Overruling a rabbi

What happens if a rabbi's halakhic decision is overturned by a rabbinical court?

Rabbi Dr. Raymond Apple ,

Rabbi Raymond Apple
Rabbi Raymond Apple
Larry Brandt

Q. If a rabbi’s interpretation is overruled by a Beth Din or a world-renowned halakhic authority, does the rabbi have to resign?

A. Only if the rabbi makes a decision that is, God forbid, blatantly contrary to the law would there be any thought of resigning.

On most things, there will be differing interpretations which cannot all be right.

An example is an ancient debate about a verse that comes three times in the Torah, "Do not boil a kid in its mother’s milk".

The final answer to what "mother’s milk" means is any milk, but Rabbi Yose the Galilean thought it applied only to mammals which literally have "mother’s milk".

As a result of this view, poultry in milk was permitted in his township in Talmudic times.

Rabbi Yose the Galilean was overruled by the halakhah, though no-one questions his sincerity and piety.

It is part of the democracy of discussion that sometimes your view prevails and sometimes it doesn’t.

Start with the first paragraph of the Mishnah and you already see that there were differing interpretations.

Those whose views were rejected would have rejoiced to see the vibrancy and sincerity of the scholars involved in the thrust and parry of the debate.

What sort of people are the Jews?

The story of Joseph and his brothers becomes especially dramatic when Joseph reveals his identity and promises to introduce his brothers to Pharaoh.

There are however 11 brothers. Why does he only present five of them to the king?

The Midrash says he did this deliberately, choosing only those brothers who were shepherds. He wanted the king to get the impression that the family were hard-working agriculturalists, not soldiers who might have plans to overthrow the regime.

There is something symbolic of Jewish history in this episode.

What sort of people are the Jews?

Peace-loving, dedicated to the constructive use of time and talents.

Unfortunately it also became necessary for Jews to be warriors, to defend themselves and fight for God (though there is no truth in the antisemitic canard that Jews want to conquer the world).

Fighting is not a Jewish ideal – it is an interim ethic which will become less necessary as time goes on, until the world reaches the messianic age which the prophets describe so eloquently.

Learning from Joseph

Commenting on Psalm 80:2, the Yalkut Shimoni boldly asserts that God learns from Joseph.

What it states is that Joseph stored corn in the period of plenty so that there would be food when the famine came, and in the same way the Almighty stores up the record of our good deeds so that blessings will abound in the future world when the Mashi’ach comes.

We wonder how anyone can suggest that God doesn’t have His own ideas – isn’t it impertinent to say that He needs to learn from human beings?

The Yalkut Shimoni has no intention to say literally that God needs a human example to follow. It is an effective piece of ethical homiletics. Its aim is to teach that human beings need to plan for the future, which is a godly virtue which HaShem endorses as wise and essential.

Please, My Lord

Several times the brothers address Joseph as Adoni, "My lord" – like the English "Milord".

Of course the English translations of "Hashem" address the Almighty as "The Lord", though the term really means Merciful One, He who exercises middat harachamim, the attribute of Mercy.

But there is a problem in Tehillim. Psalm 110:1 says, "The Lord said to my lord". Christian interpreters think the second mention of lord refers to Jesus. Radak (R. David Kimchi), denies that this is possible or valid.

Apart from rejecting Christian theology, Radak points out that since Christianity ascribes divinity to Jesus, the Christian view of the verse implies that God speaks to Himself, or at least one part of Him speaks to another.

The most that Radak will say is that the second lord in the verse is David the psalmist.