Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Hashkafa and Halacha I

There is a Halachah that says you must have the right Hashkofos. “Lo sosuru acharei levavchem”, You may not follow your heart, meaning, you may not believe “meenus” (Apikursos). The Mishna Brura rules (his source is Sefer Hachinuch almost word for word, but without attribution) that Apikursos includes any opinion that is contrary to Daas Torah.

Meaning, even if you follow all Halachos, if you have an opinion that conflicts with that of the Torah, you violate this laav.

Halachic example: Responsa Divrei Chaim YD 105. The case was a rebbi in a cheder who expressed his opinion to his class that the commentary “Ohr Hachaim” on Chumash was a great commentary, but it was not written with Ruach HaKodesh. This statement created a tremendous controversy, and they turned to the Divrei Chaim for a ruling.

After explaining that he cannot rule on a specific incident without hearing both sides of the story, he writes that theoretically, if someone says such a thing, since it is clear that Chazal disagree, he would be guilty of Apikursos.

So let’s say you’re a vegetarian. There is no Halachah that says you have to eat meat (at least not on the weekdays). But if the reason you don’t eat meat is because you believe shechitah is cruelty to animals and therefore wrong, you are guilty of Apikursos, since the Torah clearly disagrees.

Two people can do the same act – here, refraining from eating meat – but one is a spiritual criminal and the other innocent, because of the attitude with which the action was taken.

Or let’s say you are in favor of women’s Torah education. The Chofetz Chaim was, too, for our times. But if you feel that women’s education is an advancement for women’s rights, essentially an improvement in the treatment of women over what we have been accustomed to in the past generations, when we did not teach Torah to women – and the Chofetz Chaim did not feel that way - you are guilty of Apikursos, since your belief collides with that of the Torah’s.

If someone accepts ideas that are not in accordance with the Torah, in other words, Hashkofos, they violate this issur

There are different levels of Apikursos. Worst-case scenario, someone can become a full-fledged Apikores, which Halachicly is considered worse than in idol worshipper. Such a person is treated Halachicly like a non-Jew, yet retains the halachic obligations of all Jews. A full-fledged Apikores is the absolute bottom on the spiritual food chain.


Hashkafa is no more varied than Halachah. Just as there are different but legitimate Hashkofos, there are also as many different but legitimate Halachic opinions. Both are objective, meaning, both must be based on Torah and not just your opinion, and both may have disagreements.
The same way you follow certain Halachic authorities, and the same way you determine who they are, you follow Hashkafic authorities and determine who they are as well.

Proper Hashkofos are just as important - often more important - as proper Halachos.


Halachah and Hashkafa are two components of your soul’s delicate ecosystem. The wrong hashkofos can not only be deadly in and of themselves, but they can also poison your Halachic observance.

The Ibn Ezra asks how we can have a Mitzvah commanding us not to be jealous. Jealousy is a feeling, and hence cannot be controlled, right?

Wrong, says Ibn Ezra. Nobody is jealous of anything unless you believe it is attainable. The town peasants are not jealous when the princess gets engaged, because they know they have no chance at marrying her anyway.

So too, if a person would only realize that whatever Hashem gives someone else is because Hashem the other person to have it and not him, nobody would ever be jealous, because they would understand that the things they are jealous of are unintended for and thus unattainable by, him.

In other words, the way to fulfill the Halacha of "thou shalt not be jealous", the way to control your feelings, is by having the proper hashkofo (whatever Hashem gives someone is unattainable to another). Without the hashkofo, the Halachah is impossible.

Your hashkafos control not only the Middah of jealousy, but your other Midos as well. Someone who perceives another Jew as a brother will treat him better than someone who perceives him as a stranger (see Rambam Matnas Aniyim 10). Someone who recognizes that everything he has is merely a gift from G-d will not be arrogant; but someone who believes in “my power and the strength of my hand” will be inappropriately proud.

Someone who recognizes that anything bad that someone does to him in this world was decreed from on High (even though the perpetrator volunteered willingly to fulfill that Heavenly decree) will have no interest in taking revenge, since he knows that the damage done to him was not due to the perpetrator but to the will of G-d. (Sefer HaChinuch, Lo sikom)

Someone who recognizes that we are in the world for a short time with an opportunity to collect gold coins (Torah and Mitzvos) will not squander his time poring over Shakespearean plays. He will try to spend as much time possible collecting that gold, regardless of whether the Halachah obligates him to do so. It’s simply a matter of common sense. If someone does not bother to learn, then he obviously does not recognize (Hashkofo) the value of learning.

The Rambam (Hilchos Teshuva 8) says that not only do we have to do Teshuva for our bad actions, but also for our bad beliefs (“deos”). He lists as examples, arrogance, materialism, and the like. Although we usually classify these things as “midos” – personality traits – and not “beliefs” – the Rambam makes them into one.

The reason is because these personality traits, as we explained, are directly dependent on your beliefs (Hashkofos). Someone who has wrong Hashkofos will inevitably have bad Midos. And it is the bad “deah” – the bad Hashkofo – for which we are Halachicly obligated to repent.



Someone who tries to live Halachicly without proper Hashkofos will not succeed. At best, he will be living a schizophrenic, self-contradictory Jewish life, and he will be in a constant state of spiritual disarray trying to reconcile his Halachic lifestyle with his Hashkafic deficiencies. Jewish Halachah and Secular Hashkofos are contradictory.

Rav Yitzchok Hutner Z”TL once described the incongruous “Halachic Judaism” syndrome as comparable to someone who puts on his shirt in the morning and accidentally buttons the lowest button in the wrong hole. Instead of undoing it, he decides to solve the problem by putting the next button in the wrong hole as well, and he keeps buttoning up his shirt like that, always one hole off, thinking everything is OK.

Until he gets to the top of the shirt. Now he has to either undo the entire shirt, or wear it lopsided.

So, too, Rav Hutner said, are those who want to “reconcile” Halachah with the values and way of life of society. It is lopsided. You can maneuver around the Halachic pitfalls again and again, but eventually you will see that it doesn’t work, you paint yourself into a corner, and there will be no choice except to either undo your entire philosophy or live with a self-contradictory Judaism.


Treating a Rebbi like a “Professor of Talmud” is a Hashkafic atrocity and a slap in the face to Torah. Torah is not secular studies. Learning Torah is not merely “studying”. It is a religious experience, transporting the highest level of G-d’s Influence from the heavens down to earth. In Chassidishe yeshivos they learn Torah with their hats and jackets, like davening. Not everyone does that, but to put Torah in the same category as secular studies, by making “Talmud” a course like anthropology, where each is an elective used for a certain amounts of credits, where the rebbi is called “Professor of Talmud”, is a repulsive secularization of Hashem’s Torah in the worst way.

If someone would sit your wife at a wedding together with a bunch of low and grubby characters, you would feel insulted for her, and angry with the host. When someone places the Torah of our Creator in the same category as physical, materialistic, non-holy studies, we should feel that same type of irritation. That’s hashkafa.

But that’s just the first button – it doesn’t end there. Once you blur the Hashkafic line between Torah and secular studies, you develop additional problems. Women learn secular studies, but they don’t learn Gemora. What happens, then, when a woman goes through college just like a man, and is permitted to score honors in Medical School just like a man, but the room down the hall, the one where they give the “Talmud” college courses . . . those courses she is not good enough for???

The next step, of course, is to say, “It’s ridiculous that nowadays women can go to medical school but they can’t go to gemora class.” This justification has actually been used by rabbis for violating the clear Halachah in Shulchan Aruch against teaching gemora to women.

Sure it’s ridiculous to teach women nuclear physics and not talmud. If you set yourself up a situation where Gemora and physics are both “studies”, taught by Professors, albeit with different training, then the inconsistency of your messed up Hashkafa versus the Halachah against teaching girls Gemora is very much in your face.

If Torah and secular studies are both intellectual pursuits then it is “ridiculous” to bar women from one and not the other, but if one is a religious service and the other is merely the acquisition of knowledge, then Torah and secular studies are apples and oranges.

But now you’ve reached the top button. You either undo your entire hashkafic monster, or you are forced, in the interest of making sense out of your behaviors, to violate Halachah. The shirt, at this point, is revealed to be as unfitting as can be.


Halachah is "law" (literally: "direction").

Hashkafa means "perspective". It means your interpretation of things, your values, the way you see things. In South Africa they have an expression that's a pretty good translation. It means your "pluck."
Hashkofos are not “opinions.”

Hashkofos are how you look at the world. As in “vayashkef” (and he looked), or the modern Hebrew “mishkafayim”, meaning eyeglasses, which allow you to have a hashkafa (“sight”).

Just as the Torah has clear-cut Halachos, the Torah has clear-cut hashkafos. Gam zu l’tovah, for instance, is a hashkafa. It is not a matter of opinion of everything that happens to a person is for the good; it is a fact of life. When something painful happens, you can see it with clearly, with eyeglasses, the way it is – the proper hashkafa, that it is for the good – or you can see it the wrong way, and think it is essentially bad. A wrong hashkafa.

Your Hashkofos are the way you perceive reality. It is what you “recognize” in the world.

Both correct Halachah and hashkofo are necessary components for healthy Jewish living. If a person has the wrong hashkafos he is out of touch with reality. Someone who walks down the street thinking that every policeman is a closet KGB agent, has a wrong Hashkafa. Colloquially, you may call someone with the wrong hashkofos “messed up in the head".

Those who don’t believe in the authority of Hashkofo should have no objection, for instance, to someone who objectifies women. Such an attitude is indeed only an attitude – a Hashkofo – and you can maintain it while treating them in full accordance with the demands of halachah.

There are people who will tell you that someone’s Hashkafa “doesn’t matter”, as long as they follow the Halachah. But then when they see Jews in Williamsburg burn the Israeli flag they go nuts. Even though there is no violation of Halachah involved, but merely a hashkafic dispute. Only when it’s convenient for them will people tell you that it Hashkafa doesn’t matter.

The way you look at your fellow Jew, the way you relate to Hashem, the way you perceive Torah, what you value in this world, all of those are Hashkofos. Hashkofos are your attitudes toward the world and toward Judaism.

Proper Hashkofos are compulsory in and of themselves, but besides that, your attitudes have a great effect on your actions. Therefore, Hashkofoh and Halachah are unalterably connected. If you try to follow one without the other, you will be living a broken, unbalanced Jewish life. With bad Hashkofos, you will probably not be able to maintain integrity to Halachah, and at the very least, your efforts to be frum will feel so much more difficult, restrictive and burdensome.

Proper Hashkofos not only earn you Olam Habbah, but they also allow you to live a Torah life committed to Halachah smoothly, happily, and enthusiastically.


Rabbi Soloveichik did not approve of the "halachah only" approach. That is clear from his own words in many places. Yet it is also clear, and puzzling, that although Rabbi Soloveitchik lived way into the "trashy culture" days, he never stated the need to change the course that he himself charted in the early 60's, which from what you say, he must have found inapplicable later on. If he did declare such a thing, it is certainly not public knowledge. Were his followers expected to change direction without his lead?

It is also clear that he was unhappy about the lack of Hashkafic awareness among his students. "How can I give you some emotions?" he said to them (he expressed similar sentiments in his hesped for the Tolner Rebbe). Shortly after his wife passed away, he even began teaching Likutei Torah of Chabad to his students (no joke).

What a wonderful idea! But what was the response? One of his close students (who shall go un-named here, though he is a well known rabbi today) asked him, "What do we need from the Lubavitchers?"

But the question is not who endorsed a Hashkaficly empty Orthodoxy, but rather, how did it happen? How do people who would never think of breaking Shabbos, or eating non-kosher, just tear part of our religion out of the Torah (i.e. Hashkafa)? How do you think it developed within institutions that still call themselves Modern Orthodox? Where did it come from that, in educational institutions even, Hashkofos are mistakenly translated "opinions", meaning in this context, unbinding, or non-absolute?

Also, I - and, it seems, pretty much all of us - are unclear on what "Modern orthodox" means to begin with. It used to mean, apparently, integration into society for the sake of survival, but if you say that Rav Soloveitchik would not currently endorse that, then what does it mean today?


The ultimate goal of every Jew is to be what some people call "extreme." The question is, how fast or slow should you try to get there?

The answer is it depends where you’re holding. You should do as much as you can, and slowly do more and more. You need to know when to go "cold turkey" and when to wean yourself away from undesirable behavior.

So it really depends on you and where you’re holding, but one thing is for sure --- it is definitely better to be "extreme" -- the only question is, how to get there: all at once, or slowly.

And that depends on what you can handle.

It is vital to know the difference between Halacha and Hashkafa. See Emes L'Yaakov by R. Yaakov Kaminetzky ZTL on Avos, ("lo am haaretz chosid").

Hashkafa can often be Halachicly binding. Sometimes a Hashkafic violation can be worse than a Halachic one - such as in the case of an Apikores vs. a Mechalel Shabbos. This was discussed previously.

"Chumrah" is used to describe a number of things, as follows:

(a) If there is a disagreement in Halachah, in a case where one may be entitled to follow the lenient opinion, a "chumrah" may mean that you follow the stricter opinion anyway. Because even though you are permitted to be lenient, you want to make sure that you are doing the right thing according to everybody. This is an expression of "Yiras Shamayim", where a person is not interested in merely what he is allowed to do, but he wants to make sure that what he does has no chance of being prohibited.

(b) If there is something that is 100% permitted, but you don’t want to be tempted to do it, or even do it by accident. So you prohibit even getting close to the Aveirah, so that you are not only innocent, but safe as well.

These kinds of "chumros" are Siyagim and Gedorim, which Chazal advise us to make. Of course, you are not allowed to say that the Siyag is prohibited the same way as the actual Aveirah, but rather that it is a prohibited as a Siyag.

A Siyag can be self-imposed, community-imposed, or imposed on Klall Yisroel as a whole by Chazal. Any individual can impose such Siyagim on himself by making a Neder, or even a commitment bli neder; the Rabboni of a community have the authority to impose Siyagim on a community when they see fit; and only Chazal have the authority to impose a Siyag as binding on all of Klall Yisroel.

(c) Something with no basis or reason at all, just people don’t do it because it looks bad, or they think its bad, or it feels bad, or whatever. These are just people's behavior and have zero Halachic substance.

While it is true that the core Halachos are the main goal, the first two types of Chumros above serve important supportive roles to protect the Mitzvos. Its like a construction site -- the contractors spend days and maybe more building a wooden fence around the massive hole that they dug to lay the foundation. Plus, they build scaffolding with side rails and often put safety nets on the ground if they are working high up. Someone who doesn’t understand may wonder why they’re spending so much time on this stuff when they should be building the building. But the reality is that these efforts will make sure that the building gets built safely and efficiently. So its worth putting time into them.

So too with Chumros. They ensure the spiritually safe and efficient performance of the Mitzvos.

Of course, it would be crazy for builders to spend so much time on the safety net that the building gets neglected. You have to know what’s a Chumrah and what’s a Halachah, and what is the purpose of both. And you also have to know where a Chumrah is useful and where its merely a waste. That’s what Rabbonim are for.

No question you should get the main Halachos right first before you go to chumros.

The why bother attitude is a mistake, since the reward for the chumrah is worth the effort.

We're not looking at the Mitzvos as burdens but rather privileges and opportunities. If you have a way to squeeze out a bit more holiness or a bit more protection for your soul, even if you are not obligated to, if you look at it the right way you will want to.

However, again, this is not obligatory, you should never lose sight of what’s most important in Yiddishkeit.




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