The Mistake of One-Stop Torah Shopping

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Diversity is a good thing, writes our own Jonathan Rosenblum. So much of the yeshiva world has been concentrated and centralized in Lakewood, that many of its gifts are increasingly denied to smaller, less established communities. There is another variety of centralization whose consequences are perhaps more severe – the tendency to seek Torah guidance on all issues from the Torah community in Israel, rather than here in the US. Many people believe that is the cause of much that ails the American right-of-center Orthodox world today.

Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinski penned an important observation about seeking guidance in meta-halachic and hashkafic areas in particular. They are preserved in a footnote to Shiurei Daas (of Rav Gifter zt”l), pg. 83. R. Chaim Ozer wa asked to comment about his own view on the dispute between R. Samson Raphael Hirsch and R. Selig Ber Bamburger regarding the proper stance to take to Reform Judaism. (R. Hirsch was the architect of austritt, the idea that traditional Jews were required to walk out of the until-then unified Jewish collective, after Reform had made it clear that it was cutting its umbilical chord with halacha. R. Bamburger strongly disagreed, maintaining that it was essential to keep a single strong Jewish front in its dealings with the non-Jewish world.) He first cautions the reader that the question is not a classic halachic one that is answered through the capable analysis of shas and poskim. Rather, the question could only be addressed by a clear perception of the situation and a sense of what methods would be most effective in facing the challenges to tradition. The positions of the the two German luminaries did not owe to their different understandings of established halacha, but to their different essential outlooks and their different personal approaches to avodas Hashem. The following is a free translation of the next lines:

This outlook is most clear to the chacham who understands the local situation, and who lives in that region and kehilla. He knows the natures of the people of the community in all their details, and is connected to them on multiple levels. He who takes responsibility for supervising their ways has the penetrating eye to properly weigh the spiritual issues that confront them, and to anticipate the impact of developments upon the future. For this reason, it appears to me, they did not take this weighty question to the preeminent Torah luminaries of their day, recognized throughout the reaches of our community, sages like the Malbim, R. Yisrael Salanter, the Maharil Diskin, R. Yitzchak Elchanan, the gaonim of Israel and Galicia. This was not a question that would be best addressed through sources in Shas and poskim, but through proper analysis and an appropriate and clear perspective. Those distant from the location of the question could not involve themselves in the determination; they had to rely on the righteous rabbis at the local level…

[Rav Gifter continues:] The words of our teacher are fundamental in understanding the difference between matters that require a precise halachic determination, and matters that require the clear perspective of Daas Torah. In our lowly generation we have moved away from this distinction. We suffer from internecine conflict and hatred whose root cause is the blurring of the distinction between these two areas of decision-making.

Sometime after the petirah of R. Moshe zt”l and R. Yaakov zt”l, a group of people essentially came to the conclusion that there was no one left in America worth addressing questions to, whether of the halachic or daas Torah type. They determined that the mantle of leadership for America had shifted to Bnei Brak and Yerushalayim. This was hardly a unanimous decision, but the group could claim both strong leadership and large numbers of followers. Those to whom the questions were addressed would often demur, arguing that the questions should properly be brought to talmidei chachamim closer to the source of the question. The questioners, however, were persistent, and argued that the local talmidei chachamim themselves wanted nothing more than the counsel of the luminaries in Israel. Gradually, it became the standard practice in much of the Torah world.

The result is that responses and standards that are entirely appropriate to the special conditions of Israeli Torah life are quickly flown across the Atlantic to waiting consumer markets here. Many people thought they “caught” the kanoim who pushed the Lipa concert ban in a crude error. The letter signed by American roshei yeshiva was originally written about Israeli concerts, and still contained the reference to them, rather than to American concerts. I don’t think it was an error or oversight at all. The full expectation of many people by now is that if something is true in Israel, then it is true here as well. Why should there be a difference? When R. Ahron Leib Shteinman shlit”a visited the US a few years ago, he met with educators and fielded questions. One of them asked him whether it was appropriate for a rebbe to play ball with his students. R. Ahron Leib, of course, replied that it wasn’t. This created enormous tension for the scores of rabbeim, especially outside of NY, who understand how getting closer to students on their turf increases their respect for Torah, and not the opposite as it might in the more ethereal provinces of Bnei Brak. What was tragic is that the person who asked the question didn’t realize that he should have taken such a question to R. Shmuel Kamenetsky, shlit”a or R. Aharon Shechter, shlit”a – and have taken them privately, off-mike – who have far more experience with the parameters of American chinuch.

Treating Boston, Beverly Hills – and even Boro Park – as if they were Bnei Brak can only have disastrous consequences. Papering over the differences will not make them go away, will not erase fundamental differences in the fabric of Torah life in different places. There are people who are monists, who believe that when push comes to shove there is one “best” set of answers to all questions, and all should subscribe to them. Others believe in a kind of diversity and pluralism – not with other “movements,” but with differing forms of avodas Hashem necessitated and engineered by Divine Providence itself, which arranges Klal Yisrael like the different choirs in an orchestra. Rarely are the woodwinds expected to play the same notes as the strings. The coming serious rift within the Torah community will be between those who can hear only one melodic line, and those who can hear – and demand – counterpoint and difference.

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50 Responses

  1. Bob Miller says:

    Jews in Lakewood will go their own chosen way no matter what anyone writes here, pro or con. We shouldn’t presume to run their lives. Those who want to organize communities on different lines and attempt to attract other Jews to these are free to do that elsewhere.

  2. Mark says:

    Dr. E.,

    “It is my observation that many (but certainly not all) young couples who have been moving to Lakewood of late, have done so not because of a driving idealism and sacrifice, but because of social reasons; it’s become the popular thing to do. A Lakewood mailing address is impressive.”

    That’s one way to look at it. Here are some other possibilities:

    1 – People would like to live in a community in which many of their close friends and relatives live
    2 – People would like to live in a frum community that is affordable [until recently] and not too far from their parents/Manhattan/BP etc.
    3 – People actually appreciate the Hareidi mindset and don’t mind the occasional extremist viewpoint
    4 – People don’t have many better options [last I checked, Teaneck, Five Towns, Elizabeth, Monsey, Far Rockaway etc. are all very expensive]
    5 – They want to study in Kollel before entering the work force and Lakewood offer that option to the masses

    Of course, a large community needs certain services and to the extent that the community cannot provide those services it will have to import them. The reality is that Lakewood is not only a Jewish community, but many non-Jews live there as well and there is no shortage of available doctors, lawyers, accountants, shopping centers etc.

  3. Dr. E says:

    I hate to rain on everyone’s parade and interrupt the shakla v’tarya between Rabbi Oberstein and other commenters, but just to bring the conversation back to the original premise of the post.

    Any community is allowed to set its own standards, provided that the evolution of the standards does not involve any undue pressure, coercion, blackballing etc. I honestly don’t know enough about Lakewood to make that call. Once those standards have been established, one has bechira to whether the standards are for him or her. If no TV or Internet that’s fine. But, that is certainly not a community that I would care to live in, or send my kids to. Is that because I feel that TV and Internet are danger-free? Of course not. I just don’t subscribe to the Hashkafa that throws out the baby with the bathwater. But, the system is obviously set up to meet the needs of the residents and others are attracted to live there. In principal that is OK. I probably fall into Rabbi Oberstein’s second group (“…who read it and say that it has nothing to do with them and continue being as frum as they were before”). As with many places on this Earth—where I would love to visit but would never feel comfortable living there.

    With that out of the way, let’s get to the premise of Rabbi Adlerstein’s original thesis, which I do agree with. Aside from the centralization and its challenges as well as the lack of philosophic diversity, I don’t think that it’s conducive to developing normal infrastructure which has doctors, lawyers, and other professionals. The fact is that as Chaim points out, there are two high schools which have actually gone on record as not having Secular Studies. Whether they are in compliance with Dinei D’Machusa is beside the point. It’s that it is setting that up an ideal which no doubt will lead to copycat institutions when the aforementioned are overenrolled. Some in Lakewood and even outside of it would respond with a “kein yirbu”. However, I would say that the trend is a harmful one inasmuch as it sets up as a goal for parents raising (all of their) children to strive for that as a l’chatchila. Given that one of the main factors creating much of the dysfuntionality in the frum world today is educational elitism, seeing this as the ideal is not a development that I would embrace, not in Lakewood and not anywhere. The argument for such a model is that we need to create a system that puts out Gedolim. My contention is that genuine Gedolim (both in learning and/or in their leadership) are not the “result” of any system; they EMERGE, often in spite of the system. The obvious examples are too numerous to mention.

    It is my observation that many (but certainly not all) young couples who have been moving to Lakewood of late, have done so not because of a driving idealism and sacrifice, but because of social reasons; it’s become the popular thing to do. A Lakewood mailing address is impressive. And parents are becoming increasingly willing to subsidize their children’s lives there, in the hopes of visiting often and eventually retiring there. I presume that this trend will continue.

    So, what about home grown talent in the areas of the professions that are essential to any large community’s infrastructure? I don’t see Lakewood cultivating any of that. Eventually, this talent will have to be imported, hopefully providing diversity of ideas. A sociological “correction” will eventually have to take place in this regard. Communities that don’t have in internal system of philosophical checks and balances is prone to groupthink and often subsequently ineffective approaches to problems that are bound to arise.

  4. Bob Miller says:

    AG said above, “As I’m certain you know, the leaders of Lakewood recently had to undertake unusual steps to ensure that every child had a school to attend. It is laudable that this was ultimately achieved, but very unfortunate that active interference was necessary in the first place.”

    There is no conspiracy to limit access to Jewish education. We often forget that Orthodox Jewish schools are typically founded, owned, and operated by private rabbi-entrepreneurs, so the schools’ total capacity in a city depends on how much much money the local entrepreneurs and their supporters can gather to put into construction, operation, and expansion. Demand for additional seats is surely a driving force to expand, but people still have to be willing and able to put up (and risk) large sums of money and put up with all sorts of pressures.

    Ultimately, the way to add the needed seats is not to beat on educators already stretched to the limit, but to create effective incentives and funding for new ventures and the expansion of well-run older ventures.

    As has often been said, the merging of some educational, purchasing and office operations to benefit from economies of scale, and other measures to get more bang out of the educational buck, are also priorities. Besides (or sometimes despite) that, there has to be room for multiple educational approaches to provide for the varied needs of students and their families. One “size” will never fit all.

  5. Mark says:

    Albert,

    “2) There is an enormous gulf between “lacking enthusiasm for most things Haredi” and a lack of ahavas yisrael. How much enthusiasm do you honestly have for Modern Orthodoxy?”

    Regardless of how much enthusiasm I have for MO, you will not a single comment from me criticizing it [that I can recall]. I am aware that although it is a derech that I often don’t agree with, I would never criticize it in a public forum except under very specific circumstances. The vast majority of the commenters here are regular critics of Hareidim.

    “3) As I’m certain you know, the leaders of Lakewood recently had to undertake unusual steps to ensure that every child had a school to attend. It is laudable that this was ultimately achieved, but very unfortunate that active interference was necessary in the first place. Rabbi Oberstein’s criticism of the mindset that created that problem was legitimate.”

    Once again, lets keep in mind what Rabbi Oberstein wrote. He claimed that kids with tv’s couldn’t get into schools b/c LAkewood is controlled by the zealots.

    That is false as I’ve written twice already.

    The point that you’re now making about children unable to get into schools does nothing to support his assertion either. The fact is that Lakewood has grown in leaps and bounds and there simply aren’t enough schools to handle all the children. The kids who had to be “placed” were not necessarily the ones with TV’s. I know this because some of my very own relatives were left out in the cold and their husbands are in Kollel and don’t have TV’s or internet. I know this because I have relatives who are involved in school administration in Lakewood and they’ve told me many times about their inability to accommodate children even from exceptional mishpachos. This is an excellent example of viewing a situation from the outside and forming an opinion that is incorrect. That tendency, I fear, is what forms the basis for many opinions expressed on this board about Lakewood.

    For all it’s faults, Lakewood is an unbelievably diverse community where Jews of all stripes manage to get along. There are chassidishe communities flourishing there along with yeshivhish and baaleh batish communities. To claim that everyone there walks in lockstep with an extremist viewpoint is to admit that you are uninformed.

  6. G says:

    My point was that thirty-eight out of thirty-eight comments were critical of Hareidim –

    –False

    not a single one could think of a limud zechus!

    –Fair enough, please feel free…

  7. LOberstein says:

    I am not sure if it is good to become the subject of the discussion. Let me clarify. American orthodoxy is flourishing in the midst of a society that is very enticing. I understand why there are societies that want to prevent contact and contamination with alien ideas. This is the root of much of the turmoil we face in the world today.
    The original point of the article was that we need to have halachic deciders who understand the community they are leading. This should be a local rav who consults with greater authorities. There has to be room for diversity.
    If we don’t care about the entirety of Klal Yisrael, we can make rulings appropriate to our small corner as if that were the whole world.Otherwise, we have to understand that there are multiple approaches to authentic orthodoxy and no one stream has a monopoly. The reaction to the book bans, the concert bans,etc. can be divided into 3 groups. Those who read it and laugh, those who read it and say that it has nothing to do with them and continue being as frum as they were before and those of us who live at least partially in the same world as the banners and therefore feel encroached upon and worry that these measures will be counter-productive in the long run. All of this has been covered in numerous articles on Cross-Currents. It is not a matter of ad hominem attacks, it is a concern about the broad masses of orthodox Jews who are unable to understand and are confused when they receive directives from on high that are so varient from reality on the ground. There is not one stop paskening for all of orthodoxy

  8. Albert Gottfriedsen says:

    Mark –

    Three points:

    1) Your initial comment did, in fact, accuse “all the people” who advocate tolerance of hypocrisy. That accusation is inaccurate and as yet uncorrected.

    2) There is an enormous gulf between “lacking enthusiasm for most things Haredi” and a lack of ahavas yisrael. How much enthusiasm do you honestly have for Modern Orthodoxy?

    3) As I’m certain you know, the leaders of Lakewood recently had to undertake unusual steps to ensure that every child had a school to attend. It is laudable that this was ultimately achieved, but very unfortunate that active interference was necessary in the first place. Rabbi Oberstein’s criticism of the mindset that created that problem was legitimate.

    Respectfully,

    AG

  9. Mark says:

    Albert,

    Rabbi Oberstein provided some concrete examples to his assertions that Lakewood’s reputation is tarnished by the minority and it was those examples that I contested. Yes, children are able to get into yeshivos even if they have TV’s and most of Lakewood is unconcerned with N. Slifkin. So far, neither you nor he have responded to those points. I’m left with no option other than to conclude that his view of Lakewood is based on sentiments, not facts.

    I never wrote that “all commenters lacked Ahavas Yisroel,” nor will I comment on anyone in particular, although some of the names you quoted are well-known on this board for their lack of enthusiasm for most things Hareidi. My point was that thirty-eight out of thirty-eight comments were critical of Hareidim – not a single one could think of a limud zechus! After reading so many calls for greater tolerance and understanding by many of these same commenters, I can only wonder whether those sentiments are as sincere as they would allow. The evidence is not convincing.

  10. Albert Gottfriedsen says:

    Mark –

    Rabbi Oberstein was discussing how Lakewood is perceived, and his observation, that the “warmth and goodness of the majority is blackened by the brashness and intolerance of a significant number of leaders who lead the ban everything trend” is not only not baseless, it is undeniable to anyone with exposure to the non-Lakewood world. You can read the numerous posts by Rabbi Adlerstein that make the exact same observation, along with his laudable limud zechus describing how we may have gotten to this point.

    Your second point is, on the other hand, truly baseless. Your original assertion that “all the commenters” lack ahavas yisrael is easily repudiated – find me one such hostile comment from Joel Rich, or Charlie Hall, or Steve Brizel, of Nachum Lamm, none of whom define themselves as chareidi. (Okay, maybe Steve. But he’s not. :)

    Do some people fail to live up to their professed desire for tolerance? Of course. Is that sort of inconsistency limited to one sub-group? Not hardly – for example, I could point to someone who generalized, in a critique of generalizations; you. So, I did not “miss” your point, I dispute it, because it’s false.

  11. Mark says:

    Albert,

    I don’t know Rabbi Oberstein, but that’s entirely irrelevant to my point which wasn’t about Rabbi Oberstein. Rather, I critiqued his rather strong condemnation of a community which it appears he greatly misunderstands. I haven’t seen you address that point yet. He may “recognize the diversity of Lakewood” as you claim, but that doesn’t excuse his baseless allegations that “warmth and goodness of the majority is blackened by the brashness and intolerance of a significant number of leaders who lead the ban everything trend.” Anyone familiar with the greater Lakewood community realizes how untrue this is and in the case of many who, it doesn’t reflect much respect for Hareidim.

    My disagreement extends beyond Rabbi Oberstein as well. You are not a regular on this board I presume since I don’t recognize your name [unless you don’t comment frequently] but the lack of respect for most things Hareidi found among the regular commenters is no secret to those who frequent this board. The bulk of the comments on this thread as well demonstrate the hearty calls for tolerance and respect found on other threads, haven’t been internalized by those who issued them.

    I’m sorry you missed this point.

  12. Chaim Wolfson says:

    Rabbi Oberstein, please allow me to clear up some misconceptions:

    I do not know of any elementary school in Lakewood that has no secular studies, and I suspect you don’t either. I know of only two high schools that have no secular studies, and of no one who looks down at someone who has a high school diploma. “The fact that that even the Agudah is too left wing and tolerant in these people’s eyes, only Brisk is a valid derech” is NOT a fact. I doubt “they” would be featured speakers at Agudah conventions if “they” felt that way. Agudah happens to run several programs in Lakewood, including job-training and job-placement, all with the encouragement of the “hanhalah” of the Yeshivah. I cannot comment on your assertion that there is “a faction that does not consider people like me part of the Torah World because I am not in lockstep with them”, because I’m not sure what it’s based on. I do know that there are figures who are “not in lockstep with them” who are living happily in Lakewood (one personality who is well-known to all of us here comes to mind).

    Yes, most schools will not accept someone from a home with TV, or, depending on the circumstances, from one with internet. But I think we can all agree that TV, and internet even more so, pose very serious dangers. Well-meaning people can, and do, differ as to the best way to avoid those dangers, and perhaps each community is different, but not having TV or internet in the house is one option. And the point of the schools who signed on to this policy (willingly, as I recall) was not to coerce parents into conforming to their standards. A school has a responsibility to ALL its students and their parents, and it is an unfortunate fact that one negatively influenced child can have a terrible affect on an entire class. [Yes, a fact; I personally know of two such cases.]

    I admit a lack of familiarity with the Rienman affair, as it happened after I left Yeshivah. I find it hard to believe, however, that the “leadership” “went after” Rav Shmuel Kaminetzki; certainly the large percentage of Philadelphia alumni in Lakewood, the most “right-wing” of whom revere Rav Shmuel, did not. Interestingly, the one who seems the least troubled about the whole matter is Rabbi Reinman himself, (who, by the way, is the neighbor, friend and “chavrusa” of Rav Matisyahu Salomon).

    I also cannot comment on the Slifkin affair (which barely made a ripple in Lakewood, as Mark pointed out) or the brouhaha surrounding “The Making of a Gadol”, but assuming that the repsonse was as you say, I can see where you are troubled. However, second-hand information is a poor substitute for first-hand knowledge, and “information” gleaned from comments on blogs is no substitute at all. I have a suggestion: It’s always a good idea to hear all sides of a story before forming an impression, so why not call up Rav Matisyahu Salomon directly and hear what he has to say? I am serious. His number is listed, and he really is a nice person. I am sure he would be happy to discuss with you whatever issues you have — in English (well, the Queen’s English, anyway).

  13. Chaim Wolfson says:

    Greg,
    I’m afraid that you, like Rabbi Oberstein, are off the mark, at least with respect to that Rosh Yeshiva and Yiddish. His speaking Yiddish at the parlor meeting has nothing to do not speaking “goyish”. I don’t know what language he speaks with his children at home, but in everyday conversation he speaks English, as Rabbi Oberstein would have discovered had he approached him after his speech. However, in Beth Medrash Gevoha, the traditional language of instruction is Yiddish. All “shiurim”, “shmuessin” and “vaadim” are given in Yiddish, and when the Roshei HaYeshiva speak in the shuls of Lakewood, as they do on many occasions, they generally speak in Yiddish as well. This is also the practice in many other yeshivos. I went to Torav Vodaas as a “bochur”, and all the “shiurim”, from ninth grade and up, were in Yiddish. When we spoke to our rebbeim one-on-one, we conversed in English (except for the few rebbeim who didn’t know English well). Rav Pam spoke an excellent English, yet all his “shmuessin” were given in Yiddish. [I was not in his Yoreh Deah shiur, but I’m pretty sure it was also given in Yiddish.] Even on Shabbos, when there were no “bochurim” in Yeshiva, only neighborhood “baalei batim”, he always adressed the “mispalilim” in Yiddish, whether when making an appeal or speaking at a “simchah”. And this was not because he felt English was “goyish”. On the contrary, he felt strongly that it was important to speak a good English, and he himself spent much precious time mastering the language when he first came to America. So, the fact that this Lakewood Rosh Yeshiva spoke in Yiddish at a parlor meeting really proves nothing. At most, he was “guilty” of a misjusgment, which is not all that surprising given that he does not specialize in fund raising but in learning (a pretty important quality in a Rosh Yeshiva). Presumably, he was sent to Baltimore only because he is a native son and still has friends and family there.

    As far as being “Jews, not Americans”, I would characterize it differently — we are “American Jews”. The fact is we are all influenced to some degree by our environment, and to the extent that such influence exists (and I think it varies from group to group, and even from person to person within a given group), an “American Jew” is not quite the same as an “Israeli Jew”. That said, our environment does not (or should not) define us. There is a very big difference between being an “American Jew” and being a “Jewish American”.

  14. LOberstein says:

    I regret having stated my opinion in a manner that did not show due deference to an important Torah personality.

  15. Albert Gottfriedsen says:

    Those of us privileged to know Rabbi Oberstein recognize how completely off-base Mark’s criticism is. For those not so fortunate, in the interest of defending a solid, well-known talmid chacham, I need to make two observations:

    1) When Rabbi Oberstein explicitly notes the “warmth and goodness of the majority,” he obviously recognizes the diversity within Lakewood. It’s a shame that Mark missed that point – it vitiates his entire complaint.

    2) Within the context of his complaint about Rabbi Oberstein’s alleged generalizations, Mark also suggests that “all the people who commented earlier…don’t fail to display none of that when commenting incessantly about the “Hareidim” .”

    I was a little tangled up by the nest of negatives (don’t fail to display none…), but “all the people”? One person made a comment that Mark chose to misinterpret – this is “all the people who commented”?

    Mark, as a klal, we have enough real issues to address; creating new ones can wait.

    AG

  16. greg says:

    LOberstien:

    You didn’t mean to give your argument its own retort when you wrote
    “So why is an American talking in a foreign tongue to other Americans. The answer is that they don’t want to be Americans, and they don’t want to speak goyish.” But, my friend, you absolutely answered your own question! There is nothing wrong with taking measures to preserve identity, which apparently has already withered from some of us. You and I may not decide to speak Yiddish for a whole slew of reasons, but we musn’t look down at people who do.
    Same thing goes for the Payos issue. We absorb so much American culture that I can understand why parents want kids to have payos. It’s a strong reminder of who we are, being that its attached to our heads at all times.
    And by the way, please don’t kid yourself….your son does have payos behind his ears! When was the last time you saw him? Hello!!!

  17. Mark says:

    LOberstein,

    “The warmth and goodness of the majority is blackened by the brashness and intolerance of a significant number of leaders who lead the ban everything trend.”

    There’s so much Ahavas Yisroel in this sentence, it’s almost too much to comprehend?

    Are you kidding? Do you have any idea of what goes on in Lakewood? Clearly you don’t because you write as if the entire Lakewood revolves around bans and a few people who dismiss science. Try going into BMG’s Beis Medrash and asking some yungerleit how they feel about N. Slifkin and his books? You’ll be amazed to discover that almost none of them ever heard of him, let alone the ban, let alone the issues with science and torah.

    Very few had any intention of attending the Big Event concert and couldn’t care less if it was or wasn’t sanctioned. It’s not a part of their lives and the ban against it didn’t emanate from Lakewood either.

    Lakewood is an incredibly large and diverse makom Torah and contrary to your opinion, one can get their child into a school if they have a television. It may not the school they chose, but that’s because they’ve made other choices such as having TV and internet. But please don’t tell me about schools not being available for TV families because I know many such families and their kids attend fine yeshivos and beis yaakovs.

    What is so striking is how all the people who commented earlier about the need for more “tolerance” and “ahavas yisroel” etc. don’t fail to display none of that when commenting incessantly about the “Hareidim”. It’s hard not to feel that their deep concerns are motivated by something other than Ahavas Yisroel. The comments on this post are not too encouraging.

  18. LOberstein says:

    My response to Chaim: Of course it would be incorrect to describe “Lakewood” as monolithic. Any community with that many people has variety, although I understand that there is a high degree of control.For example, you can’t send your children to any of the schools if you have a TV (I don’t know about internet). Also, it is no longer a poor communtiy of struggling avreichim as in Rav Aharon’s time. What I do find hurtful is the faction that went after Rav Shmuel Kaminetzky in the Reinman affair, the leadership there that tried to destroy Rav Yaakov’s son for telling the truth in “Making of a Godol”, the element that was vicious in their determination to destroy Rabbi Slivkin. The quote by one of their leaders “what does science know, they can’t even tell what the weather will be tommorrow?” comes to mind.
    The fact that even the Agudah is too left wing and tolerant in these people’s eyes, only Brisk is a valid derech.
    Does this describe the whole yeshiva community? Of course not, it describes the loudest and most intolerant element, but it is not the fringe, it is a very strong and demanding portion of the hashkafic leaders. This is no way takes away from the outreach efforts, the yeshiva building, the chesed and the menchlichkeit of the majority of them and of all of Klal Yisroel, it does describe a faction that does not consider people like me part of the Torah World because I am not in lockstep with them.It does describe people who eliminate secular studies in their children’s elementary schools and do not even consider a high school diploma worthwhile for a Torah true Jew. The warmth and goodness of the majority is blackened by the brashness and intolerance of a significant number of leaders who lead the ban everything trend.

  19. Chaim Wolfson says:

    Rabbi Oberstein,
    What is it about you and “Lakewood”? It seems that to you it represents everything that is wrong with Yiddishkeit in America. In a comment a few months ago, you opined that the the Agudah had no business inviting the “mashgiach” of Lakewood, infamous extremist that he is, to speak at their mid-west convention, and now you derisively dismiss a very big talmid chacham, who spends almost the entire day and most of the night in the “beis hamedrash” doing his job, which is learning Torah and teaching it. [BTW, they don’t speak Yiddish in Bnei Brak.] I am curious what the sum total of your experience with “Lakewood” is. Have you ever visited there and gotten to know its people? Perhaps if you did, you wouldn’t generalize as you do. I do have some experience with Lakewwod, which is why [WADR, though you give none to “the Baltimore born and bred Rosh Hayeshiva”] I think your “analysis” is way off the mark.

    I am also curious how you define the difference between being “good Jews in the American milieu” and “Bnai Brak Jews who are accidentally in the USA”. Is it just “payos”? What about only a beard? That’s not so American either (when my father grew one in the early ‘sixties, people in the street called him “Castro”). And what does wearing tzitzis out qualify a person as — a Meah Shearim Jew who is “accidentally in the USA”? And it would be helpful to remember that all Jews are “accidentally in the USA”. And Canada, and Europe, and anywhere else they are in this “golus”.

    As for your grandchildren with “payos”, I must admit I am profoundly unsympathetic. There are thousands of parents who only wish they had such problems.

  20. Michael Atlas says:

    1. “When R. Ahron Leib Shteinman shlit”a…he met with educators and fielded questions. One of them asked him whether it was appropriate for a rebbe to play ball with his students… R. Shmuel Kamenetsky, shlit”a or R. Aharon Shechter, shlit”a ”

    Is this a criticism of the maishiv (R’Shteinman Shlita) as it is the shoel the (Ortho-American community)???

    2. By the way I heard that R. Yaakov z”tl was asked this same shailoh; his response: “on condition that you’re good”

    At what point do the opinions of gedolim who are niftar fall by the wayside? Questions like these were asked 25 years ago…yes chinuch and circumstances have changed but does being niftar discount one’s opinion?

  21. mycroft says:

    It is interesting to note that Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l asserted that people is Israel should receive direction from Israeli gedolim regarding Israeli issues.

    It is fundamental that Rabbonim in chutz laaretz don’t tell Rabbonim in Israel what to do. See for example in one of Rav Schwabs discussions-where he write “well of course concerning Israel they have their oiwn Rabbanim and I wouldn’t dream of telling them what to do”
    I once saw a Rabbis personal description what he wanted for his burial-details about chutz laaretz-eg just Tehillim no hespedem-but as for burial in Israel call Rav X in Israel and “WOULDN’T DREAM OF TELLING THE RABBONIM OF ISRAEL WHAT TO DO”

  22. Yakov says:

    I remember hearing a few years from one of the veteran mechanchim in America and he is a talmid of one of the Roshei Yeshiva mentioned in RA’s article. He asked his rebbe about eating with talmidim or playing ball with them which the Rambam discourages. He told his rebbe that his inclination was to eat with them. It was not his personality to be so distant. His rebbe told him, “The Rambam is paskining for when they are already your talmidim. You’re talking about MAKING them your talmidim.”

    Another Rosh Yeshiva in America has answered the question about playing ball with talmidim by saying, “If you’re good!” because that’s how you’ll make an impression on them.

  23. dr. william gewirtz says:

    My fundamental disagreement with the (expansive) scope of daat torah or the (limited) scope of eilu veeilu assumed by many (in black/grey charedi circles), is not worth repeating. R. Gifter ztl’s distinction, that i assume R. Alderstein supports between “matters that require a precise halachic determination, and matters that require the clear perspective of Daas Torah” is neither that clear nor that relevant. IMHO, they may represent opposite poles but the size of the grey area in between is also subject to similar debate, and certainly not clear. In any case, clear or not, eilu veeilu applies across the board (the minimum shiur of matzah, definitions of tzniut, the value of secular studies, etc.); thus the distinction is also not that relevant. And BTW, telling me that rabbis need local/personal knowledge (in almost all non-trivial cases) to pasken, is patently obvious; hopefully rabbis would not, in the normal course of events, answer a shailah absent that knowledge.

    On a tangential sub-topic, while it is customary in some circles to under-emphasize German gedolim, I am curious to whom, how often and on what issues R. Bamberger ztl felt the need to address sheailot. I honestly do not know, but have read of R. Bamberger’s breadth and depth.

  24. joel rich says:

    The procedure in the Sanhedrin was that the younger members or even talmidim should speak first in order not to prevent original thought from being heard. Nowadays when we don’t have a Sanhedrin and the din of zaken mamre (rebellious elder — punished by death), there should be more opportunity for variety of thought, not less
    ==============================
    IIRC this was only true for capital cases.
    KT

  25. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    One of the commenters mentioned the example of Yisro as a precedent for not refering every question to the gadol hador. As for the idea that hashkafa has to be monolithic, the example of the Sanhedrin should be salutary. The procedure in the Sanhedrin was that the younger members or even talmidim should speak first in order not to prevent original thought from being heard. Nowadays when we don’t have a Sanhedrin and the din of zaken mamre (rebellious elder — punished by death), there should be more opportunity for variety of thought, not less.

  26. michoel halberstam says:

    Several fundamental princials are involved in this discussion, each worthy of discussion,nad each more controversial than the next. However, until we can face these issues directly without fear of having our bona fides as Jews questioned by every “bar bei rav d’chazi yoma” we will face an ever worsening problem which is really a threat to our Yiddishkeit. First of all, we have to internalize the notion that Halacha is not to be viewed as the finding of the “right” answer to a particular question. Rather, Halacha is a process of how talmidei chachomim and Yeraai Shomayim approach a question, not always arriving at the same answer. Second the notion of daas torah as it is commonly understood is clearly not just a doctrine which is difficult to understand, it actually is, conciously or not, a device for preventing the natural growth of the Halacha by trying to choke off and even kill certain expressions of opinion which have to be heard. Anyone who has lived tyhrough the last few years has to take notice of these two facts.

    We can continue to behave as if we can shut the mouths of everyone who has a question ( a strange notion in these days before Pesach which teaches that questions and their answers are everything)but we cannot then be surprised when at sum future date generations yet unborn will decide that our refusal to listen to any opinions that were not convenient makes everything we have to say suspect.

  27. Avi says:

    “When R. Ahron Leib Shteinman shlit”a visited the US a few years ago, he met with educators and fielded questions. One of them asked him whether it was appropriate for a rebbe to play ball with his students. R. Ahron Leib, of course, replied that it wasn’t. This created enormous tension for the scores of rabbeim, especially outside of NY, who understand how getting closer to students on their turf increases their respect for Torah, and not the opposite as it might in the more ethereal provinces of Bnei Brak.”

    R’ Adlerstein–

    What do you think of the possibility that had they asked R’ Shteinman the proper question, i.e. “Is it proper for a mikareiv (outreach worker) of children to play ball with the children he is trying to influence?” that he would have given the opposite response?

    “Chinuch” in yeshivas leans toward instilling an appreciation for and reverence of Torah study for kids who already love Judaism, as a result of their home life. As a former day school rebbie, I can say without doubt that what we were doing in day schools was more outreach-oriented.

    Avi

  28. Garnel Ironheart says:

    Bob Miller,

    I’ve had lots of contact with the Chareidi world I describe. I would repond by saying that there has NO universally accepted halachic definition of death since the introduction of modern monitoring devices, respirators and CPR. Previous to that, it was quite simple – a person stopped breathing and he died. Now that we have the ability to continue to respirate a person artificially and can check the brain and heart for previously undetectable levels of function, the consensus has been thrown out. The majority of poskim I am aware of still hold that cessation of respiration is the gold standard for death which means brain stem death IS death. This is reflected in the new Israeli law.

    There is a minority of poskim who hold that cessation of heartbeat is the definitive sign of death but if you read their material, that’s because most of them thought that the heart controlled respirations, which isn’t physiologically correct.

    The group that holds that any sign of movement in the body, such as an isolated heartbeat in the absence of spontaneous respiration or any brain/brainstem function is very small and certainly differs from most of the other major decisors of this and the previous generations. That is the reason for my comment.

  29. Daniel Shain says:

    David (#19) wrote: “For all the talk of how the internet/blog phenomenon has let all voices be heard, and how that is so great and fantastic, can we have one example of any significant positive thing that has happened because of all this talk back and forth? ”

    I don’t know for sure whether there has been any measurable benefit form blogs or postings like cross-currents. But I think awareness has been raised on some important issues that involve the frum community through such forums, such as domestic violence, child molestation, “at risk” youth, and special needs children. Raising important issues, even if only for a somewhat limited audience, is a needed first step if our communities are going to grow and improve.

    Also these forums give expression to many valid hashkafic viewpoints that otherwise have been suppressed. Part of our avodah (a neglected part I think, but one viewed as essential by the Rambam) is the perfection of our beliefs and understandings of the world and its Creator. I have found this difficult in recent years with the very narrow hashkafas presented by some segments of the Orthodox community. I personally find that thoughtful postings help me clarify my own thinking on important issues and hashkafas, even if its hard to see that they are changing the world on a larger scale.

  30. LOberstein says:

    “quickly flown across the Atlantic to waiting consumer markets here”. That is the issue in a nutshell, the people in Lakewood and similar thinking places want to be like Bnai Brak. They are not looking for a way to be good Jews in the American milieu, they want to look, speak and think like Bnai Brak Jews who are accidentally in the USA. Of course, many also like the benefits of our society and wouldn’t really want to live in the material deprivation that charectarizes Chareidi society. This realization came to me many years ago when I went to a parlor meeting for Lakewood here in Baltimore.The Baltimore born and bred Rosh Hayeshiva, graduate of TA, child of American native English speaking parents, addressed the “oilom”(crowd) in a sort of Yiddish that any true speaker of Yiddish would laugh at. It occured to me thatnot only doesn’t he really know Yiddish , but much of the audience doesn’t understand what he is saying. So why is an American talking in a foreign tongue to other Americans. The answer is that they don’t want to be Americans, and they don’t want to speak goyish. Why does every yingle ( youth) now have payos? My son doesn’t out of Kibud Av but my einiklach certainly will ( some of them). That’s the way the world is going.

  31. S. says:

    > One of them asked him whether it was appropriate for a rebbe to play ball with his students. R. Ahron Leib, of course, replied that it wasn’t.

    Why óf course’? Why would’t he understand that he was asked an American question by an American rabbi in America? And respond or decline to respond accordingly?

    In other words, unlike R. Chaim Ozer who tended to acknowledge that he could not comment or rule for Germans, why would R. Aharon Loeb not similarly decline to answer these questions for Americans?

  32. David says:

    ‘Thank you Rabbi Addlerstein for this very thoughtful article. I am impressed that someone is finally taking a stand on this and similar issues.’

    I am just going to take this one comment out as a springboard for a possible future article.
    This type of comment is something that we all have either made ourselves or have certainly seen others make in the past 4-5 years. For all the talk of how the internet/blog phenomenon has let all voices be heard, and how that is so great and fantastic, can we have one example of any significant positive thing that has happened because of all this talk back and forth? I’m not saying that people shouldn’t talk, if only for the cathartic effect, but I am getting tired of all this talk, and all I think of when I see this is blah, blah, blah…
    (Sorry to end a great post with a negative spin.)

  33. Bob Miller says:

    Regarding the Comment by Garnel Ironheart — March 31, 2008 @ 5:45 pm:

    Garnel, how much direct contact have you had with the Chareidi world you want to describe?

    There has been a Chareidi consensus about the definition of death until now—not surprisingly, it’s the traditional halachic definition—so it’s unfair to attribute their general agreement in the current instance to only one Gadol’s psak.

  34. Daniel Eidensohn says:

    It is interesting to note that Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l asserted that people is Israel should receive direction from Israeli gedolim regarding Israeli issues.

    Igros Moshe (Y.D. IV #41 page 257)
    “It is well known that in general I am careful not to mix in to practical matters that concern Israeli rabbis”

    Igros Moshe (Y.D. III #131 page 397)
    “Concerning halacha l’maaseh it is necessary to be informed by the gedolim of Israel how to act in all issues concerning Shemita and to do according to the practices of the gedolei Yisroel who live in Israel”

    See also Igros Moshe (O.C. IV #76 page 153) concerning a letter to Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach regarding chulent made with chicken.

  35. Dr. E says:

    –Dr. E, ain’t so anymore. There are Rebbaim, Mechanchim, Kiruv personel in Israel also got the American love for sports. Fri afternoon the courts packed with jumpshots, dribblers, and fast passes, the ‘Western flavor’ cant be avoided. KAR & underground youth crave the fast movement on the fields, Rebbes must be there as mentors.–

    Sima-

    Of course, my retort was tongue-in-cheek. But given the substance of your response, it would seem that those you describe are don’t represent the mainstream Israeli Chareidi Yehiva system.

    One thing that I have noticed among even American Yeshivish Rabbanim recently is that there is a certain charm in quoting apparently superordinary stories and shailos posed to Israeli Chareidi figures. IMHO, it dumbs down other Rabbanim and Poskim who are certainly as well equipped, if not moreso, to deal with the issue. Yisro certainly realized this when he suggested a decentralized model of leadership. But, it seems that some people prefer to take every shailah large or small to the Moshe Rabbeinus of our generation. It’s obviously more meaningful for some to hear from Rav Kanievsky that a commitment to learn Torah study for a half-hour more a day will improve one’s quality of life, than hearing the exact same advice from the Rabbi of the local Agudah or ones’ 11th Grade Rebbe whom he met on the street.

    We see this on a local scale in the U.S. as well. I have observed that local Chareidi institutions are reluctant to make internal decisions and must defer to Daas Torah outside of the school to receive guidance on everything from the mundane to important personnel matters. While a system of checks-and-balances is important in some areas (to prevent things from being swept under the carpet), there is an aura of dependence where administrators do not feel empowered to weigh in on matters that being on-site daily puts them in a better position to address.

  36. mycroft says:

    In the US one could go back to the difference of opinion in the 40s between R A Kotler on one side with R E Silver and R Y Kasmenetzky on the other side about power of RY and local Rabbonim, R A. Rofkopf-currently known as R A Rothkopf -Rakeffet in his biography of R E Silver discusses the issue.
    Of interest that at times RYBS would refuse to pasken issues for his talmidim basing it on the reason “you are there, you know the facts” His talmidim would want a psakbut RYBS recognized the importance of local Rabbonim/decision makers. Obviously RYBS ruled many times on issues but the principle of local decision making is of importance.

  37. JosephW says:

    I seem to recall a similar response (as that of Rav Chaim Ozer’s) – that the question of institutionalized secular studies might not have the same psak in all localities. I think it was one of the answers given to Rav S. Schwab by one of the Roshei Yeshivos in Lithuania; possibly Rav Bloch from Telz. If anyone has a copy of Shaarei Talmud Torah please confirm or deny this – the Teshuvos are printed in the back there.
    Thank You

  38. Daniel Shain says:

    Thank you Rabbi Addlerstein for this very thoughtful article. I am impressed that someone is finally taking a stand on this and similar issues. However, you seem to place the blame on the questioners, who insisted that questions be taken to “higher authority” in Israel. I sense that the American rabbinic leadership is responsible as well. In my experience, many prominent Rabbanim are very reluctant to take stands on important issues, at least publically. Perhaps this is due to humility and the desire to defer to greater sages. However, if we want our local rabbis to have the final word on local issues, our rabbis have to be willing to take a stand and give the final word, and not look to gedolim from other cities and countries to paskin for them.

  39. joel rich says:

    R’YA,
    OK, but lshitat daas torah in its stronger form, if one believes there is a gadol hador, shouldn’t all other gedolim submit to his judgement or, put differently, why wouldn’t everyone go to the gadol hador with their questions (putting aside the practical difficulties)?
    KT

  40. Garnel Ironheart says:

    I would disagree with the Rav’s assertion that “Daas Torah” isn’t monolithic. The current protests over the new law on the definition of death in Israel prove that it is. Rav Eliashiv has paskened on his definition of death and pashkevils all over have declared that anyone who disagrees with it is guilty of murder! If that isn’t an example of monolithic leadership, what is?

    The Chareidi world suffers from a strong desire for conformity. The right suit, the right hat, the right way to sway when davening, the right tune to learn gemara with, all these lead to total loss of independent thought. To use the Rav’s orchestra example, the current trend will lead to a Chareidi orchestra where everyone plays the exact same note using the exact same violin while the audience murmers at how nice and unified the sound is, not realizing the beauty of the symphony is totally gone.

  41. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    Joel – While I have no reason to doubt that there may be lots of people espousing the view of Daas Torah that you presented, I have never met one! At least in my circle of rabbeim, mentors,and friends, no one maintains that Daas Torah is monolithic. I cited R. Chaim Ozer not because it was novel (it isnt’t), but because it is authoritative.

  42. Anonymous says:

    Well said, R’ Alderstein. When my husband and I were planning our move to E”Y, our biggest concern was finding schools for the children. We are “American Chareidi” which is quite different from “Israeli Chareidi” for the reasons mentioned by R’ Alderstein. We found suitable schools but the experience of searching for them, and then hoping and praying that the children be accepted was harrowing. We found the perfect American-Style Chareidi community to live in, and b”h these communities are growing- there is not much choice, as many more Yeshivish Americans are coming here and they are not about to live the life of those in Bnei Brak. In matters of halacha, the talmidei chachamim of E”Y have always held the sway, especially today when the level of Torah scholarship here far surpasses the level available in America. But when in comes to hashkafa, any hashkafos that fall within the realm of acceptable should be the business of local communities. There is no one size fits all hashkafa, and to try force it is unrealistic and an all around bad idea.

  43. sima ir kodesh says:

    DR. E, aint so anymore. There are Rebbaim, Mechanchim, Kiruv personel in Israel also got the American love for sports. Fri afternoon the courts packed with jumpshots, dribblers, and fast passes, the ‘Western flavor’ cant be avoided. KAR & underground youth crave the fast movement on the fields, Rebbes must be there as mentors.

  44. Dr. E says:

    –When R. Ahron Leib Shteinman shlit”a visited the US a few years ago, he met with educators and fielded questions. One of them asked him whether it was appropriate for a rebbe to play ball with his students. R. Ahron Leib, of course, replied that it wasn’t. This created enormous tension for the scores of rabbeim, especially outside of NY, who understand how getting closer to students on their turf increases their respect for Torah, and not the opposite as it might in the more ethereal provinces of Bnei Brak. What was tragic is that the person who asked the question didn’t realize that he should have taken such a question to R. Shmuel Kamenetsky, shlit”a or R. Aharon Shechter, shlit”a – and have taken them privately, off-mike – who have far more experience with the parameters of American chinuch.–

    I can definitely see Rav Shteinman’s point of view. By encouraging Rabbeim to play ball with students, it would be a tremendous Chilul Hashem and Bizayon HaTorah. After all, Rav Shteinman knows as much as the next person that Chareidi Rabbeim who have never have practiced lay-ups, fielded ground balls, or even kicked a soccer ball would simply embarrass themselves athletically. How can talmidim learn a sharp Ketzos from mentors who can’t throw a tight spiral? This may or may not be the case with American Rabbeim.

  45. cvmay says:

    Questions for Eretz Yisroel are not uniform either.
    When an experienced and popular Rosh Yeshiva established a Mesivta in Eretz Yisroel, he approached Gedolim with his idea and curriculum. The advice was: NOT IN YERUSHAYALIM, anywhere outside of its boundaries with ‘our blessing’. This Mesivta has grown in popularity, is well-established and succeeding outside of Yerushayalim.

  46. Nachum says:

    R’ Adlerstein, you make a few faulty assumptions:

    1. You assume that anything an Israeli gadol says is good for Israel, just not America. Who says? Maybe it would help if Israeli rebbeim played ball with their talmidim.

    2. You assume that anything an American Rosh Yeshiva would say would be good for Americans. Who says? The movement of shaylos from one’s Rav (i.e. the Rav of a shul and/or kehillah) to a Rosh Yeshiva, which started decades ago, has been much bemoaned. If Bnei Brak is too “ethereal,” a yeshiva in American can be as well, compared to the streets of Los Angeles or even Brooklyn.

  47. Bob Miller says:

    As I recall, Rav Bamberger in fact supported separation/Austritt under other circumstances, but became convinced that the general community in Frankfurt-am-Main had recently made enough concessions to Orthodox autonomy to remove the grounds for secession there.

    This controversy did touch on diversity in local psak, in the sense that Rav Hirsch’s group objected to an outside Rav mixing into their communal affairs.

  48. G says:

    So then there would seem to be two obvious questions:

    1 – Why do the leading individuals in Eretz Yisroel continue to answer questions or deal with situations that pertain to things ‘American’?

    2 – Why do the leading individuals in America not speak for themselves?

  49. josh werblowsky says:

    Congratulations to R.Adlerstein for his courageous,honest and timely viewpoint.If ONLY….

  50. joel rich says:

    R’YA,

    You argue for recognition that the world is a complex place and that 2 individuals of equal learning/effort might view things differently. While this may corellate with your real world anecdotal observations, it is inconsistent with iiuc the basic current understanding of daas torah – that at any point in time there is one and only one action that halacha demands of each individual and that a gadol can tell each individual what that is(or the individual should act as if this is the case). This rests iiuc on the premise that a gadol through superior ability or divine inspiration can in very short order know everything they need to know about a situation or an individual or a field of science in order to render the appropriate decision.

    The sage on the stage versus the guide by your side analogy for variant approaches has always been attractive to me. What you are articulating is the natural evolution of the stage approach (interesting that hkb”h seemed to approve the division of powers model -e.g. navi, melech, kohain, 70 zkeinim…)

    KT