Balancing Community and Authenticity

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  1. Bob Miller says:

    If a person without a very deep knowledge of Torah (or without consulting with someone who had such knowledge) were to try to piece together “his Judaism”, using pieces that appealed to him and were also considered valid by one or more Torah authorities, past or present, what would he have? Possibly, something like a mismatched wardrobe. Following a community’s set of normative practices, or those of a particular Gadol (I’m excluding personal chumrot here) would be far more likely to create a properly integrated approach.

  2. micha says:

    The problem is that too many people think that halakhah is like chess, when in reality it’s like go.

    Go is a Chinese game played on a 19×19 board. With 361 (19×19) locations to deal with, it’s beyond a person to actually logically think out the entire board. Rather, you have to develop a global view and a feel for the subject. You develop an aesthetic sense of what looks like a strong position in ways that you can’t articulate. (Or so I’m told; I have not played enough games to get good at it.)

    The real world is more like go than chess, and thus so is halakhah. (Although the real world has many elements of backgammon — you can only maximize your odds.) You need to not only know the ideas, you have to have a feel for the subject. I think that was the original, 19th cent, meaning of “daas Torah”, that feel for the subject necessary to be a poseiq or moreh derekh. (But nothing about communal leadership or career advice.) It is why there is more consensus about electricity on shabbos than about why it’s prohibited — the basic global aesthetic sense is that electricity doesn’t fit what Shabbos is about. Being able to articulate it is harder. And, if in trying to articulate it the gedolei haposqim found that their instinct was wrong, it is the instinct that would be questioned. There is a balancing act going on here.

    A “Qaraite”, relying on texts, can’t develop that feel. It requires shimush with a rebbe. When Batei Hillel veShammai failed to properly serve their rabbeim, they didn’t get that hands-on feel for how halakhah works, and we lost so much — leading to a multiplying of machloqes. All the facts were there, eilu va’eilu, but the feel for how to put them together wasn’t.

    If I may remain controversial (this thread has a lot of that), I think this is why R’ Avi Weiss is comfortable ordaining women; he holds that if it can be justified in dry process, it should be allowed. The feel for the flow of mesorah and its momentum isn’t factored in. Textualism without sufficient mimeticism. The notion that halakhah involves weighing legal argument against accepted practice against the sho’el’s spiritual needs and capacities isn’t part of the repertoire in this new camp. It’s a mistake that actually the prevalence of Brisk makes more likely, and I don’t think that RAW being a talmid of RYBS is coincidental to where he is today. A Brisker’s shiur doesn’t invoke values and meaning, only process. An imperfect talmid — and who is bright enough to be RYBS’s perfect talmid? — can easily lose sight of the whole.


  3. Bob Miller says:

    As an aside, I once had a classmate who was trying to perfect 3-dimensional Go board with multiple levels (Plexiglas, I think). Here are some recent thoughts on this idea, from someone else:

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