Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Rav Shach & Prof. Marc Shapiro

A very negative essay about Rav Shach was posted on this blog by shloimie with the assertion that what it says must be true because the author is the well known academic Prof. Marc Shapiro whose erudition is acknowledged by all. Obviously whatever he wrote must be true. Yonah L. responded that the essay could not have been written by Prof. Shapiro because it was replete with so many errors and uncharacteristic intemperate language. Prof. Shapiro would never be guilty of such writing.

The fact is that you are both right. The essay was in fact written by Prof. Marc Shapiro and posted to Mail Jewish in 1993 (Vol 10 #93). It aroused great offense - even amongst the Modern Orthodox participants of that forum despite its ostensibly defense of Rav Soloveitchik against Rav Shach's criticism [Mail Jewish( Vol 10 #95).

For example Mail Jewish (vol 10 #98):
On the other hand, Marc takes Rav Shach to task for various statements and perhaps crosses the line into disrespect. His defense is that Rav Shach, by his behavior, has demonstrated that he is not worthy of Marc's respect. While I do believe that such a line exists (a line beyond which a person is no longer worthy of respect), it seems to me worthwhile to err on the side of caution until it has been authoritatively determined that such a line has been crossed; does Marc have any personal dealing with Rav Shach in which he has been insulted or offended? In the end, Marc sounds as shrill as the statements attributed to Rav Shach and any impact he hopes to
have on the "non-converted" is minimal. Perhaps Marc's point would be underscored by choosing the "derech shalom" instead on engaging in the same level of anger against which he is protesting. Aside from this purely functional aspect of maintaining kavod, this is perhaps a worthwhile halacha to choose to go "l'chumra" with. Marc is unhappy with Rav Shach's attacks on Lubavitch -- but isn't Rav Shach applying the same standard to Chabad that Marc is applying to him? If Rav Shach feels that a person or a movement is heretical, then he should speak out, and in strong terms, as Marc has spoken out against Rav Shach. Whether his assessment of Chabad is correct is another matter entirely.

Another comments was:

(If I showed my father, a Rosh Yeshiva in Torah Vodaath, my husband who is presently learning in Lakewood, or my father-in-law who is a retired YU physics professor who learns in Bais Hatalmud, Marc Shaprio's post, they would all probably tell me to stop reading such nonsense.) Marc tells us to listen to Rav Auerbach or Rav Yosef rather than Rav Shach. I wonder what those gedolim would think of his post. Are they some of the Rabbis he consulted before he submitted his post
See also Mail Jewish (vol 10 #100) where Prof. Shapiro acknowledges that he is basically just reporting the views of some people he respects and thus giving voice to an anonymous group of critics of Rav Shach.
I would like to clarify my posting about Rav Shach. In fact I actually hinted to this in my first sentence (if I remember correctly). What I wrote does not actually reflect my personal feelings. That is, I really don't get upset at what Rav Shach says because a lot of people say things I disagree with and it doesn't pay to always get angry. However,
what I posted is a reflection of the anger I have heard from a number of people including some well known rabbis whose names many people on this list would recognize. Since messages are not sent in anonymously I chose to have my name appear and represent all of the people who feel this way. In fact, all of the private mail I received was supportive, although I don't know how many of them are from Lubavitchers.
Finally I contacted Prof. Shapiro himself regarding the article. He was embarrassed to hear that it still existed and acknowledged that it was not something he was proud of. The following is the exchange of emails.

He also acknowledged that he erred in saying that Rav Shach said the Rebbe was a heretic. After careful research he could find not a single quote to that effect.
I wrote:
can I post your response. there were some commentators who
couldn't believe you made such a statement and therefore questioned the integrity of the one who posted it? BTW I just found it in the Mail Jewish archives from 1993 #93,95, 100 where you also retract your tone.

It was bizarre also that you acknowledge that it is not your view but
that you were presenting the view of those who were upset with Rav Shach.
It is so different than all the thoughtful and well researched material which is your hallmark.

Prof. Shapiro said:

You can post if you want (but use the expanded quote below, where I add a few things. You can also mention that as I pointed out, I wanted to see how the community of Mail Jewish readers would respond to what were common sentiments (but never actually formulated in writing -- one exception being the journal Ha-Maor), so the post was a bit of a gambit, which now comes back to haunt me.

My thoughts on R. Shakh are actually found in the Torah in Motion lectures referred to below

"Yes -- when I was much younger and more foolish. In those days
the internet didn't exist and we didn't realize that everything we
wrote would be around until the end of times, to embarrass us . . .

But I have subsequently, in both writing and in speaking said that R. Shach understood some aspects of Chabad a lot better than the rest of us. Now I certainly can criticize much else he said, including some of what he wrote about Chabad, but it would be done with more tact and respect. I never expected this e-mail to live on."

I have three lectures on R. Shakh at


My thoughts on him are found there and I don't think even his biggest fans will find much to criticize in them.


  1. R'DE,
    Is the issue whether R'MS made some youthful intemperate remarks or whether a consideration of R' ES's comments over the years concerning others (including R"YBS) define a standard of respectful disagreement (or are you saying that according to R'ES, R'YBS was a heretic as well?)?
    Joel Rich

  2. He also acknowledged that he erred in saying that Rav Shach said the Rebbe was a heretic. After careful research he could find not a single quote to that effect.

    Perhaps he should have done his research before he said it. It's a bit disingenuous in any case, b/c in the '93 email he states explicitly that everything he has written is contained in R' Shach's writings. Now he admits that he did not actually have sources for everything he wrote. One wonders what else he wrote without sourcing it.

    Also, the opening paragraph as it appears in the '93 email implies very strongly that he is stating his own view, which others also agree with. It does not imply that he is simply giving over what others think. In general, the piece is written emotionally, with strong feeling. Hard to believe he was acting only as a recorder for the thoughts of others.

  3. "Especially since the other gedolim
    seem to have no great problem with Habad"

    Incorrect, check out these pamphlets:



  4. "He mocks the Lubavithcher
    rebbe's Rambam learning program..."

    Rav Shach's criticism of Rambam Yomi is explained clearly here:


  5. Regarding goren, I guess marc Shapiro was unaware that Rav Shach was joined

    Rav Elyashiv
    Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach
    Rav Chaim Shmulevitz
    Rav Yechezkel Abramsky
    Gerrer Rebbe
    Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro
    Rav Y.M. Feinstein

    Rav Y.M. Feinstein




  6. If you are aware of how the chareidi society functioned in the 80's, you know that this is kind of irrelevant. Rav Shach set public policy, period. All others followed his lead or found themselves out of the picture. One of the Litvish Rashei Yeshiva disagreed with him about breaking off from Aguda and starting Degel, and quickly found himself off of the Moetzes (not too different than what is going on now with R' Shmuel Aurbach and his supporters). Therefore, the fact that other rabbonim followed his lead is not so meaningful.

  7. There are some alternative views on how this affair became so explosive. One of my regular arguments has received a herem, so I will bring some others.

    First of all, R' Henkin ztl, who was the Gadol Hador prior to even R' Moshe Feinstein ztl opposed the vilification of R' Goren ztl. R Henkin was a major Torah authority.

    R' Aharon Rakkefet gives a shiur on the matter, where he says that the actions of r Goren were all in line with halacha, and mentions that he asked R' Lichtenstein why then was there such opposition to Goren? RAL replied that Goren was like a train without a driver, ie out of control, and that there needed to be a stop to his innovations in halacha and his break from the past.
    There is a deeper background to this, and my argument is that a major change took place in Judaism in 1948 and again in 1967. R Goren was particularly instrumental in the changes of of both these dates, especially 1967. Until at least 1960, Goren was on good terms with the Hareidi leadership - R' Shach asked him to join him in starting a Kollel. By 1967, with the liberation of Jerusalem after 2000 or 2500 years. R Goren was working on renewing Judaism to its pre-exile form, and this meant changes in halacha. That seems tome to be the underlying cause of the fissure, rather than a specific psak, which was merely an opportunity to remove him from the constellation of mainstream yeshiva orthodoxy.

  8. There is a difference between agreeing with Rav Shteinman and holding that he has the title/authority of the gadol hador and therefore everyone has to be mevatel da'as to him. I do not think that the majority agree with Rav Shteinman, or that they disagree with him. But once Rav Chaim Kanievsky says that anyone who contradicts him has the halacha of a zaken mamre, people fall into line pretty quickly. Otherwise, you get your Yeshiva shut down (see Chadera) or your job as a dayan pulled out from under you (see She'eiris).There was no such thing as agreeing or disagreeing with Rav Shach on a particular issue. They accepted his authority and followed what he said.

  9. That is a good point. Those who accept the authority of a Rav follow his psak or Deot. According to the Ritva, there is no requirement to follow the majority, if they do not sit together in a Din.

  10. @Eddie we are not dealing with a psak of beis din

  11. very well - so even more so / kal v'chomer - where is there a rule that says one must follow the majority in terms of hashkafah?

  12. We'll be spinning our wheels again. Your point is not Dr. Shapiro's claim.
    1) Dr. Shappiro claimed it was on his own.
    Fact: Many felt the same way.
    You have your contention - which is completely separate and irrelevant to Dr. Shappiro's claim. You claim that the Roshei Yeshivos and Gedolim are fickle and just follow whats popular. Or something like that. I disagree with you but, I do not want to pursue this with you. Thank you.

  13. All others followed his lead or found themselves out of the picture

    Oh, so you're saying that they didn't really believe what they were saying, they did it only for ulterior motives, b/c they were afraid of being forced "out of the picture."

    This list includes some of the greatest of their time -- it's unbelievable to me that your would so lightly denigrate them in this way.

  14. "You claim that the Roshei Yeshivos and Gedolim are fickle and just follow whats popular. Or something like that."
    Actually, not something like that. I claim that when there is one figure who is viewed by the general public/other Rashei Yeshiva as the gadal hador, the other Gedolim will not disagree with his stance on particular issues, but will follow what he says. To give a very obvious comparison, if the Gerrer Rebbe says something as a matter of public policy, no Gerrer dayan or Rosh Yeshiva will publicly disagree with him, and every single one would sign a kol koreh backing him up. If you want to take a nicer view, it is because they hold he is so holy/chashuv/whatever that they are mevatel their opinions to his, and if you want to think a bit more cynically, it is because they know they will have no place in the Gerrer community otherwise. I am saying that when Rav Shach was active, there was a similar dynamic in the Litvish community, and that a similar dynamic is in play in the current controversy affecting that community.

  15. I will follow your tangent here for a moment.

    You can opt to take your cynical approach. I will proudly and resolutely take Chazal's approach. Allow me to remind you of Rabbon Gamliel and Rebbi Yehoshua. They disagreed. But Rabbon Gamliel's psak had to be followed to the tune of Rebbi Yehoshua violating his assumed Yom Kippur. This all is in reference to when the Chachomim of the generation - no, not those Jews who are wise in the ways of the Nations - follow the the leadership and view of a Gadol Hador.

    This all is irrelevant to Dr. Shappiro's false claim and accusation. Rav Shach's leadership and opinions in these matters were agreed to by the other Chachomenu.


    If you see a remarkable genius and wise man from the nations of the world, you make a bracha ברוךשנתן...
    מחכמתו לבשר ודם. However, upon seeing a person who has reached true greatness in Torah I say ברוך שחלק מחכמתו
    ליריאיו. What would be the halacha when you see a Jewish person who has not reached unquestionable true Torah greatness, but has reached great knowledge of the sciences and secular philosophy? Lets take Albert Einstein as an example. The halacha is that no bracha is made. Had a non-Jew reached his knowledge, a broacha would be made.

  16. Again, it is not that they agreed or disagreed with him. They recognized him as the gadol hador, and followed his lead on public policy matters. In the Litvish chareidi community in Israel, there has been no such thing as Rashei Yeshiva stating their own opinions on public policy. That is why there is such a train wreck now with R' Shmuel Auerbach, as the idea that someone within the system does need feel beholden to back the gadol hador undermines the way they have been running things for several decades.

  17. http://revach.net/halacha/tshuvos/VDarashta-VChakarta-A-Bracha-Upon-Seeing-A-Brilliant-Am-HaAretz/2400

    V'Darashta V'Chakarta: A Bracha Upon Seeing A Brilliant... Am Ha'Aretz

    The Shulchan Aruch (OC 224:6) paskens that when you see a "Chachmei Yisroel" you make a Bracha "SheChalak MiChochmosoi Lirei'av"; He gave a portion of His wisdom to those who fear him. When seeing a Chochom who is not Jewish you make the Bracha "SheNasan MiChochmosoi L'Basar V'Dam"; he gave from His wisdom to flesh and blood.

    Rav Aharon Yehuda HaLevi Grossman was asked (V'Darashta V'Chakarta 3:27) what happens if you see a Jew who has reached the level of "Chochom" (this determination is not the scope of this article and is a disputable matter), but only in worldly matters and not in Torah, do you make the Bracha "SheNasan MiChochmosoi L'Basar V'Dam"? On one hand, he is walking model of Hashem's wisdom, which deserves a bracha to Hashem. On the other hand, maybe this bracha only applies to a non-Jew since the gemara specifically says if you see a wise man from the "Umos HaOlam".

    Although he leaves this question unresolved, he writes that he heard (although he never saw this himself) that Rav Yitzchok Hutner wrote that if we were to see Albert Einstein, we would not make the bracha, since it is an embarrassment for a Jew to be wise in worldly matters but not in Torah knowledge.

  18. Rav Hutner's statement is printed in the Pachad Yitzchak on Chanuka, Ma'amar 9.

  19. Are you backing down from your statement that they signed only so that they wouldn't be forced "out of the picture?"

  20. As I have stated elsewhere, the desire to remain accepted within the chareidi community is one possible cause for them to sign. The other is that they decided to be mevatel da'as to him, either because they in fact held that he was so much greater than they were that his opinion overrides theirs, or because they felt it was not good for chareidi society as a whole for there to be differences of opinion. Either way, I stand by my main point, which is that once Rav Shach arrived at the decision to ban Steinsaltz, it was inevitable that the others would follow along. Their signatures should be seen in the manner of יהודה ועוד לקרא, as the Gemara puts it.

  21. What you said previously was that they did it for ulterior motives: so that they would not be "forced out of the picture." Now you are suggesting (a) that they actually believed what they signed, because they held that his daas overrode theirs -- that is, they accepted his superior understanding, and (b) that they did not accept it, but they wished to avoid dissent in the chareidi ranks. You have no proof for either of your contentions (people like you rarely do), but in any case, in both you back away from your previous claim that they acted out of self-interest.


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