Volume 52 Number 40
                    Produced: Wed Jul  5  6:26:22 EDT 2006

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Dubious Leadership
         [Carl A. Singer]
Natural Disasters and Rabbinic expalnations (was Rabbi Ovadia Yosef)
         [Chana Luntz]
R. Ovadiah Yosef
         [Eli Turkel]
Rabbi Obadia Yosef (2)
         [<FriedmanJ@...>, N Miller]


From: Carl A. Singer <casinger@...>
Date: Fri, 30 Jun 2006 05:55:34 -0400
Subject: Dubious Leadership

> Given the many financial and other unpleasant revelations about almost
> every "gadol", who are we then to follow? The formulators of the
> "Takanos"? The invisible "Moetzes"? The MO Rabbinate with their own
> visible flaws?

With all due respect to my friend JG -- I think we're painting with an
awfully broad brush.  SOME (not "almost every") public rabbinic figures
and other public personalities have had their hands in the cookie jar
and elsewhere.

It's like the jar of white marbles with a few blue ones dispersed
within.  Everyone notices the blue.

There is no excuse or rationalization for bad behavior -- somehow there
are some "frum" Jews who while being machmir the bayn adam l'Makom such
as eruv & carrying on Shabbos fall badly re: adam l'chaveyrot, dina
d'malchuso, etc.  We are all diminished as a result.

Is it the larger society encroaching on their moral compass, internal
character flaws -- I don't know, but the resulting behavior must be
addressed forcefully.



From: Chana Luntz <chana@...>
Date: Mon, 3 Jul 2006 00:34:47 +0100
Subject: Natural Disasters and Rabbinic expalnations (was Rabbi Ovadia Yosef)

> I have a more fundamental issue with Rabbi Yosef.  I have found his
> commentary on some matters (in particular the reasons for hurricane
> Katrina to have caused so mush damage and suffering in New Orleans) to
> be so far beyond the pale of reasonable theology, not to mention
> completely at odds with the facts of the world we live in (disasters
> do not strike only places of debauchery) that I can no longer view
> Rabbi Yosef as a legitimate posek or gadol.  Add to these issues the
> hubris involved in making pronouncements about G-d's will (for what
> else is it when one opines on the reason a hurricane struck a
> particular location?)  - does he see himself as a posek or as a navi,
> one must wonder.

While I think the issue you raise is a serious issue, you have been
extremely sheltered if you believe that this issue is raised solely by
statements of Rav Ovadia Yosef (or even that he provides a prime
example).  This kind of statement has been heard across the rabbinic
charedi (including chardal) spectrum within Israel in recent years and
from numbers of charedi rabbaim and gedolim speaking after eg 9/11 in
the United States.

R' Gil Student on his blog hirhurim had blogged directly on point under
the title Natural Disasters and Rabbinic Explanations at
which title I have therefore used for the title to this post.

Please read this section to get an understanding of a defender of this
mode of discourse.

If you see the comments there, as you will see further sides to the
debate, (you will also note that I commented quite extensively).

A further discussion of this issue can be found under the title "R.
Mordechai Eliyahu on the reason for the tsunami" at
http://www.aishdas.org/avodah/vol14/v14n066.shtml and several following
digests where questions and issues on these types of pronouncements were
once again discussed.

You may still feel, after all of this discussion, that you still believe
that "the emporer is wearing no clothing" (there were numbers involved
in both discussions who do - certainly numbers who identify as modern
Orthodox do, and it may be that hashkafically you belong with that
grouping) and I think the issue is a valuable one to be discussed on
list.  But it is important to understand (even if you do not agree with)
the alternative viewpoints, and why this is a very different issue from
other questions of moral leadership.

In brief we are discussing two questions:

a) should we be looking at natural disasters and trying to discern the
divine hand in them, or should we say that G-d was (chose to be?) absent
(assuming you agree that we are not prepared to say that G-d is
impotent). This is one of the prime questions of theology (and it comes
up in the relatively small natural disasters that we may personally
encounter as much as in the global ones).  Ie is to wrong to ask the
question "Why?" and if not, are we permitted (and is there value in)
trying and answer it, even if we may understand that our answers are

b) if we do hold that one of our obligations is to try and learn lessons
from eg natural disasters are the particular ones that particular rabbis
identify the right ones to identify?  To even ask the question in b) one
has to already have answered the question in a) in the affirmative.  In
the Avodah discussion to which I refer, above, I tried suggesting that
if one was to answer a) in the affirmative, there existed an alternative
lesson that could be learnt different from that proposed eg by Rav
Eliyahu.  If you hold that one should not try and look for moral
lessons, then obviously no lesson is acceptable, but if you do not so
hold, you might accept the principle but demand that the responses be
different (or in fact there might be value in multiple responses, this
and this and this).

On a different note, and in relation to Rav Ovadia Yosef specifically
you write:

>Is it really enough to demand mere computational knowledge from our
>poskim - someone who can count up all the rulings on one side or
>another and issue a psak?  I am sure a clever programmer could create a
>piece of software to do that.  I think the least we can expect from our
>leaders is that the Torah and learning in which they have steeped
>themselves for decades has done more thann create an automaton, but has
>created a sensitive and humble soul."

 I have heard this dismissal of Rav Ovadia's teshuvas before, but having
spent a fair amount of time now reading them, I think the charge that
his teshuvas are produced based on counting up all the rulings on one
side or another and going with the majority is completely wide of the

Yes, one of the things that makes Rav Ovadia's teshuvas in Yabiat Omer
unusual, compared with teshuvas such as those of Rav Moshe, is that he
will bring what just about everybody else has already said on the
subject - and because he does have an encyclopedic knowledge, that means
that a good portion of his teshuva can at times read like an encylopedia
article on the topic.  This, to my mind, is actually a very nice feature
of his teshuvas.  And rather than your characterisation t is, in my
view, only a "humble soul" that is prepared to bring and give full "air
time", to the opposing views - with citations, allowing the reader to
pursue them and fully appreciate them in the original.  In fact it
reminds me of the position that the reason why Beis Hillel was accepted
above Beis Shammai was because Beis Hillel always taught and brought the
views that they did not agree with as well as the views they did agree
with.  But it can certainly make Rav Ovadia's teshuvas heavy going -
having to wade through pages and pages of views on both sides in order
to cull out of what Rav Ovadia really thinks and why.

But having done that for a number of teshuvas now, I would dispute that
his teshuvas (or at least the ones I have analysed in depth) are merely
(or fundamentally) based on counting up the numbers.  Rav Ovadia
analyses many of the piskei halacha that he brings either directly or
indirectly by means of the linkage he provides in making the case for
his ultimate psak.  So that ultimately the psak is a constructed edifice
built up by explaining those positions he accepts and rejecting others,
rather than a number counting game.  It is subtle though meaning there
are less breathtaking leaps of the Rav Moshe kind.  The breathtaking
aspect is often only when you look back and realise where he has ended
up, based on small incremental steps.

And in terms of the "sensitive" soul aspect, Rav Ovadia is far more
willing in his piskei halacha to take into account concepts such as
kovod habrios [respect for the individual] whether religious or non
religious and sensitivity to interpersonal relationships than, it
appears to me, most other modern poskim are (and is not afraid to admit
that these considerations are indeed real and important halachic
considerations).  A few teshuvas spring to mind in this regard: - his
sensitivity to interfamilial relationships allowing somebody who would
in other circumstances only eat glatt meat to eat at family simchas
where the meat was just "stam kosher".  His sensitivity to the marital
relationship between a baalei teshuva wife and her husband allowing her
not to disclose that she had previously had an abortion thereby allowing
the husband to go ahead with a pidyon haben.  And the sensitivity to the
non frum in relation to their wine, davening, duchening etc displayed in
numerous teshuvos.  In addition, he appears to be one of the few
remaining poskim with a genuine interest in and concern for the sick and
disabled.  Since R' SZ Auerbach is gone, my impression is that it is Rav
Ovadia who is the primary place to turn when looking for piskei halacha
eg in connection with shabbas compatible mobility and similar equipment
that can make such a difference to the disabled and their families.

And it is the teshuvas, particularly the learned analyses contained in
Yabiat Omer, which are clearly his fundamental life's work.  So it seems
a little strange to be rejecting these by reference to what are clearly
off the cuff statements (even if reported correctly) about people over
whom Rav Ovadiah has no influence or connection, and who are hardly
likely to hear about the views of some rabbi in Israel and to care if
they did.  I doubt that it has troubled anybody at any stage in New
Orleans that Rav Ovadia Yosef believes (or uses) their city to be a
byword for debauchery.  And if they were concerned about such matters, I
would have thought that they would have a far greater concern that,
growing up in Australia, my only knowledge of the existence of a place
called New Orleans (and I am sure many many others like me) was because
there was a song that was regarded as something of a classic and played
not infrequently on the radio (because it had a terrific tune) that went
"There is a House in New Orleans, the House of the Rising Sun, its been
the ruin of many a poor boy, I guess, I'd know, I'm one" - which, when I
think about it, is actually a song about debauchery.  It was therefore
rather odd when Katrina happened for the press to suddenly be talking
about a place as real, that I confess, had an almost mythic association.
I don't even know which singer/songwriter is to blame for putting New
Orleans on the map in quite this way, but there you are.  And for many
in the world, I suspect, not knowing anbody in New Orleans, the first
thought, no matter how silly was - well what did happen to the House of
the Rising Sun?



From: Eli Turkel <eliturkel@...>
Date: Fri, 30 Jun 2006 17:34:33 +0200
Subject: R. Ovadiah Yosef

> Over the last 5 or so years, the press has decided to show up, without
> invitation, and quote selected "pearls".  They don't know what a
> Mochi'ach is nor do they care.  People who hear the quotations, and
> don't bother to find out, want Rav Ovadia to shut up, not realizing
> that he is fulfilling a time-honored need in his community.

Whether invited or not the media are present and one has to take them
into account anything else is being naive and not fitting for a gadol.
I go to shiur of R. Zilberstein on medical halacha. When someone asks a
more "policial" question he answers that he has no control over the
audience and so refuses to answer the question.

To be a Mochiach knowing that it will be in the headlines the next day
is the height of insensitivity.

Eli Turkel


From: <FriedmanJ@...>
Date: Fri, 30 Jun 2006 05:44:54 EDT
Subject: Re: Rabbi Obadia Yosef

      For someone who wasn't raised with this style of discourse -- it
      is shocking.  I'll never forget the 1st time I heard a Mochiach,
      R' Baraness ZT"L of Pardes Chana. Here were these wonderful
      religious men and women sitting and listening to someone saying
      that they the worst sinners possible!  But apparently, this is the
      style -- and it supposedly brings people to check their actions
      and do Teshuva.

this causes a person to hate themselves, to despair of ever being
perfect of running away from judaism, of hating his/her fellow jews.

there is no reason for this harshness. it smacks of Shaaria law and is
taken directly from Islam.

From: N Miller <nm1921@...>
Date: Fri, 30 Jun 2006 10:04:24 -0400
Subject: Re: Rabbi Obadia Yosef

Shoshana Boublil's writes:

>Rav Ovadia Yosef has been acting over the past 10 years (at least) as
>the Mochi'ach of his community and shul.  He does not speak in public -
>he speaks as a Mochiach ONLY in his shul, and over the airwaves to those
>who CHOSE to listen in.  They, this public, know and understand why and
>how he speaks and take it for what it is -- and NO MORE!

Does one laugh or cry at this?  How does one broadcast without speaking
in public?

That aside, two points.  First, while mochiachim are found only in some
Sefardic settings, Ashkenazim are not unfamiliar with "zogn musar", a
very similar style of preaching.  Second, style does not govern content:
nowhere is it written or required that fervent moral suasion be acted
out with words that are arrant as well as offensive nonsense.  The
Christian world has its Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons.  I see no
need for Jews to try to imitate their moronic examples.

Noyekh Miller


End of Volume 52 Issue 40