Volume 10 Number 63
                       Produced: Tue Dec 14  8:27:52 1993

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Gedolim and Daas Torah
         [Anthony Fiorino]
Martyrdom in Middle Ages
         [Janice Gelb]
Rabbi Soloveitchik ZT'L and Jewish Observer
         [Shaya Karlinsky]


From: Anthony Fiorino <fiorino@...>
Date: Mon, 13 Dec 93 17:51:33 -0500
Subject: Gedolim and Daas Torah

I find the issue of gedolim, daas Torah, and politics to be very tricky
and confusing.  I have several issues/questions which I think need to be
raised.  First, regarding the definition of a gadol -- this seems to be
somewhat subjective and community-dependent (for instance, the
acceptance or not of the Rav), and seems to be defined in a somewhat
democratic manner -- when large numbers of Jews begin consulting a rav
for halachic decisions, that person's decisions begin to assume a
greater and greater weight.  See Michael Berger's insightful analysis of
this process in the latest _Tradition_.  Second, what are we to make of
the gadol who is also a politician (the most prominent examples being R.
Shach and R. Yosef)?  How does one distinguish between their ventures
into the public political sphere and the public halachic sphere?  In R.
Shach's view, or R. Yosef's view, is it permitted to vote for another

A third point relates to the media and its reports of the opinions of
gedolim.  While the issue has been raised that the media may "use"
gedolim, it seems irresponsible for a gadol to repeatedly allow the
media to misrepresent his views, especially since the layperson is
probably more likely to get information about gedolim and their views
from the media, as opposed to personal contact and/or reading sefarim.
Thus, while R. Karlinsky makes the point that in person, gedolim do not
subscribe to simplistic and single-sided views of halachah, shouldn't
these gedolim then protest when their opinions are presented in such a
manner?  (Such protest is not unprecedented -- for instance, R. Ahron
Soloveitchik protested both orally and in print about the media's
distortions of statments made about the Rav.)

Furthermore, it is not so clear to me that gedolim don't subscribe to
the sometimes harsh views attributed to them by the media.  We can
examine (this is *not* an attack), take the conglomeration of the Agudas
Yisrael, the _Observer_, and the moetzes gedolei hatorah (the Coucil of
Torah Sages of the Agudas Yisrael, a group containing numerous
unquestionable gedolim).  For example, the _Observer_ is a key source of
information about the concept of daas Torah (with articles entitled
"Daas Torah: Tapping the source of eternal wisdom" and "The role of the
gedolim"), and the arena for the publication and promulgation of
"dinim," often made in the name of daas Torah, often without halachic
sources cited.  Thus, the opinions of the moetzes gedolei hatorah are
linked with the concept of daas Torah, not to mention daas Torah
decisisions made not necessarily by gedolim.  This connection is even
more explicit -- the gedolim themselves may print their own articles.

In the Observer (Feb, 1987), many leading rashei yeshiva endorsed daas
Torah and its binding nature (L. Kaplan has summarized the situation by
noting that "refusing to accept the daas Torah pronouncement of a
particular gadol is equated with bizzayon haTorah and bizzayon talmidei
chachamim;" see his article "daas Torah," note 29).  It thus appears
that the gedolim *themselves* feel that their pronouncements, when
stated as daas Torah, are binding as psak upon *all* Jews.  The stated
goal of the _Observer_ is, in fact, to propegate the single "true"
mesora -- back in 1970, the _Observer_ (6#8) published the following in
an article entitled "Modern Orthodox: an analysis and response," which
outlined methods for coping with the threat of modern Orthodoxy: "We
must develop and strengthen our own means of communication.  The Jewish
Observer and Dos Yiddeshe Vort represent an excellent start.  Their
scope must be broadened. Some means must be found to encourage the
emergence of Torah-oriented writings that will convey the true picture
of our mesora, to communicate with our fellow Jews." It is clear that
what appears in the _Observer_ is, on a very significant level, written
with the consent and approval of many of those rabbaim we all would
consider gedolim and talmidei chachamim.  Thus, we *could* conclude from
reading the Observer, which include the words of the gedolim themselves,
that the gedolim subscribe to a view of Judaism in which their own words
represent the only true and legitimate interpretation of Torah and

However, I don't think we *should* conclude this at all, because one can
clearly detect a difference between the public and private personae of
gedolim.  Though I do not doubt that distortion may occur, unlike R.
Karlinsky, I am skeptical that media abuses alone can account for the
sometimes huge gulf between the public and private statements of
gedolim.  I believe another factor is resposible: when issuing
statements into the public sphere, rhetorical devices may be employed to
make a point, complicated positions may be simplified in order to make a
point or for other reasons, or, any given disscussion may be as much a
polemic as a reasoned halachic argument.  We can see examples of this
throughout Jewish history -- the burning of the Mishneh Torah, the
mitnagdim/chassidim controversies, R. Yaakov Emden's battles -- rabbinic
argumentation may take on tones which reflect not the nature of the
halchah, but rather the nature of the argument.  I myself have
transcribed just such a speech by the Rav, in which he assumes certain
positions which are perhaps less flexible than he might have otherwise
assumed (as I pointed out in my footnotes, the comments were provoked by
an particular set of circumstances).  Thus, we can perhaps explain the
observed difference between the public statements and private positions.
In L. Kaplan's "daas Torah" article, he reports a dichotomy between Rav
Moshe's public and private stance on the very concept of daas Torah!
(endorsing it publicly, but expressing reservations privately; see note

Though I have attempted to understand the dichotomies which may exist
between the public "hard-line" statements of gedolim and their private
"pluralistic" views, I am reserving comment on this practice.  Whether
this is the most healthy route to choose for klal yisrael, and whether
the Jewish community as a whole is sophisticated enough to live with an
understanding of yehadut that is not black-and-white and single-sided,
is another debate entirely.

Eitan Fiorino


From: <Janice.Gelb@...> (Janice Gelb)
Date: Mon, 13 Dec 93 12:42:13 -0500
Subject: Re: Martyrdom in Middle Ages

David Charlap writes:

>Frank Silbermann <fs@...> writes:
>>Though we are commanded to give up our lives rather than engage in
>>public idolatry, we may take a lenient view of the Marranos, as Rashi
>>did not consider Christianity to be idolatry.  Considering that we are
>>commanded to _live_ by Halacha, I long wondered why it is considered
>>commendable to choose martyrdom over conversion to Christianity.
>>Eventually, I arrived at an understanding which makes sense to me.
>The middle-ages argument, while interesting, is not the reason.  Jews
>have been martyring themselves for God for much longer than that.  Many
>many great rabbis chose death over conversion when Babylon and Rome
>occupied Judea.  Many were executed in horrible ways - flaying and
>burning, among others.

Dr. Shoshana Gershonson has a new book out on this very topic, although
with a specific slant: Jewish women during the Crusades ("The Bloody
Hands of Compassionate Women: Images of Jewish Women during the
Crusades," Shoshana Gershonson and Rabbi Jane Litman). In an interview
with her that I read, she says that the women viewed themselves like
Abraham, performing sacred sacrifices of their children and saving
themselves and their children from a fate worse than death. She also
says that those who did convert to Xtianity were viewed at the time as
being tragic rather than pitiful, brave for resisting to the point that
they did. She says that the people believed that acts of heroism in the
face of such tragedy would motivate HaShem to help the Jewish people.

Janice Gelb                  | (415) 336-7075     
<janiceg@...>   | "A silly message but mine own" (not Sun's!) 


From: Shaya Karlinsky <HCUWK@...>
Date: Sun, 12 Dec 1993 16:36 IST
Subject: Rabbi Soloveitchik ZT'L and Jewish Observer

     There was quite an emotional controversy a number of months ago,
percipitated by the "Hesped" published in the Jewish Observer after the
death of Reb Yosef Dov Solovetchick, zt'l.  I believe there were
exchanges in MJ also (although it was before I was as subscriber).  One
of our Rebbeim collected a lot of material on the subject, and my
co-Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Yitzchak Hirshfeld recently wrote a letter to the
Jewish Observer on the subject.  Since IMHO he captured the essence of
the "sugya" (the topic), and his letter will never see the "light of
day," I asked him if he would allow me to share it with MJ readers.  He
agreed, and it is printed below, with minor changes.  The opinons
presented, of course, are his.

"Shnayim ochazim b'Reb Yosef Dov."  Two are clutching Reb Yosef Dov,
each claiming "He is mine."
     This is the nature of the problem which faced the editors of the
Jewish Observer with the passing of the great gaon Rabbi Joseph Dov
Soloveichik, this past Pesach.
     After carefully reading and rereading much of the outpouring of
emotionally charged rhetoric issuing from the [alleged] sins of
commission and omission on the part of the JO editorial board, I would
like to offer the following analysis.  Perhaps, it will help people
proceed from misunderstanding to mutual understanding and to an
appreciation for the dilemma inherent in an attempt to deal with the
greatness of this controversial figure.
     Perhaps to start with a small point.  Rabbi Wolpin has written in a
letter to a colleague, (a copy of which was sent as a response to some
of the complaints leveled at the JO) that we take into account the
nature of his readership, the fact that the rebbeim of many of them were
firm opponents of the shittah of RYB (Reb Yoshe Ber, zt'l).  At first,
this would seem not very different from the request of the son, who
after murdering his father and mother begs for mercy on the grounds that
he is an orphan.  "Hee gufa kashya," this response is itself a question!
How is it that the JO readership is incapable of extending proper
respect for a gadol, with whose opinions they disagree?  Why cannot we
rise beyond our disagreements, and take proper recognition of someone
who was not only a giant in Torah, but also an exemplary baal midos,
who, by all accounts, burned with the fire of Sinai, and who dedicated
his life to the transmission of our holy masorah?
     I think that there is an answer to this question, which resides in
a not altogether unjustified guilt by association.  It is clear that RYB
had two sets of talmidim, both claiming him as their mentor par
excellence, their rebbe muvhak.  For every Rabbi Tendler and Rabbi
Genack, there is a Rabbi Lamm and a Rabbi Rackman.  To me personally,
the claims of the former (let's call them Right Wing or RW) ring true.
I did not know RYB, but I was zocheh to be a student of his brother Reb
Aharon.  The picture of a man totally dedicated to upholding the
tradition of his family I'm sure is accurate.  But the fact that the
latter (LW), who are ``in admitted departure'' from the mainstream Torah
mesorah of our day, were able to claim him for their own, without RYB
attempting to clarify his dissociation from their centrist doctrine,
makes it necessary for the Roshei Yeshiva to distance themselves
publicly from RYB the man.
     The sense one gets from reading Rabbi Tendler and his colleagues,
is that their primary battle is not with the Agudah circles.  They are
struggling desperately with their LW colleagues at YU for the right to
define the spiritual legacy of their great rebbe.  Is he RYB the rosh
yeshiva, or RYB the professor of Talmud and philosophy?  Is he RYB the
terrible rebel of the Orthodox world in whose name all sorts of
travesties may be sanctioned, or is he the gentle marbitz Torah who
related to his secular knowledge ke'tabachut ve'rakachut (as
professional skills)?
     JO got into trouble because it refused to become involved in this
internal conflict.  When it came time to memorialize the memory of RYB,
it played the conflict even-handedly.  And this, I believe, is what so
angered RYB's RW talmidim.  They always hoped that in the crunch Agudah
orthodoxy would recognize RYB for what he really was, instead of what
the LW claimed him to be.  They thought that to some extent it could be
their allies in setting the historical record straight.  And to some
extent their expectation was not unreasonable.  I believe that the YU RW
does have more in common with the mainstream of Agudah than with their
LW colleagues.  Certainly, RYB, with the Greek and Latin and Pushkin and
Bialik, had more in common with R. Moshe Feinstein, R. Yaakov Kaminetsky
and the other great leaders of our generation than with his ``talmidim
in hashkafa'', as it has been delicately put.
     But in the end the JO let them down.  It refused to take sides,
quoting from the discredited Jewish Week and other LW students of RYB to
counterbalance the gadlus in Torah and tzidkus.  It also used the
convenient structure of picturing RYB as himself being the lonely one
torn between the worlds of Brisk and Berlin, isolated from his fellow
Roshei Yeshiva,because of his apparent departure from the world of his
forefathers.  Convenient, because it reflected the reality of the
machlokes (dispute) between his disciples, and not necessarily the
reality of the man.
     And perhaps the JO had no choice.  For, as stated before, RYB
simply did not do enough to define the contrast between who he was and
who he was claimed to be.  Endorsing the RW position, could have been
the beginning of the undoing of the wall erected by our Roshei Yeshiva,
between their world and the world of YU.
     Yes, the JO failed Rabbi Tendler and his esteemed colleagues.  But
deep down I cannot help but wonder if RYB himself didn't let us all down
a little as well.


Rabbi Yitzchak Hirshfeld


End of Volume 10 Issue 63