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Posts Tagged ‘Rav Elyashiv’

Rav Elyashiv, Torah and Science

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

One of the biggest issues that has arisen as a result of the Slifkin controversy is the question of whether Chazal, the sages of the Talmud knew the actuality of nature. There are those who say that they did. They say that every statement recorded in the Gemarah with respect to science is an accurate reflection of nature itself. The science redacted in the Talmud is as valid as the Halacha – both being Mesorah.

There are others who say that Chazal did not know the actuality of nature but knew it only via the best science of their era. Among them are Rishonim like R’ Avraham ben HaRambam.

For many of us who have studied both the Talmud and nature via science at even a minor level the second opinion seems a lot more plausible. There are too many scientifically based statements on nature in the Gemarah that are clearly not accurate.

One of the more famous ones is the idea that lice do not sexually reproduce. This fact impacts on Halacha. One of the 39 forbidden Melachos on Shabbos is Netilas Neshama – killing an animal. The Gemarah explains that it is only forbidden to kill an animal that reproduces sexually. One is however permitted to kill an animal that reproduces asexually . This is the opinion of the Rabbanim (as apposed to R’ Elazar) and this is the Halacha today.

Lice, says the Gemarah, do not reproduce sexually and therefore one is permitted to kill them.

Rav Yitzchok Lamproti (Pachad Yitzchok) was around during the time the microscope was invented. He said that now that we know that lice do sexually reproduce, it is therefore forbidden to kill them on Shabbos. All Achronim argue with him and say that since the Gemarah says it is permitted, it stays permitted in spite of our new knowledge.

What is left unsaid in all of that discussion is the apparent assumption Chazal were mistaken about the actual science. The only question is whether this new information is relevant.

Now it should be said that there are still ways to allow for Chazal to not be mistaken about this. One way is to say that the lice that the Gemarah refers to is not the lice we know of today and that in fact it is that lice which is permitted to kill. The lice that we know of that does sexually reproduce is forbidden to kill.

Another way to look at it is that only lice that one can see with the naked eye sexually reproducing is forbidden. If one needs a microscope to see it, then for Halachic purposes it is still considered asexual reproduction.

But it seems to me that the most logical explanation is to say that they did not know then what we know today simply because they did not have the means to know it. Microscopes had not been invented yet.

There was a relatively recent Halacha Sefer published called Orchos Shabbos that discusses this Halacha (14:30) and mentions the position of Rav Elyashiv (note 47). Rav Elyashiv says that one should be Machmir and not kill lice on Shabbos as a general rule. But he also says that according to the strict letter of the law, one may kill lice on Shabbos.

Why be Machmir? It’s possible that the lice of the Gemarah are not our lice and therefore killing our lice may actually be forbidden. But the fact that he says that according to the strict letter of the law one may indeed kill lice on Shabbos, that means that he believes the lice of the Gemarah are indeed our lice. And yet we now know that they sexually reproduce.

Why then did Chazal say that they don’t? I think there is really only one way to interpret it. Chazal simply didn’t know that because they had no way of knowing it in their day. Rav Elyashiv may feels as Rav Eliyahu Dessler did – that even though Chazal were wrong in their explanation, the Halacha was indeed transmitted masoretically and remains in effect.

We may kill lice but for reasons other than those stated in the Gemarah. The point for our purposes being that since Chazal did not have the means to know they made a mistake about the reality of nature in this case. One can conclude that even R’ Elyashiv concedes that microscopes have increased our knowledge of nature beyond that of Chazal. Is there any other way to interpret that? Even if we say that Halacha follows only what we can see with the naked eye, the fact is that what they saw with the naked eye did not reflect reality.

Torah and Science – The Controversy Remains

Sunday, October 7th, 2012

It seems that two very prominent rabbinic figures have come on board with Rabbi Slifkin’s views with respect to reconciling science and the Torah. According to a post on Hirhurim by Rabbi Gil Student, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of England, and a man of great intellect whom I respect and admire greatly is one of them. The other is Rabbi Yaakov Ariel – one of the chief Poskim of Religious Zionists in Israel. These two people are not just your average rabbis. They are both highly respected not only by me but by Jews all over the world.

I am always glad to see that reasonable approaches to reconciling Torah and science – like those of Rabbi Slifkin – are increasingly being re-accepted by mainstream rabbis of stature. Especially since in the case of Lord Sacks – he had his new book on the subject vetted by the London Beth Din. Which as R’ Gil points out means that we can “deduce that the London Beth Din feels this book does not rise to the level of deserving condemnation.”

But that has not removed the problem created by the ban of these views by the right. They have clearly stated that anything other than a view than that the universe is 5773 years old is Apikursus. And to believe that Chazal only knew and utilized the best science of their era is Apikursus as well.

The only acceptable view on this issue is that anything which is included in the Talmud – whether it is Halacha or science is Emes… if there are current knowledge of science contradicts those views, we either don’t understand Chazal or we do not fully understand the science.

Many people would just say, “Who cares what the right wing says about these things?!”

Sorry, wrong answer.

We cannot ignore the right wing just because we disagree with them. They are far too big and far too important. They are probably the largest segment of Orthodoxy and are certainly the fastest growing. They are clearly the wave of the future – at least in moderate form.

In the world of the right, when a gadol like Rav Elyashiv sets policy, it is considered near blasphemy to contradict or disregard it. Rav Elyashiv famously declared the views espoused by Rabbi Slifkin – and now Lord Sacks and Rav Ariel to be Apikursus. Until the day he died he never backed down form that. (Although interestingly he never declared Rabbi Slifkin himself to be an Apikores since the views he espoused were in fact espoused by Rishonim. One cannot declare someone an Apikores because he believes in the views of Rishonim even if those views are no longer accepted.)

It was Ner Israel Rosh HaYeshiva, Rabbi Aharon Feldman, originally a backer of Rabbi Slifkin’s views who explained why he now rejected them; explaining why we are no longer permitted to believe in those views. In essence he said it is because Rav Elyashiv said so. And we cannot disagree with the Psak of the Gadol HaDor in these matters.

Interestingly he must have been quite incredulous about initial reports about Rav Elyashiv’s rejection of views which up to that point he held to be legitimate. Upon hearing about it, he immediately flew to Israel to find out first hand if it was true. And came back saying that indeed it was.

The right wing view on this subject is therefore are unbreakable. In numerous statements over the years since this controversy began, various members of the Agudah Moetzes and other rabbinic leaders were adamant in support for the views of a man who they saw as the Gadol HaDor. And in the process Rabbi Slifkin was – and still is being hammered by them.

Since that time, many respected rabbis have come out of support of Rabbi Slifkin’s views, Lord Sacks and Rav Areil only being the latest. But unless there is some sort of rethinking on this issue by the right (which I don’t see happening) – this a Pyrrhic victory at best. Nothing has changed. These views will continue to be seen as Apikursus by the largest and fasted growing segment of Orthodox Jewry. That is extremely sad and could lead to an even greater spit in Orthodoxy than we have even now.

My Machberes

Thursday, July 26th, 2012

Memories Of Rav Elyashiv, ZT”L

On Wednesday, the 28th of Tammuz, July 18, 2012, the Torah world was cast into profound mourning upon receiving the sad news from Shaarei Tzedek Hospital in Jerusalem. Rabbi Yosef Sholom Elyashiv, zt”l(1910-2012), preeminent Torah sage of the Lithuanian and yeshivish communities throughout the world, had ascended to the greatest yeshiva in heaven, completing a life of immense and intense Torah scholarship and leadership.

Personal Reminiscence (I)

Wednesday morning, the 22nd of Kislev 5763 (November 27th, 2002) the third Shacharis of the Jerusalem Rabbinical Conference of the National Council of Young Israel: My distinguished conference roommate, Rabbi Yitzchok Feldman, rav of Congregation Emek Beracha in Palo Alto, California, accompanied me to the Meah Shearim Shtiblech, where minyan after minyan can be found.

On the street level, the building contains six shtiblech with a larger beis medrash above them. Access to the upstairs beis medrash is by way of an outdoor narrow metal staircase. The upstairs shtibel had the distinction of having Rav Elyashiv as its presiding personality. Rav Elyashiv participated in the only Shacharis minyan conducted upstairs, the hashkama (sunrise) minyan that begins immediately before daybreak. As can be imagined, Rav Elyashiv was always one of the first to arrive every morning.

The downstairs shtiblech were renovated in the mid 1990s and are absolutely beautiful – picturesque and memorable. During the renovations, a pious mispallel of the shtieblech wished to participate, contributing his ma’aser (tithe) funds, usually used to feed the poor, toward the purchase of the new stunning bench chairs. He sought permission from Rav Elyashiv to contribute. Rav Elyashiv responded that since the old benches, though worn, were still functional, ma’aser money could not be used for the purchase of new benches.

Wishing to speak advice from Rav Elyashiv, my learned roommate and I arose in the early hours that morning and journeyed to the Meah Shearim Shtiblech as earnest and reverential pilgrims.

The shailo (halachic query) that was the focus of my attention pertained to my shul, B’nai Israel of Linden Heights in Boro Park, Brooklyn, organized in 1924. The shul’s chevra kadisha started a Sefer Zikaron, a parchment Scroll of Remembrance dating back to 1924, for members who had passed away. The entire list of names recorded in the Sefer Zikaron is read aloud at every Yizkor service. As the shul was 78 years old at the time, the list of names had grown very long and was growing even longer.

My paternal great-grandfather was Rabbi Shraga Zvi Tannenbaum, zt”l (1826-1897), Chahter (Mezo-Csat) Rav and renowned author of Netah Sorek. In chapter eight of his responsa, the Netah Sorek dealt with a similar question, allowing a chevra kadisha to recite one kel moleh for all names it was obligated to pronounce at Yizkor. That decision is quoted widely and used in application to similar situations.

I sought some method of compressing the time required to recite aloud the long list of names at my shul. One suggestion was having several men read the names aloud simultaneously, thus dividing the time necessary to have all the names read aloud by the number of men pronouncing them. If the reading of the names aloud would take one hour, having them read aloud by six men would reduce the time by a factor of six, to a reasonable ten minutes.

We found Rav Elyashuv surrounded by an entourage. Those wishing to speak with him in the mornings had to wait until he concluded his supplementary prayers and undid his Rabbeinu Tam tefillin, which were handed to an assistant who put them neatly away. Petitioners could then walk up the aisles and wait between the benches to speak with him.

Interestingly, after prayers Rav Elyashuv strode forward, requiring the petitioner to walk backward during the discussion. The several people who surrounded and attended to Rav Elyashuv followed him and studiously took notes of what he said, continuously comparing transcripts with each other to ensure that every word was correctly captured for posterity.

Once Rav Elyashiv reached the door of the beis medrash,the petitioner would have to retreat backward down the outdoor narrow metal staircase, literally hanging on the side rails with both hands, all the while focusing attention on the every word of Rav Elyashiv’s response.

Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, ZTL – Baruch Dayan Emes

Thursday, July 19th, 2012

http://haemtza.blogspot.co.il/2012/07/rav-shalom-yosef-elyashiv-ztl-baruch.html

I am saddened to report the news of the death of a great man.  Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv passed away this morning at Shaare Tzedek Hospital surrounded by his family. He was 102 years old.

Rav Elyashiv was a Gadol. There is not a doubt in my mind about it. He belonged to the previous generation of Gedolim that included names like Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Aharon Kotler, Rav Yoshe Ber Sololveitchik (The Rav), the Lubavitcher Rebbi, and the Satmar Rebbe… and many more too numerous to mention.

These were all great men, Gedolim unlike anyone alive today – with the exception of Rav Ovadia Yosef, who is also in that category. Even though the Hashkafos of each and every single one of the aforementioned Gedolim are different – in some cases radically so, they were nonetheless great people who in effect changed the world.

Even though I found myself at times questioning some of the things that were said or done in Rav Elyashiv’s name, I completely honor his integrity. He like the other Gedolim of that era was a man of principle and never wavered from his convictions.

It is only a shame that near the end of his life there were some unscrupulous rabbis (Gadol Wannabees) who were able to get close to him – and took advantage of his advanced age to manipulate a desired Psak out of him. Or worse used his name without his permission or knowledge as a signatory to an edict or ban they (in their own arrogance and ignorance) only assumed he would have signed.

This does not detract from his greatness. It only diminishes those with ambitions and pretensions of succeeding him.

There are a lot of brilliant Talmidei Chachamim in the world today. Many of them are very worthy and principled people. But I don’t see anyone in a league to be able to take his place. He is the last of that generation. With all that is going on in the Jewish world today, the current rabbinic leadership seems to be falling well short of the task. They are not leading. They lead by constantly looking over their shoulder. The right shoulder.

I have said this before. The previous generation of Gedolim, of which Rav Elyashiv was a member, were in a class by themselves. They had continued a tradition of Gadlus that existed in pre-Holocaust times. They were ‘old school’ in the best sense of the word. With Rav Elyashiv’s passing that generation is almost gone.

It is true that every generation that is further removed from Sinai is of a lesser stature than their predecessors. That is no less true today than it was in the days of Chazal, the Rishonim, and Achronim. But there were major separations between those three eras. My Rebbeim have taught me that we are in the last such era. Achronim  - “the last ones” will no longer be offset by a new era the way it was from the era of the Rishonim.

I must confess, however, that from my vantage point the difference between Rav Elyashiv’s generation and today’s generation seems to have that same sort of chasm. But only history can judge that.

Rav Elyashiv will be sorely missed. Baruch Dayan Emes.

Round-The-Clock Prayers For Rav Elyashiv

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

JERUSALEM – Thousands gathered at Shaare Tzedek Medical Center, the Kotel and yeshivot across Israel Tuesday praying for Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv – Yosef Shalom ben Chaya Mousha – the 101-year-old leading contemporary authority on Jewish law who was in a medically induced coma after suffering kidney and lung failure.

Prayers were also being said in yeshivot and synagogues in New York and other cities around the world.

Several haredi Knesset members and close relatives visited Rav Elyashiv on Tuesday. Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat arrived in the afternoon. Israeli president Shimon Peres said “The entire nation is concerned about the condition of the leader of the Torah world.”

According to the Israeli Kikar Shabbat website, doctors were guardedly optimistic late Tuesday as Rav Elyashiv’s condition showed signs of improvement; his system was stabilizing and there reportedly was a resumption of kidney function.

Rav Elyashiv has been in and out of the hospital several times during the past few months. Despite his tenuous health, he continued to return to his modest apartment in Meah Shearim and maintained a fairly full daily schedule. As the titular head of the haredi Degel HaTorah political faction in the Knesset, he was also briefed on major developments affecting the yeshiva world.

UPDATE: Rav Elyashiv in Critical Condition

Monday, February 6th, 2012

Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv condition has deteriorated again, and he is currently in critical condition.

Elyashiv is on a respirator. He has been resuscitated four times, and is currently undergoing CPR.

The area in the hospital in which he is located has been cleared and the doors locked.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called MK Moshe Gafni and said the country is praying for the health of “the greatest rabbinical sage of his generation.”

Rav Eliyashiv’s Condition Deteriorates

Monday, February 6th, 2012

The condition of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv deteriorated Monday, after being taken to Jerusalem’s Sha’arei Tzedek Medical Center on Sunday evening.

The 101-year-old Lithuanian Orthodox leader was hospitalized last month after experiencing shortness of breath, and was diagnosed as having pulmonary edema.

The public is asked to pray for the recovery of Harav Yosef Shalom ben Chaya Mousha.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/rav-eliyashivs-condition-deteriorates/2012/02/06/

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