Daas Torah: The Core Values

letter-447577_1280

Talk about Daas Torah, be prepared for acrimony. There are few topics more divisive among Orthodox Jews. Many are given to dealing with the issue only with the volume up, making it difficult for people with more sensitive hearing to listen to reciprocal charges of fanaticism and heresy.

There is a second casualty generated by any Daas Torah discussion, besides the animosity and recriminations. Lots of people are turned off by extreme positions – either for good reason, or for lack of understanding. Watching the rounds whizzing past them from both end points, many people tune out to the entire discussion. At these extremes, some people would claim Daas Torah as the exclusive province of a single figure with whom they identify, while others see it as a modern invention meant to buttress flagging rabbinic authority. A definite middle ground is often obscured, wherein can be found core arguments that might very well be affirmed by a large majority of Orthodox Jews. I hope to open discussion here exploring that middle ground, hoping to find ideas that might bring more of us closer together.

It is not my wish to begin another endless and fruitless conversation about some of the particularistic claims at either extreme. I am also not going to fully articulate my own view on the subject. It cannot be as important as discovering areas that more of us can agree upon. Rather, I invite readers to explore whether there may be key foundational ideas in the Daas Torah universe, to articulate what they are, and to see if more people – especially people who feel excluded from the extreme position – agree about them than is ordinarily assumed.

In my mind, there are two quintessential components to what many call Daas Torah: 1) the leadership role of talmidei chachamim (Torah scholars), and 2) the ancillary gifts that come with Torah excellence. What follows is not meant to taunt or convince, but to briefly articulate one brief understanding of them. In my mind, these ideas are the most important in the Daas Torah orbit. Borrowing from Hillel’s response to the potential convert, everything else is commentary.

Leadership – In the absence of a defined “leader” of the community like the Nasi or Reish Galusa, talmidei chachamim have long been regarded as the de facto leaders of the Torah community. They served, and continue to serve, as the Einei HaEdah, the eyes of the Jewish collective. Torah leadership was consulted on all matters important to Jews at all times in history. Meandering through shas, one is struck by the central role of Beis Din in areas we don’t usually associate with a court of law. Rather, the Beis Din appears as the supervisorial voice of Torah experience, whether in declaring a state of war, or approving protocols of professional organizations, or setting price controls. The responsa literature from the Middle Ages and on overflows with questions put to local and regional rabbinic leaders concerning every conceivable issue that Jews faced. At each and every juncture, traditional Jews routinely turned to their Torah scholars for guidance and advice. I will not attempt to clarify whether they had a veto or only a vote, but it is clear that they were consulted. Those who would limit the voice of talmidei chachamim to more garden-variety “halachic” questions of mutar/ assur, chayav/patur (allowed/ disallowed, liable/exempt) are not being consistent with history or with Torah literature.

The gifts of Torah excellence – Years of Torah study yield some obvious benefits: knowledge of what to do, a mind sharpened by deep thought. Because Torah is unlike any other discipline, some less obvious benefits are part of the package. Torah is a window to the Divine Mind. The more quality time a person has spent engaging it, while fully living the prescribed Torah life, the more his own mind begins to absorb some refining characteristics. This does not mean that he becomes a demi-god, or prophetic. It does not mean that he is correct about every question put to him. It does not even mean that he is guaranteed to know more than people with special knowledge in a given area. It does mean that the most seasoned and deepest Torah scholars are well worth consulting in any issue that they themselves feel they may have some insight worth considering. That insight is regularly available to the truly accomplished talmid chacham; you can take its availability to the bank. This gift sometimes can be described as special depth and perception; at other times, it may be in the form of siyata d’shmaya – special Divine assistance. It means, minimally, that an opportunity to take counsel with Torah giants is not one to be dismissed or squandered.

A corollary of this is that all Torah giants have these gifts, whether or not they agree with each other. If you the Daas Torah of any individual who spends decades steeped in the full time pursuit of Torah learning, achieving recognized excellence therein, you undermine the entire concept. You can take issue with positions of that person for a variety of good reasons, such as following the Daas Torah of a larger group of luminaries, or following the opinions of your own rebbi and mentor, but you should not be able to deny him the gift of Daas Torah.

That’s it. I am purposefully avoiding issues such as who has more Daas Torah than whom, how to weigh the contribution of Daas Torah to a decision relative to other contributions, such as experience and specialized study, and which kinds of questions need to be brought to Torah leadership for answers. About these, reasonable people – as well as many unreasonable ones – will passionately disagree. I ask any readers who wish to comment to restrict themselves to the merits of the two kernel arguments that I’ve identified as the essential backbone of the issue (or suggest alternatives), rather than the more inflammatory points that will get us nowhere. There are no shortage of blogs – on both the left and the right – that will gladly host those comments.

You may also like...

31 Responses

  1. SM says:

    A few observations from one who doubts: first, in the past there is reason to believe that the rabbinical community (to use an over-simplification which I acknowledge) consisted of the brightest and the best. Emancipation meant that this is not necessarily so any more. Plenty of bright Jewish boys (and girls) are now demonstrating the clearest possible intellectual brilliance – and may well be attributing their talents to the Almighty – but in fields that are nothing to do with Torah. Some acknowledgement of this may well help to bring the non-religious and the religious together.

    Second, so much of our G’dolim’s talents seem to be addressed to bitterly denouncing other G’dolim. Why? The impression thus created is that this is what Torah consists of. I agree with Dr E that the spin doctors may have a lot to do with this – but why are they tolerated?

    Ultimately no one can reconcile two utterly different ways of looking at people who lead. Any Jew engaged in the modern world is exposed to a culture in which people are judged on their results and are expected to announce what will be achieved before beginning the task of achieving it. In that respect we perhaps have something to learn from them.

    As a lawyer I appeared before Dayan Ehrentrau sitting as Av Beth Din in London – and I can say absolutely that he could have swapped with a Court of Appeal Lord Justice and (apart from the dress and the constant company of a can of diet Coke) no one could have told the difference.

    As Moshe Rabbeinu found, the more public you are the harsher the judgement. So, I would add a third element to the two proposed by the article – a noticeable commitment to scrutiny, justification and middos which permeates everything done personally or in the name of the Gadol in question. I would find that far more persuasive than no 2.

  2. Ahron says:

    >“As an aside, I’d like to see the Daas Torah program for engaging terrorists; it’s probably much better than abandoning Israeli cities to bombardment and strategic settlements to the enemy.”

    That’s likely true, as Olmert has now ordered Israeli soldiers to directly violate the commandment of lo ta’amod al dam ray’echa — ‘Do not stand idly by your brother’s blood.’

    From Ha’aretz: “The current orders are not to shoot at the militants even if they have been clearly identified as preparing to launch rockets against Israel.”

    I don’t think “Daas Torah” could be worse than this. I’m not sure anything could.

  3. Gary Shuman says:

    DAS TORAH: Three times a day I am gnawed at by Rabbi Adlerstein’s question. First I proclaim G-d to being the source of my wisdom Ata chonain ladam das umlamid lenosh bina chanaynu maitcha daya bina vhaskel
    You graciously give man wisdom and teach insight to mortals
    “Endow us graciously from Yourself with wisdom insight and discernment”
    Through G-ds graciousness I feel empowered to make the decisions necessay to sustain and enhance my life. I bless G-d for this.

    Then I lament the fact that our leaders today are not quite as good as Moshe Rabeinu. I proclaim Hasheivinu shoftainu kvareishona. Restore our judges as in earlier times and our advisors as in the beginning. I then ask G-d to rule over us as King and then I bless G-d as the king who loves righteousness and judgement.
    As a thinking person endowed by G-d’s wisdom and in concert with the Shmona Esrei compiled by the Anshei Knesset Hagadola why would I relinquish my gift of G-d’s wisdom to a great Torah scholar who makes a statement which is not directly pertaining to halacha? This statement is something I will respect, analyze and decide on myself being an individual, whether it is applicable to my unique situation or not. Even if I do not accept it in its entirety for myself, I will still be in awe of it as a general guidline with much merit for many people. This to me will be Das Torah.

    An example of this is that I was elevated by hearing Rav Shteinman speak in Los Angeles. His speech was truly Das Torah. I continued to follow his trip by reading in Hamodia of Harav Shteinman’s visit to Mexico City. There he warned people about the dangers of the internet in a very forceful way to the point that if there is internet at home then bochrim should not be let into the local yeshivas to the best of my recollection. See the back issue of Hamodia covering the Gedol’s trip to Mexico City for more details.I agree that the internet poses dangers, however I am still on line. I know that Das Torah expressed by this Gadol will help many avoid the pitfalls of the internet even if they don’t disconnect entirely. We need Das Torah. The problem is defining it.

  4. Bob Miller says:

    David Nimmer asked “In other words, does JR object to anyone setting himself up as supreme arbiter of everything, in the process usurping the army’s core competence?”

    What if, in principle, Torah law covers everything and secular law covers only some things, and any Israeli secular law in conflict with Torah law is illegitimate? What if, in principle, those with the greatest grasp of Torah are the most likely to understand government policy on a deep level, and have the duty to communicate their understanding to guide formulators and implementers of practical policy?

    David does not share this point of view, but it is self-consistent.

    As an aside, I’d like to see the Daas Torah program for engaging terrorists; it’s probably much better than abandoning Israeli cities to bombardment and strategic settlements to the enemy.

  5. David Nimmer says:

    Rav Yitzchak,

    Okay, I bit! I reviewed the site, and saw a goodly number of good things. So Yasher ko’ach (and on the learning this morning and last Thursday too, needless to add).

    In reading your ruminations about Daat Torah, after having perused some of my friend Jonathan Rosenblum’s postings, a dybbuk entered me and posed the following line of thought:
    ********
    Many of JR’s trenchent pieces over the year have focused on the overreacing of the Barak Supreme Court. One example of many is the notion that any judicial body may order soldiers in the army to fire at fleeing terrorists seriatim rather than in collective bursts. JR rebels against the notion that there is judicial competence to enter such domains.

    How do we balance that sensibility against the notion of Daat Torah? In other words, does JR object to anyone setting himself up as supreme arbiter of everything, in the process usurping the army’s core competence? Or is it only when Aharon Barak and Dorit Beinish don that mantle that his hackles rise? R’ Adlerstein’s posting implies that, for one with Daat Torah, all subjects become justiciable. Should one consult that Gadol about how the army should fire against fleeing terrorists?
    ****
    I tried to access Prof. Lawrence Kaplan’s piece against the notion of Daat Torah. Is it the article in Tradition magazine from 1980? Is there a posting on the web somewhere? If he has posted here to Cross-Currents, I didn’t find it.

    Kol tuv

    David

  6. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “You said: “The notion…that Daas Torah means that one is not permitted to think or express an opinion, does a disservice to the idea.” Indeed it does, and yet that is virtually the exclusive meaning and application of the term in contemporary frum society.”

    You will find people who certainly think independently, and are bona fide charedim. I remember reading in the JO’s obituary issue for Rabbi Moshe Sherer an appreciation by one Gadol who wrote that Rabbi Sherer had very good ideas, even if he ultimately submitted to the Moetzes for the course of action. I think that Rabbi Naftali Neuberger was also a idependent thinker; he didn’t say, “what does the Yated say on this issue?” The idea of one of the acharonim, I think, is taken out of context, to perpetuate the myth that the Daas of Bale Batim is automatically in opposition and inferior to Daas Torah.

    Part of what you refer to has to do with the impression given by the media which implies homogeneity on more thoughtful issues. I am wondering what the long term effects of blogs will be on the chareidi media. Also, unless one creates a new print medium, the only solution is to try to get the charedie media to make small changes, or to have people use the internet for expression, but the charedi world wants to avoid the latter. I also think that there are positive, small changes in the charedi media, if you keep a sharp eye out for them.

    If you agree that one can be a 100% chareidi and still articulate opinions, or respectfully analyze responses of Torah leaders, then perhaps we can create a new label: “Charedie Maskil”, a person whose hashkafos are acceptable by charedi standards, but thinks through each idea carefully.

    Also note that the problems you refer to, may be in the issues which Rabbi Adlerstein writes are not the core aspects of Daas Torah:

    “I am purposefully avoiding issues such as who has more Daas Torah than whom, how to weigh the contribution of Daas Torah to a decision relative to other contributions, such as experience and specialized study, and which kinds of questions need to be brought to Torah leadership for answers.”

  7. ilan says:

    Tal – I think your analogy has merit, but where is the “court of appeals” for OUR leaders? I’m not saying they abuse their discretion all the time, but if they were to do so, what then?

  8. Ahron says:

    Baruch– No, today you really can’t. And that is precisely the problem.

    Perhaps it’s the infection of traditional misnagdish societies by chassidishe ideas, or by Catholic/Christian ideologies. Maybe it’s just a reflex response to the pressures of modernity. You said: “The notion…that Daas Torah means that one is not permitted to think or express an opinion, does a disservice to the idea.” Indeed it does, and yet that is virtually the exclusive meaning and application of the term in contemporary frum society.

  9. Tal Benschar says:

    Let me throw out an idea that I had on this, perhaps it is half-baked, but here it is for what it is worth.

    In secular law, there is a concept of “discretion” which a judge — usually a trial judge — has, and the Court of Appeals should defer to his judgment unless the decision was an “abuse of discretion” — usually something really outrageous. As the concept is explained, there are certain decisions where there is no clear yes or no, black or white answer. There has to be some level of discretion for the judge to, for example, run his courtroom, determine the order of presenting evidence, etc. The Court of Appeals is supposed to defer to the trial judge not because he is smarter (in fact they, as three or five judges probably have greater collective wisdom) but because someone has to make the decision, and it is the judge who has been vested with that power.

    In other words, with power and leadership, there comes a certain element of making a discretionary “judgment call” type of decision. That is the nature of leadership — there are many factors which go into making a leadership decision, some of which may pull the person in a different direction. One can always second-guess the decision, since it is based on weighing multiple competing factors. But inherent in the person being the leader is that his “judgment call” type decisions deserve deference.

    The gemara tells us — Man Malkhi – rabbanan. Since the end of Jewish kingship, it is the rabbanan who exercise leadership. Leadership requires one to make decisions in complex situations, sometimes with competing or conflicting considerations. But the leader is owed deference simply by virtue of the fact that he is the leader — otherwise everything becomes hefker.

  10. Bob Miller says:

    Baruch Horowitz (December 13, 2006 @ 1:18 pm) makes an importnat point.

    Moreover, if you live in blissful ignorance,

    1. You have neglected the mitzvah of Talmud Torah

    2. You can’t properly formulate or communicate a shaila to a Gadol or any other posek

    3. You can’t figure out the full, true meaning of his answer.

  11. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “Even in halachic issues, where the posek is clearly the final authority, there is a need for independent thought.”

    Absolutely. The notion, usually implicit in some people’s relationship to the concept, that Daas Torah means that one is not permitted to think or express an opinion, does a disservice to the idea.

    E.g., take the following conversation I’ve occasionally witnessed:

    A: “What’s the positives and negatives, or complexities of idea X, or action Y ?”

    B: “I don’t know–ask the Gedolim.”

    One can be “A”, and be a charedi in good standing, l’mehadrin !

  12. Shlomo says:

    Even in halachic issues, where the posek is clearly the final authority, there is a need for independent thought. At the very least, without studying the issues to the best of your ability, you often won’t be able to ask intelligent questions!

  13. DMZ says:

    Nice article. I’m often conflicted about it myself. However, there’s one thing missing from it, which is the role of tzaddikim in all of this. Are we making an assumption that these Torah scholars are all particularly righteous? Wouldn’t G-d be handing out divine inspiration to the righteous, not just the learned?

  14. Aryeh says:

    “The Gedolim of yesteryear (at least the Litvish ones) did not have entourages, spokesman, and handlers. They were accessible, answered their own phones, and probably put on their pants one leg at a time just like the rest of us.”

    Yesteryear? That’s the case today as well. R’ Shmuel Kamenetsky and R’ Israel Belsky are very accessible and you can call their phone and they will actually pick up (in my own personal experience). Maybe you’re calling the wrong gedolim :).

  15. Michoel says:

    It seems that some understand daas Torah to be the opposite of independent thought. I would argue that my independent thought is a component of how daas Torah is supposed to function. A long the lines of what Dilbert quoted from Rav Nebenzahl, several times when I asked my Rosh Yeshiva “life questions” (meaning non-halachic), my impression was that he was disappointed that I did not have the independence of thought to come to my own decision without him. This Rosh Yeshiva serves on the Moetzes of the Agudah. Each individual should try to understand what the Torah’s daas is in a given circumstance. If after exerting his mind he doesn’t have an answer, he should ask someone of greater daas Torah. The Chazon Ish quote by Bari was said in reference to a klal issue. I don’t see any reason to assume that the Chazon Ish would tell us to not think for ourselves in our individual lives. When the Chazon Ish decided to move to Eretz Yisrael, I am not aware that he asked the Chafetz Chaim whether or not it was a good idea. (It seems from the Artscroll bio that he decided on his own.)

  16. Ori Pomerantz says:

    May I ask an ignorant Chiloni question? It seems to me that there are three levels of potential involvement of Torah sages:

    1. Issues that do not require a Torah sage. If you see somebody choking, you administer Heimlich. There is no time, nor need, to consult a Torah sage. We all know that Gdoley Israel believe Pikuach Nefesh is important.

    2. Issues where a Torah sage’s opinion counts, but is not necessarily decisive.

    3. Halachic issues, where a Rabbi’s opinion is binding.

    Does Daat Torah involve issues in the second category, or the third? Yitzchok Adlerstein seems to be discussing the second category, but the Chazon Ish’s quote given by Bari seems to refer to the third.

    Am I misunderstanding anything?

  17. dilbert says:

    Does a mathematical genius or a physics professor, who has spent hours and hours refining his/her logical skills and in deep thought have something to contribute? Do they not also have a mind ‘sharpened by deep thought?’

    Looking at history to provide a window on the width of the use of daas Torah also may be a bit misleading. I would guess that the rabbi was probably the best educated person in the village, both in religious matters as well as secular. Also, the community was bound by it’s own religious law, with the rabbi/kahal having significant power. Therefore, it is not surprising that many questions not directly of a halachic nature were posed to the rabbi. Since the demise of the semi-autonomous community and the spread of higher education, these conditions do not apply.

    The chief rabbi of the Old City, R. Nebenzahl, in his “Thoughts for the Month of Elul,” writes that the goal is to be able to make decisions for oneself, and to use the gift of bechira the way Hashem intended, not to depend on others.

    I think that da’as Torah is important in the context of halacha, realizing that not one part of the community has a monopoly on those who would qualify. However, on non-Halachic matters, advice from wise people is always useful, but not mandatory.

  18. Ahron says:

    The term “Daas Torah” has been so manipulated and misused by those who claim to value it that it has been largely evacuated of its meaning, seriousness, and practical applicability. The Jewish people are not the better for the loss, but we are better for rejection of the falsified variants.

  19. Harry Maryles says:

    I have written about this extensively, most recently in the Jewish Press. I don’t think anyone can seriously disagree with anything you said. Defined as “What does the Torah say about any given subject” Daas Torah should certainly be the province of those who are the most learned in it. And certainly all of us should want to know what the Torah says on any question we may have in life. But there are two problems.

    One is… how much weight does one give a Torah Scholar or Gadol when he expresses an opinion that he has incomplete knowledge about. We know that they have the Torah knowledge. But can we trust that he has researched all the relevant non-Torah information? I am not entirely convinced of that. I know that many Gedolim do not issue an opinion unless they know all the facets of the issue at hand. But there are some who do not fully research and they issue an opinion anyway. Issues such as Mezizah BePeh and the Slifkin affair come to mind.

    The second problem is the way Daas Torah is used by ultra-Orthodox segments of Orthodoxy. In the United States they consider the exclusive province of single politicized body, Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudath Israel. In Israel they consider one man, HaRav Yosef Sholom Elyashiv, the sum and substance of it. I have no real quarrel with the greatness of the Moetzes and certainly not Rav Elyashiv.

    But I question Daas Torah as it is used by this group. Granting sole proprietorship to a politicized body diminishes its authority in my eyes, at least as it is used by that group.

    And I question the phenomenon of considering nearly infallible a Gadol who has admitted being deceived by people around him that he trusts and then prematurely banning a book because of it… as he did with Rav Nosson Kaminetsky. This too diminishes it in my mind.

    Just to be clear. I am not diminishing the authority of Daas Torah in the ideological sense of the concept, only in how it is utilized today.

  20. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “You will find many instances of “taking it to the top” – of questions that were responded to on a local, or less authoritative level, and then submitted to a greater talmid chacham for approval or review”

    I think RHS in the tape referenced above makes an interesting point regarding technology. In Europe, different minhagim were able to develop because of the geographical divides. Today, the global world has shrunk, and we can fax questions instantly to Israeli Torah authorities. Also, Torah authority has shifted from America to Eretz Yisrael after the death of Rav Moshe Zt’l. These are some of the elements of the different dynamic of our generation.

    If this analysis correct, then we are more prone to “take things to the top” today. Assuming we do that, I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing, if we realize that Hashem gives each generation the proper leadership structure it needs. One might also distinguish between major issues like brain death, and relatively less complex ones, like hilchos berachos.

  21. Dr. E says:

    Unfortunately, the term Daas Torah has been trivialized in recent times. The entry of the Chareidi world into the arena of publishing has allowed the term to be commercialized. Any comment, even out of context, when made by a pre-ordained (no pun intended) select few is hijacked and put out there as binding Psak for all of us. The Gedolim of yesteryear (at least the Litvish ones) did not have entourages, spokesman, and handlers. They were accessible, answered their own phones, and probably put on their pants one leg at a time just like the rest of us. Terms like “THE Gadol Hador” or “Posek Hador” were not bestowed, but earned. In fact, in most cases these lofty labels were only attributed posthumously as the result of historical analysis.

    This is not to say that every Reuven, Shimon, or Levi with Semicha is a Daas Torah. And there certainly should be an appropriate hierarchy, by which the weightier the question, the higher up one goes. It’s just that the way that the term Daas Torah has been thrown around in the past 5-10 years or so by “askanim” and the press. Consequently, the term has been cheapened and predictably brought with it a spirit of cynicism and disrespect. Those in the pro-DT camp have to just chill a bit and come to the realization that Daas Torah is merely an abstract concept, not the caption on a picture or headline on a weekly Kol Koreh. To perpetuate DT as in-your-face dogma is merely counterproductive to any goal they seek to achieve.

  22. joel rich says:

    Leadership -Interesting is that the Torah itself set up a very different paradigm (BTW you might want to address why there is an “absence of a defined “leader” of the community like the Nasi or Reish Galusa” Was this simply a political result or a philosophical change, and if so, on what basis?) The melech (and assumedly the successors you mentioned) had much broader authority than the bet din (in fact iirc R’ Elchonon ZT”L held that the power of bet din to act outside of its normal authority actually devolves from the power of the melech). Why did the torah set up a system where there was a division of powers (melech, kohain gadol, shofet/bet din..?)? IIRC R’ Yosef Dov halevi Soloveitchik ZT”L explained what HKB”H understood that all men are human and did not want to put all power into one individual’s hands (no matter how great or saintly). Worth thinking about, perhaps we need to consider the 7 elders (zayin tuvei haiir) etc. as a model as well.

    KT

  23. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    Shlomo (#2) –

    Look more closely at shu”t literature. You will find many instances of “taking it to the top” – of questions that were responded to on a local, or less authoritative level, and then submitted to a greater talmid chacham for approval or review. They understood the pecking order

  24. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “Well and good, but what about the macro Jewish people—-are we all pulling in different directions?”

    I think that it is unfortunately impossible to have a “macro-Jewish people”. Rabbi Yissocher Frand spoke at the Agudah convention on the topic of minimizing controversy. He quoted an adam gadol who stated that the reason why the collective merit of the community didn’t protect the Monsey community from eating tarfus, was perhaps because there is no “tzibbur” anymore. That is a pretty sharp observation!

    Both Satmar and Religious Zionists have diametrically opposed positions, and maintain that the other’s approach to yishuv haaretz is a danger to the Jewish people. There can be no unity between them on a philosophical level. Lubavitch concepts about Messianisim and Chabad Chassidus’ role, when compared with the philosophy of other groups, makes unity difficult on the philosophical level. The Yeshivah world’s definition of “Mesorah” and Torah leadership prevents equal recognition as “Gedolim” of the leaders respected by the Centrist world. If Side A doesn’t recognize the authority of Side B’s leaders to offer an authoritative opinion on Torah thought in the spirit of Elu V’elu, there is an unbalanced relationship, and there can not be unity on the philosophical level.

    There may be unity on the personal level,however, and people may have close personal relationships. Even strangers can share in each other’s simchos and misfortunes, lo aleinu. On the philosophical level as well, all Orthodox Jews recognize halacha and Torah min Hashomayim. If people come together and focus on such concepts and agree to disagree on the other one’s, then they can transcend the other unbridgeable gaps.

  25. Jake Katz says:

    Daas Torah (“Daat Torah”) – The meaning of this term (and what the Rav felt about it) is the subject of much debate among Modern Orthodox Jews, many of whom feel vaguely guilty that they don’t adhere to it. If this term comes up in a conversation between two Modern Orthodox “intellectuals,” they are likely referring to an article with that name written by Rabbi Dr. Lawrence Kaplan.

    http://ajhistory.blogspot.com/2005/03/modernorthodoxisms.html

  26. michoel halberstam says:

    You are actually begging the question of whether allowing discussion on this subject is not, itself, an attack on Daas Torah. After all who are we to have an opinion, according to some. It should be interesting to see how this comes out.

  27. Bob Miller says:

    There are problems in applying the concept practically when sharp divisions exist at the leadership level. In our state of exile, how are these differences resolved? We have rabbinic organizations that seek to unite, but the umbrella actually covers some and not others. OK, you might say, follow your own Rav. Well and good, but what about the macro Jewish people—are we all pulling in different directions?

  28. Dov Kay says:

    I think the “leadership” argument is flawed because it ignores the reason why Torah scholars of old were indeed accorded leadership roles. In a world where there was no formal secular studies at all, Torah study was the only path available for the intellectually gifted and motivated within Jewish society. There was simply no other intellectual elite within the Jewish nation from whom counsel might be sought or to whom leadership might be bestowed, because there was no other way of attaining the intellectual attributes which are a pre-condition of good leadership. Besides, the best and brightest would generally turn to Torah study. Today, that is no longer the case. Brilliant minds (even within the Orthodox world) have other ways of acquiring education and leadership skills, which is one reason why leadership passed from the clergy to the secular elites with the advent of modernity.

    Another observation one can make with respect to the great Torah scholars of old, and I include in that category both Western and Eastern European leaders, was that they came from the people and were one of the people. They spoke the same language as the Jewish multitude, and understood their idioms and culture. Nowadays, most or our greatest Torah scholars are not conversant with the rhythm and pulse of modern life and are therefore not in a position to provide insights relating to it.

    Rav Saadya Gaon, the Rambam and Rav SR Hirsch all composed works intended for the people in their vernacular, and I think we can all agree that they had “daas Torah”. Their works reveal that they were keenly aware of the zeitgeist and the spiritual challenges facing the Jewish people. Contemporary Torah scholars are, on the contrary, generally removed from the world and too often don’t understand it. This is no shortcoming of Torah study, it is simply a function of lack of exposure to the world at large. No amount of book knowledge can cure this shortcoming, unless we resort to a purely mystical understanding of “daas Torah”, which you have apparently avoided.

    Which leads me to my last objection. You deny that you are advocating a “prophetic” understanding of daas Torah, but then refer to “siyata [sic – the correct vocalization is sayata] d’shmaya” granted to Torah greats. Yes, there is a distinction between prophecy and sayata dishmaya, but you seem to be trying to have your cake and eat it too. Either knowledge of Torah bestows special insight or it doesn’t. You can’t have it both ways. If a particular Torah scholar simply lacks insight (which you seem to concede might happen), then why should his opinion not be “dismissed or squandered”?

  29. Menachem Lipkin says:

    For the those of us in the middle Rabbi Adlerstein has re-affirmed that “Das Torah” is wisdom which comes with being a Torah Scholar. In fact, if we would use the word “wisdom” instead of Daas Torah I believe there would be a lot less acrimony.

    Another key, middle-of-the-road point he made is that ALL Torah scholars posses this wisdom, no matter where they fall on the hashkafic spectrum.

    For an equally reasoned treatment of the issue which adds a couple of more nuances to Rabbi Adlerstein’s definition you can listen to a shiur on the subject by Rav Hershel Schachter here:

    mms://yeshivalive.net/bmtl/ravhschachter031901.mp3

  30. Shlomo says:

    “The responsa literature from the Middle Ages and on overflows with questions put to local and regional rabbinic leaders concerning every conceivable issue that Jews faced. At each and every juncture, traditional Jews routinely turned to their Torah scholars for guidance and advice.”

    This seems to indicate that Daas Torah does not belong to the “gedolim”, but rather whichever competent rabbi happens to know the situation best.

  31. Bari says:

    I don’t know of any blogs to the right of Cross-Currents that hold anything significantly beyond the two core values you mentioned as components of Daas Torah. To the left, OTOH…

    That said, the Chazon Ish uses some very harsh language in a letter to a Member of Knesset who was going to defy his directive regarding being part of the government and voting for mandatory Sherut Leumi.

    He writes: “The outlook of making the Torah two separate parts, decision of Issur V’Hetter as one segment, and decisions in the marketplace of life, another; to submit to the decisions of the sages of the generation in the first part, and to allow freedom of choice in the other, is the old outlook of the heretics, in the decline of Judaism in Germany who subverted the Jewish Nation to the point of assimilation among the non-Jews, and there was nothing left as a remnant.

    … The distinction between deciding Issur V’Hetter, and deciding boundaries and decrees, this distinction is Gilui Panim BaTorah, and Mevazeh Talmidei Chachamim, and (those who make this distinction) are counted among those who have no share in the World to Come, and they are disqualified from testimony.”