Rav Aharon Lichtenstein’s Approach to Pesak Halakha: Selected Sources

  • Rav Nathaniel Helfgot
  1. Religious Commitment and Yirat Shamayim

 

  1. Tiyulim on Sukkot-VBM (Essay from the late 1970’s)

 

Therefore, the halakhic conclusions that follow are:

  1. It is permitted to go on a trip during Chol Ha-mo'ed Sukkot even if it is clear that the participants will not be able to perform the mitzva of sukka during the tiyul.
  2. If, during the tiyul, they reach, around the normal or scheduled eating or sleeping time, a place where there is a sukka they are able to enter, they must eat and/or sleep there. How to define the area and the distance that exempts them still needs clarification.
  3. If they finish the tiyul at night and stay in a place where they are able to build a sukka, they are obligated to do so. To what degree they must exert themselves also demands further clarification.
  4. If the activities of the tiyul extend late enough so not enough time is left to build a sukka before sleeping time, they are exempt from building one.

EDUCATION, MITZVOT, AND EXEMPTIONS - THE GREATER ISSUE

Up until now we spoke from a purely and exclusively halakhic vantage point. However, on a practical level the matter seems radically different.

One should be firmly and sharply opposed - both educationally and from the perspective of Jewish beliefs and values - to tiyulim or activities organized in a way that involves not observing the mitzva of sukka. The existence of formal exemptions from positive mitzvot is not the exclusive nor the only decisive way of gauging whether to perform them. We do not speak of actual evasive trickery (ha'arama) - itself a significant problem in halakha and belief - and this is not the forum to relate to it. Even not relating fully to a mitzva is problematic, even when it involves ignoring and not evading.

A Jew must be saturated with an ambition and longing for mitzvot and not, God forbid, view them as a burden he is inescapably stuck with that he tries to cast off at the first opportunity. This point is at the root of the trait of "zerizut" (acting with enthusiasm and energy), rooted in the obligation not just to serve God, but to serve him with joy and exhilaration. Rabbi Eliezer's statement, "If one's prayer is a fixed obligation it is not a supplication," is explained by Rav Oshaya as "One whose prayer is a burden to him." Of course this has special meaning in its home context, relating to prayer, but the concept at its root applies to all mitzvot…

However, the question itself, especially when asked by Israeli youth groups that stand for education in service of Hashem and fear of God - and that no small number of benei Torah are involved in - is problematic. For decades I was in the Diaspora in places where the mitzva of sukka was not considered an "easy mitzva," and I was never asked about using the traveler's exemption when one is far from a sukka during the day. Did it ever enter the mind of a businesthat strives to scrupulously fulfill mitzvot and, in the course of his business, finds himself in New York's skyscrapers, to eat his lunch in his office because there is no sukka in his vicinity? Did a student who views himself as rooted in Torah and fear of God and finds himself forced to spend a long day in a university library ever think of eating in a cafeteria because the campus did not have a sukka? Is it possible that in Israel, where the mitzva of sukka is both easier and more inclusive - a mitzva that even many that are not generally observant still relate to in one way or another - is it possible that here benei Torah should avoid keeping this mitzva in its fullness?

I am well aware that many believe that there is much educational value to youth groups' tiyulim - mostly because of how it deepens the love and relationship to Eretz Yisrael. They also claim is that the days of Chol Ha-mo'ed are most appropriate for scheduling tiyulim. As an outsider, it is difficult for me to judge. However, I am convinced that, except for extremely extenuating circumstances, the most important educational message we can pass on to our youth during Sukkot is deepening the awareness and sensitivity for observance and enthusiasm about mitzvot - even if this means some difficulty and even if it involves sacrifice.

 

  1. Absolute Truth in Approaching Situations

 

  1. A  Rabbinic Exchange on Gaza: (2005)

In a similar context, a parallel question arises. You determine that whoever fails to obey his ruling “will not be cleared” (lo yinakke). This phrase is exceedingly harsh; it is what moved our Sages to include the prohibition of taking a false oath among the most severe transgressions, even though it is technically a simple negative commandment. What are the principles and sources, on the basis of which the evacuation of a settlement in the Land of Israel is included among the most severe transgressions, when both the Sages and Rambam mention only the prohibition of taking God’s name in vain as being exceptional in this regard? Another point on the same topic, I assume that your ruling was given to someone who regards himself as subordinate to his authority. Do you think that the ruling is valid, and to the same degree of severity, for members of other communities, whose leaders have not expressed adopted your view, and may even rule in the opposite manner? For example, what would you recommend to a disciple of my revered teacher, Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, zt”l, who resolutely and vigorously asserted that there is no prohibition to hand over portions of the Land of Israel to the nations of the world when there are considerations Aharon Lichtenstein 23 of saving life, and moreover held that the definition of these considerations must take into account the views of military and political leaders? And if someone thinks that, from a purely political perspective, the prospects of the evacuation are greater than the dangers, anticipating that it will contribute to saving lives, and wishes to participate relying on Rashba (Responsa, I, 413): “And even the most pious of the pious are not permitted to do their work by way of trust [in God], but only in the manner of the world”—do you believe that such a person may be permitted to do so? I am aware that you presumably reject this assessment, and I too am not convinced that it is correct. But is it obvious to say that anyone who adopts it and acts accordingly “will not be cleared”? Is there no room to clear him, even according to the assumptions of your ruling, in line with Rambam (Hilkhot Shabbat 2:16): “If a person heard that a child drowned at sea, and he spread out a net to rescue him, but he only caught fish, he is exempt from all liability”—that is to say, that in cases where a person’s actions are motivated by the desire to save life, he can be excused from liability because of his motivation? Or perhaps a distinction must be made between a failure in execution and an error in appraising reality? In conclusion, please allow me to request clarification about two specific points: You open with the assertion that the evacuation is forbidden by Torah law because of the prohibition of lo tehonnem [Deut 7:2]? However, it is a matter of public knowledge that you permit the sale of land in the Land of Israel in order to cope with the problems of the Sabbatical year, and even encourage people to rely on this device. The problem of “lo tehonnem” also arises in connection with this sale, and as is well known, leading halakhic authorities have discussed the issue since the days of Rav Kook, ztz”l. Among the arguments for leniency, it has been proposed that the prohibition only applies to the seven Canaanite nations, or, at the very least, that it is limited to idolaters, a category that does not include Muslims. It is my impression that some authorities hold, with respect to allowing non-Jews to acquire property, like Ramban and others with respect to a gift, that there is no prohibition when the transferrer is motivated by his own benefits and needs as opposed to the needs of the recipient. Do you reject these views totally, and permit the sale of land for the Sabbatical year for different reasons, or do you rely on these opinions under circumstances of dire need—so that were you of the opinion that a security need exists, you too would rely on these positions to resolve the problem of “lo tehonnem”?

 

  1. Response to the Esteemed Rabbis, Signatories of the Letter Forbidding the Sale of Homes to Gentiles in the Land of Israel  (2010)

                         

6 Tevet, 5771                              

[Translated fromthe Hebrew by Elli Fischer; the translation has not been reviewed by R. Lichtenstein]

 

I have read the document that you have disseminated throughout the country. As I read your words, I was impressed enough by the dogged determination inherent in your love of the land and your love of the nation that dwells therein to advance your approach. However, I am concerned that in this instance your love has affected your judgment. To say the least, it must be asked whether this is a battle worth fighting. Aside from the judgment, the wisdom of it seems faulty as well.

 

Indeed, almost the entire unfolding of events that resulted from the dissemination of this letter was foreseeable and, to a large extent, obvious. The public furor, both social and ideological, the rift that has opened among the citizens of the state—between camps and within camps, the op-eds in the various media outlets, the various positions, often impassioned and overheated, the attack on the religious-Zionist rabbinate from the right and from the left, even from Torah giants—it was all foreseeable. One reads it and wonders what happened to the wisdom of those who are enjoined to consider future ramifications?

 

It has been particularly painful for those faithful to the Torah andmitzvotwho fear for the stature and character of the state; it has upset the spiritual leaders who work hard to make the Torah and adherence tohalakha beloved and who strive to set the State of Israel on the pillars of tradition and ancestral heritage. This pain stems from the shortcomings that the document manifests in precisely those areas that should have been its strong point. The document speaks in the nameHalakha, and its signatories see themselves as its envoys and propagators.

 

But therein lies the problem; the prohibition of selling homes to gentiles is presented as the exclusive halakhic position in the manner at hand, and the voice that bursts forth from the throats of the signatories is made to sound like the single unequivocalword of God, that is,halakha. Here one asks, is that indeed so? Without a doubt, the position expressed in the letter is based on rabbinic sources and a long halakhic tradition. Yet taken as a whole, the document leaves one with the impression that its conclusions are based on presumptions that characterize a particular—but not exclusive—halakhic approach. This impression is generated in part by what the document states, and no less by what the document omits. For example:

 

A. The first paragraph of the letter gives the impression that Rambam linked intermarriage, selling a parcel of land to gentiles, and the desecration of God’s name. It further implies that there is no escaping the conjunction of these elements, and there is no way to minimize or neutralize their linkage. However, there is no such formulation in the writings of Maimonides.

 

B. The concluding paragraph states that one who sells a residence to a gentile must be excommunicated. This ruling is patently erroneous. The excommunication discussed by the Talmud andRishonimaddresses harm to Jewish neighbors in context of the issue of a neighbor’s right of first refusal (dina de-bar metzra)—unrelated to the questions oflo techanemorlo yeshvu be-artzekha, the prohibitions that set the tone of the letter.

 

C. Regarding that which was not said: any position or opinion that could have been relied upon to moderate the stance taken in the letter simply does not exist. There is no mention of Ra’avad’s position that limits the prohibition to the seven aboriginal nations of Canaan. For some reason, the opinion of the Tosafists—that if the gentile is willing to pay a higher price than a Jew for the property, there is no prohibition against selling it him—has been ignored. At the same time, the letter never addresses the position among theRishonim, based onBava Batra21a, that the prohibition against leasing is limited to craftsmen who wish to set up shop in the neighborhood—indicating that they were concerned about the neighbors fleeing, not about the sanctity of the land and all it entails. The opinion of Ramban and his disciples, that the prohibition oflo techanemdoes not apply to transactions rooted in the grantor’s interests—which admittedly relates to the granting of a gift or a favor, but may also be applicable to the granting of a tract of land—directly contradicts the position expressed in the letter.

 

D. In addition, the document is based almost exclusively on Rambam’s position, which, as it approximates the perspectives discussed in the Talmud, left its mark on theShulchan Arukh. Yet every school child knows that for whatever reason there is a wide gap between Rambam’s position and the approach of the Tosafists. It is sufficient to leaf through the first pages of the talmudic TractateAvoda Zarawith an eye on the prohibitions discussed there, or through the end of the first chapter of that tractate, to see the degree to which the Tosafists exploited every loophole and leniency with regard to these prohibitions. For example, several Tosafists maintained that the prohibition to lease a home to a gentile was limited to an instance in which the gentile is expected to bring foreign gods inside. I certainly do not wish insert myself into a dispute among giants or presume to decide between Rambam and the Tosafists; I merely note that the required willingness to examine approaches that would limit the prohibitions associated with this issue, given that there are tools and materials that enable such limitations, is completely absent from the letter.

 

I conclude with what should be self-evident. At stake are key questions that involve meta-halakhic considerations. The willingness and ability to consider and assign appropriate weight to wide-ranging components related to halakhic content and its connection to both historical and social realities mandates a much wider discussion. We, who dwell in thebeit midrash, remain committed to our belief and desire “to proclaim that God is upright, my rock in whom there is no wrong.”

 

  1. Halakha and the Interplay With Moral and Human factors

 

  1.  The Human and Social Factor in Halakha (1998)

 

  •  is comprised of two elements: pesak and pesika, respectively. The former refers to codification, the formulation of the law pertinent to a given area; and it is most characteristically manifested in the adoption, on textual or logical grounds, of one position in preference to others. As such, it is, essentially, the concluding phase of the learning process proper, whether on a grand or a narrow scale, and its locus is the bet midrash. Pesika, by contrast, denominates implementation. It bespeaks the application of what has already been forged in the crucible of the learning experience to a particular situation. It does not entail the definitive postulation of the law governing a delimited area or its detail, but, rather, the concurrent and coordinate meshing of all aspects, possibly drawn from widely divergent spheres, obtaining in a concrete situation. Its venue is, publicly, the bet din or, privately, the meeting of inquirer and respondent. It does not necessarily demand of the posek that he take a stand or break fresh ground. Its challenge lies in the need to harness knowledge and responsibility at the interface of reality and halakha.

 

 

  1. Ibid

 

Illustrations apart, however, the cogency and legitimacy of a “human” approach to pesak, appears, to many, problematic. They would have us believe that the ideal posek is a faceless and heartless supercomputer into whom all of the relevant data is fed and who then produces the right answer. Should this standard not be met, the shortfall is to be regarded as a failing, the lamentable result of human frailty—in Bacon’s terms, a manifestation of the besetting “idols” which hamper and hinder the capacity for reasoned judgment. On this reading, the process of pesika, properly conceived and executed, bears no semblance to an existential encounter between seeker and respondent. It entails, rather, the application of text to problem, the coupling of code and situation. This conception does not necessarily preclude reckoning with the specific circumstances of the question and questioner, as these may very well be part of the relevant objective data. The prevailing tendency, however, would be to dwarf this factor; and as to the human aspect of the meshiv, that would be obviated entirely. He, for his part, is to be animated by the precept that “we do not have mercy in judgment,” and hence, to pass on the merits of the issue with imperviously stony objectivity.

Purist proponents of this approach often cry it up as the “frum” view of pesika. In reality, however, this portrait of a posek is mere caricature, limned by those who, at most, kar’u ve-shanu, but certainly lo shimshu. As anyone who has been privileged to observe gedolim at close hand can readily attest, they approach pesak doubly animated by responsibility to halakha and sensitivity to human concerns. The balance between norm and need may be variously struck. There certainly are ideological differences among posekim over how much weight to assign the human factor—although, as Rav Avraham Schapira once noted, the classical meshivim are likely to be among the more lenient, inasmuch as inquirers are disinclined to turn to mahmirim. In principle, however, recognition of this factor is the rule rather than the exception; and responsa include frank acknowledgments of this theme. Writing to a colleague who had dissented from a lenient pesak he had rendered with regard to an aguna, Rav Hayyim Volozhiner asserts:

And I saw that in most matters, we were of like mind, except for [the fact that] his honor leans towards stringency, since the matter does not depend upon him. Likewise, before the yoke of practical decision was thrust upon me, I too did not incline toward the leniencies arising from [legal] analysis. In our great sins, however, the generation has been orphaned of sages, and now the yoke of practical halakhic decision-making has been thrust upon me, for in our entire region they do not free [agunot] in any manner without the concurrence of my meager opinion. Therefore I have taken counsel with my Maker, and feel obliged to gird all my strength and devote myself to remedying [the situation of] agunot. And may the blessed Lord save me from error.20

And does not the whole history of coping with agunot reflect this concern?21 To anyone familiar with that history, the point is self-evident; but no less an authority than the Mas’et Binyamin provides express witness:

In truth, I have written too expansively on this matter, when I should have been brief. [I did so] because I know that the way of some of the sages of our generation, may the Lord preserve them, is to follow the shining path and to avoid any doubt in the world, [refusing to rule on halakhic matters] unless they can determine a clear and unequivocal ruling, untinged by any contradictory considerations. They do this for the sake of Heaven, out of a fear of rendering halakhic decisions. This is a good and a straight path in all other areas of halakhic decision-making; but regarding agunot, such is not my position. Rather, I follow the well-trodden path of the earlier and later shepherds, who sought with all their strength all manner of considerations, primary and secondary, to be lenient in matters pertaining to agunot, as I have cited above.22

 

Or, to take a far more limited issue, we are privy to the pained determination of the same meshiv who, upon losing his vision, found himself grappling with the Bet Yosef’s conclusion that a blind person could not qualify for an aliya:

For now, in my old age, my eyes have become dim, and according to [the Bet Yosef's] opinion I should be banished from sharing in the Lord's inheritance (for the Torah of truth is eternal life), and I should not be counted among those suitable for an aliyah; therefore I said and determined to myself, “Heaven forfend that I depart from the path of the Tree of Life and cease grasping its branches! I have loved this law from earliest youth; it has always enjoyed primacy [in my life]. Even in my old age I shall not discard it, and I shall walk in it[s path].” [Thus,] I commenced halakhic research, to determine why the [Bet Yosef] has done this to me.23

It is, here, the posek’s own anguish, and with reference to a religious, as opposed to a mundane, need. But it is nonetheless profoundly human and bears ample witness to the rightful place of sensitivity within the process of halakhic decision. And would we have it otherwise? Does anyone truly yearn for a dayan who approaches an aguna and a blitztrop with the same degree of equanimity?

Hazal certainly did not. The operative rule, “Rabbi So-and-so is worthy of being relied on under exigent circumstances,”24 is clearly predicated upon the assumption that a posek can recognize an hour of need and may strive to respond to it. Implicit in this formulation is the concept of differential pesak, the principle that divergent answers may be given to the identical halakhic question, depending upon attendant human and social circumstances; and it is this concept which holds the key to the advocacy of sensitivity in halakhic decision.

 

 

  1. Ibid

The clear answer is that while, of course, for the committed Jew, halakha, as a normative order, can never be superseded by external pressures, a specific halakha may be flexibly applied—and, in a sense, superseded—by the internal dynamics of the halakhic system proper. And this, in two distinct, albeit related, ways. The first entails recourse to a phalanx of factors, of human and social import, which affect decision as acknowledged halakhic elements. At the apex stands, of course,pikuah nefesh, but other factors, local or general, of lesser gravity, also abound. These include physical and psychological pain, financial hardship, social harmony, and human dignity, sensitivity to any or all of which can affectpesakmeasurably.

 

 

  1. Ibid.

These are immanent questions, to be honestly and conscientiously confronted; and surely we have no right to demand of a posek, almost as a matter of moral and personal right, the most comforting answer. The notion that “where there is a rabbinic will there is a halakhic way” both insults gedolei Torah, collectively, and, in its insouciant view of the totality of halakha, verges on the blasphemous. What we do expect of a posek is that he walk the extra mile—wherever, for him, it may be—harnessing knowledge and imagination, in an attempt to abide by his responsibility to both the Torah with which he has been entrusted and to his anguished fellow, whose pangs he has internalized. For insensitive pesika is not only lamentable apathy or poor public policy. It is bad halakha. To the extent that kevod ha-beriot, for instance, permits a “violation,” be it of a de-rabbanan injunction, actively, or of a de-oraita, passively, failure to act on that principle undercuts a spiritual ideal. The Rav was fond of quoting the Hafets Hayyimto the effect that interruption of keriat shema, where enabled, mi-penei ha-kavod, was not permissible but mandatory. Human dignity—the Rav would have preferred the term, “human sanctity”—is hardly a neutral matter.

 

  1. Ibid.

Posekim, especially in the modern era, are often reluctant to invoke broad axiological hetterim when they can construct more narrowly based decisions, in which local and possibly technical factors are more prominent. Pesika can congeal into pesak, and a decision issued, with trepidation, in light of special circumstances, may then enter the halakhic world as a precedent. The danger is particularly acute at a time when many, within and without the pale of commitment, seek to pounce upon every such pesak in order to promote an ideological agenda. We should realize, however, that such reserve may exact a practical and educational toll, as awareness of certain values and their place within halakha may become jaded. Be this as it may, we can recognize the position of the human and social factor within halakhic decision as firmly secure. And, were visible evidence necessary, surely, the two greatest posekim of our generation, Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Shelomo Zalman Auerbach z.t.l., are prime exemplars.

Differential pesika requires the raison d’etre of a human or social desideratum. With an eye to Mill and Moore, in defining it, we obviously need to distinguish between the desired and the desirable. I would not, with reference to our context, rule out entirely assigning weight to the former. As there is a concept of subjective need, asher yehesar lo, with respect to tsedaka, so that the mitsva may encompass supplying a fallen aristocrat with a servant and conveyance,35 so empathetic concern for one’s fellow may include taking into account matters which, for most, might entail mere comfort and convenience but, for him, constitute genuine present want. Clearly, however, our focus is the desirable—not just what a person or community wants but what they should want.

 

  1. Abortion: An Halakhic Perspective (late 1970’s)

 

Let me conclude this overview with two remarks. First, the reader has surely discerned that in a number of places I have refrained from setting down definitive conclusions, but have been satisfied to indicate general principles, tendencies, and possibilities in the Halakha. This approach is not merely the product of modesty or hesitation in resolving debates among halakhic titans. It is rooted in a view of the nature of pesak in general and regarding this topic specifically. These are areas where, on the one hand, the halakhic details are not clearly fleshed out in the Talmud and Rishonim, and, on the other hand, the personal circumstances are often complex and perplexing. In such areas there is room and, in my opinion, an obligation for a measure of flexibility. A sensitive posek recognizes both the gravity of the personal situation and the seriousness of the halakhic factors. In one case, therefore, he may tend to view the points of contention in one way, while in a second case exhibiting slightly different details, he may tilt the decision on these points in the other direction. He may reach a different kind of equilibrium in assessing the views of his predecessors, sometimes allowing far-reaching positions to carry great weight, while in other cases ignoring them completely. He might stretch the halakhic limits of leniency where serious domestic tragedy looms, or hold firm to the strict interpretation of the law when, as he reads the situation, the pressure for leniency stems from frivolous attitudes and reflects a debased moral compass. This approach is neither evasive nor discriminatory. The flexibility arises from a recognition that halakhic rulings are not, and should not be, the output of human micro-computers, but of thinking human beings; a recognition that these rulings must be applied to concrete situations with a bold effort to achieve the optimal moral and halakhic balance among the various factors. Thus, it is the case that halakhic rulings have more of the character of general directives than specific decisive rulings, within set limits, of course, and when the posek is not absolutely convinced respecting the point at issue. However, as we noted above, this application of pesak must be the outcome of serious deliberation – in the broadest sense of the term – by committed and observant Torah personalities who are, on the one hand, sensitive to both the human and halakhic aspects, and on the other hand, possess the stature and ability to confront the halakhic problems.

 

 

 

  1. Mah Enosh: Thoughts on the Relationship Between Judaism and Humanism (late 1960’s)

 

Nevertheless, this conservatism, however laudable in motive and intent, is not without its own dangers. Elements such as kevod habriyot and shalom are central to a Torah weltanschauung, a fact to which their legitimate and limited role in suspending certain halakhic norms clearly attests. Yet the reluctance to permit them to play that role tends to downgrade their position. The result is twofold. First, there is a danger that in situations in which they ought to be decisive, so that certain usual norms actually should be overridden they may not be invoked… Moreover the reluctance to invoke a dispensation feeds on itself. Once it has fallen into relative disuse, one is understandably reluctant to apply it more broadly lest he rock the boat-or lest he be accused of rocking the boat…Secondly, quite apart from possible specific errors, there exists a potentially graver danger. The axiologically centrality of kevod habriyot or shalom as the moral and religious basis of large tracts of halakha may be seriously undermined…the failure to invoke these dispensations in any but the most extreme cases cannot but erode their position-and popular awareness of that position-as central values with a Torah-halakhic order. No committed Jew can regard such a prospect lightly. Some margin of safety is perhaps advisable. But must it be as large as we have tended to maintain. This is not to suggest that dispensations grounded in kevod haberiyot and shalom be bandied about with abandon. Certainly, the risks inherent in applying them cannot be ignored. I do, however, wish to point out the risks inherent in the opposite course, in the direction of extreme caution; to emphasize that we have collectively perhaps-I should rather say, probably have strayed to far in the opposite direction; and to suggest, that in this area,-nay religiously obligated-to reassess our current thought and practice. The price we are paying for caution may be excessive; and in any event, we need to ask whether we have the halakhic right to pay any price. The concepts of kevod haberiyot and shalom are not personal property.

 

 

 

  1. Role of Ethical Sensitivity in Outlining Parameters of Halakha

 

  1. Halakhot veHalakhim: Al Oshuyot Hamusar (early 1990’s)

(my translation-NH)

 

the parameters of ethics and morality and its truths have an important role to play in understanding halakha and defining its boundaries. Of course, a Jew must be ready to answer the call “I am here” if the command “tro offer him up” is thrust upon him. However, prior to unsheathing the sword, he is permitted, and even obligated to clarify, to the best of his ability, if indeed , this is what actually has been commanded. Is the command so clear-cut and is the collision of values indeed so frontal and unavoidable. To the extent that there is a need and room for halakhic exegesis and this must be clarified-a sensitive and and insightful conscience (my bold, NH) is one of the factors that shape the decision making process. Just as Maimoidnes in his day, consciously, was assisted by a particular metaphysical approach to the world (Aristotilean thought, NH) in order to plumb the depths of the meaning of Biblical verses, so too one can make use of an ethical perspective in order to understand the content of halakha and to outline its parameters. Clearly this process requires extreme care and responsibility. It must be assured that-and this rooted in deep connection to authentic Torah and religious piety-one is attempting to understand the halakha and not God forbid to distort it.”1   

 

  1. From Rav Lichtenstein’s Hesped for Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (1995)

 

Along with this purity came a certain boldness. An example of this was his p'sak regarding the prohibition of placing a stumbling-block before the blind [Lifnei Iver]. His answer soars through the heavens!

The basic idea behind his answer is that this prohibition is not measured in specifics - whether right now you remove this or that non-kosher food etc. - but rather in a larger perspective and a longer term: what will the ramifications be? This has enormous significance, both on the interpersonal plane and in the public sphere. He knew and wrote that the Chazon Ish differed with this view, and despite that he maintained his opinion.

There was another posek in our generation who was comparable to him and also wrote several works: Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt"l. He too related to the point of contact between the world of halakhah and the world of human concerns, and combined total commitment to halakhah with a commitment no less complete to the human element and human needs. 

Once I visited Rav Shlomo Zalman and I asked him about the issue of wearing a hearing aid on Shabbat. He permitted it. At the same time he told me, "You know - I can't believe it. Someone sent me a letter from the States, saying that Rav Kotler zt"l was careful not to talk to a person wearing a hearing aid on Shabbat for fear of speaking into the hearing aid and thereby performing a melakhah." He told me that he didn't believe this. He said, "Imagine - as if it's not enough that this person has been punished by Heaven in that he's deaf! The Gemara states that if someone is wounded in such a way that he becomes deaf, he is paid full damages, as though he has ceased to function altogether, as if he has died. This punishment isn't sufficient," he said. "Imagine - you meet him in the street, and instead of greeting him, you say m..m..m..". For him this was completely out of place. He couldn't bring himself to believe that this is what the situation required.