Monday, April 30, 2007

Do contemporary Rabbis have revelatory ability - Ruach Hakodesh? Do they use it in their Halachik rulings?

This post is a synopsis and some of my reactions to a chapter in a book I am reading by Professor David Assaf - Ne’echaz Basvach. The book researches seven instances of embarrassing episodes among Chassidim in Eastern Europe, comparing the way the episodes were recorded and the truth. The chapter I am reading is about the struggle over the sefer Ohr Hachaim by Rabbi Chaim ben Moses ibn Attar (was a Talmudist and Kabbalist; born at Mequenez, Morocco, in 1696; died in Jerusalem July 31, 1743.)

Rambam in his introduction to the Pirush Hamishna tells us unequivocally and at great length that prophecy cannot have any impact on explaining the Torah.
Here is his introductory summary to the discussion:

הקדמת הרמב"ם למשנה

ודע, שהנבואה לא תועיל בעיון בפירושי התורה ולמידת הדינים בי"ג מדות, אלא מה שיעשה יהושע ופינחס בעניני העיון והדין הוא מה שיעשה רבינא ורב אשי.

Know that Prophecy will not help in explaining the Torah nor used for the exegesis of the 13 Midot. Whatever authority Yehoshua or Pinchas (prophets) have regarding Halacha is equal to Rav Ashi and Ravina.

However we find a Teshuvah in Divrei Chaim by R. Chaim Halberstam of Zanz (1799-1876) that has a very different opinion.

שו"ת דברי חיים יורה דעה חלק ב סימן קה

ולכן בעל אור החיים נשבג"מ בודאי חיבר ספרו ברוח הקודש אך לא הוא לבדו רק כל מחבר אפילו בדורינו אם הוא ראוי לכך חיבר ספרו ברוח הקודש היינו שהסכים בחכמתו לאמתו של תורה כמו שאמרו בש"ס על ר' אביתר וכן כתב התומים לדינא [בקיצור ת"כ סי' קכ"ג וקכ"ד] שאין לומר קים לי נגד השולחן ערוך משום שכתבו דבריהם ברוח הקודש ע"ש:

ולכן המלמד המכחיש רוח קדשו של אוה"ח הוא אפיקורס שאינו מאמין בגדולי הדור שהעידו עליו שהי' ראוי לרוח הקודש והמלמד הזה כפר בעיקר רוח הקודש וליעג על דברי הש"ס בבא בתרא הנ"ל ויפה עשיתם שלא עזבתם את בניכם בידו ויישר כוחכם בזה:

(My Translation/ paraphrase interspersed with my comments) –

Therefore the Ohr Hachaim definitely wrote his sefer with Ruach Hakodesh. (Earlier the Divrei Chaim differentiated between Nevuah and Ruach Hakodesh based on Rambam in MN accepting that prophecy (nevuah) does not exist nowadays but Ruach Hakodesh does. However he did not address the real issue which is the use of revelation in learning.) Not he alone but every author even in our generation, if he is at the proper level, writes his book with Ruach Hakodesh. Writing with RH means that he arrived through his intellect to the truth of the Torah… (Interestingly in this last comment RCZ shows a little ambiguity in his understanding of RH – arriving through intellect at the truth is a rational description of RH! But this did not seem to change his opinion in practical terms). The teacher who denied that the Ohr Hachaim had RH is an Apikores who has no faith in the generation greats who stated that the Ohr Hachaim could have RH. This teacher therefore denied the dogma of Ruach Hakodesh, denied the Gemara in Baba Batra mentioned earlier (which says that RH exists even after the Churban) and you did well not letting him teach your children.

Earlier in the responsa the DC also comments that although the teacher had supporting letters from great Rabbis who agreed with him that Ohr Hachaim did not write with RH, he suspects that he distorted the question to get a response that suits him.

What I find fascinating is that the DC excoriated the man for claiming that RH does exist anymore and all this in the context of the Ohr Hachaim. However, as Prof. Assaf points out, the Ohr Hachaim himself on Breishit 6:3 decries the fact that Ruach Hakodesh no longer exists nowadays and is the major source of all the trouble that Jews suffer. Apparently the OH felt the same way as the teacher!

Professor Assaf found in a collection of writings by R. Shlomo Kluger (1785 – 1869), the Gadol of Galicia at the time, a letter by a certain Avraham Cohen of Sivan. The letter was dated 1865 and asked R. Shlomo to intervene in protecting him from being fired. Apparently a shochet responded to an attack by what he terms “Chassidei Am Ha’aretz” - unlearned Chassidim - on contemporary Geonim who claimed that they lacked mystical apprehension. He told them that earlier Gedolim who did have Ruach Hakodesh would never use it in Halachik matters, as the Torah is not in heaven and the only way to know it is through hard work. They then asked him if he held the same opinion about the Ohr Hachaim. He answered that the Ohr Hachaim probably had Ruach Hakodesh but would not use it when learning or writing his commentary on the Chumash. They then declared him an Apikores and persecuted him. This teacher came to his defense and was persecuted too. He argued that he could not hold back seeing how these people do not respect scholarship and instead follow a different Derech which includes sitting and drinking in each other’s company. The son of Rabbi Yisroel Friedman of Ruzhyn, (1797-1850), R. Nachum Friedman of Stefanesti (Moldova) who lived in the area, saw to it that this teacher lose his position. He is therefore asking R. Shlomo Kluger to intercede on his behalf and rule whether they had the right to punish him for holding this opinion. There is no response from R. Shlomo Kluger that we know of.

Prof. Assaf feels that this is the same teacher that the Divrei Chaim so vigorously castigated in the above Teshuvah. Little is known about the final outcome but this gives us an interesting insight into the sad state of affairs among the Jews in Eastern Europe during the second half of the 19th century. Chassidic rebbis ruled over their areas like despots and were able to destroy people and their families at their whim. When one reads this man’s letter to RSK one gets a picture of a decent principled person whose arguments were completely in tune with the way Rishonim and most of the Acharonim would hold. He was persecuted and impoverished for saying the truth which was seen as possibly undermining the authority of a Rebbi whose claim to fame was mystical powers rather than scholarly knowledge.

It also points to an earlier manifestation of the current Da’at torah idea where Meta Halachik authority is given to certain people under the rubric of Emunat Chachamim. Furthermore we know that in areas such as these there is really no definitive Halacha. The discussion whether certain people have RH or not does not fall into the realm of Halacha. Rambam tells us several times in his Pirush Hamishna that in arguments of this sort found in the Mishna one cannot rule like either party. It also is in contrast with a story repeated by the Talmidim of the Gra, that when he was offered heavenly help (a Maggid or revelatory inspiration) in learning he refused it. Whether the story is true or not is irrelevant. The idea that the knowledge of Torah is not a result of revelation, but hard work and study, comes through quite clearly.

Prof. Assaf ends the chapter with a contemporary story. In 1974 R. Menashe Klein of Boro Park was asked whether a Shochet who followed the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch against the Mishna Berurah was acceptable. I copied pertinent parts of the responsa which I will not bother translating. The point it makes is that if the Shochet denies that the Chafetz Chaim wrote his sefer with Ruach Hakodesh one may not eat from his Shechita! If however he rules like R. Shlomo Ganzfried because that was the custom in his community he is a good person. That old controversy is still alive and well.

שו"ת משנה הלכות חלק ז סימן קס

שוחט שרוצה לפסוק מקצש"ע ולא כמ"ב

ובדבר שאלתו במי שנמשך בכל דבריו אחר הקצש"ע ולא רצה לשמוע דבר אחד מן המ"ב וכו'. הנה בזה הקשה לשאול מאד כי לא הבנתי כוונתו במה שכתב שאינו שומע להמ"ב, אי כוונתו שמיקל בכבוד המ"ב או שכוונתו כיון שהוא בא ממקומות שסמכו על בעל קצש"ע אפילו נגד המ"ב והרי הוא נמשך אחר מנהג מקומו. והחילוק בזה פשוט שאם הוא מיקל ח"ו בכבוד המ"ב הרי הוא בכלל אינו מאמין בדברי חז"ל שבכל דור ודור ושחכמי הזמן זוכין לרוה"ק ופשוט דמי שאין לו רוח הקדש לא היה יכול לחבר חיבור קדוש כהמ"ב ואם הוא אינו מאמין שהמ"ב נכתב ברוה"ק אזי הוא בכלל אפיקורוס וכופר בתורת ה'… לכן השוחט הזה נמי אומר אני אם אינו מאמין על בעל מ"ב שחיבור ספרו ברוה"ק וכיון לאמיתה של תורה הרי השוחט הזה הוא אפיקורוס וכפר בעיקר ולאו הוא דוקא אלא כל מי שאינו מאמין בזה שחיטתו נבלה (ובעונ"ה הרבה מלמדים יש בזמן הזה שאין מאמינים שגם בדורינו אנו ישנם חכמי הזמן שיש להם רוה"ק שזוכין לכוון ולהסכים בחכמתם לאמיתה של תורה …אבל אם השוחט הנ"ל הוא מאמין בגדלות ובצדקת המ"ב אלא שנמשך אחר הקצש"ע בפסק משום שהוא בא ממקום שנהגו דבריהם ונמשכו ע"פ פסק של הקצש"ע ואינו רוצה לנטות מדרכי ומנהגי אבותיו ז"ל זה ענין אחר הוא ואז אדרבה הרי הוא מחזיק בדרכי אבות והגם שהרבה נמשכים אחר המ"ב מ"מ בדור הקודם עדיין לא היה המ"ב מפורסם ובפרט בשאר מדינות חוץ מליטא וכמעט לא היה בנמצא


  1. I determined via Ruah Haqodesh that you are completely wrong on this one.

  2. Why do you dismiss ditinguishing between Ruach haKodesh and nevuah? I am not sure that the Divrei Chaim (maybe I'm biased because his name matches my blog : )is not consistant with the majority of rishonim or achronim (without getting into whether or not it makes on an apikores to deny ruach hakodesh). The Ramban on Baba Basra 12 by 'chacham adif m'navi' seems pretty clear that a vestage of prophecy in the form of ruach hakodesh enlightens Chachamim (R' Tzadok haKohen constantly refers to this Ramban, and Ramchal accepted this approach as well). The Ra'avad (ch 8 of hil lulav) refers to ruach hakodesh which enlightened his psak. The Bais Yosef was taught by a Maggid, as was the AR"I, and the Besh"t. True, the GR"A rejected a maggid, but that does not mean his work was not influenced by ruach hakodesh - there is a difference between rejecting taking dictation from a maggid and using one's intellect guided by ruach hakodesh.

  3. I think that David's point is not that Ruah Haqodesh is not a reality, but that it is misunderstood. Ruah Haqodesh, as the Rambam explains in the Moreh Nevuchim, is an intellectual intuition so vivid that it compells our assent. That is why it could potentially be meaningful in halachic discourse.

    However, even a ruling arrived at through genuine Ruah Haqodesh is not intrinsically binding as a result. It still must be analyzed objectively and considered carefully by other hachamim before being accepted.

    Simply defending a sefer or an opinion based on ruah haqodesh alone is not the derech of halacha; otherwise we would be caught between a rock and a hard place every time we had to choose a shita from among mahloqot rishonim - after all, every one of them could claim an equal share of ruah haqodesh to support their view!

  4. לכך חיבר ספרו ברוח הקודש היינו שהסכים בחכמתו לאמתו של תורה

    R. Chaim, this type of RH I can see. It is what rabbi Maroof refers to in his comment. The Ra'avad's comment can be read more tongue in cheek as referring to an inspired pshat. to see it as binding because it is RH is a real problem to my understanding.

    I have no problem with someone believing that another has RH. I think it is nonsense(apikores!) but I do not think one who believes it is more than deluded. Using it in Pirushei hatorah is another story, in halacha even worse. i don't remember the context of the Ramban but i doubt he was referring to that.

    The DC though either by design or innocently ignored the real issue and focussed on denying RH from Tzaddikim. the poor man did not dispute that all he was against was using RH for learning! That is what is so surprising. Your namesake was after all a great man! One wonders what was behind all that.

  5. >>>However, even a ruling arrived at through genuine Ruah Haqodesh is not intrinsically binding as a result.

    I don't think anyone suggested otherwise. The question before the Divrei Chaim was whether one should approach the words of a Rishon or Acharon as simply an intellectual argument, or Divinely inspired or guided. As you wrote, the only confusion is caused by modern abuse the term, but I think the D.C. and others were clear as to what it means.

    >>>The DC though either by design or innocently ignored the real issue

    Only because you assume the tshuvah was written to address the case of the melamed, but how do you know that is true?

    >>>I have no problem with someone believing that another has RH. I think it is nonsense

    I am confused as to what question are you addressing because the header of your post mixes two issues: 1) Do Rabbis use Ruach haKodesh in psak? No Rishon or Acharon said they do, so you are attacking a straw man (the exception may be the Shu"t min haShamayim, but there is a whole literature on that book) 2) Does Ruach haKodesh exist and enlighten the thought of Gedolim? To say not seems like a cavalier dismissal of the Ramban for sure, the Ra'avad (esp. in light of the Ramban I think your reading is forced), the Bais Yosef, Ramchal, the Ar"i. I'll leave the Besh"t off because of his relationship with chassidus, but the general assumption seems to be that something transcendent (which I haven't experienced so I can't define!) endowed these leaders with larger than life ability.
    Rather than diminish ruach hakodesh, it makes more sense to me to take the term in a more expansive way. It is not uncommon in the arts to say a great work was "inspired". Why not a great halachic work?

  6. too esoteric ...

  7. David and Chaim, I think this is fundamentally a case of "mar amar hadda u'mar amar hadda velo pligi". It seems like you basically agree with one another but are arguing over semantics. RH, taken in its broader sense as a kind of creative intellectual inspiration that smacks of transcendence, could certainly exist at any time, and we may well be justified in assuming the Rishonim and Gedole Haahronim partook of it to some extent. Interpreting it as some kind of nevuah that compells us to accept conclusions based on it would be erroneous. I think we all agree on this....?

  8. R. Chaim, We are not that far apart. My problem with the DC is that if he held RH to be inspiration, even a transcendental inspiration, does that lend more legitimacy to a sefer or work? Would not the idea that it was with RH come after we are amazed, awed and totally overwhelmed by the insight? We would then say this must have been inspired. It is not a priori but a posterori.Now comes along another fellow who is less emotional and to him this chidush although good is not so outstanding to see it as transcendental. he feels it is good logic. According to the DC in this tshuvah he is an apikores!

    De facto that is what happened and the DC did not attack the man only because he denied that this particular work was inspired by RH. He attacked him because he assumed he denied that Ohr Hachaim could have RH when others felt he had. He totally ignored the ohr Hachaim himself who claimed RH is non existent nowadays. DC apparently was reacting to what he perceived a lack of emunat chachamim in general and defended Ohr Hachaim in particular as he is so revered by Chassidim. That in itself is quite amazing him being Morrocan with hardly any contact with European Jewry.

    Re the case per se there is no 100% proof that it is the same case but Assaf brings enough circumstantial eveidence to show that it probably was.

    I just found the whole story fascinating.

  9. "R' Tzadok haKohen constantly refers to this Ramban, and Ramchal accepted this approach as well"

    Chaim B,

    Can you give some references for both of these acharonim?

  10. Does Professor Assaf discuss Rabbi Dov Ber of Liova son of R' Yisrael of Ruzhin, who was very close to the leaders of the Haskalah in Galicia (and in fact maybe even part of their inner circle)?

  11. No but he does a chapter on Menachem Nachum friedman I guess a nephew of dovbear. I have not read it yet.

  12. Assaf writes that he hopes to write a book about 'Berenyu'. It is taking me a while to get through his book; his Hebrew is too modern for me. One of my 'Brisker' brothers started reading the book when we were together over Pesach; after a few pages he declared it 'sifrei minim' and later said that he was sorry he started it because now he has such a yetzer hara to read it.

  13. >One of my 'Brisker' brothers started reading the book when we were together over Pesach; after a few pages he declared it 'sifrei minim'

    LOL a brisker seeing minus when chassidim are attacked!

    I missed that part about Brenyu. I also read several books at once and it can take me a while as my interest gets diverted.

  14. The first time I came across the figure of 'berenyu' was in the Yiddish biography of Reb Chaim of Sanz (Divrei Chaim), a Yiddish book called "Der Sanzer Tzaddik"

  15. He also "attacks" R' Chaim Volozhiner by writing that one of his sons became a chassid.

  16. Is that true by the way, andy?

  17. I have no idea but my brother (who certainly has no idea) said no way.