WZO Election: Vote (No Longer) Early, Vote (Not) Often, and Still Appreciate the Moetzes

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35 Responses

  1. Raymond says:

    In all honesty, this topic sounds way too technical to me for me, probably due in large part to my pure ignorance on such matters, for me to have a direct response to its specifics. But one thing I can have a view on, is the subject of our greatest Rabbis’ apparent inability to form any kind of single, unified view on any given subject.

    At least to my way of thinking, this lack of unity is a big plus for our Jewish people. When I think of groups that think only one way, it brings to mind totalitarian regimes on the political level, and nutcase, mindless cults on a more religious level. In contrast, not reaching an absolute consensus tells me that Judaism is not nearly as dogmatic, that it really does care about the truth that it is in search of. It reminds me a whole lot of the scientific approach. In the world of science, there is no such thing as settled science. All one can do is advance some theories that are more probable than others, and even then, can change when new evidence surfaces. Same with all matters Jewish, whether it be of a more legalistic or theological nature. The Rabbis come up with what is really their best guess based on the evidence that they are aware of, always cognizant of the possibility that subsequent Torah thinkers will come up with differing yet legitimate interpretations of the same material or topic at hand. In short, it is a credit to Judaism that its authoritarianism is tempered by its spirit of democracy and genuine commitment to finding the truth of things.

    Now, back to the mundane, as for that recent vote regarding Israel, I keep being bombarded both in old-fashioned mail as well as online, with requests to vote. If I am permitted to vote more than once, I am willing to do so, but so far as I can tell, I can only vote once for that, and I get the feeling that I have already wasted my vote. Not really knowing all the issues at hand, I voted for Benny Begin, not only because I agree with some of the ideas that he has expressed (namely, no land concessions), but also because I continue to have a strong emotional attachment to his father, whom I so strongly admire to this day, although at the same time continue to be disappointed that he gave away the Sinai.

  2. Sid says:

    Kol Hakovod, Rabbi
    I need to back to shiur to assimilate in my my brain such an overview.
    Shavua tov
    Purim S’maech

  3. Eli Klein says:

    Rav elyashiv’s statement was made 10 years ago as quoted by R’ Ahron Felman pinted in Yated Neeman in 2010

  4. Carl M Sherer says:

    R. Yitzchak,
    The quote from the end about R. Chaim Kanievsky is the most interesting of all. As someone who has lived in Eretz Yisrael for much longer than you have, this is not the first time I have heard accusations against a Gadol’s doorkeepers preventing him from hearing all the facts.

    But I wanted to ask you: You cite R. Moshe Soloveitchik regarding his father’s views. Did R. Velvel concur?

  5. benshaul says:

    Once again Rabbi Adlerstein demonstrates why so many of us admire admire him. Thank you for expressing the nuance and reality of ailuh va’ailu, in a real time instance.

  6. Shades of Gray says:

    “Some saw the reported threats of R. Aharon Feldman and R. Malkiel Kotler to bolt from the Moetzes over the WZO issue as a fatal blow to a venerable institution.”

    In theory, there can be more than one Moetzes in America, just as in Israel. However, since Israeli issues do not directly affect America, and the American communal makeup and own issues are different, there is no need for multiple organizations and Moatzos; to the contrary, the singularity of one Agudah organization is a strength of the American Charedi community(if I recall correctly, there was a past incident involving Torah Umesorah that reached the media, where there was a rumor of making multiple Moatzos ; presumably R. Sherer was instrumental in preserving organizational unity).

    On the(admittingly different) issue of the draft law, the Noverminsker Rebbe said at the 2018 Agudah convention:

    “We ought to become an agudah echas, but there’s a certain derech how the hanhogas hatzibbur (public approach) has to be guided. And we can’t bring this chilukei de’os to America. We can’t. And nobody should say that the Agudah takes sides; everyone is entitled to his own viewpoint”

    For that matter, the RCA/OU recently chose to play a lesser role in its statement on the Israeli issue of the recent Trump peace plan (“Orthodox Union’s longstanding policy position, and the position of the Rabbinical Council of America, that decisions about Israel’s security needs and challenges are to be made by the people of Israel through their democratically elected government”)

  7. Bob Miller says:

    Despite its praiseworthy aspirations, the Agudah does not and has not set policy for the substantial number of Orthodox Jews outside its orbit. Some Gedolim are in it, some are outside it, and some in it dissent from some of its decisions. This lack of an all-encompassing hierarchy is natural to our continuing exile. This complicates the implementation of sound strategies and tactics to advance Torah Jewry in the moment. It’s not enough to have a precedent. Using the tools we have, that precedent has to be shown to apply to the situation right now.

  8. dr. bill says:

    It would seem to me that the overall question of participation with non-orthodox Jews in community wide functions is similar enough to provide relevant opinions of gedolim of previous generations. I would suggest that the views of the Netziv ztl (in countless places), RCOG ztl, the SCA controversy, etc. should be considered.

    If anything, since participation can lead to increased funding for orthodox causes there is an additional reason beyond those in the cases cited above for participation.

    Since Rav Kanievsky does not explain his psakim – halakhic or otherwise, it is legitimate to worry if his grasp of the reality is complete. Little is ever revealed who and how he acquires the background necessary for a ruling or even an opinion. In any case, having an Israeli posek should have less sway than an American posek, who can be assumed to have greater insight into local factual issues.

    • Bob Miller says:

      Published halachic teshuvot over many centuries have provided valuable educational insight.

      • dr. bill says:

        Not sure of your intent by your comment. Teshuvot, especially with the relevant facts about the context, are inordinately informative. Until the breakdown, at the dawn of modernity, of the unified kehillah these questions were not posed AFAIK. Initial teshuvot are often of great historical interest; after the situation becomes more prevalent and standard, teshuvot, like those I mentioned, despite varying views become more uniform. When new environments are encountered, the process tends to repeat itself.

  9. Nachum says:

    R’ Adlerstein, I have a couple of honest questions to ask you:

    1. Is this entire pitch meant for the average charedi reader devoted to “da’as torah” (which I imagine constitute very few if any of the readers of this blog), or is it actually the logic you adhere to? That is, do you- a talmid chacham with far more knowledge of communal matters than many of the gedolim to whom you preach fealty in this matter- actually require this logic in order to get yourself to vote, or do you actually decide matters for yourself, as many of your readers do?

    2. Why were you unable to vote for the Mizrachi slate, one headed up by one of the gedolei hador and endorsed by many others? Is that a step too far? If so, why? Is there really that much difference here? Or is it a PR move, as we know everyone will get at least some seats? (And yes, I would ask the other half-dozen or so Orthodox slates the same question. It’s kind of bizarre and sad that the Conservatives, Reform, Left, Right, and Center can each have one slate, and that Orthodoxy has, by my count, at least five.)

    Sadly, I don’t think it will much matter. Based on previous elections, I expect far less than 1% of American Jews will vote. Indeed, one wonders why the whole institution isn’t shut down and merged into various Israeli ministries. It’s nice to make world Jewry stakeholders in the future of their people, but it doesn’t have to go so far.

    • Honest, excellent, and probing questions

      1) It is meant for the reader who believes in the Daas Torah concept that was common a generation or two ago, and that I am holding on to, and still teaching. Did I require the logic of the essay to vote? Had Torah leadership (which in my view includes those in the YU and DL orbits) solidly opposed voting, I would be mevatel my opinion. I might have needed the names of at least one or two of the supporters to give me protection in certain circles that are important to me, even though I would have relied on my own decision. I would mentally point to gedolei Yisrael who have said that Daas Torah tells you to use your own sechel at times.

      2) I voted last time for the Mizrachi slate. I would have done so this time as well, had Eretz Hemdah not mounted its own slate. I have not been impressed by the willingness of those outside of the haredi world to listen to their own authorities. For that reason alone, I thought it worthwhile supporting a haredi effort. Additionally, I am thrilled with every small movement of friends in the haredi world to take on a more public role and concern themselves with matters of the general community. Also, I was assured that the Eretz Hemdah slate would not dilute the power of the Orthodox, because the chances are that the votes on substantive matters would overlap most of the time. Where they wouldn’t, I suspect that my sympathies would be with the haredi slate

      • Bob Miller says:

        Also, “Daas Torah” is not a thing or person we can direct questions to. We can ask a Torah scholar with the insight and expertise (call this Daas Torah if you like) to clarify the matter at hand.

      • Nachum says:

        Thanks for your responses! A happy Purim.

      • Shades of Gray says:

        “Also, “Daas Torah” is not a thing or person we can direct questions to”

        I’ve wondered about this for a while.

        Some people similarly say “my Daas Torah told me”, or “I asked Daas Torah”, as if it were an object like the Urim V’tumim; there was once a poster which advertised “witness Daas Torah in action”, which was about a video of a few Israeli Gedolim answering questions. Then again, in legal writing, “counsel” can be a noun which acts, as in “defense counsel objected”, so substitute, “A’s Daas Torah objected”.

        Years ago, there was an article in the YU newspaper by either R. Bronspigel or R. Parnes, where I think the author mentioned that he prefers the old-fashioned term “emunas chachamim”.

      • Bob Miller says:

        Also, attributing the opinions and decisions one follows to an anonymous “Daas Torah” leaves other Jews with little or no perspective. Unless the actual posek really wants these to be kept private, it’s best to give due credit. And, if that’s his wish, why go public at all?

  10. yisroel miller says:

    Knowing how little I know, I try to follow my Rebbeim while respecting the different views. But what I don’t understand is the report that great talmidei chachomim would threaten to leave the Moetzes if their opinion was not followed. Using your example of Rabbon Gamliel and Rabbi Elazar be Azariah, would a member of the Sanhedrin have resigned after losing a vote on a crucial issue? If the report of the threatened resignation is true (I don’t know if it is), some explanation would be helpful to us little people who truly wish to understand.

    • I am pretty sure that I understand a good deal less than Rabbi Miller does, but I will share the very little that I have heard. When the idea of voting in the WZO was first put on the table, there were different opinions. Agudah (and the Moetzes) settled on an informal modus vivendi. They would say that we are not going to tell people not to vote. Thus, neither an endorsement nor a condemnation, with room left for parts of the “street” to take either one of those positions. In the course of time, the names that were added to the PR for Eretz Chemdah gave some the impression that the Moetzes itself was really backing the measure. Those members of the Moetzes with strong ties to the Etz faction in Yerushalayim wanted this impression corrected

  11. Shades of Gray says:

    R. Hutner had a good witticism regarding rabbinic disagreements. The Gemara in Megilah(9a) says that it was a miracle that all 70+ sages, locked in separate rooms by Ptolemy, identically translated the Torah into Greek and altered certain difficult parts. נתן הקב”ה בלב כל אחד ואחד עצה והסכימו כולן לדעת אחת

    Rav Hutner used to say, “Oich mir ah neis. If they would have been all in the *same* room and said the same thing, that would be a neis!”

    R. Dovid Cohen related the above from his rebbe, R. Hutner, two years ago (minute 18 in “Rabbi Dovid Cohen Your Kiruv Questions Answered at 9th Annual Project Inspire Convention “, video available online). The context was that R. Cohen was asked by someone, who in the course of his work for a secular Jewish organization, speaks to Conservative and Reform rabbis who are waging a war against the Orthodox, and wanted to know why the “Orthodox Establishment” was not countering the war ?

    R. Cohen told him that it was his job to befriend them, and he objected to the use of the phrase “Orthodox Establishment” by the questioner, which “never existed and I don’t think it will ever exist”, even when it was clarified as a reference to the “Agudah and the OU”. Instead, regarding both belief or action, people should follow “their personal rebbe or madrich, or you feel you have your own sense and you do what you understand”. R. Cohen said that there is not only “one Daas Torah…except if you’re well-read in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, can you can believe in an Orthodox Establishment!

    (R. Hutner himself was part of the Agudah, and I assume R. Cohen would agree about the “minority of instances in which we see genuine consensus” mentioned by R. Adlerstein.)

    • Bob Miller says:

      Some people take a high-level psak halacha as an order, some as a challenge, and some as an affront. Others assume it was never really issued by the posek.

  12. Steve Brizel says:

    Great and incisive article!

  13. Steve Brizel says:

    The Eretz cChemdah slate has enabled Charedim to vote in the WZO elections which have tremendous import on how communal funds are spent in Israel aThis is yet another example of how Charedim are very interested bothbin maintaining their way of life and recognizing the political facts of life on the ground Ine. It is obvious that one can learn from the wonderful Torah of REW ZL HAShem Yimkam Dani and the Minchas Elazar ZL and realize that their militantly anti Zionist views were and are not viewed as being helpful after HakamasHaMedinah especially by such Gdolim as CI RSZA and RYSA I dealing with the issues on the ground RY Pfeiffers articles on this and related issues are worth reading in understanding why there is such a slate in the WZO elections

  14. DF says:

    RYA presents the weeks events as mere “disagreement.” If only that were the case. Disagreement behind closed doors is certainly welcome, but not the spectacle we were treated to here. The matter became public, and then the Agudah embarrassed itself by blaming the messenger (ie, VIZ news.) Its a bad look for an organization to publicly declare that its leadership is above criticism, which, amazingly, is exactly what the Agudah did. Then, to make matters worse, one of its members then doubled down on his public attacks, casually throwing the former head of National Young Israel under the bus in the process. This isn’t “courage”; this is not knowing when to stop.

    Moreover, even had the matter remained internal, it doesn’t mean the opinions cant be scrutinized. No one failed to notice that the two individuals publicly fighting against the WZO have no such scruples about taking money from people who (from their perspective) do much “worse” than merely voting in such events. You cannot simply explain this hypocrisy away with sophistry or distinctions. The consensus of those of us – former students, in certain cases, embarrassed for the alma mater – is that these individuals are fighting yesterday’s battles. The world has passed them by.

  15. dr. bill says:

    DF, the issue you raise and the position you take is one that I largely agree with. The argument based on changed circumstances as the basis for resulting halakhic change is long-standing and broad. Some adopt new circumstances (too) rapidly and many more (too) slowly. Examples and disagreement abound. When it becomes the basis for division and strife, perspective is likely lacking and perhaps other agendas are at play.

  16. Shades of Gray says:

    In a 2017 Torah Web lecture titled “From Satmar to Secular: Relating to Different Types of Jews”, R. Mordechai Willig mentioned the following story when discussing kiruv and the non-Orthodox (22:00):

     Two days earlier, R. Willig was sitting together with R. Buchwald at a bris.  R. Buchwald said that before he had attempted to expand “Shabbat   Across America” to include non-Orthodox clergy and synagogues, he went to ask R. Dovid Cohen who said, “this is too big for me, go to R. Zelig Epstein”.  R. Zelig then gave R. Buchwald many leniencies which he actually signed his name to.

     When R. Buchwald began to implement the leniencies, he received phone calls from some of the senior members of both the rabbinic and lay leadership of the Agudah,   including Rabbi Sherer, strongly questioning his actions. When he showed them the written letter from Rav Zelig, all they said was, “we may disagree, but you have a right to follow this psak for kiruv.”

    • Yirichim says:

      Had Eretz Hakodesh succeeded in getting anything in writing, and not engaged in deceitful marketing, much angst would have been avoided.

  17. Shades of Gray says:

    At the conclusion of “Journalism, Controversy, And Responsibility: Halachic Analysis”, Dr. Steven Oppenheimer discusses why the Belzer Rebbe felt it important to work from  outside the Agudah( Journal of Halacha & Contemporary Society, Spring 2001, available online):

    “Agendas, rather than truth, at times motivate the publication of a story. The journalist must play the role of the impartial observer, attempting to draw attention to those conditions that need reform. This is very difficult to accomplish when one is directly involved. It is for this reason that the Belzer Rebbe, z”l, did not join Agudath Yisrael. He felt that it was important for someone to be outside the organization and be perceived as impartial. In this way he might be more effective in his attempts to improve social and community standards.

    All the news that’s fit to print? Hardly. Not all the news is fit to print. Halacha demands discretion and responsibility. Limitation is an essential part of journalism. Media that seek truth and justice while promoting peace and harmony will strengthen the community and serve as an invaluable and precious resource.”

    • dr. bill says:

      Shades of Gray, The Belzer rebbe is one of the most enigmatic figures in Hareidi circles. Any number of his actions exhibit his unique ability to simultaneously embrace elements of modernity and religious tolerance while maintaining a strongly traditional stance / demeanor.

      One instance of which I am personally aware is his invitation to a talmid of the Rav ztl to come to his office to verify the Rav’s support for a view of the Gerrer rebbe almost 40 years ago. Having the story verified, he said despite strong opposition he would be guided by their approach.

  18. Natan Slifkin says:

    I find the phrase “the Torah world” highly offensive. You mean “the charedi community.” There is plenty of Torah outside of the charedi community.

    • And I will be the first to testify to that! (The beis medrash that I used – till quarantine kicked in – is a lovely Dati Leumi one.) But the DT community doesn’t call itself “the Torah community.” The charedi community – inaccurate as it is – commonly does. I use the term to break the monotony of saying “charedi” too often. No offense meant.

  19. Weaver says:

    Great piece, as usual.
    It’s a shame that, as usual, the only Rabbonim who seem to publicly speak out are those with extreme opinions; the moderate voices are silent.
    Why don’t the many, many, more American Rabbonim who disagree with RAF sign a public letter explaining that one should vote in the WZO, and explain why it is important to do so?
    P.S. I’d be curious what the rank and file in Ner Yisroel think about this. I’m guessing most of them are ignoring RAF’s opinion . . .

  20. Michael Halberstam says:

    Your discussion of daas torah is much appreciated. Here’s hoping that others will be willing to explore the cracks in the veneer which had they not existed make the concept meaningless and without any import. It works, purportedly, because we all know that it is not what it purports to be.

    Regarding the WZO elections, it is obvious that we would all see the good sense of voting ourselves had we not been seduced by the notion that we have to keep “assuring” any opinions we have been told are questionable. Another example of the gigantic cognitive dissonance problem which cripples us all.

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