Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Not Answering The Objection

A common debate tactic  (especially, I find, in frum circles) is the practice of not actually answering an argument or objection, but instead deflecting it.  Very often, this takes the form of "don't you think Gadol X thought of that?"  or  "surely he knew about your objection but if it didn't bother him then obviously it's not a valid argument."  Personally, I find it infuriating when people do that, as it violates any number of logical fallacies.

A variation of this appeared today in a column on Vos Iz Neias.  Rabbi Yair Hoffman, a regular correspondent on the site, wrote a long article advocating stricter observance of the halachos of Bishul Akum in restaurants.  Bishul Akum is the rule that a Jew may not eat cooked foods (with certain exceptions) that were not prepared by a Jew.  This rule was enacted centuries ago as a preventative measure against intermarriage.

All in all, Rabbi Hoffman's article was cogent and well-written.  However, at the end of the article, he says the following (emphasis his):

A counter-argument. One might counter that in a restaurant setting, it is not highly likely that bishul akum would result in intermarriage. While this may be true, we must consider that the sages who enacted the protective fences of Judaism were much wiser than we are. Aside from the respect that we must have for halachah itself, there are also farther-reaching repercussions to consider. The issue of laxity involving the bishul akum of household help is serious and has, unfortunately, led to some serious lapses.

Here, Rabbi Hoffman raises a very powerful counter-argument for loosening the rules of Bishul Akum in restaurant settings.  Yes, Bishul Akum may work as a preventative measure against intermarriage in residential and social settings, but if I'm dining in a restaurant, I'm not likely to go looking to socialize with the chef who made my steak.

However, rather than address the very objection he raises, he simply goes ahead and pulls the "they're much greater than us so we can't question/change anything" card.  Personally, I find that very unsatisfying.  Perhaps the halachos of Bishul Akum *can* be relaxed in a restaurant, as modern restaurants didn't exist when these halachos were codified.  Perhaps there are valid reasons to continue to apply these halachos to restaurants.  Personally, I'm not enough of an expert to have a valid opinion one way or the other.  But if you're going to bring up the objection, at least answer it with a well-reasoned rational answer.  Rabbi Hoffman, on the other hand, chose to answer it with "they're so much wiser than we are..."  I find that to be a very poor answer.

Again, I'm not saying that the halachos of Bishul Akum should be loosened in restaurant settings.  I don't know enough about the halachos to make that sort of statement.  But I do know enough to know that if you're going to try to head off an objection that your opponents may make, you should actually try to answer that objection with valid arguments.

The Wolf

(PS:  Just for the record, I don't know if Rabbi Hoffman's suggestions vis-a-vis Bishul Akum are correct or not -- I'm not an expert in these halachos.  My main point is not the article itself, but his failure to address his own objection/)


ksil said...

people truly believe that even contemporary rabbis, dayanim and poskim have some sort of heavenly guidance when they make a judgement. kal vechimer chazal.

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

When reading through the various codes one does find situations in which the posek says "Well, this situation is somewhat different from what the original decree was meant for but..." However, the answer usually is that the decree was made as a blanket one and we don't have the authority to starting picking and choosing how to apply it. So a good end to his post might have been "While a modern restaurant avoids some of Chazal's concerns their decree covers all cases of non-Jews cooking for Jews so we make no differentiation."

Avi said...

I particularly hate the "they were wiser than us" card. Granted, any member of ChaZaL prominent enough to mentioned in Mishnah or Talmud was undoubtedly on the top of his game, but I really hate the implication that no one today is as smart or as wise or as learned. Sure, your local Rabbi in Cheder is not exactly ChaZaL, but I'd put Rav Moshe ZT"L or Rav Shlomo Zalman ZT"L against CHaZaL any day.

Anonymous said...

"One beis din can not annul that which an earlier beis din decided unless they are greater than them in wisdom and numbers." I just quoted a halachik statement that I think is the backbone of R. Hoffman's article.

Joe said...

Who's going to decide re the 'wisdom' part?

btw, any way to relax the 'not-a-robot-proving' mechanism? It can be quite difficult to differentiate letters often.

Larry Lennhoff said...

Interesting article, thanks for posting, Rav Moshe Feinstein ruled that Bishul Akum applied even in factories (where the connection to the consumer is even more distant than in a restaurant) except in cases where the cooking tools used were something that would not be used in normal cooking. (The principle leniency I am aware of from this is that OU does not think bishul akum is a concern for canned tuna fish, as the giant steamers used to cook the fish are not a scaled up version of any common cooking utensil.)

I didn't find most of the rabbi's reasons particularly compelling. You can always find someone who forbids anything, and I think that contemporary American Orthodoxy is not suffering from an over-reliance on b'devieds. It seems like we are suffering from H. L. Mencken's definition of Puritanism.

I found reason 5 (providing more employment for frum Jews with no skills) to be the most interesting. I don't think it will work out the way he does. He doesn't come right out and say what he expects to happen. I get the impression he expects the non-Jewish chefs to be fired and replaced by Jews? In that case I'd expect a drop in quality and rise in prices, and a significant number of restaurants going out of business. If the Jew can participate in a trivial way (e.g, flipping the hamburger or stirring a large pot of soup once) I'd expect those duties to add only one or two people to the staffing requirements,