Re: Women's Tefilah Groups

Daniel Eidensohn (yadmoshe@netmedia.net.il)
Sat, 11 Jan 1997 21:46:51 -0800

In a recent comment on Rabbi Menken's cogent discussion of the process
of deciding halacha Adam Szpiro tossed out a comment concerning the
Maharal.

The quote that Adam brought was taken out of context (As pointed out by
Eliezer C. Abrahamson). The Maharal's statement is found in Nesivos Olam
(Nesiv HaTorah Chapter 15 page 69.) The Maharal is lamenting the level
of ignorance and incompetence among certain judges who quote conclusions
found in the Rambam or Shulchan Aruch without understanding the subject
matter. In such a case he says it is better to rely on a possibly faulty
understanding of the Talmud - after studying it - than mechanically
relying on statements of law when they have no knowledge of how they were
derived. He is not saying that decisions of Jewish law are equally valid
by anybody who can read a gemora.

In addition, Rabbi Menken's point about differences in quality of poskim
[religious decisors] is critical. A rabbi who is not viewed by his peers
as a major talmid chachom [Torah scholar] does not become a "gadol"
[i.e., a world class decisor] simply because many laymen are willing to
accept his rulings. Such a person is clearly an influential person
but still is not a major authority in the traditionally accepted sense.

Contrary to what Adam states, there is a de facto hierarchy even
according to the Maharal. At the bottom are people who don't understand
halacha but have access to summaries. Next are people who have an
understanding of the dynamics of the issues in the Talmud but are not
necessarily viewed as masters of the material. They also might not be
aware of the generally accepted interpretations of the majority of
rabbinic authorities in that generation. This is the problem labeled
"shikul haDas". Among rabbis who are considered competent, there are
clearly those who are considered more successful in matching the Torah
sources to the problem. Halacha is often not a mechanical processes that
can be done by a computer. Among these competent authorities there are
those who are widely accepted by others as masters and not just
competent. Clearly there is a perceived hierarchy even though not
everyone will agree on an absolute ranking - this is no different than
other fields such as physics or finance. However, not every issue
requires a world class authority just like not every ailment requires
the Mayo Clinic. In many issues the critical issue is authority for a
particular community.
Issues, however, that apply to the future of the entire Jewish people
are the domain only for authorities that have two qualities. a) They
must be viewed by their peers as gedolim and b) they must be accepted by
the laymen as authorities. Concerning women's prayer groups, the
authorities who are most likely to appear on the short list of top
authorities in religious law are either against these prayer groups or
at best not in favor of encouraging them. Therefore relying on these
minority opinions for this issue is very problematic, especially when
these minority opinions are by and large not viewed as world class
decisors by their own peers.