YUTOPIA Posts

Introduction

Regular readers of halakhic literature will inevitably encounter appeals to “consensus,” either of a select sample of halakhic decisiors, frequently using the Hebrew idiom “rov poskim,” or of a community’s popular perceptions. 1 The distinguishing characteristic of these appeals to consensus is that the legitimacy or rejection of an opinion is not determined by intrinsic, objective, qualifiable criteria or its merits, but by its adoption by certain people. 2 The primary premise of such arguments is that unanimity or a plurality of agreement among a given collective is halakhically binding on the Jewish population 3 and cannot be further contested or subject to review. 4

Appeals to consensus are common and relatively simply to assert, but those who rely on consensus rarely if ever acknowledge, address, or defend, the assumptions inherent with the invoking of consensus as a source – if not the determinant – of practical Jewish law. As I will demonstrate, appeals to consensus are laden with problematic logical and halakhic assumptions such that while “consensus” may constitute one factor in determining a specific psak, it is not nearly the definitive halakhic criterion its proponents would like to believe.

Notes:

  1. While in this essay I am focusing on halakhah, similar appeals to consensus are found in discussions of Jewish thought, in particular regarding the status of Maimonides’ 13 Principles of Faith.
  2. In Brisker terms, this would be a distinction between the “heftza” of a position’s content versus the “gavra” of those who accept it.
  3. This is not to be confused with the use of consensus as a form of colloquial rhetorical flourish. For example, The Talmud records hundreds of claims of “kulei ‘alma,” literally meaning “the whole world” agrees to a particular position. Given the certitude that one can produce a single lone dissenter on the planet to falsify this claim, it seems reasonable to assume that Talmudic sages were conscious of their hyperbole. But even in the Talmudic vernacular, an appeal to “kulei ‘alma” was most often employed to define a point of agreement between specific parties in order to better understand the true point of halakhic contention. See B. Berachot 23a for just one example. These appeals to “the whole world” are not the basis of a halakhic argument – which must be defended on its merits – but instead are descriptive of a certain context, albeit exaggerated, with the intent of advancing a specific point in the discussion.
  4. Alternative or contradictory opinions may be suggested, but only with the caveat they remain theoretical and are not to be implemented in practice.

Jewish Law / Halakha YUTOPIA's 10th Year Anniversary

Rabbi Yuter’s shiurim go on Passover hiatus with a discussion about fire and Shabbat. Laws of Shabbat 17

Laws of Shabbat

Still catching up…. Laws of Shabbat 16

Laws of Shabbat

Apologies for the delays in posting, catching up with past shiurim now… Laws of Shabbat 15

Laws of Shabbat

Dear Friends and Loyal Readers,
In shul this past Shabbat I formally announced my intentions to the community to step down as Rabbi of The Stanton St. Shul with the intentions of making Aliyah this summer. 1 For those who know me the decision to make Aliyah itself should not be surprising. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while, my immediate family is all there, and of course it’s a religious obligation. 2 But making Aliyah is still a huge step. It’s probably the only time where you can give up a career, family, friends, security, and the entire life you knew for a completely uncertain future and people will still wish you “Mazal Tov” for doing so. 3 The question for me is less a matter of “why” than it is “why now?”

Notes:

  1. Ideally on the August 11th Nefesh B’Nefesh charter flight from JFK, though I’ve learned from experience nothing is final until it’s in writing.
  2. See M. Ketubot 13:11 and B. Ketubot 110b. For an interesting halakhic fact, according to Rabbinic Judaism the halakhic consequence for a woman not wanting to make Aliyah with her husband is that she gets divorced and loses her entitlement to her husband’s estate as defined in her ketubah. This is the exact same consequence if a married woman goes out without a head covering (M. Ketubot 7:6). While it is undoubtedly easier to put on a hat than it is to move to another country, women’s head covering has ironically become an identifier of religious commitment among Orthodox Jews, at least in America.
  3. Tell your parents you’re going to become a rodeo clown and see how that works.

Personal

I can’t believe it’s been three years since I last did a pre-Purim Poem. Anyway, I dug deep for this year’s sermon and I even upped the complexity beyond the simple rhyming couplets.
Even manged to throw in some bilingual rhymes again too. I love those.

Shtick

This class covers Chapter 10 of Maimonides Laws of Shabbat. Laws of Shabbat 14

Laws of Shabbat

Current Jewish Questions

Current Jewish Questions Rabbinic Thought and Theology

This class covers Chapter 9 of Maimonides’ Laws of Shabbat. Laws of Shabbat 13

Laws of Shabbat