Monday, September 15, 2008

Da'as Torah

Rabbi Maryles on his blog Emes Ve-Emunah often brings up the topic of Da'as Torah, among other Hashkafic issues.

Earlier this week he brought up the topic of on of the "Askanim" who was responsible for the "Slifkin Scandal". Rabbi Maryles describes the scandal as follows:
The Bizayon HaTorah that has resulted from that one event [The Slifkin Scandal] is immeasurable. Gedolim formerly held in high esteem by the vast majority of religious Jews of all stripes have been ridiculed and denigrated way beyond any sense of right and wrong. Many Orthodox Jews have begun questioning their very faith because of it. And some have crossed the line into skepticsm about their faith. Of course some of these people may have been going in that direction anyway. But not all and this certainly spurred the process for those who were.

Well, I can say that I was certainly someone who "questioned my very faith" as a result of that event and other similar events that happened around that time.

It wasn't just the Slifkin case, there were many other rulings that came our around the same time (or in the following year or so) that radically changed the way that I perceived the Leadership of our generation. I'm thinking of the concert bans (which has appeared in the news again), book baning (not only Rabbi Slifkin's but also Rabbi Kamenetsky as well as others), Rulings on conversion, Shmitta, and Gush Katif.

These rulings were not limited to Charedi leadership, but were also heard from leaders in the Zionist community (particularly concerning Gush Katif).

My concern wasn't so much the rulings or proclamations, surely it is the responsibility of our leadership to guide us on critical matters, rather it was the way that these rulings were made and publicized, in several cases destroying people financially and emotionally (not to mention shidduch options for their kids) without even the common decency to discuss the issue with the people involved before hand.

Many people have said that these attitudes aren't really the opinions of the "Gedolim", rather they are being misled or misrepresented by a small group of Askanim. This may be true, but surely it shows either a profound lack of leadership or an widespread lack of respect for their leadership if they cannot control what people attribute to them.

The reason that this whole issue challenged my view of the world is that I am a firm believer that the Massorah that we have has been carried from generation to generation on the shoulders of these leaders, or their predecessors in former generations.
If they are really out of touch with reality, or are being misrepresented to the masses, how can I trust anything in our Messorah.
The only reason that my Tfilln is Black or that I use the siddur that I do is that this is the messorah that was passed to us from former generations. After all, as Rashi says in this week's Parsha:
ובאת אל הכהן אשר יהיה בימים ההם... (דברים כ"ו, ג')
רש"י: "אשר יהיה בימים ההם" - אין לך אלא כהן שבימיך כמו שהוא

We only have the Cohanim (and by extension leaders) of these days, as they are.

The truth is that this "crisis of faith" is one that I'm still not at peace with - I am still confused as to how I should regard Da'as Torah if "Da'as Torah" is regarded as a method to destroy lives without even a simple discussion beforehand.

I find it hard to believe that leaders of former generations would have acted in this manner or allowed themselves to be represented in this way - can anyone imagine Rav Shlomo Zalman, Rav Moshe, or Rav Kook signing any of the proclamations that come out on a seemingly weekly basis.

I really believe that one of the biggest problems facing our generation is a lack of strong leadership that we were privileged to have in former years. This is certainly true on the political front, but tragically also true in the Torah world.

On a more positive note, there are still leaders that are prepared to take a stand on important issues and show that they do have concern for the welfare of the people who look up to them.
One example is the booklet about Tfilla on an airplane that was distributed by El Al which shows concern for the safety of passengers, as well as the Kavod of HaShem.

We also see strong leadership in the Hassidic world. I'm thinking particularly of the Ger Rebbe and how he shows compassion for the welfare of his Hassidim.

A little closer to home, tonight in a Sfardi shul here in Modi'in I saw a letter from the Rabbanut of the city where our chief Sfardi Rabbi, Harav Alchara calls on people to be extremely careful with slichot that they do not disturb their neighbours. Blowing the Shofar loudly during the 13 Midot (as is the custom of Sfardim) is a mitzvah haba'ah b'aveira if it includes Gezel Shaina.

That type of concern for your fellow Jew is what I would expect in leadership.

They say that a generation gets the leadership that it deserves. May HaShem please send us a true leader who can guide us out of this darkness.


Anonymous said...

We only have the Cohanim (and by extension leaders) of these days, as they are.

What makes you think that the people who sign Kol Koreis are the leaders of the generation? They're just Charedi Roshei Yeshivos who are pumped up by the Yated, they aren't leading anyone.

Michael Sedley said...

That's exactly my point - if the guys signing Kol kores are NOT the leaders of the generation then who is - surely SOMEONE must be the leaders of our generation -

Could the real leaders please tand up and identify themselves and put an end to this mis-repreesentation of Torah

Anonymous said...


I am a bit late in responding to this blog, but here's my two cents..

The Gerrer Rebbe hid a known child molester (who escaped the US to avoid prosecution) for years.

Nope. No leaders today.