Why I Love Rav Shmuel – And Will Advocate Vaccination Nonetheless

There is no contradiction. Anyone who finds one has targeted a straw man.

I have had the benefit of association with three generations of Kamenetskys. They have never, ever let me down when I have turned to them for guidance and insight.

The short but meaningful times I spent with both Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l and Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l provided the bases of a lifetime of confidence in the halachic system, and in the concept of emunas chachamim.

Making the transition from a fairly black yeshiva to teaching at a West Coast institution with the name YU just would not have happened without Rav Yaakov reassuring me that it was a good move. I am still in awe of the precision and focus of a man well into his eighties, late at night, as I drove him from Brooklyn to his home in Monsey. Watching and listening to him provided unshakeable evidence that mussar could work – that the visions of R Yisrael Salanter and the Alter of Slabodka were no pipe dream.

Lehavdil bein chaim le-chaim, Rav Shmuel continued the trademark smile of his father, as well as copious advice, to me and to all my family members who have sought it. The advice he gave about matters of chinuch and shidduchim always went beyond common sense to an uncommon sense that combined decades of hands-on experience with the acute penetration of an active Torah mind.

My children have sat in his office as he tried to balance a conversation with them and incessant emergency phone interruptions, often concerning sordid and scandalous situation that would have driven the average decent man to insanity. He handled all of them with patience and aplomb – and resumed his smile.

He has been there as we have had to puzzle through issues of whether a young attorney should move to a more demanding firm so that he might have more freedom in his life years in the future, and which community offered greater opportunities for developing inner talents that had not yet been tapped. He has held our hands through family crises, and helped us stay clear of conflicts we could not win. Torn by opposing arguments concerning important hashkafic issues, he provided the assurance that could only come from someone at the summit of the Torah hierarchy.

In more recent years, when I found some changes and features of the contemporary Torah scene maddening, it has been his son, Rav Sholom, who has kept me sane. (Some might take issue with that.) Besides his conviction, I delight in his genius.

So will I waver in my belief in the efficacy of vaccination, and that schools should absolutely bar children who have not been inoculated? Not a chance.

The concept of daas Torah as I understand it (as do many of my colleagues) means several things – but stays clear of others.

It means:

• Accepting major Torah policy decisions arrived at when the vast majority of gedolei Torah – meeting together! – comes to such a decision. I don’t think such a meeting has taken place in decades. (They have taken place if one narrows his definition of gedolim to a particular subgroup of talmidei chachamim, which should of course be followed by those who identify with that subgroup to the exclusion of other groups.)
• Cherishing the special insight that comes from spending a life-time immersed in Torah thought. Sometimes, this must be coupled with hands-on experience with the nuances of a local situation. Sometimes, the question is generic enough that it needn’t be.
• Seeking the advice of a gadol when one cannot fully grasp the fine points of a hashkafic dilemma, or how to proceed when at an impasse about selecting from competing options.

It does not mean:

• Relying on their opinion in matters of general culture or science, particularly when one has strong, well-founded opinions himself.

I understand that there are different models of relating to Torah leaders. Prof. Yaakov Elman, writing about R. Hutner’s embrace of individuality and autonomy in the current issue of Tradition, cites a passage that appeared in the Hebrew edition of Mishpacha (13 Tishrei 5772), but was elided in the English version:

The dependence that a Belzer hasid develops for his rebbe is thus absolute. Any question, small or large, is referred to the rebbe, and when the answer arrives (not always quickly), it is accepted without demur. When there are questions or disagreements within Belzer shtieblach or its institutions, it is the rebbe’s view that is determinative, even when it is surprising or totally different from what was expected. Der rebbe hot geheisen (the rebbe has commanded) is the usual expression employed in Belz.

Rav Shmuel might be disappointed by my strong belief in the scientific case for vaccination, but I doubt if he will hold it against me. After all, it was his father, Rav Moshe, and others of that generation who lived and taught a different model.

While I have never met a chosid who actually thought his rebbe infallible, the possibility of error looms even larger in the (old) Litvishe approach with which I am comfortable. This is actually liberating, rather than shocking. Virtually everyone will be let down at times by the people he looks up to. We should not be crushed when this happens. If we only learn from perfect people, we will learn from no one. Gadlus does not mean perfection; great people sometimes make mistakes, and even have identifiable areas of weakness. Our job is to admire the greatness, and learn from them at the times that they display the luster, not the tarnish.

One of my greatest frustrations as a teacher is my inability to convey a true sense of gadlus to talmidim who have never had the privilege that I had – of meeting real gedolim. I have never found a solution to this problem.

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36 Responses

  1. Chardal says:

    >Cherishing the special insight that comes from spending a life-time immersed in Torah thought. Sometimes, this must be coupled with hands-on experience with the nuances of a local situation. Sometimes, the question is generic enough that it needn’t be.

    This is the Achilles heel that is undermined by R’ Shmuel’s comments regarding vaccinations. It betrayed a failure of grasping the fundamentals of critical thought which are so valued by the educated modern man. It showed a preference for weak anecdotal evidence in favor of scientific double blind studies.

    The post above justifies a version of daas Torah that allows personal autonomy. That is great. But that is not the problem with R’ Shmuel’s statement. The problem is that it shows that people steeped in Torah are capable of basic logical errors that average people can sniff out without said lifetime of study. For those of us who think that Torah knowledge is only as valuable as its proper position in a broader holistic intellectual life, this is not a problem. R’ Shmuel is simply from a tzibbur which actively denies its adherents access to said broader intellectual life and therefore both the conclusions and the proper affect Torah should have on the human intellect are expected by us to be missing. However, for people who believe that Torah in and of itself without being placed in a broader intellectual scope, creates great thinkers, if these people are also educated in science and empiricism, his statement is highly problematic.

    [YA – I suspected that someone would fall into this trap, but I didn’t think it would be you! Shtei teshuvos b’davar: 1) It seems that this has little to do with secular exposure. The ranks of the anti-vaccine camp are flush with monied, degreed yuppie types. It is the truck drivers who get it right. Go figure. 2) anyone who knows the Kamenetzkys knows that this has nothing to do with intellectual myopia. The engine behind this is the Rebbetzin, who has long had strong feelings about an entire constellation of related issues – many shared by all the “beautiful people” here in LaLAland. Anyone who thinks that strong women don’t influence their husbands should reexamining their thinking.]

  2. brooklyn refugee sheygitz says:

    whatever one thinks of “daas torah”, I believe that the concept you describe when writing “They have taken place if one narrows his definition of gedolim to a particular subgroup of talmidei chachamim, which should of course be followed by those who identify with that subgroup to the exclusion of other groups.” is not that of “daas torah” but rather the concept of “mara d’atra” as relevant to the modren era

    I.e. when a small group of livishe roshei yeshiva or a small group of certain admorim get together and make a prounouncement it os not “daas torah” binding on all of klal yisrael. it is a pronouncement of the “mara d’tra” which should be followed by the people who follows this group – and no more

  3. dr. bill says:

    I would summarize Julie Berman’s recent essay in Jewish Action as follows. Opinions must 1) provide their halakhic / logical basis, 2) be based on demonstrated familiarity with the domain of discourse and 3) identify whether they are halakhically binding or sagacious advice. I would add that in any case, they cannot/do not preempt disagreement with other opinions that meet the above standards.

    History is replete with examples of great (halakhic) authorities who offered an occasional opinion that was (dangerously)incorrect. How dispositive that opinion ought be in evaluating the individual depends on many factors. In this particular case, an even more remarkable story was told to me over dinner by someone (a “grey hat”) who became Head of School at a non-Orthodox high school, with precise and effective guidelines/rules, on Rav Shmuel’s advice. After many years there, those rules forced him to leave; he is now principal at a modern orthodox HS.

  4. joel rich says:

    You might be interested in looking at the current post on torahmusings on the subject of Daat Torah as well as R’ Julius Berman’s recemt Jewish Action article.

    Your piece seems to imply that R’SK should be given great deference but in some situations (e.g. vaccination) not complete deference. How do you decide when your wisdom should bow to his and when not? How do you (or does he) decide when to take time from his massive communal responsibilities to assist individuals, and which individuals to assist with his irreplacable insight?

    [YA The quick answer to both of those questions has gone out of vogue today, but used to be a given: For some questions, HKBH gave us brains to figure things out ourselves!]

  5. RBS Resident says:

    Take your Talmidim to meet Rav Asher Weiss Shlita and Rav Hershal Schachter Shlita- it is a treat they will not forget!

    [YA – They are at the top of my list as well, but you’ve missed the point. The vast majority of people do not and will not have access to people like them.]

  6. Ron Yitzchok Eisenman says:

    Thank you for the article, one question please. At the end of the article you state:”One of my greatest frustrations as a teacher is my inability to convey a true sense of gadlus to talmidim who have never had the privilege that I had – of meeting real gedolim. I have never found a solution to this problem.”
    Could Rav Adlerstein please clearly explain who decides and how does one know who are the “real Gedolim”?
    Can I infer that since your talmidim have never met them, that there are none to be found?
    thank you

    [YA – 1) I’m surprised by the question, coming from you. There are lots of people on the editorial staff of Mishpacha, for which you write, who will have to trouble furnishing you with a definition of what a real gadol is, and contact information for all contenders. Aside from them, many have written on this topic. My own (decidedly Litvishe, which means it won’t work for you) definition, FWIW relies heavily on a zog from a friend who is a Reform rabbi. Once asked how he would differentiate between good and not so good rabbis, he said that the most telling indicator was whom he turned to ask for guidance and counsel. The really good ones are the ones whom many people point to. In the same vein, I would say that the gadol is the one whose learning is no impressive that even those who fiercely disagree with him feel they must seek him out for his depth or his insight. 2) Please make no such inference. We have gedolim, including lots that you and I have never met. But we don’t have enough for a community that has, BH, exploded in numbers. So many if not most people will go through life without gaining meaningful access to them.]

  7. Bob Miller says:

    Very few of us, if any today, have total, up-to-date expertise in all areas of halacha and its practical application. All others need from time to time to consult with the best available subject matter experts, including rabbonim, professionals in medicine and other scientific disciplines, etc. Even our highest level rabbonim can need expert input.

  8. Yossie Abramson says:

    R’ Adlerstein,
    I mostly agree with you, however R’ SK was not merely giving advice, he was giving his halachic interpretation. He stated two halachos that most do not agree with.
    1) That a parent has the right to not vaccinate. and more dangerously,
    2) A school HAS to accept children with a “religious” exemption. The local school in Philadelphia follows this psak and allows local families to attend school even while their children are putting other children at risk.

    To state that it’s OK to not vaccinate is not OK halachically. We must not shy around that fact. R’ SK is 100% wrong on this, and indeed several people close to him have been speaking with him on this issue. Ask him what would happen should a child get sick and a parent has to miss work due to that. Can they sue the non-vaccinated children’s parents?

    In addition, it wasn’t just a mere “vaccines are scary” rhetoric, that would be one thing, but he said 1) the vaccines are worse than the disease and 2) the polio vaccine is a hoax. He must be called out on this, with the utmost respect, but he still must be called out on this.

    [YA – I don’t think that “he needs to be called out.” You can and should fight both locally and beyond to see that children are not endangered, and that therefore people follow the other strong voices in the Torah community that have come out strongly in the other direction.]

  9. statesmen says:

    While all the points in the post are reasonable and one can respect your view, I cannot help but get the feeling that you have simply created a concept of daas torah that fits what you want. You want daas torah to mean certain things. You don’t want it to mean other things. So you have created an elaborate definition that fits all of your parameters. It is true that there might be lots of people who follow this approach, but that doesn’t make it any less subjective and arbitrary.

    [YA While I don’t blame you in the slightest for being suspicious, the definition is not subjective and arbitrary, but really what many of us heard (or thought we heard) a mere generation ago from our rabbeiim. I’m much more suspicious of the current definition!]

  10. Heshy Bulman says:

    Re: The statement –
    “It does not mean:
    • Relying on their opinion in matters of general culture or science, particularly when one has strong, well-founded opinions himself.”
    Does this include ones strong, well founded opinion concerning end-of-life issues? How about stem cell research? And where did the idea come from that “Daas Torah” is predicated upon “the vast majority of gedolei Torah – meeting together! – coming to a decision”? Seems way too nuanced to me (perhaps politically correct in these times that are so volatile for the Frum community?) I beg to differ – Emunas Chachamim is based upon Yiras Shamayim, first and foremost. It is dependent upon “Asei Lecha Rav”. As for General Culture – this is an oxymoron if ever there was one – in GENERAL, there is no normative CULTURE in this crazy mixed up world.

  11. DavidF says:

    “One of my greatest frustrations as a teacher is my inability to convey a true sense of gadlus to talmidim who have never had the privilege that I had – of meeting real gedolim. I have never found a solution to this problem.”

    I respectfully beg to differ. There is no shortage of “real Gedolim” so long as one does not have outsized and outlandish expectations of them. Never in history did being a gadol mean weighing in on all sorts of issues that one would not be expected to be familiar with nor did it mean being infallible. Being a Gadol B’Torah meant exactly that: you were a person who had invested significant years into studying Torah and absorbing it to a degree that was uncommon. There are many such people today that we can look up for their Gadlus B’Torah. Some even give great advice. None are infallible and the smarter ones don’t express opinions on matters that they have little familiarity with.

  12. L. Oberstein says:

    “my inability to convey a true sense of gadlus to talmidim who have never had the privilege that I had – of meeting real gedolim.’ You have hit the nail on the head. I just finished reading the biograqphy of Rav Dessler and saw how different he was from contemporary standards. He believed in educating women on a high intellectual level, the book is replete with pictures of his family member including females. He studied science so as to deal with the issues that concerned his students. His self control and adherance to the spirit,not just the letter of the law was something that I could relate to only because I saw my late great Rebbe, Rav Dovid Kronglass and he was such a person. Rav Shmuel is a wonderful person and he has been chased (nirdof) because he doesn’t always say what others want him to say or hold. His midos set a standard that his critics should exemplify. Saying all that, there are magazines selling to the chareidi public that are suspicious of modern medicine including vaccinations. These publications help spread this fallacicious fear . Everfy medical professional I have spoken to says that it is not right to subject other children to your child who has not been immunized. It is not only what you do to your child but how it affects others. Yet, nothing any of us write will sway those opposed to vaccinations because their minds are made up. They don’t trust medicine.

  13. Shades of Gray says:

    “R’ Shmuel is simply from a tzibbur which actively denies its adherents access to said broader intellectual life and therefore both the conclusions and the proper affect Torah should have on the human intellect are expected by us to be missing.”

    I can bring an example showing R. Shmuel as scientifically progressive. In March, R. Shmuel participated together with Dr. Yitzchak Schechter of the Center for Applied Psychology at a Monsey event for parents titled “Talking To Your Children About Development, Maturity and the Responsibility That Goes With It”, described in Hamodia as “groundbreaking”. (I also recall hearing that the Noverminsker Rebbe, whose first wife was a social worker, spoke at the Nefesh psychology convention a few years ago).

  14. Dr. E says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein:

    While I appreciate your articulation of your model for Daas Torah and its parameters (which I’m sure will be at odds with some of your chaveirim—then again, that would not be a chiddush  ), there are some things in your post with which I am uncomfortable.

    First, at least the way that the press has covered Rav Shmuel’s inclination here is indicative of the tendency for Torah luminaries to be manipulated. He seems to have been led to the conclusion that the vaccination movement is somehow a conspiracy. It is extremely rare for a Litvish Rosh Yeshiva to venture off-the-daf and have a vested interest in such an issue like public health, to the extent that he takes a public position on what is essentially a purely medical philosophy issue. So, it sounds like someone with an agenda (which you attribute to his Rebbitzen) put him up to it. (Might the process of his being misinformed in fact might be a secondary reason for your rejecting this particular position?) To date, I have seen no statement to the contrary of the way which his opinion on vaccinations was described in the story, in terms of being misquoted.

    Second, there is a local day school in my community in which Rav Shmuel has become the de facto Head of School in paskening on chinuch questions and policy issues which arise. Unfortunately, there is now a subset of parents who are now using him to sign off on their exemption forms. Based on that, their kids have subsequently avoided vaccination and are attending classes like everyone else. I presume that this practice will continue. As such, I presume that you would be uncomfortable if your grandchildren attended this school, and the matter would no longer be at the theoretical level.

    Finally, a tangential point which you included “l’shvach” also bothers me. You alluded to your children having an audience with Rav Shmuel and he had to interrupt with attending to various emergencies. That obviously means that he has been in the trenches in dealing with the problems within the Yeshivish community. But, to me, that merely speaks of the collective self-deprecation which we have seen recently at the communal level. A symptom of this has been that schools and organizations have neither trained nor empowered professionals to attend to their own affairs and handle at a local level. Why invest in all of that, when all you need to do is use your “lifeline”, make a phone call, and absolve any responsibility for the decision? As insightful and sharp as he may be, his knowledge of facts on the ground is ultimately limited to the information which has been filtered to him by the caller. The fact that we have seen a bit of that lately with the seminary scandal where a ruling was rendered without hearing from the other side, seems to indicate such a trend.

  15. Menachem Lipkin says:

    Thank you for a wonderfully sane and refreshing conception of “Daas Torah”. Especially what it is not!

  16. SA says:

    Could someone just explain the science to me here? If you vaccinate your own children, and they go to school with unvaccinated children, your own are still protected from disease, aren’t they? It’s the parents who refuse to vaccinate (even though they are overwhelmingly likely to have been vaccinated themselves) who are taking chances with their own children.

    I”m not denying that this is a public policy issue, but why do we as individuals have to feel uncomfortable if our children/grandchildren attend such a school?

  17. Uziel Snyder says:

    Heshy Bulman, did you just try to equate vaccinations with stem cells and end-of-life? Those two are ethical dilemmas; vaccinations are scientifically proven to save millions of lives every year. Doing away with vaccines will undoubtedly result in a return of horrible pandemics that will decimate our communities.

  18. Menachem Lipkin says:

    SA, there are two issues. Vaccines are not 100% effective so there are some children who are unprotected. There are also a subset of children who cannot take the vaccines for various reasons, for example they could be on chemo or have some illness that prevents it. When a certain percentage of population is vaccinated, say 90% as an example, the diseases is effectively eradicated. If the percentage drops below that level then the disease can re-enter the population putting at risk those who weren’t protected and who couldn’t be vaccinated. It’s truly an issue of “areivut” on a societal level.

  19. Nachum says:

    SA: In addition to what Menachem Lipkin wrote (I would add: infants too young to have received all their shots yet), we can add two more:

    1. Should parents be allowed to endanger their own kids’ health? Usually they are not, and are prosecuted if they do.

    2. Philosophically, we are opposed to ignorance.

    As to R’ Adlerstein, I am a bit disappointed.

  20. lawrence kaplan says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein: I do not believe that you responded to Yossi Abramson’s main point. It is not just that R. Kaminetsky espouses foolish and dangerous views about vaccines and advises parents not to vaccinate. Bad enough. It is his view, as Abramson points out, that “1) a parent has the right to not vaccinate. and more dangerously, 2) A school HAS to accept children with a “religious” exemption. The local school in Philadelphia follows this psak and allows local families to attend school even while their children are putting other children at risk.” This last matter is not just matter of very bad science but of very bad psak, and would seem to raise the issue of Daas Torah in its starkest form. Should the local Day School feel bound by this pask given its flawed basis and dangerous consequences?

    [YA I was under the impression that the decision of the school had little to do with the general concept of Daas Torah, so much as having a policy of taking questions that it cannot resolve on its own to a single Torah authority. As the author of the single most-read paper that got people (some people at least) to think more deeply about the current conception of Daas Torah, you certainly are aware of communities and/or institutions that turned over the centuries to a single Torah luminary for binding guidance. The choice of Rav Shmuel – especially in his city of Philadelphia! – is hardly surprising or a consequence of the expansion of the Daas Torah idea beyond what it was when you wrote about it. Neither is it all that surprising that when you turn to a single individual – as Rav of the city, rabbinic advisor to the Board of a school, or member of the Moetzes – you sometimes get a curve ball sent back at you.

    To answer the question: if the school is constitutionally bound to listen to Rav Shmuel, they may have little choice, other than to appeal to him to allow them to follow the many others who have weighed in on the other side. If they are not constitutionally bound, why would they not follow the strong feelings of the vast majority of the parent body and proceed according to the opinions voiced by other important rabbonim – even if not of Rav Shmuel’s stature?]

  21. Shlomo Dovid says:

    Anyone know of any “gedolim” whose sage wisdom would be apparent even to those who are uninterested in Torah and unaware of said godol’s reputation and prestige?

    In other words, someone whose sage wisdom (and I’m talking about profound insight, not an ability to throw around sources or dazzle with cleverness) would be sufficiently impressive to an outsider, to the extent that the outsider would remark: “What a truly wise man!”?

    In other words (again), someone who would be considered sagely, wise, and profound by the standards of those outside our system, to the extent that this outsider would seek out more writings or discourses by said “sage”?

    [YA Why yes, actually. To name a few:

    R Zelik Epstein and Bill Clinton (the family is mum about the actual content of the protracted discussion that the President asked for after an original meeting.)

    Read what Samuel Schmidt, a non-frum Zionist leader sent by R Lazer Silver for a first-hand report on conditions in Europe in ’39, wrote about R Chaim Ozer (i.e. after meeting him, he became shomer Shabbos!), R Shach, and R Ahron Kotler

    NY Mayor LaGuardia (I think) and his reaction to R Boruch Ber.]

  22. groinem says:

    one of the issues, that i have not seen mentioned anywhere, is the abuse of the religious exemption. Reb Shmuel issued a medical decision, claiming that vaccinations are dangerous and ineffective. This is being used as a religious decision in the outside world This is untrue. He may feel entitled to a medical opinion, but he cannot call it a religious decision. Ad an analogy, did Reb Yaakov allow Torah vadaas to issue false divinity accreditations to non-students to exempt them from the Vietnam-era draft? I am sure he would not have done so, the pikuach nefesh argument notwithstanding. The vaccination issue is worse than that.Halachicalky, even if all of his claims had a basis in fact, vaccinations would be muttar, as per the klal of doshu boh rabim. This pesak endangers our religious freedoms in this country.

  23. Raymond says:

    My father emphasized to me over and over again that while it is important to ask people for advice, that common sense must always prevail. That is, if I seek advice from even the greatest of human beings, that if the advice goes against reason combined with everyday experience, then the latter takes precedence over even a great person’s advice. So while people greater than myself may provide me with new insights and different perspectives that I had not thought of on my own, the bottom line for me is how closely such advice conforms to the reality of our everyday world. I do not know the details of the specific issue involving vaccination, but if even the greatest of Rabbis opposes vaccinations, while the overwhelming majority of medical experts support getting vaccinations, then I am going to get those vaccinations.

  24. Yossie Abramson says:

    “Agudath Israel takes both moral and legal exception to the notion that a person enjoys
    unfettered personal autonomy… Society has the right to compel citizens to submit to
    vaccination… to insist that a child receive life-sustaining treatment even over the
    religiously motivated opposition of his parents.”
    From a legal brief arguing against assisted suicide.

  25. a simple yid says:

    For the record, and attendee at a local public school is likely attending school withdozens of children whose parents havefiles a religious exemption (probably based on pseudoscience not religious reasons). The government does not require a religious leader to sign off on anything. It is based on the parents word, period. Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky does not need to sign anything to allow a parent to claim an exemption.

  26. Yossie Abramson says:

    1) a simple yid, while you are correct that anyone can claim a religious exemption, the school does not have to accept it. R’ Shmuel paskens that a school has to accept the kid.
    2) Since we know that there is no religious exemption to vaccination, what would happen to a school should a breakout occur and parents are forced to take time off from work to deal with their sick (and possibly dying kids)? I am 100% certain that lawsuits will be filed and the schools listening to R’ Shmuel will be out millions of dollars. That is yet another reason to “call him out.”
    3) Earlier, R’ YA said that R’ SK didn’t need to be called out, but I strongly disagree. There are people using R’ SK’s psak to not vaccinate. That is dangerous and should 100% be called out. The Aguda has “called out” for far less, certainly when one of their own, a) calls for not vaccinating, and b)contradicts a prior statement from the Agudah and c)contradicts established halacha he should be called out. Respect or not, his opinion is putting facts on the ground.

  27. Shlomo Dovid says:

    Rav Adlerstein: Add Rav Kook to that list.

    I meant, however, LIVING Gedolim.

    In the outside world, one sign of sagacity is having written an essay worth reading multiple times, the reader’s seeing more insight in each subsequent reading and over a period of time.

    And I mean worth reading multiple times not because of its difficulty, but because of its profundity or — at minimum — its causing one to think about something in a new way and with new perspective.

  28. Shlomo Dovid says:


    Therefore, how would one explain what makes some of the individuals you mentioned “Gedolim” when their “gadlus” (sagacity) would not be evident to those looking at them objectively?

    [YA – Seems to me like the tautological definition works best. The key criterion to recommend someone for Gadol status is – gadlus b’Torah! Your criterion for assessing gadlus is attractive as one among many, but I don’t buy into it being the necessary and sufficient condition. Those people who are recognized by peers who themselves are accomplished in learning are good candidates for the designation.

    The distinction between addressing the fixed, normative requirements of law, and dealing with the shifting sands of local conditions and needs, was classically recognized by the Ran in his Derashos. Rav Hutner has a beautiful piece (Shavuos 36) relating this distinction to decisions every individual must make. He also opines that on the national level, the capacity to deal with the latter (i.e. daas Torah) is dependent upon skill in the former.]

  29. me says:

    If we do not speak out, these dangerous ideas will spread in our community and Jewish children will be maimed for life, even die.

    This is the doctor Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetzky relies on:

    1) http://leftbrainrightbrain.co.uk/2014/01/22/mayer-eisenstein-files-for-bankruptcyagain/

    Mayer Eisenstein is a go-to person in the vaccines-cause-autism community. He heads a large practice in the Chicago area and claims that his unvaccinated children do not have autism. He also was or is a part of the “Lupron Franchise”—a group of practitioners who took on the Geier idea that shutting down sex hormone production in autistics could be a treatment. It was a profoundly bad idea.

    2) http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/chi-autism-doctor-eisenstein-may22-story.html

  30. a simple yid says:

    According to the law (US/State), religious exemptions are allowed and a public school must take an unvaccinated child.
    If a Jewish School/Yeshiva would chose to not accept any vaccinated child, they are going “l’fnim meshurat hadin”, above an beyond what the secular law requires.

  31. Shlomo Dovid says:

    Rav Adlerstein: Not sure which of us is the one constructing a tautology.

    Seems to me significant when someone’s supposedly extraordinary high degree of “special insight” is apparent only to “true believers.”

    Assuming, of course, that “special insight” means “special insight.”

    Seems to me not unreasonable that even non-true-believers would notice this “special insight” and “mastery” in the Gadol’s teshuvos (RSZA, Rav Moshe, And Chacham Ovadia being three recent — but no longer living — examples) or in their works of machshava.

    Surely it means something when said Godol (and I mean no one in particular) has nothing one could point to that shows “special insight” in any work they’ve ever produced, nor in any speech they’ve ever given?

    [YA – I am quite sure that I am the one being deliberately tautological! Gadlus ba-Torah is a product, first and foremost, of…galus ba-Torah! A person can spend his entire life immersed in Torah and stand head and shoulders over his peers without publishing a syllable. He may dispense advice that is unrecognized by the masses, and known only to the cognoscenti.

    Your point is well-taken, that it is much easier to recognize gadlus when there are crowds of diverse people all singing the praises of a particular talmid chacham, and/or hordes of students poring over his works. And I suppose that you would argue that there can be talmidei chachamim of massive accomplishment who are not particular good or insightful in dispensing advice. When that is the case, many of the people realize that they should look elsewere

    None of this detracts from the fact that it is gadlus in Torah primarily that makes a person at least a contender for the active “gadol” designation. (When R Yaakov was at the apex of the perceived Torah pyramid, he had not, IIRC, published anything that was circulating in the general Torah community.) I understand your frustration in not finding people with a bit more of an objective track record, but lets make sure we don’t undervalue the insight that in fact is so often the wonderful dividend to scaling the Torah mountain.]

  32. MD says:

    As a medical professional going on my 5th year of specialized vaccine research, this article and the comments to it have me floored.
    The issues surrounding vaccines are not nearly as simple as so many of you seem to believe.

    Several points:

    1. Vaccination does not equal inoculation. In other words, your vaccinated child most definitely CAN contract a VPD (so-called vaccine preventable disease). Every vaccine has a different rate of expected efficacy, ranging from 30-80% on average, but significantly less for the flu vaccine. So yes, your child can contract a VPD from an unvaccinated child…but they could hypothetically contract the same thing from a vaccinated child who hasn’t acquired immunity. To restrict access to school to those vaccinated is naive; a better solution might be to require titers drawn for all VPDs. To make matters worse, a vaccinated child who contracts a VPD is more likely to be asymptomatic or less symptomatic than an unvaccinated child, making it more common for vaccinated children to spread disease before their condition is detected. A prime example of this is pertussis, most commonly spread by vaccinated individuals, as per the CDC.

    2. Vaccine-acquired immunity wanes within 10 years, unlike natural immunity or community-acquired immunity, which is most often lifelong. This means that unless all of the adults around you are keeping current on boosters, they fall in the same category as unvaccinated children. This includes people at the bank, grocery store, etc…. Again, unless you are aware of everyone else’s vaccine status, banning unvaccinated children is an exercise in futility, since you have as great a chance of your child contracting a disease from them as you do from the fella sitting next to you in shul, and you simply cannot control all of the adults in your social sphere.

    3.Any live virus vaccine will shed for up to one month, which means that the newly vaccinated child in your child’s class is a far greater risk than an asymptomatic unvaccinated child, who, in all probability, is healthy.

    4. Any school who accepts state funding is legally obligated to accept any vaccine exemption allowed by the state.

    5. A religious exemption does not require a religious leader’s signature, nor must it be a recognized religion. Your family can technically create its own religion.

    6. Despite all of the vaccine research, no study has ever been done comparing vaccinated and unvaccinated populations. No vaccine has even been studied against a placebo; vaccines are studied and tested for safety and efficacy as compared with the same vaccine minus the virus/antibody.

    7. How American to unabashedly write an article attempting to establish credibility (i.e. describing a longstanding relationship), only to follow with why this gadol cannot or should not be trusted on all issues. It is disturbing to read about a gadol being supposedly manipulated by his wife. I, for one, prefer to believe that Rav Shmuel is a brilliant man and differs from others only in that he is not afraid to speak his truth.

  33. Sara says:

    @ MD your comments are very well taken. I was not aware that a newly vaccinated child is a risk. Thank you. (Off-topic, I plan to research that issue).

    I work at a preschool in NY where we must accept “religious” exemption from vaccine letter — no religion is specified & no religious leader signs, only the parent.
    Based on the idea that the children share a lot more “contagious” activities here than at the bank or the shul, this risk still upsets me.

    I also was very disturbed to read about a gadol being supposedly manipulated by his wife. It is not about sexism — It would take a very long comment to detail why that is so disturbing.

  34. Yossie Abramson says:

    MD, for someone who claims to be in a specialized area studying vaccines and you don’t know if vaccines work, let me ask you one question:
    1) What is the rate of polio in 2014 versus the rate of polio in 1943?


  35. Shlomo Dovid says:

    Rav Adlerstein:

    I would tend to agree with you (at least in a limited fashion) were there evidence that the “Godol” had, in fact, scaled this mountain, for instance, having produced chiddishim, shiurim, or teshuvos that demonstrate this supposedly amazing insight, breadth, and depth in Torah.

    [YA – and I would concede that those benchmarks would make it easier to make the case for a person being a gadol. Yet, they are not the only benchmarks. A lifetime of devotion to Torah learning can sometimes create gadlus even if the external manifestations that you speak about are not there]

  36. MD says:

    A silly question. Compare the rates of diseases like typhoid or scarlet fever, for which no vaccine ever existed, then and now. There are so many variables that contribute to the decline, mutation, or eradication of any specific disease; it would be overly simplistic to believe that any one coexisting factor caused the outcome in question.
    Somehow, despite billions of dollars going to polio vaccines in Africa, polio still thrives there. Maybe clean water and proper nutrition would save lives there.
    I also encourage you to review data examining the decline of polio. You may be surprised to find it was well on the decline before the salk vaccine was publicly available.

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