Askanim For Hire?

We need look no further than the parshah we just read to find evidence of the potential for abuse of power. The Netziv takes note of the pasuk (Vayikra 4:22) dealing with the chet of the Nasi. He asks why the word beshgagah / unintentionally is left dangling till the end. Should it not have immediately modified the action of the Nasi? He concludes that the pasuk can/should be read as: When a ruler sins and commits one of the sins that ordinarily we would not expect to be done by anyone even unintentionally….

Such is the power of leadership and authority. Where there is too little, there is anarchy and too much room for the reign of personal subjectivity. Where there is a surfeit of authority, there is room for abuse.

Such abuse can be intentional, but it can be just as potent when unintentional – or someplace in between. For various reasons, parts of the Torah world moved in recent decades to a preference for tighter control by a smaller number of people, often at a great distance from their geographical location, and hence lacking a hands-on awareness of their special circumstances. Some found comfort in this, in a single-minded approach to dealing with perceived threats from without. Others chafed at the conformity and lack of nuance they sensed in this approach. The dust has far from settled.

But there are other fault lines in such a system, some a tad more diabolical. Some cannot be spoken about openly. At such times, fiction can be a good vehicle for conveying a message. (Think George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda, or Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift.)

What follows was submitted by a card-carrying yeshiva-trained charedi writer, living in Israel. Identity, of course, cannot be divulged, for fear of reprisals. It would provide food for thought even if it were the product of merely imagining the future, rather than based on observation of the present – and an occasional story in the press. It is, however, unfortunately based on fact. Because those facts are not being demonstrated here, readers cannot and should not be expected to accept them as verified. The story is not meant as an expose, or as muckraking. It is offered for a specific purpose, which will be stated later.

Tuesday December 15, 1998 was a sunny but cold day in Jerusalem. Most people in Israel were preoccupied with the reports of a likely imminent US attack on Iraq and the implications for Israelis who still remembered Sadaam Hussein’s scuds that rained down on Israel during the Gulf War seven years earlier. Chaim Horowitz, however, was busy with other more important things. The threat of imminent war didn’t concern him at all, as he was taking his entire family to the States that evening or an open ended vacation until the hostilities had passed. He was excited about the meeting that he had arranged at his office and was just waiting for his longtime friend, Rabbi Reuvain Gross to walk in.

Chaim and Reuvain went back 20 years to when they were chavrusos in Ponevezh. Although their personalities were polar opposites, they were the two brightest bochurim in yeshiva and learned together for 3 years. Reuvain was a very charismatic fellow, who craved attention and was always in the middle of everything going on in yeshiva. He was majorly popular and his outgoing personality did a very good job of masking his serious character flaws. Most people who knew him would tell you that he would give his shirt off his back to help another yid. It was only those few who dared to challenge his authority who caught a glimpse of his extreme egotistical nature. As expected, Reuvain did a shidduch with a granddaughter of one of the top Bnei Brak gedolim. He went on to open a very popular yeshiva of his own in Kiryat Sefer. He was extremely well connected with the families of the various gedolim in Bnei Brak.

Chaim was very quiet and introverted. He was happy to have Reuvain get all the attention in yeshiva. Chaim wasn’t all that interested in being in yeshiva in the first place, and was quietly planning his exit into the world of commerce. Chaim’s mind was always working at warp speed, thinking of new ways to make some money. While Reuvain ‘s yetzer hora was power and kavod, Chaim’s was purely financial. No one even seemed to notice when Chaim left kollel after just one year and started dabbling in real estate. He quickly became very successful and over the years had cultivated relationships with politicians in both the religious and secular camps.
Over the years Chaim and Reuvain maintained a fairly close relationship. Although they were officially in completely different circles, the bond they had made in yeshiva kept them together. Chaim knew that there wasn’t a better person in the world than Reuvain with whom he could share his idea for his new venture. His connections and his personal drive for power made him the perfect candidate.

As soon as Reuvain walked in Chaim got straight to the point. “Reuvain, do you remember how things were 20 years ago when Rav Shach had to decide on a major issue? He spent days gathering information from all the relevant parties, and only after carefully analyzing all the information himself would he make a decision. He didn’t rely on a few trusted advisors for information. “ “Sure I remember”, said Reuvain. “There wasn’t even a gabbai who would control who came and spoke to Rav Shach. Anyone was able to come and speak to him. Of course, most people respected his time and only came for major issues”. “Well” said Chaim, “today there is a growing phenomenon of the chareidi public insisting that every small matter be brought to the gedolim to decide on. While in the past, it was only major matters concerning all of klal yisroel that were brought to Rav Shach and his contemporaries to weigh in on, today every minor decision is brought to the gedolim in Bnei Brak. They’re even coming from America to ask about issues that pertain only to America.” “What’s your point?” asked Reuvain. “We both know that this was never Rav Shach’s idea of what daas torah means. It was self understood that most issues should be decided at the local level by the people most familiar with the details of the matter at hand. Ever since Yisro made his recommendation to Moshe Rabbeinu that there should be שרי עשרות this was the accepted practice in klal yisroel. I don’t know why things have recently changed and frankly I didn’t come here to discuss hashkafa. What was the point of you calling this meeting today? I was under the assumption that you had some great opportunity for me.”

“Reuvain, don’t you see the opportunity here? The sheer volume of issues that the gedolim are being asked to get involved in have made it impossible for them to be able to research the issues themselves. They are forced to rely on those closest to them for information. And things will only get worse as the chareidi world continues to grow. This newfangled absurd idea that people cannot make even the most minor of decisions without consulting the gedolim in Bnei Brak has created a situation in which every aspect of chareidi life is now being controlled by a handful of gedolim. Any chaider or bais Yaakov that opens up anywhere in Eretz Yisroel needs to first receive a haskama from one of the Bnei Brak gedolim. Any organization that has anything to do with the chareidi tzibbur first requires the input of the gedolim. Absolutely nothing can be done, without first receiving the bracha from the gedolim. The gedolim will increasingly need to rely on those around them to help determine what is worthy of their support and what they should oppose. If we strategically place ourselves in positions where the gedolim are relying on us to make the decisions it gives us almost complete control of the entire chareidi world in Eretz Yisroel and beyond. Between your family connections and my political ones, I think we are uniquely situated to take total control of the chareidi world. We will need to involve a select group of people to make this happen, but I’m confident that it can be done.”

Wow, you’re a genius Chaim” said Reuvain, “but I don’t get what’s in this for you? Power was never your thing. You were always looking for ways to make another buck.” “I’m not really a genius”, said Chaim. I’m probably just a few years ahead of the game. It will soon become obvious to anyone and everyone that what I’ve outlined here will be the new reality. As far as what’s in it for me, obviously as the trusted advisor to the gedolim, I’m entitled to charge something for my work. When someone wants the bracha or haskama from one of the gedolim, I will be the person they approach. I will explain to them that I’m a busy person, and I will need to be compensated for the time that it takes me to research whether or not their venture deserves the support of the gadol. The fee will depend on the size of the project. A new chaider is worth many millions of dollars. I can easily request $200,000 if I successfully obtain the support of the gedolim for a certain individual to open a cheider. If someone wants the backing of the gedolim to get appointed as a dayan by the Rabbanut, I can easily charge $70,000 to obtain the necessary backing. For goodness sakes, with technology exploding the way it is, we can set up a special vaad that gives special approval to certain devices. If we charge just $50 for the stamp, that translates into millions of dollars in easy income. Of course, we’ll need to use some of the money to reinvest into our venture by giving kickbacks and donations to all the right people, but overall, we’ll do quite well.”

“I’m actually quite surprised”, said Reuvain. “It seems quite unethical to take advantage of people like that.” “You’re right and you’re wrong”, responded Chaim. “You’re right that it is inherently unethical to have such a system where so much power is concentrated with such a small group of people. However, we’re not the ones who created the current reality. The chareidi tzibbur themselves are to blame for creating this situation. It is only a matter of time before other people realize what is happening and do exactly what I’m proposing that we do. At least if we do it, we know that we’re both good people who will try to be fair and not get completely blinded by power and money. You’re wrong to think that if we don’t proceed the end result will be better. Less scrupulous people will do exactly what I’m proposing that we do. Not only will we not have gained anything, we’ll also be left suffering under the control of whichever askanim do eventually put my idea into action. We should get to work right away, cultivating our relationships, and by the time other people realize what is going on, we’ll already be untouchable.”

How much of this describes reality today? Most of us have no way of knowing. Hopefully, we detest conspiracy theories, and we resist such tales until faced with incontrovertible proof of their existence. But alas there are times when we need to pay attention to conspiratorialists. A special corollary of Murphy’s Law has it that where something can go wrong that allows people to immorally profit without seeing themselves as immoral, it will. We may not know what is happening around certain Torah leaders, but we should take into account the probability that if we keep concentrating power in more limited circles, there will be people using their relationship for their own gain. (It has happened before, with greater people. See Shabbos 56A, that Shmuel’s sons pursuit of profit meant nothing more than establishing central bureaucracies that were able to employ more government servants, rather than serve the people by taking services to them, as Shmuel did.)

Here is the real point. Many of us realize that the concept of Daas Torah underwent a transformation in the last decades. Some of it was for the better; much not. It has worked for some people, and put others on spiritual skids. The new Daas Torah has stifled individuality and creativity, and muted the voices of local rabbonim. It has narrowed the boundaries of our world, and erased diversity. It has contributed to a backlash in some parts of the Orthodox world that have thrown out the notion of authority altogether, and replaced it with the eigel ha-zahav of personal autonomy.

Many of us have watched friends, neighbors, talmidim grow secretly cynical of all rabbinic pronouncements in such a system. They conform outwardly, and secretly reject. For those of us who remain intensely committed to the importance of Daas Torah – at least the way it was understood not so long ago, and for centuries before – this is the unkindest cut of them all. The stretching of Daas Torah beyond what it ever was for the purpose of elevating it has succeeded in toppling it altogether in parts of the Olam Ha-Torah.

This should not be. Those who are content with living with their secret cynicism and rejection of idealized depictions of reality that they read in Torah media should realize that things might very well get much worse. We might go from inadequate but well-meaning gatekeepers to corrupt influence brokers. It will be our fault if this happens, if we do not take back parts of our lives. We must have the courage to forego going “to the top” for every decision in life, personal and communal. We must reinvest confidence in local morei hora’ah – and in ourselves.

We must do this not to destroy Daas Torah, c”v, but to save it from its own excess.

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72 Responses

  1. David says:

    Amazing article.

    One minor quibble (like taking a spade to a souffle): why is “a new chaider worth many millions of dollars”?

  2. Moshe Shoshan says:

    Yiyasher koach,

    The concentration of so much power in the hands of so few has no precedent in living memory. For all Rav Shach’s power and influence, he was not the posekhador by any standard. The unquestioned psoek ha dor was R. Shlomo Zalman zt”l, a man who wielded very little political power. The balance was particularly important because RSZA was a moderate who had a very positive attitude toward the religious zionist world which balanced off R. Shach’s more militant approach.

    Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Even if the “gedolim” remain pure, those around them will not with stand the temptations of power. On when Mashiach comes will it be feasible to have a system which gather ultimate authority in the Sanhedrin. Even then this power will be distributed among 72 gedolim, not 2 or 3. and if the Mashiach were to come today, R. Shteinman would certainly not be allowed to sit on the Sanhedrin. He is a Zaken muflag- posul from being dan dinei nefashos.

  3. Leah Adler says:

    It is a standard joke in our house, when we don’t know what to do, to say, “We should go ask a shailah.”
    Of course we don’t, because if it is not a question about a meat fork falling in the dairy sink, how on earth can the rabbi know the right answer if we don’t? When we have a question about a child’s problem in school – how can the rabbi know what is right for a child he doesn’t know, from a family he knows no personal details of, who attends a school the rabbi has never set foot in? Maybe the rabbi will have a suggestion, a bit of advice, a listening ear – but a psak for a personal matter such as switching the child to a different class, or how to motivate a child with a learning difficulty? Silly. And anyone who believes that the rabbi is some prophet who can magically know the “right” answer in this sort of situation….well, I don’t even know how to think about that person. Instead, we talk to our child’s teacher, principal, school psychologist, and family – people who know the child and/or have professional training in the matter at hand. And yes, we are good Jews, who keep kosher, Shabbes, and wear shietals and black hats.
    We all know the stories of the pashkevil posted on the wall, and then the gadol who is asked about the subject matter personally says he never heard of whatever was being banned…this is very sad, but that’s the reality we live in.

    [YA – I can’t say I agree with this. I have seen myself how great talmidei chachamim who have advised people for decades have both the experience and insight to come up with either new strategies, or good advice about competing options. Of course you are right about some questions that cannot be answered at all without knowing the principals, but that is not always the case.]

  4. L. Oberstein says:


  5. SS says:

    Perfect topic for a future Klall Edition.

  6. Concerned Jew says:

    An incredible article that I can attest resembles the reality. I have the privilege of running a Yeshiva in Israel. Years ago we brought in the head of a major Internet filter to speak with our boys about the challenges of today’s world. When I asked him how come more chareidim didn’t subscribe to his filter he told us it was because he didn’t have haskins from the gedolim. I pushed him and asked him why he didn’t have haskamos. His reply verbatim was “Gedolim have askanim and askanim have interests. They literally won’t let me in the door.”
    The reality is that the gedolim aren’t foolish and I’m certain that they act in what they feel is in the best interest of Klal Yisrael. The question is, who are the gate keepers?

  7. Natan Slifkin says:

    This article reminds me of John Kerry’s recent statement that if the UNHRC continues singling out Israel, it “risks” losing its legitimacy. It’s already lost its legitimacy!
    Likewise, it’s not that we “might” go to corrupt influence brokers. It’s already happened. For one particularly striking and incontrovertible example, look at how Leib Tropper was able to wield tremendous power with the Gedolim, as a result of directing millions of dollars to the right pockets.

    [YA- For openers, mazal tov on your two recent accomplishments – the opening of your Biblical Museum of Natural History, and the publication of the first volume of the Torah Encyclopedia of the Animal Kingdom. Both are important resources for the Torah community. After that – I disagree. We’ve always had to deal with conventional weakness – and for the most part, we have an extraordinarily good record of tzidkus in all matters, including monetary ones. Occasionally someone disappoints us. The cause of that disappointment is some fault common to most people. The Leib Tropper episode was in a way even more predictable, since we were dealing with a bright, charismatic personality who knew how to learn. The point that I was making was that we’ve invited a weakness of our own creation. By burdening gedolei Torah with far more than humans can handle, we’ve literally created opportunity for the unscrupulous gatekeepers.]

  8. Bob Miller says:

    What about someone who lives in a community that “goes to the top” routinely as described, and doesn’t want go along? If such people lack special clout, does this put them at a disadvantage?

  9. Doron Beckerman says:

    יודעים אנו על פי הנסיון כי מסביב לכסאו של אדם גדול שורצים ורבים בריות שפלות, מין רמשים קטנים, אשר קטנותן תהיה להם למבטח כי לא תראינה ולא תמצאנה. ועל כן יכולות הן, בהאפילן על עצמן בטליתו של ה”גדול” לעשות כמעשה הרמש ולרדוף אחרי כל אדם ישר באין כל סכנה לנפשן. ויש לפעמים, אשר אנשים ישרים נפגעים על-ידי גאון מפורסם מבלי להבין את חטאתם ופשעם, כסבורים הם שזו “עקיצת עקרב” ומתמרמרים על הגאון, בעוד שבעיקר הדבר אין זאת אלא “נשיכה של שועל” שיוצא מבית קדשי הקדשים של הגאון… או לחישת נחש שמתחמם בחיקו…

    “Experience informs us that around the chair of an Adam Gadol, low creatures breed and teem, small creepers of sorts, whose smallness is their haven that they not be seen or found. They therefore have the ability, by shrouding themselves in the cloak of the “Gadol,” to act in the manner of the creeper and persecute any honest man with no risk to themselves. And it happens at times, that honest men are hurt by a famous Gaon without understanding their sin or wrongdoing. They think it is “the sting of the scorpion” and they are bitter toward the Gaon, while in essence this is nothing but “the bite of the fox” emerging from the inner sanctum of the Gaon… or the hiss of a snake warming itself in his bosom…

    R’ Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg, 14 Iyyar 5672 (1912).

  10. Dr. E says:

    We live in an era of diminished individual credibility and insecurity. Consumer products need 3 Hechsherim. Untrained and unlicensed mental health/life counselors advertise their services to naive clients simply because they have Rabbinic endorsements. Everything is an Askan photo op (ironically bolstered by the assur Internet) or a name-drop by “Gadol hoppers”, story tellers, and bloggers. No one is interested in reading or writing a traditional teshuva. Takes too much time and is unnecessary. The same thing can be accomplished through an edited video clip of an out -of-context “psak” that somehow becomes binding on all of Klal Yisroel? And who can argue? After all, we must surrender to “Daas Torah”. Unfortunately, many local Rabbanim have capitulated and simply go with the flowing inertia, lest they be seen as renegades.

    The following story epitomizes where we are at. I recall once that a shul chevraman known as a “talker” was once chided for doing so during davening. The person who came over to him said “the Rav paskened that it is assur to talk during davening”. The fellow retorted to the Baal Tochacha, “No, it’s not the Rav, but the Shulchan Aruch who says that it is assur to talk during davening”–before continuing his conversation. While the talking was obviously wrong, he response was quite on-the-mark.

  11. joel rich says:

    One could argue that with the widespread cynicism you describe the chareidi world would be better off with a quick spiral into the absurd that you described. The cognitive dissonance of living with such cynicism (“They conform outwardly, and secretly reject.”)will eventually lead to a reformation anyway (bderech hateva). Perhaps the quicker that happens, the less people will be hurt.


  12. YS says:

    Obviously, there’s a lot of truth to this, which any casual observer will have noticed.

    However, I’m always skeptical of attempts to portray flaws in society (whatever society) as things which didn’t really exist in the past, or barely existed. There’s a tendency to pretend that politicians of the past were towering personalities, that baseball players in the 1920’s were much better than current players and that society in general was much healthier. Every generation says this about the previous generations. Most of these claims don’t withstand serious analysis and I see absolutely no reason to believe that this isn’t true of Jewish leaders (Gedolim) too, notwithstanding the concept of ‘yeridas hadoros’, which frankly has always seemed to me to be not much more than a way to prop up the system, with very little historical basis.

    Again, as far as Daas Torah is concerned, it does seem as if things have changed for the worse in the last generation. But I don’t think it’s accurate to portray gedolim of previous generations as flawless visionary leaders, saints and unbelievable geniuses, with characteristics we can’t even imagine today. In my opinion, focusing on the changes regarding Daas Torah misses the mark.

  13. DF says:

    The story is not fiction. 10 years ago my wife and I were in a certain “black hat” rabbi’s house, part of one of the many upstart “kollelim”, in a certain part of the American Southwest. I’ll never forget how the rabbi excitedly told us how he planned to make a fortune by scaring the charedi public concerning lulavim. His plan was to spearhead a huge publicity campaign, designed to create the impression that the lulav market was flooded with invalid lulavim. (I think he referenced the canary palm.) He wanted to make things like the kosher industry or the shatnez industry, where the orthodox public has been conditioned to think that they can only purchase food or clothing with a hechsher or shatnez check. (None of this existed in Europe.) Then, because he was in a part of the US where date palms grew, he would be in a position to make a fortune by selling his certified-kosher lulavim. If I told you this charedi rabbi practically cackled over the gullibility of the orthodox public, I would be understating it.

    This is no different than the vignette described above. Some people have a hard time believing that ostensibly very religious people would cynically misuse people’s trust in them and in Judaism for personal gain. If you really think about it, its not very different than they way the witch doctors and oracle-keepers of the past took advantage of people’s belief in idols. THEY knew it was nonsense, but they were making money off it, so it went on for a long time. Its an עולם שקר out there.

  14. yisroel miller says:

    It would be helpful if Rabbi Adlerstein would be more specific in outlining a program of what he believes should be done. Even if it is not adopted, it would at least provide a starting-point for serious discussion in the future

    [YA- I was waiting for YOU to do that! You’ve been thinking about these things longer than I have! בברכת חג כשר ושמח ]

  15. Michael Halberstam says:

    Thanks very much for this. It is good that someone remembers every once in a while to bring these issues up. And you are a better someone than most. We live in a time when people cannot conceive of a religious life that requires us to think about things without being told. Those who are afraid of this are perpetrating a lie on themselves, their families and their communities. IN all of human experience there is no example of someone doing things this way and succeeding. This is why I am frightened. Let’s hope I am wrong, or that people come to their senses. Gut Yom Tov

  16. Ben Bradley says:

    Do you really think we haven’t reached the corrupt influence brokers stage yet? I’ve heard first hand stories to make your hair stand on end.
    The difference in one generation is very clear. R.Shlomo Zalman, R. Shach, R. Moshe didn’t have gabboim or suchlike guarding access.
    Aside from that there seem to be several contemporary applications of Daas Torah:
    1. Asking about personal life issues, eg new house, changing job, and taking the answer as obligatory in the same way as psak halacha.
    2. Pronouncements affecting the whole community, eg how to vote, taken as obligatory on the whole community with no brooking of dissent.
    3. Opinion in halacha taken as binding on kol bnei hagola such that any dissenting view, regardless of stature of the dissenter, is null and void. Perhaps even zaken mamrei-like.
    4. Expression of opinion by someone, known to be steeped in kol haTorah kula, in an area not formally halachic, in a way considered authoratative but not binding.
    I may have missed some. In any case, which of these if any are the real Daas Torah?

  17. Someich al-Nissim says:

    Tafasta meruba, lo tafasta. It is very true that this kind of overreaching threatens to undermine the very authority that it is trying to support. Over-reactions, overstatments, and overreaching all bring the authority that does it into disrepute. Who wants to live for sheker, and not emes? But as long as you leave your critique so generalized, I am afraid it will have little effect. You should be blessed with the ability to get the message across in a constructive way, to the people who need to hear it, and so that it is accepted.

  18. Moshe Katz says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein, with all due respect, I think the Gedolim would know best what system of communal leadership and Daas Torah is best for us in today’s world. Surely you are not saying they are being duped?

  19. Moshe Dick says:

    Dear Rabbi Adlerstein!

    You are shutting the barn door when the horse has bolted long ago. The askanim and the Gedolim that you cherish so much will never give up their newly found power. You ae right that so-called Daas Torah has drastically changed in recent decades. It will not change. The only way to defeat this phenomenon is to ignore it. In other words, don’t listen to all the kol koreh’s. Of course, this would put you outside of the chareidi world. But this is the only way of getting back to a saner situation. Ignore the edicts.

  20. Danny Rubin (Baltimore MD.) says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein,

    Thank you for calling attention to this critical issue. I believe that one very serious effect of this situation is what it will do/has been doing to Kiruv and the Baal Tshuva community. How easy is it to find mentally healthy individuals who want to radically change their lifestyle to be micro-managed from a culture thousands of miles away!!

  21. Ellen says:

    Are there many sources when the Gedolim themselves advise the public to be more personally resourceful? Because without such a directive from the top…

  22. dovid landesman says:

    R. Yitzchak
    How I wish the fantasy world your anonymous writer describes had a semblance of resembling the real world of chareidi life in this country. As one who has lived in EY for some four decades [with some time off in LA] and having been involved in a number of educational projects in the chareidi world, I can attest to the fact that Rav Schach zt”l was completely at the mercy of a number of handlers who filtered who got to see him and what he heard. I am talking about the 1980s when he was still relatively active. If you want concrete evidence I would be more than happy to provide it – and unlike your anonymous contributor I am not afraid to sign my name.
    Moreover, the monolithic daas Torah that your author seems to criticize was very much a creation of a good few decades ago.
    The only figure I know of in EY who never allowed himself to be controlled by askanim and handlers [including his own children] was Rav Shlomo Zalman zt”l. Many of my friends lament that he was the last of a kind.

  23. Raymond says:

    A strong, centralized government inevitably leads to totalitarian disaster, while fostering as much independence among people encourages both economic prosperity and maximum personal freedoms. Common sense tells me that something similar must be the case in the religious Jewish world as well. My very wise father pointed out countless times to me, that while he did not hesitate to ask Rabbinical authorities and other wise people for advice in various life situations, that ultimately one has to decide for oneself what fits in well with common sense, with our everyday experiences in our everyday lives. G-d did not give only a chosen few working minds, but gave good minds to most of us, if only we are willing to use it. Besides, it is just plain annoying when a person cannot think for themselves. Ask for advice when necessary, yes, but ultimately, it is a good idea to be your own man.

  24. mycroft says:

    “The new Daas Torah has stifled individuality and creativity, and muted the voices of local rabbonim.”

    Rav Soloveitchik would often upon being asked a sheila by a local Rav answer what do you expect me to do-“YOU ARE THERE” He might offer to go over the relevant sugyas but the message was that one must know the facts to pasken.

  25. George says:

    Simple question: Daas Torah implies deep wisdom. Why can’t those with Daas Torah see through unscrupulous Askonim?

    [YA – IN part, because the demands and expectations we have burdened them with leave no choice but to rely on those close to them for information.]

  26. Bob Miller says:

    Those who try to project our current way of doing things into the past should realize how decentralized decision-making in our galus used to be, of necessity.

  27. Aharon says:

    and if the Mashiach were to come today, R. Shteinman would certainly not be allowed to sit on the Sanhedrin. He is a Zaken muflag- posul from being dan dinei nefashos.

    What does this prove? The Chazon Ish, the Seridei Eish, and the Lubavitcher Rebbe had no children and could never have judged Dinei Nefashos under the very same halachah (Sanhedrin 2:3).

  28. Alexandra Fleksher says:

    Thank you, Rabbi Adlerstein. SS, that’s what I said!

  29. lacosta says:

    the dor of mashiach is supposed to be like pnai hakelev—-interpreted eg to mean the leadership like the dog in front looks back to the master of the leash who really controls before rendering opinion…. maybe this is where we are headed , except with the leash-holder in front of the godol , not behind….. i suppose if that’s a sign mashiach is near, we can’t complain too much….

  30. Danny Rubin (Baltimore MD.) says:

    I would like to nominate “Daas Torah” for the most abused phrase in the last 20 years.


    I’ve heard that its origin has been attributed to Rav Aharon Kotler Z’TL but I have not noticed it in “Mishnas Rav Aharon”.

    The only “source” I’ve seen use it is Rav Schwab in “Maayan Beis Hashoeiva” in Parshas Yisro.

    🙂 DISCLAIMER: Daas Torah was not consulted when writing the preceding comment. Anyone who reads it assumes their own risk of eternal damnation, cheirem or a questionable reputation in the shidduch market. 🙂

  31. mb says:

    You said
    “We must do this not to destroy Daas Torah, c”v, but to save it from its own excess.”

    Admittedly I come from an Orthodox world where the concept of Daas Torah did not exist, but surely there can be no excess to Daas Torah? According to those that accept the premise, somebody either has it or they don’t.
    Please clarify.

    [YA – The excess is in regard to what sorts of questions it should be consulted, and in assuming that it is vested extremely narrowly – now down to one person whose authority must be obeyed to the exclusion of all others. This is in contradistinction of other parts of the community, which have gone just as far in the other direction. Denying that the history of our people is redolent with seeking the guidance of gedolei Torah in all matters – including non-halachic ones – is a good example of that.]

  32. Steve Brizel says:

    Great column!

  33. dr. bill says:

    Danny Rubin, You will find some interesting perspectives at the end of R. Slifkin’s post on the 100th birthday of daas torah. I guess he has a view on daas torah’s origin; i think it has earlier antecedents but it has evolved over the last century.

    I think the strongest relevant statement was made by RAL in an azkarah for RSZA ztl. my memory may be a bit off, but RAL came to RSZA with a question about how to react to something one or some of his students were doing/proposing. I believe he was asking whether to protest publicly. The answer, I remember well. RSZA told him, if you were my student I would answer. But you have a rebbe who is an adam gadol; do what you think he would advise. (The Rav ztl was then in the latter stages of Parkinson’s.)

  34. Moshe says:

    The first place the term is mentioned that I know of (besides for the gm in chullin where it basically means the exact oppostite of it’s current definition-that whether or not gid hanasheh of both legs is asur has a concrete halachic source) is by Rav Elchanan Wasserman in Kuntres Divrei Soferim, if I recall correctly.

    [YA – The evolution of the term is a red herring. It is the concept that is important, and the concept and practice were always there.]

  35. Sholom says:

    Begin sarcasm:

    Rabbi Adlerstien! Who do you think you are to criticize the gedolim? Do you think you know more than they do! Don’t you think they know what’s going on around them? Of course they do! Yet they still approve of it! Do you think a godol can be manipulated? Chas V’sholom!

    End sarcasm:

  36. Leibel says:

    @Moshe Dick:

    You clearly have never met a great man, power interests them not a whit. I am referring to people like R’ Steinman, R’ Chaim Kanievsky, R’ Dov Landau and others whom I have met personally.

  37. Ben Waxman says:

    Is the “institution” of askanim unique to chareidi world? I’ve never heard of them being in the DL world. Is this true?

  38. Moshe Shoshan says:

    Rabbi Adlerstien,
    Your response to R. Slifkin realy brought home why after years of dialog with you, I have realized that despite our many points of agreement there remains a fundamental chasm separating us. While you certainly do not engage in the Godolotry that is so pervasive in the charedi world and are very aware of the serious problems the beset the current leadership structure and would like to see significant change, you remain deeply invested in and committed to Agudist notions of Daas Torah and rabbinic authority. As a result you cannot ultimately accept that the system is profoundly broken. this is not an accident but a result of flaws in agudism that were critiqued by the Aguda’s opponents, like the Serei Eish, generations ago. You cannot internalize the extent of chillul hashem and human suffering that are a direct result of the charedi leadership or the many aveiros that are done regularly in the name of Torah. You are convinced that Torah Judaism cannot survive a serious frontal assault against the leadership structure and the theology and ideology that underlies it. I believe that the Torah obligates to fight against these things.

  39. Shades of Gray says:

    “By burdening gedolei Torah with far more than humans can handle, we’ve literally created opportunity for the unscrupulous gatekeepers.”

    In the February, 2008 ” “Lipa” Where Do We Go From Here?” article, R. Yaakov Horowitz referenced another article in the now-defunct Jewish Observer that made this point:

    “We see them night after night participating at multiple weddings and other simchos, fundraising for the mosdos, and being available to listen to the sufferings of people who seek their bracha. We are burning them out, as my chaver Shiya Markowitz wrote in an excellent column that appeared in The Jewish Observer over fifteen years ago. And although this essay is not intended to discuss the particulars of this ‘Lipa’ incident, The unyielding pressure that we place on our gedolim, the flurry of calls, meetings, fundraisers, requests for haskamos and letters supporting various tzedakos which we bombard them with day and night may have contributed to any imperfections which you may feel “colored” this Kol Koreh.”

    Two side points:

    1) In the original published version of the article, RYH put the Lipa issue in the context of and contrasted it with another ban(“The aftershocks of the banning of Rabbi Slifkin’s seforim and the manner in which he was treated by some members of our community are still reverberating years later.”), but for understandable reasons, it was later edited.

    2) Lipa has since gone on with his life and has graduated Rockland Community College, and is now at Columbia. About the former, he said, “Maybe it isn’t Columbia, but coming from where I am coming from this was a very big deal. RCC is my little Harvard”. About Columbia, he said at a concert at Queens College, and in an interview, respectively:

    “They’re teaching me nice stuff, but I’m teaching them nice stuff too. That people with these” —he flicked one of his side locks— “can also be normal, and learn English!”

    “I realized I can bring to the secular people a perspective of Hasidic Jewry, and I can bring to the Hasidic community a taste of the Columbia education”

  40. Eliezer says:

    Moshe Shoshan,

    When you made reference to Aguda’s opponents, did you mean Seridei Eish? I wasn’t aware that R’ Y.Y. Weinberg zt”l was opposed to Aguda. Could I ask you to please elaborate?

  41. mycroft says:

    “I would like to nominate “Daas Torah” for the most abused phrase in the last 20 years.


    See the Wikipedia entry for Daas Torah for a IMO balanced discussion quoting both Rabbi Shafran and Prof Kaplan among others. There has been a lot written on it.

    “I’ve heard that its origin has been attributed to Rav Aharon Kotler Z’TL but I have not noticed it in “Mishnas Rav Aharon”.” Although I am certainly not one who accepts Daas Torah as defined by Agudah as being an ancient concept it certainly predates Rav Kotler ZT”L.”

  42. Moshe Shoshan says:

    Ben Waxman,
    Correct. The DL community has its share of problems but Askanim as an institution do not really exist to the best of my knowledge..

  43. Moshe Dick says:

    to leibel: actually, everyone is subject to “negios”- regardless of their greatness. My main point, though, was that the expansion of so-called “Daas Torah” in recent decades has gone beyond any measure and is infiltrating areas that were never subject to “Daas Torah”- whether it is registering for the draft or which life path to choose and other matters that have no set halachic rulings. Now, virtually every thing is subject to “Daas Torah” with all its pitfalls .

  44. Dovid.R says:

    I would like to know if you ever met Horav Aharon Leib shlita (let alone know him) because if you did you would realize how silly you sound. He absolutely is not interested in his position and would love nothing more than to sit and learn undisturbed but understands that he has an achrayus to the tzibbur.He is very wise and experienced and knows whom to trust and sees many steps ahead of us (including you).Do some things look to us as questionable maybe, but remember there is a lot of information we do not know. It is our job to trust him not his to explain himself.

  45. Y. Ben-David says:

    Sholom’s “sarcasm” is actually a strong indication that this system can NOT be reformed, becuase it is said to be the most perfect system possible.
    At one time, there was a “checks and balance” system in the Rabbinic world…..Rabbanim around the world who had their own communities and were supported by them were in contact with each other and would survey critically the scholarship and decisions of their colleagues. Today, ironically due to the secular state of Israel, power has been placed in the very few hands that control the political parties that represent them in the Knesset and they decide how to apportion the aid and subsidies that come from the state.
    I believe the current system can last as long as the modern welfare state is willing and able to keep financing those who are part of this system. In addition, the prevalent “post-modern” philosophy which denies the existence of truth and even reality itself makes people outside this system tolerant of the ideas and values of those who subscribe to it. However, history has shown that no system that denies reality can survive indefinitely and people will rebel against a system that seems to be out of synch with the real world (which I as a NON-post-modernist believe still exists).
    This is what happened in the period between the late 18th century and the mid-20th century. The large majority of the Jewish people abandoned Torah observance for 3 reasons :(1) the development of modern science and technology which many (but not all) of the Jewish schoarly leadership were unable to cope with and who were not able to show how Torah is actually quite in accord with it, leading many people to incorrectly conclude that science had “disproved” the Torah….(2) The spread of antisemitism and modern nationalism which lead many Jews to despair about their situation as a despised minority in Europe, and (3) the grinding poverty so many Jews faced in Europe and the communities of the Middle East. Jews wanted change, many went to Haskalah, Secular Zionism and outright assimilation. IT COULD VERY WELL HAPPPEN AGAIN should reality again impinge on a society which has been able to insulate itself against it pretty successfully in the last half century.

  46. L. Oberstein says:

    I first encountered Agudat Israel of America when Rabbi Moshe Sherer came to Ner Israel for a Shabbos and spoke to us about it. Here in the United States. there is no hint of corruption,the Agudah is a paragon of askanus l’sheim shamayim. Nobody is enriching himself or taking any kind of bribe. Not onythat, but from being called a “stinking weed’ at the time of WWII, the Agudah and people of its orientation are major players at the highest levels of state and national government. How different is the Agudah in Israel. It really is a shame. As Jonathan Rosenbloom points out often, it has no relationsip with the voters except when there is an election.The method of gaining votes is ordering people to vote by psak halacha. The fact that there are not as many seats as the chareidi population would indicate shows that many chareidim do not follow the psak halacha and vote for another party or do not vote. Perhaps having a religious political party is itself a tarti d’sasri.

  47. yehudis says:

    Inre: origin of the usage “Da’as Torah” in its contemporary sense. My memory is that there is a shiur from Rav Avrohom Yitzchok Bloch Hy”d on the concept, from his Shiurei Da’as. I remember hearing a shmuess about it from Rebbetzin Ausband, tzu lange yohren, over twenty years ago. If I could only find the set in the piles of seforim currently being cleaned and rearranged, I would gladly check…maybe someone else here is familiar with Telz mussar and would know.
    There is also a well-known story about Rav Moshe and the use of the term, regarding his famous view on artificial insemination and the conflict that arose from it. Something to the effect that, when accused of not having “Da’as Torah” in formulating his psak, his response was: “All I have is Da’as Torah–I have never filled my mind with anything else but Torah.”

  48. Peter says:


    Simple question: Daas Torah implies deep wisdom. Why can’t those with Daas Torah see through unscrupulous Askonim?

    [YA – IN part, because the demands and expectations we have burdened them with leave no choice but to rely on those close to them for information.]

    YA: If a Gadol does not feel confident with the information they are receiving from Askanim shouldn’t they say “I don’t know” rather than rely on possible misleading information? If they cannot even tell that a Askan may be misleading them isn’t this a pegam in their wisdom?

    [YA – If I believed that I knew the answer to that question – and I don’t – and that answer was largely critical of them, I would not utter it publicly. There are certain privileges owed to major talmidei chachamim. Hevai zahir migachaltan shel Chachamim….

    In any event, assigning blame doesn’t get us too far. Let’s deal with the practical. If you knew of an acclaimed opera star who sounded atrocious when performing in a certain hall, would you argue that his continued performing there called his musical ability into question? Or would you try to find a way to enjoy his performances in a different venue? I know what I would do.

    Assume, as do almost all those who have contributed to this discussion, that there is a problem in the directives and missives we receive in the name of some gedolei Torah. Our response should not be to snatch away their keser Torah, but to limit the how, what, and when that we can listen to their pure music.]

  49. Chaim Saiman says:

    In your account the gedolim themselves bear no responsibility for being manipulated or played, and its only the askanim who are at fault. But doesnt responsibility end with the putative leaders, not the hangers on? Who is it that is answering the shaylos, and signing their names to documents? In the past I have heard that some version of “the gedolim are too kadosh to think that people will twist their words.” But isn;t that simply stating that they are too naive to lead?

  50. Benshaul says:

    As someone from the Charedi world I can attest to having been able to bribe my way into the home of one the ziknei Hador ZT”L, with CASH! I was also sent by fax (remember those), a shopping list of toys to bring, prior to leaving the US by some of the more nefarious types surrounding this Gadol.
    I still truly believe in the concept of Daas Torah, but as the expression goes, im ein daas , havdolah minayin.

  51. Shades of Gray says:

    “Not onythat, but from being called a “stinking weed’ at the time of WWII, the Agudah and people of its orientation are major players at the highest levels of state and national government”

    It was a “sickly weed”, not a “stinking weed”, although they probably thought that, too 🙂

    R. Zwiebel said a few months ago that “In 1942, we were not welcomed because we were a ‘sickly weed’; in 2014, we aren’t welcomed because we’re an ’800 pound gorilla’!…”, referring to the comments of an ethics consultant for end-of-life care who said that the Agudah is like an “an 800 pound gorilla that sits where it wants to”.

    (Dr. David Kranzler wrote in the Fall, 2002 Jewish Action that the “The primary targets of this vicious verbal attack were Rabbis Aaron Kotler and Elya Meir Bloch, both recent arrivals from Soviet-occupied Vilna, who were leaders of Agudath Israel as well as the Vaad.”)

  52. tzippi says:

    R’ Shoshan write:
    Your response to R. Slifkin realy brought home why after years of dialog with you, I have realized that despite our many points of agreement there remains a fundamental chasm separating us. While you certainly do not engage in the Godolotry that is so pervasive in the charedi world and are very aware of the serious problems the beset the current leadership structure and would like to see significant change, you remain deeply invested in and committed to Agudist notions of Daas Torah and rabbinic authority. As a result you cannot ultimately accept that the system is profoundly broken. this is not an accident but a result of flaws in agudism that were critiqued by the Aguda’s opponents, like the Serei Eish, generations ago. You cannot internalize the extent of chillul hashem and human suffering that are a direct result of the charedi leadership or the many aveiros that are done regularly in the name of Torah. You are convinced that Torah Judaism cannot survive a serious frontal assault against the leadership structure and the theology and ideology that underlies it. I believe that the Torah obligates to fight against these things

    How does the Torah obligate us to fight against these things?
    I too don’t see that the Agudah is broken, at least in America, so you know where I stand.
    I’m not Rabbi Miller but I have a humble suggestion: when our children are young, we should encourage them to build relationships with teachers. While it’s bracing when we as parents are actually asked for advice, we are giving our kids the gift and skills of aseh lecha rav, for those questions beyond cut and dried but the fifth Shulchan Aruch questions in their lives. And if they see that we have local and/or accessible mentors who we consistently consult with, they’ll really get the message.
    Of course, these mentors, baalei (and baalos) eitza, and poskim should have broad shoulders, and not be Supreme Court level. This is an important part of the chinuch too.
    But it’s late, and as the joke goes, back on my head now. Chag kasher v’sameach.

  53. mycroft says:

    “I first encountered Agudat Israel of America when Rabbi Moshe Sherer came to Ner Israel for a Shabbos and spoke to us about it. Here in the United States. there is no hint of corruption,the Agudah is a paragon of askanus l’sheim shamayim. Nobody is enriching himself or taking any kind of bribe. Not onythat, but from being called a “stinking weed’ at the time of WWII, the Agudah and people of its orientation are major players at the highest levels of state and national government. How different is the Agudah in Israel. It really is a shame.”

    I have never been a member of the Agudah but for a few years I had the pleasure of attending a daf yomi shiur lunchtime at their then William St headquarters both before and after the fire. I gave them contributions but refused to belong to the organization-because during that time period a lot of their effort was used to attack other Orthodox Jews. Fortunately in my opinion they have become much more positive and certainly Rabbi Shafran IMO has been a positive force in that direction. The more polite, tolerant approach has certainly precedents in Agudah America writing and behavior.
    I just happened to be reading this afternoon a 1941 issue of Moriah published by the Agudath Israel Youth West 180th Street a couple of quotations from an editorial in their publication “…We also believe that the authority of our Torah can only be strengthened by a more democratic organization of Jewish communities and that the American way of life is no less or more compatible with it than the German, Hungarian or Russian approaches used to be. We can see no reason why the jealousies of the Old World should be perpetuated and idolized in this country and we welcome every effort to bridge whatever gap may still exist between the various types of genuine Orthodox Judaism…To quite some extent our own paper has been following and stressing Torah-Im-Derech-Eretz ideology because it considers it particularly ell suited to the American scene. At no time, however, have we looked upon it as a static ideal or placed it above other forms of Orthodox Judaism…”
    BTW I have gone to Guidestar and Read Agudahs 990s and they are impressive as to lack of gigantic salaries to its top executives. I believe the Forward once commented very favorably on the Agudah’s lack of excessive compensation to its leaders.

  54. DF says:

    R. Adlerstein – you say that the first usage of the term “daas torah” is a red herring, its the concept that counts. That answer is essentially how my teacher R. Wein responded, in the Jewish Observer, to Dr. Kaplan’s article demonstrating the absence of any written foundation for the term. A part of me is pretty sure he was asked to write that defense for public consumption, because, being the great scholar he is, R. Wein is well aware that the first usage of a term in print is not insignificant. To the contrary, it is nearly always the best evidence we have to tell us when and at what point concepts become part of public discourse. This is not a controversial proposition, it is a basic part of research. So if “daas torah” didn’t exist in print before a certain date – among the tens of thousands of Jewish books and periodicals – its a near certainly that the concept didn’t exist, period.

    יהיה איך שיהיה. Even R. Wein would agree that the concept of daas torah he said has always existed is almost unrecognizable from what it has evolved into in 2015. This is NOT the way of our fathers.

    [YA – No argument from me there. I think it was my point!]

  55. dr. bill says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein, you write [YA – The evolution of the term is a red herring. It is the concept that is important, and the concept and practice were always there.]

    I totally agree, but would add “to some degree” to the end of your sentence. I thinks it is important to delimit the concept’s/practice’s historic scope and normative status. Historians have done a good deal of that and documented its scope and normative status, in various communities across the last thousand years. I often wonder how today’s Gedolim view that history.

  56. Simcha Younger says:

    What can be done about this? Here are a few things everyone can do:
    1. Stop accepting any “daas torah” which was not communicated through formal channels, or which was solicited by askanim.
    2. If anyone shares such “daas torah” with you, remind them that if they did not hear it first-hand, they cannot rely on it.
    3. Do not give any credence to mass-psak announcements.
    4. Find your own Rav, someone who can give you the time you need, and go to him with your questions. Do not go to popular Daas Torah rabbanim, even if they are truly greater than your personal Rav.

    On a social level, we need to start over with a formal structure of authority, which begins at the local level. We need to know that the Rabbanim we listen to are actively engaged in dealing with the issues, and that no interested party is filtering what information they have. We need to know why they are the ones we listen to, and that they really did says what we are told they said. We also need to know that if we have a legitimate issue we can have access to them, while having a way to prevent minor issues from taking their time. People who waste their time or try to abuse their position need to find the doors shut to them.

  57. Peter says:

    The problem is that the concept of Daas Torah is being made to carry intellectual weight that it was never intended. It was originally more a slogan than anything else– claiming that one should put every important question (and perhaps not such important questions) to the person most steeped in Torah in the generation. Since Torah contains all wisdom the rhetoric was that that person would naturally give the best answer. This was a way of asserting the supremacy of Torah over all secular wisdom and the necessity of obeying Torah and Torah scholars.

    But the Daas Torah slogan could never possible bear the weight of practical reality. Once people actually started following this view the gedolim were overwhelmed, they were deceived and manipulated; they were forced to answer questions they had no expertise in etc… People received bad advice, were made to conform to doctrines that were not really Torah, were defrauded etc.. Naturally, the doctrine of Daas Torah has collapsed like a house of cards.

    Unfortunately, while Daas Torah was originally meant to instill respect for Talmidei Chachamim and Torah leaders it actually has ended up doing the opposite. As a previous commentator stated Tafesta Meruba lo Tafasta. I would venture that the doctrine of Daas Torah may be doing more to *undermine* respect for Talmidei Chachamim than any attacks from outside the Torah camp.

  58. Moshe Dick says:

    At the risk of sounding repetitive, “Das Torah” , as practiced today -that every question,every problem,every directive must be brought to a “Godol’ for his approval, is a modern invention. It is not found in any rishon or acharon. To compound this, it is assumed that every saying from a “Godol” is sacrosanct-and must be followed. This does not allow for one ounce of independent thought. I don’t want to sound heretical, but the Gedolim’s opinions on the Holocaust and the medinah prove that their words are very far from being sacrosanct and hence, Daas Torah is not omnipotent. If so, why follow it?

    [YA – because in those situations where Daas Torah is legitimately called for, it is powerful, effective, and part of our mesorah to see gedolei Torah as our leaders!]

  59. Bob Miller says:

    If there is no consensus about “…where Daas Torah is legitimately called for…” that causes problems. I guess our best bet is to consult as needed with the rabbi(s) who know us best.

  60. Moshe Dick says:

    Dear Rabbi Adlerstein! your comment in response to mine begs the question-again. What are “those situations where Daas Torah is legitimately called for”? To illustrate my point, do you think that the gedolim pre-World War II were correct in their refusal to encourage Jews to leave Europe? Were they (in their great majority)correct in their very strong denunciation of movements (i.e. Religious Zionism) that encouraged to move Jews to (then) Palestine and ultimately build a Jewish state? Please ,don’t get me wrong. I do not,chas vecholilo, accuse them of being responsible for the catastrophe of the Holocaust by these decisions.I do point out, though, that clearly, their opinions are not “min hashomayim” and they can be wrong, sometimes disastrously. To me, certainly in “milei d’alma”, their views are not sacrosanct. Closer to our times,the events of the Six-Day War were not recognized as something really special,worthy of saying hallel, bhy many Roshei Yeshiva( I know this personally). Must I accept these views as “Daas Torah” or can I form my own opinion? The prevalent view today is that every single opinion by a godol is Daas Torah and must be followed. I think there are plenty of examples that show that this is not correct.

    [Your statements depend upon your definite knowledge of events that never transpired. You claim to know (with apparently absolute certainty) that had a greater number of Jews left Europe, they would have escaped its destruction and no other consequence would have resulted. Are you a prophet, such that you can insinuate that the Gedolim who advised against leaving Europe were “disastrously wrong”?

    Rommel, the “Desert Fox,” outwitted the French and the British across North Africa, until Mongomery’s “Desert Rats” stopped him at El Alamein. Had that critical battle been won by the Germans, a unit of SS troops in Athens was ready to follow Rommel’s troops into Palestine and round up its Jews. If Hitler’s Army hadn’t been so busy in Europe, they could have devoted more troops to North Africa and history would have been very different. So unless you have a prophetic line to G-d, your certainty seems overconfident at best. — Y Menken]

  61. Sholom says:

    A very enlightening story (at least to me) was written by Rav Shlomo Lorincz in his book “In their Shadow” Vol 1 (Feldheim). I believe it is in his introduction.

    When Rav Lorincz was approached by the Brisker Rav to be his spokesperson in the Knesset, Rav Lorincz said that he would do so only under one condition – that if he didn’t understand why the Brisker Rav asked him to do something, he could ask him to explain his reasoning. Rav Lorincz says that the Brisker Rav turned to him with a smile and said “Good. I’m happy to see that you are not a chosid shotah!”

    I learned from this story, that if a godol says something that you don’t understand, and you don’t ask “why”, you may be a chosid, but you’re also a shotah!

  62. Sholom says:

    Simcha Younger said: “On a social level, we need to start over with a formal structure of authority, which begins at the local level. We need to know that the Rabbanim we listen to are actively engaged in dealing with the issues …”

    I’m sorry to say, but the local rabbonim have fallen for the Daas Torah misconception just like everyone else. In fact, they are probably pushing it more than others. It takes a load off their shoulders.

  63. Benshaul says:

    I will share a story that if nothing else shows how the Gedolim, are far more measured in their outlook than many think.
    A couple of years ago a senior American Rosh Yeshiva was discussing an American day school with Reb Aron Leib Steinman and mentioned in passing that he was a little conflicted by the fact that the day school, which has a large secular Israeli student body -and is geared specifically towards attracting them- has photos on the wall of prominent secular Israeli politicians as well as an Israeli flag. RALS asked where the kids would be if they werent in this school and when he was told that they would be in public school, RALS told the Rosh Yeshiva that I don’t understand what the “hava amina” of your conflict is.

  64. dr. bill says:

    reading the various comments, one thing occurred to me: To sort out the various positions on daas torah, rather than debating conceptual positions, a set of examples, across the entire spectrum, be discussed. I suspect it will not resolve the issue, but it will clarify (and perhaps narrow the differences between) viewpoints.

  65. Moshe Dick says:

    Rabbi Menken!
    Your argument is pure sophistry. You accuse me of trying to be a prophet when I maintain that more jews would have been saved when leaving Europe before the war. Yet, you claim to know what would have happened to Rommel and his army. You are playing the role of a prophet too! However, with respect to your views, you are evading my main point about the modern edition of “Daas Torah”.All I have posited is the fact that “Daas Torah’ is not all-knowing, as many maintain today. It is pretty clear that the Gedolim of pre-war Europe did not see the catastrophe coming. This not to accuse them about the tragic outcome and I have made that clear as crystal many times. If you wish, you can affirm that,for all their holiness, the Almighty hid this from them. That is fine. But then, you have to admit too that their views are not sacrosanct and this omission can happen on other matters too. And this is the crux of the matter- you and others who follow “Daas Torah” faithfully, think the Gedolim cannot be wrong. I posit differently. The result is that you think that their opinion always has to be followed and I maintain that there is plenty of room for independent thinking.

    [As a friend of mine said in college, you’d have a great point, if you were right. But I never claimed, as you did, to know with certainty what would happen. I merely offered one point in history where the fate of Jews outside of Europe might have gone very differently, and offered a possible scenario.

    And what you present as the concept of Daas Torah is entirely divorced from reality. Please, if you will, find a knowledgeable proponent of Daas Torah who believes that “Daas Torah” means Gedolim are “all-knowing!” The doctrine of Papal Infallibility is a Catholic concept. To follow Daas Torah means to have the necessary humility to believe that there is someone who, due to his greater Torah knowledge, has a better understand of HaShem’s world than I do. No more, no less. Although it is clear that the Ohr Somayach (and according to oral accounts, the Chofetz Chaim) saw a disaster looming, HKB”H said he would hide His face. So what is the contradiction when HKB”H does as He said He would? –YM]

  66. Natan Slifkin says:

    Is there a *significant* difference between saying “The Gedolim are never wrong” and saying “The Gedolim could theoretically be wrong, but we will never acknowledge that this actually happened”? I don’t think that there is. In which case Moshe Dick’s point is essentially correct.

    Also, if one says that the Gedolim were only wrong regarding Europe because Hashem misled them, then that begs the rejoinder that since many non-Gedolim got it right, it would seem to make sense not to always follow Gedolim who might be misled by Hashem. After all, the requirement to preserve one’s life is presumably more important than the requirement to follow Gedolim.

    [While your personal distaste for the voice of the Gedolim is understood, you are, like Moshe, distorting the concept of Da’as Torah in order to belittle it. When we seek out the best medical advice, we do not decide that the top experts are “all-knowing.” But we do know the difference between the judgment of experts and that of first-year residents.

    The methodology of listening to the Gedolim on matters affecting the Klal has stood by the Jews throughout our history. “Many non-Gedolim got it right” — oh really? In the case of the Holocaust, it was the Gedolim who warned us that the Reform movement in Germany would bring disaster for the Jewish people, and that the disaster was coming. To ignore the sheer stupidity of those Jewish “leaders” who proudly declared that “Berlin is our Jerusalem” while claiming the Gedolim should have suggested this or that method of avoiding the consequences is sheer hypocrisy — to say nothing of both the Zionist leaders in Palestine and the Reformers of America who refused to divert funds to ransom and rescue Jews from Europe.

    Even the question of whether HKB”H led the Gedolim to err is nothing more than a guess. The conjecture that leaving Europe, reducing Torah study, reducing our merits before HKB”H, would have led to a better result — is a speculation at odds with historical precedent. –YM]

  67. Moshe Dick says:

    Dear Rabbi Menken!
    I appreciate your willingness to let my comments go through. You are willing to engsge in a civilized discussion- in contrast to other contributors. As Pessach is looming, this may be the last -for now- of this discussion. Your remarks are cogent but you know yourself that the way Daas Torah is interpreted today is exactly the way you describe it- that Gedolim are “all knowing”! And indeed, it is close to being clothed in that foreign concept of infallibility. How else would you explain the vilification of anyone who opposed the recent call by Israeli gedolim to fight against the draft law? You mean to tell me that individuals and communities cannot think differently about this law? Must everyone subjugate one’s opinion to the one advocated? That was my point- that one does not have to leave one’s brain at the door when judging personal – and national- subjects. My illustration of pre-war Europe was only there to show that even the greatest Gedolim can err when faced with difficult questions. Very few could imagine thet coming catastrophe (save possibly that well-known passage in Meshech Chochmo on parshat Bechukoisai) which was unique in our history since the Churban. The Gedolim of that time had a certain view of the times, an opinion that was erroneous. It did not and does not diminish their stature in Torah and Tsidkus. It does allow people to have different opinions, even as their opinion may turn out to be wrong! That is called “bechirah”.

    [Actually, I would say this dialogue explains quite well why Rabbi Shafran declines to engage — he might end up having to reiterate the same point three times in rebuttal to a person who repeats himself without new information. “Yes, you see them as all-knowing” is no less bogus than it was the first time, and your new “example” is even less relevant to your assertion.

    You might try picking up the phone and speaking with one of the Gedolim directly; given the confidence of your pronouncements, it is apparent that you’ve not yet availed yourself of the opportunity. The idea that they are somehow all-knowing is simply ludicrous when you hear their self-doubt and self-effacement. But they are, without question, the Eynei HaEydah, “the eyes of the congregation,” those who [exclusively] have the right to speak for the Charedi community in matters affecting the entire community. Every individual has free will, including the ability to cook on Shabbos, support BDS, or oppose anything the Gedolim say. But to vocally oppose the consensus of Gedolim and claim to be charedi is no less an oxymoron than the person who cooks on Shabbos while claiming to be an observant Jew, or the supporter of BDS who claims to be pro-Israel. That has nothing to do with their being “all-knowing,” just recognizing where we stand. –YM]

  68. Doron Beckerman says:

    1) The foreseeing of the Holocaust by the Chofetz Chaim is not mere hearsay. The Ponovezher Rov put the passuk ובהר ציון תהיה פליטה on the wall of his Yeshiva (and it is still there) because he heard it straight from the CC’s mouth in 1933.

    2) If one is to employ result-driven perspectives to undermine Daas Torah, why not use the same to undermine Judaism? Acher asked the same question: How could Chutzpis Hameturgeman’s tongue be cast in the dirt? (Chullin 142) And that’s how he became Acher. The question of Daas Torah must be addressed from within the sources.

    3) If you think that the State is (or is not) the beginning of the flowering of the redemption – what are you basing that on if not Daas Torah?

    4) Without the incredible vision and Mesirus Nefesh of those very same Gedolim (R’Aharon Kotler, the CI, the Brisker Rav, the Ponovezher Rav, etc. etc.) being present in the US and EY, there would have been nothing left of Torah in the whole world. Klal Yisrael clearly needed a reset. There’s an everlasting, unchanging equation – here cited from the rationalist Rambam: obedience of Hashem breeds Divine favor and good in this world, and defiance the opposite, both for the collective and individual Jew. It has nothing to do with “normal” ebb and flow.

    איגרת תחית המתים

    וכבר זכר בתורה שהוא מופת מתמיד, רצוני לומר, תקון הענינים עם העבודה והפסדם עם המרי, אמר (דברים כ”ח מ”ו): “והיו בך לאות ולמופת ובזרעך עד עולם”. ומפני זה אמרו (נדרים ל”ג): אין מזל לישראל! רצונם לומר, שתקונם והפסדם אינם לסבה טבעית ולא על מנהג המציאות, אלא נתלים בעבודה ובמרי, וזה אות יותר גדול מכל אות. וכבר בארנו שזה בדין צבור ובדין יחיד, כמו שיראה מן המעשה ההוא והוא נאות לאומרו “ובזרעך עד עולם”, ומן המאמר המפורסם באומה (ברכות ה’ א’): ראה אדם יסורים באים עליו יפשפש במעשיו. והוא הענין בעצמו הוא המכון גם כן באמרו (דברים י”ד י”ט): “אשר חלק ה’ אלהיך אותם לכל העמים תחת כל השמים ואתכם לקח ה'”, רצונו לומר, שעניניהם אינם נוהגים ענין מנהג שאר האומות אבל יחדם השם בזה המופת הגדול שיהיו פעולותיהם תמיד נקשרות בתקון עניניהם או בהפסדם.

  69. Peter says:

    YM wrote:

    “When we seek out the best medical advice, we do not decide that the top experts are “all-knowing.” But we do know the difference between the judgment of experts and that of first-year residents.”

    Comparing listening to medical experts and listening to Gedolim is one of the most abused and misused analogies. Let me speak from personal experience about how consulting medical experts works for many people today.

    My infant son recently needed surgery. We visited three teams of experts who each gave us their opinion. As it turned out, each team gave us different advice. We questioned them and they explained their reasoning. We then consulted other experts and weighed the pros and cons of each approach. In the end we followed the position that made most sense to us.

    If one wants to compare seeking out gedolim to this way of seeking out medical advice most people even LWMO would have no problem with this view of rabbinic authority. When we have a halakhic or hashkafic questions ask different gedolim, ask them to explain their reasoning, weigh it and then decided for oneself.

    If this is not what you consider to be the proper approach to asking Shaylis to Gedolim, then please stop comparing it to seeking advice from medical experts.

    [Peter, if there is no consensus among Gedolim, and it’s not a Halacha question, then the approach you suggest does, in fact, work, both in theory and in practice. The comparison holds. With regards to Halachic matters, the problem is one of consistency — because of the way Halachic matters are intertwined, you cannot “shop around” for the Kulah you’re looking for. That would be comparable to following one doctor’s advice for the first half of a procedure, and a different doctor’s for the second, which neither doctor imagines could work. –YM]

  70. Robert Lebovits says:

    We aren’t directed by the mesorah to follow the guidance of Gedolei Yisroel because they are always “right”. Even R. Akiva, for a time, took the position that Bar-Kochba was (might have been; had the potential to be; etc.) the Moshiach.
    We turn to Gedolim for direction because that is the methodology Hashem initiated to keep us properly focused on how to utilize the Torah in the fashion that will allow us to achieve the purpose for which we were created – to reveal His presence in this world and earn the Tov in store for us.
    I am rather amazed that no one commenting thus far has addressed the obvious. Surely we all know that every generation’s leaders will only be as good as the people they lead. By definition it must be so since our leaders are not imposed on us from outside our world but are “grown” within the hothouse of the milieu of the present. To demean their leadership without recognizing the deficiencies in ourselves as their followers is to ignore the real reasons we are in such disarray and turmoil today. All choices have consequences. If we have accepted pseudo-leadership as a “shortcut” to satisfy our need for immediate gratification to see the man at the top rather than patiently going through the proper steps of the hierarchy of Halacha that was the norm until very recently, than we should not be surprised that there is a cost to be paid for overturning the rules.

  71. dr. bill says:

    Rabbi Beckerman, Someone of importance says X years ago. At the time, the reaction is Z. Some years later X is seen as meaning Y. What provides greater (historical) evidence of what X meant – Y or Z?

  72. Benshaul says:

    Kudos to Robert Lebovits for his pungent comment of what WE need to take responsibility for.

    While the point has been made in a few of the comments-it bears repeating. Da’as Torah, does NOT mean that the Gedolim are infallible, the Torah actually tells us they will make mistakes. (even if they tell you right is left etc., and the korban for a Nosi who erred.) Da’as Torah, is the concept and obligation of a jew to ask the Einay Ho’aida for guidance, and in those instances where asking the question is warranted, the security of knowing that you made your best effort to ascertain the Divine will.

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