineering, Computer
    engineering, Software engineering, Electrical engineering, Control theory, Thermal engineering, Propulsion engineering, Mechanical engineering.

    Two thousand faculty members of Harvard University that are each an expert in the disciplines I just mentioned, CAN usually build a working spacecraft, IF they’re willing to work together and attempt to counteract their biases. If they aren’t interested in overcoming their biases, OR if G-d decides to make them colorblind, the result can be another disaster, like what we witnessed with the Columbia Space Shuttle.

    Are you arguing that the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory would be able to put together a functioning rocketship? Would these
    2000 people be successful if they tried to overcome biases? Of course not – they’re missing the technical knowledge.

  108. A while back DT mentioned democracy as a reason to follow commonsense.

    What does corrupted common sense do to democracy? The results are actually all around us. This is from the thwink.org website:

    "Over time, political system evolution has whittled the top two
    strategies for gaining supporters into just two basic strategies. In the
    Race to the Top, politicians compete for supporters on the basis of the truth about what they can do to optimize the common good of all, which is the goal of democracy.

    "In the Race to the Bottom, politicians compete to see who can help special interests the most. Since this reduces the good of the majority, it will not produce a winning majority unless deception and favoritism
    is used to get people to vote against their own best interests. (Of the
    two, deception is used far more because it's cheaper.) For example, a
    degenerate politician will promise a special interest group something
    but once in office will do a lot less than promised. Or a degenerate
    politician will create a false enemy and rally his supporters against
    it, .....

    "The key insight in the Dueling Loops model is that the Race to the Bottom has an inherent advantage over the Race to the Top, because people's ability to detect political deception is less than perfect. In fact, it's abysmally low. So low, that the right deception (false memes on the model) works like a charm most of the time. Thus when degenerate and rational politicians compete (duel) for the same pool of Uncommitted Supporters, the Race to the Bottom wins most of the time. The ramifications of this are profound.

    The Chofetz Chaim OB"M said something very similar.

  109. This discussion started with precisely the problem type in which the Harvard (yeshiva) faculty/Boston phonebook/ (amkha) contrast is precisely relevant: how does common sense, which surely would favor protecting ones own children, atrophy?

    Yes, different circumstances have different technical needs: the map averaging mentioned in the Thresher search is a pretty straightforward way of aggregating the information under circumstances which made decentralization and diversity easy. I'm also aware that the diversity there was one of experts.

    Building a space shuttle had to be hierarchical, and the failure analysis then was about people and systems, and how the defective parts came to pass muster – not finding the physical location of a sunken ship. Figuring out what went wrong was harder, and developing a system that allows for efficient management while still ensuring that critical information can rise up the hierarchical chain is NOT trivial.

    That would actually seem to be more germane: the failure points were experts whose authority and expertise seem to have eroded their moral sense, which allowed badly specified parts to be used:

    "The unrelenting pressure to meet the demands of an accelerating flight schedule might have been adequately handled by NASA if it had insisted upon the exactingly thorough procedures that were its hallmark during the Apollo program. An extensive and redundant safety program comprising interdependent safety, reliability and quality assurance functions existed during and after the lunar program to discover any potential safety problems. Between that period and 1986, however, the program became ineffective. This loss of effectiveness seriously degraded the checks and balances essential for maintaining flight safety."

    By the way, I confused the Challenger and Columbia: The o-ring failure was on Challenger.

  110. "how does common sense, which surely would favor protecting ones own children, atrophy".

    The basic idea of protecting children is indeed commonsense. Defining the parameters, correctly determining the ramifications of over-protecting children, etc. is however an ill-structured problem.

    All too often, I think that a pretty good argument can be made that

    Should corporal punishment be considered abuse? Almost every State in the USA allows it, but mental health experts mostly decree it, with the exception of a few like Baumrind.

    Who decides what type of limits parents & teachers can set? Is emotional abuse based on a child's subjective appraisal, or some criteria that's more objective.

    Is re-feeding an unwilling anorexic teenager abusive? Do attempts at soothing the teenagers anxiety change the evaluation?

    An expert might decide that these judgements are quite complex:

    Whether or not to consider corporal punishment abuse would depend on peripheral information, such as parents' responsiveness and commitment in other areas.

    Limit setting would depend on on level of importance of the issues, in addition to maturity & temperament, etc.

    Re-feeding would depend on long-term prognosis with or without coercive refeeding, which require knowledge of the literature.

    Bottom line is - not everything that seems simple at first glance really is.

  111. OK, but let's return to the underlying subject: the sexual abuse of children, and the protection of the abusers by Roshei Yeshiva, Poskim, community leaders....

    AFTER the Catholic Church, its scandals (coverup, ostracization and intimidation of parents, etc., etc., etc., and in which we see clues as to how the commonsense that leads parents to protect their children is eroded) and its lawsuits provided a road map to understanding what not to do.

  112. I think 95% of the discussion on this post didn't mention sexual abuse.

    Early on I commented: "I'm not talking about protecting sexual abusers, but rather the "commonsense"
    approach that favors flattery over skills-building ... fake self-esteem over mastery and self-efficacy.. All in the name of "being nice" (which is often actually based on a patronizing & demeaning approach to the weaker "outgroups").

    This is the stuff that passes for commonsense these days, in many quarters.

    In the past I've come out clearly for locking up those abusers that are a threat to the public and ALSO giving some good therapy to victims - instead of therapies that perpetuate a victim model and all too cause them to internalize a lack of self-efficacy.

    I've had it out with more than one Rov concerning their lack of due diligence & false belief in their infallibility even when coupled with breathtaking ignorance. One actually called to ask Mechila, the others never did.

  113. I haven't been following the discussions closely, but I wonder – why is there a problem with the lack of common sense
    morality among frum people. Imho , part
    of the problem is the educational system which does not really focus on the
    moral development and moral thinking of the child. Kids are never asked – what do
    you think about the story, or reflect about moral dilemmas. When it comes to
    discipline or behavior kids are taught to ask – what will be done to me if I do
    this, What will I get if I do this , in other words – what's in it for me.
    Consequences are important – not what will happen to me , but how my actions
    impact on others and how I can engage in the moral act of restitution to help
    make amends and do teshuvah. Moral thinking and internalization of values is
    not important. As long as we can get a ' behavior ' and ignoring the child himself = his feelings
    and motives , who cares , does it not say m'toch she'lo lishmah ba lishmah.

    This reminds me of kids who made a bonfire directly opposite a home , in my neighborhood
    here in Israel. I told them it was a problem as the smoke and ashes were going
    in the direction of the home and doing damage. The kids said there is no
    problem as she is a ' goya'.( She is not frum , but Jewish ). When I began to
    put out the fire , the older yeshivah bochurim accused me of taking away or
    preventing people from doing the mitzvah of tashbi'tu . I then covered the
    bonfire with sand.

    It is one thing not to do something because God said so , but we need to
    be moral people who would not act so, even if God did command us . Because, as
    R' Nissim Ga'on says, we were given the power of logic and an understanding
    heart to act in a moral way.

  114. what if commonsense tells us that a particular halacha is wrong, or that earlier gedolim / codifiers/ or even Chazal erred in their interpretation of a pasuk, or implementation of a halacha? This goes to the discussion in Horayos.

  115. When one of us has time, we should look up that old essay "Daas Torah vs Daas Hedyot" where all the times the "hamon am" were right and "the Gedolim" were wrong is listed.

  116. how far back can we go on this question?


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