Re: New volume of Igros Moshe

Daniel Eidensohn (yadmoshe@netmedia.net.il)
Sun, 29 Dec 1996 23:54:37 -0800

Akiva Miller wrote:
>I would like to question the authoritativeness of the most recent volumes
>of the Igros Moshe, which were published after Rav Moshe passed away. Rav
>Moshe himself exercised editorial control over the six volumes published in
>his lifetime, deciding which responsa were fit to share with the public and
>which should not be. Volumes 7 and 8 were published in the first few years
>after his passing, so he may have worked on them as well. But this newest
>volume was released only in the past few weeks, ten years after we lost him.
>As I understand the halachic process, every rabbi is obligated to research
>each question carefully, and come up with the answer which appears correct
>to him. Part of that process is analyzing the opinions of his predecessors.
>He might say, for example, "To me, the answer should be X, but it is very
>clear from the Igros Moshe that Rav Moshe felt the answer to be Y, and that
>does carry a certain amount of weight." How much weight should be attached
>to responsa of this volume, vis a vis the responsa which appeared in the
>first volumes

Firstly it should be noted that one of the pieces of information quoted
above is not accurate: The first 7 volumes were all published during his
lifetime. The new volume is volume 8.

I would like to address the issues of authoritativeness raised by Akiva
Miller. I have a certain amount of familiarity with the nature of the
Igros Moshe having produced the Yad Moshe - which is the widely used
index to the 7 volumes of the Igros Moshe. I have just finished indexing
the new 8th volumue [not the ninth as indicated by Akiva Miller]. In
addition I had a chance to discuss this issue with Rav Dovid Feinstein
shortly after the 8th volume was published. It is important to remember
that I am only presenting my views and am not in anyway representing
anyone else.

First of all it is a bit presumptuous to publicly question the validity
of the published writings of one of the leading halachic expert of our
time and by implication the integrity of the Torah scholars associated
with this work. However, I will give Akiva the benefit of the doubt and
assume he is merely concerned with understanding rather than challenging
the validity of the 8th volume in relationship to the other volumes.

Rav Moshe himself addresses the nature of his authority primarily in two
places. The first being the introduction found in the first volume of
the Igros Moshe. The second being an extensive tshuva found in the new
8th volume YD IV #38 page 250. Rav Moshe asserted that his authority
came from one source - the validity of the logic which led him to his
conclusions. His son, Rabbi Dovid Feinstein told me that he does not
recall his father ever relying merely on his status as the leading legal
expert to assert that he was right. In fact, in one of the tshuvas Orech
Chaim I # 109 page 173 he states "there is no one today who has the
status of a gadol that can not be [theoretically] disagreed with".

The question then, is what is actually the difference between the first
7 volumes and the recently published 8th?

There are two major differences. 1) The directness of Reb Moshe's
authorship of the tshuvas varies considerably in the 8th volume. 2)
Explanations were added in the 8th volume by the editors to clarify
various issues in the tshuvas. As Rav Dovid Feinstein pointed out, the
editors went to great pains to label the nature of the source. There is
material which was in Reb Moshe's own handwriting. Other material was
dictated by him to Rabbi Tendler but was reviewed carefully by Reb
Moshe. Other material was not reviewed carefully by Reb Moshe. Some of
the tshuvas are difficult to understand without the explanations.
Explanations which are added are set in different size letters so it is
easily noticed. In addition, the editors provide extensive cross
references to other relevent tshuvas in the Igros as well as the source
material Reb Moshe utilized. Reb Dovid said simply, "it is up to the
reader to understand the carefully labeled nature of each tshuva and to
do with it as he see fit." The alternative was to discard much valuable
material. It was decided that it was better to present a product with
clearly labeled warnings and explanations than to deny posterity the
access to Reb Moshe's thinking on many critical issues.
The Igros Moshe was not intended by Reb Moshe to be a cook book for
halacha for the layman. It is a collection of his carefully reasoned
decisions to provide guidance and suggestion for Rabbis. The jury of our
present day rabbinic authorities will decide the authority of each of
the rulings found in the 8th volume as they decided the authority of the
individual rulings found in the other 7 volumes and as they decide
whether or not to accept the particular rulings of any rabbinic
authority.
Anyone who has any question concerning the ruling found in any halachic
work should always consult a competent rabbi.