Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Length of Influence

I've been asked more than once why I can argue on the one hand that normative Judaism -- both practice and belief -- follows the consensus of contemporary Jewish scholars but still defend R. Nosson Slifkin's ideas. My response, as evident in the blog, has been that those ideas are subject to contemporary debate and while some leading scholars might find them objectionable, other leading scholars do not. However, one might ask, why do I bother quoting people like R. Avraham Kook and R. Yitzhak Herzog when they are no longer alive? Rav Herzog passed away 50 years ago, Rav Kook a decade before that, and Rav Soloveitchik over a decade ago. How can they be called contemporaries?

R. Aharon Lichtenstein addresses this in his Leaves of Faith, vol. 2 pp. 290-291:

That right [to follow Rav Soloveitchik's approach to Judaism] is relevant not only to the Rav personally but to any declared member of his ideological community. Those who identify with his worldview and halakhic orientation can rightly regard their similar views as legitimized by his authority - with the proviso, of course, that they generally submit to that authority. They need not routinely accept every jot and tittle of his every ruling. While the Rashba spoke of communities "which have been accustomed to act consistently on the basis of the codes of the Rambam," it seems unlikely that this left no room for exceptions. He himself goes on to distinguish between the status of an accepted historical posek and that of a community's rav...

They should, however, meaningfully identify themselves as his followers. As is manifest from the Rashba's teshuva, to those who meet this standard, a gadol's authority extends beyond his lifetime. The post-mortal Rambam could, through his Mishneh Torah, still be decisive after several generations; and the Rav זצ"ל remains, even in death, a bulwark of his spiritual community. Just how long a protective shadow a gadol may cast deserves thought. Presumably, it should be confined to the duration of the continuous existence of the sociohistorical entity to which he had belonged and which had belonged to him. As regards the Rav זצ"ל, in any event, we are not at this juncture at the point of expiration.
Certainly, the same can be said for Rav Herzog and Rav Kook, as well as for the Hazon Ish and R. Eliyahu Dessler.

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