Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Next issue: Rosh Yeshivah vs. Mara d'Asra

In the ongoing debate (see here and here), my latest question is:

As has been pointed out in comments to the first two postings (there are two parallel discussions now taking place, which is a little confusing --- and I am now adding a third! - sorry -- maybe continue ALL comments on this posting? ) -- the issues raised by Dr. Soloveitchik in his R&R article (the breakdown of the mimetic/family practice tradition and its replacement by halachah learned from books) are interesting and original - but not the whole story by any means.

It is not only the content of contemporary halachah which is the issue - in a way that is a symptom of the bigger problem, which is the process. A hundred years ago the writings of the galaxy mentioned by Steve Brizel would have been read only by a small group of Rabbanim, and the average person would have lived according to the rulings of his/her local rav - the "mara d'asra", whether at town level or at shul level. Halacha was therefore more local and tailored to local and personal circumstances. (The popular archetype, which is trite and simple, but illustrative, is the story of the rav who is brought two chickens with identical she'elot on a Friday, rules one treif and one kosher because the first questioner is wealthy and the second poor.)

And therefore the question is:

How much of the problem arises from the rise in influence of the Rosh Yeshivah and the exactly parallel decline in the influence of the 'town rov' ??

THAT is an issue which deserves serious scholarly attention! Start with the idea that when halacha is determined in the academies and not in the market place, it quickly loses touch with everyday life, becomes more theoretical and strict, and less practical and realistic ....

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