Rav Gil Student, Director of RAA/Igud’s Halacha Commission, writes in The Jewish Vues, June 9, 2020, in memory of Hagaon Harav Mordechai Marcus zt”l, Rav of the Lakewood Minyan of Flatbush and an editor for the Artscroll Gemara, who passed away due to Coronavirus
I. Two Types of Rabbis
Rav Mordechai Marcus zt”l was a giant of Torah and midos. He had Shas and Poskim at his fingertips, which he unfailingly accessed with an accompanying self-deprecating comment. In his mind, he was nothing. That is what made him so great. For four years, I had the privilege of davening in his shul, learning in his beis medrash at night and attending his Sunday Yoreh Deah shiur where I sat at the dining room table with experienced rabbanim and kashrus professionals. It was an amazing experience, as I learned not only Shulchan Aruch and commentaries but how to answer difficult halachic questions that arose in the discussion.
There are two types of rabbis — those who answer a personal halachic question with a definitive answer and those who engage the questioner in a conversation. I have spoken with both types of rabbanim, even senior poskim. Some inquirers prefer the conclusive answer. It gives them confidence to proceed, knowing that the answer they received offers a proper religious path. Personally, I want to be able to ask more questions and pose contrary texts. Rav Mordechai Marcus enjoyed the challenges. With a smile on his face, he answered all my questions and carefully considered all the Gemaras, Rishonim and Acharonim I could find that challenged his conclusion. I left every conversation feeling like I received a psak based on a comprehensive examination of the subject. Even when I still wasn’t convinced that he was correct, I was convinced that he was smarter, more knowledgeable and more experienced than I was.
I was young and idealistic. I wanted a psak that followed a single view, the correct view. Rav Marcus was a metzaref, he collected different views that in combination allow for a specific conclusion. It is a harder path to follow because you have to carefully maintain coherence across poskim, rather than follow a single posek. When done poorly, it is sloppy psak, full of contradictions. When done well, as Rav Marcus always did, it demonstrates a depth of understanding of each view. In a way, it shows the most possible respect for all poskim by combining their different approaches rather than choosing among them.
One particular psak he gave me shocked me to my core — I used to tell it to friends who would similarly respond in shock, although I suspect some readers will react differently due to different training and upbringing. In some ways, this psak represents the comfort Rav Marcus had with different streams of thought in combination. What do you do if your seudah shelishis continues after Shabbos ends and motza’ei Shabbos is Rosh Chodesh? Do you mention Shabbos in your bentching or Rosh Chodesh?
Retzeih, the Shabbos addition in bentching, contains the phrase “this great and holy Shabbos.” How can you say that phrase after nightfall when Shabbos is over? If Shabbos is not over because you have not yet davened or said Havdalah, how can you say Ya’aleh Ve-Yavo, the Rosh Chodesh addition, which includes the phrase “on this Rosh Chodesh day”? Either it is still Shabbos or it is the next day. It can’t be both if they fall out on different days.
Rav Yosef Karo (16th cen., Israel; Beis Yosef, Orach Chaim 188) quotes Rav Meir (Maharam) of Rothenburg (13th cen., Germany) and Rav Ya’akov Moelin (Maharil, 15th cen., Germany; Responsa, no. 56) who say that when bentching, you follow the beginning of the meal unless you have davened Ma’ariv. Rav Avraham Gombiner (17th cen., Poland; Magen Avraham 188:17) explains that if you daven Ma’ariv after Shabbos and then say in bentching that it is still Shabbos, you are contradicting yourself. To prevent this tartei de-sasrei, this contradiction, you cannot say Retzeih after you daven Ma’ariv after Shabbos even if you began your meal on Shabbos.
In our case, in which you started the meal on Shabbos and finished it on Rosh Chodesh (eating sufficient bread both in the day and the night), you cannot mention both in bentching because that is a tartei de-sasrei. Rather, based on the concept that we follow the beginning of the meal, Rav Yoel Sirkes (17th cen., Poland; Bach, Orach Chaim 188) rules that you should mention Shabbos in bentching and not Rosh Chodesh. In contrast, Rav Gombiner (Magen Avraham 419:1) quotes the Rosh (14th cen., Germany-Spain) who says that bentching follows the time of the blessing even more than the beginning of the meal. Therefore, Rav Gombiner concludes, to avoid the contradiction in our case you should say Ya’aleh Ve-Yavo for Rosh Chodesh only and not mention Shabbos.
Later authorities recommend avoiding the problem (e.g. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 44:17). But if faced with this situation, some follow the Bach that you should mention Shabbos (e.g. Rav Ovadiah Yosef, Yechaveh Da’as 3:55) and some follow the Magen Avraham that you should mention Rosh Chodesh (e.g. Mishnah Berurah 188:33). But there is a third approach.
On this issue, Rav Mordechai Marcus follows Rav David Halevi Segal (17th cen., Poland; Taz 188:7), who says that in our case you should mention both Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh in bentching. Rav Marcus told me with a smile, “What’s wrong with a tartei de-sasrei?” The Taz says that there is no contradiction in saying that it is Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh and then shows that, really, there is nothing wrong with a little contradiction. After all, when Yom Tov follows Shabbos, we say Kiddush first and then Havdalah (Yakneha”z; Pesachim 104a). The Kiddush is for Yom Tov after Shabbos and then we say Havdalah, which ends Shabbos. How can we say Kiddush for Yom Tov before ending Shabbos? Because both are true. Similarly, when we bentch on a meal that started on Shabbos and continued into Rosh Chodesh, we mention both because they both are true. We can handle a little contradiction in our lives when both are true.
While I later found that other poskim follow this view as well (e.g. Shulchan Aruch Ha-Rav 188:17; Shu”t Be’er Moshe 1:5), this attitude seems to me to exemplify the halachic approach of the metzaref. Take two different approaches and utilize them together in a way that is true to both. In so much in life, things are too complicated to take a straightforward, idealistic path. We need to weigh the different merits and competing concerns, and follow a path that meets the greatest success. Our community is poorer without the guidance of Rav Marcus who, like the Taz, was such a master of Torah that he knew how to be metzaref different visions into the wisest path forward. May his teachings and example continue to guide us in the future.