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Monday, April 27, 2009

Achrei Mos, Vayikra 16:32. Lecha’hein tachas aviv. Hereditary Entitlement and Meritocracy in Torah Judaism.

(This is a re-post. It gets special treatment because...well, you'll know why when you read it.)

Here, and in Titzaveh, Shemos 29:30, the passuk teaches us that the position of Kehunah Gedolah is inherited from one's father. Obviously, all Kohanim descend from Aharon. But among the Kohanim, the son of the Kohein Gadol inherits his father’s position. Rav Shternbuch, in his Taam Vodaas in Shemos 29, tells the following story. (The italicized portion is from Oizer Alport’s ParshaPotpourri.)

A controversy once broke out when the Rav of a small town in Europe passed away. The leaders of the community wanted to appoint an outsider to take his place, while one of the Rav’s sons argued that he was suited for the position and deserved precedence as the inheritor of his deceased father. The two sides agreed to bring the dispute to the Chofetz Chaim for resolution.

The Chofetz Chaim began by agreeing that Jewish law recognizes that all religious positions, including Rabbinical appointments, are subject to be inherited by the offspring of the deceased. However, the Gemora in Yoma (72b) distinguishes between the son of the Kohen Gadol, who may inherit his father’s purely religious position, and the son of the Kohen Mashuach Milchama (the Kohen who leads the Jews to battle), who may not. Because the latter position is uniquely intended for a man of war and is not purely a religious function, the fact that somebody was suited for the role is irrelevant to his son’s capacity to inherit and fill the position.

The Chofetz Chaim explained that it was once true that the function of the Rav of a community was purely religious in nature – to render legal rulings and to teach the people – and his children were legally entitled to be offered the position before other candidates were considered.

However, he continued, this has unfortunately changed due to the assault of various anti-religious movements on traditional standards and values. As a result, the role of the Rav has been transformed into that of a general leading his troops into a fierce battle, regarding which the Gemora rules that the children are not entitled to automatic precedence in inheriting and filling the position of the deceased!

A thoughtful reading of this story does raise some questions. If the Chofetz Chaim would have said that inherited position is the standard law of the Torah, we could understand that. But it is hard to see the difference between rabbinic religious positions and pastoral positions. Does he mean that religious functions are sinecures, that we don’t care if the man is capable? Doesn’t kehunah gedola, or any religious position, require certain talents or at least aptitude? Why should the Mashu’ach Milchama position be more important in the sense that we really have to get the best suited candidate, that it is a merit-based appointment, while kehunah gedolah is transferred on the basis of familial privilege, of chazakah?(The rule of inherited authority applies to the crown as well. If an heir is qualified, albeit minimally, the crown is his, despite the abundance of far more talented alternatives. Please don't tell me that hereditary succession is peaceful and orderly: I am still looking for a royal succession in Tanach that didn't involve bloodshed; people were invariably, often blithely, killing their closest relatives for the position, a minhag that we, the upholders of tradition, have proudly continued in recent years. For example, click on the following links:


(The last picture is a little dated and involves machine matza. If it were more current, I'm sure it would have been hand shmura.)

On the other hand, it is possible that the rigid and perhaps irrational rule of inherited succession, messy as it turned out to be, is better than a free for all beauty contest, which would be impossible to win decisively and would guarantee a bloody, endless civil war every time a king died. I think that the "best form of government" may be one of the ineluctable distinctions among the three sons of Noach; we Semites don't do well with Democracy.)

In any case, back to the question on the Chafetz Chaim. Why does inherited rule make more sense in a religious capacity than for the Mashu'ach Milchama? The answer is this:

When the kohen gadol does the avodah, it is not he alone that is standing there doing the avodah. It is him, and his father, and his father’s father, lo, unto the earliest times.

(When I first said this, at the Shabbas table, my wife, Ms. Bor Sid She'einah Me'abeid Tipah, intoned the whole pre-battle speech from a certain re-imagining of Beowulf which she had seen:
"Lo, there do I see my father. Lo, there do I see my mother, and my sisters, and my brothers. Lo, there do I see the line of my people, stretching back to the beginning. They call to me; they bid me to take my place among them, in Valhalla, where the brave may live...forever.")

click here

In spiritual matters, when you stand before Hashem, you stand at the center of a great cloud of the past and the future. So of course, we want a man whose ancestors and descendants are all kohahim gedolim.

By the Mashu’ach Milchama, on the other hand, while of course we need an individual who is a tzadik, more importantly we need a man that can inspire the soldiers to courage and bravery. We don’t give a hoot about his father. (So my wife’s sonorous declamation was, in a sense, inapposite: there, he was summoning up and embracing his brave heritage and fate, while my whole point here is that zechus avos is more important in a religious function than it is in a mashuach milchomo. But it’s a great way to communicate an emotional understanding of the idea that the Kohen Gadol doesn’t go in alone.)

In the interest of scholarship not being eclipsed by showmanship, there are several things that need to be added.

We cited a Chofetz Chaim above regarding Rabbonus being hereditary. In fact, this is a very contested issue. Just as an indicator of how difficult the practical halacha is, in the Kol Kisvei Chafetz Chaim there is a letter from him about a din torah he was involved in: after Reb Naftoli Trop died, his position as Magid Shiur was given to the CC's son in law, and the Trops were not happy. In settlement, the yeshiva gave one position to a Trop, and a monetary settlement to a Trop son in law.

The various medroshim and the Rambam, (such as the Sifra in Shmini on the sons of Aharon, and the Sifra in Tzaz, Vayikra 6, and the Sifri in Devorim 17:20, who all say that Kehuna Gedola and Malchus and Srarah are inherited, and the Medrash in Koheles that says that while Kehuna and Malchus are inherited, Rabbonus is not, since the Keser Torah is available freely to anyone and is not restricted in any way by rights of inheritance, and the Rambam in Klei Hamikdash that says that Malchus, Kehuna Gedolah, and other minuyim are inherited, but only if the heir is worthy of the position "either in Chachma or in Yir'as Shamayim,",) are not nearly as interesting as the more recent poskim.

The more recent poskim that discuss this all basically 'agree' that Malchus and Kehuna Gedola are inherited. They all agree that 'Purely Torah' positions, like saying the Beis Medrash shiur, are not. The issue seems mostly to be which category does Rabbanus or being a Rosh Yeshiva go into-- malchus/serara, or Torah. If Malchus, then they are inherited. If Torah, they are not.

So, the Rama in YD 245 says there is yerusha in Rabbanus. (The Magen Avraham in OC 53 brings the Teshuvos Harashba that the position of Chazzan is inherited. I know an otherwise sane man, whose father was a Chazan, and who thinks he has a beautiful voice, and who, when he davens for the amud, is memareik a lot of aveiros in his listening audience, not through dveikus, but through yesurim.)

But: the Aruch Hashulchan there in YD 245 says there is absolutely no preference given to the son of a Rov. And the Chasam Sofer says the same thing in Teshuvos OC 12.

On the other hand, the Chasam Sofer in the very next teshuva seems to qualify the strong statements in the above cited teshuva. And (no kidding) the Chasidishe perspective, even the Avnei Nezer and the Maharsham, is that Rabbonus is primarily Malchus and is inherited.

An interesting and very fiercely litigated issue arises where the position comprises both Torah and Serara. Torah is not subject to Yerusha; but along with the Torah position comes Serara- power and money. Arguments will arise as to which is the primary function, the Torah or the Serara. This would be less of an issue with Roshei Yeshiva than it is with Rebbes. But lets assume that the two functions are or could be independent. Does the latter follow the former? Or perhaps an argument could be made that upon the death of the holder of the position, the two aspects should be divided, with the Serara going to a heir and the Torah position going to the person with the greatest aptitude. And, of course, there is the usual fight about where the position is definitely inheritable, and the holder of the position didn't write a Tzava'a, but clearly expressed his preference for someone who is not first in line in the law of yerusha. Do we apply the strict law of yerusha, where we don't care about unwritten wishes, or do we say that in communal matters, where theoretically the needs of the community should have given some weight, the statements should be given the force of law?

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