A few months ago, I expressed my support for the Tzohar Rabbinical initiative concerning kashrut. I was asked various questions about my position, and although this is a complex issue, I will try to briefly explain it.
Torah to a Nation Composed of Tribes
The Lord our God and the God of our forefathers chose us from all the nations and gave us His Torah from Moses at Sinai. “Torah tziva lanu Moshe, morasha kehillat Yaakov” (‘The Torah that Moshe commanded us is the heritage of the congregation of Yaakov’). Since the revelation at Mount Sinai, the Torah is the inheritance of Klal Yisrael. This means that the authority to determine halakha is given to the Sages of Israel, i.e. to the Sages who are accepted by Israel. In practice, Israel is one people made up of tribes, for indeed God’s oneness is revealed in different shades according to the various features existing in the world. Therefore, it is a mitzvah to appoint judges from all the tribes.
The Sanhedrin was established in a Representative Manner
This is what we learned at the time of the establishment of the first Sanhedrin, when God commanded Moses: “‘Assemble seventy of Israel’s elders – the ones you know to be the people’s elders and leaders… When I lower My essence and speak to you there, I will cause some of the spirit that you possess to emanate, and I will grant it to them. You will then not have to bear the responsibility all alone” (Numbers 11:16-17).
Ostensibly, Moshe Rabbenu, the greatest of the prophets, should have determined in the spirit of his holiness who the seventy elders would be according to their fear of God and their wisdom, regardless of their tribal origin; but since the Sages are ‘Sages of Israel’, it was necessary for each tribe to be represented equally. Therefore, Moses was commanded to choose “the ones you know to be the people’s elders and leaders,” – in other words, they are accepted by the people and their tribes. As Rashi explains, according to the Sages: “Those whom you know, that they were appointed as officers over them in Egypt [to oversee] the rigorous labor, and they had mercy on them, and were beaten on their account, as it says, “the officers of the children of Israel were beaten (Exod. 5:14). Now they shall be chosen in their greatness, just as they had suffered in their [Israel’s] distress” (Numbers 11:16). In other words, the most prominent representatives of the tribes should be chosen, those who sacrificed their lives for Israel, and not only great ones in fear of God and wisdom.
Moreover, given that the number seventy cannot not be divided into twelve equally, Moshe casted lots so that the appointed elders would be accepted by all. According to Rashi “But [the number was chosen] by lot, because the number [of elders] for twelve tribes came to six for each tribe, except for two tribes who would receive only five each. Moses said, “No tribe will listen to me to deduct one elder from its tribe.” What did he do? He took seventy-two slips and wrote on seventy [of them, the word] ‘elder’ and two of them he left blank. He then chose six men from each tribe, totaling seventy-two. He said to them, “Draw your slips from the urn. Whoever picked [one inscribed with] ‘elder’ was [already] sanctified. Whoever picked a blank slip, he said to him: The Omnipresent does not want you”(Rashi, Numbers 11:26).
The Mitzvah of Appointing Judges for the Tribes
Similarly, we are commanded for generations: “Appoint yourselves judges and police for your tribes in all your settlements that God your Lord is giving you, and make sure that they administer honest judgment for the people” (Deuteronomy 16:18). The Sages said in the Jerusalem Talmud: “It is a mitzvah for every tribe to judge its own tribe” (Makkot 1: 8), as well as in the Babylonian Talmud: “It is a mitzvah for a tribe to judge its own tribe” (Sanhedrin 16b).
According to Ramban (on the Torah there) it’s possible there may even have been a commandment to appoint a Beit Din Gadol (Sanhedrin) for each and every tribe with certain powers over members of that tribe: “Just as the Great Sanhedrin is appointed in charge of all the courts of all of Israel, so will one court be in charge of each and every tribe. And if they had to resolve or decree something about their tribe, they would decree and resolve it, and it would have the same validity as that of the Great Sanhedrin for all of Israel”(see Rambam, Sanhedrin 1: 1, and commentaries there).
It should be noted that the Kohanim (priests) and the Levites received cities within the tribal lands, and apparently, as far as matters about the appointment of judges of the tribe were concerned, were considered as members of the tribe they lived in, received tithes from, and identified with (see (Sanhedrin 32a; Rambam Sanhedrin 2a).
The Tzohar Rabbinical Circle
Today, the different “shades” (tribes) of the nation are divided into ethnic groups and circles. Ethnic groups whose former place of residence in exile is shared, and societal circles whose ideological-value-based concepts unites them. Today in Israel, ideological identity is no less powerful than ethnic identity. In any event, Torah scholars of one sect or group must not disqualify the scholars of another, as long as they are loyal to the Torah and its commandments. And even if their halachic opinion is unacceptable to the majority, it is forbidden to disqualify their position regarding what they rule in their own communities, for example the authority of mara d’atra(local rabbinic authority), and their opinions must be considered and they must be included in general halakhic discussions.
The rabbis of Tzohar represent a large and important community of people from all ethnic groups who keep Torah and mitzvot, and invest their energy and wealth in building religious communities, synagogues, religious schools, yeshivot and midrashot. They strive to combine work, Torah, and science and be faithful to the tradition of the Torah while being open to modernity, out of a clear recognition that this is God’s will. They accept upon themselves rabbis of the type of Tzohar, rabbis who understand them and adhere to their ways. The rabbis of Tzohar are Torah scholars and God-fearing, no less than rabbis in the other religious and ultra-Orthodox circles.
According to the principles we have learned, it is imperative that rabbis who represent this important circle receive full expression in the entire Torah community as is customary in our times, and since almost every group has a kashrut organization, the Tzohar rabbis should also have one.
How to Manage Disagreements
As long as there is reasonable cooperation between the Torah scholars of the various circles and all of them receive expression, and there are no Torah scholars of one circle imposing their opinion on members of other circles – let alone not rejecting their Torah scholarship – one can aspire to set common positions and demarcate the boundaries of the discussion. Sometimes it does not work, just as for years a compromise was not found between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai, and in such a case, both sides have to be careful to respect each other, and not to boycott one another.
But when groups and institutions try to impose their opinion on members of another circle, and abolish the status of their rabbis (and to boycott them from becoming rabbinical judges and rabbis) we are no longer speaking of a situation where the rabbis of Tzohar should also establish a kashrut organization, but rather a situation in which it is almost obligatory for them to establish one, just like other accepted rabbinic organizations, in order to give halachic and Torah expression to their part in the Torah. If they do not, then they are similar to a prophet who suppresses his prophecy, or as our Sages said: ” Yea, all her slain are a mighty host’ — this refers to a disciple who has attained the qualification to decide questions of law, and does not decide them” (Sotah 22a).
How Does a Difficult Dispute Develop?
At first, there is an argument over a focused halakhic issue. However, when an agreement is not reached, instead of agreeing to disagree and continuing to respect each other, one side thinks that the other has no authority to retain his position, because, essentially, his position is inferior, since he belongs to a liberal circle, or his position differs from that of most rabbis. Then, that same party departs from the particular halakhic issue they have debated, and moves on to a more acute arena, in which the main argument is that the rabbi against whom he is arguing with is not authorized to express a halachic position, for in any case, who appointed him to be a rabbi who can express a position at all?
Since this argument is not convincing enough, and the rabbi who is being attacked remains in his position, consequently we are now moving over to a dispute of a different magnitude – since we are no longer dealing with a person who rules on a matter without authority, but with a person who undermines the foundations of authority as a whole, and thus, it is compulsory to wage an all-out war against him…
Since this argument, too, is not accepted by the opponent, who swore he was loyal to the Torah and does not seek to undermine the foundations of the authority, then apparently the debate is no longer about the rabbis’ honor and authority, but stems from outright wickedness, seeking to uproot the Torah from Israel. In the end, one must marvel at the extent to which the “soldiers” behave with moderation in regards to the rabbis of Tzohar – only boycotting and humiliating them with words, and do not take harsher punitive measures against them…
Incidentally, this happens sometimes in the Haredi community, even against eminent rabbis, and sometimes it even reaches actual violence. Let us hope that in this matter the national-religious and Torah public will not try to emulate them.
It all begins with the failure to recognize the authority of rabbis to rule for their constituents. With God’s help, next week I will explain the source of authority for halachic ruling.
“I am a Friend to Everyone Who Worships You”
A number of times I’ve been asked if I am a member of the Tzohar rabbis’ organization. The answer is complex. First of all, it is a great honor for me to be among those who perform mitzvahs, and therefore I am happy to be identified with the rabbis of Tzohar. Not only that, but some of the leaders of Tzohar rabbis are personal friends of mine from the time we studied at Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva, and even before that. About ten years ago, they also suggested that I be a partner in the management of the Tzohar rabbis, and in their modesty, agreed that a decision would not be made against my opinion, since their goal is that decisions of the administration be accepted with full agreement.
However, for several reasons I could not agree. The main reason is that years ago, I decided to devote my time to clarifying halachic issues and writing them in the framework of ‘Peninei Halakha’. Consequently, I hardly ever leave the community of Har Bracha, and I cannot take upon myself another public burden. In addition, sometimes my opinion is different from theirs, and I do not want to enter into an argument, or try to prevent them from expressing their opinions which I respect because it stems from fear of Heaven and is based on serious and reasoned halakhic study.
However, I wish to be a partner in everything possible for the benefit of Klal Yisrael and the Torah. Therefore, although I cannot bear responsibility for the decisions of the Council of Rabbis of Tzohar, I am pleased that my colleagues invite me to participate in their deliberations and count me as a member.
At the same time, I identify with, and belong to, other rabbinic and religious organizations and circles, which, in their own way, work for Klal Yisrael and the Torah.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.