Volume 17 Number 2
                       Produced: Thu Dec  1 22:15:51 1994

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Daas Torah
         [Binyomin Segal]
Daas Torah and Mathematics
         [Yaakov Menken]
Playing Telephone with Oral Law
         [Akiva Miller]


From: <bsegal@...> (Binyomin Segal)
Date: Wed, 30 Nov 1994 15:03:20 -0600
Subject: Daas Torah

Before you all start reading this, I want to make something clear. My
attacks in this post are _not_ directed at anyone in particular &
especially not Mechy Frankel! On mj we have an open forum that to me is
often similar to a bais medrash - where questions and answers fly fast &
furious. In a bais medrash, often the heat builds up and the responses
get "sharp" - but when we are done discussing - we are both closer to
the truth (even if we still disagree) and as such are closer to each
other. In my experience, the pointed & sharp argumentitive style is
helpful at reaching the truth - or at least approaching it - so, if my
attacks seem a bit pointed take it as my style, not as a personal

Further as this is a Bais Medrash, this is exactly the place where
questions about the validity of daas torah belong. no questions that are
sincerely asked - with openness to a response - are inappropriate.

Mechy Frankel writes:

>and ultimately failed to refute any of its substantive contentions, with some
>of the distortions.e.g. the R. Wein version of the Belzer episode, bordering
>on the disgusting.

BTW the newest JO Dec 94 p47) has a letter which responds directly to
the Belz episode. The writer points to a gemara in gittin 56b that
interprets the pasuk in isaiah 44, "Hashem turns back the wise and their
Wisdom He renders folly" as a source that in times of great heavenly
wrath Hashem causes the wise to err.

>He suggests that "lots of us may yell the rabbis are
>secluded...and how can they choose fundamentalist ....fascist
>republicans over the liberal loving democrats...this example shows they
>understand THE ISSUE.." I'm not sure what to make of that.

It was merely meant as an example that often halachik issues that we
might miss supersede the "common sense" of the issues at hand. Sorry if
this (and other parts of my post) were hard to understand.

Mechy Frankel then gives three examples of stifling daas torah. the
third one, Rav Chaim Ozers letter about a rabbinical seminary, is a
historical issue with which I am not familiar.Suffice it to say that
even if it's true - one example from prewar europe is hardly a trend.

The other two, a ban on mixed rabbinic organizations & drafting women
are good examples. In my opinion they're good examples because they
demonstrate my principle. Daas Torah is used to identify halachik issues
that we might miss.

>a) the "ban" promulgated on involvement or membership in inter-communal
>organizations with "mixed" rabbinical representation

though im not familiar with the ny case, a similar thing happened here
in chicago, and it was _clearly_ a halachik issue. To give tacit
authority to the "rabbinic" positions which do not accept the minimum
definition of halacha is to befriend those that dispute Maimonides
principles - befriending apikorsim is a halachik issue. As I recall, the
_only_ reasoned dissent was essentially kiruv,ie it may be acceptable to
unite with them so as to keep the Jewish people more connected with
their roots, and ultimately perhaps they will return.

For some this may be a "feelings" issue. Do we feel united with the
non-frum. But to the rabbis who debated this issue the question was
halachik. (Of course then the followers on both sides get involved -
your rabbis not frum enough, your rabbi hates other jews - and we have
lots of fun!)

>b) the promulgated issur on women serving in the Israeli army, -or even
>doing sherus li'oome. (I don't know if this is equivalent to having a
>gadol come knock at your door and stifle you, the example which Binyomin
>requested, but i suspect it comes close at least for those who live in
>Israel. It certainly affects almost everybody.)

First, this is also a halachik issue - one of tznius and arayos. The
Chazon Ish was clear that a woman was required to give up her life
rather than allow herself to be drafted - this does _not_ indicate some
nebulous "I think so" it indicates psak halacha of a very specific sort.

Rav Alfred Cohen (Jounal of Halacha & Contemporary Society v 16 pp26-42) 
points out that:

>In rabbinic circles there was remarkable unanimity in the resistance, and a
>broad spectrum of rabbinic leaders - Chassidic, "Yeshivish", Sephardic -
>stood side by side to repel what they evaluated as a potential death threat
>to the Orthodox camp, and by extension, to the Jewish people.

Scholarly discussion is productive in two ways 1 it insures the truth of
the conclusions, 2 it provides a path of growth for those lower down.
Point 1 is clearly always important - but I wonder, if the majority of
gedolim agree without discussion on a point - does it need further
clarification? (and even when they disagree - if they know why they
disagree & thats already clarified...)

As to the second reason for open & scholarly discussion - the place for
that is in the Bais Medrash - not in the public forum of psak. The
gemara points out that rabbinic legislation was always decreed without
its reasoning - after it was accepted, the reasons were given. The
reasoning given (as I recall) is that if there's a reason there's a
counter. And then no legislation would ever be accepted. To refuse
giving the reasons then is not stifling! Scholarly development can occur
later - when they announce their reasons. I would bet that many of the
rabbis who fought vehemently against the draft of women explained their
thoughts in detail to their students - people who wanted to learn from
them. And if these students had a challenge it was listened to and
replied to.

A thought. There has been much discussion on mj about the environment of
the army. Some have pointed out that there are situations that are
difficult. Others have pointed out that there are situatiuons of kiddush
Hashem. Since neither of these 2 results are hard to guess at (ie go
into a non-religious environment and you will have difficulties and
opportunities) - maybe its safe to assume that the rabbis _knew_ these
results would be likely and paskened that putting yourself in
(spiritual) danger is assur even if the potentioal rewards are
great. Since they knew that there were positives to going into the army
they may have chosen to minimize non productive debate by remaining
silent. - except to be clear on their _halachik_ decision.

Also, I wonder why you feel like this is the rabbi coming to knock on
your door. Do you feel that the kosher symbol is the rabbi telling you
not to eat treif? In both cases it is your choice to "let G-d into your
house" to decide for you - or you can assert control for yourself: eat
treif, and send your girls to the army.

You'll respond "I dont want control - i want to do what's right
halachikly - and i believe that women have an obligation to fight." well
then, who is stopping you? If you feel that you can decide halachik
issues better then the rabbis that forbid this - than go ahead. G-d will
determine your ultimate fate - and might just reward you for standing up
for what you believe in. Forgive us if we choose to be unimpressed by
your profession of impartiality and scholarship and suggest that perhaps
your conceit is showing through.

Scholarship - in a Jewish sense - is not control - it is
understanding. Do you wish to understand why your daughters may not
serve? Then go to the Beis Medrash and study & ask. And ask your
questions until you understand.  Or do you resent the control that
halacha asserts?

In conclusion, I think these examples prove my original contention. Daas
Torah - generally speaking - is the ability of those well-versed in
Torah to identify halachik issues that we don't see. As such all the
rules of psak apply. Of course it's intrusive. (And I dont think thats
bad) That we (myself included) look at these examples and dont see the
halachik issues merely proves that we need daas torah to point them
out. Do we want to learn to identify them ourselves - then let us all go
and study diligently.

Before I end though I want to suggest that the argument here is based on
a discussion of 2 disparate perspectives on the same example. Let's
reexamine the "rabbinical board" thing above. after discussing the
halachik context of the debate i said:

>Of course then the followers on both sides get involved - your rabbis not frum
>>enough, your rabbi hates other jews - and we have lots of fun!

This type of public rabbi bashing benefits noone and often leads other
observers to conclude that the whole discussion was one of that
sort. this is clearly not the case. rabbis with scholarship and
integrity do not base decisions on "wanting to look frum enough". It is
important to distinguish between the argument of the 2 rabbis and the
argument of the two groups.  The two rabbis are arguing about
halacha. The groups are arguing about heroes.

Real daas Torah is the appreciation of the halachik argument - whether
we know the details or not. To give the name calling popular with the
masses a title of "daas Torah" is a gross misjudgement of Torah

Another example of this type might be the NY get law. The rabbis that
are arguing over the issue are arguing issues of halacha. Period. For
example, I know Rav Gedalia Schwartz (he lives here in Chicago) and he
is a posek of great scholarship and a man of great integrity (as if
those two things could be split). I have had (limited) contact with Rav
Shlomo Zalman & Rav Elyashiv and - without casting any negative
aspersions on Rav Schwartz - I feel that the greater poskim are Rav
Shlomo Zalman & Rav Elyashiv. This BTW does not invalidate Rav Schwartz
from holding strong to his opinion. That the masses who appreciate Torah
scholarship not at all choose to say things about the qualities of Rav
Schwartz or Rav Shlomo Zalman & Rav Elyashiv shows nothing about daas
Torah and much about the people who say those things.



From: Yaakov Menken <ny000548@...>
Date: Tue, 29 Nov 94 09:44:23 -0500
Subject: Daas Torah and Mathematics

>>From: Stan Tenen <meru1@...>
>In m-j 84 Binyomin Segal reports that he spoke with a scientist who told 
>him that: "...the difference between a geocentric theory and a 
>heliocentric theory is merely how complicated the math is."  Strictly 
>speaking, this is true.  But, it is not the whole truth because 
>mathematics cannot provide spiritual truth.  Mathematics is NOT the 
>territory, it is merely a map.  (We and our feelings and experiences are 
>the territory.)  When we examine the real world to see what the 
>mathematics applies to, we realize that the earth must circle the sun.  
>Otherwise, the distant stars would be forced to spin around the earth at 
>speeds far in excess of the speed of light.  Since the speed of light is 
>a constant of relativistic time, this puts us in another impossible bind 
>which we can get out of only by rejecting an enormous amount of 
>experimental evidence.  Fine, you say, let's reject this evidence.  That 
>is okay too.  But it means that our appliances and scientific 
>instruments that we use every day run on miracles.  I am very reluctant 
>to attribute everyday affairs to the continuous intervention of Divine 

Ah, but that's exactly the point.  There is a famous disagreement 
between the Rambam and the Ramban on the subject of miracles.  In 
essence, one opinion is that everything that happens is "natural" - 
including the obvious miracles that occurred in Tanakh.  Were we to 
understand the full details of the laws of the world, we would find that 
even the parting of the sea and the Revelation at Sinai all made sense.  
The other opinion argues that everything is a miracle - some are more 
systematic, some less, but all miraculous.

The idea that the universe is spinning at an "impossible" rate while 
within it nothing moves faster than c (the speed of light) does indeed 
seem far-fetched.  I must ask, so what?  Most of modern science is 
equally counter-intuitive.

Electrons, we learn, behave as both waves and particles.  Because they 
are waves, they exist at distinct energy levels - which involve paths at 
various orbits around the nucleus of the atom containing them.  Some of 
these paths do not intersect.  What happens, according to all scientific 
evidence, when an electron changes levels?  It jumps from one level to 
the next.  However, it NEVER EXISTS in between.  If a sphere was placed 
surrounding the lower energy level, and below the higher, the electron 
would still never pass through that sphere!  It simply blinks out at the 
lower level, and reappears at the higher.  Not what we would expect?

More recently, scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope concluded 
that the Universe had about half as much mass as was necessary for the 
universe to behave the way it does.  Have we an explanation?  No - and 
much of Astronomy and Astrophysics are going to be rewritten based upon 
this observation.  It's nothing new - we're progressing at a fantastic 
rate in understanding our universe.

Yaakov Menken


From: <Keeves@...> (Akiva Miller)
Date: Thu, 1 Dec 1994 02:23:19 -0500
Subject: Playing Telephone with Oral Law

In MJ 16:96, David Charlap (<david@...>) mentions the game
of Telephone as an analogy to the transmission of the Oral
Torah. (Reread that post for more details.) My point here is to explain
what I hope he meant when he wrote that "Changes are going to creep in."
i.e., that they will creep in, but slowly, and will eventually be

The entire generation who learned the Torah from Moses taught it
*together* to the following generation. For quite a number of years, the
entire second generation was able to ask the entire first generation
what he had said, or what he had meant, or what life was like in
Egypt. Word gets around.  Differing opinions will surface. It is true
that people are human, and someone's memory is bound to err, and
"Changes are going to creep in." But they will be found out, and this is
a critical point.

In the game of telephone, individuals speak to individuals. There is no
means of verification, no way to weeds out the errors in transmission. I
tell you what I know, and you can cross-examine me on it, but if I made
a mistake, or if you make a mistake telling the next person, all hope is
lost. Compare that to a rabbi (of any generation!) who teaches a certain
point, and marshalls sources to prove it. But his colleagues then show
how he misunderstood the sources, and eventually the truth will win out.

But indeed we are human. "Changes are going to creep in." Can we be
assured that all errors will be corrected by this collaborative effort?
Let me offer one sample. It is a story which I have heard many times,
but never read inside, so I hope I got it right. If anyone can help me,
I'd appreciate it.  It goes like this:

What do we meant when we refer to the Masora, or the Masoretic Text of
the Torah? I understand that at a certain point in time there were many
variant texts of the Torah itself, despite the extreme care which a
scribe uses when writing a Sefer Torah. The Torah world was
confused. How can these variant texts all each be kosher? So the three
most reliable Torah Scrolls were brought together, and were carefully
compared. A fourth Torah was written, by comparing the three against
each other. In every case of a variance, the majority was followed. If
two said something and the third was different, then that third was
presumed to be in error, and the text of the two was written in the new
Torah. The result was that this newly written Torah was definitely
kosher, as it had followed the majority ruling of the three most
reliable authorities on each and every question. After all, the Torah
itself does tell us to follow the majority in questions of Torah law!
And this is the text which has now been preserved and come to us as the
authoritative text.

The punchline is that since none of the first three was identical to
this newly written one, they were all rendered non-kosher!!! The new one
was NOT considered to be an artificial invention, but rather a
reconstruction of what the original Torah from Moses must have been. So
too, when a majority vote is taken among the rabbis of a generation, it
"cleans up" the changes which crept in, and restores the original

To respond to what the poster wrote about new Torah discoveries, let me
remind all that HaShem showed Moshe Rabenu a vision of Rabbi Akiva
teaching a lesson in which Rabbi Akiva taught some Torah concepts which
Moshe himself did not understand. Moshe was upset until Rabbi Akiva
mentioned his source as being "a halacha which Moshe got at Sinai". My
point is that new Torah concepts are no problem if you have sources to
back you up. If your new concept is an error, then you can rest assured:
The Chain of Transmission of the Oral Torah will either disprove you or
ignore you.


End of Volume 17 Issue 2