What the snake knew

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31 Responses

  1. Bob Miller says:

    Jonathan Rosenblum said, “The gedolim, of course, know all this, and are much more careful than those who claim to speak in their name.”

    Following this logic, isn’t it time for Torah communities, yeshivot, etc., to appoint reliable spokespeople and disavow the others?

  2. Jewish Observer says:

    nice ratocke.

    “Nearly three decades ago, Rabbi Aharon Feldman, Rosh Yeshivas Ner Israel, told a group of new chasanim how he had called a certain husband to make an appointment to discuss the latter’s shalom bayis problems. The man replied that he could not come that night because he would be baking his matzos one at a time, in a private kiln, far out of the city.”

    – I would like to clarify that subject of this story was NOT a Ner Israel guy. I explicate because not everyone may know that RAF’s tenure at NIRC started recently. This likely happened in EY, RAF’s previous station.

  3. joel rich says:

    Fascinating article and completely on target concerning the judicious use of authority (as any parent hopefully knows).

    Perhaps R’ JR could expand upon At the same time, very few bans are initiated by the gedolim. Most often the initiative starts with well-meaning askanim. And with respect to them, it is possible to discuss, in general terms, some of the long-range consequences of a multitude of bans.

    Well-intentioned askanim may often view a letter signed by the gedolim banning a particular activity as the quickest and most effective way of handling a problem. But that may be a short-sighted approach, especially if the ban takes the place of chinuch.

    Aiui these “bans” were signed (i.e. no one forged the signatures). It seems we are in a logical quandry (and I would appreciate it if I am missing something that someone gently point it out to me) – either the signers know what they are signing and realize that they may be lessening their own authority (or that of others of their rank) if adherence is poor, or they are (continually?) misled by those closest to them (but how could this occur to someone of their leadership stature?)


  4. G says:

    [R’ Feldman] had called a certain husband to make an appointment to discuss the latter’s shalom bayis problems…he could not come that night because he would be baking his matzos one at a time, in a private kiln, far out of the city.

    “He was trying to impress me,” Rav Feldman said. “He would have been shocked to know that I viewed him as a murderer – someone who was killing his wife and children with his stringencies.”
    Impressive story, I would be even more impressed if the quote read, “He WAS shocked to know…”. That would have been chinuch.

  5. Ori Pomerantz says:

    If I understand Charedi society correctly, this is a very brave piece to publish. If so, good job. It seems (from reading here and in a few other places) that this is a big and painful issue.

    Jonathan Rosenblum: Well-intentioned askanim(1) may often view a letter signed by the gedolim(2) banning a particular activity as the quickest and most effective way of handling a problem.

    Ori: Isn’t it the responsibility of those gedolim, the leaders of the community, to take the time to research the matter themselves to ensure their authority is not abused or diminished – as Rav Yosef Sholom Elyashiv did in your example?

    Or are they too busy and have to rely on askanim? In which case, should those askanim be trained to do the due diligence that somebody has to do before passing a law?

    Translation for people who don’t know Hebrews:

    (1) Askanim – people who deal with the day to day running of Charedi society.

    (2) Gedolim – the great Torah sages who provide the vision and interpret the Torah for any given generation.

  6. Noam says:

    Excellent article. It is a machloket Bereshit Rabba and Avot D’Rabbi Natan as to whether the chumra with the tree originated with Adam or with Chava. Rav Henkin in “Equality Lost” makes the case that it originated with Adam, noting that Chava did not even seem to know the name of the tree(The Serpent told her, adding to his credibility as a source of information). He draws other conclusions which I think are very useful, but may take the comments off topic, so I will leave it to the interested reader to look it up.

  7. Michoel says:

    Reb G wrote: “I would be even more impressed if the quote read, “He WAS shocked to know…”. That would have been chinuch.”

    Not really, not b’zman hazeh. Much better would be to find some aspect in which he was a dedicated husband and father and build on it. A rebbi or a father should never make the talmid or child feel that they are viewed as a rahsa. Then there is little hope of getting them to improve.

  8. Natan Slifkin says:

    There seems to be an inherent self-contradiction in Jonathan Rosenblum’s article. On the one hand, he says that people are obligated to listen to bans, and are not to debate their propriety. On the other hand, he proceeds to acknowledge that bans are often issued on the basis of exaggerated claims by “well-meaning” askanim. Isn’t that debating their propriety? (I am reminded of a letter from Rav Aharon Feldman, in which he quoted Rav Elyashiv as saying that the ban on Tehilla Abramov’s book is baseless since those who signed were misled as to the book’s contents.)

    He then says that “the Gedolim, of course, know all this.” Know all what? Does he mean that he knows that people exaggerate and distort the facts for them? If so, then his article is entirely redundant, because surely the Gedolim can compensate accordingly. So presumably he does not mean that they know that they are being given false information; he means instead that they know that a ban based on exaggerations is wrong. In that case, why are they listening to well-meaning askanim who are acknowledged by R. Rosenblum to provide false information?

  9. zadok says:

    We also say ‘V’oso Mishmeres L’Mismartey’.
    I would appreciate if RJR would give some clear evidence that mass bans are usually only signed because of well meaning but ill advised askanim.

  10. Bob Miller says:

    I think Jonathan Rosenblum means to say that the lines of communication both to and from the Gedolim need to be repaired, to make it easier for decisions to be properly made and properly released to the relevant public.

  11. Ari says:

    R. Slifkin: your steerah is elegantly Talmudic. I suspect that the author’s choice of words were a fig leaf for his Eitz Hadas analogy. (Because, as you know, if we eat from the Eitz Hadas, we get banished from Gan Eden.) To be fair, though, we need to acknowledge the author’s conundrum and applaud him for trying to grapple with it, and raise awareness respectfully. It’s a good start.

  12. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Natan Slifkin, are you the Zoo Torah guy? If so, I’d like to thank you for many hours of educational entertainment. Bringing Torah into zoology is a good kiruv tool, IMHO.

    For the substance of your comment, I think Jonathan Rosenblum is trying to do a very difficult job. If I understand things correctly, Charedi society, at least in Israel, is essentially a theocracy. The leaders derive their authority from their knowledge of the Torah, and thus ultimately from G-d. It is very difficult for members of such a community to process any criticism, since it would be immediately perceived as an attack against their religion as well as their society.

    If Jonathan Rosenblum had suggested putting individual bans up for debate, I doubt Mishpacha would have published it. If Mishpacha had published it, I suspect most of the target audience would have tuned it out. It is only by making it clear that his purpose is to strengthen bans and therefore Charedi society in general that he can get past those mental defenses and plant the idea that maybe bans are a bit overused.

    I wouldn’t want to live in such a society, but there must be advantages since some people do choose that.

  13. Baruch Horowitz says:

    Excellent article! I think it follows the concept of R. Teitelabum’s focusing on both Askonim and individual’s need to follow(parenthetically, a similar point was made by Marvin Schik in “Lead us by Teaching”), but JR emphasizes as well the difference between a community-specific versus a general ban for everyone, without going into the specifics of the actual major bans.

    It is obvious that any discussion of the banning process can lead one to further question elements of the Gedolim’s leadership in the banning process, and that’s the reason why public discussion is avoided. Either way, this needed to be discussed respectfully, but openly, and I see the article as one small step for Mishpacha and a giant leap for openness in the Charedi media.

    Hopefully, there will be some type of change for the better, even though bans represent an attempt to deal with continuing outside influences, the latter which will not relent. I think Askonim need to be better informed of the entire situation and view these items more as Klal Yisrael issues, not only as local matters; ideally Askonim should even have consultation with rabbonim of other camps–Chazal tell us that a Chacham(wise person) learns from everyone, even the smallest person. Such a broader view can affect subtlety of decisions, at least in terms of language of bans.

    Finally, I sympathize with the plight of anyone referred in, “we should not look lightly upon encouraging generally upright Jews to see themselves as dwelling apart”. From the human side, people are not happy being “rebels”, so at a certain point, they might very well question whether it is worth it to be part of “the camp of those faithful to the directives of the gedolim”, in terms of cost/benefit of joining a different camp with a different set of rabbinical leaders. Here, a personal rav or rebbe can be a lifesaver, either in psak, as far as determining what’s a ban directed at the entire community and what is not, or in general, in terms of chizuk(encouragement).

  14. Elliot B. Pasik, Esq. says:

    Good points by Rabbi Slifkin, and I agree.

    Good points by Jonathan Rosenblum, and I agree.

    I was once involved in a ban, and boy did I make a mistake which I’ll never forget. It was the late 70s, and I had recently returned to New York after learning at Ohr Somayach, Jerusalem. Filled with self-righteous fervor, I came across a Purim spoof which mimicked the look and style of The Jewish Press. Yes, it was funny, but there was way too much leitsis directed at Yiddiskeit and gedolim. My friends agreed. We took the issue to Rav Moshe Feinstein. A relative close to Rav Moshe read three pertinent passages to him. After the first passage, Rav Moshe basically said, Not so terrible. After the second passage, his expression changed. After the third passage – the worst – Rav Moshe got angry – something almost unheard of. Rav Moshe made some strong statements condemning the Purim “newspaper”. All of this was reported to me. So I wrote an article for the real Jewish Press reporting that the unauthorized Purim paper was banned. Whoops. Now it got back to me that the gadol hador, Rav Moshe Feinstein, did not ban the Purim paper, he strongly disapproved of it.

    In my humble opinion, I think we need more of this attitude today.


    Poor Jonathan Rosenblum. He is trying to square the circle or, to use a rabbinic metaphor, to break the jug and not spill the wine. He knows full well that the recent spate of bans signed by the gedolim are overkill and counterproductive, so he is trying to say that while at the same time exempt the gedolim from criticism for signing them. I do not envy him task.

  16. LOberstein says:

    What I detect here is that Jonathan , whom I admire for his willingness to take on this and other such issues, is aware of a dichotomy dividing “American Chareidim” and Eretz Yisroeldike Chareidim, ( I don’t want to hurt their feelings calling them Israelis). As more olim of the American type settle in Israel, they will either develope their own gedolim and institutions or they will be forced to sublimate their real feelings to the group discipline. The latter leads to a lot of kids at risk,etc. The two groups are not “coming from the same place”. Amerian society has enabled us to be both frum and secularly educated and we are not despised by our fellow Americans. In Israel there is a war going on for over a century between secularists and the Old Yishuv.
    Circling the wagons, forbidding contact with the apikorsim , building a wall of seperation is the failing but time honored strategy. In short, we are not they. I applaud Mishpacha Magazine for its courage and hope that American Chareidim in Israel will have the backbone to do what is yoshor ve tov, right and just, according to our mesora.We have succeeded so much more than they, why feel inferior?

  17. Menachem Lipkin says:

    Reminds me of a Star Trek episode called “Patterns of Force”. (Halevi I should remember my learning this well!) John Gill, a historical researcher, violates the “Prime Directive” and tries using the order initially brought by Germany’s National Socialist Party to tame a savage population on the planet Ekos. Gill becomes ill, and one his aides manipulates the populace via Gill to turn the planet into exact replica of Nazi Germany. As the crew of Enterprise arrives Ekos is about to launch it’s “Final Solution” to destroy neighboring planet “Zeon”.

    Of course I’m not saying that anyone is becoming Nazis nor are the handlers intent on evil, but this does illustrate what can happen when those with the wisdom to lead are unable to or prevented from doing so.

    If Jonathan Rosenblum is, ever so delicately, sounding a warning bell in a Chareidi publication then we must realize just how serious, in reality, the situation is. And whether we’re Chareidi or not this is adversely affecting all of us.

    Live long and prosper.

  18. Miriam Shear says:

    This article is a masterpiece not only for the points it raises but in the way Rosenblum addresses them. But, at the same time, Rabbi Slifkin is correct: If an agreement (such as the agreement to ban) is based on false premises, then the entire agreement is null and void. In the same way that any contract can be rendered invalid if entered into in a fraudulent manner. Let’s stop playing semantics and say it like it really is: Anyone in the Chareidi community who dares question any Gadol is immediately delegitimized. The fact that the Gadol was given false information becomes irrelevant because – as the thinking goes – a Gadol can never be wrong, can never make a mistake, he’s too smart to “not see through a lie”, and – this is my favorite – “if he chas v’shalom by some fluke did, then it was min hashemayim”. Lawrence Kaplan is correct in his pitious sentiments for Rosenblum: Trying to respectfully raise legitimate questions that evolve from intellectual honesty without being tarred and feathered is the ultimate tightrope walk.

  19. BB says:

    Based on the response quoted from Rav Elyahiv, that something wasn’t assured in the SH”A, does that mean that all bans are direct reaffitmations of halachah in SH”A? That isn’t really true. But the case in point, the concerned citizens were trying to enforce V’Nishmartem which is a halachah.

    Meaning, how far from the original halacha does a ban have to be to be considered not in SH”A?

  20. Binyomin Eckstein says:

    In light of all the recent articles written by some major educators and journalists regarding the spate of bans that have been issued in the past few years by the Gedolim, and the negative effects that issuance of these bans may have, I feel that one niche of this issue has not been evaluated to the extent it deserves.

    R’ Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler famously wrote the following: (Michtav MeEliyahu vol. III, page 356-357):
    “Frankfurt – allowed Mada and inserted studying in University into the realm of L’Chatchila of Chinuch. The price they paid for this, was that there was a reduction in the number of Gedolei Torah among their protégés, and even among those learned Torah in the Yeshivos of Lithuania and Poland and Mada in Germany, only a very few of them became great Lomdim. However, they gained that the number of those who were ruined was very small, and although in the essential purity of the Hashkafos in regard to the totally absolute truth of the holy Torah, in a situation where Mada contradicts it, was somewhat deficient by way of a strange partnership, that it is possible to combine a real contradiction in one heart, nevertheless almost all of them remained Mitzvah observant with Mesirus Nefesh, and some of them are very careful even in Dikdukei Mitzvos.

    But the system of the Yeshivos is – to establish as the solitary goal, to raise Gedolei Torah and Yiras Shamayim as one, and for this reason forbade university for their protégés, because they saw no way of raising Gedolei Torah unless they concentrate all of the efforts of their protégés to Torah alone. However, we should not think that they did not know in advance that in this manner some would be ruined, since they would not be able to handle this extremeness, and would separate from the path of Torah, but that is the price which they would pay for Gedolei Torah and Yiras Shamayim who would be educated in their Yeshivos. Of course, they stand on guard to do what they can to rectify those who could not remain Bnei Torah, but not in a manner which would draw the rest after them…”

    It seems fairly obvious that this Mahalach is the one adopted by Gedolei Eretz Yisrael today as well, to wit:

    The books of R’ Natan Slifkin are not appropriate reading for those in the Charedi system who are aspiring to build a rock solid Torah Hashkafa based on what they feel the correct way (or, at the very least, certainly, the way most conducive to the above-stated goal) to reconcile Torah and Mada issues.

    The MOAG ban was based on the need to keep those young aspiring Gedolim free of anything which would make them rethink or slacken in their dedication to becoming such, in light of some stories therein.

    The concert ban is based on the idea that there are problematic elements in some of them, and that aspiring R’ Elyashivs and R’ Steinmans have no place there.

    And the list goes on.

    Points for consideration:
    1) Who knows best how to create Eretz Yisrael caliber Gedolim?
    2) Are we willing to jettison the Olam HaTorah in EY in favor of the “Frankfurt” model?
    3) Should we be willing to put up with losses, and how many, for the sake of having Gedolim? (REED implies even a thousand to one).

  21. The Hedyot says:

    > Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky, once convened a conference of yeshiva principals and demanded that they all make space in their institutions for newly arrived Russian immigrants. “And if we don’t?” one asked. Rav Yaakov replied that anyone who did not would be read out of the community.

    This story (and the one about the tests) clearly shows that even the roshei yeshiva don’t buy into this concept of da’as torah (aside from paying mere lip service). So if they don’t really believe it, and the people aren’t buying it, then who still believes it? The askan of the moment who is trying to get everyone to go along with his new edict? The gedolim themselves? From R’ Yakov’s reaction, it seems that even he doesn’t believe it. He doesn’t respond with “I’m the gadol and halacha mandates that you have to listen to me!” Instead, he responds with a political move that they can’t bear to suffer.

  22. Baruch Horowitz says:

    Binyomin Eckstein:

    Excellent analysis. I once heard that R. Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg zt’l rejected a Cracow bachur to the Rabbiner Seminar because of some variation of the reasons you state–the approach wasn’t for him. On the other hand, elsewhere, Rav Dessler speaks of the Rambam providing special intellectual guidance for those that needed it, as long as it’s not against halacha. Does the individual intellectual approach exist today at all, or is everyone now the same? Also, Rav Dessler himself says that one tries not to sacrifice anyone, and indeed as in the JO article, no one wants a new community of Adults at Risk, to “sacrifice 1,000”, in order to create gedolim.

    The historical context is very important to the analysis, because there definitely exist differences between Volozhin, Germany, and Rambam’s era(eg, today’s at risk teens/adults aren’t part of the Haskalah environment, and in any event, the current educational approach has been to strengthen Torah and Jewish living from within instead of directly engaging foreign ideas). Yet, one would think that the broadest options should be kept open if they were previously acceptable as an “individualized approach”, instead of settling age-old arguments. Possibly, one can interpret(or reinterpret) the specific element of any rejection of R Avroham ben Harambam et al, certainly to any extent that such is unrelated to the books of RNS, as a “ban of ideas directed at a specific community”, but I am not an insider to determine what ban is directed to whom.

  23. LOberstein says:

    Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky was the only godol who spoke at the 1980 Knessiah Gedola in Yerushalayim and apologized for speaking in Yiddish. He said that he should have spoken in Hebrew so more people would understand but he simply wasn’t able to. If it is not belittling , I would say that Rav Yaakov was a real mentsh. Rav Moshe Feinstein was a baal midos tovos without parallel. Rav Ruderman was willing to be makail for Torah Mesorah in day school situations that required it. Major changes have to take place in chareidi society and it is being fought every step of the way. Poverty is not a l’chatchila condition and living off of tzedaka with no job skills is not the way Jews ever lived except in the Old Yishuv.It is an aberation and its time will run out.

  24. Jewish Observer says:

    “Amerian society has enabled us to be both frum and secularly educated”

    – this is not the charedi world I observe in Passaic, Brooklyn, Monsey, Lakewood, Montreal, etc. etc. etc. Baltimore is an aberration and not considered charedi by many in the aforementioned “mainstream” American charedi circles among whom Ner iSrael is considered perhaps “one shade better than YU”. It sounds harsh but I am just the messenger.

  25. Dr. E says:

    I think that the askanim overestimate the subserviance of the populous to the bans that they choreograph. The growing cynicism towards the issuers that the Askanim have undoubtedly caused, in conjunction with the lack of viable alternatives associated with the bans (not to mention the dire financial circumstances of the flock) have resulted in chinks in the armor of Daas Torah superiority.

    Although I understand his point, I must take issue with LObersteins dichotomy of Chareidim in America and in Israel. The world is a much smaller place today. There is far too much overlap to assert that these are typologies that have little to do with one another. Many “American Chareidim” have children who learn in Eretz Yisroel or who settle there in Chareidi enclaves in which they buy into the “package” (e.g., bans, our way or the highway, all other views are treif, etc.). Either after they return to America or through communication in either direction, they carry over the EY-dikke way of thinking to their parents or others. While some parents may be able to maintain some healthy ideological distance from their children’s newfound exclusionist ideology, more and more either see its validity as a necessary prerequisite to dealing with the outside world–or are at least willing to grin and bear it. And certainly, the grandchildren are following their parents more than the “compromised” values of the Alter Bubbie and Zaidie as well as the American (and European) Gedolim of yesteryear. Not to play Gedolim against one another, but in the past 10 years or so, the Halacha and Hashkafa of Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky have dropped in relevance, not only in EY but in America as well. I think that this is merely a symptom of the aforementioned phenomenon that we can attribute to the savvy Askanim for. Thanks guys.

    The irony is that some American-born Chareidi writers know all too well that this is happening to their own children and grandchildren. They undoubtedly experience cognitive dissonance on this.

  26. Elitzur says:

    Binyomin, the situation in Israel is the ultimate proof against R’ Dessler.

  27. Yehoshua Mandelcorn says:

    We can educate our sons to be good husbands a) starting at age 6, b) right after they get married or c) after their wives complain to the Rosh Yeshiva.
    But if at age 6 they are being taught that only thing that is important is to become the next Rosh Yeshiva
    than mundane items such as secular studies which will help them fulfill the biblical obligation of providing for their wives fall by the wayside.
    Historically, most of our leaders have not led super insulated lives where they were relieved of any worldly concerns and could study Torah uninterrupted until they were ready to assume positions of leadership. Involvement in worldly concerns is an essential part of the total education of a potential leader. A Torah leader has to be self motivated and decide to choose that path on his own, and not to fulfill his parents dreams.

  28. sima ir kodesh says:

    Posters forbidding, bans, No! No!, that is the lifestyle of Israeli living particulary in Yerushayalim. Walk down Malchai Yisroel, kikar shabbat and star at the latest posters describing in poetic ivrit the forbidden fruits: NO internet, NO shtiels the color blonde, No denim clothes allowed, NO sitting in Pizza shops only take-out, NO computer courses allowed, NO working in any non-charedi office, NO chol hamoed tiyulim outside of Yerushalaim, NO newspaper to be read except for…,
    NO shopping in store ? due, NO traveling in Bus # ? due to….., I suppose you get the gist of the bannnnnnnnsssss.

  29. LOberstein says:

    My Israeli charedi daughter in law and son in law ( obviously ,married to 2 of my children) regularly chide me on expressing politically incorrect views. They may agree that much of what I say is correct but they feel that it is a bad influence on their children if their zaidey doesn’t show proper reverance for the gedolim. It is bettr to be quiet than to upset the apple cart.
    I love them all,but this is what I answered one of them.” I think that the tragedy of our generation is that we have lost the abiltity to say “eilu vo eilu divrei elokim chaim”. Let the rabbis of the Old Yishuv do whatever they want but they are not the ones to decide for America. Let them say that they don’t want evolution taught in their chadorim, no one expects them to. What I do not like to see is the harshness of the decree that tells me that I cannot allow Schweky to daven for the amud in my shul because he performs at a concert where tzniyus is enforced by seperate seating. However, I think that if evey possible type of fun if forbidden, from playing ball to going to a concert, you will just encourage kids to rebel. I think their methods are counter-productive.”
    I say things that many people think but are reticent to say. It is like the fairy tale “the Kings New Clothes”. So, I want to explain to you that my motivation is not a lack of respect for great rabbis, it is in fact the opposite. I saw great rabbis up close and they were all human beings. None were infalible . I cannot imagine any of my great rabbeim participating in personal condemnations of people who are different, which is really what I find most hard to accept. My rabbeim were such good people, their loshon was noki, their midos superb”

  30. Yisroel Moshe says:

    R’ Jonathan,

    Rabbi Adlerstein constantly makes mention of a shady assortment of extremists who are working to create a monolithic version of Chareidi Judaism and undermine Gedolim of yesterday and today who have cfafted a more modern Hashkafah than the Lakewood Yeshiva(aka: The Kaminetsky family).

    My question is: is there a conection between these “Kana’im” and these well meaning Askanim?

  31. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Question related to Yisroel Moshe’s question. If you think there is a connection between these Kana’im and the (hopefully) well meaning Askanim, would you say so? Or would saying this in a public forum make your target audience less receptive to your message?

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