Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Rav Kanievsky, Abutbol and the New Generation of Mamzers

This week, a letter made the news (see an English article here) written by the "Committee for Purity of Communications," stating the following:
On the 5th of Tevet, 5774, I was by the great teacher, the sage, Rav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita, in the presence of his grandson, Rav Aryeh Kanievsky, shlita, and he said that anyone who has an iPhone, licentious internet and the like, is invalid as a witness for a wedding and a divorce. If such a person was a witness, even after the fact one has to perform the wedding or give the get (divorce document) once again.

Similarly, he said that one who certifies the validity of a mikveh for women's immersion, and similarly for a woman who immerses others [i.e. a balanit], they are invalid in their job if they have such devices; and even after the fact - if a woman already immersed - they cannot be deemed trustworthy.

With blessings,

Aharon Feinhandler,
Head of the Committee for Purity of Communications

p.s. And one should be especially careful regarding a mikveh, where even in Jerusalem and other concentrations of Haredim, most of the management of religious councils, and those responsible there do not ask and are not scrupulous in the above issue. And similarly regarding divorce and marriage, which are done by the religious courts of the Rabbanut, and a portion of the religious courts of Haredi communities. And one who guards his soul will not rely on them if he didn't first clarify regarding the above issue.

First off, I want to point out that I don't know how reliable this letter is. It's not a pronouncement from Rav Kanievsky himself. We don't know exactly what was said or whether Rav Kanievsky would agree as to the wording of the letter. We also don't know whether Rav Kanievsky wanted this to be publicized as a universal psak (rabbinic decree) in his name. But let's assume for a moment that he would sign off on the letter as if it was his own words, and that he wanted to issue it as a decree.

Would people who otherwise take Rav Kanievsky's rulings seriously actually follow such a decree? Would they get remarried? Give divorce papers again? Re-immerse in the mikveh? And imagine the following scenario: A woman gets married with "kosher" witnesses. She later gets divorced in the presence of internet-bearing and thus invalid witnesses, and as such (according to this psak) is still technically "married." If she remarries, any subsequent child she has will have the status of mamzer (meaning they are forbidden to marry anyone born Jewish, aside from another mamzer).

Point being, the decree is ridiculous if only because if people took it seriously it would lead to impossible complications. Of course, the witch hunt against internet users is ridiculous in its own right, but that's another story.

What I want to ask is the following: If you normally follow Rav Kanievsky's psak, will you also follow this one (again, assuming he would call it his psak)? And more specifically, if you voted for a candidate because you didn't want to go against the word of a Torah sage, what will you do now?

Leading up to the recent Beit Shemesh elections, Rav Kanievsky was approached by Moshe Abutbol (and others from the "Chen" party) to get his endorsement. Not only did they procure the rav's endorsement, but it was billed as a quasi-"mitzvah" to vote for Abutbol - a religious act which was to be done with an accompanying prayer. So if you voted for Moshe Abutbol because Torah sages such as Rav Kanievsky said to vote for him, will you also follow Rav Kanievsky here, and - if need be - get remarried, re-divorced, re-immersed, or declare your children to be mamzerim (Heaven forbid)? Or even worse, dare I say it - will you actually give up your smartphones and internet?

These are of course rhetorical questions. No one except for a few of the most "devout" would possibly adhere to such a decree which renders half the Orthodox world pasul for eidut (invalid as witnesses). Which then makes me want to point out our very selective use of the Gedolim (Sages). And I say "use" specifically. Because although people will say that they "follow" the Gedolim because it's required by the Torah command, "Do not turn from the word that they will tell you, right or left," the fact that the same people will completely disregard other rulings of the same Gedolim seems to imply that they do not follow the Gedolim because it's a Torah command, but rather only when it puts a religious rubber stamp on what they want to do anyway. So de-facto, it's not we who follow the Sages but the Sages who follow us. By using Torah sages only when it's politically, socially or psychologically expedient, we in effect get them to do our bidding.

Now to be clear, I'm not someone who would want everyone to follow lock-step with every psak which came out of the mouths of the Sages. Even aside from the question of who is really doing the talking, the rabbis or their askanim (assistants), I tend to err on the side of personal autonomy, and aside from halachic questions about dairy spoons being used in meat pots and the like, I prefer to make my own choices in life. The question is for those of you who see the role of the Sages as also deciding the way you should vote or making other choices for you, and who are presumably reading this blog post via the internet: How do you resolve that tension?