A few comments on the Washington Heights eruv e-mails

NB: This has been a bit late in coming, but I figured I’d wrap it up and post it anyway. So, belatedly...

Posted previously: first e-mail; second e-mail

First a note: I don’t use the eruv, not because of any particular controversy regarding this eruv, but because Rav Ovadia Yosef (whose rulings I endeavor to follow) does not favor relying upon the יש אמרים against the סתם ruling of מרן הש’’ע:
איזה היא רשות הרבים, רחובות הרחבים ט’’ז אמה, ואינם מקורים, ויש אמרים שכל שאין ששים רבוא עברים בו בכל יום אינו רשות הרבים. (חאו’’ם סי’ שמא ס’ ז)
And it is a general principle that בכל מקוֹם שיש סתם ויש אמרים בש’’ע הלכה כסתם.
        The issue is much more complicated than this and I won’t go further into it (nor will I pretend to be competent to do so), but since Rav Ovadia’s position on eruvin has changed relatively recently, I will quote the summary of the ruling in which he announces this change (יביע אומר ח’ ט סי’ לג):
האריך הרחיב בדין רשות הרבים בזמן הזה לדעת הפוסקים הראשונים ולדעת מרן הש’’ע, ודין הוצאה לכתחלה לרה’’ר על סמך העירוב של צורת הפתח כפי שנוהגים פה עה’’ק ירושלים, והעלה שנוהגים היתר בדבר יש להם על מה שיסמיכו, ולפי דעת אחרונים רבים אף לדעת מרן יש להקל, וכן כתבו גאוני ירושלים שאין לנו דין הרבים בזמן הזה. ולפי זה העירוב של צורת הפתח מועיל לטלטל לכתחלה ברשות הרבים בזמן הזה, אלא החרדים לדבר ה’ ונמנעים מלטלטל ברה’’ר תבוא עליהם ברכה, אולם רשאים הם למסור למי שמטלטל מתפחת או טלית וסידור. ואפילו הוא בר מצוה, וגנח להם לישראל אם אינם נבינים בני נבינים הם.
One obviously needs to read the ruling itself in order to understand Rav Ovadia’s reasoning for this change in position. For myself, however, since in my present situation I find I have no pressing need to carry on Shabbat, I have decided not to begin relying on this new, more lenient ruling. Accordingly, I have not done any investigation of whether the eruv in Washington Heights would be of a sufficiently high standard that I could rely on it under to this ruling. Should a time come when I feel I must carry, e.g. when I have children and my wife (quite rightly) is not overjoyed at the prospect of being housebound one day a week for an extended period of time, I will revisit the matter.

Turning to the e-mails...
        The author of the e-mails relies throughout on a certain picture of how the halachic system functions which I believe is, if not actually erroneous, at least seriously questionable. According to this picture, there is a more or less determinate hierarchy of halachic authority, at the apex of which stand the “Greatest Torah Authorities”. While this picture was largely true some time ago, when the Sanhedrin and halachic court system were in existence, it does not obviously obtain today. Shortly after the Sanhedrin ceased to exist, there emerged divisions within those broadly committed to the halachic system over authority within it. In other words, halachically committed jews (both laymen and poskim) took divergent views over who were the preeminent halachic authorities and which were its authoritative traditions. This is old news, and I think it is safe to say that this trend has generally strengthened through to the present. One need only look to the dramatically different halachic traditions, methodologies and authorities embraced by ashkenazim, sephardim, and temanim — not to mention the countless divisions within these groups! — to see that there is not at present, and has not been for a very long time, a unified determinate hierarchy of halachic authority, nor is there any general rule by which one can determine which of these various hierarchies of halachic authority are legitimate or which is “right” — the basis for such a rule is part of what is in dispute.
        That being said, there are still various hierarchies and more serious questions are rightly escalated up one or another of those hierarchies. But this is still too simple a picture. A given rabbi or posek may lie below more than one hierachy: either because he has been educated by members of multiple hierarchies, or because those hierarchies are specialized around different areas of halacha. Leaving aside the former case as it is not particularly relevant here, the latter case is very common. Faced with a question about safrut or monetary matters or eruvin, for example, a rabbi is quite likely to escalate that question to a different rabbi than he would escalate a question about shabbat or kashrut. This sort of pattern is very common and rightly so: it reflects the differing degrees of expertise and competence had by various hierarchies of halachic authority.
        Given this, the picture assumed by the author of the e-mails appears to be simply false: it is not even roughly a determinate matter who are the “Greatest Torah Authorities” who are relevant to deciding any particular halachic question. Which authorities are relevant will depend on who is asking and what is the question. Consequently, citing some chosen list of “Greatest Torah Authorities” cannot support a general claim about whether one should or may hold by the Washington Heights eruv (though it would support a such a claim for someone who held by the rulings of one of those authorities).
        Now, were it the case that virtually all those who stand at the apex of the many hierarchies of halachic authority were to rule that the eruv is posul then one could make a general claim that eruv cannot be relied upon. But this is demonstrably not the case. Very few poskim have issued any ruling regarding the Washington Heights eruv. Wisely, the author of the e-mails limits himself to the claim that “the vast majority of the Very Greatest of the Generation's Torah Authorities have poskined ‘asur’” (italics mine). But even among the “Greatest Torah Authorities” cited by the author, most are either dead, and a fortiori have not ruled on the eruv, or have yet to issue any ruling. (While the reasoning and precedent of the rulings of dead poskim demand central consideration by today’s poskim, the very existence of their past rulings does [not] answer any present halachic question, nor does it inherently bind current poskim in their rulings: authority in halachic decision making is vested in current poskim (see R.H. 25b).) Rav Yosef D Soloveitchik, Rav Ahron Soloveitchik, Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky, Rav Ahron Kotler, and Rav Gedaliah Schorr are all dead. (The author also lists Rav Chaim Bick, but I couldn’t find any information about him; perhaps he meant to list Rav Moshe Bick, but he too is dead.) The author also names (as an aside) “Rav Gelly, Rav Schachter, Rav Posen [ Poseik of KAJ ], Rav Kohn [ Dayan of B'D of KAJ], Rav Levy [ Rosh Kollel and Dayan of KAJ B'D], Rav Block [ Rav of W.H. Cong ], Rav Maybruck [ a Rav of Mount Sinai Shul ] , Rav Hoffman [ Rav of Shaarei Tikvah], Rav Reider and Rav Balsim [ Ravs of Reider Shul ], and Rav Goldberg [Rav of the Agudah Shul]”, but I submit that the only candidate on this list for being among the “Very Greatest Torah Authorities” is Rav Schachter and only he is quoted by the author as having prohibited use of the eruv. Perhaps others have prohibited it as well, but even the author admits that “we are not saying that each of these rabbis asur it- we're only saying that they are not permitting [ as a psak ] the Bennett avenue eruv”. The author’s central claim that “the vast majority of the Very Greatest of the Generation's Torah Authorities have poskined ‘asur’” is without support.
        Perhaps, however, the author was speaking loosely when (more than once) he made this claim; he does, after all, make a weaker claim as well:
...the vast majority of the Generation's Greatest Torah Authorities who HAVE poskined on the matter have asured it's use and nearly all, or all of the rest, of the Greatest living authorities are not issuing psakim for their talmidim or congregants that one may use this Bennett Avenue eruv...
But this claim, even if true, is irrelevant. Certainly, when very few current poskim have ruled on some question, nothing follows halachically from the fact that other poskim have not got around to doing their jobs and issuing a psak, except that anyone holding by the rulings of any of these poskim is left hanging without a psak — that is a problem for these poskim and those who hold by their rulings, not for anyone else. Were many poskim to rule one way or the other, then the weight of their precedent would weigh upon any posek considering ruling otherwise, and even then he could still use his judgment and argumentation to rule otherwise. Of course, that is not the case here: few poskim have ruled, so the weight of precedent is very light. The mere fact — if it is a fact — that a majority of poskim (who have ruled) have ruled one way, does not have any any halachic bearing beyond that carried by the precedent of their various rulings.
        The author does make one point that is worth repeating: Whether any individual can hold by the eruv depends on how her posek (himself, or via some hierarchy of halachic authority) rules. Setting aside practical problems with carrying this out, the point is essentially correct. What the author neglects to mention, however, is that for many people (to the extent that they ask questions of a posek at all) their posek is simply the rabbi of the synagogue which they attend. For the many members of the ever growing community of young jews in Washington Heights (a community centered on Mt. Sinai), that means their posek is the rabbi of Mt. Sinai, Rabbi Schnaidman. (It strikes me as disrespectful to a long-standing rabbi in Washington Heights that the author of the e-mail did not even so much as mention him.) He is surely entitled as consider the question of an eruv in the area surrounding his community, and to consult a qualified halachic authority expert in eruvin regarding it. Rabbi Benzion Wozner is surely such an authority. Trusting that Rabbi Schnaidman and Rabbi Wozner acted with integrity and in good faith, this looks to be an example of the halachic process at work: a serious question was escalated up the a hierarchy of halachic authority to an expert competent to answer it. For those that are following the psak of Rabbi Schnaidman, as the rabbi of their synagogue, this is all that is required for them to use the eruv.
        There is good reason to think that even those who follow many other poskim will also be able to use the eruv. (They should consult their poskim before acting, of course.) Many people hold by eruvin in the communities in which they grew up, studied, or have lived previously. It is not obvious that the Washington Heights eruv is more problematic than the eruvin in mid-Manhattan or Chicago, for example. Although I am no expert, it seems quite possible that the Washington Heights eruv is built to a higher halachic standard than many of the major metropolitan eruvin already relied upon by many members of the community; if they legitimately rely upon those eruvin, then they should be able to rely on the eruv here as well.
        The bottom line: Based upon my reading of the e-mails, the author’s reasoning is not cogent, and they are not to be taken seriously.


David Kaplan's 2004 Howison Lecture (Berkeley)

I just came across the video of David Kaplan’s extremely stimulating 2004 Howison Lecture at Berkeley titled “The Meaning of ‘Ouch’ and ‘Oops’” available via Google Video. Kaplan’s primary topic is the semantics of expressive terms, but (as is typical of him) he makes numerous insightful connections to other topics along the way, including the relative priority of intuitions about truth and valid inference in logic, methodology in semantics and the philosophy of logic, why philosophers have not given expressives logical semantic treatment, and that the descriptive–expressive distinction and the cognitive–emotive distinction are orthogonal to one another (ethical emotivists/expressivist take note!). I have yet to digest it (and it make take another viewing to do so), but I foresee this having significant impact on my thinking. I can’t recommend it enough to anyone interested in semantics. (It was also entertaining to see how very Californian Kaplan is in his speech and mannerisms!)

The 2005 Howison Lecture is also available: Judith Jarvis Thomson, “Normativity”. I haven’t viewed it yet.


"Why tolerate religion?"

I thought some readers here might be interested in Brain Leiter’s recent paper of this title (available here). It’s been available for a few weeks, but I’ve just got around to reading it and found it quite interesting, so I’m belatedly linking to it.

Perhaps I’ll have more to say about this paper in the future, but for now I’ll confine myself to the following:
        Leiter seeks distinguishing characteristics of religion —rightly, given his project of determining whether religion’s distinguishing characteristics might afford a principled basis for any special toleration of religion. He concludes that the distinguishing characteristics of religion do not justify its toleration as such, although its toleration may well be justified on other grounds. Despite some unease, I am inclined to agree with this conclusion.
        I am skeptical, however, as to whether the characteristics Leiter settles upon do distinguish religion from other, non-religious (since no better term comes to mind) world-views consisting in a complex of values, action- and reason-guiding principles, and beliefs. (Leiter is alive to this worry, labeling it ‘over-inclusiveness’.) The two characteristics which do the work in Leiter’s argument are (1) the categoricity of religious commands and (2) religious belief’s insulation from evidence (see the paper for full formulations). My initial reaction to Leiter’s argument is that the religion is less both less categorical and less insulated from evidence than Leiter imagines, and that non-religious world-views do not differ significantly from them in these respects. This is in part because I see religion and non-religious world-views as occupying comparable roles in the lives of their adherents: in structuring belief, prioritizing alternative courses of actions, offering values which motivate and give meaning to actions, etc. Accordingly, it would be surprising if they did turn out to differ significantly in these respects and, consequently, if differences in their toleration were justified. I suspect that any world-view, religious or not, which occupies such central roles in the lives of persons is will exhibit categoricity of commands and insulation from evidence to an extent which is relatively invariant across world-views, and that the same would go for any other characteristic which would provide a principled basis for differential treatment. [Obviously, much more needs to be said here.]
        Just to be clear, my worry is not with Leiter’s argument; rather, it is about the understanding of the facts of religion versus non-religious world-views that he appears to hold. He regards them as differing significantly, though these differences do not justify special toleration of religion, whereas I regard them as broadly similar in the relevant respects and hence no differences in toleration can be justified on their basis.
        Where this disagreement does matter is in the treatment, legal and constitutional, of religion. At the end of his paper, Leiter suggests that “the French conception of laïcité may be the only principled approach.” At least as practiced by the French, laïcité involves the confinement of religion, in particular, to the private sphere, while non-religious world-views are permitted to intrude into the public sphere and are even endorsed and promoted therein by the state. But for this differential treatment to be principled itself, there must be distinguishing differences between religion and non-religious world-views which justify it. In Leiter’s view there are differences which justify differential treatment, only not with respect to toleration. But, if I am right that the relevant sorts of differences required to justify differential treatment do not obtain in general, then either non-religious world-views too must also be confined to the private sphere, or both religion and non-religious world-views must be allowed to intrude into the public sphere to some degree, and the limits on this intrusion must be delineated for both together. As the former course is (I submit) impossible to pursue while maintaining any substantial public sphere at all, the latter — with its abandonment of the French conception of laïcité — remains as the only option. (I’ll add that this approach seems to fall nicely within the liberal tradition in a way that French laïcité does not.)
        Finally, I am open to the possibility that many or most religions as they are practiced have features which make them more likely to bring about harm to well-being than non-religious world-views, and so justify some degree of differential treatment against religion. (Leiter acknowledges this possibility, but leaves it aside as not relevant to his project.) If there are such features, I am committed that they do not have their basis in any defining characteristics of religion alone, including Leiter’s: the categoricity of religious commands or insulation from evidence. Be that as it may, what does seem to often bring about harm to well-being is fanatical belief, whether religious or not; what is needed, then, is an investigation into the characteristics of fanatical belief and the conditions which promote it: if religions engender these conditions to a greater extent than non-religious world-views, then differential treatment of religion may be justified accordingly on that basis.


"Government Asserts It Is Above the Law"

In court no less. From the EFF.

As disturbing as these sorts of assertions are, perhaps some good may come of it. My impression is that the courts frown upon such extreme assertions of unconstrained power. Hopefully the courts will respond by rejecting the governments claims and further delineating the scope of the state secrets privilege, even if they do not rule against the government with regard to the NSA wiretapping program.


Your next menorah?

Here. I’m a big fan of the non-menorah menorah myself.


Some IP-related articles


Good post on net neutrality

Net neutrality detractor writes satirical legislation, misses point entirely

This post rightly emphasizes that the market for broadband internet service is not genuinely competative, and that this fact should make it a candidate for regulation even for those who are object to the expansion of government regulation in general. The problematic role of the government in bringing about that non-competitive market is also highlighted.

Green Roses

Green Limbo Rose
I didn’t know such things existed, but I saw them at a shop today and had to pick up a bunch for Cheryl. This variety is called ‘Limbo’. I’m quite taken with them!


Act now!


Suzanne posted the sad news:
Megabite, located on 38th st, between 5th and 6th aves, and home to many Washington Heights residents at lunchtime is losing its hashgacha next week. I am sad. I wrote a blog about it: http://www.susqhb.blogspot.com and also started a petition for you to sign: http://www.petitiononline.com/megabite/petition.html to keep it kosher!
Megabite was one of the very few kosher pizza places in NYC that I think is worth eating at. If you have any sense of taste, I know you agree, so stop by and let them know how you feel, and sign the petition!

CLARIFICATION: Just to be clear, according to the information passed to me, Megabite is loosing it's hashgacha due to a change in ownership, not due to any violation of kashrut standards. Apparently, The Vaad of Flatbush, which has been giving their hashgacha, only certifies jewish owed establishments, and Megabite has now been sold to a non-Jew. The aim in publicizing Megabite's impending loss of hashgacha is to gather support sufficient to convince the new ownership to acquire a new hashgacha, thus keeping Megabite kosher.

UPDATE: I went to Megabite today to partake in a final slice, and it's looks definite that they won't be kosher after tomorrow. I was told that the place was bought by Koreans (I don't know if that means they're going to switch it over to Korean food too), but if they don't keep it kosher from the outset it will probably be too much of a bother for them to rekasher the place later. Too bad...


Original WH eruv e-mail

Here is the first of the anonymous mass e-mails about the recently erected Washington Heights eruv. (Thanks to the kind person who passed this along to me.)
Subject: W.H. eiruv news

Avraham Gordimar was told by Rav Hershel Schachter that the eiruv in Washington Heights is posul- this is what's been passed around

"Rav Schachter used the Chazon Ish for the YU eruv, but the other pesul of the wire going over bus shelters and other reshuyos ha-yachid (e.g. mail-boxes) is why he holds the local eruv to be possul."

The full writing he wrote me ....

"One of the basic issues here is the machlokes of the Chazon Ish vs. the other poskim I noted. The Chazon Ish holds that in large cities, where buildings line most streets, the city isnot a reshus ha-rabbim d'Oraysa, as streets that are lined with buildings on three sides intersect the other major streets and halachically create barriers for them on many sides, making the entire area no longer a reshus ha-rabbim d'Oraysa.This approachrelies on a shittah in the Gemara (Rebbi Elazar) and some Rishonim that "La asu rabbim u-mevatlei mechitzta" -a street that is used as a thoroughfare cannot interrupt a barrier. Many Rishonim hold otherwise, per Reb Yochanan in the Gemara, and they therefore say that a halachic barrier that has people going though it (such as an "imaginary" barrier created on all sides by buildings, when it is cut by a main street without three-sidedbarriers, such as Broadway) is a reshusha-rabbim d'Orasya, and as suchcannot be enclosed by poles and wires. I have seen the Chazon Ish's shittah described as a major chiddush, but it is used in many places. Reb Moshe did not accept it, nor did the poskim I noted.[Rav Gelley, Rav Dovid Feinstein, Rav AharonSoloveichik,and I think Rav YD Soloveichikandmany others].

Rav Schachter used the Chazon Ish for the YU eruv, but the other pesul of the wire going over bus shelters and other reshuyos ha-yachid (e.g. mail-boxes) is why he holds the local eruv to be possul."


For those that know Oren and Miriam...

overheard in buffalo

(My girlfriend’s got an inch on me and found this hysterical.)

Against bifurcation

As some may be aware, I am of the opinion that bifurcated garments are articles of oppression designed to keep men sweaty and uncomfortable in hot and/or humid weather. There are good reasons indeed why the standard lower garment for men in so many hot and humid climes are not bifurcated. I won’t bother trying to explain why this is so—it should be obvious and, in any case, there is plenty of unbifurcated advocacy around (not all of which I endorse, needless to say). (My title is a statement of position rather than an announcement of argument.)

Since most westerners are not of sufficiently broad mind to recognize these advantages, unbifurcated garments have yet to become a viable option for everyday wear. They are, however, an excellent choice for sleeping and about the house.

My preference in unbifurcated garments are the tube sarongs common throughout southeast asia and Indonesia. (They are blessedly free of the wannabe celtic aspect surrounding much kilt-wearing today.) I was introduced to them by my father, who was a geographer specializing in that part of the world and who picked up the practice while there. While I am partial to the simpler plaid sarongs which are standardly worn by men, there are many more elaborate batik sarongs worn by women and on more formal occasions.

As it happens, I came across an excellent article about these sorts of sarongs in Saudi Aramco World. It’s really quite fascinating and worth a read, whether you are familiar with sarongs or not.


Washington Heights eruv anonymous mass e-mail

For those who have heard about an anonymous mass e-mail raising questions about the recently erected eruv in Washington Heights, here is (a version of) the e-mail in question as it was passed to me.

For the moment I won’t address its substance, however, I will make two remarks:
  1. I don’t care for anonymous mass e-mails. In order to have open, honest and productive debate within almost any community, it is virtually essential that participants take responsibility for their views, and this is made impossible when participants keep themselves anonymous. Furthermore, anonymity is likely to provoke unsavory speculation, and has in this case, about the identity of the author. Of course, one might say—ok, I’ll say it—that the frum world [I use ‘frum’ pejoratively] is far too filled with inside information, behind backs discussions, “private” conversations that everyone seems to know about, etc., so this is pretty much par for the course. If so, that merely goes to explain why the frum world is in so many ways dysfunctional, and begs the question as to why we should tolerate that dysfunction and behavior that contributes to it. (Consider my posting this e-mail as a small step towards greater openness.) At a more basic level, which I can’t quite explain, anonymity here just strikes me as childish, and makes it very hard for me to take seriously what the author is saying.

  2. The e-mail begins with an “editors note” [sic] complaining of misunderstandings of previous versions of the e-mail, and attributes them to an inability of its recipients to read [I’m paraphasing, of course]. Although I haven’t seen the previous version of the article referred to—do send it along if you’ve got it!—given the dismal quality of writing exhibited by this version, I would suggest that fault lies closer to home: perhaps in the inability of the author to write. Unsurprisingly, I find it hard to take seriously such a poorly written article. (Perhaps the author remained anonymous to avoid the embarrassment?)
Hopefully I’ll have more to say soon.

From: haedah <haedah@gmail.com>
To: haedah@gmail.com
Sent: Fri, 26 May 2006 00:05:03 -0400
Subject: There's a rav hamachshir and an eruv, BUT CAN WE USE IT? revised May 25

From Haedah today .
please delete all previous copies of this article
Editors note: The initial version of this article has been revised since the first one was misunderstood by a number of readers on account of their imputing a desired meaning that wasn't to be found. We hope that this revised article, with its tortuously repetitive and redundant verbiage, will reduce readers' tendencies to mistake the meaning of this article.

"There is an eruv around Bennett Avenue".
That sentence contains a lot of presumptions, and one of those presumptions is that you and I can use it to carry on Shabbat.

But can we? That is the subject of this article, and the PERMISSIBILITY of using it will be explored. The purpose of this article is not to explain the halachos of eruvin, but rather our Mesorah's unanimously held of procedure for employing rabbinic authority to our lives in a relatively narrow situation which will be described below-- an example with which we're faced regarding this Bennett eruv.

First a summary of the conclusion of the article, then we'll provide some background, then we'll elucidate the main point of the article further:

WE STATE what should be obvious after careful consideration of the facts mentioned in the rest of this article as to what special situation exists with regard to this eruv on Bennett that would require special psak halacha to be allowed to use it. We all take it for granted that all agree that a non-gadol hador can pasken shailos. Indeed, that is the structure of psak. There are local poskim who do render their own decisions. Of course, we trust them since we expect them to apply the principles and precedents of the Greatest Torah Authorities in the world in the arena of rendering psakim - But the point of this article is that if the greatest authorities in the world were to contradict what we took to be a "pedestrian psak" [ a psak from a bone fide rav who poskins for his talmidim or congregants who however is not one of the greatest authorities of the generation] then we would have to give it up [ the pedestrian psak ] and either

[1] go ask for a psak on the matter from our rebbe muvhok who , or attached to -through a rebbe- talmid/ talmid - posek relationship- is one of the greatest Torah Authorities of the generation, as per the criteria explained below, OR
[2] we would default to the majority of the greatest Torah authorities of the generation who paskined stringently on the matter at hand [ e.g.for [2] ....in the event that we happened not to have a rebbe muvhok, or we didn't have access to him for this shailah, or he indicates he cannot render a decision on this shailah and doesn't know to whom to direct us to for the shailah, etc....]

That is the thrust of this article. Now for some background regarding an eruv covering a street in Manahttan and Torah Greats' positions on such: The Majority of the Greatest Torah Authorities of this generation who have poskined on Manhattan Eruvs have said that its prohibited to use this type of Manahttan eruv. Amongst these top authorities who prohibited its use are ....

Rav Yosef D Soloveitchik
Rav Ahron Soloveitchik
Rav Moshe Feinstein
Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky
Rav Ahron Kotler
Rav Chaim Bick
Rav Gedaliah Schorr

This is a question of an isur skilah { Torah Prohibition } according to the above [ though the precise lomdus behind the psakim of these individuals may differ ], and, according to others ( not the ones listed above ), it's a shailah of an isur malkos { Rabbinic Prohibition }.

From reliable testimony of a Rav who is an adam chashuv currently living in NY comes this quote: " When rabbonim from Manhattan came to the Rov [ Rov YD Soloveitchik] in the 1960's to ask him to stop advising people not to use Manhattan eiruvin, he refused their request, explaining something like ' This is not a shailah of forgetting Ya'aleh V'yavo on Rosh Chodesh. This is a sofek s'kilah, and we cannot be maikil on it.'

And today neither Rav Hershel Schachter nor Rav Willig, nor Rav Bleich, nor Rav Genack, nor Rav Meyer Twersky, nor Rav Dovid Feinstein nor Rav Shmuel Kaminetsky, nor Rav Yisroel Belsky ( just to mention a number of prominent names ) -- none poskin for their talmidim, " go ahead and use it if you want to"; some of them actually asur its use.
We're being painstakingly explicit in saying that some do not " allow " its use; we're not saying they have all psakined on the Bennett Eruv that they prohibit its use.

We have yet to hear of any universally recognized "Greatest of the Living Torah Authorities" actually poskining that " one may go ahead and use the Bennett Avenue Eruv" - though this is not the main point of this email, so far it is all just background information. [ of course there are Top authorities who teach their talmidim some of the serious considerations to this shailah and present permissive opinions regarding those considerations. But to hear these teachings are not enough to permit us to use the eruv. The question, " Why not? " will be explored instantly.

Incidentally, and also not to the main point of this email, the following rabbis who live in Washington Heights or have communal Rabbinic positions of authority in Washington Heights who have been asked " May I use the eruv? " have not paskined [ presently as of May 25, 2006 ] to anyone [ publicly at least ] " Yes, go and use it if you wish" [ regardless of whether they hold that this is not a reshus harabim and that the construction is perfect]: Rav Gelly, Rav Schachter, Rav Posen [ Poseik of KAJ ], Rav Kohn [ Dayan of B'D of KAJ], Rav Levy [ Rosh Kollel and Dayan of KAJ B'D], Rav Block [ Rav of W.H. Cong ], Rav Maybruck [ a Rav of Mount Sinai Shul ] , Rav Hoffman [ Rav of Shaarei Tikvah], Rav Reider and Rav Balsim [ Ravs of Reider Shul ], and Rav Goldberg [Rav of the Agudah Shul] [ forgive us if we are leaving anyone out].

Again, we are not saying that each of these rabbis asur it- we're only saying that they are not permitting [ as a psak ] the Bennett avenue eruv. Again, this goes completely in line with the overall point of this article which was made above, and will be further explained below:

Once again, due to the invective that some people who don't read closely have heaped upon us in a previous version of this article, we explicitly reiterate: We are not saying that they all asur it, for whatever their reasons, rather, we are only saying that they are not issuing a psak permitting the eruv to their talmidim who ask them, " Would you poskin for me that I may use this eruv of bennett avenue ". [ if private psakim are being given out to others under the condition that they not be made public, well then as far as we're concerned, the psak is not on the table for us to use ].

One more point before we elaborate upon the main point of the article: Rav Herschel Schachter has orally told multiple people that he holds the Bennett Avenue eruv is posul [ as per a shailah of an isur derabbanan- unlike the at least 8 above who asured it on account of a shailah of an isur deorasia [ a shailag of an isur skilah ]. And Rav Schachter refers people to his written sefer B'Ikvei HaTzon in siman 13 for his reasons. That's an actual psak of " asur". [ A false rumor has spread that he permits use of the eruv and only personally holds a chumrah that causes him to not use it, but that he really allows this eruv. This rumor is a grotesque falsehood created by people who feel that they can " Psyche- out " a Poseik's inner position and give the impression on his behalf that permission exists where none exists. Others have actually posted on a web site that 'they' are unaware of the his position on this Bennett Avenue eruv. The fact is however, that Rav Hershel Schachter has not given permission for ANYONE to use this Bennet Avenue eruv and has poskined it is actually posul. Finished. It would be pure fantasy to assume that he is privately issuing psakim to individuals to use the eruv [ we're not of course talking about whether rabbis are giving heterim to carry on Bennett in life threatening or situations involving 'serious illnesses, though we haven't heard of any such positions. Rav Schachter's non allowance of use of this eruv can be easily verified: call him up if you are one of his talmidei muvhok.

As we've said in the beginning, the vast majority of the Greatest Living Torah Authorities who have paskened on this matter [ not theoretically but rather limaaesh ] and who could probably be the rebbe muvhok [ up the chain of " Rebbe muvhok to talmid relationship "] of a resident of the Heights continue to not paskin " Go ahead and use it if you want to". It may be that every one of the Greatest Living Torah Authorities who have paskened on this matter do not permit its use. We don't know of one who has publicly done so.

This is the background .

Where did this mantra come from that we're hearing from many people in the Heights and elsewhere that you and I can use this eruv? Answer: The people spreading the idea do so on account of the fact that the Rav of a shul instructed a Rav Hamachshir, who makes many eruvim, to make an eruv surrounding Bennett Avenue- and it's inferred from this that the very fact of this allows us to use it. That is some people's assumed Torah justification for permitting us to use it.

So is that assumption at all valid? No. Of course it isn't. It isn't valid because the vast majority of the Generation's Greatest Torah Authorities who HAVE poskined on the matter have asured it's use [ mentioned above] and nearly all, or all of the rest, of the Greatest living authorities are not issuing psakim for their talmidim or congregants that one may use this Bennett Avenue eruv, for whatever the particular reasons of the rav in question are. So the fact that a Rav Hamachshir made the eruv doesn't give us the authorization to use it [ *** this of course doesn't imply that the Rav hamachshir can't use it, or that the Rabbi that allowed the Rav Hamachshir to make the eruv can't use it- no such suggestion is being made or would even be considered in this article, as we can all understand from the article itself].

There is one possible situation whereby we could theoretically use this eruv, namely, via the employment of a halachic policy and procedure that is unanimously held of by all of the Greatest Torah Authorities alive, which, depending on the outcome, could allow use of this eruv. This policy and procedure was mentioned above briefly, and will be described again below shortly. But first let's mention that a few weeks after the use of the eruv began and some people started carrying on Bennett on Shabbat, one of the shul's in the community, the Mt. Sinai Shul, inserted this text in their FAQs section of their web site, which reads:
"...everyone is encouraged to decide whether to use any eruv based on a discussion with his or her personal posek....''

This statement is a communication by the writer of the web site that the permissibility or prohibition of using this eruv is not decided by the de facto construction of it by a rav hamachshir; rather, it's decided by one's poseik ( actually the wording on the web site could be read in a way that is misleading, though I am sure the writer didn't intend as such: Really, the halachic permissibility of using the eruv is not "based on a discussion with his or her personal posek..." but rather, based upon receipt of permission to use it BY one's poseik].

Now to repeat the main point of this article: There is only one halachic means by which an individual like you or me would be permitted to use the Bennett Avenue Eruv since its the category of shailah where the vast majority of the Very Greatest of the Generation's Torah Authorities have poskined " asur" . [ see Rav Hershel Schachter's " The Qualified Few" brought below]: In brief, as it applies to questions of this nature, like the Bennett Avenue Eruv, the following are the means to permit this eruv :

Requirement # 1- we ask our poseik whether we can use it [ the poseik we ask most of our questions to, our rebbe muvhok] and...

Requirement # 2a - if our poseik is one of the Greatest Authorities of the generation and he permits, then we can use the eruv, OR

2b - if our poseik is not one of the Greatest Torah Authorities of the generation but he himself has a rebbe muvhok who is one of, or attached to -through a rebbe talmid relationship- one of the greatest Torah Authorities of the generation he goes to for the questions he isn't able to answer, and that Rav permits what the majority of the Greatest prohibit, then we can use the eruv.

[ *** if we found ourselves in a situation where the rabbi we use for all our questions actually ignores when the majority of the Greatest Ones take a position of "asur" on an issue, and this Rabbi isn't one of the Greatest Ones himself, and he doesn't have a rebbe muvhok he goes to himself who is one of the Greatest, and nonetheless he simply poskins on his own "mutar" in a shailah in this category, then it seems like times to get ourselves a new rabbi.

If the above Requirements don't extend to you or me, then we are not permitted to use the eruv because of the backdrop of that majority of the Greatest Torah authorities who actually asured its use. There is no entitlement for us to simply choose to use it because we like the halachic rationale behind the eruv as we hear about it from other authorities, even a great one, who is in the minority.

[ Living up to the truth of course is our life's struggle and it's few people's place to render judgement on another person, we all agree.]

Question- Now how do we know that this is the halachic policy and procedure we must follow ?
Answer- Because the answer can be determined empirically- it's the unanimously held halachic policy position of all of the Greatest Torah Authorities in the world--- and this can be verified by asking them.

Now we want to repeat [ ad nauseam ] what should be obvious with careful reading of the above as to what special category of circumstance it is to which these requirements apply, and to which set of general circumstances these comments don't apply: The above requirements takes it for granted that all agree that a NON-gadol hador can pasken shailos. Indeed, that is the structure of psak. There are local poskim who do render their own decisions. Of course, we trust them since we expect them to apply the principles [ sometimes precedents] of the Greatest Torah Authorities in the world in the arena of rendering psakim - But the point of this article is that IF the greatest authorities in the world were to contradict what we took to be a "pedestrian psak" [ a psak from a bone fide rav who however is not one of the greatest authorities of the generation] then we would have to give it up and go with our rebbe muvhok as per the criteria explained above in " Requirement 2a or 2b, or we would default to going with the majority of the greatest authorities of the generation who HAVE poskined stringently on this matter [ e.g. examples of when we would find ourselves in this situation may be in the event that we happened not to have a rebbe muvhok, or we didn't have access to him for this shailah, or he indicates he cannot render a decision on this shailah and doesn't know whom to direct you to for the shailah, or he is ill etc....]

It's quite astounding that while most people we speak to take the "above" as something totally obvious and known to all, there are nonetheless a number of people - quite a number of people- who do not. To some we have communicated with, this is the first time they have ever heard of anything like this, or they "kinda" heard something like this, but never knew how it really went.

Final Note:

Some irresponsible people are clamoring to others regarding rabbis in the community that don't permit the eruv, saying that ' the eruv issue on Bennett is all politics and has nothing to do with halacha and I therefore don't have to concern myself with these rabbis politics and can decide [ sic ] that they really permit its use [ meikur hadin ] and the above listed Great Torah Authorities who prohibited it are not relevant' . Also it's been passed around regarding some of these rabbis " They are lenient with some aspects eruvin and not others and haven't explained themselves to us as to why they poskin the way they poskin, and so they are fraudulently communicating that this issue is a shailah of being machallel shabbes bifarhesiah , etc....[ hameivin yavin]"

The statements above infer that there are Rabbis who are poskining improperly on this issue because their positions are not based on halacha but because of 'politics' [ implying that values or halachos outside of isur/chiyuv, tamei tahor questions are not halachic and are thereby invalidated as matters of Torah by calling them "politics" ] - or that these rabbis are making mistakes or being hypocritical. A warning: to say such a thing, to impute ulterior motives to qualified rabbis when they make a particular halachic announcement, charging that the rav isn't being honest with the psak, doesn't truly hold by the psak, but is only using it as an excuse for other non Torah motives is an isur of Mach'chish Maggideha'. To cite Rav Hershel Schachter:


Did the Rabbi Distort the Psak? [excerpted]
by Rav Hershel Schachter

"Rav Soloveitchik zt"l pointed out on various occasions that when the Rambam speaks of the various heretics, he puts together the "one who denies the (Divine origin of the) Torah shebaal peh, and the one who contradicts its teachers ['Ma'ch'chish Maggideha'-blogger's note ]." One who imputes ulterior motives to the psakim (halachic decisions) of an honest bona-fide rabbi, and says that Rabbi X was a convert, so that's why he always favors converts, and Rabbi Y didn't like women, so that's why in his decisions he will always put down women, and Rabbi Z is a Zionist, so that's why he will always pasken lehokel in matters regarding Eretz Yisroel, is in violation of this Ikar (principle) of faith. We not only believe that there existed at one time a Torah shebaal peh which was Divinely ordained; but rather we believe that Hashem continues to assist the G-d fearing qualified rabbis so that they should pasken properly. Emmunas chachomim is the foundation of all Orthodox Tradition!"

another piece of Rav Hershel Schachter:

Rav Hershel Schachter on the Reliability of the Ba'alei HaMesorah

http://www.torahweb.org/torah /2004/moadim/rsch_shavuos.html
excerpted from "Why Was the Torah Forced Upon Us?"
Rav Hershel Schachter
[emphasis added]

[A]ccording to Talmudic tradition (Shabbos 88a), G-d pressured the Jewish people to accept the Torah, and forced it upon them against their wishes. The commentaries on the Talmud all wonder, why it was necessary to force the Torah upon the Jews if they had already enthusiastically expressed their willingness to accept it? The people were prepared to accept both G-d's written Torah, and all the halachos l'Moshe miSinai – transmitted directly from G-d. But the bulk of the Oral Torah is really [ ] halachos which were developed over the centuries with much rabbinic input. This the Jews at Har Sinai were not prepared to accept. This is a human Torah, and all humans can err. Why should they agree to be subservient to the idea of other human beings? And it was this part of the Torah that G-d had to force upon us. Whether we like it or not, G-d expects us to follow the positions set forth by the rabbis in interpreting the Torah. This is the significance of the expression we use (from the Rambam's formulation), that we believe (ani maamin) that the Torah as it is observed today, is an accurate transmission of that Divine Torah which was given to Moshe Rabbeinu. This added phrase, "as it is observed today", implies exactly this idea – to include all of those halachos where there was rabbinic input. We have "emunas chachomim". We believe that throughout all the generations there was an invisible Divine assistance given to the rabbis to develop the halacha in a correct fashion. Of course, the application of those "middos" is a science unto itself, which is only mastered by a small handful of qualified individuals in each generation. And the new additional halachos that read "in between the lines" have to "fit in" with "the spirit" of the rest of the Torah, which again can only be fully sensed by those few qualified individuals who have a proper sense of what "the spirit of the law" is!"


from a shiur from RHS at this link called eilu v'eilu [ notes taken by Saul Mashbaum


"There is another aspect to eilu v'eilu – one may accept minority opinions of one's rebbe muvhak, and a community may continue its traditions and follow its rov even if other opinions reject their minhag or his psak."

In line with the above mentioned approach, the writer of this article assumes that the statement above of Rav Schachter agrees that if a sudden call from the vast majority of the Greatest Living Authorities of the Generation took a position of "isur" on a shailah, then the rov [ were he not one of the Greatest of the Generation ] would need to have to go to the authority he went to for shailos he couldn't answer [ e.g. his own rebbe muvhok who was from the Greatesat of the Generation- entitled to an opinion on such matters given such a situation ] and ask him if they could maintain the present practice of the shul or would they need to change their position and go with the majority.

Finally, one more interesting quote from the RHS shiur:

" Rav Soloveitchik said several times, and wrote this as well, that it is not true that halacha
and hashkafa are to separate domains. Hashkafa is the halacha of the mind.
Just as there are things it is forbidden to do, so there are things it is forbidden to believe.
Eilu v'eilu applies to hashkafa as well, but there are boundaries, just as there are in



Scenario # 1: If Yankel's rebbe muvhok , Rabbi "X", was one of the Greatest Torah Authorities of the generation and did not consider Bennett a reshus harabim, and did not have any problem with the construction of the eruv, but had another problem, whatever it might be, let's say for example, the fact that one shul out of many decided to go along with constructing an eruv without the agreement of the others in town, and that issue caused Rabbi "X" to refuse to permit use of the eruv, then Yankel is not permitted to HALACHICALLY use the eruv.

Scenario # 2 The fact that one may look to the Rav Hamachshir as an expert on eruvim doesn't help us with the permissibility of OUR using the eruv since he isn't our sole poseik / rebbe muvhok, nor is he of perhaps any of the residents of Washington Heights. We therefore don't even need to go further into discussing his role in this eruv.

Scenario # 3 Someone suggested to me that Rav Ovadiah Yosef - surely one of the Greatest living Poskim of our generation- would allow this Bennett Ave. Eruv. First off, we have no idea if ROY would, bottom line, allow this eruv in every respect . But let's say he did! We still couldn't use it! Why? For the same reasons as stated above, namely, none of us has a rebbe muvhok who is connected by a "chain" , rebbe muvhok to rebbe muvhok back to ROY.[ I assume ]

Scenario # 4 And let's say Rabbi "X" is Yankel's rebbe muvhok, and is one of the Greatest Torah Authorities of the generation, and says privately that the eruv is probably mutar to use, but that he will not actually permit its use for reasons X, Y, and Z, one of them being that politically he doesn't want to cause further erosion of the status quo or some other reason, --- then Yankel can't HALACHICALLY use the eruv because he didn't get a psak to do so! Yankel can't choose which aspects of a psak he will accept and which aspects of a psak he will reject. It's kind of like saying that our rebbe would permit a certain kind of woman's tefillah group in terms of 17 siffim in the Shulchan Aruch, and only refuses to allow it on account of one remaining sif, so we are going to take part in a woman's tefillah group since we're not so keen on our rebbe's interpretation of that last remaining sif. That's not acceptable. That way of keeping mitzvos isn't part of our Mesorah according to any of the Great Torah Authorities in the world, and is simply a clever idea created by those who are not entitled to an opinion on the matter. [ see R H Schachter's article above]

[ What if a psak was privately given over with the condition that the name of the authority not be divulged. Well this would really put the public user of the eruv in a quagmire if asked, upon whose psak do you rely to use the eruv and he says " My rebbe wants me to keep it quiet " - after all, this is a public action. ]

Democracy in America?

I’ve harbored doubts for some time, even before the 2000 and 2004 elections, but this does nothing to help:
“Was the 2004 Election Stolen?”
(I picked this up from the Leiter Reports, where a Left2Right post, “explaining the exit polls?”, is also linked.)
Read the whole thing. I found it extremely disturbing. Even if the title’s question is ultimately answered in the negative, it seems utterly clear that the 2004 election was neither free nor fair. What is most disturbing of all is that neglect from the mainstream media has left Rolling Stone to report this critical fact.

NSA data mining

The EFF points to an exceptionally clear explanation of why the NSA’s program is ill conceived (beyond its questionable legality, of course):
“We're giving up privacy and getting little in return”
In short, the reason is one familiar to epistemologists: base rate fallacy (see here and here for brief explanations).