Thursday, August 2, 2007

Halachah v'ein morim kein

I write this piece with a sense of b'dchilu u'rchimu - let's translate this as trepidation. When I was younger I was less hesitant about being a semi-m'gadef - ascribing all types of vile characterizations to gedolei yisroel who seemed to somehow not get what was perfectly clear to my post-adolescent mind. With my vast storehouse of Torah erudition and my unbelievably astute analysis of the world around me, I was somehow qualified to make Torah pronouncements on issues that did not fit strictly into the area of halachah. I was willing to admit the supremacy of gedolim in some areas, but to expand this admission to the grey area that is called "da'as Torah" - no way, Jose!

As I matured, a still ongoing process, I realized how little I really know and more so, how much they do know. I am no less perplexed by some of their pronouncements, no less bothered by their seeming lack of awareness of the real world, and no less astounded oftimes by public pronouncemnts of policy. Nevertheless, I am reluctant to simply discredit them or ignore their words. Instead of condemning, instead of being cycnical, I do my best to understand. I also realize that a challenge even to contemporary roshei yeshiva is foolish. No matter how many steroids I take, I'm not going to challenge Barry Bonds to a homerun derby!

A case in point: at the last Torah Umesorah Convention, Rav Aron Leib Steinman was asked for a halachic opinion regarding the suitability of a rebbi playing sports with his talmidim. To Reb Aron Leib, coming from Bnei Brak and living in an environment where such behavior would be an enormous pritztat hagedorim, the answer was obvious - lo with an aleph! Did Rav Shmuel Kaminetzky or Rav Aharon Shechter or any of the American roshei yeshivot who were present qualify this statement as being unacceptable in most parts of America? No! Does that mean that they disagreed with the p'sak? No! Do they enforce it or even mention it? No! Does that make them hypocrites? No! Confused? Yes!

Years ago, when I graduated high school, Rav Aron Kotler zt"l consistently and constantly reiterated his position that it was absolutely forbidden for a yeshiva student to attend college. While never - at least in my memory - actually using the term assur when talking about college study, Reb Yaakov zt"l and Rav Schorr zt"l never publicly contradicted Reb Aharon. The same can be said about Rav Hutner and Reb Moshe. Despite the unequivocal p'sak of the unchallenged gadol hador, the clear majority of talmidim of Torah Vodaath, Chaim Berlin and MTJ attended college. [The educational background of the daughters of some of these roshei yeshivot is well known and will not be discussed. It might seem to be supportive but it is not germane to the argument I make.] Is there an inconsistency involved? Yes! Does this silent acquiesence seem to be hypocritical or cowardly? Perhaps! Puzzled? Clearly!

When Zimri was cavorting with Kozbi in the tent, Pinchas came running to the beit din of Moshe. "Gevalt," he exclaimed, "do you know what's going on over in Shimonland?" "Sure do." Moshe replied. "Can't we stop it?" "Yes." "How?" "The halachah is kanaim pog'im bo."

Pinchas grabbed a lance, went to the tent and came out with a skewer full of prince and princess. Why didn't Moshe do it himself? Some of the mefarshim explain that he would have been accused of hypocricy given that he too was married to a non-Jewess. Others contend that it would have been the end of his leadership and effectiveness as a teacher; a kanai can not lead. [see Malbim who notes that when Eliyhau performs an act of kanaut vs. the prophets of Ba'al, he is told ee afshi becha - I (Hashem) no longer want you.] Pinchas' halachic dilemma falls into the area of halachah v'ein morim kein - it is the appropriate ruling but we do not teach it. Why not? Because it will turn out to be counter-productive. Were we to live in a world where kanuat isunderstood not to be fanaticism for the sake of fanaticism, but rather a zealousness motivated by love of G-d, then killing Zimri would have been mainstream halachah and Moshe would have done it himself. But in a world where people can be accused of having ulterior motives, then kanaut is halachically permissible but impractical to mandate.

I would take this one step further. When the community is not at the point where it can accept a specific ruling - even when that ruling is made by gedolei olam who make it clear that they are issuing a p'sak halachah - then the reluctance of the tzibbur to accept that ruling can abrogate it. This is the basis of the concept of gezerah she'ain hatzibbur yachol la'amod bo. The gezerah was made, but it is almost automatically rescinded when it becomes unenforceable. [I admit that I am not enough of a baki to analyze the means through which this process transpires. Anyone who can do so, aderaba - your doing so will truly be l'toelet.] Does this mean that there was no point in making the gezerah given that it would never be enforced? Should the issuing authority first have taken a poll to see whether or not people would accept it? No, for there is educational value in evaluating the reasons that led to the issuance of the gezerah. When Rav Aron Leib issued his p'sak about playing ball, it was clearly in the parameters of gezerah she'ain hatzibbur yachol la'amod bo. As such, the roshei yeshiva sitting on the dais had no reason to disclaim it. On the contrary, their silence should be taken as an indication that there are certain boundaries that should be established that the tzibbur can accept.

I think that Reb Yaakov and Rav Schorr both understood that Reb Aharon's psak about college was simply not going to work in Torah Vodaath. It would have meant the end of the yeshiva at that period. At the same time, they did not come out against it because its issuance was a strong message about the primacy of Torah education. Given the timeframe and the mindset of the talmidim, it was halachah v'ein morim kein.

I believe that the same is true of the tumult regarding the concert in Yerushalayim. The rabbanim who signed the kol koreh know that the majority of the tzibbur will not follow this p'sak. It has been made numerous times in the past and will undoubtedly be made numerous times in the future. Nonetheless, they issued the p'sak understanding that while it might itself be disregarded, the organizers of this concert and ones in the future as well, will be careful - to the extent possible - to prevent the venues from degenerating into a spectacle.

It behooves us to be careful when we criticize gedolim as Neanderthal men. Anyone who has had contact with any of those who signed the kol koreh can tell you that they've got more street smarts than you think. Yes, it is true that the handlers and mashakim often distort the true intent of gedolei yisroel. But from personal experience I can testify that many gedolim carefully choose when they allow it to appear that the wool is being pulled over their eyes.

10 comments:

gray eminence, not! said...

I almost agree.

These proclamations represent what is truly the ideal. There is a problem of infiltration of secular and even border-line erotic beats into what is called "Jewish music", as well as singer worship and Stam Bittul Torah.

People who can't live up to these standards are not condemned as Avaryanim, but are treated with understanding that the milieu in which they find themselves dictates that they adhere to the less than ideal for the greater good of not being frustrated with the strictures that the ideal may demand, and losing Cheshek for the 'big stuff' of Yahadus. But it is still less than ideal.

If you look in the Teshuvos of Rav Moshe vis-a-vis college you'll see that he basically lays down some hard and fast rules which are Halachah Mamash from Shulchan Aruch, and then says something to the effect that placing any more limitation would be pointless or maybe even counter-productive since people won't listen.

US Charedim were led by Gedolim such as RMF and RYK who understood that Orthodoxy in America needed to be nurtured very carefully, and were very gecheshbent in terms of what the flock could swallow. Now, I think perhaps due to Lakewood being the primary Torah institution in America, and the general confidence in a vibrant Orthodoxy in America, there is a Mahalach of moving more towards what the Gedolim in EY had always presented as the truly ideal.

onlyajew said...

I don't think I have much of an issue with what you say because in essence you are saying that they are being ignored anyway so while you ignore "gedolaim"-just liek we did a torah vadas, just remember that they are gedolim....ummm...okay...

I think the Gemmorah in tannis and a few other places kind of explains your point. The Chachomim wanted to make every fast day a major fast day and the people said I don't think so. The chachomim said but that is what we do and the people said good for you, but we're still not doing it. So the monor fast day compromise was born.

The difference there I believe is that there was a communication with the people and they still had credibility. But nowadays where Rabbis are running cover for ba'al onshim because they have huge money (ie Lakewood and the huge plaque in the lobby donated by a convicted felon who tried to kill his brother in law) or who are boys with the ba'al avairah from way back, that is what we have here and in that case are we to still consider them a Godol B'Torah?

I'm not so sure btw that a rosh yeshiva is what he used to be either. Anyone in Israel with a rich father in law can open a yeshiva, call himself a RH and then b/c he calls himself that therefore he is autonomous and considered Daas Torah with some far out there p'sak or chumra just cuz he calls himself a RH?

I would suggets that if you have to call your self a Godel B'Torah, you might not be one. I refer you to the last mishna in Sota I believe about the Rabbis in the end of days are like a pig with a golden ring on their nose as if to say look at me and my Torah Knowledge. Now, if one believes we are nearing teh Kaitz Moshiach then that would apply to today, no?

I think the only difference between what you are saying and what the critics you complain about are saying, is that they don't hold of the RH b/c he lacks credibility due to whatever and what you are saying is that you don't listen to the p'sak because even though it's far out and quite confusing, b/c they said it, it must have something to it even though you and everyone else are choosing to ignore it.

Hmmmm....

Anonymous said...

I have one major problem with your analysis. If, as you say, the Rabbis making the kol koreh realize that many good frum Jews will not abide by it, why would they write "ALL the gedolei yisroel have previously banned such singing, even when separate."
That's just a potshot, no? Anyone who disagrees with us, by definition, is not a gadol.
As you say, these Rabbis are very knowledgeable. Therefore, they surely they realize that many previous and current gedolim (including R' Moshe Feinstein, zt"l) permitted such concerts. How can that language be seen as anything other than an attack on those prominent Rabbonim?

Saying "this is our p'sak" is one thing. But saying "this is the ONLY p'sak", when there is much evidence to contrary, seems very problematic and unnecessarily contentious, no?

PS: With regard to you Penn post, as someone who as attended both Ivies and Yeshivas, I can assure you that your assessment is off in the case of many people. Many friends of mine, to be sure, would have benefited from more time in a formally structured Yeshiva. But many succeeded BECAUSE they were on their own, confronted by the outside world and forced to establish their own identity. Similarly, many others who COULD have benefited from such an experience were not afforded this opportunity because of educators toeing the same party line you espoused in your post. Including the same bad puns about Penn (Pen tishkach, Pen tishachet, etc, etc.) Instead, they went off to yeshiva, where, surrounded by Torah, they never felt a need to take a stand, never embraced the true passion of Torah, and just lost themselves in the crowd. Some got fed up and completely lost touch with Judaism after a while, and some just lost themselves and practice it by rote. It's sad, and could have been avoided had parents and educators had a true sense of chanoch et hana'ar k'fi darko, even if that included option that might not have worked for them.

Anonymous said...

"Why didn't Moshe do it himself? Some of the mefarshim explain that he would have been accused of hypocricy given that he too was married to a non-Jewess."

And this is part of the problem as well. Tzipporah was not a "non-jewish" woman, non-israelite maybe but considering Jews or Judeans didnt exist for centuries down the line I think this is part of the mindset that destroys our nation. Jews left Egypt, Jews did this, Jews did that. Its as bad a PC word in our larger family then anything else. But maybe to start thinking ourselves as the Israelite/Hebrews we are, that this would erode the little country club these guys setup for themselves. They like reading themselves back into history so everyone is a Jew , and therefore must have followe d certain guidelines not laid down for centuries later.
When they say the Avot kept the Torah,what they really mean is that the kept the Torah the way these Chachamim kept the Torah centuries later.

Anonymous said...

"Why didn't Moshe do it himself? Some of the mefarshim explain that he would have been accused of hypocricy given that he too was married to a non-Jewess."

And this is part of the problem as well. Tzipporah was not a "non-jewish" woman, non-israelite maybe but considering Jews or Judeans didnt exist for centuries down the line I think this is part of the mindset that destroys our nation. Jews left Egypt, Jews did this, Jews did that. Its as bad a PC word in our larger family then anything else. But maybe to start thinking ourselves as the Israelite/Hebrews we are, that this would erode the little country club these guys setup for themselves. They like reading themselves back into history so everyone is a Jew , and therefore must have followe d certain guidelines not laid down for centuries later.
When they say the Avot kept the Torah,what they really mean is that the kept the Torah the way these Chachamim kept the Torah centuries later so we better tow the line.
From history we see that not everybody played by the rabbinical rules. Many just like the Karaites stood up and said enough is enough.
The Rabbis have ended up overstepping their boundries totally. They are Judge Jury and Executioner for everything. Or in our terms, they think themelves Cohen, Levi, Israel and have the right to appropriate the duties and functions of each class to themselves. We as a people need to get up revisit the Torah and see what it tells us for today and stop this BS about how these edicts are a Fence around the Torah. They have become more like barbed wire and a minefield.

KRAMER said...

Shimon grabbed a lance, went to the tent and came out with a skewer full of prince and princess.

should read PINCHOS not shimon

thanbo said...

Does this mean that you're R' Dovid Landesman? Since the identical piece appeared at Cross-Currents under that by-line, and you don't give a hat-tip saying where you got it from.

charadiation said...

I don't usually give myself a hat-tip ... this is the source and Cross Currents took it from here.

thanbo said...

Well, that's the point. You're supposedly "anonymous" behind the name "charadiation", but then you publish something under your own name. Why not put your own name on your blog?

Tsvi said...

A p'sak is a decision or statement of what the halacha is. A gezeira is a new rule, extending the halacha in order to preserve the Torah.

A p'sak only requires knowledge and the ability to apply the knowledge and the ability to come to a conclusion and effectively state it.

A p'sak by anyone (bizman hazeh, i.e. when there is no semicha ans no Sanhedrin) is open to challenge by anyone, and the basis of judgement is not the relative positions of the two people, nor their reputations, but rather only the specific logic and proof that went into the formulation of the p'sak.

A g'zeirah is an entirely different thing. First of all, it must be clear that until now, whatever it was was mutar. Then it requires an authority to promulgate the ban. Authority is relative. If a Rav's shul accepts him as their ultimate authority, then perhaps a rav can by himself make a gezeira for his shul. The Rav of a city, or collectively the Rabbonim of a city can make a gezeira for their city.

After the siyum hashas, after Ravina and Rav Ashi, there is no authority which can make a binding gezeira on all of c'lal Yisroel.

After the authority has promulgated a gezeira, the tsibbur must accept it. They must accept it knowing that it was mutar and now will become assur. If they thought it was always assur, that is not accepting a gezeira. If they are refraining because outside forces don't allow it, then that is also not acceptance.

Procedurally, posting a sign may be a good way of publicizing a p'sak, but signing a poster, many of whose signatures are put without consulting the person whose name is signed, is not called making a gezeira. if the language of the poster says or implies that the thing is already assur, and does not let the people know that it was mutar and is now being banned, is certainly not the promulgation of a gezeira. We know that in none of the cases was there a meeting of the rabbonim whose names appear at which the rabbonim said we are now promulgating a gezeira.

Since the people are being fooled into thinking that the thing is already assur, this is not called accepting a gezeira.

All of the people who went to the concert even after seeing the banning posters certainly did not accept the ban. Even those who didn't go, did they refrain because they didn't feel like going, or because of the ban?

All of these things really fall into the category of "crowd control". They are nonbinding suggestions for limitation of certain activity, which a person may accept or reject.

In many cases, the rabbonim didn't actually sign, weren't fully informed, or didn't really mean it.

A case in point: More than 20 years ago, there were posters banning videos for all purposes, including for simchoth and for mosdoth. It was signed by all of the prominent rabbonim, including the two roshei yeshiva of a prominent east coast yeshiva. Shortly thereafter, r"l, the dormitory of that yeshiva burned down. I was at a fundraiser for the rebuilding at which one of those roshei spoke. A video of and for his yeshiva was shown. Nowadays, the aguda prominently makes available videos of shiurim and speeches.

If there had been a gezeira, then one would need specific procedures to nullify the gezeirah including a beith din gadol bechochma uv'minyan - a rabbinical court greater in wisdom and number than the one which promulgated it.

All of this goes to show that as a p'sak, it was ill formulated since according to the poster, both the aguda with its videos of shiurim, and the roshei yeshiva with their fundraising video violated it. And as a gezeira, it was obviously not accepted.

I think that trying to pass these things off as halacha - when they are clearly not - or as gezeiroth increases disrespect for the Torah and its leaders, and therefore should be refrained from.

Lehavdil, when training a dog, a successful technique is to order the dog to do something when you realize that the dog is about to do it on its own. That way the dog eventually associates doing things with the trainers command.

Here by pretending that things are assur when they are not, and making huge announcements when we don't actually expect people to listen, trains people not to follow p'sak. Then in the case of a real p'sak, people may also not consider it binding.