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Concerning my claim that avoiding Birkath Hal’vana on Friday night being a non-rule.

August 15, 2013

I heard that Rabbi Herschel Schachter of YU was once asked for his halachic opinion, and when he gave it, the questioner could not believe it. Rabbi Schachter told the man that if he could not accept Rabbi Schachter’s opinion, then the man should “write it in a book, and then shoot me.” “Rabbi, why should I do such a thing?” “Because once an opinion is written in a book and its espouser is dead, it becomes a legitimate halachic opinion.”

R’ Schachter is on to an important and politically incorrect truth: not all opinions are actually valid. Some might very well be baseless, and just happen to be printed in a nice sefer.

The Mishna Berurah (426:12 and Sha’ar Hatziyun ad loc) mentions that based on Kabbala, Birkath Hal’vana should not be said on Friday night, probably lest reciters come to dance.

So why is this not Halacha?

1. The way the halacha stood for millennia never included this novel rule.

2. The prohibition against dancing on the Sabbath and Festivals is itself a Rabbinic “fence” around a grave Biblical prohibition, and there is a Talmudic rule that we do not make “decrees to protect decrees.”

3. Even though there are still some lone holdouts who maintain that this prohibition against dancing is still in force, most communities follow the opinion of the Tosafists (Beitza 30a) that nowadays there is no such prohibition. Thus, the almost universal custom of Hakafoth on Simhath Torah, which, if not for the Tosafist leniency, would be rabbinically forbidden. (As an aside, as a I have grown out of my younger, Carlebach-minyan-leader-at-the-shabbaton persona, I have come to see that Tosafos might have been mistaken. I have seen some enthusiastic individuals whip out guitars and such just before or right after shabbos in  order to accompany the festivities. How could they say that the sages’ concern does not apply to us?)

4. R’ Schachter’s maxim applies to any of those practices that are “al pi kabbala,” based on Kabbala. Believe it or not, there were periods in Jewish History when it was actually cool to adopt new and mystical practices that did not really fit with tradition, and the author of the Shulhan Aruch, despite his knowledge of the ancient halachoth, was an enthusiast thereof. Best examples: the new rules of no tefillin on Hol Hamoed and no trimming of a man’s temple hairs.

That is why I consider avoiding Birkath Hal’vana Friday evening to be a non-rule.

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From → halacha

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