Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Da'as Balebatim

The saying goes, more or less, that "Da'as balebatim hefekh da'as Torah" -- the view of laypeople is the opposite of the Torah view. Is this really true? No, writes R. Hershel Schachter, in his humorous fashion (link):

Needless to say, all of these exaggerations are ridiculous. The Sema never meant to say that the sechel of baalei batim is always the opposite from sechel haTorah. A layman who is not familiar with the intricacies of physics or biology will often be mistaken if he will apply common sense to those disciplines; and the same is true of the self-contained discipline of Torah. But very often we will use common sense in establishing halacha! The Talmud tells us that by way of sevorah we can establish a din de’oaraisa!

I recently met a young talmid chochom who insisted that a certain halacha in Shulchan Aruch must be understood literally, as applying in all cases, even when it made no sense. I argued that it was self understood that one use his common sense, and only apply the halacha when it indeed did make sense. (I later checked the Iggros Moshe of Rav Moshe Feinstein and he wrote exactly the same in that particular instance). This young talmid chochom told me, no, we may not use common sense at all, and even though the halacha – as he misunderstood it – made no sense, he has “emunas chachomim.” I told him that this was a Christian concept (the principle of the infallibility of the posek). Our Torah speaks of the theoretical possibility of a par he’elem davar shel tzibbur, a korban brought in a situation where all seventy one members of the Sanhedrin paskened wrong. The torah tells us that on one occasion Moshe Rabbeinu was about to issue an incorrect psak, until he listened to his brother Aharon and corrected his position.

In our religion, are we not permitted, or better yet – obligated, to ask questions when we come across a halacha that makes no sense? Isn’t that what “lernin” is all about: to make sense out of the halacha! Our Torah is a Toras emes: it corresponds to reality, and does not contradict it!...

Yes, indeed, emunas chachomim is a very fundamental principle in our faith: we believe Hakadosh Baruch Hu will give divine assistance to an honest and deserving talmid chochom that he should be above his personal negios in issuing a psak; he will not have an agenda. But it doesn’t mean that we should believe in nonsense...

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