Brisk and Telzh
There are two (tzvei) dinim in sweetening tea: The cheftza (substance), i.e., the sugar; and the pe’ula (activity), i.e., the stirring with the spoon. Everyone knows that Lipton is the “Brisk” tea because it has a double (tzvei dinim) tea bag.
This is typical of Brisker Derekh which seeks distinctions, chaqiros. One therefore contrasts multiple cases, or multiple opinions in a single machloqes to see how they differ. The explanations involve ideas like cheftza vs. pe’ulah, or cheftza vs. gavra (is it that the object must have something done to it, or that a given person has a duty to do something?), or pe’ula vs. chalos (the time or location of the action vs. the time or location of the change of halachic state), etc… This allows the Brisker to fit the rulings under discussion into overarching halachic rules.
In a sense, the Brisker derekh is a scientific endeavor. In an experiment one compares the experimental set with the control set, trying to find two that only differ in one point so that the scientists can determine which point is the cause of the phenomenon. Then the phenomenon is fit into a larger pattern, to get a single formula that fits a wider variety of cases. Finding the chaqirah and using it to tie the case into a broader principle.
In contrast, here’s the Rav Shimon derived response:
It is the Hitztarfus (Fusion) of tea molecules and sugar molecules that makes the tea sweet.
Telzh was founded by R’ Eliezer Gordon, a student of Rav Yisrael Salanter. Telzh wasn’t a mussar yeshiva, although it had a strong mussar program. However, its approach was far more intellectual. Rather than the emotional Mussar Shmuess, the Telsher approach focused on Shiurei Da’as, classes on thought an attitude. This made it different enough not to be considered part of the movement.
(My own rebbe, Rav Dovid Lifshitz, was a strong believer in the use of the shmuess and emotion. For example, shmuessen usually included singing a song. I remember most semesters began with a shmuess and a song. Once we sang “Vetaheir libeinu” for over twenty minutes before the start of the zeman.)
Still, the mussar roots of Telzh meant that the notion that halakhah as a whole has a purpose was a given. As was the idea that the purpose is sheleimas ha’adam, completion of the self. Therefore, while Brisk sought the explanation of individual laws in terms of halachic principles, Telzh looked for the purposive explanation. Therefore while Brisk looked at multiple opinions of a single case, or multiple cases, Telzh focused on the singular. Even if looking at multiple opinions, it was to find what they shared in common, not to find contrast. What do these opinions say about what is essential about the meaning, purpose and role of the mitzvah?
Fundamental to Brisker philosophy is the idea that halakhah has no first principles. It can only be understood on its own terms. As R’ JB Soloveitchik describes in Halachic Man, it’s only through halakhah that man finds a balance between his religious neediness for redemption and his creative constructive self. (Ironically, a true halachic man would never explore the questions addressed by Halachic Man! R’ JB Soloveitchik’s loyalty to Brisk, while true in terms of derekh halimud, style of studying gemara, was compromised on the perspective level by his interest in philosophy.)
Brisker Derekh gave the post-haskalah observant Jew a mental experience that compared to the thrills of scientific study. Telzher Derekh gave him the excitement of philosophical study. As well as connecting his learning and mitzvah observance to his quest to be a better Jew.
Loosely along similar lines, Rav Chaim Brisker rejected the argument in favor of Radziner tekheiles because it was a scientific one, not halachic in basis. Halakhah is itself the primary basis, non-halachic argument is irrelevent.This distinction is also manifest in their approach to going beyond the letter of the law. The Brisker chumrah is one where the person is chosheish leshitas… — concerned for the position of so-and-so. The notion that while the baseline law is lenient, one may want to “cover all the basis” and satisfy all opinions. Entirely in terms of mechanics of law. In Telzh, a chumrah would be chosen based on the person’s plan for sheleimus, an awareness of what flaws they’re ready to address, and finding opinions that can be related to it.I was recently asked why someone would wear Rabbeinu Tam tefillin if it wasn’t an expression of uncertainty that Rashi’s opinion was correct. That’s a Brisker position — chumros are about cheshash, uncertainty in ruling. In Telzher thought (and not uniquely Telzher), one might do so because they found a kavanah that better fits the order of parshios in Rabbeinu Tam tefillin, and wishes to experience that in addition to fulfilling what they know to be law. Contrast this with R’ JB Soloveitchik’s statement that “there is no ritual in Judaism”; he saw no reason in additional rituals, things like kavanos only have meaning for him if they were products of halachic imperative.
In short, Brisk asks “Vus?” (What?), Telzh asks “Fahr vus?” (Why?)Anyone who has been following this blog should be unsurprised by which one I felt spoke to me.