A Response to Dr. Finkelman

Dear Reb Yoel,

You should take great satisfaction in the discussion generated by your cogent and respectful submission. What ever else divides us, we both love Torah Judaism and the Jewish people. We both agree that an essential part of dealing with the problems that beset any sizable community is open and frank discussion. I hope that good things will come from the challenging questions that you posed, and from some of the ideas that they will spawn.

The very fact that you were able to reach across the divide between our subgroups (what an awful thing, to have to talk about divisions between Torah Jews!) is empowering and positive. I hope that I can return the favor, and you can help me publish some of the observations I have about standards and phenomena in your hashkafic neighborhood that are perplexing to me. Perhaps we can take this process to the next step, and converse publicly in real time in the same spirit of brotherly concern, absent the usual admixture of one-upmanship common to such dialogue.

I will try to address your questions serially, to the best of my ability. In some cases, the question will be better than the answer. I am not an apologist, neither professional nor amateur. But my roots are much closer to the charedi and yeshiva communities that yours, and perhaps can add some insight. What I fail to bring to the table will hopefully be filled in by others joining in. Quite a few good points have already been contributed by astute readers in the comments to your piece.

You asked, “What are the religious and social consequences of a community in which people think one thing and say in public that they think another? How does that affect communal health, individual piety, and personal psychological well-being?” The question, no doubt, was rhetorical. You know that the results can be devastating, and sometimes are. What you may not realize is that they don’t have to be. People who are aware of the reason for the enforced uniformity in the charedi world and respect its goals are better equipped to handle the stifling of free expression.

Very few of us can say and do whatever we want within our professional world. Company policies, social conventions, the exigencies of diplomacy all limit our ability to express ourselves as we may want. We have to be polite to coworkers we may dislike, because the alternative would be horrible. We realize that these restrictions serve a positive purpose, even if we chafe against them.

The charedi world is much the same. People in it may grumble (some more and some less) about their inability to share their opinions and concerns, but they understand that this is the price of membership. The strategy of imposed uniformity may be good, bad, or terrible, but even those rugged individualists who find it most objectionable can understand the fears, insecurities and needs of their neighbors who perpetuate it. This makes it easier to live with. Those who have difficulty with it can also often (but admittedly, not often enough) find ways around the rules.

“What is the actual role of the rabbinic leadership? How much are they leading and how much are they being led? To the extent that they are being led, who is doing the leading: the most responsible and mature segments of the community or irresponsible and immature kanaim?” This is probably the question asked most often within the community. The answer is nuanced, but simple: it is a mixture of both. The challenge is finding out what is coming from the minds of the leaders, and what is coming from the gatekeepers and the kanaim. It is difficult, but not impossible, to find out. Rav Elyashiv zt”l used to tell people never to believe anything said in his name unless they heard it from him. He was not the first to offer this advice. I never accept anything I see in a published proclamation without securing confirmation from parties I respect and trust. Again, if you understand the reason for the rules of the in-group, they are easier to navigate.

“How does this affect education and parenting? Young people are bloodhounds for hypocrisy, and they will pick up the slightest gap between what we say and what we believe or how we act.” I don’t think that hypocrisy is the issue, especially given the strong background in Torah texts in the yeshiva world. The gemara is replete with strongly-worded statements, that to the untrained eye seem exaggerated or simplistic. We learn that such statements are part of a style, and we look for – and value – the latent message more than the manifest one. The charedi community understands (at least many people understand) that when they see a sign heaping invective upon some behavior that it may not mean anything more than “this is really not such a good idea.” To people not used to such a style, it is exasperating; to others, it is just another one of the rules of the game. Behind every Torah she-b’chsav in the charedi world is a Torah she-b’al peh. Those who realize that the former is best appreciated through the lenses of the latter don’t have as hard a time as disgruntled literalists.

The greater harm is not in enforced silence, but in enforced uniformity. The latter has some benefits that should not be dismissed. Too many of us are in the thrall of a belief that individual autonomy is the summa bonum of society. This is simply not part of the vision of Chazal, who did provide for censorship, for enforcement of not only Torah law but communal takanos, and instructed us to find spouses, rabbeim and friends who would be there always to reprimand us when wrong, and apply healthy community pressure to do better than we would otherwise do. Community membership has its benefits.

Nonetheless, the pressure will work for some, and be disastrous for others, especially, as you point out, those with more creativity and individuality. There is a superabundance of one-size-fits-all thinking in our world, and it is terribly harmful. I have no easy solution other than to remind parents in particular that their responsibility is to their child, while the responsibility of the principal or manhig at times is to the majority of the public. When the two do not coincide, the parent must do what is best for his or her child, not for the tzibbur.

“How does that affect the concept of mesorah? We tell our students and children that we believe in and follow the Torah, given from G-d on Sinai and passed along lovingly, with utmost care for its truthfulness and honesty, from generation to generation. Then, we do not pass along to those very students what we believe the Torah says and wants.” I don’t think this is true. We do pass it along. It just takes a skill set to be able to read between the lines, rather than at the lines themselves. Good rabbeim will be able to do that. People who spend a large part of their lives parsing difficult text and looking for deeper meaning have an easier time learning how to do that. If we have a problem, it might be that we don’t have enough good rabbeim.

“To what extent do these limitations on public discourse effect social change? At a top-down level, how often do leaders have a clear vision for where they want to the community to go but silence themselves? At a bottom-up level, which lay leaders and potential institution builders have decided that new and potentially valuable initiatives are not worth the price?” People see this as a crisis in leadership. It is, but not the way they mean it. Leaders can’t impose on their flock more than the followers are willing to accept. For all of what seems to the outsider as slavish and robotic obeisance to orders from on high, it really isn’t so. I remember Rav Moshe zt”l a generation ago complaining that he could not speak his mind regarding certain issues, because people would not listen, and it was more damaging to have manhigim speak and be ignored than for them to remain silent. Our leaders may not be perfect, but they never were and didn’t have to be. Much of our problem is with followers who are only willing to listen to certain messages, but have no ability to process others. But yes, you are right. The state of the community is such that the hands of authentic Torah leaders are often tied.

The bottom-up process also suffers, but not as much as people think. Usually there are people who defy some of the rules and make themselves heard. The outlook for the future, I believe, is rosier than some think. All the campaigning against the internet and blogs is not working. The digital revolution will force greater democratization of communal life as more people can make their voices heard. This very exchange between us is a small example. The success of Klal Perspectives to open up discussion (full disclosure: I’m on the Board) also augurs well for the possibility of bottom-up sharing with Gedolei Torah.

Even though you did not make a bullet point of this, I should probably address at this point the very phenomenon of The Voice that launched this exchange. We have indeed spoken about the chilling effect of kanaim and communal opprobrium on the expression of novel positions. (I know it well myself. I know that I share less than half of what I would like to say with the public, in fear of the consequences. Even so, whatever I have said always comes at a price. It can be confusing, finding out what people are saying about me. I don’t know which I am expected to burn first – my diploma, or my black hat, depending on whether the character assassination is coming from the left or the right.)

Yet for the harm and repression caused by kanaim is not the main reason why Torah personalities have to keep silent where they might want to speak up. They would bear the consequences; making that sacrifice is part of their chinuch. The greater reason for silence is that Torah personalities understand their obligation to multiple groups and to multiple roles. There is so much uncritical thinking around, that a person easily can lose his effectiveness with large parts of the population he must serve with a single statement or position. Most of the time, it is not worth it. Taking a stand on one position is seldom worth the price of then becoming irrelevant regarding a host of future issues, or in paskening halacha, or in diffusing communal disputes – all roles in which the Gadol serves. It would simply be wrong for a person who knows that his help is needed in different kinds of situations to completely sacrifice his effectiveness and utility because some people lack the sophistication to deal with nuance.

“What does one do with the gap between the da’as Torah ideology, according to which, Jews must listen to the great rabbis and a reality in which those rabbis cannot speak freely? Rumors abound about highly politicized askanim who influence what the gedolim hear, who they meet, and what public statements they put their names on. These rumors may be true or false, spot on or exaggerated, but in either case, public trust — if not in the gedolim themselves then at least in their public statements — can only erode.” Public trust indeed is eroded, and that is tragic. Those who are more astute, as mentioned before, go the extra mile, and find out what Gedolim truly said, and what is said in their name. Those people are not devastated by this unfortunate state of affairs. Once again, they understand the rules of the game, and therefore have an easier time of things.

A different, and perhaps better, answer to your question is another question: which brand of da’as Torah? There are probably as many definitions of it as there are authors who have written about it. I’ve offered my own understanding of it on these pages in the past, as I received it in my yeshiva years. You are probably referring to what I would term “hard” da’as Torah. Any manipulation of Gedolim would be catastrophic to this view; those who believe in this version therefore deny all such manipulation. Many of us, however, had a different chinuch. We firmly believe that Gedolei Torah are the einei ha-edah to whom we turn for both halachic and meta-halachic guidance. But this has more to do with a consensus of gedolim on major issues, rather than on securing permission to start a new Tuesday evening Tehillim group. It also does not imply infallibility or see it as a replacement for familiarity with the facts.

A final thought. Some four centuries ago, the Maharal reported that he was asked some very difficult questions about Jewish infighting by a local cleric. Maharal in Netzach Yisrael tells us about the answers he provided – and how they didn’t work. Maharal at one point offers an intriguing apology for divisiveness and worse in our own ranks. He says that although such behavior is unacceptable and truly inexcusable, it is nonetheless important for people to know that it comes from a good place, rather than a sign of essential lowliness. The bickering and backstabbing are terrible perversions of something good within us, rather than demonstrations of debased souls.

I cannot help but feel that the same thing is going on here, Reb Yoel. You have pointed to problems – serious problems. It would be a mistake, I think, not to realize at the same time that the backstory to these problems is a fierce loyalty of the yeshiva community to the Dvar Hashem, to wanting to assure ourselves that we are walking in step with the myriad and complex dictates of halacha and our willingness to live with many impositions in serving Hashem. Sometimes – oftentimes – we get it wrong. The bikush of the Dvar Hashem, b’lev v’nefesh, however, is still a thing of beauty.

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41 comments to A Response to Dr. Finkelman

  • YM

    I find it very helpful having a personal Rav, especially as a baal teshuva, who doesn’t intuitively understand how to interpret public statements and attitudes, as well as how to determine what is truly an aveira, versus what is simply something that may not be the best and highest use of my time or mind.
    Thank you, Rabbi Adlerstein

  • David F.

    Many excellent points. I’d like to add one more:

    Much of what is said in the name of the “gedolim” is true but inaccurate or out of context.

    An example of this is something that was repeated and reported in the name of Rav Mattisyahu Salomon shlit”a some years ago regarding going to the “Kosher” Circus on Chol HaMoed. Supposedly, Rav Mattisyahu spoke out very strongly against it and recommended against going. The blogosphere was up in arms about it. How dare he? What about the poor organizers of the event? Why can’t we all enjoy some kosher fun?

    When questioned about his words, Rav Mattisyahu explained:

    “Those words were part of a 30 minute drashah I gave in the Lakewood Beis HaMedrash to yungerleit and bochurim in which I focused on the importance of acting like a Ben Torah at all times. One example I gave was that a yungerman is expected to act differently than the average person on the street and he should not necessarily be found at certain venues and events that the general populace enjoys. I offered the circus as an example of that. One who strives for a more sanctified existence would be well advised not to go. I wasn’t speaking to the general populace and have no issue with them attending. Why would anyone think otherwise when I clearly wasn’t addressing the general populace?”

    This is far from an isolated incident.

  • joel rich

    Or, in the famous words of Buckaroo Banzai, “Nothing is ever what it seems but everything is exactly what it is.”

    KT

  • Noam Stadlan

    Rav Moshe was reportedly asked how he became a gadol and he said that he answered questions and people liked his answers and asked more. At least at that time, he was not self consciously a ‘gadol.’
    Now it seems that gedolim are aware of their status and feel a need to maintain it. Thus the quote: ‘Taking a stand on one position is seldom worth the price of then becoming irrelevant regarding a host of future issues, or in paskening halacha, or in diffusing communal disputes – all roles in which the Gadol serves. ‘

    It seems it has become more important to keep the position than to take a position.

  • Benjamin E.

    “The charedi community understands (at least many people understand) that when they see a sign heaping invective upon some behavior that it may not mean anything more than “this is really not such a good idea.” ”

    The concern I have about this is that it erodes the possibility for noting problems that really *do* deserve to have invective heaped upon them. Watering down the ability to actually express a strong view is not necessarily the best idea, perhaps. A discerning mind might be able to tell the difference, but that’s a whole additional level of discernment one needs – and I worry more about the average person’s ability to understand the difference.

  • Shades of Gray

    “You are probably referring to what I would term “hard” da’as Torah. Any manipulation of Gedolim would be catastrophic to this view; those who believe in this version therefore deny all such manipulation”

    One can argue that some forms of “hard” daas Torah, are against daas Torah, as it were, since the Gedolim themselves deny it! For example, R. Nosson Kamenetsky, in a speech at Young Israel of Beth El in Boro Park said about his close relationship with R. Elyashiv,”whom I adore, nay, love”. At the same time, RNK said,

    “When books will be written about R. Elyashiv after 120 years, and an untruthful “Shivchei Tzadikim” volume will appear and state that R. Elyashiv had Ruach Hakodesh, it will be a lie. Because, he told me explicitly that he did not have Ruach Hakodesh, and he did not say it out of humility, but as an excuse for believing false stories that the “zhilagis”[zealots] told him.”

    I asked a Lakewood bachur who was together at RNK’s above lecture with me, how he relates to the fact that R. Elyashiv “doesn’t have Ruach Hakodesh”. He suggested that regarding learning, he could still have RH’K(perhaps in the sense of the Ravad that “Ruach Hakodesh has already appeared in our beis midrash”).

    If one is trying to make sense of events in contemporary London, it seems hard to maintain a simplistic view of daas Torah, with some respected rabbonim publicly questioning the motives of another respected rabbinic group in setting up a Beis Din.

    Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz offered the following parenting analogy after the Lipa issue(“Lipa” – Where Do We Go From Here?”, 2/08):

    “When you were a child, you thought your parents could do no wrong. As an adolescent, you thought that you parents couldn’t do anything right.” With that in mind, I think that in many ways we vacillate back and forth between these phases when we think about our leaders…However, those who are currently in the adolescent phase, I suggest that, for the sake of the children, you very quickly realign yourselves to the third, mature phase. Our gedolim are great and elevated human beings. But human nonetheless.”

  • Bob Miller

    Rabbi Adlerstein wrote, “I never accept anything I see in a published proclamation without securing confirmation from parties I respect and trust. Again, if you understand the reason for the rules of the in-group, they are easier to navigate.”

    How do we less-connected folks get the straight scoop? The frum media can be part of the communications problem, by choosing to report non-facts or not to report facts. Even one’s personal Rav might lack the necessary degree of access through his channels because of noise or friction in the system.

    [YA - Minimally, you need to select a personal rav who is well enough connected that he can find out the truth. This is not that difficult.]

  • S.

    “Rav Moshe was reportedly asked how he became a gadol and he said that he answered questions and people liked his answers and asked more. At least at that time, he was not self consciously a ‘gadol.’”

    Not to nitpick, but if we are trying to draw conclusions then we should get it exactly. Rav Moshe was not asked how he became a gadol. He was asked by the New York Times – in 1975, when he was 80 years old – how he became a renowned posek – not gadol. And that was essentially his answer. We also should be careful in not assuming that this was the real answer, for Rav Moshe was as self-aware as anyone else that there is more to how one becomes a renowned posek than, aw shucks, they ask, I answer, they like.

  • Daniel Adler

    “The greater harm is not in enforced silence, but in enforced uniformity. The latter has some benefits that should not be dismissed. Too many of us are in the thrall of a belief that individual autonomy is the summa bonum of society. This is simply not part of the vision of Chazal, who did provide for censorship, for enforcement of not only Torah law but communal takanos, and instructed us to find spouses, rabbeim and friends who would be there always to reprimand us when wrong, and apply healthy community pressure to do better than we would otherwise do. Community membership has its benefits.”

    R’ Hirsch discusses the idea and importance of individuality vis-à-vis the communal structure. This is a theme that is discussed throughout his writings in many varied locations. I will only quote one, since it is short. However I highly recommend Shevat VI, The Timeless Shekel (CW, Vol II), and his commentary to Vaychi.

    “Although each one of them (the Shevatim) already had an independent household of his own, they all remained devoted to Ya’akov and were deeply attached to him…All of them together were part of the same ancient stem, but each one has become a separate, independent branch, the center of a family of his own. They are all the children of Ya’akov, but now they have children of their own.
    This is the heart and soul of the family: Each son builds his own home as a branch of his parents’ home, and every father lives on in his children and grandchildren. Parents with their children, and children with their parents, knit together and united forever – this is the root of Israel’s eternal flowering. Herein lies the secret of the eternity of the Jewish people.”
    (Shemos, p. 1-2)

  • Tuvia

    I am not haredi but I think that the problem with what Rav Adlerstein describes is that these practices of not telling the truth, not being clear, fear of speaking, having to parse the statements of gadolim – it all speaks to a frustrating truth which is: this is not a safe community. It is a place where what you say is not what you mean, what you mean is not what you say, and you’d better know when to say something, and when not to. And people say things in the name of others who then have to deny they said it.

    Obviously when someone is up on a dais, he does not say whatever comes to mind. But as this kind of thinking permeates every level of the community, it is a danger to people. People believe things which can harm them, they fear things they shouldn’t, they can become secretive, ashamed, scared. They can decide to take the messages more literally and intimidate others. They can turn on themselves and hide problems for fear of some repercussion in the community.

    This is not a healthy way for a community to proceed. It makes the haredi community seem like it cannot function in a healthy way. I enjoy Rav Adlerstein’s remarks, because they say something that is very true about the community – how unusual.
    I am sure the community is in many ways ok – but it is ok in spite of these community customs. It reminds me of Soviet Russia – sure the people were ok, and got married and had jobs and families and laughed and lived. But they did all of this in spite of a controlling society that finally imploded.

    Tuvia

  • Mike S.

    What about those who are less well connected within the community? If things run with one set of statements on the surface and another understood by those in the know, are not many people fooled or misled? And isn’t that particularly true for ba’alei tshuvah and geirim, and perhaps also widows whose connection to the Torah of the Gedolim was mostly through their husbands? And if so, is that not a massive violation of the prohibition of geneivat da’at?

    Much of our problem is with followers who are only willing to listen to certain messages, but have no ability to process others. Is it not the responsibility of leaders, especially in a community where the leaders are typically heads of educational institutions to teach the community to process other messages?

  • Crazy Kanoiy

    David F. – Are you sure that your story is accurate? I believe that many schools in Lakewood forbade their students from attending the concert based on the strong opposition to the event expressed by the Mashgiach.

    “Those who realize that the former is best appreciated through the lenses of the latter don’t have as hard a time as disgruntled literalists.”

    How is one to take oft made statements and public declarations such as “this opinion is kfirah”, “such an such is an apikorus”, “ein lo cheilek l’olam haboh” and “he or she clearly has no yiras shomayim” non-literally? Such comments carry such immense consequence that it is hard to understand how a responsible person could say such things without really meaning them. Unfortunately, I believe that you are right and such shock lines are used even when they are not meant. The problem with this approach is that much like the boy who cried wolf no one will ever take such statements seriously again and when an issue arises that actually warrants such a reaction nobody will care to listen.

    [YA - No argument from me on that!]

  • Noam Stadlan

    S. thanks for the correction. Perhaps a different counter example. Like most students of my generation I had to read ‘profiles in courage’. The only story I remember is Edmond G Ross. He voted against the conviction of Andrew Johnson and in the process knowingly threw away his political future. (Although apparently according to Wikipedia he may have been bribed). Later in life he wrote that it was as if he were looking down on his open grave when he cast the vote

  • guest

    R’ Adlerstein’s post, and this entire conversation, echoes a 2005 post from another blog:

    “In charedi culture, privately rejecting hashkafah and privately living a life that is in some ways divergent with the charedi line probably won’t get you into trouble. But once the perception is that you are trying to challenge the norms of that culture, you’ll have a problem.”

    I recommend reading the post in its entirety, on the Zionist Conspiracy blog of 10/11/2005.

  • David F.

    “David F. – Are you sure that your story is accurate? I believe that many schools in Lakewood forbade their students from attending the concert based on the strong opposition to the event expressed by the Mashgiach.”

    Yes. I’m sure. It was not a concert, but a circus and I know many people in Lakewood who took their children and were not in defiance of their school rules.

  • Crazy Kanoiy

    David F. – Sorry that was my typo. I meant Circus and not concert. If my memory serves me correctly the statements were not as timid as you make them out to be. Did you hear the clarification from Rav Mattisyahu yourself?

  • dr. bill

    Rabbi Alderstein,

    While I believe askanim play a role, which at least to an outsider appears either threatening or deceiving or both, I too do not believe askanim are a major issue.

    In my mind, chareidi ideology has adopted two positions that are having some unpleasant consequences. First, the role of gedolim has extended to include a dispositive role not just in halakhic and even religious matters, but almost all public policy areas. Second, respect for a diversity of opinion, to see shades of grey in addition to black and white, is at best a bedieved.

    The struggle to then defend the consequences of such positions without attempting to address or even acknowledge their fundamental role causes a good deal of mental gymnastics in an attempt to deal with the situation. Consider three points that you made:

    First, can one seriously compare the chareidi world to company policies as you write below:

    “Company policies, social conventions, the exigencies of diplomacy all limit our ability to express ourselves as we may want. We have to be polite to coworkers we may dislike, because the alternative would be horrible. We realize that these restrictions serve a positive purpose, even if we chafe against them.
    The charedi world is much the same. People in it may grumble (some more and some less) about their inability to share their opinions and concerns, but they understand that this is the price of membership.”
    The analogy is a text book example of the dangers of arguing by analogy. Having spent a lifetime in corporate America, I found few of its strictures much more than enforced common sense. Can you say the same about the chareidi public that does not even allow grey as the color of a shabbos tablecloth?

    Second, as an example of the “excluded middle” consider your discussion:

    “The greater harm is not in enforced silence, but in enforced uniformity. The latter has some benefits that should not be dismissed. Too many of us are in the thrall of a belief that individual autonomy is the summa bonum of society. This is simply not part of the vision of Chazal, who did provide for censorship, for enforcement of not only Torah law but communal takanos.”
    Between “enforced uniformity” and “individual autonomy” there exists the whole world of traditional orthodoxy, where neither reigns.

    Third, can you compare the gemara’s occasional use of “strongly-worded statements” with say the constant invectives against the (frum) doctors of Hadassah by among others a prominent RY to whose institution the best and the brightest of American chareidim compete to attend? And what was the truth in that incident?

    IMHO the two issues I noted above, the scope of daas torah and its bias to uniformity must be addressed. If my two issues are not correct, spend time to find what are its sources rather than trying to explain (away) the situation.

  • c-l,c

    Everything in the post should be inherently obvious

    Why so long in the coming?

    “Tuvia
    January 11, 2013 at 12:40 pm
    I am not haredi but I think that the problem with what Rav Adlerstein describes is that these practices of not telling the truth, not being clear, fear of speaking, having to parse the statements of gadolim – it all speaks to a frustrating truth which is: this is not a safe community. It is a place where what you say is not what you mean, what you mean is not what you say, and you’d better know when to say something, and when not to. And people say things in the name of others who then have to deny they said it.

    Obviously when someone is up on a dais, he does not say whatever comes to mind. But as this kind of thinking permeates every level of the community, it is a danger to people. People believe things which can harm them, they fear things they shouldn’t, they can become secretive, ashamed, scared. They can decide to take the messages more literally and intimidate others. They can turn on themselves and hide problems for fear of some repercussion in the community.

    This is not a healthy way for a community to proceed. It makes the haredi community seem like it cannot function in a healthy way. I enjoy Rav Adlerstein’s remarks, because they say something that is very true about the community – how unusual.
    I am sure the community is in many ways ok – but it is ok in spite of these community customs. It reminds me of Soviet Russia – sure the people were ok, and got married and had jobs and families and laughed and lived. But they did all of this in spite of a controlling society that finally imploded.”

    How about the “insiders” or the classified intelligence community in every country,that everybody else ,of course,is envious of?

  • Shmuel

    Rabbi Adlerstein, you wrote:

    “…the backstory to these problems is a fierce loyalty of the yeshiva community to the Dvar Hashem….” I don’t doubt that there is a lot of truth to this, and it is indeed laudable (and even enviable) trait in a Jewish community. But sometimes the fierceness obscures the Dvar Hashem. When people insist that we needn’t give consideration to the words of certain rishonim or acharonim in one area or another because they don’t fit the current ideology, or worse, when for the same reason people claim that those words were forged or that they didn’t really mean them, this obscures the Dvar Hashem since those words ARE the Dvar Hashem, or at least the lens through which we perceive the Dvar Hashem. Another way of putting this is that the enforced way of thinking in this community stifles understanding of Torah in certain areas. To be fair, the commitment to and achievement of understanding of Torah overall in this community appears to me to be at least as great as that of any other existing community, so it appears to be a trade off, perhaps a conscious one, but not one I would be prepared to make.

  • YS

    It seems to me that, as some people have commented here and elsewhere, it’s the uniformity of views rather than anonymity that is the bane of the Charedi (and to a lesser extent, Chardal) world today. Whereas in earlier generations, leaders of different kehillas across the world were forced to think issues through by themselves and didn’t have access to instant, pure and undistilled ‘Da’as Torah’ (my apologies for the scare quotes) on a wide range of topics – whether halachic, hashkafic or simply practical hanhagas – nowadays, thanks to the Global Shtetl we live in, there’s no need for anyone to do their own thinking anymore.

    Fewer people doing their own thinking means greater uniformity of thought and less creativity and critical thinking.

    For example, it’s simply impossible to imagine all of European Jewry deciding in the 18th century that it’s OK for large segments of the population to avoid the work force. There’s no way such a practice randomly becomes acceptable over hundreds of communiites, spread out over thousands of miles, with limited means of communication between them.

  • Solomon

    “Much of our problem is with followers who are only willing to listen to certain messages, but have no ability to process others. But yes, you are right. The state of the community is such that the hands of authentic Torah leaders are often tied.”

    I disagree. The hands of authentic Torah leaders should never be tied to the assertive but still minority of followers who are only willing to listen to certain messages. Quite frankly, this means they are not really followers, but those who chose what to do on their own – which is what you are saying is a bad thing. Without pointing to any individual leaders, I would submit that you need to address the inherent conflict of calling “leaders” those who feel they cannot lead “because their hands are tied.”

    This is the heart of the crises in which we find ourselves as a people – increased kana’us, decreased respect for Daas Torah, increased OTD, and increasing conflict even between the many strand of orthodox (perhaps you would say “true) Jews.

  • Ex-Kollel Guy

    Rabbi Adlerstein,

    You wrote “Public trust indeed is eroded, and that is tragic. Those who are more astute, as mentioned before, go the extra mile, and find out what Gedolim truly said, and what is said in their name. Those people are not devastated by this unfortunate state of affairs. Once again, they understand the rules of the game, and therefore have an easier time of things.”

    I have agonized over this point, and for a while tried that route but it has proved frustrating. What should I tell myself after hearing a shiur where Rav Nosson Kaminetzky states that askonim willfully concealed parts of an episode from Rav Elyashiv who based on that lack of information issued a ban on his book? If the whole story is not provided, does it really help to find out what Rav Elyashiv paskened? Do you really believe that is an isolated story? I have a hard time believing it is.

    What confuses me most is why, if this sort of thing does take place, why, oh why, didn’t Rav Elyashiv get to the bottom of who concealed the information and oust him? Why did the system evolve to what it has become? Was it always like this and I was just blind? Did it indeed change? If so, why won’t or can’t the leaders correct what’s wrong? Correct me if I’m wrong but in that event, did Rav Elyashiv come out with a declaration saying that he retracts from the announcement because it was based on misinformation? Why not?

    If you can address these questions directly, you will restore much of my emunas chachomim which has sadly deteriorated over the past 10 years.

    [YA - I am not in a position to offer you perfect reassurance, nor to definitively point to parallels and differences. That said, I do believe the following. There have been gatekeepers in the past. Some gedolim managed to anticipate their effect, and evaded them. Others didn't. The problem is exacerbated in our time by two important factors that work in tandem. One is the age of many of the gedolim. It is just not fair to expect the kind of energy and effectiveness from someone at age 90 and above as from a forty year old. As people get older they understandably must rely more on those available to help them. Those helpers sometimes abuse their power. More often, they do what they believe is best for the gadol or Klal Yisrael for no nefarious purpose, but still apply dangerous filters and blinders. This effect is compounded by the chassidization of the Daas Torah concept to the point that a huge number of followers insist on access to a small number of figures for guidance on issues that people used to deal with on their own. Supply and demand factors cause such pressure on key figures that they simply cannot function without gatekeepers. The White House operates no differently; its Chief of Staff winds up shaping policy. When I say that the rest of us have to find out what a gadol really holds, that includes learning whether his statement was backed by responsible reporting of facts. I know that this makes it even harder. Again, my very inadequate advice to you would be to reexamine your definition of Daas Torah. Rather than through out your emunas chachomim, if you can convince yourself that the "soft" Daas Torah definition of only a few years ago is the more accurate one, you will spare yourself some anguish.]

  • lacosta

    >>>It would be a mistake, I think, not to realize at the same time that the backstory to these problems is a fierce loyalty of the yeshiva community to the Dvar Hashem, to wanting to assure ourselves that we are walking in step with the myriad and complex dictates of halacha and our willingness to live with many impositions in serving Hashem. Sometimes – oftentimes – we get it wrong. The bikush of the Dvar Hashem, b’lev v’nefesh, however, is still a thing of beauty.

    —— and i guess that communities less ‘hareid lidvar hashem’ have to ask [ when they have time to take out from sending their finger-pointing postings] what are they fiercly loyal to….

  • joel rich

    r’ lacosta raises an important point but first one must define “communities less ‘hareid lidvar hashem’ “. Chareid means to rush to but lidvar hashem is in the eye of the beholder. For example, one who learns in kollel all day because that is what he was brought up to do, that is how he earns a living and does not think about it much, might not qualify as a real chareid, otoh one who works to support his family and calculates the value of every minute spent against what he understands hkb”h wants of him, likely would be a chareid, likewise one who sees her mission as educating special children…

    Of course these are anecdotal and it would be an impossible but interesting study to know how many people are really constantly driven by the dvar hashem and how many are on autopilot.
    KT

  • David F.

    Crazy Kanoiy,

    No – I did not hear them myself. I asked my Brother-in-Law, a Lakewood resident, to speak to Rav Mattisyahu and this is what he came back to me with. Having spoken to Rav Mattisyahu myself on a number of occasions and experienced his reasonable approach to matters, I was not at all surprised by his response.

    Much of what is alleged on this board and many like it is based on hearsay that is almost never based on facts. In fact, I’m willing to bet that very few of the commenters have true first-hand experience with Hareidim as it relates to Daas Torah because their comments are often so far from reality. Reading this and other recent postings, one would imagine that all Hareidim wake up each day and tune in to the latest Daas Torah update before deciding how to proceed with their daily activities. It’s nothing like that. For the masses, Daas Torah is only relevant on major communal issues and even then, everyone I know has his/her own opinion that is heavily factored into any decisions.

  • Yitzy Blaustein

    “You are probably referring to what I would term “hard” da’as Torah. Any manipulation of Gedolim would be catastrophic to this view; those who believe in this version therefore deny all such manipulation. Many of us, however, had a different chinuch. We firmly believe that Gedolei Torah are the einei ha-edah to whom we turn for both halachic and meta-halachic guidance. But this has more to do with a consensus of gedolim on major issues, rather than on securing permission to start a new Tuesday evening Tehillim group. It also does not imply infallibility or see it as a replacement for familiarity with the facts.”

    So are you saying that if I determine that a Gadol [or several gedolim] did not have proper access to the facts, then I am free to disregard his statements? This must greatly weaken the authority of the Daas Torah.

  • joel rich

    r’ Crazy Kanoiy,
    Your description may be accurate but assuming that you are correct that “very few of the commenters have true first-hand experience with Hareidim as it relates to Daas Torah “, do you think the chareidi media portrays daat torah as you describe or as many posters assume it to be?
    KT

  • Steve Eisenberg

    Rabbi Adlerstein,

    Could you define/contrast both “hard” Daas Torah and “soft” Daas Torah. You mention in your post that “I’ve offered my own understanding of it on these pages in the past, as I received it in my yeshiva years”. As a new reader of Cross-Currents, could you either explain the difference or refer me to where you explained it in the past. I am certain I am not the only one who is unclear on what these terms mean.

    Also, I want to thank you (and the other contibutors) for your courageous attempt to address important matters of concern to the Orthodox community at-large, many of which have been swept under the rug. This forum as well as klalperspectives.org are a breath of fresh air.

    [YA - Without writing much more than I can manage at the moment, here is a brief version. Hard Daas Torah is the view that the greatest recognized talmidei chachamim of the generation are the guaranteed conduit of the Divine Will on all matters, great and small. All must therefore submit to their pronouncements on all matters, whether halachic, meta-halachic, or hashkafic. Soft Daas Torah is anything less than that. I did write something about the elements shared between all views on Daas Torah: http://www.cross-currents.com/archives/2006/12/12/daas-torah-the-core-values/ ]

  • Kman

    I have to second David F. on this one. As one who resides in ‘chareidiland’ but with access to many who live out if such a community it has become more and more evident to me that those who do not live in chareidi communities have very little understanding of the mindset and goings on of the average yeshiva guy. Most often they assume that there is little difference between chassidim/Israeli Yeshivish and American Yeshiva people and whatever they read on blogs about chassidim/Israeli Yeshivish, they apply to the yeshiva world across the board. While the very far right of the American yeshiva world has taken cues from the chassidim/Israeli Yeshivish, they are a small (yet very vocal) group within the larger yeshiva and right of orthodox world.

    I can provide many examples.

  • Dr. E

    Rabbi Adlerstein:

    I think that one of the core issues in this discussion is a confounding of subconstructs within the broader construct of “rabbinic leadership” and what we expect from such individuals. As the risk of sounding heretical, not every Posek is a leader. Not every Rosh Yeshiva is a leader. And not everyone who is quoted on Matzav or YWN is a leader. And that’s OK. Let’s just respect them and be in awe of their knowledge, drink from their Torah, and call it a day. Many hold no formal position of leadership or responsibility. As such, they either respond or react without a big picture perspective beyond their constituencies. And we need not feel self-conscious that we are let by an appropriate equation of Rabbi, Rebbe, or common sense. Many of the notable names have never had any accountability, attended a board meeting, or had to manage. Of course, each has a Halachic conscience and cognitively realizes that he is a role model. But, as a whole, they certainly have no experience in public relations or making media statements—to either The Forward or the Yated. Furthermore, what they say and do is devoid of any context beyond the scenario framed to them. Incoming information is filtered through askanim; the askanim exploit them for agenda consistent outgoing statements. Furthermore, it becomes a matter of conjecture as to who exactly is the target audience for their Psakim, statements, or guidelines. It is no disrespect to limit our expectations given this reality.

    We can look at Moshe Rabbeinu for a paradigm of leadership. He was a Navi and teacher and but was also a manager (thanks to some advice from his father-in-law). Of course, there will never be another Moshe. And I am not saying that the Torah luminaries of today need to take to take courses at the Kennedy School of Management before becoming a leader. But, many cannot speak or write English. Many have not had the professional experiences which connect them to the grey areas of the real world-—be it in Israel or America.

    So, when you use the terms/job titles “Rabbinic leadership”, “Gedolei Torah”, “Mashgiach”, “Posek” interchangeably, I think that confuses the central issue on the table between you and Rabbi Finkelman. Throw that into the mix with “hard” and “lite” versions of Daas Torah, it is all one big mess. Our communities are fragmented. The reality is that each community has subcommunities which have nuance that call for their own Hashkafic and Halachic standards. Unfortunately, the Chareidi world of today cannot deal with such diversity and nuance. In addition, there is confusion between what is Halacha, Hashkafa, public policy, and common sense. When the lines among these domains are blurred in Kol Korehs or other “Daas Torah” statements, few things make sense and can be rationally reconciled. Its entire infrastructure has evolved into one which is built on a system which seeks single one-size-fits-all answers from whomever the big Torah luminary of the day is—be it Lakewood, Bnei Brak, Brooklyn, or Yeshushalayim. Given that this is the context of validation in which Rabbi Anonymous is connected, it is no wonder that going on the record with critical introspection is not going to happen.

  • Ex-Kollel Guy

    Rabbi Adlerstein thank you for responding. Having learned in a very serious Kollel in Israel, where I suppose I had adopted the “hard” Daas Torah concept, I don’t think I ever thought about things in the terms you have presented. If I was Chassidish, I would still have the same questions, but I am not. Your “soft Daas torah” concept sits well with me. The sad thing is, it leaves me looking at the world I was once a part of, and currently existing in full force in Israel, as missing the boat and somewhat dysfunctional.

    In addition, for those of us in chut la’aretz we’re also in an unusual predicament: The Torah world outside E”Y is relying, more and more, on the rulings coming from the leaders in E”Y. The recent internet asifa is the first thing that comes to mind. There were lots of trips to Israel in advance of the asifa, to orchestrate participatation, guidance and rules from Bnei Brak to the entire Chareidi world. The result was very confusing. Chassidishe Rebbes, yiddish and not ivrit for lots of it… And guidelines straight from Bnei Brak, told to us by Rav Wosner who was introduced as the posek hador. What’s a “soft Da’as Torah fella in Chutz La’Aretz to do after that event? It seems you’re saying, we need to speak to a Rav we are close to, and hope that they have the ability to interpret what just took place. ie. was there a ruling, strong suggestions, something else…. Isn’t this upside down? We are required to go to experience something and then find out what we experienced. And that interpretation might just tell us that we are to disregard whole chunks of what we experienced.

    So, by extension, we too are being abligated to partake in grand scale communal dysfunction.

    Am I missing something? This is truly what it feels like to me!

    [YA - You are not alone. Others complained about feeling that way as well. I would think, however, that you wouldn't necessarily have to feel that way. Many others understood that 1) they didn't HAVE TO attend. They saw an opportunity to join with tens of thousands of other Yidden and wanted to be part of an event that showed our dedication as a community to kedushah. 2) They found the experience exhilarating for having been in the presence of so many other Jews ready to make changes in their life style because it was the right thing to do. Just what they took away from the event on a practical level depended on who they were, and what their needs were. They understood what went into the event, including the price the organizers had to pay to include parts of the chassidishe world, and the Bnei Brak orbit. They also understood that those opinions were not binding upon them. Yes, they did check back with their own rabbeim to see how to translate what they experienced into an action plan. How much was suggestion? Were there others who disagreed? Were there other approaches? Those who did not find out instantly, did find out in the weeks that followed, as smaller, community-based gatherings focused on the practical issues of implementation, rather than a complete ban. People used to "reading between the lines" had little trouble with this, and found no contradiction between what they heard in Flushing Meadow and what they heard in Flatbush. Those whose understanding of Daas Torah was more rigid did have a problem.]

  • Allan Katz

    I prefer Rabeinu Yerucham’s – the negiah of tzidkut , the problem of le’sheim shamayim to explain the infighting which until today plagues Israeli chareidi politics – a source of great chilul hashem. Thinking people know that the system is dysfunctional and for a long time did not consider what comes out of Yated Ne’eman as true da’as Torah.

    Thinking people understand that the problems of spirituality and kids going off the dersch has more to do with kids relationships with their parents , teachers and a vision they have for themselves within the community and less about internet. The agenda on the chareidi table is not one designed by the Gedolim but by askanim and because it is so much easier to control what people do , dress , eat , what they buy , listen to rather than inspiring and esucating people to be careful how they speak and be more responsive and caring and in tune with God’s will, the real issues facing the community – alienation and poverty will never be tackled.

  • Bob Miller

    If this seeming chaos is a prelude to to arrival of Mashiach, we can hang in there a little longer.

  • YS

    Rabbi Alderstein,

    I have a very real problem understanding your concept of ‘reading between the lines’.

    Chazal themselves said “חכמים היזהרו בדבריכם”.

    There is absolutely no reason why we should accept תלמידי חכמים making all kinds of bizarre statements and even piskei halacha while at the same time criticizing the current president of Egypt for calling us the ‘descendants of apes and pigs’.

    In point of fact, as someone who spent several years in yeshiva and who lives in a mostly Charedi neighborhood in Israel, I’m not convinced that the idea of ‘reading between the lines’ really exists, except inasmuch as we’re forced to ignore some of the more unfortunate statements made by some of our תלמידי חכמים.

    Should we also be ‘reading between the lines’ when poskim seriously discuss whether it’s possible to be מחלל שבת to save the life of a non-Jew, understanding that of course we should, but that the discussion is only להגדיל תורה ולהאדירה? Or is there a distinction between something that gets codified in black and white in a sefer like the Mishna Brurah and quasi-piskei halacha promulgated by poskim nowadays? Even if there is a difference, surely the demarcation line isn’t clear.

    In short, and with all due respect, I think that stating that many or most in the Charedi world understand the seemingly bizarre statements of their leaders in ways that the outside world cannot possibly understand constitutes, at least partly, post-facto apologetics for statement and attitudes which we wouldn’t accept from anyone else.

    [YA - 1) Yes, it is post-facto apologetics, and we would not accept this behavior from anyone else. Sometimes, there is a mitzvah to apologize or put people in the best possible light 2) I cannot speak for Israel. I don't live there. 3)The line of demarcation isn't clear. 4) Why should we bother trying? Because it is still the Torah community that has the best chance of surviving into the next generation]

  • Ex-Kollel Guy

    Rabbi Adlerstein, Thank you once again for another thoughtful response. I didn’t feel I had to attend the assifa, but I was at a community function that I needed to be at and the asifa was being broadcast live at the event. Leaving at that point would have made a strong statement so I stayed. But when I asked a talmid chochom, at the moment Rav Wosner was being introduced, why was is necessary or appropriate to call a posek from Bnei Brak to pasken a major shaila for America – do we not have poskim in America? – he pretty much told me I was an apikores! I feel that this is the new wave. One size fits all Yiddishkeit, as determined by the most rigid poskim in E”Y. And if you don’t get with the program, you are ostracized.

    Another question for you: What suggestions do you have for responding to things your children’s teachers say which are more along the lines of “hard” Daas Torah? Not only do I sometimes encounter this with my children’s teachers, I see this all around. For instance, the beis medrash I often learn and daven at is a wonderfully warm place. But sometimes they bring in famous speakers who are all fire and brimstone. The topic of the speaker might be the internet, or smart phones, or … Daas Torah! Also, whenever a famous person comes to town all the schools clamor to make sure that person visits their school and all the children meet him. This leaves me in a very odd position. Should I not show up when a known kanoi is invited to speak? Should I say something to my kids about their views and in which ways we don’t follow their path? I seeing the very places I daven and learn at, becoming platforms for hashkofos that are quite intense.

    The kind of Rav you suggest we all find is elusive where I live. The quiet, gentle, kiruv-minded Rav in the beis medrash I am most comfortable in, was the very person who invited the kanoim to speak in his beis medrash. In theory I’m with your approach 100%. L’mayseh, I find myself worrying about who I talk to about these matters, lest I be shunned. And I really don’t have clear words for my children on how to balance all this. This is not the world of Torah I grew up in over 30 years ago. Very sad and worrisome.

    [YA - It is very sad to read this. A start on a solution would be to identify more people in your vicinity who think the way you do. So many people think that they are all alone, while they may even be part of a silent majority. As far as the kids, you need to straddle a very thin line between capitulation to ideas that you cannot get behind, and open confrontation with your kids rabbeim, which has to be thoroughly avoided. Perhaps we should speak offline. Also, keep in mind that there are huge differences depending upon age. At younger ages, having your kids listen to kano'us, extremism, etc. is not going to be so dangerous. What they see in your home and hear from their parents will have a much greater impact. In many cases, you can wait until they bring up the questions - and then answer in a way that they will understand that there is an alternative to what they are getting fed in school, but in a way that does not demean the rebbi.]

  • Gershon Josephs

    Some of the commenters here seem bothered or disturbed by the “disfunction” of the “daas torah” / Chareidi community. I think we need a dose of reality here. The Chareidi community is spread out globally, lives amongst some very different cultures, and is not a totatalitarian regime. There are many factions, sects, sub-sects. There are many “leaders”, “Gedolim”, “Poskim’, “Askanim” and all types of other individuals in (pseudo) leadership or positions of influence. Why on earth would anyone expect that this collection of people, spresad out globally, would be sufficiently organized to have some kind of global, communal governance/leadership? Especially in this day and age, with the Internet disrupting even well established organizations, and considering the level of disfunction in many Western governements, organizations such as the BBC and other major corporations, it is unreasonable to expect anything better. I’m not sure that “disfunctional” is even an appropriate description. The best to reasonably hope for is that we don’t see any (more) major scandals such as significant Rabbanim / Leaders being accused of abuse or tax evasiion or similar.

  • Eli

    “2) They found the experience exhilarating for having been in the presence of so many other Jews ready to make changes in their life style because it was the right thing to do.”

    In all fairness, they needed to be threatened by Rav Vosner with shunning in order to obtain the possibility of results. Even so, the Blackberrys are still out at the Agudah conventions (and rightfully so. Its easy for someone who is Kulo Torah and stays in the Koslei Bais Medrash to say “drop it, you don’t need it”, but much harder for someone who needs to be connected to the outside world for business or other reasons, such as government funding.)

  • Ben Waxman

    “Again, my very inadequate advice to you would be to reexamine your definition of Daas Torah. Rather than through out your emunas chachomim, if you can convince yourself that the “soft” Daas Torah definition of only a few years ago is the more accurate one, you will spare yourself some anguish.]”

    In Israel there will be a test of “Daas Torah” (soft and hard versions) in a few days. According to the polls (for whatever they are worth) there is a very high, some say unprecedented, number of chareidim considering either not voting or voting for other parties (I am not talking about those who don’t vote for ideological reasons). In fact, the chareidi partites have removed the brakes in their attacks on the Bayit Hayehudi.

    If (and this is a big if) these numbers turn into reality it will be strong evidence that the Daas Torah has broken down here.

  • Bob Miller

    I would imagine that a true Daas Torah position would be shared by our sages across the board, irrespective of their communal, ethnic or political associations.

  • David F.

    Joel Rich,

    “r’ Crazy Kanoiy,
    Your description may be accurate but assuming that you are correct that “very few of the commenters have true first-hand experience with Hareidim as it relates to Daas Torah “, do you think the chareidi media portrays daat torah as you describe or as many posters assume it to be?”

    I’m assuming you meant to address this to me since I’m the one who wrote those words. The answer to your question would depend on what you call the “chareidi media.” I don’t read any of the papers of magazines very often so I can’t give you a definitive answer on how it’s portrayed in them, but they’re certainly not all the same.

    What I was referring to is the actual role that daas Torah plays in the day-to-day life of Chareidim. The answer – very very little. Nothing close to what it’s made out to be on this blog or others. In fact, I can hardly think of the last time it factored into any of my decisions and believe me, I currently live right in middle of Chareidi-land and send my children to such mosdos etc. I’m not a rebel either.
    Neither I, nor anyone I know, bases his decisions on anything that comes out of the Israeli Gedolim. This is not because we don’t respect them, but because they don’t speak for our communities even if we can access their words through media and internet. In the USA today, there are no individuals who tower above the rest such as R’ Moshe zt”l and therefore no one commands the respect of all parties. At most, it’s a point of interest to hear what some of the more prominent rabbanim have said, but I’d never base my decision on that and most others wouldn’t either. There’ll always be a small cadre of those who prefer not to think for themselves, but they’re few and far between. Most of us think plenty and don’t let anyone make decisions on our behalf. I’ve certainly consulted my Rav, who is a prominent talmid chochom and Rosh Yeshivah, to discuss certain issues, but only to gain perspective, never to allow him to decide for me. In fact, I’ve at time gone against his advice and even told him so.
    I know it’s hard to imagine it given the attention this issue has garnered here and elsewhere, but this issue is seriously overblown. Not all is well in Chareidi-land, but fealty to Daas Torah is hardly where the solutions need to be found first.

  • Avrohom Kotler

    Thank you R Adlerstien & CC staff for this forum & esp for talking about the issues of the day.
    I totally agree with David F.. I would aso like to add 1 pt.. The foundation of our outlook on life is from our parents & Yeshiva- where we had unrestricted access to our Rebbeim & their undiluted opinions. Public statements (or lack there of) are only relevant on new issues, anyways.