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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Appoint yourself a rav

After I translated part of Rav Tzuriel's article, there were a few requests that I translate the rest into English. After much toil here is the rest of the article, you can compare it to the original hebrew here.

There are those in our generation who have a custom to choose a rav for themselves, upon whom they rely for halachic rulings, whether stringent or lenient. When they later find that there is another rav who rules differently – even if this other rav brings sources to back his position, and even if reason dictates that the second rav’s position is more correct based on those sources – nonetheless the person continues to rely upon the first ruling they heard saying “I have taken upon myself to behave according to the rulings of rav ploni, and thus I am forbidden to go against his words.”

Let us check if there is a Torah basis for this custom for it seems that there is room for doubt regarding whether such a custom “obligates” a person. Let us bring our arguments:

The phrase עשה לך רב"” (Appoint for yourself a rav) does not appear in the gemara but rather in the first chapter of [the tractate] Avot. (It appears twice, once in the name of Rav Yeshua Ben Perachia, and the in the name of Raban Gamliel in the end of the chapter). It is of note that this term is not brought in the Rambam’s mishne Torah, nor in the Tur or the Shulchan Aruch and its commentators. Therefore let us see how the various commentaries to Avot understood this term:

The commentary that is generally attributed to Rashi writes:

"עשה לך רב. שלא תהא אתה למד לעצמך מסברא אלא מן הרב ומן השמועה"

Appoint for yourself a rav, so that you will not learn by yourself through your reason, but rather from a teacher and through tradition.

In the other mishna he simply writes “I explained this above” (In other words, Raban Gamliel means the same thing as Rav Yehoshua Ben Perachia). That is to say, there is no instruction here that a person appoint himself someone whose rulings they follow. Rather, there is general advise that a person should not learn Torah by himself, but rather find a person to teach him. [This is because] a person who learns by himself does not notice his mistakes and it is also beneficial for him to learn from another.

The Rambam writes in his commentary (on the first mishna):
"שהלימוד מעצמו טוב הוא. אבל לימודו מזולתו יתקיים בידו יותר והוא יותר. אפילו אם היה כמוהו בחכמה, או למטה ממנו"

Because learning by himself is good, but learning from another will be remembered by him for longer and will be more clear. [This is true] even if the rav is his equal in wisdom or [even] of lesser wisdom.

Rabbeinu Yona explains this idea:
"שאפילו אתה יודע כמותו, עשה אותו רב עליך, מפני שהאדם (זכר) (זוכר) מה שלמד מרבו יותר ממה שאדם לומד מעצמו"

For even if you know [as much as] him, make him your rav since a person remembers what he learned from his teacher more so than what he learned by himself.

It is clear from the words of these three commentators that that the point of the mishna is not that a person should put himself in a position where he obeys the rulings of one person; rather this mishna is advise that a person should try and learn Torah from another person and this has no bearing regarding how to decide halacha.

However, in the second mishna in the end of the chapter, some of the commentaries explain the mishna as relating to halachic rulings. In any case, the meaning of the term is not as it is used today but rather to teach humility that a person should not rule alone, but rather rely upon others. Here is the language of the Rambam (משנה ט"ז):
"להוראה, שים לך רב שתסמוך עליו באיסור והיתר, ותסתלק אתה מן הספק, כאומרם בירושלמי (מו"ק פ"א ה"י; יבמות פי"ב ה"ז) 'זיל אייתי לי זקן מן השוק דאסמוך עליו, ואשרי (ואתיר) לך'”

For rulings, make a rav upon whom you will rely in Issur and Heter, so that you yourself will avoid doubt. As [chazal] say in Yerushalmi: ‘go and bring me an elder from the market that I can rely upon, and I will permit [this] to you’

It is obvious to all who are wise that the Rambam was not explaining “Appoint a rav for yourself” in the same manner it is used in the present day. Rather, the [mishna is] entreating a person who gives rulings to include another person [when giving a ruling], so that he should be saved from making mistakes when ruling for others.

It is also obvious that in any topic or area that exists [within] halacha, the questioner can switch between one person and another. All the more so in our day, when there are rabbis who have tremendous knowledge in a particular area (for example, the halachot of Shabbat) but are not great experts in another area (for example, the mitzvoth of the land). This is something that is very common in our day when there are many books on every topic and it is almost impossible for an (average) person to (fully) understand all the parts of the Shulchan Aruch. Even if he invested the time to learn all of Rambam, Tur, etc., it is hard to remember it all and answer immediately to any who ask (Except for those exceptional individuals in our generation). And thus, how can we say that someone who relies on a particular rav, it should be like a “neder” for him and [thus] forbidden to act in accordance with another rav?

However, we do find in the Gemara a discussion that establishes that one should not switch from once [halachic] decider to another: (ראש השנה יד ע"ב)
"מקולי בית שמאי ומקולי בית הלל, רשע. מחומרי בית שמאי ומחומרי בית הלל, עליו הכתוב אומר 'והכסיל בחשך הולך'. אלא אי כבית שמאי, בקוליהון ובחומריהון, אי כבית הלל בקוליהון ובחומריהון"

[Someone who acts in accordance with the] leniencies of beit Shamai and the leniencies of beit Hillel, [is] wicked. [Someone who acts in accordance with the] stringencies of beit Shamai and the stringencies of beit Hillel, on him the verse states: ‘and the fool walks in darkness’. Rather if [he acts in accordance] with beit Shamai, [then he should follow both] their leniencies and the stringencies, and if [he acts in accordance] with beit Hillel, [then he should follow both] their leniencies and the stringencies.

It seems from here that a person should not deviate from the rulings of the rav that he accepted. However, it is explicit in Rashi there that his only applies if the leniencies contradict each other (see the examples of Rashi there) but regarding different issues Rashi says:
"אבל בב' מחלוקות שהקילו אלו בזו ואלו בזו, אין כאן לא משום 'רשע' ולא משום סכלות דסבירא ליה בהא כבית שמאי ובהא כבית הלל"

But regarding two [different] disputes where these were lenient here and those were lenient there, there [is no room to say the person is considered neither] wicked nor foolish since he reasons like beit Shamai here and like beit Hillel there.

Here it is explicit that it is allowed to switch from the authority of one rav to the authority of another if one’s [position] seems more reasonable.

Another difficulty for our position is the behavior of Rav Yosef Karo in the writing of his book “Beit Yosef” on the Tur. There he wrote:
"ועלה בדעתי שאחר כל הדברים אפסוק הלכה ואכריע בין הסברות, כי זהו התכלית, להיות לנו תורה אחת ומשפט אחד".

It occurred to me that after all the words (explanations), I will rule the halacha and decide between the [different] positions, since this is the essence, that we have one Torah and one Law.

But he immediately retracts this thought that he should decide because:
"ואיזהו אשר ימלאהו לבו להכניס ראשו בין ההרים, הררי אל, להכריע ביניהם ע"פ טענות וראיות לסתור מה שבררו הם, או להכריע במה שלא הכריעו הם? כי בעוה"ר קצר מצע שכלנו להבין דבריהם, כל שכן להתחכם עליהם. וכו' לכן הסכמתי בדעתי כי להיות שלשה עמודי ההוראה אשר הבית בית ישראל נשען עליהם בהוראותיהם הלא המה הרי"ף והרמב"ם והרא"ש ז"ל, אמרתי אל לבי שבמקום ששניהם המה מסכימים לדעת אחת, נפסוק הלכה כמותם, אם לא במקצת מקומות שכל חכמי ישראל או רובם חולקים על הדעת ההיא ולכן פשט המנהג בהיפך"

And who is the one whose heart would allow him to stick his head between [these] mountains, mountains of G-d, to decide between them through arguments and proof-texts to contradict that which they decided or to decide that which they did not decide? Because, in our great sins, our mind is too deficient to understand their words, and all the more so to make ourselves [as] wiser than them … Thus I agreed in my mind that there are three pillars of halacha that the entire house of Israel relies upon in their ruling, the Rif, Rambam, and the Rosh Z”l. I said in my heart that in a place where two of them agree on a matter, we will decide halacha like them, except for a few places where all the sages of Israel or the majority disagree with that position and thus the custom became the opposite.

It seems that this sort of methodology is a type that is common today.

However, when we look carefully at his words, we will see that he did not act his way because of the dictum of “make yourself a rav” as is understood by many people in our generation. That is, to be obligated to the opinion of a particular Torah personality. On the contrary, sometimes Rav Yosef Karo decided against these three giants because of other reasons (for example בשו"ע או"ח סי' תקפ"ב סעיף ט'; יו"ד סי' קט"ז סעיף א ועוד)

Thus, also regarding obedience to a ruling of a particular great rav in our time, if the questioner is himself a ben Torah and learns the sugya in the Gemara and he sees and understands from [that sugya] that the halacha fits better with the opinion of a different [contemporary] posek who disagrees with the first one, then of course he should follow the latter posek. This is what the Maharal wrote in Netivot Olam, Netiv HaTorah, end of chapter 15 and he concluded that “a judge only has what his eye see.”

There is another consideration [in psak]. We find that every place would customarily decide the halacha according to a particular great sage that lived in that place ((שבת קל ע"א; עירובין צד ע"א, פסחים ל ע"א ועוד. More than this, if [someone] did not act like [this person], it was considered an affront to his honor.

This is what the Rashba wrote (שו"ת רשב"א ח"א סי' רנ"ג):
"ומן הדרך הזה, כל שנהגו לעשות כל מעשיהם על פי אחד מגדולי הפוסקים, במקום שנהגו לעשות כל מעשיהם על פי הלכות הרב אלפאסי ז"ל, ובמקומות שנהגו לעשות כל מעשיהם ע"פ חיבור הרמב"ם ז"ל, והרי עשו אלו הגדולים כרבם. ומיהו אם יש שם אחד חכם וראוי להוראה ורואה ראיה לאסור מה שהם מתירים, נוהג בו איסור. שאין אלו כרבם ממש, דבמקום רבם אילו יעשו שלא כדבריו יקלו בכבוד רבם במקומו"

And in this way, all that accepted as their custom to act according to one of the great deciders, [for example] in a place that is accustomed to act according to the halachas of Rav Alphasi Z”l (Rif), or the places where they are accustomed to act according to the work of the Rambam Z”l, they have made these sages as their Rav. But in any case, if there is one there who is wise and [of stature] to rule and sees reason to forbid that which they allow, then [one should] act [in accordance with the ruling that] forbids. Since these [sages] are not actually like their rav, and in the place of their rav, if they act against his words, they would diminish the honor of their rav in his place.

That is, according to the Rashba, there is a custom that the inhabitants of a certain place, accept upon themselves the authority of an earlier dicidor from a previous generation.

However, in our days in the Land of Israel, this particular way is not at all practical. [This is because] in every city there is a community that is comprised of different sub-communities, Sefardim, Ashkenazim, and among the Ashkenazim there are also different methods of deciding, Chassidim and Mitnagdim, innovators and traditionalists, etc. And also it is inappropriate to say in our land that everyone acted according to one decider since it is common in our time that on one matter a particular community act according to one decider and on another matter like a different decider. [This is true] whether for leniencies or for stringencies. And thus, there is no complete situation in which [we can say] that all of the residents of a city act in accordance with a particular decider.

However, it is appropriate to strengthen the position of “Mara DeAtra” because of the Honor of the Torah ( שו"ת רשב"א ח"א סי' רנג; ובין ספרי אחרונים עיין שו"ת שיבת ציון, סי' כ"ג; שו"ת ישועות מלכו, או"ח סי' ו )

The Rema wrote (יורה דעה, סי' רמב סעיף לא):
"חכם שאסר, אין חברו רשאי להתיר משיקול הדעת. אבל אם טעה בדבר משנה יוכל להתיר וכו'. ולכן אין איסור לשאול ל(חכם) שני, ובלבד שיודיע אותו שכבר הורה הראשון לאיסור. ואפילו אם התיר הראשון, וכבר חלה הוראתו (מפרש הט"ז: וכבר חלה, שכבר עשו מעשה על פיו) אין לשני לאסור מפני שיקול הדעת. וכל זה באותה הוראה עצמו, אבל במעשה אחר (אפילו דומה למעשה הראשון, שעליו פסק הרב) פשיטא שיכול להורות מה שנראה אליו"

A sage that forbade, his colleague is not allow to permit based on reason. But if [the first sage] made a [fundamental mistake] in the mishna, he can permit. And even if the first permits, and his ruling has been implemented, the second should not forbid based on reason. All this is regarding that particular ruling, but on a different matter (even one similar to the first matter), it is obvious that he can rule as he sees fit.

See the Shach (ס"ק ס') that if the first sage forbade in order to create a fence, then the second [sage] cannot permit even in another matter.

If is appropriate to state that a “fundamental mistake in the mishna” include an halacha that has been clarified in the famous deciders in a manner opposite to the ruling of the rav in our time. (עיין רא"ש, סנהדרין פ"ד פסקא ו' "אפילו חכמים שבכל דור ודור". ושו"ת חוט השני, של מחבר "חוות יאיר", סי' י"ח. ועיין רמ"א בשו"ע חו"מ תחילת סי' כ"ה "אין להקל בדבר שהחמירו בו החיבורים").

This relates to our topic in that it is inappropriate to go against the rav of the city except if it is clear that he was mistaken in a “fundamental mistake in the mishna” (or in a explicit and accepted halacha in the later books –ed). It is also worth reminding that all of this is when the rav of the place is truly the greatest scholar in that place. But if his appointment was for political reasons, as sometimes occurs in our generation, and the same area has Torah scholars greater in Torah than the rav, in depth and breadth, then it seems that he does not have the authority of “Mara DeAtra”.

In the book “Aruch HaShulchan (יו"ד סי' רמב סעיף נז), [the author] explains that one should not go against the “Mara DeAtra” because of “Hasagat Gevul” (encroaching upon the area of another) and also because it [can] hurt the rav’s livelihood but he did not bring a source for his words. Also there (בפסקא ס"ב) he says that it is forbidden for the second sage to go against the first only when they are of equal wisdom, but if [the second] is greater in wisdom than the first, it is obvious that he is allowed to disagree since “the reasoning of the greater sage is straighter.”

Later (בפסקא ס"ג) he brings up a tremendous difficulty: Why is this whole matter (of the Rema) not discussed in the Rambam or the Tur? He answers that the whole discussion does not apply in our time since we have Shas and Poskim:
"ועכשיו אין לך דבר הוראה שאין לה ראיה מאיזה גמרא או מאיזה פוסק. ורחוק הוא להורות בסברא בעלמא. ואי משום שהפוסקים גם מחולקים, הרי באמת ביאר הרמב"ם (הל' ממרים סוף פ"א) בשל תורה הלך אחר המחמיר, ובדרבנן הלך אחרי המיקל. והוסיף הרמ"א (בחו"מ סי' כ"ה) היינו דוקא כשהחולקים הם שווים (במדרגה), ולא קטן נגד גדול, ולא יחיד נגד רבים"

And now there is no area of halacha that does not have a proof-text from some Gemara or some decider. And it is rare to decide based solely on reason. And if [you say that this ruling of the rema is for the case when] the deciders are divided. For this the Rambam explained in Hilchot Mamrim that in matters of Torah Law you should follow the stringent opinion and in matters of Rabbinic Law you should follow the lenient opinion. And the Rema added that this is only when the deciders are of equal stature and not a lesser [decider] against a greater [decider], and not a individual against the many.

What comes out of our words, is that except for the authority of “Mara DeAtra” (who is the greatest authority in that particular region) who decides on a particular matter, a person is not obligated to always act in accordance with the opinion of a particular rav regarding new matters that come up day to day and that acting in such a way is not the simple meaning of what chazal meant by “appoint yourself a rav.” Rather an obligation exists for every ben Torah to learn the halacha to the best of his abilities and to clarify the Truth as best he can. And in the occurrence when he is in doubt regarding what he learned in the name of a particular rav, he should try and ask that same rav. And if this is not possible, he should ask other rabbis. But if it becomes clear to him that the ruling of that rav is incorrect, he should not follow him (on this matter). This is clear according to the words of Rava (בבא בתרא דף קל ע"ב ודף קלא ע"א). (Of course someone who is not a Talmid Chacham should act in accordance with the local rav without making a stipulation that he will clarify the matter with others).

There is another reason why all the people of a particular community should follow the decisions of the “Mara DeAtra” (As long as he did not make one of the mistakes clarified above). This is because of worry regarding “Lo Titgodedu” (Do not separate yourselves into groups). They wrote in the name of Rav Chaim Volozin (כתר ראש, פסקא ל"ז):
ההנהגות, הדין לילך אחר הרוב, ואין לשנות ממנהגם משום 'לא תתגודדו'. מפירוד המנהג נעשה פירוד הלבבות

In matters of custom, one should go after the majority and not change the custom because of Lo Titgodedu. From separation of customs come the separation of hearts.

This is also the opinion of several other deciders

גם מהר"י קארו (בשו"ת אבקת רוכל, סי' רי"ב) וגם הרמ"א (בשו"ע או"ח סי' תצ"ג) סבורים "ולא ינהגו בעיר אחת מקצת מנהג זה, ומקצת מנהג זה, משום 'לא תתגודדו'" עכ"ל. וב"משנה ברורה" (ל"א סוף ס"ק ח; וכן סי' קל"א ס"ק ו) אסר הדבר אפילו בבית כנסת אחת. ואע"פ שמול המחמירים הללו יש הרבה המתירים חלוקי מנהגים של עדות שונות, למרות שהם יחד במקום אחד, מפני "מנהג אבות"? אבל גם הגר"א ("תוספת מעשה רב", ירושלים, שנת ששו"ן, פסקא ר"מ) וגם "חיי אדם" בספרו "שערי צדק" בסוף שער משפטי הארץ, פ"יא סעיף כ"ה) הם בדעה כי מנהג המקום עדיף ממנהג אבות. וסוף כל סוף הרי איסור "לא תתגודדו" הוא דאורייתא (כן כתב מהר"ל, "גור אריה" על דברים יד, א. וכן כתב שם הנצי"ב ב"העמק דבר". וכן משמעות דברי הרמב"ם בהל' ע"ז פי"ב הי"ד)

Thus because of Lo Titgodedu it is proper that all residents of a place should act in one manner, in accordance with the majority of the inhabitants and according to the psak of the rav of the community.

Chazal hinted to this when they said (מסכת דרך ארץ זוטא, סוף פרק חמישי):

לא יהא אדם וכו' יושב בין העומדים ולא עומד בין היושבים, ולא קורא (מקרא) בין השונים (משנה) ולא שונה בין הקוראים. כללו של דבר אל ישנה אדם ממנהג הבריות

A person should not be one who sits among those who are standing or one who stands among those who are sitting. Nor as one who learn mikra among those who learn mishna or one who learns mishna among those learn mikra. As a general rule, a person should not chance from the customs of the people.

And (פסחים נ ע"ב):
"ואל ישנה אדם, מפני המחלוקת"

A person should not change [the customs], because [it will lead to] disputes.

Of course if someone behaves differently than those around him and does this in a modest fashion so that they are not aware that he is behaving differently than they, there is not harm in this. But if he behaves publicly in a manner different than their custom, this can cause damage, and possibly even be forbidden. Many arguments start up because of ones [who change]. Thus we should work towards a unified custom and ruling.

And thus, as long as the Mara DeAtra has not made a fundamental mistake in mishna or in later authorities, we can say with poetic license “appoint yourself a rav” and all should act according to him. But, as we clarified earlier, this is not the manner in which chazal meant their statement to be understood.