Friday, November 12, 2010

Leader should avoid justifying views with logical proofs or reasons

Meiri (Pesachim 66a): Whoever is appointed, as community leader should strive with all this strength to lead properly according to the position which has been given to him. If he is appointed to be the religious leader of his generation concerning Torah and divine issues, it is necessary that he be complete and erudite in all matters related to deciding halacha and that he knows how to reply to everyone who comes to challenge religion. However, if he recognizes in himself that he doesn’t have the abilities in these areas, it is praiseworthy that he should not be embarrassed to let go of his status and to give the position to one who is competent. … . However, even though a person is knowledgeable and can reply to every challenge, it is best not to rely entirely on logical proofs but rather on commonsense or tradition. That is because everything which is based simply on logical proofs provides an opening to refutation… Thus, the Yerushalmi says that even though Hillel spent the entire day providing logical derivations of the Halacha, his views were only accepted and he was appointed leader when he said that the Halacha was a tradition that he had learned from his teachers Shemaya and Avtalyon… Furthermore even though the leader is an expert and knows how to respond to all challenges and is accepted as the authority, he should not answer in a confrontational manner and act in a domineering way but should speak pleasantly and humbly. If he does act arrogantly, he will be punished and debased because of it.


  1. Your title is misleading as to what the Meiri is actually saying.

    Reading your title, one might think that a leader should not give any reason, nor should anyone ask for reasons as to why a halacha is the way it is.

    The Meiri actually says that the leader should not base his proofs solely on reason, but on tradition as well. So, the reason is because it is tradition. A leader must give reasons, but logical proofs are not enough.

  2. Agree with "e-man." The title is misleading.

  3. I think that this approach is problematic in our time.

    In my town, jewish leadres have taken a few decisions that seemed incomprehensible, even unethical to me.

    My sense of ethics would not allow me to do as they bode.

    It might be that if they had explained their decions and laid open all the factors that contributed to it, I could have understood and respected their decision.

    Take a simple example, insects in strawberries: All of a sudden, they publish ads in the hareidi newspaper that one should wash strawberries with soap or refrain from eating them.

    They do not say what they found, they do not tell us what to look for, they do not instruct us how we can check the strawberries. They do not tell us which insects were found and where (could be this problem affects strawberries in the US, but not over here).
    So how can I follow their orders?

    It is even worse when they tell me to ostracise a person (cherem) or a shop or if they keep someone form running in elections.

    No explanation, details are withheld "so as not to speak lashon hara about the person (who is ostracised, boycotted, etc).

    I think it is highly unethical to follow a boycott or a cherem without approving of the reason.

    Therefore, the withholding of explanations not only kept me from doing as the Rabbis told, it also reduced the respect and confidence I had in them.

  4. I find it interesting that Meiri contrasts "logical proof" with "commonsense." I'd be interested to know what the original Hebrew is. If the Meiri's fear is that logical proofs are open to rebuttal, why does he prefer "commonsense," which does not even attempt a proof, and which can therefore be rejected even more easily than a logical proof can? In any case, for a person today, for whom "logical proof" means not mathematical-style proof but rather broad, apodictic philosophical opinions, the distinction between "logical proof" and "commonsense" seems very small.

  5. The Meiri is a godol, I am not. Therefore I cannot dispute the Meiri.


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