Isaac Kaplan

"Is it any wonder I've got too much time on my hands?"

Monday, June 07, 2004

Thoughts on Mesorah

One of the concepts of frum judaism that I've been trying to figure out for years but never got down pat was the issue of mesorah.

One of my first exposures to a discussion of mesorah was a shmuz given by my rosh yeshiva in Israel. He complained about a certain yeshiva that learned Maharal all day, saying that it's not part of our mesorah. He discussed a sofer who tried using a different type of ink for a sefer torah (unlike the mesorah), and the ink never had the lasting power of the old inks, as the new sifrei torah faded much faster. He wanted to use this a proof to mesorah. I've also heard bible codes get criticized for not being part of the mesorah (but I'm not sure if it's from him). And of course, YU and MO get ripped often for not being part of mesorah.

The thing I found most ironic about that mesorah shmuz was that a big Brisker was giving it. The leader of the Briskers, Reb Chaim Brisker, revolutionized the learning of gemara with his mehalech. Part of the motive of the mehalech was to make learning more "geshmak" and appealing, thus preventing Jews from assimilating and studying subjects which appeared more deep. When I read R' Berel Wein's book on the 20th century ("faith and fate"), he mentioned how other gedolim criticized reb chaim's mehalech for being newfangled, thus not "part of the mesorah." In fact, I can list many changes and movements that aren't or weren't part of the mesorah that should be criticized:

1) Wearing black fedoras (the common black hat); nobody in Europe did that, at least not until the 20th century.

2) The Mussar Movement of R' Yisrael Salanter

3) The Hasidic movement, founded by the Baal Shem

4) Girls going to Bais Yaakov

5) People learning in kollel for a stipend (check out the Rambam's take on that; it's harsh!)

6) The tzuras hadaf of the vilna shas (I once heard that one gadol declared this to be the mesorah, which i simply don't understand; to me, it sounds totally oxymoronic.) After all, there were many different printings for the first 1500 years the gemara existed!

So, the question is, what practices and mehlachim are included in the mesorah? How binding is the mesorah? Can a gadol simply change the mesorah when he feels it necessary?

I am simply confused and befuddled by it all. Comments, anyone?


Blogger Steve Cohen said...

1500 years? - there was no printed gemara before Gutenberg .

8:07 PM  
Blogger Isaac Kaplan said...

i guess i was mistaken in my estimate.... but i believe the point is still valid.

9:50 PM  
Blogger Gary Student said...

I agree. Until the concept of Mesorah is clearly defined, we can't use it as a standard. What should we do? The right thing.

10:10 PM  
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