[Avodah] Mesora only through Rashi

Chana Luntz via Avodah avodah at lists.aishdas.org
Sat Aug 15 15:41:09 PDT 2015

I wrote:
: I think what troubles me about this line of argument is that the Shulchan
: Aruch relies far more heavily on the Rambam than upon Rashi and the
: Tosaphists.  It would surely not be unfair to say that without the Rambam,
: we would not have the Shulchan Aruch.
: Which seems then to mean this line of argument to be saying that the
: Shulchan Aruch is irrelevant to our mesorah?!?

And RMB replied:

<<>Let me make it far more more explicit. The subject line differs from my
understanding of RGS' expansion of RYGB's idea in that it claims "Mesora
ONLY through Rashi" (emphasis added), whereas I >heard them talking about
cofication being "less critical". Comparative terms, not absolute ones.

>IOW, the mesorah could survive without codes, if we had to. But it couldn't
survive without parshanim. Without them we couldn't handle any new case that
isn't in a code, nor even have the >skills to always determine which are the
new cases.>>

Firstly of course, the Rambam wrote his perush on Mishnayos, so I don't
think it is merely parshanut that distinguishes the two.  Secondly, in the
Rambam's code there are various "nire li" statements where he comes across
areas where the answer from the gemora is not clear, and he therefore
inserts his own view.  It seems slightly bizarre to suggest that he or the
Shulchan Aruch ever assumed that their code would make determining new cases
more difficult, nor does that seem accurate historically.

>In terms of R Yosef Caro's works, it would be like saying the BY was more
important than the SA. Not that the SA is irrelevant, but we could have
limped along without it. Not so the genre that >discusses how the
conclusions are reached.

So let's do a thought experiment:  Let us say there was no Rambam and no
Shulchan Aruch.  On what basis would there be any distinction at all between
the halacha of the Orthodox and the halacha as championed by the
Conservative movement?  Is that not where a Rashi/Tosphos only mesorah would
of necessity lead (even throwing in the Beis Yosef), to a much broader tent
than we have today - one that would perforce have to embrace the
Conservative movement, and certainly all the forms of Open Orthodoxy that
RGS is so vehemently against.

Part of RAM's distress on one of the other threads on this list at the
moment, regarding modern day psak vis a vis sexual relations versus the
postion of the Shulchan Aruch has to do with the fact that Orthodoxy in
general (although not, I would note, at least some of the Chassidic
movements, such as Ger, and possibly increasingly not other groups within
the Charedi world) has without appearing to notice, abandoned the position
as set out in the Shuchan Aruch (albeit for one that can be said to be the
more majority position of Chazal).  But take the codes out of the equation
and *all* these multiple rishonic positions become tenable, allowing a
general free for all within the vastness of the parshanut tradition.  The
codes therefore are a critical part of what might be considered a dual
process - equivalent to the situation where one first brainstorms ideas, and
then whittles away to those most tenable.  There are of course, situations
where Sephardim do not posken like the Shulchan Aruch, and there are even
more situations where Ashkenazim do not hold like the Rema, preferring a
Shach, Taz or Magen Avraham (or even a Bach).  But in the post-Shulchan
Aruch world the conversation that RAM has been leading on the other thread
is fundamental and critical - if we do not posken like the Shuchan Aruch in
the particular case in question - we need to understand and investigate
precisely why not, because by and large, the Shulchan Aruch draws the line
as to where we go or do not go halacha l'ma'aseh.

Without the Shulchan Aruch, we are only left with the brainstorming side of
the halachic endeavour, and that means - as I intimated in my closing
remarks, that if you find Rabbanu Tam's shkia analysis compelling (or
indeed, that of a more minor rishon), there would seem to be little to
prevent you holding like it halacha l'ma'aseh.  What would hold us together?
Indeed you are, I see, engaged in a debate regarding hair covering on
another thread.  But surely those who seek to justify the practice of many,
many women who otherwise led and lead fully halachic lives are full square
within the mesorah of tosphos.  It is only those who also have an eye to the
codes who can say that there are restrictions on where parshanut can go in
the light of common practice.

>Mesorah, in RYBS's lexicon, is the conversation down time, the flow of the
Oral Law from generation to generation. The code describes a snapshot. The
parshan connects the past to the now.

That might be so, but that merely makes it a Humpty Dumpty conversation.
Most people understand mesorah as being that which each previous generation
handed over to the next.  And the generation of the Shulchan Aruch, in
accepting it as "The" Code which shall be followed in most circumstances
(with exceptions) handed that down to all generations following - making the
Shulchan Aruch the mesorah par excellence.  I can debate the nature of shkia
with the Tosphotists in a conversation down the generations, but my mesorah
regarding Shabbas is unlikely to be based upon any such conversation, nor is
it expected to be.  If you want to redefine the word mesorah to mean only
that which Rashi has given us, then of course the title of this thread
becomes 100% correct, just rather pointless.  Yes Rashi and Tosphos enable
the masses, or at least many more of them, to learn the process whereby the
elite, such as the Rambam, were able to formulate their halachic
conclusions.  Without them it would be far more difficult to have anything
like the number of people we have today engaging with the gemora.  The
Rambam in contrast might well not see the point - if you can't manage
without Rashi and Tosphos, then, in his view, maybe you shouldn't be trying,
and should be relying on his code instead, leaving gemora engagement to the
true elite who should be leading the people.  That aspect of the Rambam's
view has not dominated as "the mesorah" - using the more commonly understood
use of the term.  While we might debate the length of time that should be
spent in yeshiva, and whether one should do work/army instead of long term
yeshiva study - there is pretty close to universal agreement within
Orthodoxy that all Jews should spend at least some significant time engaging
with the fundamental texts, even if they are of only average intelligence.
But what people do in yeshiva is still, in my view, only a small slice of
"the mesorah", as it is commonly understood (as opposed to as redefined by
RYBS) and a far greater slice is the Shuchan Aruch itself, and for that, the
Rambam's influence is surely pre-eminent.


Shavuah tov


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