Friday, August 25, 2023

Innovation in halacha

 Igros Moshe (Y.D. 01:101): My dear friend you ask how is it possible to rely on new views such as I have expressed, in particular when they are against certain achronim? Do you think that there is an end and limitation – G‑d forbid! – to Torah? Do you think that contemporary halachic decisors can only express the views that have previously been published? Do you feel that if a question comes up that has not been previously discussed and published in a book - that we should not issue an opinion - even though we understand the issue and are capable of expressing an opinion? In my humble opinion it is prohibited to say such a thing. There is no question that it is still possible for Torah to expand and develop even in our times. Therefore there is an obligation for all those who are competent to make halachic decisions, to rule on all matters that come to them to the best of their ability after solid research in the Talmud and poskim with the use of clear reasoning and proper proof. Even if this results in something new which has not been previously been discussed in the halachic works. Furthermore even if this has been previously been discussed, there is no question that a posek needs to understand it fully and to clarify it in his mind before he issues a ruling. He should not issue a ruling simply because he saw an authoritative source expressing such an opinion. This is the same as poskening mechanically from one’s notes that the gemora (Sotah 22a) condemns: Tannaim who teach halacha from their notes without paying attention to the reasons behind them destroy the world Even if these rulings are occasionally against the views of Achronim - so what? There is no question that we have the right to disagree with Achronim and also sometimes against particular views of certain Rishonim when we have clear-cut analysis and especially also correct reasons. On such matters our Sages (Bava Basra 131a) say, “A judge can only rely on what he sees” This ability to disagree is in those situations where the ruling doesn’t go against the well-known decisors of the Shulchan Aruch whose views have been accepted everywhere. On a related matter it is said, “They have left us room to be creative.” This is in fact the approach of the majority of the responsa literature of the Achronim when they decide practical halachic issues. However one should not be arrogant in making halachic rulings and it is necessary to show restraint as much as possible. However in a situation of great need and surely in a situation where a woman is an aguna as in our present case – there is no question that we are obligated to make ruling when it seems that we have the basis for a permissive judgment. Furthermore it is prohibited for us to have humility and cause a Jewish woman to remain an aguna or to cause someone to violate a prohibition or even to cause someone to lose money. Gittin (56a) says that the humility of Rav Zechariya ben Avkulas caused the Temple to be destroyed. Why does the gemora blame his humility? What does this have to do with his humility? Maharetz Chajes gives a proper explanation to the matter. This is truly in agreement with what I have said. Therefore we are forced to make halachic rulings in practice when we have convincing proofs and clear understanding and especially in cases of aguna such as this. We need to remove the pitfalls.

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