Thursday, December 2, 2010

Is the Meiri a Lone Figure in the Wilderness?

We summarized in our last post the opinion of the Meiri regarding how one is supposed to relate to gentiles in contemporary times.  I will get back to developing the opinion of the Meiri as it would apply to different societies today.  However, I first would like to review some other authorities that have either said similar ideas to the Meiri, or have come out in support of the Meiri's opinion.

Many authorities have used the concept of the ger toshav to describe our dealings with non-Jews in our day.  I must credit R'Gil Student of the Torahmusings blog for bringing to my attention a teshuvah of Rabbi Nachum Rabinovich, of Maaleh Adumim.  In this teshuvah (see Melumdei Milchamah Teshuvah 43) he writes of the obligation to save the life of an injured gentile on Shabbos.  He differentiates between an injured terrorist and an ordinary non-Jew.  According to him, an ordinary non-Jew who is a Christian or Muslim (we will deal with other religions and moral atheists later in the blog, I promise) would be considered a ger toshav.  He establishes in the teshuvah that there is a mitzvah to save the life of a ger Toshav, at the same level as there is a mitzvah to save the life of a Jew.

His sources are Rav TH Chajes (the "Maharatz Chajes"),  who held that modern day Christians and Muslims have the status of Gerei Toshav.  He then brings conclusive proof from the Ramban in his comments on The Rambam Sefer HaMitzvos 16 that saving the life of a ger Toshav would supersede Shabbos.  According to R' Rabinovich, the terrorist would not be considered a ger Toshav, by virtue of the fact that he is not a moral human being, and therefore should only be saved on shabbos due to Eyvah.

So this is a little bit of a different angle then the Meiri.  According to the Meiri, non-Jews who live in a moral and just society are considered "Am she'Itcha be'Torah Uve'Mitzvos" and we are therefore obligated to save their lives on shabbos.  According to R' Rabinovich, once we give contemporary gentiles the status of Gerei Toshav, we are obligated to save their lives on shabbos in accordance with the opinion of the Ramban (and other Rishonim including Rabbeinu Hillel, and the Ralbag as quoted in his teshuvah.)

Several other authorities have also used the Ger Toshav argument. One famous one is HaRav David Tzvi Hoffman, who explicitly writes that contemporary gentiles (he is referring to Christians) should be considered Gerei Toshav.  Rav SR Hirsch (see here for example) writes similar ideas in many places, though I am not quite sure how much of it was apologetics. Rav Hoffman's words though, invoke a clearly defined halachic category of Ger Toshav, and thus do not sound like mere apologetics to me.

Rav Hirsch also brings the commentary of Rav Yaakov Emden on Avot 4:13, which strongly support the argument that Christians and Muslims that are moral and just should be considered Gerei Toshav. However, he does not actually take the plunge and explicitly write that they would have that halachic status.  His words are stirring and offer us some strong backing. However, although it is possible that he would agree, I don't think I have enough evidence to claim that Rav Emden actually held that they would have the halachic status of Gerei Toshav.

Then there are those authorities who understood that the Meiri's position was based on the principle of Ger Toshav.  Although it seems after Halbertal's study that this was probably not the opinion of the Meiri himself (as the Meiri's opinion was even more "liberal" than that), many great authorities believed that this was the basis of the Meiri's opinion.  Chief among these authorities was none other than Harav Kook ZT'L (see Iggrot Reiyah vol. 1 page 99).

HaRav Kook writes a very interesting language, which even if this was all I had, it would have been enough for me. "HaIkkar" is his language (the primary or correct position - in my admittedly poor translation). He writes there that HaIkkar is like the opinion of the Meiri that ALL societies that are just and moral are coinsidered Geirim Toshavim .... see his letter in detail. Rabbi Isaac Herzog ZTL takes this approach as well in several places, equating modern gentiles with Geirei Toshav.

HaRav Ahron Soloveitchik ZT'L, in his book Logic of the Heart, Logic of the Mind  see pages 139, 151 also invokes the Shita of the Meiri when discussing treating gentiles in our time.  He uses the Meiri to develop his approach that differentiates between gentile societies based on their morality and behavior. This is somewhat similar to the approach of R' Rabinovich, and clearly HaRav Soloveitchik was relying on the opinion of the Meiri.

I also cannot leave this post without mentioning the now famous remark of the Seridei Aish, HaRav YY Weinberg ZT'L, who stated in one of his letters to Professor Atlas (see Torah Umaddah Journal 7 - 1997) that the Shita of the meiri should be adopted as normative halacha.

So although we must admit that the Meiri is a minority halachic opinion, we have now reviewed many well respected halachic authorities who either agreed that the Meiri's opinion should be adopted as halacha, or came to similar conclusions as the Meiri with slightly different reasoning (the ger toshav argument).

We are far from finished, in my next post, I will deal with the issue of the opinion of the Meiri and how it may relate to gentiles that are not Muslim or Christian, but may have a moral and just society.

No comments:

Post a Comment