Volume 10 Number 54
                       Produced: Thu Dec  9  9:23:25 1993

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

         [Avi Feldblum]
Rabbinic Authority and Gedolim
         [Shaya Karlinsky]


From: <mljewish@...> (Avi Feldblum)
Date: Thu, 9 Dec 93 09:13:51 -0500
Subject: Administrivia

First, a happy Chanuka to all members of the list, and a welcome to many
of our new members. Some are joining us after reading about mail-jewish
and Jewish networking in general in an article in Jewish Action. If
there has been other articles or things that have recently led to people
joining, I would appreciate your letting me know. I know I have seen
many new people joining through Delphi and Compuserv.

Second, while the main submission in this posting is longer than I
usually will accept for general distribution, I think that it is of
relevence to the group at large and s in my opinion a very well written
and thought out submission. I thank you, Rav Karlinsky for submitting it.

Third, if it is Chanuka now, then Purim and Pesach are just around the
corner. If anyone would like to volunteer to guest edit the Purim
edition, please let me know (Yosie, are you interested in doing it again
this year?). I would also like to put out a Pesach edition on the
Hagadah. I know I've raised the issue in the past, but don't remember if
we actually got it going last year or not. Any volunteers to guest edit
the Pesach edition?

Last, a reminder that there are two mail-jewish Chanuka parties
scheduled for this Saterday night. One is in Israel, and the contact for
that one is Lon Eisenberg (<eisenbrg@...>) and the other
is in my house in Highland Park, NJ and the contact is me. Looking
forward to seeing those of you who make it to my place and my best
wishes for those in Israel.

Happy Chanuka to all!

Avi Feldblum
mail-jewish Moderator


From: Shaya Karlinsky <HCUWK@...>
Date: Thu, 9 Dec 1993 11:07 IST
Subject: Rabbinic Authority and Gedolim

     I would like to present some additonal insights and ideas on the
very important subject of Rabbinic authority, how binding are the
opinions of individual gedolim, and upon whom are they binding.  It is
the high respect I have acquired for the MJ readership, the intellectual
integrity, open-mindedness, and mutual respect that comes across in the
postings that encourages me to express ideas that I usually leave for
closed forums.

Arnold Lustiger, in MJ 10/44 writes:
>I would like to start from the following premise: those people who
>are purported to be gedolim are in fact what they are purported to
>be. There is no question that Gadlus is a meritocracy: R. Shach, R.
>Yosef , R. Elya Svei, etc. are indeed phenomenal giants in Torah
>learning. This status in my opinion is undeniable, and this
>realization must underly any discussion regarding emunat chachamim
     Arnold left out Gedolim of the present generation who are at least
as great as those mentioned, but whose profile is much lower.  Without
intending in any way to "rank" gedolim, the opinions of Rav Shlomo
Zalman Auerbach, Rav Shlomo Volbe, Rav Zelig Epstein, Rav Henoch
Leibovitz, Rav Avrohom Pam, Rav Aharon Shachter, and others all must be
included in any discussion regarding emunat chachamim.  I hope there was
no intention in implying that their opinions carry any less weight than
the opinions of those that you mentioned.

>There are no better masters of this source material than the gedolim
>themselves.  When they insist that their opinions constitutes da'as
>Torah in extra halakhic matters, and they insist that their opinions
>are binding, none of us are even remotely qualified to second guess
>them, no matter how much scholarly debate takes place in this forum or
>in Tradition.

     Possibly.  I think that every opinion in Torah, even from a Gadol
b'Torah, needs scholarly validation.  We work only on the basis of
sources: Mishna, Talmud, Rishonim, Poskim, coupled with svara, logic.
But certainly, THEY are the final arbiters in interpreting those
sources.  So "The Question" becomes: DO THEY insist that their opinions
in non-Halachic matters are BINDING???  I don't believe so. I certainly
don't think that they maintain that any one of their opinions is binding
on ALL Jews.  We must insist on hearing their opinion on this issue
first-hand, and not relying on what the media (even Yated Neeman or the
Jewish Observer) tells us - and I think we may then come out with a very
different picture than you present.

>The premise that "da'as Torah" constitutes a mask for a political power
>grab by the Gedolim is nothing less than slander.

     I agree with the above statement ABSOLUTELY.  And I ask anyone
who disagrees with what I am writing to please keep in mind that I
write from that perspective.  I will take it even further.  Anyone
who has had personal contact with Gedolei Torah in any matter -
whether it be limud Torah, Halachic issues, or worldly matters -
cannot but be deeply moved by the uncompromising search for EMES,
truth, that they have.  Any accusation of "political power grab"
when talking about true gedolei Torah is not just slander.  It is

>I should also say that their "da'as Torah"  opinions are often so
>offensive to me, I ask myself how I possibly can even seriously
>consider them.

     Here the problem is unmasked.  The offense you take may not be due
to their real opinions as much as it is to the way those opinions are
presented by the media (whether Haredi - as in "Yated Neeman (Y.N.) - or
secular).  The examples you cited are perfect examples.  And I think the
source you cite to convince one who doubts that Rav Shach holds the
(extreme) opinions you attribute to will prove my point.  Please note:
The "immunity" that gedolim have from accusations of "power grabs" does
not extend to Y.N. ...  I (and many of my learned colleagues) have
serious doubts about the CW (conventional wisdom) that everything Y.N.
writes is with Rav Shach's approval, or that it accurately reflects his
opinions. As a journalisitic medium, they are prone to all the
deficiencies of that medium.  (My father would add that the fact they
consider their motivations "lsheim shamayim" makes it even more
dangerous.  See the Netziv's famous introduction to Sefer Breishit.)

>For example, R. Shach has 1) all but prohibited secular high
>school education 2) dismisses the learning in Hesder Yeshivos as
>literally worthless 3) questions the necessity of the Israeli
>military and 4) in the Steinsaltz controversy conducts a virtual
>witch hunt. If you doubt that R. Shach holds these opinions binding
>on everyone, just pick up a copy of Yated Ne'eman.

     On the first three I must categorically challenge one who claims
that Rav Shach holds any of the opinions the way they have been phrased.
(I withhold comment on the Steinsaltz controversy - at least not in a
public and documented forum...)
     1) Rav Shach's much publicized strong condemnation of Ma'arava, the
Yeshiva High School on Rabbi Ze'ev Leff's Moshav, Mattityahu, was
directed towards the Charedi Torah community who presently send their
children to Yeshiva Ketana with no secular studies, the way these
Yeshivot have been run in Israel for decades.  Ma'arava was a threat to
their enrollment, and possibly to the integrity of their cirriculum.  As
the "protector" of the Charedi/Yeshiva world in Israel, Rav Shach viewed
it as his responsibility to ensure that no damage was done to
institutions that he viewed as critical for the future of Torah
scholarship and a certain kind of Torah community.  He was not
necessarily expressing an opinion that was binding on the entire Jewish
people - only binding on his community, on those who accept him as their
authority.  When the issue exploded Rabbi Leff asked Rav Shach if he
should leave/disassociate himself from Ma'arava.  Rav Shach couldn't
understand the question(!!) since Rabbi Leff was contributing to a place
that is marbitz Torah, turns out "menchen," yirei shamayim, and
lamdanim.  Rav Shach's public pronouncements were made to ensure that no
changes were made in the existing Yeshiva Ktana system, and that parents
who would have sent sons to Yeshiva Ktana wouldn't now send them to what
Rav Shach viewed as an inferior alternative.  This last point is a far
cry from "all but prohibited..."
     (I haven't even touched on the question of whether other gedolim
agreed with him.  As one whose son learned at Maarava, after consulting
with Talmidei Chachamim about it, I think I can say that not everyone
agrees with Rav Shach, certainly not with the extreme nature of his
position, although they don't talk publicly about it.  They may think
that the Torah community today needs to be spoken to the way Rav Shach
does if the message is to be gotten across...)
     2) Hesder. Chas v'chalilah to dismiss ANY Torah learning as
worthless (with certain very limited and well defined exceptions).  I
would like to see the source that claims Rav Shach ever said such a
thing about Hesder Yeshivot.  Since Rav Shach is a Gadol B'Torah, and
the statement would be against explicit statements in Chazal, any source
that quoted him as having said that would have to be considered
unreliable by definition.  I think it is prohibited to believe that Rav
Shach said such a thing.  If there is unimpeachable evidence (and the
statement as quoted would require nothing less) that he really did say
it I would be in a situation of "yilamdeinu Rabbeinu", with the burden
of proof/explanation on him, especially since I would bring a long list
of early sources as well as contemporary gedolei Torah who disagree.
(Rav Goldvicht founded Kerem B'Yavneh after approval of the Chazon Ish,
to cite one just obvious and well known example.)
     3) The same "Chas V'chalilah" applies to a statement questioning
the _NECESSITY_ of the Israeli military.  Impossible.  It is against
Tanach, it is against Chazal, it is against Rishonim.  If one wants to
criticize and wail about the immorality and corruption of values in the
Israeli army, I am the first to agree.  If one wants to say they don't
behave the way a Jewish army behaves, ditto.  If there is a need to
justify the army deferment of Yeshiva students by pointing out that they
are ALSO necessary for the defense of the country, fine.  But why do
people attribute childish opinions to a Gadol Hador? I would suggest
asking for RELIABLE documentation about such a statement.  (As before,
in the unlikely event I received it, it would send me immediately to his
doorstep with a "yilamdeinu rabbeinu.")

     I would like to close by coming back to an important statement
of Arnold's.

>The premise that "da'as Torah" constitutes a mask for a political
>power grab by the Gedolim is nothing less than slander.

     So how come there is such a (slanderous) perception?  My view,
based on years as an observer, sometimes from up close, often from afar,
is that while gedolim themselves don't have political agendas, in the
classical sense, they are too often surrounded by many people who do.
To put it bluntly, too often gedolim are "used."  That is one of the
reasons, for example, why Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach keeps such a low
profile.  He has been burned many times by this, and has been overly
careful for years and years.  Rav Yakov Kaminetsky, zt'l, was very
sensitive to this problem.  There are many people looking to impose
their one-dimensional view of Judaism on everyone, and trying to justify
it by "quoting" a gadol in support of their position.  (It sometimes
seems to me that Gedolim who don't tolerate this monolithic view of
Judasim are not accorded the status their true Torah sholarship
merits...)  In the short run, deligitimizing other views may be
successful.  But that is not the way Judaism has worked until now, as
taught to us by Chazal and our Rishonim.  And while Rabbi Bechhofer, in
MJ 10/49, wrote:

>Judaism is now, in the absence of a Sanhedrin and or effective
>Chief Rabbinate, a democratic, marketplace based religion,
>i.e., the market place determines trends

I am not sure whether he was making a sociological observation, in which
case he is correct; or whether this was a statement of the way Judaism
is supposed to function in the present generations, with which I must
take issue.  While the Jewish nation has always exhibited a good
"sniffer" for what is valid and what is not, (the Talmudic concept of
"bnei neviim heim", a prophetic 6th sense) there has never been an
exclusivity of ideology - "this is the only truth, and everyone else is
wrong."  One who says that today, without recognizing the fact that
there are other equally legitimate opinions, is letting his political
agenda show.

Shaya Karlinsky
Yeshivat Darche Noam / Shapell's
POB 35209
Jerusalem, ISRAEL


End of Volume 10 Issue 54