Chaim Brovender- Petach 1975

Once upon a time, many years ago there was an era when a Israel yeshiva experience for those without day school background was unknown. It was the euphoria after the Six Day war and young Jews flocked into the city with backpacks and indeterminate plans. Rabbi Elephant of ITRI together with Rabbi David Hartman ran a program called Shapells College (its original name was the Shalom Hartman Institute) for such students. Rabbi Hartman broke off, even though he raised the money, because the program was too yeshivish. On the other hand, Rabbi Brovender left taking with him eight students to found Yeshivat Hamivtar after a kerfuffle from an article in the Shapells College Journal-Petach.

I looked at the article recently in the process of researching a different topic. Once I had a copy, I figured it might be an interesting post. The purpose of the article was to show that the concept of daas Torah is limited by looking to the lack of certainty even in prophecy. The article is framed about the quest for certainty in non-halakhic matters. If one is labeled a gadol, then can his opinions transform the uncertainty of philosophical speculation into quasi-halakhic categories? The article’ basic answer was that if we could not tell if a prophecy in the Bible was true, then we certainly accept the charismatic leaders of our time as certain.  The article in general has a rationalist tone, including referencing Eliezer Goldman’s article on prophecy as naturalistic. Below are a few selected paragraphs> Here is the entire article — Chaim Brovender_On the Determination of Non-Halakhic Reality (A Model from the Prophets)_Petach2_9-17


An involvement with Torah reflects the attempt of a human being to live with truth. The recognition that man can act in accordance with God’s will and the desire to live accordingly is, in fact, man’s attempt to cleave to absolute truth. However, any attempt to maximalize one’s living in accordance with God’s will, must of necessity recognize and come to grips with an overwhelming contradiction. Torah does not seem to give man a method by which to recognize the “truth” in every case.

Even if we were to accept that all people who have “ideas of the Holy” also recognize that it must be a reality in some context, is it also true that the recognition of this reality implies a reduction of uncertainty in the mind of the beholder? If I recognize spirituality in a fellow human being, can I reduce my doubt about the determination of a non-halakhic question by simply accepting his determination? Does philosophical speculation, for example, become transformed into quasi-halakhic categories when that speculation is done by the spiritual personality?

Certainty is man’s quest but not his lot. Other than those matters where the Torah has determined a method for achieving a formal decision (halakha). any decision rests on man’s capacity to evaluate a particular situation. That man, as an individual, must enter into the decision making process is apparently a basic part of the notion of free choice. Not even God’s spiritual representative, the prophet, was able to effectively remove uncertainty.

A question of some significance arises as a result of our discussion. How is it that the spiritual person (prophet) can mislead. Clearly Hanania possesses spiritual credentials:·Otherwise, would Yirmiyahu heed his words?

In other words, prophetic achievement is not sufficient to guarantee that a person will be able to pass on the prophecy as received to the people of Israel. Since these qualities are variables in the particular prophet, they must be personal, and not prophetic qualities. A person who has greater amounts of these human qualities is the greater prophet. The false prophets were prophets. Their ability to relate to the spiritual directive was unique. However, their personal might was a variable, and at times determinedwhether they would be able to speak prophecy truthfully.

It is not my intention to prejudice the question of whether Maimonides felt that becoming a prophet was entirely in the hands of man or not. On this question refer to A. Goldman, “Prophecy & Choice” (Nevua U’bhirah)

It is possible to claim that there are no non-halakhic problems within Judaism. It is not my intention to debate this position but only to declare that I disagree. It is hard to imagine that Maimonides’ Pardes or that Nahmanides’ dictum, naval b’reshut ha’Tora are Halakhic categories.

6 responses to “Chaim Brovender- Petach 1975

  1. 1. Chacham adif mi’navi, so we see that a navi does not need to be a chacham. Also it is evident from chazal that when one navi experiences a nevuah then all neviim know of it but they know that they are not meant to transmit it (so they will know if the other navi is kovesh nevuasoh).

    A navi has access to knowing new reality that Hashem has introduced to the world before it has been physically instantiated.

    It is apparent from the fact that there is such a thing as a navi sheker that it is possible to ‘pick up’ incorrect messages (or pseudo appearances of new reality) in which case you will be in danger of becoming a navi sheker (and possibly not knowing that you are one). I would imagine that there is a tremendous amount of control required when perceiving nevuah to direct yourself to the true nevuah and not fall into receiving sheker.

    This does not seem to have anything to do with the question of whether a chacham based on their understanding of the world and all that is in it can extrapolate the right way to proceed using currently available information.

    2. Given that we do not have neviim we would hope that it is possible for us to identify people through whom Hashem instructs us how to proceed through life. Ki lo yitosh Hashem amo…

  2. How does Maimonides explain chacham adif mi’navi if the navi is a chacham?

  3. This post [discusses an article that ] conflates the notion of daas torah with infallibility. Halachic authority does not depend on infallibility. Neither does daas torah according to the theory of daas torah.

  4. Maimonides in his introduction to the perush ha’mishnayos seems to say that there are two sorts of incorrect prophecy.

    1) In which the navi deliberately lies (Maimonides uses the word ‘sheker’ here. It is an outright lie.)

    2) In which the navi is able to foretell some aspect of the future through necromancy etc. however because the source of the information is not G-d there will always be misinformation mixed into the prediction. Here he uses the term ‘chazav’ which seems to denote deviation from the truth as opposed to an outright lie.

    However Maimonides says that for a Navi Hashem – a prophet of G-d, the prophecy will always be 100% accurate and through this we can differentiate between the false prophet (who must be killed) and the prophet of G-d.

    If a prophet makes a good prediction that does not materialise with 100% accuracy then he is a false prophet. This is because if G-d says that something good will happen to someone / people via a prophet then He will never go back on His word. (This applies specifically to prophecy for the good because if a bad prediction does not materialise this may be because G-d had mercy and annulled the decree.)

    Subsequently I still do not understand the argument comparing prophecy to ‘daas torah’;
    – If the prophet is a prophet of G-d then indeed his prophecy is infallible. This is a law of the means by which G-d chooses to communicate with humanity.

    – If the prophet is a false prophet then he will either lie outright or he will use dubious methods to predict the future. This is prohibited by the Torah on pain of death and always includes some innacuracy.

    Neither of these categories seem to have any bearing on the concept of ‘daas torah’. Here we are discussing the advice of a G-d fearing man who earnestly attempts to abide by the Torah’s guidance. This person has a specific understanding of life, generational psychodynamics and reality that hopefully in a large part has been imbued in him through his pursuit of G-dly wisdom.

    The quesion of whether his advice is fallible or infallible seems to have no bearing to the fact that a prophet can deliberately choose to tell either an outright lie or to use necromancy et al to predict the future and pass this off as the word of G-d revealed to him.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s