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Thursday, May 18, 2006

Rav Moshe Feinstein Zt"l on religious tolerance

We live in an age where, more and more, people speak in absolutes. As is common on the j-blogs, each person entrenches themselves in their position and the end of winning the debate wipe out any shred of nuance in the discussion and any respect for the other side to disagree. I am as guilty of this as anyone else [except for S. who seems to have a superhuman ability to always see the nuances in the issues] and often take positions aimed more at winning the debate than arriving at truth. Sometimes it is useful to stop and remember that all fellow Jews who learn the Torah Lishma, from the students of Rav Soloveitchik to the Satmar Chassidim, are entitled to follow those hashkafos and halachos which they received from their rabbis and gedolim. Often time one feels extreme anxiety when one hears Torah opinions which are anathema to their own subjective perspective. The mature mind, however, remembers that Hashem is running the show and whether or not you will convince this one person is unlikely to change the path of history. Actually, often the heated debate serves to clarify your own positions in a better light. Thus, I was delighted to find the following teshuva by Rav Moshe Feinstein Zt"l. Unlike some of the other teshuvas I have seen on the topic of the heter mechira, Rav Moshe's derech baKodesh stands out as a beacon of tolerance in an increasingly hostile world where the quest for truth is often used as an excuse to break the peace:
Here is the teshuva in question (Iggrot Moshe, O"H 1,186):

Regarding the etrogim imported from Eretz Yisrael this year, the end of 5712 [1952] - a Sabbatical year, as prescribed by the Chief Rabbinate: This rabbinic court allows for the sale [of Jewish lands] to a Gentile, a heter that many rabbis disapprove of. Do the ones who follow the more stringent view need to worry about failing to fulfill the mitzvah [of the Four Species] or reciting a blessing [over such etrogim]? ...

The prohibitions of [placing an obstacle] before the blind and abetting a sinner clearly do not apply, because [the farmers] act in accordance with [their rabbis'] instructions. For, someone who follows [his rabbi's] instructions does no sin whatsoever, even if the halacha is contrary to [that rabbi's opinion], as long as all of the generation's scholars have not convened and established the halacha otherwise. Accordingly, [the residents of] R. Yossi HaGalilee's town did nothing wrong by eating fowl and milk together (see Shabbat 130a). And those who followed R. Eliezer's rulings were even rewarded for fashioning a knife on the Sabbath for the sake of circumcision, even though the true halacha is that one who does so deserves death by stoning. Therefore, it makes no sense whatsoever to penalize [the farmers or say that one who buys from them] is abetting sinners...

May we merit such leaders as Rav Moshe speedily in our day.