Questions

If you have any questions which you would like forwarded to Rav Lichtenstein and then to be published, along with his response, on the blog please post them here. We aim to forward at least one question once every few weeks. If you see a question which you know he has discussed before, feel free to leave a reply.

14 thoughts on “Questions

  1. Gidon Rothstein

    I read the post about the responses to Sandy, and I am troubled by R. Lichtenstein’s response, for the following reason: An event like Sandy, a broad event affecting many people, likely doesn’t have one single reason, but many, and likely isn’t the result of one person’s sins, or even one small subgroup, but many. If we, in America, live in an Orthodox Jewish community where the denial of hashgachah bringing punishments is rampant, isn’t it important to strive to remind ourselves that events like this can come as a result of our sins? As someone who worked in the rabbinate and in HS education, who speaks with putatively Orthodox Jews often, I know that many, many refuse to entertain the possibility that an event like this could be Hashem telling us that there is a need for introspection and change? Isn’t that fundamental Jewish idea, that we should recognize the possibility of hashgachah in distressing events, one that is worth bringing back to our consciousnesses?

    I wonder whether the experience of the Holocaust, and the tendency of some people to give unitary answers for such a big event, aren’t part of what makes many of us recoil from it. But, on the other hand, are we really to say that the Holocaust had no element of hashgachah to it, that there was nothing about it that was a response to some failures on the parts of many segments of the Jewish people (and maybe different segments for different reasons)? To wipe that all away, in my experience, leads to extremism in the other direction, a functional denial of hashgachah, an Orthodoxy that lives, in practice, without any real sense that God affects the world, an Orthodox deism observed in the lip service of thanking God when things go well, but that will not ever imagine that anything that happens negatively is a call for change, individually or communally.

    I would love R. Lichtenstein’s response, although I recognize it might not be appropriate for the blog. Thanks, Gidon Rothstein, 1982

    Reply
    1. Anonymous

      RAL never denied the possibility of hashgacha, he only wrote that pointing to a particular even and saying “that was because of sin x or sin y or whatever” is an inappropriate response… I think in the first paragraph on the second question he is quite explicit in this regard. Rav Soloveitchik has a similar approach in Kol Dodi Dofek; when something happens I should utilise it to examine my deeds and behaviour, but that does not mean I can say with any degree of certainty that I know why the particular event happened…

      Adam Boxer 2010

      Reply
      1. Gidon Rothstein

        I didn’t say RAL said it; what I said was, the attitude he suggests can lead many to deny hashgachah in any practical way. They’ll say, “oh, we need to do teshuvah,” but in a highly generic form, with no real sense that what’s happened is directed at anything in particular. The refusal to even speculate about possible causes, with humility, with the awareness that there may be a myriad set of reasons for events, with the recognition that we aren’t “yodea da’at elyon” can shade over into the feeling, rampant in the Orthodox world today, that there is no da’at elyon behind the events that we’re witnessing.

  2. Anonymous

    But suggesting reasons can also lead to some pretty awful results. The Satmer Rebbe wrote that the holocaust happened because of the Zionists. I don’t really need to condemn such a statement – it damns itself. I would rather live in a world where it was harder for people to do teshuva after cataclysmic events to one where every fundamentalist and his dog could point the finger of blame at whoever he wants, breeding a culture which hates those outside the fold and sees no problems within the fold.
    I think RAL does suggest a middle ground – one where you introspect after an event; looking deep within yourself – but not within anyone else. Such a position is quite reasonable and I don’t think the position per se is to blame if someone takes it further and denies hashgacha – I would rather place the blame for that misunderstanding at the feet of the individual concerned.

    Reply
  3. Jonathan Ziring YHE 2006-8

    I tend to agree with Rabbi Dr. Rothstein. I heard once bishem Dr. Berger that a core belief of Biblical religion is that history is religiously meaningful, even if we don’t know the meaning. Thus, while I think most people who read this blog would recoil at claims of yodea daat elyon, I see no reason why leaders should not exhort others to do introspection, and perhaps suggest very general directions for people to improve. R. Willig, in a sicha last week, gave a drasha along these lines, and encouraged everyone to first and foremost find ways to help those who were hurt, but secondarily improve on the level of bein adam lamakom, and especially (in a very Neviim Achronim fashion) bein adam lamakom. I agree that RAL’s position often leads to the problematic inability of people to conceive of current events as divinely ordained and therefore meaningful, even if the disclaimer that we don’t know what message is being sent is attached.
    RAL, as usual, successfully balances the need to act as if any tragedy is a potential divine message without claiming that it must be, but that subtlety is lost to most of our community, leading to the problems Rabbi Dr. Rothstein raises.

    This leads to the follow up to RAL’s first answer – R. Carmy once pointed out in the Gemara in Brachot that Tosfos seems to understand that it is legitimate to treat a given case as safek – perhaps it was caused by sin, and perhaps it was not (in his case yisurin shel ahava).
    תוספות מסכת ברכות דף ה עמוד ב

    והאמר רבי יוחנן דין גרמא דעשיראה ביר – פי’ רש”י דלאדם חשוב כר’ יוחנן מסתמא לא היו אלא יסורין של אהבה. ותימא דהא מסיק דהיכא דלא הוו ליה בנים כלל לא הוו יסורין של אהבה והרי כמה צדיקים שלא היו להם בנים. ואי משום בנות ר’ יוחנן נמי הוו ליה בנות בפ’ בתרא דקדושין (דף עא:) ונראה לפרש דהכי פריך והאמר ר’ יוחנן דין גרמא וכו’ אלמא מדהוה רגיל לנחם אחרים בכך ש”מ דהוו יסורין של אהבה. אבל אינו תלוי בכך שהצדיקים עצמם פעמים מעונים ביסורין.

    This seems to present a position of legitimate ambivalence about whether a particular event was caused by sin or not, or for RAL, caused by active hashgacha or not. That does not change the fact that we should react as if there is something repent for.

    P.S. Rabbi Rothstein – your shiurim on OU-Torah on Trei Asar do effectively convey your point – and I thank you for you presentation of your position through your exegesis of the Neviim.

    Reply
  4. Yechiel Robinson

    I am a student at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law taking Rabbi J. David Bleich’s course on Jewish Law. Many Gush alumni, and many alumni of RIETS (Yeshiva University’s rabbinical training academy) have gone on to law school and to careers as lawyers. What does the educational method at Yeshivat Har Etzion have to teach a law school student on how to pursue his studies? Also, how does someone in my situation judge what is a reasonable allocation of times to study Torah (outside the scope of my Jewish law class and my preparation for Torah reading in shul)? Thanks, -Yechiel Robinson, Gush 2001-2003 (5761-5763).

    Reply
  5. Moshi

    Hi
    I know the situation in the middle east is not a simple one, and there are lots of disputes as to ownership of the land, as well as the best way to solve it. Never-the-less, i was wondering how the Rosh Yeshivah would answer something like
    “What should we be teaching our Jewish youth (and/or our non-Jewish co-workers) is our ‘claim to Israel’?”
    and “what is the Rosh Yeshivah’s opinion on the “two state” solution, as well as the idea to give away any land for peace?”
    Lastly, what would the Rosh Yeshivah answer to the claim that the Israeli army “unfairly” occupies the West-bank, never allowing its inhabitants to become equal citizens, yet “cruelly” persecutes them, and places all kinds of restrictions onto them (such as building and electricity restrictions etc.)?
    Thanks, Moshi (Yeshivat Har Etzion, 2009-11)

    .

    Reply
  6. Anonymous

    What is Rav Lichtenstein’s current position regarding the halachic approach to the Israeli Peace Process?

    I read an article published in 1995 [http://www.jweekly.com/article/full/1725/halachic-edict-denouncing-accords-divides-orthodox/] discussing the different halachic opinions regarding land concessions in Eretz Yisroel. The article quoted the Rav as saying: “It would be wrong to conclude that “only knaves and fools are in favor of the peace process and supportive of the Rabin government”

    Has the Rav’s position changed since then? If yes, what is his current position?

    Reply
  7. Yirmeyahu (@TeshuvasHaminim)

    Shalom Aleichem,

    It is my understanding that the Rav is also particularly familiar with literature I have long been interested in his opinion on the following topic in the hope he could bring some clarity to a topic whose specifics seem to be a bit ambiguous:

    According to the שלחן ערוך, ארח חיים שז:טז certain works of literature fall under the category of מושב לצים:

    Most if not all other examples of מושב לצים seem to be passive entertainment in a public or group setting, perhaps the רב could illuminate how מושב לצים applies to private reading?

    Which sorts of works are included in this prohibition? At times מושב לצים ceases to be an issue (assuming there are not other prohibitions/concerns) when there is some sort of purpose that legitimizes it, what sort of תועלת might allow an otherwise problematic work?

    A main example given is “ספרי מלחמות”, would this include historical or informative works on the topic, or only fictional/dramatized stories? Are all fictional war stories “מושב לצים” or was the שלחן ערוך referring to a specific subset of what we would be included in “ספרי מלחמות” today?

    Are video programs which tell the same stories as such books that are included in מושב לצים also prohibited or perhaps since one generally does not devote as much time we are not concerned? Or perhaps since there is greater temptation to continue watching video programs those programs and perhaps additional ones are included in מושב לצים?

    Given the significant role of literature in socialization, does the Rav have any advice on to approach it in a way that we, and/or our children are able to benefit from what it has to offer without uncritically accepting the value system of the author before us?

    Reply
  8. Anonymous

    Rav Lichtenstein is quoted in all mainstream newspapers as supporting the candidacy of Rav Dovid Stav of Tzohar for the position of Chief Rabbi of Israel. Could you please clarify what the reason is that Rav Lichtenstein supports Rav Dovid Stav, instead of Rav Yaakov Shapira or Rav Eliezer Igra?

    Reply

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