Extra-legal Factors in R. Weinbergӳ Pesak
MODERN RABBINIC THOUGHT
The previous installments in this series can be accessed at:
Lecture #32: Extra-legal Factors in
In 1950, the Chief
R. Weinberg does not utilize extra-legal factors to obviate the need for halakhic argument. First, he surveys the various sources in favor of saying kiddush in shul. Perhaps, he notes, we maintain old customs even when the motivating reason for the custom no longer applies. Furthermore, the requirement that kiddush be in the place of eating may be a rabbinic requirement and not essential for fulfilling the biblical commandment of kiddush. Having offered solid halakhic reasoning, R. Weinberg then introduces educational factors. He contends that kiddush in shul adds the grace and beauty of holiness to the entrance of this holy day. Moreover, it may inspire less observant shul-goers to recite kiddush in their own homes. Extra-legal factors supplement the legal argumentation.
Some recent rabbinic sources suggest that a couple, one or both of whom is in a second marriage, should not walk a bride or groom to the wedding canopy. The idea seems to be that this constitutes a bad omen for the imminent marriage of the young couple. R. Weinberg states that no authoritative halakhic source exists supporting this concept; he allows a parent married for the second time to accompany the young bride or groom. He adds that following the restrictive custom would cause pain to the father. Again, other considerations enhance formal halakhic factors.
As noted, introducing such factors can motivate leniency or stringency. In 1954, R. Leo Jung asked R. Weinberg about praying in the vernacular. R. Weinberg states that no technical halakhic objections prevent prayer in languages other than Hebrew. Nevertheless, R. Weinberg counsels R. Jung to have his congregants say all the prayers in Hebrew, since we no longer have a pure and unadulterated Judaism outside of the beit knesset. The shul currently symbolizes authentic Judaism; we should not water down the encounter with sanctity involved in the shul-going experience. Furthermore, this ruling will inspire Jews to realize that they need to learn our Holy Tongue. Finally, there is something to be said for maintaining traditions, even if not halakhically mandatory. Here, non-halakhic factors generate a strict ruling.
The answer to R. Jung
also raises the question of the response of more zealous factions within the
community. This reflects a common
R. Weinbergs famous
teshuva about co-ed youth groups conveys this duality. After World War II, Hungarian and Polish
rabbis moved to
I appreciate the
thinking of the pious who complain about Yeshurun. They see its practice as a deviation
from the customs they became accustomed to in
On the one hand, R. Weinberg does not depict the opposition as fanatics; indeed, they voice legitimate concerns. At the same time, he faults their lack of understanding of broader communal needs and their exclusive focus on their own narrow community.
The response to R.
Jung states that the pious will oppose change in the prayer service and will
spread rumors that R. Jung is a Reformer.
Zealots will complain - why pain the hearts of pure God-fearers, whose
souls recoil from any change in custom?
On the one hand,
One final example of
In a few scenarios,
We have discussed extra-legal factors leading to stringency, but they exert influence in the opposing direction as well. R. Weinberg wrote a fascinating letter regarding the question of autopsies for the purpose of medical research in the fledgling State of Israel. He mentions R. Herzogs lenient ruling that if the deceased gave permission for such a procedure prior to death, it is permitted. However, he raises a question regarding cases where no such permission was granted.
R. Yechzekel Landau
penned the classic teshuva about autopsies, in which he argues that
autopsies cannot be performed to further medical research unless we know of a
specific sick individual who will be helped by that research. Life-saving only overrides prohibitions
in a case of choleh lefanenu, when the ill person is before us,
but not when we only speculate about the ability to save someones life in the
future. R. Weinberg argues that we cannot
compare the current question with that raised at the time of R. Landau. Improved modern communications,
including telephone and radio, mean that doctors in
Moreover, the current
question affects an entire state, not just solitary individuals.
In an important paragraph, R. Weinberg mentions how this question touches on hashkafic assumptions, and not just on legal arguments. Solutions to the autopsy dilemma depend upon ones attitude to the State and its institutions, as well as ones attitude to doctors and medicine. Of course, R. Weinberg does not say that these hashkafic factors negate the need for legal analysis. At the same time, they influence whether or not to rely on particular leniencies.
The Bat Mitzva
teshuva indicates analogous concerns.
Echoing the ruling of
R. Moshe Feinstein,
[We will return to the responsum about Yeshurun in a subsequent lecture.]
 Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chayim 269:1.
 Seridei Eish 2:157.
 Seridei Eish 3:55.
 See Shulchan Arukh, Orach Hayyim 101:4.
 Seridei Eish 2: p. 17.
 Seridei Eish 3:93.
 Kitvei Ha-Gaon R.
 Noda Bi-Yehuda, Yoreh Deah 210.
 Kitvei Ha-Gaon R.
Seridei Eish 2:14.
 Iggerot Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:104.