בשם הי אל עולם

A reluctant response to...

Rav David Bar-Hayim’s audio clip series
("Do Not Follow Only RaMb”M”)

Why the "Bar-Hayimist” Approach of Rav David Bar-Hayim Is Significantly Flawed
(and Slanderous)…

Introduction
Some Necessary Background
Problem #1: The problem of timing

History, time, dispersion, censorship and pilpul has made us smarter?
An Ironic Choice of Sources: Rabbi Shaul Lieberman
Sweeping Generalization #1
Logical Fallacy of Problem #1
Problem #2: Minimalism of RaMb'M at History's Expense: Fallacious Logic
Problem #3: To do or not do halakha... if the reason no longer exists?
Call for Public Apology
Misquoted Sources: Corrections
Problem #4: Need a Sanhedrin to make HIS changes - right? Not in HIS case.
Conclusion: Changing the Law without a Sanhedrin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Introduction:

Due to the nature and severity of what is being asserted, it would be outright precarious for “our crowd” to totally ignore what is now being asserted on the Machon Shilo site. To be honest, I have never ever heard of a group of people that calls themselves "RaMbaMistim." Rav Bar-Hayim also intimates as much, when he first mentions the appellation at the beginning of the first audio clip. Therefore, his entire lecture (and even this response) is theoretical, since no "group" defined by Rav Bar-Hayim actually exists. In his definition of this group's dogma, he attributes the following to their bag of beliefs:

Someone who does not follow this code (ie: MT) is REPREHENSIBLE.

In my years of meeting serious scholars of RaMb"M, I have never run into anyone with this set of beliefs. Surely the Rav should apologize for this type of overgeneralization - because of the "evil stigma" it places upon people who really do live by what is recorded in the Mishneh Torah. Irregardless, there is still an important opportunity to analyze, clarify, and correct popularized internet lectures – especially with titles like this one. This is especially true if and when they are suspected of containing uncontested, unsubstantiated premises, misunderstandings, misrepresentations, detestable associations and inaccurate misquotations.

Beforehand, I want to apologize to those who feel a response of any kind runs the risk of popularizing or recognizing the stance being perpetuated in these audio clips - a thousand separations. On the contrary, I am well aware of this danger, in addition to the spiraling road of wasted time this type of interaction can lead to. Therefore, I have chosen to be as specific and non-personal as possible, in order to deal with the issues at hand. Unfortunately, since Rav Bar-Hayim has set himself up as the sole author of these audio clips, there is no other way to address these issues - without focusing on him - which I am loath to do. As has rightly been acknowledged – any response must be for the ‘sake of Heaven.’ In conjunction with this goal, the duty to clarify the inaccuracies, non-truths, slander and border-line racism in this audio still represents a very high calling - which can not be ignored. For the sake of order, I have chosen to address the issues chronologically, as they appeared in the audio clips.

Top of Page

Necessary Background:

From the very start of clip #1, one is immediately hit with the following statement:   

“RaMb”Mistim unequivocally, without exception, dogmatically accept the RaMb"M’s halachic position on whatever topic may be under discussion and furthermore claim that everyone is required to do so…They further say that RaMb”M’s position is the only one that should be taken into account…and that RaMb”M is the only POSEQ one should refer to or whose OPINION one should take into account. Then, in what I believe to be the spirit of Ravad (Rabbeinu Abraham ben David), Rav Bar-Hayim goes on at length to espouse the reasons why he personally believes that a “RaMb”Misti” approach, in terms of its inability to fully convey the Halakha, is unacceptable to him.

At this point, the listeners are then introduced to the benefits of Rav Bar-Hayim's very own personal approach, which requires us to look at ALL of the primary sources, in order to uncover the correct conclusions. In his view, he is simply walking in the ways of the great Rishonim before him (as is described below). Thus, I doubt he would consider this his own approach. However, the main problem here is that he ironically and simultaneously dismisses the only "Rishonic Halachist" to take up the very same mission he claims to promote. That's right. The very Halachist who took up this very mission was none other than RaMb"M, who was not scared to leave the law from the last legitimate Sanhedrin in place, even after the reasons for certain legislation had disappeared. As we will see further on, Rav Bar-Hayim is NOT willing to do this at all.

Amazingly, Rav Bar-Hayim seems unimpressed by (or perhaps oblivious to) the fact that RaMb"M has already conducted a review of the exact same primary sources he requires in his own approach - and recorded every painful inch of it over a period of many years. By making the types of statements he does throughout the clips, he has placed this response in the unfortunate (forced) position of having to compare RaMb"M to Rav Bar-Hayim.

The main difference between RaMb"M and Rav Bar-Hayim here is drastically obvious. The accessible materials in RaMb"M's possession were more accurate, comprehensive and closer to the source than that of Rav Bar-Hayim or Rabbi Shaul Lieberman, whom he is fond of quoting, could ever hope to reconstruct (or emend). In addition, I respectfully doubt that modern day scholars have access to the same skill set acquired by RaMb"M, who was one of the top five Talmidim of the RIF.

As RaMb"M wrote:

"relying on the help of the Rock blessed be He, I intently studied all these books*, for I saw fit to write what can be determined from all of these works in regard to what is forbidden and permitted, and unclean and clean, and the other rules of the Torah:  Everything in clear language and terse style, so that the whole Oral Law would become thoroughly known to all, without bringing problems and solutions or differences of view, but rather clear, convincing, and correct statements in accordance with the legal rules drawn from all of these works and commentaries that have appeared from the time of Our Holy Teacher to the present." (MT Intro)

And what were these works? We learn earlier that they were: "the Babylonian Talmud, the Jerusalem Talmud, the Sifra, the Sifre, and the Toseftot" in addition to "the commentaries, the responses to questions, and the settled laws that the Geonim wrote."(MT Intro). Mishnah and Mechiletot are mentioned (in particular) earlier on in MT.

So can the "Bar-Hayimistim" replace RaMb"M" ?

Somehow, Rav Bar-Hayim apparently knows best... especially in cases where it seems to Rav Bar-Hayim's eyes that RaMb”M had no basis for his conclusions - a topic he decides to avoid. Only by directly consulting with other great halachic authorities like Hazal (he writes), as opposed to using "expedience or foreign considerations," as the "RAMBAMISTIM" are apparently prone to do, is Rav Bar-Hayim able to truly, honestly and prophetically "attempt to understand texts, and the true intent of the Hachamim and the different sources we have."

Then, as if to extend a burnt ABC (Already Been Chewed) olive branch, we are informed of how his own “in depth and objective analysis” lead him to personally agree with RaMb”M in “~85% of the cases!” At this point, I have became mind numbingly astounded. Who could have imagined such a kind error-rate acknowledgment for RaMb"M (at only 15%)? He was just too kind!

Top of Page

Major Problem #1:

Unfortunately (tragically), we shall discuss the first major flaw of the “Bar-Hayimisiti” approach - that automatically renders it untenable (at best). At this point, I would like to turn our esteemed readers to the history that existed during the times of RaMb”M.

As RaMb”M wrote:

"In our times, severe troubles come one after another, and all are in distress; the wisdom of our Torah scholars has disappeared, and the understanding of our discerning men is hidden. Thus, the commentaries, the responses to questions, and the SETTLED (some were not settled) laws that the Geonim wrote, which had once seemed clear, have in our times become hard to understand, so that only a few properly understand them. And one hardly needs to mention the Talmud itself--the Babylonian Talmud, the Jerusalem Talmud, the Sifra, the Sifre, and the Toseftot--which all require a broad mind, a wise soul, and considerable study, before one can correctly know from them what is forbidden or permitted and the other rules of the Torah."

To my knowledge, no one has ever disputed the drastic condition of world Jewry at that time, that is described by RaMb”M above. We learn from addition correspondence with RaMb'M that this problem was a global condition.

Top of Page

In today’s times, are we to surmise that our ability to examine the primary sources has somehow improved?

One who follows the "Bar-Hayimist" approach is thus forced to stand upon the shoulders of scholars who have lived since RaMb'M's time (an additional ~800 years until the present). Since that time, we are all aware of the censorship, dispersion, persecution and exponentially huge levels of added pilpul that have taken place throughout the centuries. Even where one is relying upon the most accurate versions of Talmud that we have, these issues undeniably affect the core of this approach in all aspects.

Top of Page

An Ironic Choice of Sources

Ironically, the very person that Rav Bar-Hayim uses to make his case is Rabbi Shaul Lieberman. Rabbi Lieberman, who served as Professor of Talmud at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTSA) for over 40 years, dedicated much of his career towards emending corruptions and correcting texts based on manuscripts, early printings, and quotations. As great as Rabbi Lieberman may have become in this regard, how can RaMb"M’s access and historical vicinity to the primary sources be compared to the scholarship of Rabbi Lieberman – in terms of his ability to draw legal conclusions?

When compared to the scholastic access RaMb"M had to the correct NUSAH - in his own times - how can modern day attempts (no matter how well intended or executed) be compared to this type of access?

Maimonides himself writes (in Hilchot Malveh v'Loveh 15:2, ): "and I have already examined the variant texts… and I have in Egypt an excerpt of an old Talmud written on leather scrolls in the manner in which they wrote over 500 years ago." From these words, we can see that RaMb"M had direct access to a 7th to 8th century Talmudic texts. See also Hilchot Ishut 11:13, which show access to full versions of the Talmudic manuscripts - a pure version which dates back to a mere 105 years after the court of r. Ashe and r. Avina.

And with even more irony, Rabbi Lieberman is quoted (again) to show the challenges of learning Toseftot, because of how it was seen differently - during different time periods.

As he says, the Amoriam didn’t always see the Tosefta that we have before us. However, to this must be replied: “But RaMb”M did have access to the Tosefta – and had no need for emendations or corrections – through the study of Medieval texts – to see the correct NusaH either,” as did Rabbi Lieberman. Therefore, it is not possible to understand the texts “as they are and how they present themselves…” because they have changed.

Rav Bar-Hayim then goes on to describe the approach used to studying Tosefta - which he says was used by every single Rishon (BACK THEN).

Question: Are we to believe that we are now "more capable" of walking in their shoes?

Does Rav Bar-Hayim seriously expect his listeners to believe that the scholars of today are on the same par as the Achronim and Rishonim, simply because they understand the methods, and have access to some early Medieval manuscripts?

Has the Rav seriously relegated the only comprehensive legal code of Jewish Law in existence - that encompasses the entire Torah law - to the “lense of some {irrelevant} commentary?

Top of Page

The Sweeping Generalization

In the first sweeping generalization, Rav Bar-Hayim goes on to say that all of the Geonim and Rishonim used the same exact method, in terms of deducing the Halakha. He then compares RaShY to RaMb”M in this regard.

Granting all figures the same stature in different topics - merely because they lived in the same time period (i.e. - Rishonim), as Rav Bar-Hayim does, is a fallacious concept that totally ignores the stated focus, background, mission and undertaking of the individuals being generalized. Unfortunately, this is exactly what Rav Bar-Hayim does when he evenly compares RaMb”M (a halachist) to others (e.g.: commentators) like RaShY, during the times of the Rishonim. Never mind that none of the others in his comparison were compilers of Halakha. It's like comparing a beautiful ocean to lovely apples. Each has it’s own contribution. However, to say they are the same is non-sequitur. He also totally ignores what RaMb”M says about the conditions and obstacles confronted by the scholars of his times (mentioned above). What readers really need to understand, and sometimes get hung up on, is just how desperate the Jews of that time had become - in terms of their ability to understand Torah law.

Top of Page

Rav Bar-Hayim’s "False Premise Fallacy" of Logic

Rav Bar-Hayim's Premise #1: If the primary sources in our possession (today) are just as reliable & accessible as they were in RaMb"M’s times, then certain scholars can use them to successfully deduce the Halakha.

Rav Bar-Hayim's Premise #2: The Primary sources (that exist today) are just as reliable and accessible as they used to be.

Rav Bar-Hayim's Premise #3: If we understand the reasoning behind the Halakha (which we are capable of doing in modern times), we have permission to change the Halakha (established by the last legitimate Sanhedrin).

Rav Bar-Hayim's Conclusion: Rav Bar-Hayim has the authority and ability to change the Halakha.

While this argument seems logically valid at first, the premises are demonstratively INCORRECT - for many reasons.

However, a logical analysis shows that the above premises are false. The mere fact the Rav Bar-Hayim has vocalized these false premises, has done nothing to legitimize their validity.

Top of Page

-----------

Minimizing The RaMb"M's Historically Recognized Influence

Next, the Rav plays on the twist of the logistical fallacy of "argumentum ad populum." In logic, an argumentum ad populum (Latin: "appeal to the people") is a fallacious argument that concludes a proposition to be true because many or all people believe it; it alleges: "If many believe so, it is so." It also implies... if few people subscribe to it - it must be false.

Basically, the Rav uses this technique to insinuate that the low number of people holding to RAMBAM, in today's times somehow, supports his points. To begin with, this type of logic is pre-flawed - and has nothing to do with the Trueness of Falseness of a matter. However, even in this, he is again inaccurate:

For example, Rav Bar-Hayim portrays the Temanim (Jews of Yemen) as being some lone group of (used to be) RaMb”M followers, and totally ignores the widespread reliance upon him that existed throughout the entire Levant & and `edot hamizraH – which is documented in this article (by Tamir ben Meir Rason). In addition, he also ignores the fact that the entire Spanish Portuguese (the original western Sepharadi) of Jews vacillated between RaMb”M and the R. Karo for many years - from the very start. By the way, remnants of Spanish and Portuguese "followers of RaMb'M" -  for lack of a better term - also still exist in some places.

Call for Public Apology

Then, Rav Bar-Hayim arrogantly purports to speak for all of the "real followers" - to use his terminology - of RaMb”M, by falsely placing the following words into their world view (as one of our dogmatic beliefs):

Someone who does not follow this code (ie: MT) is REPREHENSIBLE.

For this, the Rav really does owe a public apology to the entire kehillah of serious talmidei HaRaMb"M - who have never heard of such a thing in their lives. One can only wonder how he concocted such a notion. Of course there are strong beliefs in all camps, but his choice of adjectives is what is truly REPREHENSIBLE.

Top of Page

Adjusting the law, when the reasons no longer exist

With regards to the concept of hasibah, he is outright appalled by the concept of how certain Jews still "lie down to eat on the floor" (which he relates to the Talmudic concept of הסיבה). Actually, most of these folks are really leaning on cushions - on the floor. Apparently, he can not fathom what he has observed in homes (in Israel) that are "inclined" (pardon the pun) towards the original Semitic Jewish culture.

Evidently, the strongest expression he can muster against the "RaMb"Mistim", in his attempt to make them look antiquated and Qara'i (Qaraite), is to take aim at that way many of them they eat dinner (actually on cushions). After all, this type of eating position "ceased to have positive connotations" (in his view) and thus became "worse than useless." Honestly, I can certainly see how this type of speech might sound racist to many people. So again, he really does need to publicly apologize.

According to Rav Bar-Hayim, this practice should no longer exist in our present day reality. To support this view, he uses western Rishonim (apparently 900 years old) to show it is no longer legally relevant. In fact, according to the Rav, these Ashkenaz Rishonim said you are making yourself look like a poor person, rather than using your expensive dining room table.

For our view on the REASONING behind the Commandments: Please see:  http://www.chayas.com/sheela3.htm#reason

Misquoted Ashkenazi Sources

In deference and respect to our ancient Ashkenaz brothers, one of my teachers said the following:

"He {Rav Bar-Hayim} explicitly says there is no need for hasibah according to the Mordechai and the Rama. But, in fact, if we open the Tur to O"H t`b (472) and look at the Rama's words in Darkhey Moshe we see that he says in the name of the Mordechai that the poor man who has no cushions and pillows does his hasibah on a bench (presumably a plain wood bench, without padding), as UNREAL as that may be! I have not checked the Mordechai myself, but I assume that the Rama is not misrepresenting the Mordechai's position, and certainly not is own position. Either he has either not checked his sources or he has a poor memory (I assume that his memory failed him, as memory often does, when it contradicts what we want the memory to say). In the Sh"`A as printed the Rama is misquoted as saying yeshev/sit (y-sh-b) instead of yasev/recline (y-s-b) on a bench, but why on a bench, if he would sit up normally? A chair or stool would do; but a bench is needed to recline, obviously. Moreover, the Rav Yechiel Michel Epstein, the author of the `Arukh haShulchan says that the majority of poseqim require it today (in his time, which was up till the early 20th Century in Russia, not very long ago!). So Rav Bar-Hayim here is simply taking a minority position as if it were the unanimous position for a 1000 years as he puts it, in order to prove his misunderstanding of the Oral Law, which he imagines is highly flexible, when it really is not. On da`at torah as an authority above and beyond the talmudic sources. I suggest that this is classical Ashenazic thinking that was rejected not only by the RaMBaM, but other Sepharadic sages."

Top of Page

In the end, I can't help but wonder at the level of disgust displayed by Rav Bar-Hayim against such a beautiful, EXTANT custom (i.e.: for eating or toking). One can almost detect a sense of hate in his voice. Unfortunately, I fear that the level of abhorrence he displays on this issue might lead some to assume an aspect of cultural elitism (on his part).  I can only hope I am wrong about this.


 


Nothing like a good cushion to lean on!


Besides, modern furniture makes
Nargila smoking impossible!!!

If only Rav Bar-Hayim could have attended one of our PesaH seders last year. I would have loved to see the look on his face, when we took the concept of reclining to new heights (or should I say new lows)! Oh how good it is to be "stubborn and obstinate" (his words)!

Regarding the Plata on Shabbath, one of my teachers writes as follows:

The gezerah on wood fires is not relevant

> to electric hot plates, which is true. So what? What they said still applies today, and anybody who uses a wood fire has to follow what our sages said, though use of a wood fire is about as common as reclining on your left side while eating. So what is the point here, since clearly the law remains by his own admission for those with wood fires instead of an electric plata. He says, in theory, Sanhedrin must legislate. But in practice, no, since we do not have a Sanhedrin! So even the Written Torah is now no longer applicable? Ludicrous? Yes, it is certainly ludicrous to be observant in an unobservant World that is more and more Muslim or secular. But is it WRONG? He says, in the absence of a Sanhedrin, we have Hakhamim. If the intention is to be authentic and faithful to the Torah, then today's sages have the power to change the Torah as needed to be "real" and "authentic", rather than "ludicrous" (my words, not his). Finally, the idea of quoting as an authority the sefer haHinnukh (a book written for a youthful audience that says what I too would say to a youthful audience) seems to me rather a weak argument. I have skipped some items as less interesting to me, though they may interest others. In short, this is not Rav Bar-Hayim at his best at all.

Needing a Sanhedrin

Almost satirically, Rav Bar-Hayim concedes: "In theory, we need a Sanhedrin to make changes." Amazingly, he refers readers to Hilchoth Mamrim, to prove this. Mind-boggling!

CONCLUSION

To quote a teacher of mine:

"Rav Bar-Haim's system proposes that we need only observe the REASONS behind the texts of the Torah (as opposed to the TEXTS themselves), whereas RaMb"M says that we have to live the texts. This is shown in King Shelomo's failures at the end of Sefer haMitzwot and Laws of Rebels 2,2-3!

Rabbinical legislation does not go away when circumstances change and individual Torah scholars - such as the Hayimistim - have zero authority to undo the work of a Sanhedrin at all. Even a Sanhedrin is limited by parameters - in terms of how it can do away with a previous Sanhedrin's legislations - even when customs have changed!

So the idea that the law changes or can be changed without a Sanhedrin - due to changes in our own view of the times - is NOT a fundamental of the Oral Law at all, but the opinion of some scholars other than the RMBM!" Ironically, this seems truly Qaraite to me.

Top of Page