Israel Prize-winner Rabbi Dr. Daniel Sperber has more to say about haredism's regressive halakhic behavior, including dishing – in print this time – on the unusual halakhic behavior of the so-called "posek acharon," the Chafetz Chaim…
…The Hatam Sofer influenced poskim and communities all over Europe, and the situation reached the absurd, according to Sperber: "Recently a book was published about the customs of the Mattersdorf community [in Hungary- Y.S.] in the mid-19th century. And it turns out that in this community the rabbis refused to allow a heater into the study hall and consequently it was so cold that most members of the community refrained from coming to the synagogue in the winter, and there's evidence that those who came had icicles running down from their beards, only because 'our forefathers did not have heaters.' In that same community they also avoided placing benches in the synagogue, and elderly people were forced to stand during the entire prayer service, for the same reason that 'Hadash is forbidden by the Torah.'"
Even major poskim, experts in the halakhic tradition, avoided innovation to the point of absurdity. Sperber tells of the testimony of the son of the Hafetz Haim (Rabbi Yisrael Hacohen of Radin, the main Ashkenazi posek of modern times) regarding his father, who refrained from introducing electricity into the synagogue, even on weekdays, because of the innovation it represented.…
This is your "saint," haredim, your so-called "posek acharon."
Don't forget the "saintly" Chafetz Chaim was also a leading anti-Zionist and a man who discouraged Jews from immigrating to Israel, the US and Canada on the eve of the destruction of European Jewry.
Oh, and one more thing – the Chafetz Chaim was a leading proponent of…"Da'as Torah," the haredi rationale for everything from staying in Europe to be butchered by the Nazis to allowing a certain pedophile rabbi to molest unchecked for 40 years.
Rabbi Sperber continues:
…Sperber discusses another major problem that he sees as an obstacle to the poskim - the absence of sufficient scientific knowledge. He is referring mainly [but not exclusively – S.R.] to their ignorance of the academic field of Jewish studies, which causes them to be unfamiliar with sources discovered in recent generations or differences of opinion between versions of various manuscripts, which could influence the pesika. As a basic example of that he mentions that Rabbi Yosef Caro, the compiler of the Shulkhan Arukh, which from the time it was written in the 16th century up to the present, has been considered the central book of halakha in the Jewish world, made his halakhic decisions by following the majority opinion in three previous books of halakha with which he was familiar: those of Maimonides, the Rif (Rabbi Yitzhak Alfasi) and the Rosh (Rabbi Asher ben Yehiel). "But in recent generations," says Sperber, "many halakhic sources that were totally unfamiliar to the author of the Shulkhan Arukh have been discovered, for example extensive halakhic literature from Provence. This literature could change the entire balance of majority and minority opinion in halakha, but the poskim will not allow any expression of that. The Hazon Ish [a central posek who lived in Israel in the 20th century -Y.S.] even said there is no need to take this literature into consideration, because apparently it was determined from above that this literature would not be discovered before the halakhic tradition was consolidated.…
Sperber, who sees this hyper-restrictive halakhic behavior as a direct outgrowth of the shift from reliance on local rabbis to a centralized halakhic system controlled by heads of yeshivas and as a direct response to the Reform Movement, notes that much of this hyper-restrictiveness is not found in Sefardic halakhic circles, including haredi Sefardic halakhic circles.
A good example of this is Rabbi Ovadia Yosef who, Sperber notes, has several times ruled against the Shulkhan Arukh, citing halakhic literature from Provence as his source.
Sperber also notes this refusal to adapt to change occasionally brings lenient rulings, although the example he gives is a ruling attacked by haredim:
…For example, Sperber brings the famous case of the permission given by Rabbi Avraham Kook to sell the lands of the country during the sabbatical year. This permission was based, among other things, on previous poskim who ruled that there is no prohibition against selling land from Eretz Israel to goyim in our time, because the prohibition written in the Torah on this matter relates only to idol worshipers, and today's Arabs are not considered as such.
But manuscripts discovered in recent decades reveal that these quotes stemmed from censorship imposed by Christian rulers on the original pesika, which actually prohibited the sale of land from Eretz Israel to all the goyim, and not only to idol worshipers.
In the test of results, Sperber is not afraid of the practical significance of his discovery, "because there are enough other ways and reasons to allow the sale," but the basic principle is important.
Rabbi Sperber has two new books out (in Hebrew) that deal with these issues, both published by Reuben Mass "Darka shel Halakha" and "Netivot Pesika."
Note: Yes, I realize I'm being very hard on the Chafetz Chaim. But the haredi spin machine has turned the man into a hagiographic caricature, a perfect saint who never erred and who never sinned, and whose actions never hurt Jews.
The facts are far different from the hagiography. Jews have a right to know this.