Volume 16 Number 79
                       Produced: Wed Nov 23 20:41:08 1994

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

R. Wein's Jewish Observer Article
         [Mechy Frankel]
Response to Elad Rosin, re Daas Torah
         [Stan Tenen]
Tradition and Modern Research
         [M Shamash]


From: Mechy Frankel <frankel@...>
Date: Mon, 21 Nov 1994 17:03:34 EST
Subject: R. Wein's Jewish Observer Article

R. Y. Bechoffer (Vol 16 # 67) recommends a recent article by R.Wein in
the Jewish Observer as a source to butress the suggestion that the
concept of Daas Torah (DT) is quite ancient. I will not rehash this well
masticated mj issue, but since, coincidentally, Avi Winokur just showed
me a copy of R. Wein's article I thought I would share my quite
different perspective as part of a literary caveat emptor for those
tempted to follow this suggestion. To summarize up front, I found
R. Wein's article thoroughly appalling. Specifics follow:

1. First of all the reader should understand that R. Wein's article is
devoted in its entirety to "refuting" an earlier article on the subject
of DT by Lawrence Kaplan, which appeared in an Orthodox Roundtable
volume devoted to the subject of rabbinic authority. R. Wein's article
itself is a polemical piece rather than a work of scholarship, full of
ad hominem little nasties tossed at Kaplan. Indeed, R. Wein is no
historian. (I say this as someone who has listened to every single one
of his 2 billion history tapes while driving back and forth from
work. While not a historian he is an amusing popular lecturer and I
enjoyed each of his jokes, at least the first three times he told them.
But it was a rare tape that did not contain at least one major
historical howler. e.g. (a favorite of mine) his recurrent puzzlement
that Jews in Bavel did not seem as subject to early Christian
persecution as elsewhere. He apparently thought that Roman/Christian
power extended to the Ganges rather than the Euphrates, clearly unaware
of the existence and geographical sway of the various incarnations of an
entire, world class, Persian Empire.)

2.  More background: To summarize Kaplan's thesis al regel achas, which
so irked R. Wein and the JO, Kaplan tries to demonstrate that a) both
the terminology and concept of DT as currently practiced are modern
innovations, b) the modern usage is actually anti-thetical to the
classic halakhic process which depended on open discussion of differing
points of view and critical give and take, while modern DT
implementation seeks to stifle or de-legitimize discussion through
ex-cathedra diktats (my para-phraseology, not Kaplan's).  Kaplan also
seeks to define what DT actually is according to its modern
practitioners relying heavily on a description by R B.Weinberger
(published in JO so its religiously correct) which seems to equate it,
if only very distantly, with nevuah.

3. It is not necessary to agree with all of Kaplan's points (and I
disagree with some of them, e.g. I think Kaplan has mis-interpreted
R. Dessler's famous response to the question of the European gedolim's
advice prior to WWII as well as the import of R. Soloveitchick's late
30s speech to the US Aguda convention) to note that R. Wein simply does
not, either beshogaig or mayzid, get it. He essentially concedes
Kaplan's first terminological point right away, but then insists that it
is the concept of DT, whatever it was called which was ancient.
However, he then proceeds to set up as a strawman such a watered down
version of DT, essentially the assertion that Jews have always looked to
their gedolim for general insight and advice about worldly matters, that
Kaplan himself would surely have no problem agreeing with this
innocuously true formulation. After triumphantly dispatching this
strawman, R. Wein entirely skips over the central point that the modern
formulation of DT is much more ambitious and doesn't attempt to refute
Kaplan's notion that the modern concept is employed to cut off all
debate on issues of interest by stigmatizing and deligitimizing opposing

4. R. Wein also consistently questions Kaplan's personal motives, his
sensitive antennae detecting a "bitter edge" to Kaplan's writing. It is,
however, only in R. Wein's article that such unattractive ad hominem
polemics appear, not Kaplan's. (It is however, consistent with the
preferred literary style of the house organ which published it.)

5.  I am now going to get to "appalling" part. Bad as the above is, you
might simply put it down as yet one more instance inter-communal
polemics.  (indeed, scholars have also been know to indulge in such
literary close combat, much to the amusement of everbody not caught in
the line of fire) What is truly appalling however, is R. Wein's
misrepresentation of Kaplan's description of the sad events surrounding
the departure of the Belzer Rebbe z"l from Europe to Israel. The facts
are these. The Belzer's farewell speech (where he seemed to reassure his
large flock that they would not come to harm) was censored in later
published editions to delete these reassuring references. R. Wein
(falsely) accuses Kaplan of portraying the Rebbe z"l as deceitfully
preparing to abandon his followers while seeking to calm them with false
reassurances while he made his unimpeded escape. He even accuses Kaplan
at displaying "glee" at this "gotcha" of a gadol apparently making, in
retrospect, a mistake. I found this part of R. Wein's article actually
disgusting, since Kaplan nowhere accuses the Belzer z"l of such
behavior, nor imputed such motives to him.  To suggest that anyone could
take glee from any aspect of such a tragedy is repellant. Recounting the
factual story was, however, not irrelevant to a discussion of Kaplan's
thesis and R. Weinberger's charedi concept of DT which does hint of a
certain infallibility.

6.  There are other significant R. Wein misrepresentations as
well. e.g. R.  Wein suggests that Kaplan essentially accuses
R. Soloveitchick z"l of similar deceitful tailoring of a message to his
audience when the Rav delivered his famous eulogy for R. Chaim Ozer to
the US Aguda covention in the late 30s at a time the Rav was a Vice
President of the Aguda. R. Wein then indignantly demolishes this
strawman (which he created) as well. Contemplating how someone (like YU
graduate Kaplan) who holds the Rav z"l in such esteem could possibly do
such a thing, and which suggestion nowhere appears in Kaplan's
description, is to realize how truly ludicrous R. Wein's interpretation
is. To note that the Rav z"l was V.P of the Aguda in the 30s but an
unlikely candidate to receive an invitation to join the Moetzes Gedolai
Torah in the 60s is a commentary on changes wrought by life, experience,
and an evolving intellectual engagement, not mendacity.

R. Wein is an entertaining and frequently insightful speaker. I have had
the pleasure of visiting in his shul a number of times (in fact there is
a possibility that I may be there again in two weeks time - at least if
he doesn't read this). I would like to think that perhaps this article
was an aberration, a small bit of pandering to the target audience of
the Jewish Observer, which unfortunately tends to this sort of thing.

Mechy Frankel                                        W: (703) 325-1277
<frankel@...>                                  H: (301) 593-3949


From: Stan Tenen <meru1@...>
Date: Tue, 22 Nov 1994 23:25:36 -0800
Subject: Response to Elad Rosin, re Daas Torah

If Torah research has not been stifled, why is it that an essentially
uneducated person like myself, living outside of a Torah community, with
very little Jewish learning, has found, in the sequence of letters in
B'reshit, an understanding of how the Hebrew letters are generated,
while the Torah community has not?  I believe that we should admit that
we have been severely damaged by the holocaust, and that one of the
worst damages inflicted has been a reluctance of our best sages and
students to study our own works in any but the most conventional and
limited ways.  We have been traumatized into separating knowledge of the
world from knowledge of Torah and this has led to a decline in Torah
learning and understanding - even by our greatest living sages.

If it is true that "It is a great misconception that we in this day and
age are on a comparable level with our Great Sages, the Geonim,
Rishonim, and Acharonim and that we are therefore entitled to our
opinions on Halacha, Hashkafa, and Torah interpretation just as they
are" then why is this so?  Have our genes deteriorated?  Is there less
access to the works of our sages?  Are we less honest or less diligent
than our predecessors?

Obviously our genes have not deteriorated, etc.  In my opinion, we have 
become too timid.  The continuous persecutions have repeatedly robbed us 
of our greatest teachers.  The opportunities of the "enlightenment" and 
the industrial revolution have attracted away many of our best and our 
brightest.  The more nascent physicists that are attracted away from 
Torah Judaism, the less physics can be understood in a Torah context.  
The more nascent mathematicians are attracted away from Torah Judaism, 
the less mathematics can be understood in a Torah context.  If there is 
(and there certainly is) mathematics in Torah, how could we recognize 
it, and how could we know what teachings we might understand if we could 
recognize it, when only a relative few of us are gifted in mathematics - 
and when most of those who are gifted are taught, just as I was, that 
mathematics has little or nothing to do with Torah Judaism?  This is 
utter nonsense, but how could we know otherwise once most of our 
mathematically inclined students are taught not to bother looking for 
mathematics?  I use mathematics as an example.  Much the same could be 
said for many other "secular" studies that are now shunned by our 
Yeshiva students.  (Thank G-d there are exceptions.)

When we had a Sanhedrin, we studied all the teachings of all the 
cultures of the world that impinged on us.  This was also when we had 
the knowledge of our Great Sages, that we so often lament the loss of.  
I think that there is a vital connection here: Study all knowledge and 
we recognize all knowledge in Torah.  Avoid "secular" and "non-Jewish" 
knowledge and we lose knowledge even of our own traditions.

Of course not everyone should study everything.  We are a community.  
Some of us must specialize in halacha and some of us must specialize in 
kabbalah.  We are all required to be shomer mitzvot, but we each have 
our own special mitzvot.  Traditional study provides the vessel for 
Jewish survival.  That is why it has and must come first.  But 
traditional study is obviously not enough - exactly because we have lost 
knowledge that our Great Sages of the past had.  Some of us (not all of 
us) must do more. 

The idea that our sages who lived only a few thousand years ago (at 
most) were somehow greater than we could be is, in my opinion, a self-
limiting and self-fulfilling prophesy.  In my opinion, it does not 
belong in association with our unlimited Torah.  We will never recover 
(Tikkun) what our Great Sages knew, if at least some of us  do not dare 
to study all of what Hashem has placed before us.  Why continue to curse 
the darkness when we have been entrusted with the Torah of the One Great 

Stan Tenen


From: <MSHAMAH@...> (M Shamash)
Date: Tue, 22 Nov 1994 20:08:45 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Tradition and Modern Research

Elad Rosin in MJ V16#73 complains about the following sentence I wrote
in a recent posting:

"The misinterpretation of `Elu VeElu' and the recently-developed concept
of "Daas Torah" are stifling legitimate Torah research and moving
Orthodox Judaism into an unenlightened age contrary to our glorious
heritage."  He writes:

>> ...I can say with complete confidence that being involved in
>yeshiva full-time, accepting from my Rabbaim the Torah which they
>received from their Rabbaim, and developing an outlook on life
>based on Daas Torah, does not in any way feel to be "stifling". 
>Also I don't believe that it would take a large scale survey to
>determine that those same people who are supposedly "stifling" the
>"enlightened" age of Torah research are precisely those who are in
>fact most intensely engaged in it.

Yes, Elad, you and many yeshiva students don't feel stifled by your
curriculum and are happy to limit your learning to accepting from your
rebbi what he received from his rebbi, etc.  Would that it were so
simple!  Why disturb a blissful situation?  If not that your submission
was posted on a major forum I would not respond.  But under the
circumstances I must comment.

In most yeshivot, Torah is not being studied with the great insights the
contemporary disciplines of history, archaeology, philology, etc. afford
us.  This applies even to numerous matters where our tradition
admittedly is uncertain of the proper interpretation, where there are
countless controversies and controversies on how to interpret
controversies, even regarding matters of realia.  Often, the yeshiva
student struggles with a problem for many hours, coming to a less than
satisfactory conclusion, on an item that the "outside" scholarly world
has long resolved.  Sad to say, I have met more than one rosh yeshiva
who sincerely thinks and teaches that the sun moves upward and away from
the earth after setting, traverses from west to east above the firmament
during the night, descending in the morning, based on a Talmudic
passage.  I have met rabbaim who genuinely believe that lice do not have
eggs, and are created by spontaneous generation, also based on a
Talmudic passage.  Some rabbaim still teach their students the meaning
of the word "pim" (1 Sam 13:21) as describing a "saw" not knowing that a
number of "pim" coins have already been found.  One rosh yeshiva told me
they stopped studying Tanach in his yeshiva because there are too many
problems understanding it [with the traditional commentaries].

In addition, the increasing technical knowledge gap in understanding
Torah sources between the yeshivot and the outside world prevents the
yeshivot from properly influencing the rest of the world which says, Who
wants to pay attention to unenlightened people?

Some relevant contemporary knowledge seeps into even fundamentalist
circles.  Due to a lack of expertly and systematically addressing such
knowledge, the problem is often compounded when superficial
reconcilations are proffered - such as the rosh yeshiva who said that
yes, lice do have eggs, but they can not be seen by the naked eye, and
therefore don't count.  But lice eggs can be seen by the naked eye!

In prior times, our rabbis used whatever evidence and research tools
were available to understand Torah more fully.  This point cannot be
overemphasized - it is indisputable and it is our true tradition.
Because of certain historical forces in recent centuries this is not any
longer the case in many Orthodox circles and we should work to reverse
the trend before it leads us into an unenlightened age.


End of Volume 16 Issue 79