Volume 10 Number 74
                       Produced: Tue Dec 21 21:36:13 1993

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

         [Yosef Bechhofer]
Holocaust and Gedolim
         [Daniel Benun]
Rabbinic Authority
         [Larry Weisberg]


From: <YOSEF_BECHHOFER@...> (Yosef Bechhofer)
Date: Tue, 14 Dec 93 21:21:55 -0500
Subject: Gedolim

From: Michael Kramer

>  I hate to admit it, but R. Karlinsky's remarks in MJ 10:54 left me
> with more questions than answers. I agree with those fellow MJers who
> feel that the ongoing discussion about gedolim and rabbinic authority
> is fundamental and crucial, so perhaps we ought to start defining some
> terms and concepts.  First, what is a gadol? What personal
> characteristics or achievements define gedula?  Second, who is a
> gadol? I'm not asking for a list but rather for how one becomes
> recognized as a gadol. Who determines if one has achieved gedula. At
> the time when smicha was still in effect, I suppose that was how
> gedula might be determined. But nowadays?

 I present Bechhofer's Oversimplified Test of Gadlus: Simply put, the
most basic measure of Judaism is, for many reasons too numerous and
complex to enumerate here, Halacha: its observance and knowledge.  The
most serious area of Halacha is questions of Aguna (i.e., allowing a
woman whose husband has disappeared to remarry on the basis of Halachic
reasoning). Any Halachic authority who is of the stature in knowledge
and ability to be *Mattir Agunos* is a Gadol.  One who is not,
regardless of piety and prominence is not.  Of course, some Gedolim,
such as, for instance, Reb Chaim Brisker zt"l, did not often rule on
Halachic issues, and perhaps were never actually mattir an Aguna.
nonetheless, it is _universally_ recognized that were he to have had to,
he could have. That is enough to pass the test.

Once this test is passed, the character of the Gadol is somewhat
secondary, because: a) Generally one does not reach such attainments
without the Torah having a purifying effect on the individual; b) Belief
in the supremacy of Torah and Halacha is the necessary level of
observance which is a precondition for the prominence of knowledge to be
meaningful.  This, of course, means that in broad terms the individual
Gadol is a decent, good, person, but...

From: Anthony Fiorino
>  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 responsible: 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 discussion may be
> as much  a  polemic as a reasoned halachic argument.

 ...Of course, this follows.  Not all Gedolim are Reb Yisroel Salanters
or Chofetz Chaims, and many people have had less than pleasant
experiences with Gedolim.  This does not contradict Rabbi Karlinsky's
assertion that such Gedolim are motivated by a quest for truth - indeed,
they are, but their zeal may well be a reflection of individual

Which leads me to a final point: There is gadlus in middos, machshava,
mussar, tzidkus, etc. These enhance the stature and significance of the
Gadol in Halacha, and a minimum of these traits is mandated just to meet
the Observance requirement. On the other hand, many Ba'alei
Middos/Machashava/Mussar, and Tzadikkim abound, but in the lexicon of
Judaism, the term Gadol is determined minimally in Halachic terms.

Practical example of the Oversimplified Test: Both the Lubavitcher Rebbe
and Rav Shach are Gedolim, but your average LOR is not (sorry!).


From: Daniel Benun <70302.2467@...>
Date: 15 Dec 93 17:37:47 EST
Subject: Holocaust and Gedolim

There has been much discussion in this forum about Rabbinnic
infallibility.  IMHO the notion of infallibility is relatively new and
has no place in Judaism. Nevertheless, the issue has been hotly debated
and remains unsettled. Notwithstanding, when proponents of
"infallibility" take their argument to its logical end, the results can
be unsettling.

Lisa Gardner's posting in v.10 #52 quotes from the book "Dawn Before
Darkness." I am unsure if the entire posting is excerpted from the book
or only a part. In any case, 2 points are raised that must not go

First, to claim that "it is possible that some rabbis knew exactly what
was going to happen (in the Holocaust) and still chose not to reveal it"
is accusing our rabbis of being accomplices to murder (G-d forbid). When
the world remained silent at the Nazis' atrocities we condemned them.
Praising our rabbis for the same behavior is absurd.

We must say that the rabbis did the best they could with whatever
knowledge they had under the circumstances. We should not question the
integrity of our rabbis and should assume that their decisions take the
Jewish nation's interests and welfare to heart. Surely, had certain
rabbis known what was going to happen in Europe they would have
fulfilled their responsibility of warning their fellow Jews.

Furthermore, the "precedent" cited for this is not in the Torah; it is
Midrashic and should not be taken literally or be used to justify
silence.  When taken to its extreme conclusion, this Midrash betrays the
Torah's teaching of "Do not stand idly by your brother's blood".

The second point I would like to address is equally disturbing. As we
know there were few places for Jews to seek refuge from the impending
destruction. Nevertheless, some people were able to escape. In regard to
the millions of Jews unfortunate enough to remain behind, we should not
adopt a fatalistic attitude. Had they tried to escape surely some would
have survived while others perished. However, such hindsight is of
little value. The Jews (rabbis and lay people) either did not see the
extent of the coming catastrophe, or did not have the time or means to

Lisa's attitude is clearly fatalistic. According to this reasoning the
Jews were going to die anyway. Why try to escape? Better to remain
behind while listening to the rabbis, who felt that was the correct
choice, than to escape and be killed by some other means. "At least
those who listened to the rabbis earned the merit of dying as a result
of the...great Torah sage". I object to such reasoning in that it
(indirectly?) promotes passivity and mechanistic, dogmatic behavior.

Daniel Benun


From: Larry Weisberg <WEISBERG@...>
Date: Tue, 14 Dec 93 11:25:11 IDT
Subject: Re: Rabbinic Authority

I would like to relate to some of the comments made by Arnold Lustiger
and hopefully put his mind at ease (while not being accused of blasphemy).
(Not an easy task...)

Arnie 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 today.
  >                              What possible right do I have to disagree with
  > him, especially since the other recognized Gedolim today don't (at least
  > openly) disagree with him? On the other hand, how can I possibly subscribe
  > to such noxious views?

Well, IMHO (In My Humble Opinion) just because someone knows a lot of Torah,
even to the extent of being a "giant in Torah learning," does not mean that
he is a Gadol HaDor.  I don't personally subscribe to the concept of DaAs
Torah;  that is I don't feel compelled to listen to A (or maybe THE) Gadol
HaDor in non-halachic matters.  However, even if I were to subscribe to that
Shitah (view, outlook), mere knowledge of a lot of Torah is not enough to
define a Gadol Hador.

I have no doubts that Rav Schach knows a lot of Torah.  Nor do I have any
doubts that Rav Soloveitchik ZT"L knew a LOT of Torah.  (I never gave either
one a bechinah, but there are definitely many people who would argue that
the Rav knew more than Rav Schach, and there are those that will argue the

So, even though Arnie doesn't state this explicitly, he implies that since
Rabbi's X & Y are "undeniably" Torah giants, they are therefore Gedolei
HaDor.  IMHO, a Gadol HaDor must know a LOT of Torah.  But that is not
enough.  He must act responsibly, using things like Cherem as last resorts.
Additionally, for the person to be a Gadol HaDor, to the extent that I
should feel compelled to listen to him, *I, Larry Weisberg* must FEEL that he
is a Gadol HaDor.  It does me no good to listen to my LOR repeating that
Rabbi X is A (or The) Gadol Hador.  If, for whatever objective or subjective
reasons, I don't view X as a Gadol, then for me, he is not a Gadol.  (This
point is, in a way, so obvious that it should not need to be said.  However,
it still may be startling to read, until you think about it and realize
that nobody can MAKE you believe anything.)

You might say that this is a very dangerous thing to say.  I agree.  But
I think it is true.  I actually think the other extreme is much more dangerous.
If you fall into the Daas Torah "trap" then you never need to think.  Just
follow your GHOC (Gadol Hador of Choosing) and listen to him blindly.  Life
would be a lot easier, but I don't think that that is what G-D wants.  We are
expected, in the final analysis, to think for ourselves.

Let me quote something I heard, and I have no reason to assume it is not true.
A certain student, from a "Black Hat"/Right Wing Yeshiva background, was in
Israel for a year at a Hesder Yeshiva.  He once asked to speak with the Rosh
Yeshiva, and told him that he was having trouble dealing with much the same
problem as Arnie.  The student thought that the concept of Hesder was a very
logical and noble one, yet Rav Schach (the Gadol Hador) says that Yeshivot
Hesder have minimized the image of greatness in Torah and the yearning to be a
godol in Torah, etc.  How should he deal with this?  The  Rosh
Yeshiva supposedly responded that maybe Rav Schach was not the Gadol Hador.
(Gasp, horrors....)  I think the point is that if "Gadol Hador" X says things
which you, as an intelligent, thinking person, CANNOT accept as valid, then
YOU can make the choice to believe that X is not a Gadol Hador.

In truth there are 2 issues.  1- whether a given X is a Gadol HaDor and
2- what the status of Gadol Hador means in terms of what things said by X
are binding on me.  Since I don't subscribe to the Yeshivishe Daas Torah
line of thinking (vis-a-vis question #2), I am immediately biased in terms of
deciding question #1 above, since the status of Gadol Hador has less
meaning for me than it does for somebody from Punavitch (sp?), for example.

I believe that Shaya Karlinsky might end up with views similar to mine.
In Volume 10 Number 54 he wrote:

  >                               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.
(I think that you can't have your cake and eat it, too.  Either
you accept blindly that Rav Schach is the Gadol Hador and accept EVERYTHING
he says or not.  You can't say he is the Gadol, but then pick and choose,
either to not agree with certain things or to deny the fact that he said them.)

  > 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.

In a following issue of M_J, someone pointed out that Rav Schach did indeed
say and write, at least most of, the comments which were attributed to him.
So now Shaya has the following choices:
   1) Come to the conclusion that Rav Schach is correct in believing that
      Hesder is terrible, etc.
   2) Come to the conclusion that Rav Schach is either not the Gadol Hador and
      he erred or that being a Gadol Hador does not mean that Shaya must accept
      everything he says as correct.
   3) Write a "long list of early sources as well as contemporary gedolei Torah
      who disagree" with Rav Schach and ask Rav Schach "yilamdeinu Rabbeinu".

Shaya please post Rav Schach's response to M-J.

Arnie continues:

  >                                            With the petira of R.
  > Soloveitchik zt'l, there are few legitimate advocates to buck the "da'as
  > Torah" trend against secular studies and Zionism.

First of all, though Rav Soloveitchik is no longer alive, it does not mean that
we must ignore his opinions.  Even if you feel that Daas Torah makes a Gadol's
opinion binding and even if you feel that Rav Schach  falls into the category
of such a Gadol Hador, all is not lost, Arnie.  I think that you will agree
(though not everyone would), that the Rav was at least as much of a Gadol
Hador as Rav Schach.

That being the case, who says that you must follow Rav Schach in cases where
there are Gedolei Hador who disagree. (Not to mention other Gedolim, such as
Rav Lichtenstein who are still alive).  I would feel comfortable relying on Rav
Soloveitchik, EVEN if he did NOT

  > insist that [his] opinions constitute da'as
  > Torah in extra halakhic matters, [nor] insists that [his] opinions are
  > binding...

The topic of "picking" your Gadol Hador reminds of a somewhat similar
conflict that some have regarding which Sefer Halacha to use.  Most Yeshiva
Bochrim learn Mishneh Brurah (M.B.), and always follow the M.B.  Rav
Lichtenstein many times told his students that they should study the Aruch
Hashulchan (A.H.), since it gives a much better overview and background to
any Halachic discussion.  Someone asked, but shouldn't we learn M.B. so that
we know what to do (i.e., to find the definitive Psak)?  Rav Lichtenstein
responded, "I never gave either (M.B. & A.H.) a Bechinah in order to know who
was the bigger Gadol."

The point is that both were Gedolim, so one can feel comfortable if he always
Paskens like the A.H.  I think in our discussion, as well, one won't go too
far wrong "Paskening" like the Rav, about whom the D'Var Avraham wrote (in
a postcard "Smicha" to the Rav):
   "Halacha K'Moto B'Chal Makom", the  Law is like the Rav EVERYWHERE!

Larry Weisberg


End of Volume 10 Issue 74