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20/20 vision for hilkhot Shabbat: A Glance at Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon’s Newest Sefer

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Ezra Y. Schwartz

We live in a world where publication of sefarim is commonplace. The market is at or nearing the saturation point for new Torah volumes. In particular, there are dozens of new titles on practical areas of Halakhah, including kashrut, aveilut, niddah, and Shabbat. In this climate it is exceedingly rare for a new title to make a significant contribution. Of course, there will be hiddushei dinim here and there, and without question sefarim will address the most contemporary issues and will organize the material in a superior way to the way earlier sefarim were structured. Still, it is extremely unlikely that a newly-written sefer will make any significant impact on the already-full library of halakhic volumes.

Despite these formidable challenges, Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon’s recently published two-volume work on hilkhot Shabbat covering the first eleven of the thirty-nine melakhot makes a genuine contribution to the study and teaching of this critical area of Halakhah. To see why this is, let us turn to a key distinction between two types of halakhic works.

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Many have distinguished between sefarim that provide practical halakhic guidance and those with the agenda of facilitating source-based learning and teaching the halakhah. A contrast is drawn between sifrei limmud and sifrei pesak, works which are intended to issue a bottom-line ruling versus those works whose intention is to present the major positions and not necessarily come to a conclusion.[1] 

It is not always easy to classify a particular sefer as either a sefer pesak or limmud. Take the Mishnah Berurah for example. Many classify the Mishnah Berurah as a sefer pesak. Indeed, it is widely reported in the name of the Hazon Ish that the Mishnah Berurah is the posek aharon, the final and most definitive halakhic authority. However, as demonstrated by Benny Brown, Mishnah Berurah is not a sefer pesak in the truest sense. The Hafetz Hayyim steers clear of many of the most contentious issues of his time. He does not weigh in on the question of electricity on Shabbat. He does not offer a clear position on the suitability of telephone poles serving as posts for an eruv. He only provides a list of sources in the responsa literature that address that question. In this respect, Mishnah Berurah is not a bona fide sefer pesak but should better be classified as a sefer limmud, a digest of classical poskim found on the page of Shulhan Arukh and authored until his day.[2]

In our day and age, however, it is easier to classify works as either a sefer pesak or a sefer limmud. Regarding hilkhot Shabbat, Rabbi Dovid Ribiat’s four-volume work is most certainly a sefer pesak. The crux of the sefer marshals many modern-day cases which illustrate principles in hilkhot Shabbat. Of course, there are voluminous endnotes which probe the gemara and Rishonim to buttress a particular claim. However, that section of the work, located at that back and written in Hebrew – unlike the main text, which is written in English – is intended for scholars rather than the average, presumably-intended reader of the text. For the everyday reader, Rabbi Ribiat’s text is a clear sefer pesak.

Similarly, the highly influential Shemirat Shabbat ke-Hilkhatah (SSK) of Rav Yehoshua Neuwirth is also a work of piskei dinim. Shemirat Shabbat is a work of tremendous importance. This is not only because of the many piskei halakhah of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach found in the book; it is even more correct because of how user friendly SSK is. Anyone with a question can easily locate where the question is addressed by merely looking at the index. The book is so user-friendly that the index actually contains a list of English-language terms which greatly assist the English speaker who may not be familiar with modern Hebrew parlance. SSK is not, however, a sefer limud. The book is arranged based on practical applications rather than conceptual underpinnings of the Halakhah. There is a great deal of analysis found in SSK, but it is relegated to the footnotes. 

Similarly, the popular Sefer Orhot Shabbat is organized in a practical rather than conceptual way. Unlike SSK, however, each section begins with a brief introduction tracing the Halakhah back to its earliest source in gemara. However, there is little analysis of the original source, and little work is done to analyze the various approaches of Rishonim to any particular gemara. Effectively, the sources cited direct the reader to the sugya he should focus his attention on, but doesn’t provide that reader with analysis of that section. Consequently although Orhot Shabbat does cite primary sources these sources are not fully analyzed and developed. The footnotes in Orhot Shabbat analyze the cases brought in the main text and often provide various positions of modern-day poskim. Nonetheless, it remains primarily a sefer pesak

There are sifrei limud published in our day as well. A fine example is Rav Uriel Eisenthal’s excellent Megillat Sefer. This work employs powerful detailed halachic analysis of the sugya and often arrives at his own novel halachic conclusions. He even dedicates a full chapter to his disagreements with SSK. However Megillat Sefer is most certainly a sefer limud. One who has not already digested the halachic analysis in Megillat Sefer will be unable to locate his conclusions. The volume is useful almost entirely to those who are already deeply immersed in the sugya.

In contrast to all these, Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon’s recently published two-volume sefer on hilkhot Shabbat is most unusual. Without question, it is simultaneously a sefer pesak offering bottom-line halakhah le-ma’aseh and a sefer limmud which summarizes the sugya, analyzes the Rishonim and poskim, and even presents its own sometimes novel pesakim. Rav Rimon does this by structuring his sefer in an unusual way. He begins with a summary of dinim on all the melakhot. This summary presents basic halakhot in a succinct way. It clearly falls into the category of pesak.

However, the bulk of the sefer represents a sefer limmud, taking the reader through the sugya and bringing him or her into the sources of the halakhot. It is so neatly organized it easily can be used to prepare shiurim. Rav Rimon does not simply cite the primary source for any given din. He probes that source, delineates the various possibilities found in Rishonim as to how one can understand that source, and provides practical cases to illustrate the difference between the various approaches. Building upon this analysis, Rav Rimon presents the positions of major poskim and how they rule on the question at hand. But he goes even further, outlining the cases in which one may follow the more lenient position even when the majority of halakhic authorities are strict. 

Unlike the sefarim mentioned earlier, Rav Rimon does not relegate his analysis to footnotes or endnotes. He incorporates the various positions of Rishonim into the main text. He effectively takes the reader down the halakhic highway. The reader feels like he or she is engaging with a fully developed, high-level shiur. He or she does not feel like he is being spoon-fed halakhic conclusions; he is part of the total process from beginning to end, and clearly understands how a conclusion is determined.

Another unusual aspect of Rav Rimon’s sefer is the equal treatment he grants to Ashkenazi and Sefardi authorities. Even sefarim which emanate from Israel, where there is a greater integration of Ashkenazim and Sefardim, tend to focus on one group or the other. Occasionally, a terse note will indicate that Ashkenazim or Sefardim follow a different practice than the one highlighted in the text. Rav Rimon, however, presents the positions of both Ashkenazi and Sefardi poskim even-handedly. His sefer is therefore usable by all segments of Klal Yisrael. 

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There are other features of Rav Rimon’s sefer which greatly add to its usefulness. Each halakhic section comprises not only text, but charts as well. These charts summarize the ideas contained in the text and help the visual learner process the material. There is considerable educational research indicating that many students assimilate information more fully when it is presented visually rather than simply with text. In fact, Shirat ha-Yam, a popular sefer that prepares students for the Israeli Chief Rabbbinate semikha behinot in various areas of Halakhah, makes extensive use of charts to organize the material and succinctly convey the shitot. The colored charts in Rav Rimon’s sefer do far more than that. Each chart effectively summarizes the Halakhah, and the various shitot set forth without extensive text. The charts are color-coded to convey the shitot and their reasons, enabling the reader to quickly review a large section of the text.

Another element that contributes to the usefulness of the sefer are the many high-quality pictures included throughout. Many of the most popular sefarim mentioned above are comprised entirely of text. Incorporating photographs into the text further helps the visual reader to process the material. Additionally, the names of authorities cited in the text are bolded. This helps the reader locate the name of the posek who addresses the issue at hand. Moreover, the margins of the text identify briefly which particular topic is being addressed. The further makes it easier for the reader who is searching for a particular halakhic discussion.

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Rav Rimon’s approach to Halakhah, which involves tracing the Halakhah from its earliest sources and carefully analyzing the sources to uncover its conceptual underpinnings, is based on the approach of his late Rebbe, Ha-Rav Aharon Lichtenstein zt”l. Rav Aharon extended the Brisker derekh ha-limmud of his father-in-law Rav Soloveitchik zt”l. However, unlike Rav Soloveitchik who analyzed a relatively small corpus of Rishonim, Rav Aharon added a plethora of Rishonei Ashkenaz, Sefard, and Provence into the mix. Including this wide array of Rishonim provides authorities upon whom to pin conceptual possibilities. Rav Rimon clearly employs this methodology but adds to it, including variant texts of those Rishonim.[3] 

Moreover, like his Rebbe Rav Aharon, Rav Rimon begins his halakhic discussions by focusing on the Bible and the themes that emerge from the pesukim. Of particular interest here is the masterful introduction Rav Rimon presents to the book. His analysis of the reasons to observe Shabbat begins with a careful examination of the pesukim. However, instead of merely reviewing the basic verses, he uses a careful reading of the biblical text to inform a conceptual analysis of the nature of refraining from melakhah on Shabbat.

A fine example of this is found in the Introduction. Rav Rimon inquires: Are we commanded to avoid melakhah based on the ideal of menuhah, physical rest, or is the ideal shevitah, the cessation of creative labor? On the one hand, Hashem rested after six days of creation. This exemplifies menuhah. However, for Adam ha-Rishon, Shabbat was his first full day on Earth. Resting in the physical sense makes no sense. Rather, Adam ha-Rishon’s Shabbat represents shevitah, the idea of imitating God by refraining from being creative. The idea is that one is not an infirm being who needs to rest, but a powerful figure who is challenged to bring the sacred value of shevitah into daily life and allow this value to inform the six days which follow Shabbat. The beauty of this idea emerges from the analysis of pesukim and citation of gemarot that bring it into clear focus. Rav Rimon further cites kabbalistic and hasidic sources that support his idea.[4] 

The sefer also contains piskei halakhah of Rav Aharon Lichtenstein zt”l. Many think of Rav Aharon only as a Rosh Yeshiva who analyzed and conceptualized positions of the Rishonim. Few recognize that Rav Aharon also issued piskei halakhah; Rav Rimon’s sefer corrects that limited perspective.[5] We also read piskei halakhah of Rav Soloveitchik that are found in Rav Schachter’s sefarim, but sadly are often not cited in contemporary sifrei halakhah.[6]

Throughout the sefer, Rav Rimon intermittently includes hasidic and other mahashavah ideas that emphasize the meaning and beauty of Shabbat. In this respect, the reader of the sefer will not only be fluent in the practical applications of the halakhot, but will also understand the meaning and value of Shabbat. Incorporating hasidic sources into halakhic works is a particularly Israeli phenomenon. It is well known that Israeli yeshivot, unlike their American counterparts, include far more mahashavah and hasidut in their curricula. Rav Rimon’s sefer therefore represents an extension of Rav Soloveitchik’s application of Brisker analysis to include not only a greater scope of Rishonim and themes of Mikra, but the values and ideals that stem from hasidut and mahashavah as well.

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Rav Rimon makes a point of incorporating biographical material of Rishonim and gedolei ha-poskim into his work. Interestingly, this idea also comes from Rav Aharon zt”l, who instructed Rav Rimon to incorporate this material so as to educate the current generation towards appropriate appreciation of gedolei Yisrael.[7] Although these biographies comprise a fairly small part of Rav Rimon’s sefer, it is worth emphasizing them due to their importance and relative uniqueness.

Unlike so many who describe gedolei Yisrael in a relatively uniform way, such that it is hard to differentiate one gadol from another, Rav Rimon makes a point of stressing the uniqueness of each gadol he quotes. His biographies draw out the unique personality of various hakhmei ha-mesorah. The reader will not only become aware of halakhic positions of Rav Eliezer of Metz (the Yereim), but will also become aware of where the Yereim fits into the timeline of Rishonim and that he suffered the loss of his wife and all his daughters.[8]

Of particular interest is the way Rav Rimon discusses his personal interactions with gedolei ha-poskim of the past generation. We learn about the Tzitz Eliezer’s interest in poetry[9] and his awareness of the religious poetry penned by Rav Rimon’s grandfather. [10] We also learn that Hakham Ovadia Yosef zt”l had a profound influence on Rav Rimon in the way he responded to Rav Rimon’s questions when Rav Rimon was still young, and how reading Hakham Ovadia’s teshuvot first drew Rav Rimon into the serious study of Halakhah.[11]

Rav Rimon makes a point of stressing the human sensitivity of gedolei ha-poskim by noting episodes with Rav Mordechai Eliyahu[12] and Rav Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, as well as noting pesakim of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach that exhibit his human sensitivity.[13] An interesting anecdote that conveys the tremendous sensitivity of gedolei Yisrael relates to the somewhat obscure Rav Binyamin Zilber. Rav Zilber had a practice of engaging in a ta’anit dibbur from Rosh Hodesh Elul through Yom Kippur. He maintained this personal practice for over sixty years, only breaking it on one occasion: speaking to an orphaned kallah the day of her wedding.[14]

The stories Rav Rimon tells about gedolei yisrael from all generations convey valuable lessons. We read of how Rav Avraham Danzig, the author of Hayyei Adam, was a businessman early in his life but nonetheless was able to compose sifrei halakhah since he was always focused on learning and worked only to support his family.[15] This lesson is of particular importance to lay people, who clearly are an intended audience of Rav Rimon’s sefer. Lay people also have the responsibility and capability to not only study Torah but to make genuine and lasting contributions to the corpus of Torah. 

Rav Rimon also makes a point of noting relatively surprising facts related to gedolei Yisrael. Few are aware that in the first week Hazon Ish was in Eretz Yisrael, he sent a sha’ailah to Rav Kook related to the proper way of separating terumot and ma’asrot.[16] We read of how Rav Avraham of Sochatchow, famed author of teshuvot Avnei Nezer, only composed his monumental Eglei Tal on hilkhot Shabbat when he was ill and unable to deliver regular shiurim.[17] 

Rav Rimon makes a special point of stressing which gedolei Yisrael felt a strong connection to Eretz Yisrael. We read of the Ohr Sameach’s famous statement that the three oaths described in the gemara Ketubot which prevent Klal Yisrael from taking Eretz Yisrael by force no longer apply after the San Remo conference of 1920 which endorsed the Balfour declaration.[18] We read of the Ben Ish Hai’s strong connection to Eretz Yisrael, how he lectured about it often, and even brought Eretz Yisrael’s dirt back with him to Baghdad and placed it on the eastern wall of his shul.[19] The connection to Eretz Yisrael can most clearly be seen from the lengthiest biography in the sefer, the biography of Rav Kook. In that biography Rav Rimon references the strong bond his grandfather had to Rav Kook, how Rav Kook repaired the rift between different segments of the community and how Rav Kook viewed Eretz Yisrael as a place that raises the spirituality of every person and everything.[20]

Rav Rimon emphasizes these gedolim in particular because of his own deep love for Eretz Yisrael. This love is evidenced in his sefarim on Shemitah and halakhot for soldiers in the Israeli army. Moreover, Rav Rimon has established many hesed organizations to assist various segments of Israeli society, including evacuees from Gush Katif and immigrants from Ethiopia. Without question, Rav Rimon’s deep and abiding love for Eretz Yisrael is the reason he decided to include biographical information of those gedolei Yisrael who similarly exhibited deep love for Eretz Yisrael.

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There are of course some things I would prefer to see in Rav Rimon’s sefer. The index is not as thorough as it could be. Consequently, the book is not as usable for the individual who has a particular sha’ailah to investigate.

I would love to see forthcoming volumes of Rav Rimon’s sefer addressing the remaining melakhot of Shabbat. We are told that shortly a volume on the mitzvot aseh of Shabbat will come out. That will certainly be a major contribution. It would be wonderful to see a completion of this work to include all thirty-nine melakhot as well. Moreover, I would recommend expanding this work in two directions that would enhance the usefulness of this text. An edition of Rav Rimon’s sefer that would appeal to children would be a major benefit for fathers and mothers who would like to teach hilkhot Shabbat to their children using this methodology. Moreover, a translation of this work into English (Rav Rimon’s sefer of Shemitah is already translated into English) would greatly assist English speakers and help to enhance Shabbat observance in North America as well.

Rav Rimon has already proven himself as a significant posek in our Modern Orthodox /Dati Leumi community. This most recent book only further emphasizes just how significant his contributions to Halachah can be.


[1] See Rav Zevin’s Soferim Us-Sfarim, and in particular his section relating to Shulchan Aruch Ha-Rav.

[2] See Benjamin Brown, “Soft Stringency in Mishnah Berurah,” Contemporary Jewry27: 1-41, especially pp. 8-11.

[3] See p. 281.

[4] See pages 58- 72.

[5] See page 690 regarding crushing avocado onto bread.

[6] See page 528 regarding making ice cubes on Shabbat. See page 264 regarding making tea on Shabbat. Mahshavah ideas of Rav Soloveitchik are also included, for instance on p. 44.

[7] See page 4.

[8] Page 285.

[9] Page 210.

[10] See also page 444 regarding Rav Rimon’s interaction with the Steipler. 

[11] Page 352.

[12] Page 373.

[13] Page 201.

[14] Page 133.

[15] Page 86.

[16] Page 290.

[17] Page 400. He also cites Rav Soloveitchik that Avnei Nezer employs Brisker methodology despite his hasidic heritage.

[18] Page 566.

[19] Page 508.

[20] Page 518-519.