Friday, September 26, 2008

Repackaged Rulings: The Responsa of R. Elyashiv

Repackaged Rulings: The Responsa of R. Elyashiv

by: Yitzhak of בין דין לדין


Wolf2191 recently wrote:

N.B. I believe I noticed that some of the pesakim that R' Elyashiv issued when he was part of the Beis Din Ha-Gadol together with Chacham Ovadiah and Harav Kappach were republished in a kovetz under R' Elyashiv's name only, but I would need to check again.]

The קובץ תשובות

Three volumes of Rav Elyashiv's responsa have been published in Yerushalayim under the title קובץ תשובות, the first in 5760, and the latter two in 5763. None contain any preface, introduction or critical apparatus, except for the following brief prefatory paragraph, which appears verbatim in all three volumes:

קובץ זה נאסף ונלקט מספרים קובצים וכו'. וזאת למודעי כי ברוב התשובות לא היה גוף כתה"י לנגד עינינו, וסמכנו על הנדפס ויש מהם שבאו בחסר ושינויי לשון, כך שאין מקום כלל לקבוע דבר מהם. התשובות נלקטו ונסדרו ע"ד בלבד ואם שגינו אתנו תלין משוגתנו, ואנו תפלה להשי"ת שלא יצא דבר תקלה ח"ו מתח"י.

The title pages state merely that these responsa have been

נאספו נלקטו וקובצו מספרים וקובצים תורניים

No editors are named, and copyright is claimed anonymously, although a mailing address is given.

A striking difference between the three volumes is in the sourcing of the individual responsa. The table of contents of the first volume contains sources for all the responsa, that of the second leaves many unsourced, particularly in the Even Ha'Ezer and Hoshen Mishpat sections, and that of the third dispenses entirely with sources.

Why does the second volume omit some sources? Rav Dovid Soloveitchik used to say (and probably still does) "We may only ask 'what does it say', not 'why'", so let us rephrase the question; which sources does the second volume omit? The crucial clue is in the fact that the table of contents of the first volume mysteriously gives the sources for many of the responsa as 'פ"ד', whereas that of the second volume contains no such references. 'פ"ד' clearly stands for פסק דין, or perhaps more precisely, פסקי דין, and indeed, most of the unsourced responsa in the second volume seem to be excerpts of rulings originally published in the פסקי-דין של בתי הדין הרבניים האיזוריים בישראל, which explains their concentration in the aforementioned sections.

I have hunted down the sources for a half dozen responsa from the beginning of the Hoshen Mishpat section of the second volume of the קובץ תשובות:

קובץ תשובות

פסקי דין

p. 310

Vol. 5, p. 322

p. 314

Vol. 4, p. 225

p. 321

Vol. 3, p. 289

p. 327

Vol. 5, p. 3

p. 342

Vol. 1, p. 108

p. 351

Vol. 3, p. 170

The remainder are left as an exercise for the reader.

Of the six cases listed above, five were apparently decided unanimously, and the published opinions are recorded simply as the courts' rulings. The third case in the above list yielded a split decision; one opinion appears over the names of R. Elyashiv and a colleague, and another opinion over the name of the third member of the panel. The קובץ תשובות' inclusion of these opinions implies that they have been authored by Rav Elyashiv himself, although the careful reader will notice that the editors do not explicitly attribute them to him; his signature is not appended, as it is to many of the responsa in the work.

The פסקי דין

We have mentioned the פסקי דין; a few words about this invaluable work are in order. At more than eight thousand pages in more than twenty volumes, it is the largest, and unquestionably the most important, published collection of casefiles in the areas of Hoshen Mishpat and Even Ha'Ezer. The decisions are lengthy and intricately argued, and they include copious citations of earlier literature as well as much important original analysis. Many of the בתי הדין הרבניים are represented, as are many of the most eminent Talmidei Hachamim and experts on Hoshen Mishpat and Even Ha'Ezer of the latter half of the twentieth century. Here is a list of some of the best known of these scholars:

Current Status and Availability

According to the Hebrew University catalog entries (See the Main Catalog entries (not JNUL) here and here) twenty two volumes of rulings have been published to date, plus three index volumes. I believe that the cost of the print version is exorbitant, but the wonderful people at have made most of the volumes available for free download, in PDF format; search for פסקי דין. They apparently have the same material that my local library has, nineteen volumes of rulings plus index volumes. [My library has one index volume, covering volumes one through fifteen, they have two, covering volumes one through five and six through ten, and the Hebrew University collections have all three.] They seem to have duplicate copies of volumes eleven through eighteen, and the publication dates of their first series, titled אוסף פסקי דין, are all given as תש"י, which is obviously incorrect (this is the date of the appearance of the first volume, as we shall presently see), but this is mere carping; their making (most of) the work available for free online is a great boon for anyone interested in Hoshen Mishpat and Even Ha'Ezer.

Present At the Creation

Wolf2191 has shown me Dr. Zerah Warhaftig's personal account of the founding and subsequent evolution of the project:

An important innovation in the history of the responsa literature was inaugurated in Israel with the decision to publish the rulings of the Rabbinical High Court of Appeal and those of the district rabbinical courts. The rulings are published together with the arguments on which they are based, as presented in court. Indeed, I myself proposed the publication project, and was charged with its implementation, a responsibility I viewed as a great privelege and sacred trust.

Previously, the Rabbinical High Court of Appeal followed the traditional system of issuing brief rulings while at the same time compiling a full account of the halakhic deliberation on the case in pamphlet form for circulation among judges. Deliberation and discussion are an essential part of the legal process, allowing the individual judges an opportunity to convince their colleagues of the validity of their arguments, so that a decision can be reached. The pamphlets were intended to facilitate this process, rather than explain the rulings to the litigants involved, so that they could understand why they had won, or lost, their cases.

There was no appeal against a ruling of the Rabbinical High Court, nor were there establishe procedures for appealing the rulings of district rabbinical courts. (Interestingly, these pamphlets often served as the basis for volumes of responsa published by their authors years later.)

The idea of publishing, in an organized fashion, both the courts' rulings and their grounds, and that of appending abstracts of the laws cited in the rulings, as is customary in law reports, to allow for ease of reference and study, was thus entirely new. Accordingly, the Chief Rabbinate, which had to approve the proposal, had to be convinced of its merits. This entailed some negotiation, in which, as head of the Ministry of Justice's Research Institute for Jewish Law, I was much involved.

In due course an agreement in principle was reached between myself and the Chief Rabbinate. After some administrative changes were carried out, the first collection of rulings of the Chief Rabbinate's Rabbinical High Court of Appeal was finally published in 1950. Assisted by S. B. Feldman, S. Z. Cahana and P. Galevsky, I served as editor. In the foreword to the volume, I wrote:

The selection of the rulings herein published was guided by the desire to accurately portray the workings of the court. Most of the rulings relate to family law and public endowments; the others are devoted to monetary matters. The opinions of the judges, with a few exceptions, are not published as written, but have been abstracted by the editors from the contents of the pamphlets appended to the case files. This volume thus does not constitute a formal record and the editors assume full responsibility for the adaptation and wording of the judicial opinions.


It was found that publication encouraged rabbinical courts judges to communicate their opinions in a clear and orderly manner comprehensible to those unschooled in Jewish law, whether jurists or members of the public. Over time, rulings of the Rabbinical High Court of Appeal and the district rabbinical courts began to be handed down in a form that allowed them to be published as written, with no editing. Accordingly, it was decided to publish the rulings of the district rabbinical courts, and later, those of the Rabbinical High Court of Appeal, on a monthly basis. ...

In addition to the inaugural volume of rulings of the Rabbinical High Court of Appeal, eleven volumes of rulings of Israel's rabbinical courts had been published by 1960. These well indexed volumes alone contain a wealth of decisions on questions of family and monetary law and on matters of vital public interest.

[Warhaftig, Zerah "Precedent In Jewish Law." in Authority, Process and Method: Studies in Jewish Law Ed. Hanina Ben-Menahem and Neil S. Hecht. Harvard Academic Publishers. 12-16]

So in addition to Wolf2191's point about the republication of the panels' rulings as specifically Rav Elyashiv's, Warhaftig tells us that the rulings in the first volume of the פסקי דין (at least one of which is included in the קובץ תשובות, as above) are actually abstracts written by the editors, and not the original opinions penned by the Dayyanim in the first place!


No comments:

Print post

You might also like

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...