Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Different Halachic Approach

Please forgive me if I delay a few days between posts.  Sometimes my work keeps me bogged down and makes it difficult for me to keep up with the blog every day.

The basis and foundation of my approach to treating a goy on shabbos is the famous shita of the Meiri.  Many of you are probably familiar with the Meiri's opinions as they relate to the halachic status of non-Jews. However, you may not be aware of the full extent of his opinions, and the extent to which many later authorities have subscribed to his opinions.  When i learned the Meiri in yeshiva, I was under the impression that his words were just apologetics that were meant to calm relations with the goyim, but that in reality they were not halachically important and that they were not meant to be taken seriously.

However, while I searched for answers to the problems that were bothering me, I not only found out that the Meiri's opinions were not apologetics at all, but I discovered that they are a comprehensive and complete philosophy of how to learn the sugyos relating to the treatment of goyim in halacha.  I also learned that many Acharonim, and even some rishonim also ascribed to his views.  I also learned that many recent halachic authorities actually wrote that the Meiri's derech should be considered Halachah Le'maaseh, even though his opinion may have been a minority opinion at the time that he wrote them.

So I beg you to be patient and let me present my case, which will probably take a few posts.  Especially if you have preconceived ideas about the Meiri, please hold back from comment until you hear everything I have to say. Then all bets are off and say as you wish.

First, let me describe what the Meiri held.  According to the Meiri, the contemporary gentiles of his day (basically Muslims and Christians) are all considered "Baalei haDat" - people of religion.  The Meiri considered these Baalei haDat to be different from the non-Jews referred to in most of Chazal - who were idol worshippers that had no religion (at least not what Chazal would have considered a religion).

The Meiri divides the laws that concern our dealings with gentiles into three basic categories.  The first category regards the laws of business interaction with non-Jews.  This refers mostly to things that are prohibited due to fear that the gentile would use the profits for idol worship.  This category the Meiri held did not apply at all to his contemporary gentiles.  The second category deals with all halachic distinctions between Jews and non-Jews. This includes the obligation to save a non-Jewish life (including on Shabbat), the obligation to return his lost object, the death penalty for killing a human being (which the Meiri held applied to non-Jews as well) to give him charity and many more such laws.  In this category, the Meiri held that his contemporary gentiles were equal to Jews on all levels.  The third category deals with halachot meant to keep Jews from intermingling (and intermarrying) with gentiles.  This includes things like a Gentile's wine, milk, bread and so on.  In these halachot, the Meiri did not distinguish between his contemporary gentiles,and from the time of the gemara.

Lest one believe that the Meiri was simply apologetics, I challenge you to learn through the Meiri and consider that his comments are consistent throughout his commentary on Shas.  Repeatedly his points are emphasized and reiterated, and he clearly developed his shita thoroughly and comprehensively. I will be bringing many sources as we progress through this blog, but let me start with HaRav Eliezer Waldenberg ZT'l (author of the Tzitz Eliezer) who writes in a letter published in "Bein Yisrael le-Ammim" p16-17 that it is implausible to argue that his entire approach to shas was simply constructed out of fear of the censors.  He also states that we should use the Meiri as a "Makor Beit Av" (roughly translated as - "a conceptual building block" - my admittedly poor translation) when considering questions for dealing with gentiles in our times.

To assume that it was simply fear of the censors that drove the Meiri to formulate his extensive theories will become less and less plausible as we continue our discussion.

I owe much of my understanding of the Meiri to a great book called "Bein Torah leChochmah" by Moshe Halbertal.  It is worthwhile reading for anyone interested in learning more about the Meiri.

Probably the most interesting thing I learned from Halbertal's study is how he derives the reasoning behind the Meiri.  It is clear from his study that the Meiri that he felt that anyone who did not have a "Dat" was certainly someone who would not be bound by basic morality and justice. Halbertal proves that according to the Meiri, a society of Ba'alei Dat is a society of morals and justice, whereas a society without "Darchei HaDat" is one that is evil and corrupt.  This is a very important point, and it is one that we will come back to later in this blog discussion. Any society that is moral and just according to the Meiri would have the same status as Jews regarding these types of laws.

For example, the Meiri goes as far as saying that those that are "gedurim beDarchei Hadat would be  considered "Am She'Itcha BeTorah uveMitzvot".  (see Bava Metziah 59a where the gemara learns that one is only obligated to retuirn the lost object of someone included in the pasukl, lo Tonu Ish et Amito - Am  She'Itcha B'Torah UVe'Mitzvot, which the Meiri learns explicitly includes non-Jews, as opposed to learning that it is excluding them!)

There is much to write about the Meiri,and I promise I will write more, but I first want to deal with an important issue.  Is the Meiri simply a lone voice in the wilderness?  Can we rely on a lone opinion in formulating halacha

Comment as you wish, but I beg you to hang in there, because there is a lot more to say.


  1. What a wonderful blog - ethically, halachically, and intellectually serious. What do you make of the RCA's recent treatment of brain death?

  2. Thanks for your complements - anonymous - I read the entire report in detail. It was very thorough, but nothing really new other then some current medical issues with how to apply the concept of brain death in the real world. they left out my points re: change in medical history completely, and no new or innovative opinions were in there.

    I was very disappointed. One day I will revisit it specifically in the blog. I was just tired of the subject and wanted to move on to something new.

  3. Great so far. I'll wait 'till you're finished, but it seems that there would still be an issue if you joined the Peace Corps and went to work in a primitive African village for a year.