Depth Learning: Response To A Commenter

letter-447577_1280

A commenter wrote the following:

Dovid2 also wrote the following: “Don’t tell the others also learn the same gemarot, Rambams, and Kethos. They just couldn’t hold the candle to the b’nei yeshiva of any of the above mentioned litvishe Torah centres.”

That too, is, if not a myth, but a common mistake in charedi circles. They define “learning” to mean the type of learning done in the yeshivish world, and then assert that the learning in charedi circles is superior to non charedi circles. With all due respect to him, I’ve seen R. Adlerstein make the same mistake on this blog. The reality is that they’re mistaking quantity for quality, but even beyond that, it’s a question of how you define real learning. I daven in a standard yeshivish shul, and every week I hear divrei Torah from visting roshei yeshivas that are all but gibberish. Unfounded assertions abound, the same themes over and over, antectodes used as proofs, etc. I gain virtually nothing from this. But there is also a Harvard-educated, YU rabi in town to whom people flock, and whenever I hear him I come away with a new insight. By the same token, I gain more from a one hour lecture from Dr. Sid Leiman than I gain from most rosh yeshivas I’ve heard.

The point is not to compare individuals. It’s just that what is considered learning in charedi circles doesnt cut it in the more modern world, and yes, absolutely, vice versa is also true. So it is simply not true to defend the charedi way of life on the basis of their superior learning. There are more of them in yeshiva, and they have a different way of learning – but it is not better.

I will more than stand my ground, and I will tell you why. There is no mistake here. If there were, it would be the reverse of what you say: emphasizing quality over quantity.

To be sure, there are many different topics within Torah, and many different ways to approach the same text. Between Tanach, Mishna, Gemara, halacha, aggada everyone can find enough that he can related to individually to preoccupy him for several lifetimes.

They are not, however, all created equal. One kind of learning is arguably invaluable to the Torah community above all others. We are, first and foremost, a halachic community. We need people who can answer questions, and answer them with competence. Broadly, there are two kinds of halachic questions that need to be answered constantly. The first are questions that have been asked before, for which there is an ample literature. A talmid chacham who has spent years mastering these texts, and has some shimush with more experienced people, can answer these questions. My impression is that the haredi world does not have a monopoly on such people. There are competent morei hora’ah in the DL community in Israel, and the MO community in the US. Many, many shul rabbonim adequately perform this task.

There are also questions that constantly arise for which there is no such literature. New conditions, new technologies bring a host of questions that must be addressed creatively only after thorough mastery of a sugya, especially after analysis of the impact different shitos in rishonim have on a topic. This is not my definition, but something – perhaps one of the only common denominators in the rich but varied literature of responsa – that jumps out of hundreds of pages to say the same thing. Incisive depth learning is the common thread you will see in the Rashba, the Terumas HaDeshen, the Maharik, the Nodah BeYehudah, Rav Akiva Eiger, R Yitzchok Elchonon, R Moshe Feinstein and the Chazon Ish.

I’m not interested in one-upmanship, but in clarity about the nature of halachah. With all the considerable learning outside of haredi circles, they have not produced a critical mass of depth learners adequate to address complex new questions. In contradistinction to the term “morei hora’ah” that I used above, those who can creatively address new questions are true “poskim.” (This distinction was first conveyed to me by Rav Yonah Ganzweig, z”l, one of the amudei halacha in LA a generation ago.)
Try this experiment. Take a dozen issues of Tradition, and turn to one of the best digests of “new” halacha: Rabbi Bleich’s column. Rabbi Bleich needs no introduction for both breadth and depth. In many issues he surveys scores of contemporary halacha journals, and reports on their findings, often taking time to disagree with them. (Put them in his back pocket might be a better way of putting it.)

Count the contributors, and note from where they come. The count will be enormously skewed to the haredi camp, and this has long been the case. You won’t find more than a handful from outside it. There is no reason that the DL community won’t get there some day – if it can imitate the haredi community in both nurturing greater numbers of learners from which the superstars emerge, as well as an ethos of placing limud Torah on a higher pedestal than other mitzvos.

There is a second argument to support the idea that not all learning is created equal. Many seforim speak to the point that one of the crucial elements in learning is effort, yegiah. (The old perspiration vs. inspiration dichotomy.) As one of many examples, the gemara frowned on people spending excessive time on either Mikra or aggada. Both are Torah; nonetheless, Chazal believed that if you did not tax your mind to its full capacity, you did not quite fulfill your responsibility to the mitzvah of limud Torah. All Torah learning is valuable. Nonetheless, if a person was given the ability by HKBH to get a migraine plumbing difficult sugyos and comparing shitos rishonim in all their depth, but decides to spend his entire day reading Tehilim or superficially studying mishnayos, he has not fulfilled his obligation. And between those end points resides a wide continuum. The haredi world, to its credit, promotes learning at full capacity. I am not familiar enough with all institutions outside the haredi world to know whether or not they promote this kind of learning, but it is clear that they are not yet producing enough role models of it to move along the rest of the community by their example.

Our commenter asserts that haredi learning “doesn’t cut it” in other circles. The point is that it should!

Nonetheless, I more than concur with his other observations, and have experienced the same myself. Those trained in the academic world beyond their years of serious learning often have presentation and organizational skills that make their Torah shine, and invite large serious audiences. At the same time, the striving for depth and excellence in the yeshivah world (and its abandonment of major sections of Torah endeavor) does not mean that everything it produces is worthwhile. There is plenty of mediocrity around, and the presentations of major personalities often lack any creativity. Caveat emptor is advice well taken. Shop around before consuming.

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31 Responses

  1. Mike S. says:

    I agree with most of what Rav. Adlerstein wrote in response to my earlier comment, and did not mean to suggest otherwise. However there are two main points I was trying to make, that I still think are both correct and important. First, the ability to speak and connect with those who are not in the beis midrash, that is, with the overwhelming majority of the Jewish people, is both important and not so easily acquired. And, second, while the talmid chacham can generally easily either learn the needed metziut from an expert or from his own experience as a dayan or just a person in the world, those who hold the world outside the beis midrash with the utter contempt that has, unfortunately, become quite common the last couple of generations, often seem not to do so. The brain death issue is a case in point; I have spoken with a talmidei chachomim on both sides who clearly have troubled to understand the science and who have spoken with both lomdus and larger perspective. I have also heard a number of people speak on the issue whose willingness to speak from the sugyas without understanding the metziut (e.g. the difference between a coma and brain death) can only serve to tarnish the reputation of the Torah r”l.

    [YA Sounds like we are, in the end, in essential agreement.]

  2. joel rich says:

    From Rabbi Dr. Richard Weiss:
    One final introductory idea which I believe can contribute to the ongoing brain death debate was presented by the father of Jewish bioethics, Lord Rabbi Dr. Immanuel Jakobovits. In his monumental work Jewish Medical Ethics, he writes: “Religious literature has devoted much attention to the problem of ascertaining the exact moment of death….. explain why Jewish law does not define the onset of death in connection with the regulations on the treatment of the dead at all. Altogether, the issue is raised only on two occasions—both among the Sabbath laws and both dealing with quite unusual circumstances.” In the section entitled, ”Recent Developments in Jewish Medical Ethics”, Rabbi Dr. Jakobovits points out that, “The question of defining the moment of death with precision has exercised the minds of Jewish jurists since Talmudic times, mainly in connection with the suspension of Sabbath laws for the saving of life, and the insistence on speedy burial. But lately the problem has been rendered more difficult and more critically acute… by the demand for viable cadaver organs for transplant purposes.” The implication of the Chief Rabbi’s comments is that any analysis of the determination of death requires careful caution due to the lack of adequate Talmudic and halachic sources. It is for this reason that a definitive halavhic conclusion may not be realistic, though a practical halachic decision must be rendered. It for this reason, as well, that the varying views on this matter are all deserving of respectful recognition.

    KT

    [YA That is exactly what happened. And when it all shook out, people came up with different positions, and the individual follows either what the sugya tell him (if he is capable of comparing the evidence) or the people he considers the most competent talmidei chachamim to weigh the evidence and decide.]

  3. joel rich says:

    [YA That’s just not the way significant halacha works. Evidence on any issue can and often does come from seemingly unrelated sugyos. To do the job middling well, you need Shas and Poskim on your fingertips. Anything less is Halacha For Dummies.]

    ======================================
    Yes-so point to the sh”ut literature on brain death and show how many sources are quoted. IMHO it just means that “Shas and Poskim on your fingertips” is another way of saying halachic intuition.
    KT

    [YA No. Point to any responsa literature on issues of major concern (or matters as serious as ishus) that do NOT do exactly as I describe! You can get away with halachic intuition, as you call it, 1) for off-the-cuff answers to situational issues that require an answer on the spot and can then not be relied upon by others (see R Moshe’s famous statement to this effect) or 2) if you are as great as the Chasam Sofer, who could trust that intuition but then back it up with compelling reasoning that survived the next centuries of attempted refutation. To me, anything less than that is foreign to everything I have seen in centuries of teshuvos.]

  4. shmuel says:

    R’ Adlerstein:

    I don’t disagree with the idea that in-depth learning is very important. But in reality, is the societal model of all men learning full-time indefinitely necessary or even important for producing great people? It wasn’t in Europe, and I think everyone agrees that the great people produced by that system were greater than those being produced today. Separately, maybe you can enlighten me on the historical accuracy of my impression, but it is my impression that true gedolei hador are apparent as such at a relatively young age –this is my impression based on what I know of certain recent or current people who are certainly to be considered gedolei hador shelahem (I am totally uninterested in what I regard as the political question of who is “the” gadol hador, but I am trying to talk about people whom we all recognize to be truly great). I think that R’ Moshe Feinstein, R’ Shlomo Zalman, R’ Soloveitchik, and (may HKB”H grant him good health and strength for many more years) R’ Ovadia were truly great talmidei chachamim at young ages (in their 20s) and while I am sure they gained knowledge and wisdom through the years, I don’t think it was in a kollel, but rather being the rav of a community, giving shiurim, being a dayan, etc.

    [YA I think it is true of the people at the very top of the pyramid, but not necessarily true of those one rung lower]

  5. Crazy Kanoiy says:

    Chareidim excel in lomdus which is a neccessary prerequisite for Psak. However I fail to understand why the emphasis on Chareidi achievment in Torah is linked to Psak. Most Litvishe Chareidi Yeshiva’s stress Lomdus as an intellectual pursuit and not for its application to psak. The famous ” heilege korkuvun” of Reb Boruch Ber is a case in point. Rabbi Solovetchik of YU also stressed the intellectual pursuit of Torah as opposed to halacha l’maseh. The emphasis on lomdus creates greatness in Nashim and Nezikin and in many areas of halacha. However, it does not neccesarily translate to greatness in machshava or hashkafa. I beleive the original letter writer makes a valid point that many speeches and divrei torah by certain Roshei Yeshiva are lacking in content. However I agree with Rabbi Adlersteins point about the primacy of the subjects taught in Chareidi Yeshivas.

  6. joel rich says:

    r’ sl,
    wadr how many actual source gemaras and rishonim are there that relate to brain death (as differentiated from cessation of breathing or circulation). imho your example is proof that a poseik must use halachic intuition in such cases (i.e. he may not draw the target but in many cases he knows from very early on approximately where the arrow will land)
    KT

    [YA That’s just not the way significant halacha works. Evidence on any issue can and often does come from seemingly unrelated sugyos. To do the job middling well, you need Shas and Poskim on your fingertips. Anything less is Halacha For Dummies.]

  7. SL Zacharowicz says:

    I was disappointed by the references above to the “brain death” controversy. Thousands of hours, maybe more, were spent by leading halachic authorities who unfortunately could not accept that “brain death” meets the criteria for halachic death. They did not shoot the arrow and then draw a target around it, as some seem to have done and even advocate online and elsewhere. They went where their learning took them.

    For anyone to suggest otherwise is an indication of at best that person’s lack of familiarity with the tremendous rigor and, yes, lomdus, exhibited by those who knew that their decision would affect the very lives of hundreds of thousands of their people.

    “where there’s a will, there’s a halachic way” seems to be the refrain of some who either do not wish to or simply cannot comprehend that for physicists, mathematicians and l’havdil poskim of the first rank the search for truth must be the driving force. That is what they aim for: the truth and nothing but the truth.

  8. Mike S. says:

    It is indeed important that we spend time and energy in the difficult sugyot of Shas and posekim. And talmidim from both camps do it and do it well. And we never have enough lamdanim. And I know of no Torah scholar in any camp who disagrees.

    But for all the deep lomdus about the nature of kinyan, for example, in the end the halacha of kinyan generally follows minhag hasocharim, the custom of the market place. And no one who spends all his time in the beis midrash, disparaging those who are outside of it, is really qualified to pasken a shaila about kinyanim. Anymore than even the most brilliant scholar of Chullin and Yoreh Deah is fit to supervise a schlacthaus if he has never seen the innards of a cow. Of course, that doesn’t mean a posek must be a businessman, but he does have to have enough respect for them to be willing to ask what the normal practice is. Those who concentrate on lomdus to the exclusion of all else, and particularly to the point of contempt for all other endeavors, both in Torah and the world at large, render themselves both unable to communicate and influence the overwhelming portion of the Jewish people who do not sit in the Beis Midrash, and also unfit to pasken most shailos. Knowledge of the world beyond the 4 walls of the beis midrash is required. Look at the 1st halacha in the 2nd perek of the Rambam’s Hilchot Sanhedrin regarding who is qualified as a judge; some breadth of knowledge is required.

    [YA Two important points: 1) I believe that your first point is not correct. Minhag socharim is not the only factor in a psak beis din, and does not always prevail. More importantly, you are looking at the small picture: psak about kinyan itself. Any familiarity with Shut literature shows that the most breathtaking analysis comes from those capable of extracting an important principle from one part of halacha, and applying it to what others would never have seen is a related area. Ultimately, the real posek must have kol hatorah kulah at his fingertips. 2) Lack of familiarity with metziyus should be enough to disqualify any dayan (or posek). It is, however, far easier to gain that familiarity on a fast track than to pick up lomdus. There are no shortcuts to the latter. Few people we know grew up as sheltered and apart from the general world as Rav Elyashiv. Yet, in the years he sat on the Rabbanut Beis Din, he picked up the knowledge of the general community in relatively short order.]

  9. cvmay says:

    The other view presumes that if someone is going to share a thought with a general audience, he ought to establish a connection with them and ensure that his words will resonate within their frame of reference.

    Doesn’t ‘general audience’ assume that it is not a Beis Medresh…or Yeshiva? Perhaps there will even be both genders attending the shiur (frightening to some)! Isn’t it a must (if there is a goal/idea/hashkafa/POV)for the speaker to establish a connection with his/her audience?

  10. Chardal says:

    >Pointing to Rav Goren as a DL posek in this regard, however, is a mistake. He may have been politically distanced from the haredi world for controversial positions, but his methodology grew precisely out of the depth learning ethos that I have been championing. Same for Rav Gershuni and Rav Zevin. (Rav Goren came from Chevron, and it is hard to see any other yeshiva producing him.)

    I think that a strong argument can be made that all such thinkers grew out of a meeting of the old and the new. In the same way that one can not solely attribute shu”t sridei eish to Slobodka while ignoring Berlin. It seems that the greatest innovations come out of a collision of worlds. Would R’ Moshe have been R’ Moshe if he had not come to America? Would R’ Ovadia be R’ Ovadia if he had not been exposed to the Yerushalmi yeshivot? The Chevron yeshiva was unique in its open nature and perhaps this was the secret ingredient. Further, in that era, Agudas Yisroel in Europe and in Israel was defined by a tension between its eastern litvish/chassidic elements and the yekkish contingent which in that day was still strong and a source of influence that demanded answers to modern questions. Regarding R’ Goren specifically. He developed his unique halachic approach which includes sources such as the apocrypha, Josephus, archeology, etc under the influence of this yekkish wing of the agguda. R’ Isaac Breuer zt”l, after his aliya, had a vision for transforming the elite of the yeshiva world into the future leaders of Israel. He went to R’ Kahaneman in Ponovitz and asked him to take his top students and teach them philosophy, history, literature, etc and prepare them for leadership. R’ Kahaneman refused the offer. So R’ Breuer went to Chevron and got approval … but only two students agreed to join, one of them was R’ Goren. This was a formative moment in R’ Goren’s intellectual development. R’ Breuer was also one of the founders of Poalei Agudas Yisroel – an organization that no longer exists – mainly due to developments in the chareidi world. Most of those who identified with the group either fell in line with Bnei-Brak or joined the Mizrahi. I can not help but speculate that the creativity that came out of Chevron in that era had more to do with a combination of classical learning and openness to new things and ways of thinking than with just the traditional approach.

    >Those who argue that it is not fair to compare the DL camp in terms of numbers of stellar achievers because the camp is younger or smaller leave me puzzled. The breakaway in chinuch occurred in the first decade of the 20th century, over a hundred years ago. If the DL community is smaller, we need to honestly ask ourselves why.

    Well, it is not smaller in population size. From my understanding, there are more RZ Jews in Israel than chareidi. About 30-35% of Israelis are Shomer Shabbat. The latest statistics are
    8% of Jews in Israel categorize as chareidi, 12% as dati, and 13% as masorti/dati.

    >Why, after a century, are there such smaller numbers of people in the two camps, and in their yeshivos?

    Good questions and should be a source of cheshbon nefesh to all of us. I am not sure that there is one good answer.

  11. joel rich says:

    as a side point-do folks think that the brisker derech is the final derech? Perhaps it will run its course (I have heard some whisper it has reached the point of diminishing returns) and a new revolution will come (remember the opposition r’ chaim “the chemist” encountered and the parallels with the “outside world”)- look out -“big data” or “behavioral torah” may be coming to a beit medrash near you
    KT

  12. YS says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein,

    This was a wonderful post.

    However, I think that even you would agree that the Charedi paradigm of ‘everyone needs to be learning’ did not exist in the past, before Charedism began to exist in Israel as we currently know it. Yet somehow, this didn’t prevent Bnei Yisrael from producing the very same Talmidei Chachamim and Poskim you listed!!

    I would say that the current Dati Leumi model in Israel, wherein some kids go to Mechinot, some to regular Hesder and some to Hesder Merkaz (where they serve in the army perhaps 12 months out of 10 years), should be more than enough to create the kind of Poskim that we created in the past, when only a small percentage of the population spent significant time in Yeshivas. As to whether it is actually producing such people, in the current environment, in which the Charedi world refuses to call Dati Leumi Rabbanim by their proper title and in which it took decades before the Kehati Shas Mishnayot was admitted to Charedi Batei Midrash, I don’t believe an empirical call can be made about this.

  13. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    To Prof. Saiman, Chardal and others

    First and most importantly, Reb Chaim, I am not trying to score points for anything other than limud Torah the way our mesorah calls for it. I am not interested in attacking or defending any community. As you well know, I live in both of them. I am aware of the unique achievements of the two main camps, and as aware, unfortunately of the flaws of both. I have not shirked responsibility in pointing out those flaws, especially in the one that I am closest to in life style. (Wikipedia says that I am haredi, and they are always correct, as we all know.) So I had no interest in this current forum of comparing knowledge of the first blatt of Berachos. Suffice it to say that we are all mechusarei kapparah for failing to recognize the achievements of people outside our individual camps, as well as for surgically implanting filters that prevent us from noting our failures.

    I agree, without equivocation, that the failure of the haredi Torah world to address the major issues of the State, its needs, its position regarding contemporary cutting-edge issues, is a terrible shortcoming. How can we claim that the Torah is a Toras Chaim providing us (and humanity!) with guidance on how to best lead our lives, when we do not offer a clue as to how we are to address the thorniest issues we face as a people and a civilization.
    Pointing to Rav Goren as a DL posek in this regard, however, is a mistake. He may have been politically distanced from the haredi world for controversial positions, but his methodology grew precisely out of the depth learning ethos that I have been championing. Same for Rav Gershuni and Rav Zevin. (Rav Goren came from Chevron, and it is hard to see any other yeshiva producing him.)

    Those who pointed to R Ariel, R Lior are correct. Yarbeh kamosom be-Yisrael! I thought of the same examples. I could not think of others on their plane of achievement.

    I am happy that commenters pointed to large numbers of young, serious talmidei chachamim in the DL camp who learn the same R Chaims. They make my point, not detract from it.

    Those who argue that it is not fair to compare the DL camp in terms of numbers of stellar achievers because the camp is younger or smaller leave me puzzled. The breakaway in chinuch occurred in the first decade of the 20th century, over a hundred years ago. If the DL community is smaller, we need to honestly ask ourselves why. Why, after a century, are there such smaller numbers of people in the two camps, and in their yeshivos? Please do not fly off the handle. There are both good answers to that questions, as well as not so good answers that have to do with lesser adherence to halacha (more of the independence and critical thinking Chardal speaks about [Note: we are good friends, and hope to continue the conversation in person in the next few days]) and greater material needs (true also of American haredim, and their lesser achievement relative to their cousins in Israel).

    But let me not divert myself from my only objective here, which once more, is to remind us that we cannot survive halachically without deep, nuanced learning that is based on navigating a sugya with nuance and precision. Let more people take part in it – regardless of their headgear.

  14. Simcha Younger says:

    I think that the chareidi and non-chareidi world are both under-producing from their potential in Torah.

    The chareidi world does suffer from a single-mindedness with yeshivish lomdus. As good as it is, it is limited when it is the only tool you have for intellectual discussion. Also, many people do not really catch on to the lomdus, even after many years in yeshiva, and they just know a lot of fancy terms that they don’t quite understand.

    An academic education (or any other outside intellectual pursuit) will give many more tools for analyzing questions, aside from just better presentation skills. It gives new ways to look at problems, new information, and contrasting approaches. These skills should not replace classic scholarship, but they complement it nicely. Anyone who knows how to learn well will learn even better if they are exposed to other approaches, without actually changing their basic approach to learning.

    The yeshiva approach is also left entirely theoretical, with very little stress on reaching practical (or definite) conclusions. Most students do not write monographs, and do present their own thoughts too often in a formal manner (“giving a chaburah”). I think most yeshiva students would benefit very noticeably in their learning if they would write more, and present their ideas more, and also if they would practice (“shimush”) applying their learning to real-life situations, even if they do not plan on becoming poskim or dayanim. It seems that non-chareidi students have a lot more practice in these skills, either in their learning or in their other studies, which for the serious student improves their learning skills in a manner that many yeshiva students are not getting.

  15. Dovid says:

    I suspect the divide between the commenter and R Adlerstiein arises from differing expectations of what Torah content should include. The commenter sounded like he was not speaking about Halacha per se but about topics of relevance within the context of contemporary life and ideas. The MO and the more highly educated among the yeshivish place greater value on orienting their talks within a recognizable, contemporary framework (that tends to be based on secular education or recent events). The more yeshivish – and especially the very yeshivish – may often launch a talk that is so “lishma” (for its own sake) that no one has a clue what it has to do with anything else or even with any other part of Torah.
    The positive view of this is that their love of Torah leads them to cherish every morsel, whatever its place or apparent lack of the same in the greater scheme of things. The other view presumes that if someone is going to share a thought with a general audience, he ought to establish a connection with them and ensure that his words will resonate within their frame of reference.
    Generalizing, however, reveals a fundamental divide about whether the Torah is about the world or whether it is really far above it. Are the Torah and the world a perfect match for each other or is the world just a series of unfortunate landing spots to block out while trying to learn Torah as purely as possible?
    Yes, as R Adlerstein points out, Halacha is the core of Talmud Torah and success there is key. But one can be engaged even very effectively in learning Halacha while having no clue what his life is for, how to raise his children, what to think about the elections and coalition politics in Israel, etc. A fulfilled life requires a context of identity, vision, direction, values, etc as well a manner of learning within this context that is sensitive to the relevance of any new idea or proposition. I fear that in some parts of the commiunity, the yeshivish continue to drift away from this higher order of learning, which seeks “klalim” (integration) religiously and will not settle for a vort her and a vort there, no matter how authentic and powerful the vort.

  16. Chaim Saiman says:

    Rabbi Adlerstien,

    Thank you for a very interesting discussion.

    First, I was surprised that in evaluating the differences between Charedi and MO learning you went in the direction of addressing cutting edge questions. Your case would have been much stronger if you asked what percentage of a charedi vs MO shul can a explain what a mechusar kappara is (notwithstanding that it appears on the first daf of shas), I have little doubt a Charedi shul would easily win out on that.

    But when it comes to cutting edge questions I think DF has it right. The way you frame the question prejudges the answer. But even if we stay within the halakhic framework, if I ask which community has been more engaged in dealing with the most significant shift in Jewish life in the last 100 (if not 1000) years—the State of Israel—surely the MO/DL side of the ledger looks more impressive. This community has produced considerable literature on how a Jewish society ought to run, while the Charedi world spend much of the last 100 years debating (and denying) whether this event has any halakhic significance (though this is changing)

    This ties into DF’s other point which is that each community tends to frame the questions differently. I’ll give a historical example, but the point is generalizable. Both the Chafetz Chaim and R. Goren wrote books on the laws of the army. CC’s book is a localized halakhic work. It assumes that a Jew is in the Czar’s army and examines issues of Shabbat, kashrut, etc. within that context.

    By contrast R. Goren’s works assume a Jewish army and asks a very different type of question, and to a large extent a far more novel one. The book addresses issues like treatment of POW’s attacking civilians, conformity with international law, civilian casualties etc. Correct me if I am wrong, but charedi writing on this topic—such as it is– is surely a late comer to the discussion.

    To some degree I think this pattern continues. On the former types of questions I think Charedim win out, on the latter, I think MO/DL. People write about what is important to them and its very hard to answer the question without presupposing the exact issue that is in dispute.

  17. Ari Heitner says:

    First, shkoyach to RYA for bringing up the issue. I can only add my observations as a baal-teshuva educated exclusively in Chareidi institutions:

    If the point is, the academic-style (flavour?) study of Torah is not producing serious results, I anecdotally agree. But who’s teaching that? If there’s a left wing of MO, I don’t know where its yeshivos are, and I don’t think it’s a chiddush that it’s not producing learners. But here’s what I’ve seen:

    a) YU – at least RIETS – is firmly part of the yeshiva velt in terms of approach to learning.
    b) I’ve only met a few guys from Chovevei. They were all darn sharp. They learned gemara, rishonim, and acharonim just like the rest of us. They may have sometimes come to novel conclusions but they were well-reasoned (I really didn’t know that a number of early acharonim complain about the growing minhag of black being the colour of formal wear). Maybe Avi Weiss’s pronouncements in the media aren’t so representative of the rest of the guys in the yeshiva.
    c) The DL world is firmly part of the yeshiva velt in terms of approach to learning. And is producing plenty of ouis-gehalten talmidei chachamim – among them, many of my own cousins and friends who learned in Petach Tikvah, Gush, Hakotel, Maaleh Gilboa, Maaleh Adumim, Shaalvim, KBY, etc. They had the same Rashba and the same R’Chaim.
    d) I’m not so convinced the lines are so totally clear. Is R’Hershel Schechter chareidi or modern? How about R’Shar Yoshuv haCohen? R’Zalman Nechemiah? R’Aaron Lichtenstein? R’Shmuel Eliyahu? R’Simcha Kook? Was R’Shlomo Zalman the exclusive property of the chareidim? Was the Chazon Ish? R’Moshe?
    [e) – And this deserves the brackets – I could name a nice pile of psakim from R’Shlomo Zalman, R’Elyashiv, and R’Moshe, that would knock you socks off, Rabbi Slifkin. Ok, so they weren’t published. Not everything has to be. And yes, I collected each one from a talmid who heard it directly from the source]

  18. Gershon says:

    If the goal of learning is to produce poskim, why are so many people learning in kollel being told not to learn halacha? I was in an elite kollel in Israel where that was the case. It was all about lumdus and chakiros.

  19. lacosta says:

    are people saying DL could produce the same if they also had 100,000 learning 15+ hr a day for 30 yr? maybe true, but that seems not to be their life mission . maybe 200 doing that . but at least in Israel, the DL’s have other major jobs to do that arent on the haredi landscape —build a State , defend it , build its institutions etc and ultimately fund thru their taxes a lot of the formers activities… it just re-emphasizes that these 2 tora worlds are so different in outlook and lifestyle , that to assume that leadership of one can speak to the needs of the other is ludicrous; but neither should be mvatel the other…..

  20. dovid2 says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein writes: “Those trained in the academic world beyond their years of serious learning often have presentation and organizational skills that make their Torah shine, and invite large serious audiences.”

    I daven in Rabbi Efraim Wachsman’s shul. Notwithstanding his lack of training in the academic world, his drashos shine in substance, as well as presentation and organization. The same can be said of the mashgiach of the Yeshiva of Lakewood, Rabbi M. Salomon among quite a few darshanim. The commentator who triggered this writeup would do well to swallow his pride and instead of thinking (even worse writing) that “divrei Torah from visting roshei yeshivas that are all but gibberish”, maybe should think that his understanding of the suggiah under discussion was not up to par.

  21. cvmay says:

    As a woman, give me a shiur and an hour with Rebbetzin Yemima Mizrahi and I am soaring.
    My avodas hashem, kavod habriyus and ahavas yisroel is uplifted and in a positive growing mode.

    What does an individual want to gain from a shiur? Dvar Torah? dvrei chizuk? The answer is not the same for all.
    Psak and halachic discourse is boring for some. Machshava and philosphy touches some on a deeper level.
    Inyanei d’yoma can be fascinating with a touch of Jewish history. One camp is deeper than another…..beats me.

  22. Q says:

    Great article. I left the MO/DL community and joined the haredi camp in my twenties due to the latter being a “halachic community”. Despite all great accomplishments of the former, the lack of emphasis in halacha created an uncomfortable situation for me and many of my peers at our DL school, resulting in a large group ceasing to be observant in any meaningful way and others joining the black hat camp. Only a minority stayed in the DL path.

  23. Yehuda says:

    I agree with R” Adlerstein about the people quoted in R’ Bleich’s articles, though obviously a journal like Techumin may be one of the more important ones dealing with modern issues which is put out by a DL institution.

    I would, though, really question how accurate R’ Adlerstein is about the DL community in Israel. Having recently made aliyah to a Chardal community, I would note that there’s an enormous amount being published by this community of top tier serious Torah. I wasn’t as aware while in America, but it’s really impressive. They just don’t write in places like Yeshurun. They have their own journals and own seforim. The teshuvos of R” Yakov Ariel (BeOhalah Shel Torah), R’ Dov Lior (Shut Devar Chevron), and R’ Nachum Rabinovitz (Shut Siach Nachum) amongst others are all good examples of this. In certain areas of Torah, I find it especially true, and I’m not even talking about Hilchos Tzavah where it’s the case for obvious reasons. In Zeraim/Mitzvos HaTeluyos Ba’aretz, for example, the DL community has put out so much. An example is the Machon HaTorah VeHaretz that’s put out some seforim. I may be wrong – I haven’t really invested extensive time in this, but I think the most impressive Kodshim journal out there is Ma’alin BiKodesh, also from the Community.

  24. Abe says:

    “YA . . .There is no reason that the DL community won’t get there some day – if it can imitate the haredi community in both nurturing greater numbers of learners from which the superstars emerge, as well as an ethos of placing limud Torah on a higher pedestal than other mitzvos.]

    This brings up an issue with the rationale of learning Torah to produce poskim. And it cuts both ways. The question is at what cost should superstars be produced. If the purpose of Torah learning above all else is to produce poskim, then the determining factor as to whether the ethos of Torah learning is placed on a higher pedestal than other mitzvos should not be whether a person or group identifies as Chareidi or DL- it should be an individual thing based on ability and desire. In both groups it should be based on who is best suited to sit and learn all day, versus who is best suited to contribute to Hashem’s people and World in other ways. There are people (I know some personally), who are now masmidim and talmidi chachamim, who if they had the opportunity (or in some cases, as a youth, the desire)to sit and learn for years they could perhaps have been migedolai Haposkim. Similalrly I know people who were raised in a Chareid environment which they found oppresive because they simply could not handle and were not well suited to as much learning, and at the same time in some cases they felt their actual interests and talents were supressed or at least not nurtured, who today have serious emuna questions or are completely of the derech, -these people would have benefited from being raised in a nonCharedi observant community. One should not have to identify with this or that group in order to be able to serve Hashem in the way for which he is best suited.

  25. Abe says:

    “YA . . .There is no reason that the DL community won’t get there some day – if it can imitate the haredi community in both nurturing greater numbers of learners from which the superstars emerge, as well as an ethos of placing limud Torah on a higher pedestal than other mitzvos.]

    This brings up an issue I have with the rationale of learning Torah to produce poskim. The question is at what cost should superstars be produced. If the purpose of Torah learning above all else is to produce poskin, then it is unfortunate that the determining factor as to whether the ethos of Torah learning is placed on a higher pedestal than other mitzvos should not be whether a person or group identifies as Chareidi or DL- it should be an individual thing based on ability and desire. In both groups it should be based on who is best suited to sit and learn all day, versus who is best suited to contribute to Hashem’s people and World in other ways. There are people (I know some personally), are brilliant talmidi chachamim, who I really feel that if they had the opportunity (or in some cases, as a youth, the desire)to sit and learn for years they could have been migedolai Haposkim. Similalrly I know people who were raised in a Chareid environment, who today have serious questions or are completely of the derech, which they found oppresive because they simply could not handle and were not well suited to as much learning, and at the same time in some cases they felt their actual interests and talents were supressed or at least not nurtured-these people would have benefited from being raised in a nonCharedi observant community. One should not have to identify with this or that group in order to be able to serve Hashem in the way for which he is best suited.

  26. DF says:

    Thank you for the balanced discussion of my comment.

    I’m not sure if its accurate to say the Charedi world betters in producing learners adequate to address new questions. It seems to me that, proportionate to their numbers, the Religions Zionist world equals or surpasses their Charedi brothers in practical halacha where, it must be admitted, so much of the learning focuses on pure theoretical lomdus. As for Tradition and Rabbi J.David Bleich’s column’s – its been a while since I read them regularly, but I recall regularly seeing the names of Rabbi Yehuda Gershuni, Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli, Rabbi Menachem Kasher, Rabbi S.Y. Zevin, etc., none whom would identify with contemporary Charedim. And the pages of the many volumes of Tchumin are filled with Relgious Zionist poskim. And note also that a “posek” in the modern world looks very different than the same in the Charedi world. Well-known names like Rabbi Broyde, Rabbi Riskin, Rabbi Henkin among many others, are no less poskim – whether one agrees with them or not – than others in the Chaedi world with more conservative world views and outward appearance.

    But that aside, you underscored the defining issue when you wrote “we are, first and foremost, a halachic community.” This is really the crux of the matter. I frankly dont believe the religions zionist or modern orthodox community would agree with that. They would say we are a “Torah community” or a “Jewish community”, but not a “Halachic community.” The difference between these understandings is enormous, and it explains why we see things such as a 400 page book on the halachas of sneeezing emerge from the Charedi world, while the modern world produces volumes exploring the roots of the Tefillah. It’s a fundamental difference of opinion on what really matters most. It is easily seen in famous landmark debates of Rishonim, and it’s clear to those who see among the famous barei plugta of chazal too. Against this undeniable backdrop, it is simply unfair and untrue to say the Charedim are “better” learners, just as it is to say the opposite. It is a question of emphasis and focus.

  27. Bob Miller says:

    If we were to look not at the highest level but at the median, what differences would we see between the named groups? Does this have any implications for how we should conduct mass education of the non-elite?

  28. joel rich says:

    There are also questions that constantly arise for which there is no such literature. New conditions, new technologies bring a host of questions that must be addressed creatively only after thorough mastery of a sugya, especially after analysis of the impact different shitos in rishonim have on a topic……adequate to address complex new questions. In contradistinction to the term “morei hora’ah” that I used above, those who can creatively address new questions are true “poskim.” (This distinction was first conveyed to me by Rav Yonah Ganzweig, z”l, one of the amudei halacha in LA a generation ago.)
    Try this experiment. Take a dozen issues of Tradition, and turn to one of the best……… There is no reason that the DL community won’t get there some day – if it can imitate the haredi community in both nurturing greater numbers of learners from which the superstars emerge, as well as an ethos of placing limud Torah on a higher pedestal than other mitzvos.

    ==============================
    Perhaps. Let me suggest another possible narrative, that the communities themselves have differing sociological needs for “superstars” and to a certain extent create them.
    Also, when one reads tshuvot on brain death, ivf…. one is struck by the paucity of talmudic source material and how much “halachic heart” goes into it. Perhaps there are other competencies besides pure torah learning that a poseik needs to develop to have a”halachic heart”
    KT

    [YA – Very true. You often do not see that halachic heart in the teshuvos themselves, but you see plenty of it “off-mic.” This is one of the reasons Chazal insist that a person needs shimush of greater people as a prerequisite to paskening.]

  29. Chardal says:

    >they have not produced a critical mass of depth learners adequate to address complex new questions

    I am not sure that this is not also true of the Chareidi world. At least I have not seen a new R’ Moshe or R’ Ovadia. There is much second tier shu”t literature in both camps, like R’ Amar for the hareidim, or R’ Melamed and Aviner in the RZ camp, or R’ Schachter in the MO camp – who write books that basically organize and utilize the great piskei halacha of the past, but do not truly innovate or answer new questions. I am not sure that you can say that the classic litvish yeshiva model produces such people. All you can say is that such a model produced such people in Europe … but it is impossible to transplant it into the non-European modern world.

    There are other Genres of Torah literature, which are completely absent from the chareidi world – by definition. I am talking about the philosophy-of-psak/philosophy/theology/history. The methods that allow people who are “all in” the modern world to make Torah relevant to their day-to-day lives. Thinkers like R’ Shagar zt”l, R’ Lichtenstein, etc. True, they are few and far between also in the RZ world, but such approaches are much more relevant to the average RZ lifestyle than someone who can write a teshuva regarding some new food industry standards.

    Further, answers to new situations do not always come from the top down. It is very posible that R’ Stav will be the next chief Rabbi of Israel, it is very likely that he will institute prenuptial contracts as part of the standard kiddushin process here in Israel. As far as I know, such contracts did not come from the old litvish style poskim. It came from talmidei chachamim who saw a problem and tried to solve it. Looking back at historical shu”t literature, I get the impression that often times, the top poskim engaged in post-hoc justifications of solutions that the nation innovated for themselves.

    Strongly hierarchical models of leadership do not work in the RZ world. The average person is too educated and is too critical to accept things purely based on authority. The Rav in such a community must navigate very difficult situations and make constant cost-benefit analyses regarding where to push, where to lay off, and where to justify as halachic behaviors that they would not have advocated leKatchila. I do not see the chareidi world producing many people who can be that flexible in the face of such demands. R’ Neria zt”l once said about himself that he is a bedieved Jew, when asked why he would say such a thing about himself – he answered that he was complimenting himself: leKaTchila you should be a beDiAvad Jew, you are allowed to be a leKaTchila Jew only beDiAvad – if the demands of the various forces of the world are too much for you to handle and your only recourse is to close yourself off from them. Otherwise, a rav must see the forest through the trees and create the appropriate model for his generation and for his community.

    Can anyone honestly say that the chareidi community – at least in its Israeli incarnation – is in any way capable of producing people who are up to such a task?

    [YA I don’t see why it couldn’t. It did in the past. Think of all those who emerged from Chevron (which still produces independent thinkers) – like Rav Goren! – or someone like Rabbi Lau, who simply rose to the task. As far as your penultimate point, I think that tragically the lack of acceptance of authority in the DL community is one of its most serious flaws. Too much reliance on the wrong kind of authority is a flaw of the haredi world.]

  30. Baruch Dov says:

    You’re both right.

    The enormous numbers of full-time learners in the charedi velt have produced a lot of nonsense disguised as serious Torah, and a lot of really outstanding Torah. In the dati leumi world (with which I proudly identify), the numbers of full-time learners are obviously much lower, so obviously we produce fewer first-rate talmidei chachamim. I don’t think it’s any more complicated than that.

    [YA – If you are correct, both of us will be very happy! Your very diagnosis, however, shows the need to continue to nurture a significant number of full-time learners, both in Israel and in the US. Numbers make a difference!]

  31. Natan Slifkin says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein, you correctly point out the deficits in the non-charedi world. However, you do not point out different deficits in the charedi world. As you point out, “New conditions, new technologies bring a host of questions that must be addressed creatively only after thorough mastery of a sugya, especially after analysis of the impact different shitos in rishonim have on a topic.” However, in the charedi world of today, that is not what takes place. Questions are not addressed “creatively.” Rather, the eventual psak is a foregone conclusion; it’s the one that satisfies the socio-religious mores of charedi society. The only creativity is in getting there. I’m not sure that producing legions of such poskim is such a great achievement. What difference if you have one charedi posek prohibiting organ donation from the brain-dead, or a hundred such poskim? The end result is obvious from the outset, given their socio-religious orientation.

    For those who would dispute this – please name a recent psak from a well-known posek that goes against the socio-religious mores of charedi society. The most recent one that I can remember is Rav Shlomo Zalman’s psak regarding electricity on Shabbos, which has been all but buried.

    [YA – Dear Natan
    You are not reading the same journals that I am. Again, the quickest way to see that what I am saying is correct is to thumb through R Bleich’s articles. Try Yeshurun as well. In recent months and years, there have been vigorous debates in haredi literature about things like the evidentiary weight of DNA testing in matters of mamanos and ishus; how solid-state devices fit (or do not!) the Chazon Ish’s model of electricity on Shabbos; surveilance cameras and kashrus (as well as yichud); digital ink. I could supply many more if I weren’t working for the moment out of a machsan in Ramat Shlomo!]