Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Scent of Heresy?

The following story, A Problematic Purchase, was taken from Along the Maggid's Journey by R. Paysach Krohn.

The laws regarding the kashrus (ritual validity) of an esrog for use on Succos are detailed and complicated. Sometimes a barely noticeable blemish is serious enough to invalidate an esrog, which is why many people will not purchase an esrog unless they show it to a recognized expert in these laws. One of ]erusalem's most respected experts in this field was the renowned R' Sholom Eisen (1917-1988). Young and old would come by the hundreds to have him examine their esrogim and lulavim. Rabbi Eisen was known not only for his halachic expertise but also for his remarkable insights. The following story involves two of the laws of Succos. The first law is that only in the Beis Halviikdash was it Biblically ordained to take the Four Species every day of Succos. Nowadays, the Biblical requirement to take the Four Species applies only on the first day; on other days, their use is a Rabbinic law.

The second law is that the Rabbis ordained that the Four Species may not be used on the Sabbath, lest one inadvertently carry them [to a teacher to learn how to use them] in a public domain, which would be a desecration of the Sabbath. ln our times, therefore, if Succos begins on the Sabbath, the Four Species would not be taken until Sunday, and their use that year would be required only by Rabbinic law.

The following story was witnessed by R' Menachem Glick of Jerusalem.

A few weeks before Succos in 1982, when the first day of Succos was on the Sabbath, a young man was showing Rabbi Eisen an esrog he was considering. R' Eisen turned the esrog slowly and carefully. "It is not spotted or blistered in any way," said R' Eisen, “and the pitom (top bulblike growth) and ukatz (bottom stem) are beautiful. However," he continued as he looked at the esrog through a magnifying glass, "it seems that at this particular place on the esrog, it is chaseir (a part is missing)."

The questionable area was very tiny. Knowing the basic laws of the Four Species, the young man protested, "But even so, an esrog that is chaseir would be kosher this year, because the whole mitzvah of taking the Four Species is only Rabbinic."

"If you were to purchase this esrog now," said R' Eisen firmly, "it would be a she'eilah of apikorses (a question of heresy)."

The young man was startled at R' Eisen's strong admonition. Heads turned throughout the room as everyone suddenly became quiet to hear the reason for the Rabbi's comment. "We have a few weeks until Yom Tov", R' Eisen exclaimed. "Within this time, it is certainly possible that Mashiach may come. If indeed he does and we have a Beis HaMikdash, you would surely want to use your esrog in the Beis HaMikdash, wouldn't you? But this deficient esrog would be invalid in the Beis HaMikdash. Yet you are still willing to purchase it — which displays your conviction that Mashiach will not come. Such an attitude has the scent of apikorses!"

We all claim to believe in Mashiach. But do we?
There is only one teeny problem with this "inspiring" story: Rabbi Eisen seems to have invented a completely new category of heresy! Rambam's 12th principle, the belief in the coming of the messiah, quite specifically states that "no time for his coming may be set, nor may the verses of Scripture be interpreted to reveal the time of his coming, as our Sages have said, 'May the wits of those who calculate the date of the end be addled'". That is, while there is an obligation to believe in the coming of moshiach according to Rambam, there is certainly no obligation to believe that he is coming tomorrow, or next week, or next year, or even within one's lifetime!

Now it wouldn't bother me that much if a well-known rav accused me of apikorsus (although I would implore him to read a little Marc Shapiro or Menachem Kellner), but can you image how this young man must have felt as "heads turned throughout the room" to hear R. Eisen claim that his attitude had the scent of heresy?

Lest I be accused of casting aspersions on Gedolei Hador (although some truly deserve it), I will conclude with a truly inspirational story by R. Eisen, plagiarized from the Cleveland Jewish Learning Connection website:
A young married student had searched for several hours to find a beautiful esrog to fulfill the mitzvah. He brought it to Rav Sholom Eisen, a renowned expert in Jerusalem, for his approval. After several minutes, Rav Eisen informed the young man it was not for him.

The young man was crestfallen, as it seemed to be a flawless esrog. He asked what the problem was.

Rav Eisen answered, "This esrog is so beautiful it must cost a fortune. I know you don’t earn much money. It is more important that you buy your wife something nice for Yom Tov, which is a Torah obligation, than it is to buy such a beautiful esrog, which is only to beautify the mitzvah."


Anonymous said...

Simple answer - just as it is heretical to set a certain time for the coming of Mashiah, so too is it heretical to set a time that Mashiah will certainly not come, according to R. Eisen. This obviously makes a number of assumptions, but that appears to be the thought process.

Rich Perkins said...

I think the bigger heresy is that you dared to question an Mesorah/Feldheim/Artscroll publication.

My other pet peeve of publications like these are the way they completely exaggerate the gedolim in the biographies about them. I once spoke with someone whose uncle was an assistant to the Chofetz Chaim. He said the biographies about him were about 1/2 true at best. and the stuff that was true was embellished as well.

Frum Heretic said...

just as it is heretical to set a certain time for the coming of Mashiah, so too is it heretical to set a time that Mashiah will certainly not come

The young man was operating under an unconscious presumption that moshiach would not come in the next few weeks; in all likelihood, he probably never even gave it a thought. (The same as the overwhelming majority of Orthodox Jews.) But that is not the same as asserting that moshiach "will certainly not come". Otherwise that makes most yidden heretics according to your logic.

The bottom line is that he had no obligation - according to Rambam - to believe that moshiach would be coming in weeks before Succot.

zibble said...

What's the deal with the magnifying glass? What about the principle that defects, bugs, etc., must be visible to the naked eye to be considered significant?

Frum Heretic said...

Re a magnifying glass, see this article by Daniel Sperber:

The summary, after quoting numerous poskim, is that "it is doubtful that those who are so meticulous as to examine their lulavs and etrogs under a magnifying glass merit any reward for these efforts. They might even be considered unlearned, as Hizkiyah said in the Jerusalem Talmud. Therefore, some other source must be found if one wishes to substantiate the practice of examining arba minim under a magnifying glass."

Jacob Da Jew said...

Seems to me that R'Eisen is stretching the law to include his own philosophy. Sad but too common.

Z said...

I'm sorry to say but your comparison here is completely flawed. Saying that Moshiach could come any day does not constitute setting a specific time for his arrival. On the contrary if you set a specific time then you are saying that he cannot come today which may be one of the reason Rambam was against it. In Ani Maamin which is based on Rambam's 13 principles of faith we say "I wait for him every day that he should come".

Frum Heretic said...

Ani M'aamim is based on Rambam but poetic liberties were taken. The 12th principle is quoted in the post and it doesn't say anything about "I wait for him every day". So it is your reasoning that is flawed. Sorry...

Z said...

That busted my crapometer!(sorry couldn't resist) Ani Maamin was just an afterthought. You didn't address my main argument and explain how you equate setting a specific time with saying he could come any day. Also, from you last response it seems that you take issue with not only R. Sholom Eisen but also the author of Ani Maamin and by extension hundreds of torah scholars throughout the previous generations who allowed it into our siddurim without pointing out that it actually contradicts that which it is trying to represent!

zdub said...

I mentioned the very same story to R. Yosef Bechofer a couple of years ago but didn't remember that it was about Rabbi Eisen and so said it over anonymously. Rabbi Bechofer had a hard time believing the story for the very reason you mentioned! He said that there is no obligation for someone to believe that Moshiach is coming within one's own lifetime, only to believe that Moshiach will one day come.

Frum Heretic said...

Ani Maamin was just an afterthought.

It's obviously more than an afterthought to you as you are mentioning it again as if it were some sort of proof as to the necessity of "waiting every day"! Look, it is a popularization of the 13 ikkarim written by an unknown hundreds of years after Rambam. That it took hold says nothing about its accurate portrayal of the 12th principle. Once again, read Rambam; he says nothing of the sort about having to "wait every day". It's poetry, for heaven's sake! Do you also believe that because the 16th century Lecha Dodi made it into the siddur that you are bowing down to a literal Shabbos queen?? After all, thousands of Torah scholars over generations didn't object to its inclusion!

Apparently Rabbi Y. Bechofer agrees with the "no waiting required" idea.

Frum Heretic said...

Sorry, it's not poetry. For some reason I was thinking about Yigdal when I wrote that line. But everything else I wrote was accurate.

See also which shows how Ani Maamim misstates other ikkarim!

Z said...

Fine. Forget Ani Maamin. Just explain why saying he could come any day constitutes setting a specific time for moshiach's arrival.

Frum Heretic said...

Not following. The only issue here is the claim that someone has the "scent of apikorsus" for not believing that the messiah is coming soon.

I don't think that anyone has a problem with someone believing that the messiah could come any day. That's not setting a specific time. I apologize if something that I said was construed otherwise.