Thursday, July 3, 2008

Authority of Gedolim I – Or why RaP is wrong about the Syrian Takana

Perhaps no word is used more often in religious debates then the term “gadol” and yet I think few actually understand what it means. In fact it is used primarily as a weapon in religious debate to get the other side to concede. Gedolim are viewed as the ultimate authority.

1) Some people will try to end an argument by referring to the Gedolim. “How can we disagree with the gedolim?”

2) Some try to defend against this argument by saying – “he isn’t a real gadol.”

3) Or there are more gedolim on my side than on your side.

4) Or my gedolim are bigger than your gedolim.

5) Sometimes the debate between the Chareidi world and MO comes down to – “you don’t think for yourself – you are robot who automatically obeys the gedolim.

6) While the other side says – “of course you would say that since MO don’t have real gedolim.” MO replies, “Well of course we have gedolim – but the Chareidim don’t recognize our gedolim – they only recognize Chareidi gedolim.”

Gedolim – what are they, who are they, and what makes a person a gadol?

1) He has superior knowledge or reasoning.

On the simplest level, we assume that a gadol knows more than the rest of us. Thus his authority comes from his superior knowledge. Alternatively, he knows how to think more clearly than the rest of us and his authority comes from his superior reasoning.

2) He is infallible because he has ruach hakodesh

Sometimes we assume that they are infallible because they have ruach hakadosh.

These two assertions are refuted by simply noting that:

1) Torah is not in heaven

Rambam says that a prophet who claims his halachic understanding is correct because he has prophecy – is a false prophet and is killed.

2) Why do gedolim disagree with each other – if it were simply knowledge or logic – then all would agree.

I assert that a gadol's authority comes ultimately from the fact that he is accepted as a gadol by the rest of us. Now it is reasonable to assume that one of the major reasons why he is accepted is because of his great knowledge and intellect. However that is not enough to be a gadol.

In fact, in the 20 years since I published the Yad Moshe to the Igros Moshe – I have heard of many who strongly disagreed with Rav Moshe’s reasoning, or his sources – but nevertheless accept his psak – because he is the gadol.

Modern Orthodox by and large don’t have gedolim because they tend not to view that they exist. Thus since there is not a mass acceptance of their rabbis – it is not surprising that Chareidim do not view their rabbis as gedolim.

Perhaps a simple way of summarizing the above points is :


A gadol is someone whose authority transcends his footnotes. He is a rabbi that we accept what he says - because he said it – not because of the sources and reasoning he marshals to buttress his arguments.


All this leads to my rejections of the lengthy arguments that RaP has been making regarding the Syrian Takana. He invariably does not cite any sources – other than his own opinion. And yet he expects the rest of us to accept what he says because he says it. He is acting as if he were a gadol – but none of us accept him as such. Until he presents convincing arguments based on clear citations that the Takana is against halacha and violates the Torah obligation to love gerim – he is just spitting into the wind. As I have stated before – I have found not a single statement by a recognized gadol – that agrees with the views expressed by RaP. The burden of proof is on him – to convince us. He is not a gadol.

4 comments :

  1. Garnel IronheartJuly 3, 2008 at 11:43 PM

    First of all, today the term "Gadol" is a political, not religious one.
    One difference between Rav Moshe Feinstein and today's leadership is that Rav Moshe, zt"l, did not force his opinion on anyone. Asked a question, he answered it humbly and to the best of his considerable ability. His authority, therefore, was accepted by people who recognized his brilliance and diligence in learning.
    Today the Yated or HaModia tell us who the "Gadol haDor" is. There's no process whereby a person achieves the status after a lifetime of effort. After all, there are lots of rabbonim in the Mizrachi and MO camps that have spent their lives delving into Torah. Why are they not considered Gedolim? Simple: they're not Chareidim and part of being a Gadol is being in that community. This is not to detract from the learning and piety of those men labelled as Gedolim. It's just to point out that many more rabbonim could be in that category but are excluded for political, not religious, reasons which debases the authenticity of the category as a whole.
    The other thing to consider is the difference in power structure between the MO and Chareidi worlds. Chareidism generally supports conformity and centrality. MO pushses autonomy and flexibility. A Chareidi asking a shayloh would like nothing better than to get the opinion of the Gadol HaDor because he's the supreme authority and his psak cannot be contradicted. Why buy the $1 lemon when the $2 is available?
    Ah, but what if you only need the $1 lemon? The MO approach, then, is to invest more power in the local Rav who may not be as deeply learned but generally knows his congregants and students, thus allowing him to make the answer more relevant.
    This, then, is why the YU crowd doesn't seem to have Gedolim. Yes, they have leading scholars and spiritual leaders but these leaders are at the top of a long, complex chain, not the lone guys sitting in the command chair at the middle of the bridge that everyone from the first officer to the deckhand turn to for the littlest problem.

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  2. Elliott GoldsteinJuly 4, 2008 at 3:36 AM

    "Today the Yated or HaModia tell us who the "Gadol haDor" is"

    While this is absurd, let's just pretend for argument's sake:

    1."There's no process whereby a person achieves the status after a lifetime of effort."

    Things don't work this way in the secular world either.

    Celebrity Doctors are not sought out for their years of experience or for their advanced degrees but because their knowledge and expertise are respected by their peers.

    When a doctor writes an article for a medical journal describing a novel approach, if other doctors are impressed, he becomes a sought out speaker at medical conventions, a tenured professor at a top medical school or a distinguished staff doctor at a top hospital, in short a Gadol of Cardiology.

    Torah scholarship is not different than any other peer reviewed profession. This is how Rabbi Tropper nearly catapulted himself to the status of Gadol Hador with his novel and overwhelmingly popular approach to intermarriage.

    So when you state:

    2."there are lots of rabbonim in the Mizrachi and MO camps that have spent their lives delving into Torah. Why are they not considered Gedolim?"

    The answer should be obvious; that they have not earned the mass respect of their peers for the depth and breadth of their Torah scholarship.

    Who do you believe would be a Gadol if not "are excluded for political, not
    religious, reasons"?

    Gadolim are SOUGHT OUT, not born under a special star with Three Wise men coming bearing gifts.

    3.You make it sound like every Haredi asks his wife's niddah shailos of Rav Elyashiv when you state:

    "A Chareidi asking a shayloh would like nothing better than to get the opinion of the Gadol HaDor because he's the supreme authority and his psak cannot be contradicted. Why buy the $1 lemon when the $2 is available?"

    Gadolim publish responsa which other Rabbonim use as a reference (much like the innovator of a new heart procedure). When a shaila comes up that has not been previously answered a Gadol ia usually by a group of Rabbis because the Gadol has proven his breadth of Torah understanding in previous issues.

    4."The MO approach, then, is to invest more power in the local Rav"

    A common complaint of many MO Rabbis is that their congregants do NOT call them with shailos.

    A YU contract specifies July and August off. The Rabbi is not indispensable when he leaves for the summer each year.

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  3. Rav Yuval Sherlow shlit"a defines it nicely: Who is a "gadol hador"? He is a rav that other rabbonim go to for guidance. He is a talmid chachom for whose expertise and sense of judgement other talmidei chachomim have great respect.

    But it is the rabbonim and talmidei chachomim themselves who choose to whom they go for guidance, and it is they themselves who decide when they are in need of such guidance. Such things are dictated neither by politics nor by popularity nor by fame in the Torah world. Even a "gadol" cannot dictate who the gedolim are for others. One community cannot force such a decision on another, nor one rav on another. It is the rabbis on the ground, given authority by communities who have chosen them freely, who ultimately decide.

    According to such a view, there is no purpose in fighting wars for "Daas Torah" or in making great efforts to define who is a "gadol" and who is not. The very effort to set up a Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah for a political party (thus deciding who gets "in" and who is "out") becomes ridiculous from this perspective.

    According to such a view, when debating an issue one deals with the issue itself properly. All Torah views must be heard inside each and every beis hamidrash and cannot be silenced or banned. A Torah view is not debated by asking "which gedolim support your opinion" followed by the inevitable: "But are those people really gedolim?"

    I think this fits in nicely with what Garnel Ironheart writes above, though not so nicely with the concept of "Daas Torah" described by RDE. It fits perfectly with the ethos of the beis hamidrash as found in Chazal and in the writings of true gedolim until modern times.

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  4. Recipients and PublicityJuly 7, 2008 at 8:33 AM

    THE BELZER REBBE & THE HUNGARIAN GER AS DISPROOF OF THE SYRIAN TAKANA.

    Dear Dr. Eidensohn:

    It is truly baffling debating you. On the one hand you give the impression of a willingness to have open-ended discussions of issues, even deploying your academic status as a Western university trained doctor of psyschology to indicate that you are willing to have fair-minded discussions with others even if they or you do not see eye to eye on issues in the great Western tradition of such things, BUT on the other hand your are far too quick to cite and impose your own Torahdikke rejections, actually they are more accurately described as Yeshivishe negations, of any view that does not fit into what you deem to be your "divine right" to preach, because it is preaching, of the so-called "Daas Torah" views, reverting to a "shailos and teshuvos" mode of answering or asking for clarifications from "rabbinic sources" when you disagree with another's views, when not every point in Mitzvah and Torah observance has "the" responsa written on it because quite often none is necessary or required.

    I do not wish to go down that path of discussion with you at this time, because I have repeatedly cited the most solid of sources from the Written Torah, Oral Torah, Tanach, rabbinic sources and plenty of ma'aseh ravs, but all you can say is that I am "not a gadol".

    Well, now, when did I say that I am a "gadol" as you imagine one should be, or that what I say is like that of a gadol? You set up straw men and come up with red herring arguments to suit yourself instead on debating me point for point, or, using your more favored tactic, just go into some database and flood this blog with words from seforim instead of YOU debating me directly. But let us leave that for now.

    This current spate of discussions between us was started when I posted a comment and notified you about an article in the Haredi media (as I often do, and as you do me the honor of reposting it for more discussion) in the post of Sunday, June 29, 2008 "Conversion crisis - because the Modern Orthodox are wimps! III" http://daattorah.blogspot.com/2008/06/conversion-crisis-because-modern_29.html that:

    "By the way, if anyone has access to it, the most recent edition of the English Mishpacha magazine has a reoprt about how the Belzer Rebbe himself attended the entire chupa and shevah brochas of a young Polish ger tzedek (who claims to have a paternal Jewish ancestor as well) who was recently learning in the Belzer BT "Torah Ve'Emunah" yeshiva in Yerushalayim and who married the daughter from a family of geirim from Germany who were megayerd in Switzerland and now live in Israel. The young ger is completely a Belzer with the peyos, shtreimel, levush and all. One thing is for sure, the present Belzer Rebbe is different to most others and he certainly does not hold that Belz should follow in the steps of the notorious "Syrian takana" banning the acceptance of any geirim (especially by marraige) into the Syrian community and that he (the Belzer Rebbe) understands the deep significance and merit of accepting true geirei tzedek bazman hazeh."

    You responded to this by stating:

    "The horse that you are beating died a long time ago. You are misrepresenting the Syrian Takana - as has been amply documented on this blog. Why don't you find out if the Belzer Rebbe has ever condemned the Syrian Takana - in fact why not compile a list of all the gedolim who have condemned it. I haven't seen credible evidence that even a single gadol has denounced it. But according to you the list should include every rabbi from the last 70 years."

    You were evidently not satisfied that that comment had put matters to rest because you felt that the "dead horse" (meaning me by inference) needed some more public flagelation on your blog when you created the new post of Monday, June 30, 2008 "Recipients and Publicity attacks the Syrian Takana & me -again & again & again" http://daattorah.blogspot.com/2008/06/recipients-and-publicity-attacks-syrian.html where I posted a detailed response against me, not dealing with my points in the lengthy post, but instead you chose not to answer it but to focus at a lesser post at my irritability with other less frequent posters from the "peanut gallery" and you launched into a personal attack of me in your post of Tuesday, July 1, 2008 "Dynamics of Dispute - Recipients and Publicity takes the offensive" http://daattorah.blogspot.com/2008/07/dynamics-of-dispute-recipients-and.html which was just a nisht-tzum-zach demeaning waste of time and hitting below the belt (and you do hit below the belt quite often for all your high-mindedness -- must a relic from some earlier street-smart street-brawling earlier time perhaps -- no matter, I can take it.)

    But it seems that you have now been even more shaken enough to post yet another post against me, this time resorting to simplistic points like "I am right" and "You are wrong" because "You are not a gadol" and "others are gedolim" in this post of Thursday, July 3, 2008 "Authority of Gedolim I – Or why RaP is wrong about the Syrian Takana" http://daattorah.blogspot.com/2008/07/authority-of-gedolim-or-why-rap-is.html which really amazes me at the lengths you must go to defame me personally because at no point have I stated or claimed to be or prtended that I am a "gadol" -- although I do admit that I do qualify for the ONLY known, TIMELESS and UNIVERSALLY accepted Halachic definition of a "gadol" that I am a Jewish male over the age 13 years -- but at no time have I intimated that I am remotely like that type of "gadol" which is meant in Yeshvish circles ONLY who use the word "gadol" THEIR WAY ONLY as a term that only came into widespread use and application in the second half of the twentieth century mainly after the the establishment of the Agudath Israel movement in Eastern Europe before World War I aping and at the same time trying to pre-empt secular notions of the all-powerful not-to-be-qquestioned "Politbureau" or "Central Committee" with creating similar Agudist/Haredi instititions of a "Politbureau-like" or "Central Committee-like" "Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah" coming into being and publicized to the youth in newly growing yeshivas, teaching the "dumb-masses" that the "Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah" were the only ones endowed with the "Papal-like" politically correct "Daas Torah" meaning only that which is approved by "Agudas Yisroel" is "kosher" and all is else is "treif". Even though I know you will want to make hay of these comments, as I said, this is still not my main point here.

    Let me take you back to my post above wherein I pointed out that "...the Belzer Rebbe himself attended the entire chupa and shevah brochas of a young Polish ger tzedek (who claims to have a paternal Jewish ancestor as well) who was recently learning in the Belzer BT "Torah Ve'Emunah" yeshiva in Yerushalayim and who married the daughter from a family of geirim from Germany who were megayerd in Switzerland and now live in Israel...."

    and here was my MAIN POINT that has so-far "launched a thousand debates" on you blog:

    "...One thing is for sure, the present Belzer Rebbe is different to most others and he certainly does not hold that Belz should follow in the steps of the notorious "Syrian takana" banning the acceptance of any geirim (especially by marraige) into the Syrian community and that he (the Belzer Rebbe) understands the deep significance and merit of accepting true geirei tzedek bazman hazeh."

    And if you look back you will note that instead of trying to EXPLAIN and ACCEPT that the Belzer Rebbe did what he did, in a classic case of not just classic ma'aseh rav but also as a major Chasidic Rebbe and Gadol and manhig beYisroel, even by your definitions, and that it got published for anyone in the Charedi world to see, you chose to rather attack me by asking if the Belzer Rebbe would dispute the Syrian Takana instead of seeing with your naked eyes that the Belzer Rebbe's ACTIONS are enough and there is no need to say what is obvious, that a Mitzvah, even one as indisputedly tough and difficult as geirus and dealing with PUBLIC accepting and loving geirim by ONE OF THE PRESENT LEADING FIGURES OF CHAREDI JUDAISM SUCH AS THE BELZER REBBE WHO LEADS TENS OF THOUSANDS OF CHASIDIM WORLDWIDE and whwioch you have chosen to ignore by attacking me personally instead, cannot be blocked by fake "takanos" when men such as the Belzer Rebbe openly demonstarte how powerful the mitzvah still is, unlike the Syrian's actions. Can anyone imagine if ANY Syrian rabbi would do what the Belzer Rebbe did in public yet, and what would be the fate of that Syrian rabbi? Need more be said?

    I have taken the time to type up the entire article from the English Mishpacha Magazine (in doing so I noticed that ger came from Hungary and not from Poland.) Here is the article in full, minus the very clear photo of the Belzer Rebbe and the Hungarian Ger:

    From: Mishpacha Jewish Family Weekly / Mishpacha Magazine.
    22 Sivan 5768 / 6.25.08
    Mishpacha, page 19.

    “THE LAST WORD”

    (Colored photo of the Belzer Rebbe in Yerushalayim in festive dress at the head of a tisch.
    Caption reads: “Alazar Gavriel Abramovitz to the right of the Belzer Rebbe”).

    By Itamar Adler:

    “TRUTH AT ANY PRICE

    Until recently, Alazar Gavriel Abramovitz, who just became a chassan, was better known in his native Hungary as Gabor Shoknoy.

    The chassan, whose parents are non-Jewish citizens of Hungary, was married last week, in the presence of the Belzer Rebbe and crowds of Chassidim. Inexplicably drawn to Judaism seven years ago at the age of sixteen, this ger tzedek was married in the Beis Rosen Hall of the Belzer Beis Medrash HaGadol. The Rebbe attended the chuppah, conducting the kiddushin, wearing his shtreimel (instead of a kolpik) – as he does only for simchahs of his family or close relatives. He also attended the seudah, conducting a tisch there.

    The story begins with Elazar Gavriel’s maternal grandfather, who was a young Jewish boy in Makov, Hungary. During World War II, his parents, fearing for his fate and theirs, left him with a local non-Jew. The child was raised as a non-Jew, married a non-Jew, and left behind non-Jewish children and grandchildren. Elazar Gavriel was one of these non-Jewish grandchildren. He possessed a great thirst for spirituality and purpose in life and felt a longing to investigate his family tree. When he discovered that his grandfather had been Jewish, he became increasingly interested.

    Through Divine Providence, he took a tour of the Makov shull, which is normally closed yearlong, just as a group of Orthodox tourists was visiting. They even included him in their minyan, not realizing that he wasn’t Jewish. He, of course, knew nothing of the laws of davening or minyanim.

    After this incident, Gavriel asked his father for permission to register for courses at the University of Budapest – his real aim being to investigate whether Judaic studies were available there.

    Wasting not a moment, and informing no one about his family background, he attended whatever classes on Judaism he could find, in Hungarian. The road to his conversion was long and difficult, but successful. Afterwards, he came to Eretz Yisrael and enrolled in Yeshivas Torah v’Emunah, a yeshiva for baalei teshuvah under the direction of the Belzer Rebbe, who has accompanied him and provided a listening ear for him at all times.

    About three months ago, he became engaged to a convert from Germany, whose entire family – her parents and five children – had converted together. The girl’s father, born Catholic, came to the conclusion about fifteen years ago that Christianity was baseless and that only Judaism held the eternal truth. They converted in Switzerland and moved to Jerusalem shortly thereafter. Since then, all of their children and their spouses have built homes of Torah and yiras Shomayaim.

    The chassan says he plans to continue learning in Torah v’Emunah and to remain a member in good standing of the Belzer Chassidim, not to mention building a bayis ne’eman b’Yisrael. – Itamar Adler”

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