Two volumes on the writings of Rav Moshe

Over the past year or so, two sefarim have been published that – in very different ways – offer further insights and perspectives on the halakhic rulings penned by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein as found in his Iggrot Moshe.

The first, published in late 5776, is volume 2 of She’elot UTeshuvot VeDibarta Bam which is a set of responsa written by Rabbi Boruch Moskowitz (nb. the title VeDibarta Bam was chosen because the acronym of Baruch Moskowitz is ‘Bam) who has been a student ofRabbi David Feinstein for the past 21 years.

In many ways VeDibarta Bam is a classic responsa volume containing 321 responsa (nb. volume 1 contained 293 responsa) addressing every area of Jewish law and practice. However, what makes it unique is that the author – Rabbi Moskowitz – ends each responsum with the words ‘and I have heard from our teacher the great Rosh YeshivaRabbi David Feinstein shlita….’ and he often discusses questions previously addressed byRav Moshe, with a number of rulings explicitly analyzing some of Rav Moshe’s most well-known rulings. To give just a few examples of the topics covered in this volume:

Responsum 58 discusses the notion of a ‘national drink’ vis-à-vis its use for Kiddush and the position of Rav Moshe (Iggrot Moshe OC 2 No 75) with reference to Soda. Based on this, Rabbi Moskowitz refers to the rulings of Rabbi David Feinstein who clarifies the position of Rav Moshe that a national drink is defined by the kinds of drinks you offer guests and not necessarily the drink that the majority of the nation drinks.

Responsum 142 discusses the status of religious books and documents, and explores a fascinating position of Rav Moshe (Iggrot Moshe OC 4 No. 39) regarding whether it is necessary to place such items (eg. Gemarot) in Geniza. Rabbi Moskowitz refers to the rulings of Rabbi David Feinstein who says that while we should be strict about this matter, in times of need can rely on the ruling of Rav Moshe. At the same time, he also reminds the reader about the dangers of making excess copies of Torah source sheets etc.

Responsum 304 discusses the ruling of Rav Moshe (Iggrot Moshe HM 2 No. 74) regarding whether a patient towards their life must undergo a medical procedure that may enable them to live a little longer and remain in pain, or whether they can choose not to have such a procedure. Based on this, Rabbi Moskowitz refers to the rulings of Rabbi David Feinstein concerning the correct procedure in a situation where the patient is unable to express their wishes on this matter.

Responsum 306-307 discuss Rav Moshe’s rulings on the definitions and time of death which, of course, have significant implications vis-à-vis organ transplantation. Given the complexity of these topics I haven’t summarized them here, although those who wish to better understand Rav Moshe’s position would greatly benefit from reading these rulings.
Finally, I’d like to mention his discussion of Shehecheyanu on fruit (Responsum No. 45) – a topic that I have studied in depth and also relevant to Rosh Hashanah. Referring to a 1964 ruling of Rav Moshe (Iggrot Moshe OC 3 No. 34) discussing whether Shehecheyanu can be recited on fruit which – due to technological advances – can be growth throughout the year, Rabbi Moskowitz raises further questions about the relevance of Shehecheyanu due to the increase of fruit importation and greater technological developments. He concludes by citing Rabbi David Feinstein who explains that while it is true that Shehecheyanu on fruit will depend on each type of fruit, ‘whoever is joyous to have a new fruit can recite the blessing at least in a place where the fruit is not available all year round.’

Contrasting this volume is Rabbi Yonatan Rosman’s Petichat HaIggrot which was published in mid-5777. In many ways, this volume also seeks to offer further insights and perspectives on the halakhic rulings penned by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein. However, unlikeVeDibarta Bam, it comes from a position of critique rather than mere clarification.

Aware that many poskim do not concur with some of the rulings of Rav Moshe, RabbiRosman has consulted over 500 sefarim and summarized – in a book spanning over 700 pages! – listing where and why they differ with Rav Moshe on a responsum by responsum basis.

In his introduction Rabbi Rosman explains how such a work is defendable and part of the halakhic process, while the appendices of ‘Petichat HaIggrot’ includes a number of direct challenges to Rav Moshe’s methodology as well as 67 pages from Rabbi Yaakov Adess in response to a variety of rulings by Rav Moshe.

It should be noted that Rabbi Rosman speaks of Rav Moshe in highly reverential ways. At the same time, some may find the very effort of creating a book of such length to be unsettling, especially as some of the sources that Rabbi Rosman cites as a critique of RavMoshe are somewhat questionable, and their arguments are more than shaky. Simply put, just because someone offers a critique of a ruling of Rav Moshe does not itself challenge the substance of the original ruling!

Notwithstanding this, some of the examinations of Rav Moshe’s responsa in Petichat HaIggrot are enlightening, and anyone who is interested in serious halakhic scholarship may find this work of value – at least in terms of reference.