Who Deserves to be Our Hero?

You find yourself standing in a vast convention hall, larger than any you’ve seen before. A cacophony of different languages and dialects pounds at your eardrums, but the sounds are all happy sounds. Multiply Citifield by a hundred, and you begin to get the vibe of the gathering.

From the name tags that identify everyone milling about, you gather that many of the attendees had at one point been dead, some for a very long time. What seems to be happening is that people are seeking out “celebrities” of the past, and stop to interact with the ones they find particularly interesting. More than photo-ops, people seem intent on walking away with some inspiration from the serial encounters.

They’ve made it easier by grouping the attractions by century. You spot R. Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik (the American one from YU) and immediately walk towards him. You heard oodles of his denigration when he was (first) alive, but in the decades since, you’ve furtively picked up a number of his works and been impressed each time. This would be a good opportunity to gain some clarity. But then you spot the head of the seminary your daughter has applied to, and think the better of it. R. Soloveitchik did earn a PhD, and left Aguda for Mizrachi. You don’t want the seminary to get the wrong impression of the home your daughter grew up in, right? No need to rock the boat. Why not stick to those who are free of any taint of being on the wrong side? You can’t be too careful these days.

The crowd around Rav Kook and the Satmar Rov – amazingly engaged in amiable, if animated, conversation with each other – is larger than the lines at Disneyland, so you move on, practically bumping into R. Moshe Chaim Luzzatto. Wow! Mesilas Yesharim in person! Then you remember the article your somewhat nerdy intellectual friend showed you years before, when discussing – purely academically, of course – the outrageous idea that you-know-who might have thought that he was Moshiach. Your friend showed you the lines in the Ramchal’s poetry that suggested that similar thoughts had crossed his mind. OK – Mesilas Yesharim has been sanitized by history. But, spotting a few people from your shul who recognize you, you don’t want people to think you are soft on mainstream hashkafa, so you move on without stopping.

You always had a weakness for halacha, so you are initially excited when you spot R. Yaakov Emden, who was certainly one of the pillars of halacha in the centuries after the Shulchan Aruch. The excitement turns into urgent prudence. The Yaavetz (as he is known) would be great to talk to, but he did have a few black marks. He questioned the authorship of parts of the Zohar. That’s not going to sit well with the rebbe of the shtibel where you daven mincha on Shabbos. His personality was – how should we say this? – a bit argumentative. Reportedly, he wrote about himself that he did not really like people. How his mussar chabura let him get away with that, you have no idea, but it is not your business. And then there was the way he dealt with the epidemic of male marital extra-curricular activity (this is a family blog!!!) that he witnessed. He thought that bringing back the institution of pilegesh/ concubine might be a better way of handling male libido than the commonplace trysts with the domestic workers. (Hard to believe, you think, that they never expunged that responsum from the volume. Probably by the next printing, they will.) You determine to avoid him, not wanting to offend some of the more outspoken women, and look for his great adversary, R. Yonoson Eybeschutz, instead. Ummm. Maybe not, as you remember about his son Wolf. Like, how did that happen? Did his father let him have a smartphone? You know that parents aren’t perfect, but he was supposed to be an adam gadol! What kind of gadol would have a son like that?

You think, briefly, of heading over to the Chasam Sofer. But wait. What do we make of that teshuvah he wrote claiming that scientific evidence obtained by studying the general population was irrelevant to Jews, whose physiologies are different? Will your chavrusa – who happens to be a physician – give you a hard time for that? Maybe things will be better as you move much further back in time. But you keep passing up opportunities, worried that the great weren’t really that great, or that you would be affected by some errant teaching of theirs, or – perish the thought – your neighbors would get the wrong impression. As much as he was an important part of your life, you stayed clear of the Rambam. (There were these rumors – unsubstantiated, you hoped – that he wrote a heretical book called Moreh Nevuchim that no one studies any more because it is not our derech. And he didn’t seem to know much about kabbalah, did he?) Ibn Ezra – fuhgedaboudit. That same nerdy friend told you the dark secret about the twelve verses in Devarim.

Better, you think, to head to the Tanach section. You are trembling with reverence – but you give Dovid HaMelech a wide berth nonetheless. (Never did get that thing with Batsheva straight, even after the gemara in Shabbos.) Yitzchok Avinu? So tell me again how he managed to father an Esav? Avraham Avinu? You really, really want to ask him what it was like taking his son up the mountain to the Akeidah. But then you remember Ramban’s criticism of him for compromising Soro’s safety. You don’t want any trouble from the #metoo feminists in the neighborhood, who could shut down your practice.

Come to think of it, Tanach always made you nervous. So you head over to the Tanaim. Unbelievable – R. Elazar ben Arach! You can have him all to yourself! But then you remember what happened to him after the death of R. Yochanan ben Zakai. How the talmidim split up, and he went up north where the water was better, and life a bit more comfortable. How his own talmidim did not follow, and how in the course of time he forgot all his learning because he did not have the stimulation of combative students. It got so bad that when he found himself with some of his old Tanaim-friends, he could not read “Ha-chodesh hazeh lachem,” reading it instead “hachresh haya libam.” How terrible he felt, and how he repented, and his friends prayed for him, and his learning was restored. And how did all of this happen? Because he listened to his wife, who pushed for the move up north. “Does the cheese go to the mice, or the mice to the cheese,” she asked. What kind of adam gadol makes mistakes because he is influenced by his wife?

Then you wake up. Was this a dream? Or a nightmare?

The reaction to my recent piece on the measles and anti-vaxxers was a nightmare for me. The vast majority of the response was positive, but one kind of minority response was very disturbing. “Why won’t you call him out by name?” they asked/demanded. Those readers pointed to several (but very few) prominent rabbinic names who were complicit in lending support to the anti-vaxxers, who now can take credit for hundreds of cases of the disease, for disrupting the lives of thousands, and for creating one of the worst cases of chilul Hashem in memory, reverberating around the world. Knowing my feelings of closeness to one of them – a genuine adam gadol who has benefitted countless individuals and institutions with decades of insight and guidance – they wanted to see him called out, repudiated.

No matter that, despite my reverence and loyalty to him, I had publicly distanced myself (albeit reverentially) from his position on vaccines years ago. No matter that the public pronouncements of many people and organizations, and the action plans they implemented, amounted to a full-throated declaration: Halacha follows the majority. The majorities of medical and halachic experts have determined that vaccination is essential, required. Schools and shuls can and should bar the unvaccinated. Yes, you can throw them out. Yes, the majority prevails even against the opinion of a very great man (consistent with the humility that is well-known to his admirers, he does not even impose his view on his own yeshiva) who is in this case in the minority.

We all know who that is, and I am still not going to mention his name. What’s the point? To gleefully embarrass him? Are there sane, non-conspiratorialists who still hide behind his position, who will change their behavior because of our warning? Not anymore. The hardcore believers will go on with their nonsense with or without his backing. And the vast majority of the community has made it clear through their actions that we do not follow him in this matter. Calling him out will not protect one more child.

But shouldn’t we do it, just to be safe? No, I say. It flies in the face of the Mishna.[1] “Be cautious concerning the hot coal [of the chachamim], lest you be burnt.” That is the warning label attached to the honor of the great talmid chacham. It is painful to see how many people disregard the warning. It is necessary at times to take exception with the position of a great talmid chacham. Both the danger to health, and the possibility (and by now, the certainty) of a desecration of Hashem’s Name make it imperative to disagree. “Ein chochmah v’ein tevunah v’ein eitzah, etc.”[2] That disagreement must come with restraint, dignity and maximize the honor of the talmid chacham.

None of the above, however, is what made this a nightmare. What did it was the realization that many, many people had a related reaction – namely that if they discovered a flaw or imperfection in a person, they could no longer look up to him. Period. That is tragic. These people – and likely their children as well – will never have Torah heroes. They will not be able to look up to, and gain from, people who should be admired. They confuse greatness with perfection.

Heroes need not be perfect. Gedolim need not be perfect. They never were, and they never will be. A person who demands never to find fault in his or her mentor will never have a meaningful mentor.

We don’t unseat gedolim for writing a “wrong” teshuvah, or taking an unpopular position. We should not withhold our esteem from those with whom we have to disagree at times, or in whom we find some flaw. Sitting in front of me is a sefer sent to me a few days ago, the hashkafic conversations of R. Yaakov Ariel, shlit”a, one of the gedolei roshei yeshiva of the Dati Leumi world. (Yes, they exist.) Are we obligated, asks his interlocutor, to study the Torah of the Satmar Rov, who invalidated so much that is central to our thought. His answer: “Why not? He was a great talmid chacham.”

There are fatal flaws, but not every flaw is fatal. A talmid chacham who shows shallow thinking in one area should not be consulted in that area. It does not follow – and experience shows otherwise – that great people cannot be insightful and incisive in some areas, and not in others. (And yes, there can be talmidei chachamim whose Torah depth is astounding, but they are simply not very good about offering advice about practical matters or public policy. Go to a different talmid chacham for those things.)

Understanding that your rebbi is not perfect is initially deflating, but ultimately liberating. You can stop making excuses for this or for that, and accept his greatness in all those other areas.

The exponential growth of the Torah community leaves us crucially short-staffed in inspirational leadership. We are making a bad situation worse by disqualifying some gems, one person at a time. A Torah community of blind followers of people they have no real access to, on the one hand, and cynics who look to one on the other, is not sustainable.

That would be a real nightmare to behold.

  1. Avos 1:10

  2. Berachos 19b

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55 Responses

  1. dr. bill says:

    As one who believes that in the presence of a full-throated hillul haShem, we do not worry about the niceties of preserving the honor of those partially responsible, I, nonetheless, appreciate your viewpoint. A similar incident about which I will email you privately makes me a bit more inclined to see your viewpoint.

    but what are we to make of the incredible picture: RMF ztl with the Rav ztl and Rav Tendler’s father ztl at the wedding Rav Tendler’s daughter and Rav Shabtai Rappaport?

  2. micha berger says:

    But I have to tell you, my favorite line describing the scene in olam ha’emes, “The crowd around Rav Kook and the Satmar Rov – amazingly engaged in amiable, if animated, conversation with each other – is larger than the lines at Disneyland…”

    • Shmuel says:

      Unlikely. Rabbi Teitelbaum called Rav Kook an ish tzar v’oyev in his Divrei Yoel. That term is reserved for Haman. I doubt he’s discussing things amiably with Rav Kook up there.

  3. Raymond says:

    i realize that this is not the point of the above article, but I have long wondered what it would have been like to meet some of the truly great people in Jewish history. Would they really be anything like we have come to think of them? Would Abraham really be the ultimate personification of compassion who nevertheless defies the entire world with his novel ideas? Would Yitzchak likewise by the ultimate example of a self-controlled traditionalist? Did Ya’akov really intend to convey to Eisav the message that he (Ya’akov) managed to keep all of the mitzvot when living with Lavan, when he (Ya’akov) used the Hebrew word Garti? Did Eisav really understand that? What would it have been like to meet somebody of the stature of Rashi, the Rambam, or the RambaN? Would meeting the Arizal, the Ba’al Shem Tov, or the Ramchal immediately cause our souls to ascend up into previously unseen levels of the spiritual stratosphere? Just how intimidating would it have been to encounter the Vilna Gaon? and so on. I have to think that I am not the only one who has imagined all this. Surely G-d thought of this first. Such encounters must be a part of our future existence in Heaven, I would think.

    In any case, onto the specific topic at hand. I will admit to not knowing much about this, but my instincts tell me that it may not be such a wise idea to depend on one’s Rabbi for the answers to all questions. Each of us human beings are limited, finite beings, and that includes Rabbis as well. So when it comes to Jewish law, then yes, consulting one’s Rabbi makes perfect sense, but when talking about, say, the age of the Earth, probably consulting a professional geologist would be the sensible course to take. Where sometimes the lines are blurred, are in fields such as psychology. For true mental illness, yes, the psychologist or even psychiatrist is to be sought after. But for people who are basically normal, and just have life problems, is it better to go to a psychologist, or to one’s local Rabbi? On this score, I could probably go either way. Perhaps one can consult both, and then come to one’s own conclusions based on what each of them would tell us.

  4. Steve Brizel says:

    Great article and great picture of RYBS and RMF

  5. David Ohsie says:

    “And the vast majority of the community has made it clear through their actions that we do not follow him in this matter.”

    Unfortunately, this very blog (cross-currents) seems to be outside that vast majority who don’t follow said Rabbi. Your colleague, Rabbi Shafran, recently posted the opinion of the Agudah that the measles outbreak has nothing to do with low vaccination rates in certain parts of the frum community. Thus, this outbreak cannot be helped by increasing vaccination rates in these communities, according to his post. Instead, this is all an anti-semitic conspiracy to blame the Jews.

    For example:

    “Governmental records indicate that the measles vaccination rates in yeshivos in Williamsburg, Borough Park and across New York State are high, with yeshiva averages statewide exceeding 96%.” [In reality, the statewide rate, even if accurate, is irrelevant if there are pockets of low rates in some communities, which there are].

    “The motive behind this hatred becomes readily apparent in light of statistics evidencing that acute Orthodox Jewish outbreak areas have vaccination rates rivaling those of many other municipalities.” [In other words, this is all just anti-semitism and has nothing to do with vaccination rates].

    I think that the influence of said Rabbi is wider than is being admitted here.

    • My read is different. Aguda rightly reacted to the wave of chilul Hashem produced by the anti-vaxxers. It is our job to reduce potential anti-Semitism, even when our own have been its cause. They tried to tamp down the buzz that it was primarily an ultra-Orthodox issue. And they were correct. It is worthwhile to review the material on anti-vaxxers around the world that was cobbled together by Dr. Jeremy Brown, not usually identified as an Aguda apologist. It shows how widespread anti-vax hysteria can be – and how unpredictable.

      • Reb Yid says:

        But this is almost entirely due to the ultra-Orthodox. Who are the children who are developing measles? How is this being spread? Due to the insularity of the ultra-Orthodox community and its connections to other ultra-Orthodox communities with cases of the measles, the causes are to be found within the ultra-Orthodox world.

        What is being left out in deliberating minimizing the blame, by framing the story in terms of vaccination rates is that to its exceedingly high birth rates the ultra-Orthodox community has a higher proportion of children in its community than do other communities, thus making the effect more pronounced.

        That Agudah story smacked of pure defensiveness and wanting to lash out. The problem is within its midst. It is causing harm to both itself and to many other circles, among Jews as well as those who are not.

      • David Ohsie says:

        You are absolutely correct the the Orthodox are not the only repository of anti-vaxx sentiment in the world (ironically, the sentiment more common among the highly educated) . But we Orthodox are *a* repository of anti-vaxx sentiment and that is the reason that this outbreak both started and has continued. To stop it, we need to stop obstructing the health authorities in NY and other areas from doing their jobs (e.g. see this story in Rockland County where Orthodox schools made an outright Chillul Hashem by not cooperating until they were fined). https://www.lohud.com/story/news/local/rockland/2018/12/19/measles-rockland-yeshivas-fined-not-giving-student-vaccine-info/2355966002/

        The Agudah statement however insists that low vaccination rates have nothing to do with the outbreak. They intentionally mislead the reader by claiming that the statewide averages are high (which is completely irrelevant to outbreaks in specific Orthodox communities. They also claim there is some kind of mystery to be solved about how the outbreak continues despite the supposedly high vaccination rates: “There may be reasons why, despite the high percentages of immunization, Orthodox Jewish communities are more susceptible to an outbreak of measles.”

        Contrast that with the unequivocal response of the Vaad here in Baltimore:

        On Wednesday, November 21, 2018, 13 Kislev, 5779, a meeting of the Vaad HaRabbonim/Rabbinical Council of Baltimore unanimously declared the following:

        We consider it a Halachic obligation for every member of the community – adults and children – to be properly vaccinated according to the standards and schedules established by the medical community as outlined by the CDC (https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/index.html). These standards have been responsible for the eradication of many terrible diseases and have significantly improved public health in our country. As we are seeing in the current measles epidemic, ignoring or undermining the policy of universal vaccination endangers the community and is Halachically wrong.

        As such:

        1. Schools, playgroups and shuls should refuse entry to unvaccinated children or adults.

        2. Medical exemptions that are based on a specific individual’s medical history, granted by physicians who are wholly supportive of the vaccine program, should be respected. Religious exemptions for people of the Jewish faith should not be respected.

        3. Individuals who choose not to vaccinate themselves or their children must avoid public places and group settings of all kinds, as their presence poses a serious risk to the community at large.

        We recognize that the fear generated by the anti-vaccine movement has made it genuinely difficult for a number of well-meaning parents to vaccinate their children. We hope and pray that they will be able to overcome these fears and vaccinate, so that we can all benefit from their full and complete participation in our community.

        We pray that Hashem grant each and every member of our community health and strength, and bless our community and our nation with peace.

    • Yisrael Asper says:

      The Aguda statement said that Antivaxers spread it because of high contact amongst the Orthodix. Also they have lots of children and that alone when entering school increases the rate of infection. Your reading of the Aguda statement is a misrepresentation of what it said. AntiSemitism it said is a part of what drives coverage and it certainly is. I cannot understand how you could misread the statement without a bias yourself. We all have biases but we do have to do our best to understand what someone is saying according to what they actually are saying. This is admittedly something in this period of hysteria something that has to be worked on more. Rabbi Adlerstein’s reading is correct and yours is of course wrong.

    • Yisrael Asper says:

      The Aguda statement said that Antivaxers spread it because of high contact amongst the Orthodox. Also they have lots of children and that alone when entering school increases the rate of infection. Your reading of the Aguda statement is a misrepresentation of what it said. AntiSemitism it said is a part of what drives coverage and it certainly is. I cannot understand how you could misread the statement without a bias yourself. We all have biases but we do have to do our best to understand what someone is saying according to what they actually are saying. This is admittedly something in this period of hysteria something that has to be worked on more. Rabbi Adlerstein’s reading is correct and yours is of course wrong.


      There is some basis for the claim that the response to the measles outbreak in the Orthodox world carries with it some element of antisemitism.
      Firstly, Rockland County and Brooklyn are not the only locales to report measles outbreaks. Washington State reports having 74 cases, Michigan comes in with 38 cases, California with 21, and at least 10 other states have multiple reports. These outbreaks are given much less airtime in the media despite the fact that the dispersion pattern is more varied and therefore the public in those areas are actually more at risk of random infection.
      Secondly, the high incidence in the frum world is reflective of the insularity in the communities in which the cases have occurred whereby multiple exposures are much more likely. Ironically, the general public in Brooklyn and Rockland County may very well be less at risk then in the other breakout areas around the country precisely because their interactions with members of those Jewish communities is much more limited than they would be if the index infections were non-Jewish or non-Orthodox.
      The focus on the Jewish status of victims of the outbreak and their lack of vaccinations does carry more than a whiff of anti-Jewish flavor. Disease has always been associated with uncleanliness. Jewish disease carriers is a well-known trope. Living outside of the NY/NJ heartland, the tenor of the stories that are sometimes reported here can make a Jew cringe.

  6. ahg says:

    It’s one thing to maintain a Halachic position that not vaccinating is a parent’s prerogative, and schools can’t bar entry to these children. He’s entitled to take that Halachic position against the majority. When he strays from Halachic discourse and calls vaccinations a hoax, as he was quoted in the Baltimore Jewish Times five years ago, then he’s left the Bais Midrash and is posing a danger to the community by assuming he knows better than the experts in the medical field of which he is not a qualified representative.

    You’re much more balanced in your approach to those who are bestowed the honorarium “gadol” than others. Having spent 3.5 years in your mentor’s yeshiva, I know there are some who hang on his every word like it was straight from Hashem. Five years ago I predicted that his words would have dire consequences. Some local rabbis, where I am, told me that nobody is listening to him on this matter. Unfortunately, time has proven me correct. Perhaps if there was more of a surge of condemnation five years ago, we wouldn’t be where we are today. Furthermore, it’s one thing to have held a mistaken position, it’s another when the damage of that position becomes readily evident, in your lifetime, and you have the opportunity to do teshuvah, and all there is silence.

    You participate in this blog site that routinely is very critical of the left wing orthodox factions. Why is it okay to castigate those who pose a spiritual danger (in the view of this blog site anyway) but not those who have proven to pose a physical danger, with their words, to so many children, and continue to do so on a daily basis as their words continue to reverberate with no attempt to recant them?

    Not a footnote, but worth looking up: Rashi on Vayikra 4:22

    • Yehoshua Duker says:

      For some reason, I doubt that the Satmar chasidim who are not vaccinating are acting that way because of what R’ Shmuel Kamentzsky said in an interview to the Baltimore Jewish Times five years ago.

      • ahg says:

        (1) His opinion has been printed in the anti-vaxx propaganda distributed in the affected communities. It must mean something to them then.
        (2) Even in MO schools, where the administration had had firm policies were forced to cave to the demands of hippie parents (whose real reasons had nothing to do with Reb Shmuel) who used his position to claim religious exemptions for state compliance purposes that would have been unthinkable otherwise.

        In short, there’s no question that he contributed to a culture of tolerance of anti-vaxxers, and provided the foundation for otherwise unfounded religious exemptions claims. Even if you’ll say that if you ask as Satmar mother on whose authority she doesn’t vaccinate her kids, Reb Shmuel’s name isn’t the first one to roll off her tongue, the community would not have found itself where it is today, a place it wasn’t just 10 years ago, without his outspoken support.

      • 1) It means the same to them as SJP citing Neturei Karta. Without the NK crazies, would they be any less anti-Semitic?
        2) No longer

        Both are beside the point. We’re not debating his role. Assume it is as bad as it can get. Then what? My point is that Chazal direct us to use the phrase כבודו במקומו מונח / with all due respect – and really mean it. Respect is due, and it is major respect

  7. Shlomo says:

    Are you brushing Ibn Ezra’s suggestion of Post-Mosaic authorship of certain verses under the rug as just another mistake? By the way, it’s the secret of the twelve not eleven.

    • bible reader says:

      do we have any actual evidence that Ibn Ezrah was referring to Post-Mosaic authorship of certain verses when he alludes to the “secret of the twelve” ? as far as i can tell, that idea wasn’t suggested until some 200 years after Ibn Ezra had passed away, by people who may have had their own agenda. in addition did Ibn Ezra generally use the term סוד to refer something that was not kabalistic in origin? or are you suggesting that Post-Mosaic authorship of certain verses is a kabalistic idea?
      also what to do with the fact that Ibn Ezra pokes fun of karaites who suggested Post-Mosaic authorship of certain verses, if he himself accepted such a notion?

      • Yehoshua Duker says:

        1: The term סוד is not limited to kabbala; it just means something that is hidden.
        2: He pokes fun of Karaites who suggest that entire sections were added later. The additions he writes of are mere phrases here and there, and always in a narrative, non-halakhic context.

    • nt says:

      The Chida in Shem haGedolim cites a tradition that the Ibn Ezra’s commentary was tampered with by Karaites after his death, and says that therefore controversial statements of his not discussed by Ramban should be disregarded as fake.

      This seems to explain places where the Ibn Ezra quotes Karaites as authoritative, despite the scorn he typically heaps on them.

    • dr. bill says:

      if you read an unexpurgated version of ibn ezra, things are clearer. remember he came ~40 years before rambam, who valued his commentary

      • Shlomo says:

        What’s the evidence that Rambam valued his commentary? The letter to his son extolling Ibn Ezra is I think established as a forgery.

  8. Maxi says:

    Pointing out the Chasam Sofer’s scientific error is actually extremely useful. It’s a case in point of how Sages do not have special scientific insight, whatever their expertise in Torah. That translates directly to the matter at hand of vaccines.

  9. Joel Rich says:

    amounted to a full-throated declaration: Halacha follows the majority.
    methinkis R’ Chaim would disagree. In any event I think the issue here is whether “organizations” specifically call for EVERYONE (including the followers of the nameless gedolim who “err” in this case) to follow the majority.

    • dr. bill says:

      Joel, as you are aware, the meaning of the phrase has changed over time and is certainly as well circumstance dependent. halakhic history contains many examples of distinctly minority opinions eventually becoming widely adopted and decisions of the vast majority of poskim of a given era largely left unobserved in later generation.

      My most impactful example was a grandchild of R’ Chaim, RAS ztl, in a talk entitled “Aspiring to Kedusha”, given in 1966 and available on the YU website. I recorded the shiur as did many others; RAL ztl in whose class I was that year, suggested I go since I would not have the benefit of a full year of RAS as he was leaving YU for HTC. Oddly, my tape ended up on the YU website.

      The shiur was multi-faceted but contained a discussion of saving a nochri on Shabbat, a topic covered by Rav Unterman ztl then CR of Israel when he spoke at YU. Both the Rav ztl and RAL had reactions, that have fused in my mind, but both Rav Unterman and RAS are as memorable as if I just heard them.

      now on topic. Clearly RAS disagreed strongly with the SA and the overwhelmingly majority psak that ascribes the reason to mi’shum eivah. RAS listed many halakhic sources beginning with the Meiri that paskened to behave as we do because nochrim to whom the halakha applies no longer exist.

      the basis for such behavior is a serious theological discussion for which blogs are not an appropriate venue.

  10. Avrohom says:


    I believe every individual and certainly organizations must have a posek acharon.

    Hillel and Shamai were both divrei Elokim Chaim however halacah follows Hillel

    The tzibur charedi wants to do the appropriate thing they deserve clear directive.

  11. Dr. E says:

    I agree with Rabbi Adlerstein’s resistance to publish the name of the Rosh Yeshiva on CC. After all, exposing it serves no purpose and objectively would have no tangible benefit other than catharsis for some. It’s no secret. His identity is well known and can easily be seen on other websites.

    Furthermore, Rabbi Adlerstein poses an important meta-issue, that is how we deal with Rabbis with flaws when they have other redeeming contributions in their mentorship and scholarship. Well, it sort of depends on what the flaw is I guess. We have seen charismatic Rabbinic figures who are ultimately exposed for having a dark side. Then, what do you do with their teachings and other contributions?

    That character flaw is clearly not the case here. And I am quite certain that he has a high level of humility.
    However, there are some other realities to contend with. This is not simply an error in Psak or a contrarian Hashkafic position with little merit. It is a situation which has affected the lives of millions of people.

    Now, this person is not another luminary who is totally immune from the outside world and is provided with filtered daily news by Askanim with agendas. I don’t at all get that sense here. As an English speaker, he likely reads some newspapers and understands them. Furthermore, he has likely already been contacted by countless other Rabbis and doctors who have urged him to rethink his position. To date, however, there has been no walking back his comments. So, the issue here is a combination of overrating understanding of modern science, Shalom Bayis, and/or simply refusing to get with the program (i.e. acharei rabbim l’hatos). On the last one, if there would be a Sanhedrin today, there are Talmudic protocols for that which are well-known to the CC audience.

    The other problem which I have with this situation in particular is that we have the Talmudic dictum of “pok chazi…”. And it is evident in the shuk, that there is a public health crisis, where people’s health have been adversely affected, families have been disrupted, and communities and their institutions have had to respond. Plus, there is a Chillul Hashem which if that in and of itself is not heinous enough, has led to anti-Semitic sentiments in this country. If it were any one of those, then “Dayeinu”, he should have retracted his conspiracy theory. When those bein adam l”chaveiro and l’Makom are taken collectively, the word “inexcusable” first comes to mind. So, I would differentiate this case from some of the others.

    And the weird thing is that some of the ant-vaxxers who publically protest who use his name as (Halachic) support likely never even heard of him a month ago. But, that is the way of the world, especially in the age of the Internet.

    At the end of the day, people have to own up to things they have said and done. While there is not direct cause-and-effect here, it is clear that the groundwork for the anti-vax point of view has been laid by bad science. The last thing we need is an unretracted hechsher on it.

  12. Shades of Gray says:

    “These people – and likely their children as well – will never have Torah heroes”

    R. Yaakov Horowitz offered the following parenting analogy after the Lipa issue :

    “When you were a child, you thought your parents could do no wrong. As an adolescent, you thought that you parents couldn’t do anything right.” With that in mind, I think that in many ways we vacillate back and forth between these phases when we think about our leaders…However, those who are currently in the adolescent phase, I suggest that, for the sake of the children, you very quickly realign yourselves to the third, mature phase. Our gedolim are great and elevated human beings. But human nonetheless.”(“Lipa” – Where Do We Go From Here?”, 2/08)

    R. Ron Yitzchok Eisenman wrote similarly a few years ago regarding balance, “this proper balance between respect and reverence coupled with the recognition that even Gedolim are not infallible was recognized by all and it did not diminish their greatness one iota. Over the last twenty years this balance has been lost…This overinflated claim of near perfection and infallibility of the Gedolim I believe is not only incorrect it a major cause for the alienation of many Jews; both those who were brought up frum and especially for those who were not.”(“The Short Vort- Who is Eliezer? “, 10/25/13 )

  13. Bob Miller says:

    In view of our many wrong attitudes and actions, we should be glad that Gedolim are willing to associate with us! This shows no imperfection on their part, either. HaShem Yisborach is even more intent on relating to us down here.

    Anyway, the potential for a communal measles problem was becoming apparent, even to us, long before these outbreaks began. Our organizations should have been more proactive. Now they react as best they can, but now damage has occurred, calling for damage control. The takeaway is that the majority of great poskim should be less bashful about setting things straight in a timely way. They can respect the minority without allowing this respect to hinder effective action.

  14. mb says:

    A great Torah scholar can make mistakes. We know that, and so be it.
    However, if a great Torah scholar has Daas Torah, by definition, he can’t make mistakes.
    Ergo, the anonymous Rabbi in question does not have Daas Torah, which is fine by me.
    You can’t have it both ways.

  15. Bob Miller says:

    Daas Torah refers to superior, Torah-informed judgment about issues in individual and communal life. However, if someone says he plans to consult with Daas Torah, he’s missing the point. A rebbe, posek or advisor does not personify Daas Torah. Everybody has his own batting average, be it high or low.

  16. DF says:

    RYA, you should not feel compelled to defend the “Gedolim” concept, also known as “Daas Torah”, which is, at its core, a 20th century American phenomenon. The crux of your post rests on arguments that have no relevance to the concept. You speak of “gems”, of “your rebbi”, of “brilliant people” – what does any of this have to do with Gedolim? 99% of the people they are supposedly leading have zero personal relationship with them. There is no evidence that they are any more or less learned or brilliant than anyone else. Their status rests mainly on lineage or it is ex officio, a result of the yeshivahs they head. It is not on anything they have done personally to earn the community’s reverence.

    Had you narrowed the scope of your argument to the respect owed to teachers generally, החרשתי. But expanding it to defend a (at least) highly questionable concept may overshadow the otherwise very important points you raise. And thus I believe it is time at last for those preaching it – the Agudah, essentially, and its progeny – to finally let it go. It was a useful concept in post war America, very good for building esprit d’corps. It had a good run. But today it does more harm than good. It wont be the first issue the Agudah has quietly dropped, as chronicled elsewhere. Time to let it go.

    • I completely, utterly disagree. There is no time now for a full treatment of what “at its core” is decidedly not a 20th century phenomenon. Our shut literature is saturated with references to consulting the regnant Torah figures of a region for guidance on all sorts of questions. It is only the recent extension/distortion of the concept that is new – at least in non-chassidic circles. The notion that a mind suffused with Torah learning benefits from a) keen insight, and b) a certain measure of siyata d’shmaya is not a new notion. There is much to say. One of the tragedies of the modern distortion of the concept is that in the understandable reaction to and rejection of it, people are throwing out the core concept as well. It is one of the challenges of our time for Torah figures who “get it” to be able to pass on to their talmidim the real, core notion, while rejecting the extension. ‘Nuf said. For some of the more thought-through articulations of the core concept, see the hesped that R. Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt”l wrote for R Chaim Ozer when he still belonged to Agudah, and these lines by his talmid: “This concept is generally in disrepute among votaries of modern Orthodoxy, who have sought to challenge both its historical progeny and its philosophic validity. I must confess that I find myself, in principle, more favorably disposed to the idea. I readily concede that the concept, in its more overarching permutations, is of relatively recent vintage . . . I find the alternative view, that gedolei Torah are professional experts whose authority and wisdom can ordinarily be regarded as confined to the area of their technical proficiency, simply inconceivable. Our abiding historical faith in the efficacy of Torah as a pervasive, ennobling, informing. and enriching force dictates adoption of the concept of da’at Torah in some form or measure.” R Aharon Lichtenstein (Leaves of Faith, pg. 296)

      • mycroft says:

        There is no doubt that one should try and live ones life in accordance with Torah hashkafa. It is also clear that those who are more knowledgeable in Torah are in general more likely to understand what Torah outside of halacha demands.
        Re Hesped of Rav Chaim Ozer by RYBS, one can’t forget that R Chaim Ozer was formally considered a manhig of Vilna area, thus one in area was required to listen to him. Different than Chazon Ish who did not have formal authority. Difference does not mean that R COG was necessarily a greater talmid chacham than the CI.
        Of course, the Rav stated that he had no special expertise in non halachik matters.
        Thus, clear that a Rav is not simply a halachik computer, but hopefully a guide. However, difference in halacha one is bound by halachik decisions and acceptance, matters of hashkafa do not have formal rules of what is accepted and what is not accepted.

      • dr. bill says:

        let me split the difference. First, the Rav ztl changed his mind after WWII wrt to daat torah. Second, the Rav felt that he needed to hear the opinion of experts in various fields, but after hearing their insights, he did assume that given his analytic ability, he can opine on various topics intelligently. Third, there is a large difference between thoughtful opinion with the accompanied reasoning and opinions/announcements spoken without an iota of reasoned support. Fourth, there is a difference between reverence for the POV of a Gadol and self-proclaimed daas toireh meant to bolster an unexplained conclusion. Fifth, no one is immune from occasional errors, but a regrettable pattern of outlandish errors/exaggerations is a different matter. Sixth, if someone has respect for non-halakhic areas of wisdom and understands their necessity is rather more trustworthy than one who takes hafokh bah ve’hafokh bah literally. Seventh, Torah provides perspective on everything but is rarely if ever, the only knowledge source required outside of some purely halakhic areas.

    • nt says:

      99% of the people they are supposedly leading have zero personal relationship with them. There is no evidence that they are any more or less learned or brilliant than anyone else. Their status rests mainly on lineage or it is ex officio, a result of the yeshivahs they head. It is not on anything they have done personally to earn the community’s reverence.

      I must protest. While I have had very limited personal interaction with him myself, my most influential Rebbeim consider him their rebbe. And when I see people who tower above me give him respect, I would be a fool to disagree. In addition, all the times I have met him, he completely lived up to and exceeded my expectations.

      I treasure the few interactions I have had with him, including when he walked up to me in the airport to offer me a ride home. I was sitting in a blue shirt with a Mishnayos, and he had absolutely no idea who I was.

      I am completely non-plussed by his stance on vaccines, as were other people I know who are much closer to him. Nevertheless, that is just an oddity that in no way detracts from the tremendously positive impact he has had on the American community and myself personally, even at one or two degrees of distance.

      • Mycroft says:

        Dr Bill
        The hesped of the Rav on Rav Chaim Ozer is a hesped and thus has to be treated as one. Certainly, there is evidence that during World War 11 the Rav had already at least begun to move away from Agudah hashkafa to a Mizrachi hashkafa. Thus, the apparent per Farbers documented book on Maimonides of the attempt to start a Mizrachi affiliated school in metro Boston, the Rav as an installing officer of a Rabbi had Rabbi Zev Gold head of World Mizrachi as a guest speaker. No doubt WW 11 changed the Rav immensely concerning Zionism, but note Maimonides School founded before World War 11, note his first class in Yeshiva during WW 11 basically from beginning of – there were a few who were quite close to the Rav , really when one sees the hashkafot that they reported from the Rav do not show the major break. The break was a formalistic one concerning Zionism. Of course, the Rav Zionism was a purely pragmatic one, never the revisionist messianic form that became popular after the Six Day War in much of modern Orthodoxy.
        Obviously, the Rav could opine on many subjects intelligently, but he did not feel that talmidim had to follow his opinion on such matters, an obvious issue from our youth the Vietnam Nam War. The Rav was in general in favor of the US position in the war, but clearly he did not act as if his talmidim had to follow his viewpoint. Certainly his brother and SILRAL did not have his position on Vietnam.
        If I had not made it clear that Torah helps provide a perspective on everything I will stTe it now and certainly agree with you there.

    • Yehoshua Kahan says:

      There is no evidence that the Chofetz Chaim, the Chazon Ish, Rav Shach, the Steipler Gaon, Rav Elyashiv, Rav Steinman, all of blessed memory, or (may he live and be well) Rav Chaim Kanievsky are more learned in Torah than you and I? Their status is simply a function of the fact that they headed yeshivos (despite the fact that several of the men on that list never headed a yeshiva) or were born to the right families (who, aside from Rav Chaim)? You might want to rethink that.

      As for “the concept of da’as Torah is an invention of 20th century American Jewry,” let’s consider history. Moshe Rabbenu was not just a Torah teacher; he was a political leader. More, he was a political leader because of his stature as the leading eved Hashem of his generation. Shmuel HaNavi made and unmade kings; Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai led Klal Yisroel through the catastrophe of the Destruction of the Second Beis HaMikdash (a catastrophe largely brought upon us by secular politicians and revolutionaries who thought that they knew better). A major theme of Purim is that Klal Yisroel was endangered by its refusal to follow the guidance of Mordechai HaTzaddik and saved when it submitted to his wisdom. Rambam led his community and neighboring communities through the political crises of the day. I am fairly sure that none of these men was a 20th century American.

  17. Mark says:

    “The hardcore believers will go on with their nonsense with or without his backing.”

    What about the less than hardcore believers? Those people who were swayed by friends and relatives to that position, and with the backing of a gadol now follow it?

    Do you *really* think that if this gadol became educated about his mistake, and then publicly declared his mistake, that most of those people wouldn’t change their minds and drop that position?

    • This has little to do with my primary thesis, but yes, I do believe that there is at least as much chance that his admission would have zero impact upon the people who wrote the PEACH booklet (and those who were swayed by it) than the alternative

  18. Stam says:

    Seems that its not a matter of who Gedolim are, but how we relate to them.

    Are we ready to grant that they are human and fallible…and so Daas Torah as iron clad truth is itself a fallacy…and that we as individuals and communities need to be active and engaged participants in deciding how we live our lives as ‘עובדי ד and fulfilling רצון הבורא…that we draw from our Gedolim, but look more broadly for אמת ממי שאמרו?


    David Ohsie:
    1. I disagree that “there are plenty of stories in other areas”. The focus on the Jewish community has dwarfed other narratives, inaccurately so. The CDC spokesperson suggested that “correcting myths” was the necessary step for turning the outbreak around. That explanation ignores the demographic and epidemiological realities that set up this community for greater infection. The truth is that anti-vaxxers in the frum world are no more frequent than in the general population, perhaps less so.
    2. Nine yeshivas out of all the yeshivas in the Monsey area were fined for failing to provide adequate records of vaccination. That hardly constitutes some sort of structural “refusal” on the part of the yeshiva administrations to abide by public health codes. To use that noncompliance by a few as evidence of some institutional opposition to authority is an overreach at best.

  20. J Efram says:

    David Birnbaum wrote in “G-d and Evil” [in that case, addressing the issue of gedolim and the Holocaust]: “Great minds make great mistakes.” The issue here seems to be less about the actual demand to name the gadol in question even while clearly addressing that ; the issue isn’t even that people <demand [to] never to find fault in [their] mentor. It's that people are under the impression that one is never allowed , even to the point that the real might be that belief in said disallowance needs to be perfect or near-perfect, as is evidenced by the continuing debate on what “Da’as Torah”/”Emunas Chachamim” truly means, even if just in the comments here. Additionally, the question is [re?]-begged: if, as RYA noted, this situation is (point A), when does that rise to ein cholkin kavod (point B)? What WOULD it take to reverse the statements and concomitant damage–some of both still ongoing–without having to get to point B?

  21. Steve Brizel says:

    RHS once quoted R Gorelick ZL as stating that all Rishonim and Acharonim and great Talmidei Chachamim have unique shittos and mishegosen-the Meshugena is someone who collects all of the Meshugosen. We should certainly relate to and respect the views of any Rishon, Acharon and great Talmid Chacham without becoming a Meshugenah

    • Shades of Gray says:

      “have unique shittos and mishegosen-the Meshugena is someone who collects all of the Meshugosen.”

      I did not know that the source of this was R. Gorelick.

      On a Torah Web Yom Iyun this past September, (“Is it OK to be Different? Social Expectations and Torah Ideals”, 52:00 in shiur), R. Schachter mentioned that a “rebbe in the yeshiva” said the statement about “collecting meshugosen”, and prefaced it by saying that the rebbe “would never say this in the yeshiva, but he said it to his children at home”.

      The Torah Web context was following the stringencies of both Beis Shamai and Beis Hillel, concerning which the Gemara applies the pasuk of “haksil bachoshech holech”, or the label of “rasha” regarding following the leniencies of both.

  22. Michoel Halberstam says:

    I remember reading that Rav Nachman Breslover once said: ” a chosid makes two mistakes. Fisst he thinks that the Rebbe can never be wrong. That is a mistake. An even greater mistake is that he think that if the rebbe was wrong, he is no longer the rebbe.

  23. emes vishalom says:

    “Chasam Sofer. … that teshuvah he wrote claiming that scientific evidence obtained by studying the general population was irrelevant to Jews, whose physiologies are different” Does he say its entirely irrelevant, or that its evidence does not carry as much weight for jews than it does for goyim.

  24. Luc says:

    I totally agree with you, but are the people guilty to disrespect someone who failed in some topic, were they not taught that Gedolim are infallible? This narrow definition of daas torah originated interestingly enough in the same era as the papal infallibility the beginning of the 20th century, and it is responsible of the actual deconnection of people from the gedolim more than any other causes.

  25. Bob Miller says:

    It’s technically impossible to assign infallibility to each member of a select group of Gedolim who sometimes disagree about what the Klal should do. This problem can be avoided by giving the group’s majority the “infallible” final say. However, even that is a stretch, because the Torah speaks of errors by a Sanhedrin.

    Instead, we often see unwise attempts to define one Gadol as the infallible Gadol HaDor in the face of dissenters who have other worthy nominees in mind. The concept of a Gadol HaDor has merit, but imputing infallibility to him causes trouble .

  26. Steve Brizel says:

    IIRC, I heard RHS mention the source of the “meshugossen” comment on a tape of a shiur once prior to the Yu Torah digital erabut I don’t remember the topic of the shiur and I did not hear a qualification such as the rebbe “would never say this in the yeshiva, but he said it to his children at home”.

  27. Benshaul says:

    Reb Yitzchok,
    You have once again exhibited the balance and seichel, that is the hallmark of your writing and thought. Well done!
    I have thought about this issue and struggled with some of the implications. Thank you for clarifying it so well.

  28. Shlomo Musayev says:

    Thank you Rabbi Adlerstein for a writing this great article.

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