Monday, August 23, 2021

Introduction to the Igros Moshe This volume contains in large measure the responsa I have written to those requesting my halachic opinions. It might well have been appropriate not to answer them definitively (halachah le-ma'aseh), since so many Torah luminaries, great in knowledge of Torah and in piety, refused to issue definitive halachic rulings because of the warning recorded in tractate Sotah [22a]. [There it states that] Rav Abba, in the name of Rav Huna, stated, "Many has she destroyed—this refers to a scholar who has not reached the status of posek, but nonetheless issues halachic rulings." It should be noted [in contradistinction], however, that [the following] is also written, "And mighty are those she killed," which is interpreted as referring to a Torah scholar who is worthy of acting as a posek but refuses to do so [Sotah 44a–b]. It was for this reason that the sons of Rav Akiva Eiger noted, in their preface to their father's responsa, that he felt duty-bound to respond to requests for his halachic opinions lest he violate the second dictum and be counted among those who were guilty of not issuing halachic rulings even though they had attained the requisite knowledge. Those who refrain from issuing halachic rulings do so because one must rule with absolute accuracy, as in the days of Rav, Rav Huna, and Rav Abba. But every generation has a different standard for "attaining the level of a posek." Since decisors of equal standing with those of earlier generations are not available today, we [in our own time] are duty-bound to issue halachic rulings to our generation, as stated by Rav Akiva Eiger. [Despite this need, the prospective posek] must surely fear the danger of ruling incorrectly. For this reason many [great Torah scholars] refrained from [issuing rulings], Rav Akiva Eiger's strictures notwithstanding. Rav Akiva Eiger was sensitive to the obligation to issue his halachic rulings despite his many concerns [regarding the dangers of halachic decision-making], but as a Torah giant he took his own measure and decided to assume the mantle of a posek. It follows, therefore, that those of minor accomplishments, such as I, who lack both Torah knowledge and wisdom, should refrain from issuing halachic rulings. [Furthermore, even if I do so,] I should certainly not publish them and thus issue rulings for the entire world. However, in my humble opinion, [the scholars of earlier generations,] despite their inferiority when compared to the Torah scholars of [still] earlier generations, and, therefore, their concern lest they rule in error—an error known to Hashem—did not refrain from assuming the obligation to do so. The Torah instructs us, "It is not in heaven" [Deuteronomy 30:12]. Each posek must rule as he sees fit, after meticulous study and analysis of all the relevant texts and prior rulings, to the best of his ability, fully cognizant of the heavy responsibility he has assumed in applying Hashem's Torah to the life of the Jew. If, after all his efforts, his ruling does not concur with that known to Hashem, he may take comfort in the statement of our sages: "Both these and those are the words of our Living Lord" [Eruvin 13a]. If he makes his decision with due diligence, he will be rewarded for his efforts even though he has not divined the real truth. This principle can be adduced from a discussion in tractate Shabbos [130a regarding the dispute as to whether preparations for milah, such as preparing the surgical knife and other implements, may take place on the Sabbath, since the mitzvah of circumcision takes precedence over the Sabbath laws]. Rav Yitzchok said there was a town in Israel whose inhabitants accepted the ruling of Rav Eliezer that preparatory acts [machshirei milah] may be performed on the Sabbath—and Hashem rewarded them greatly. [Indeed,] when the [Roman] emperor's edict prohibiting milah was promulgated, this town was spared. [And yet,] in truth, [the townspeople] were wrong. The halachah which rejects R. Eliezer's opinion prohibits these acts of transgression. [Moreover, such violations] incur the death penalty when performed intentionally and a sin offering if done unwittingly. [The townspeople] were rewarded, nonetheless, because R. Eliezer arrived at his decision after due diligence. So it is with all disputes in the Talmud or later responsa. As long as no final conclusion is reached in the Talmud, each posek may rule in accordance with his own understanding, [and his rulings are authoritative] in his own town even if [others] rule in a contrary manner. All poskim receive a divine reward for their efforts even though only one of them is correct. Most certainly, we still find significant variations in laws and customs concerning very important Torah laws, as between those who follow the Rambam and R. Yosef Karo and those who follow the rulings of the Tosafists and the Rema. [But] both are the "words of our living Hashem" even though Hashem knows that only one is correct. The Talmud [Sanhedrin 6a–b] is aware of the great responsibility judges bear in applying Torah laws to the daily life of the Jew. Some may think, "Who needs all this anguish?" [i.e., If I err, I will be punished by Hashem, as Rashi explains]. The Talmud reassures [those with such concerns] that a judge may rule as he sees fit [for his intent is to reach a conclusion that is righteous and true to Torah precepts, as Rashi explains]. The same insight may be applied to the Talmud [Menachos 29b]. Rav taught that when Moshe Rabbenu went up to Heaven to receive the Torah, he noticed that Hashem was "adding crowns [i.e., the tagin] to the Torah letters." "Master of the Universe," Moshe asked, "what prevents You [from giving the Torah without the crowns]?" In other words, as Rashi explains, why are You bothering to add these embellishments to the Torah script? This explanation does not adequately explain the expression used, "What prevents You?", nor does it fit Hashem's answer, "There is a man named Akiva ben Yosef, who in the future will derive multitudes of halachos from every pen stroke I add in these crowns." I believe that the interpretation I am suggesting here corresponds exactly to the text. Hashem made the very letters of the Torah sovereign. That is, the Torah scholar may use his judgment to compare and contrast, and thus may rule in accord with the majority opinion as to the meaning of the Torah's sovereign words despite the possibility that his conclusions do not conform to the truth as understood by Hashem. The Holy One gave the Torah to Israel so that they would act in accordance with the written and oral traditions from Sinai as they understood them. No additional explanations will ever come from Sinai, for "[the Torah] is not in Heaven." Hashem's intent was always to acquiesce to the sages' understanding of the Torah's precepts. This is how I interpret the Talmudic passage in Menachos, which states that Hashem placed crowns on the letters of the Torah. Hashem gave them sovereignty, independent of His own definition of absolute truth. This explanation also elucidates the frequently occurring expression "The Torah says," for we rule in accordance with what "The Torah says." This makes it clear why [both positions in] a dispute between Shammai and Hillel should be viewed as [reflecting] the "words of a living Hashem" despite the fact that they are in opposition to each other [Eruvin 13a]. Moshe's question is now understandable. "What prevents You," he asked, from declaring that there is only one true interpretation and, therefore, from promulgating the Divine Laws in such detail as to allow for no dispute as to their intent? Why make the words of the Torah sovereign [and independent of Your intent]? Hashem's response defined the halachic process. The Torah is infinite in its impact on man and society. Hashem intended for sages like Rebbe Akiva to expound the Torah and thus expand its scope from the limited body of written and oral law to the vast expanse of Torah without boundaries or limits [Eruvin 21b]. When a decisor arrives at a pesak after prodigious effort to the best of his ability, and in full cognizance—due to his awe of Hashem—of the great responsibility he bears, it is truly the right ruling. Thus, the Torah scholars of our generation must be classified as having "attained the status of a posek," and are obligated to issue halachic decisions which have the force of "true halachah." The warning recorded in the Talmud [Bava Metzia 33a], that "errors committed unwittingly by a talmid chacham are to be considered willful transgressions," refers to one who did not make an adequate effort to clarify the relevant laws. This is the understanding of Rashi and Rabbenu Yona [Avos 4:12]. Failure to meticulously review all facets of the halachah before issuing a ruling counts as a intentional transgression, though the error may very well have been unwitting. Errors that could have been avoided by more diligent preparation are to be viewed as intentional transgressions, since the possibility of error is always present [and the decisor has the responsibility to guard against it]. I assumed the responsibility of responding to those who seek my halachic counsel [only] after I had clarified the halachah with much effort. In addition, I have recorded the reasoning for my rulings so that everyone may review my rationale. In doing this I assume the role of a teacher rather than that of a posek. The Talmud [Brochos 4a], noting that David HaMelech personally examined abortuses to determine the halachic status of the mother, teaches an important lesson. David HaMelech could have asked other great scholars to rule on these matters, but he did not, because it is forbidden to refuse to do a mitzvah [i.e., rule on a halachic matter] even if another person can act in one's place. That is why I answered every question addressed to me. In doing so, I also fulfilled a filial duty by giving pleasure to my father, my teacher, the Gaon, זצ"ל, who expressed both the hope and the certainty that many would come to ask my halachic guidance, whether orally or by written communication, and that Hashem would assist me in answering correctly. Indeed, I am thankful to Hashem for His help in permitting me to do so until now, and I pray that He will continue to assist me to accurately understand the teachings of our sages, and to issue rulings that are true to the halachah without error. I ask this blessing also for my children and grandchildren, and for all my descendants and students as well as for all Torah scholars. I decided to print my responsa because I only clarify and elucidate the halachah. Other Torah scholars can analyze my reasoning and decide whether they concur with my opinions. As anyone can see, I did not blindly rely on others, not even on the great decisors who preceded me, but critically reviewed and decided for myself what the correct ruling should be, as Rav Akiva Eiger taught us to do. I ask all who study my rulings likewise to critically analyze my writings. In doing so they will become aware of the halachic process, thereby learning to reach a halachic conclusion, and I will be rewarded for having taught this method. May Hashem grant all of us the gift of being able to study and teach all the days of our lives, and thus to merit the rewards of the final redemption, when Moshiach ben David comes to rebuild our Temple, and the world is filled with knowledge of Hashem

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