The other day I was reminded of the difference between the beit midrash and the shul. It was an amusing reminder, and it made me think about my current transition from shul back to beit midrash.
After Shacharit I presented a technical halachah related to HaMotzi (the blessing recited before eating bread). If you are allergic to technical halachah, you might want to skip the next three paragraphs.
I pointed out two competing imperatives: We want to minimize the interruption between reciting HaMotzi and eating the bread, but we also want to recite the berachah upon a whole loaf, if possible, to show respect for the berachah. So when do we actually cut the bread?
Early sources, such as the Rosh, felt that cutting the bread does not constitute a significant interruption. Others agree, particularly with thin-crusted bread like ours. Nonetheless, some suggest one should satisfy the “interruption” concern by starting to cut the bread - without cutting too deeply - before reciting HaMotzi.
The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 167:1) records this as the recommended practice, but the Rama notes that one should not do this on Shabbat. On Shabbat we are especially concerned about using two whole loaves (memorial for the manna, and more) and about avoiding any damage to those loaves, so we don’t cut the loaf at all before the berachah. The Mishneh Berurah supports this as well.
Fine, a straightforward after-davening halachah to start the day.
But that day we had a group from Baltimore visiting the area, and a young man, perhaps late high school at Ner, mentioned politely that he had seen a sefer suggesting cutting the bread before HaMotzi on Shabbat as well. He couldn’t remember the source, but someone had showed it to him.
I took a few minutes to do some superficial looking, and found nothing in the standard halachah sefarim – Rosh, Tur and Beit Yosef, Aruch haShulchan, even Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, all seem to agree with what the Rama presents. Some (Aruch haShulchan, Darkei Moshe from the Mordechai in Eruvin*) note that cutting on Shabbat like the weekday isn’t a disaster, but no one specifically recommends cutting before HaMotzi on Shabbat.
I am certain that the young man did have a source (and yes, I asked him to contact me if he were to find it). For every halachah, there is always a rishon (early source) somewhere, or certainly an acharon (later authority) somewhere, with a reason to disagree with the mass of halachic authorities. Sometimes the disagreement is because of lomdut (deep analysis), sometimes it’s because of an exotic source, sometimes it’s because of an overall shitah (thematic approach) or shikul hadaat (weighing opposing considerations and coming up with a conclusion). But there’s always someone, on every issue, who will go against the status quo.
When I was in beit midrash, I – like many others – was always concerned about these dissident views. I would learn them, enjoy them, and look for ways to accommodate them. For example: At the seder I preferred the haggadah that had unique ways for covering and uncovering, picking up and putting down, ordering the hallel and its berachah, etc.
But a shul rabbi’s presentation of halachah is a different story; a shul rabbi must offer rulings that are clear, that are grounded in mainstream sources rather than unique points of view, and that are practical for the hamon am (general population). Lomdut is saved for shiurim, and kept out of psak. I feel that to do otherwise is irresponsible and irrational, and erodes people’s trust in the rabbinate.
So in a two-minute halachic lesson after davening, or in addressing a shailah, I generally go with straight mishneh berurah. I may note dissident views occasionally, but not to provide a recommended practice.
To return to my opening paragraph: Now that I am transitioning out of the pulpit and into more of a beit midrash role, but still actively teaching in the community, I suppose I will find myself straddling these two worlds. Should be fun.
*Note that the Mordechai doesn't quite say this. The Mordechai says that bread which has been partially cut still qualifies for lechem mishnah. He does not discuss preferences for HaMotzi. But the implication is what the Darkei Moshe is using.