Monday, November 14, 2016

Rav Dessler - Produce gedolim even if most students are destroyed.

first posted Oct 6 2008
 Rav Dessler (Michtav M’Eliyahu 3:356-357): [translation copyrighted] The Frankfurt school system taught secular subjects and viewed going to university as an accepted part of education.  The price that they paid for this approach was the reduction in the number of great Torah scholars that came from their students. And even those who went on to learn in the Lithuanian and Polish yeshivas after learning secular subjects in Germany – only an extremely small number...went on to become great Torah scholars. On the other hand the advantage of this system was that only a very small number of the students ended up leaving religious observance. In spite of this minimal loss, there was a definite problem about the purity of religious faith in the Torah. Whenever there was a conflict between Torah and the sciences, they would make strange compromises. As if it was possible to have contradictory beliefs in one heart. Nevertheless almost all of them remained faithful to observing the mitzvos with dedication and self-sacrifice. And many were extremely careful to observe even the finer details of the mitzvos. In contrast the Lithuanian yeshivos focused on a single goal – to create great Torah scholars who were also G-d fearing people. To accomplish this they prohibited going to university. They realized that there was no other way to produce great Torah scholars except by concentrating all their students’ energies and desires exclusively to learning Torah. Don’t think that they didn’t realize from the beginning that this approach would ruin some who would not be able to deal with this extreme lifestyle and would consequently leave religious observance. But this is the price that they paid for the sake of producing in their schools great Torah scholars who were G‑d fearing. Obviously they tried their best to deal with those who could not remain full time yeshiva students – but not in a way which would encourage others to follow in their path of leaving yeshiva. For example, those who had to leave the yeshiva were advised to become storekeepers or other low-status jobs which were not professions. These were jobs which didn’t require training or studying and would not be attractive or interesting to the students. However those who had a strong desire to learn a profession and surely those were interested in become academics were completely abandoned and not dealt with at all. This rejection was done so that the actions of these students wouldn’t harm others by giving them any legitimacy by trying to help them in any way. I heard that they found support for such an approach by the statement found in Vayikra Rabba (2:10), One thousand students enter to study Bible and only one comes out as a posek and G-d says “that is the one I desire.” They also mentioned the words of the Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim, “It is better that 1000 fools die in order to obtain one Torah scholar.”

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It is important to note that the medrash cited does not support this program as it is simply describing the natural attrition. It is not prescribing a program which is known to destroy the majority of students. Just as problematic, the Rambam never said the words attributed to him. The Rambam did say in Moreh Nevuchim that we teach the truth even if 1000 fools are messed up by misunderstanding the truth that we present them.The Rambam's words are the following: [translation by Prof S Pines] "To sum up: I am the man who when the concern pressed him and his way was straitened and he could find no other device by which to teach a demonstrated truth other than by giving satisfaction to a single virtuous man while displeasing ten thousand ignoramuses - I am he who prefers to address that single man by himself, and I do not heed the blame of those many creatures. For I claim to liberate that virtuous one from that into which he has sunk, and I shall guide him in his perplexity until he becomes perfect and he finds rest."

The interpretation cited by Rav Dessler is actually from Shem Tov's commentary to the Moreh Nevuchim [page 10 of the standard edition] and is clearly not the intention of the Rambam.

Shem Tov said:
Let millions of fools die for the sake of saving the superior man. And the superior man should not be sacrificed for the sake of saving millions of fools. That is because the fools are comparable to animals for which it is a mitzva to slaughter them for the sake of intelligent man. So surely it is not appropriate to be concerned about the degradation of the great masses if there can be benefit to the superior man. Therefore it is required for the chochom to reveal the truth in a manner so as not to contradict the Divine intent - even if it leads to the debasement of many fools.
Rabbi Shwab wrote a critical letter - published anonymously - in which he points out that there was no evidence that such a program actually produced gedolim. See a discussion of this matter in Prof. Willam Low's article on page 204 in Encounter - published by the Association of Orthodox Scientists.
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Based upon a conversation I had with Rabbi Ronny Greenwald about this letter , Rav Dessler (in consultation with the Chazon Ish) was noting that after the holocaust it was critical to rebuild Torah leadership as well as appreciation for Torah scholarship. He was asserting that this was best done by a system which was elitist and was focused on greatness in Torah. The fact that such a system would inevitably result in losses was acknowledged but it was felt that there was no alternative to try to recover from the devastation of the war. It was now a time to fight for Torah and as in every war there are losses. We are not talking about a lack of concern for the masses. His point of view was simply that the entire world requires and benefits from having gedolim. The fact that there were many who would not develop to their potential as Torah scholars because of the focus on producing gedoim would be compensated by the production of gedolim. Rabbi Greenwald pointed out that this approach has succeeded but now we are no longer facing the same crises. The issue now is whether the system would not be better served by altering the single focus to one that allows a multiple tier educational system. Are the losses justifiable anymore? It is not that Rav Dessler was wrong but that the circumstances are no probably longer best served by the approach he advocated then. Rabbi Greenwald stated that the gedolim have in fact been reorienting their goals as a result of the changed circumstances.

[Rav Sternbuch told me to append a note to this letter of Rav Dessler’s letter. He said that the halacha is clear that it is not allowed to produce gedolim if it causes others to stop being observant. He said that Rav Dessler doesn’t mean that it is certain that people will go off the derech because of this approach – but only that it can happen. In addition that going off the derech here refers to a possiblity of losing the yeshiva standard of observance  - not giving up religious observance entirely.] 

18 comments :

  1. while you have reservations on the position of Rav Dessler the heading of your article is misleading and inflamatory for Rav Dessler didn't endorse producing gedolim even if all others are "destroyed". If anything the letter you produced takes into the account the well of being of the students (from the perspective of Rav Dessler).

    Read again this piece: ""Whenever there was a conflict between sciences and Torah, they resorted to a strange combination of the two, as if the two systems can be combined as a unity". Therefore, exposure to non-Jewish ideas affected to some extent the purity of their faith in the absolute truth of Torah, resulting in strange compromises".

    He was amongst other things concerned about the lack of faith and strange compromises that would affect most students in another education system.

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  2. truth said...

    while you have reservations on the position of Rav Dessler the heading of your article is misleading and inflamatory for Rav Dessler didn't endorse producing gedolim even if all others are "destroyed". If anything the letter you produced takes into the account the well of being of the students (from the perspective of Rav Dessler).

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    Your reading simply ignores Rav Dessler's words. My heading is not misleading and inflammatory (unless you consider awareness of Rav Dessler's views as inflammatory). Perhaps it would be easier to understand the essay in the original Hebrew since Prof. Low goes out of his way to take off the sharp edges in his translation. You should also read the original question to Rav Dessler regarding founding a teacher's college for which this served as an answer.
    Clearly Rav Dessler didn't want anyone to suffer but he was also fully willing to sacrifice the majority of students i.e., their self esteem and even their religious observance - in order to produce gedolim.

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  3. The goal of the yeshiva eduational system is to do whatever it takes to produce gedolim.

    OTOH, the goal of a typical frum parent is to raise kids to be shomer Torah u'Mitzvos. If their kids become talmidei chachamim or even a gadol baTorah, that's a *great* thing, but the baseline goal is that the kids stay observant and within the fold. I'd certainly want to give my boys the chance to develop into great Torah scholars but I won't be despondent if they merely become poshita yidden. However, if they stop keeping shabbos...

    I've had many friends lament the fact that their kids' yeshivas often have agendas that are at cross-purposes with the agendas of parents, or with the needs of individual students. I always assumed this was an unfortunate accident. I see that this assumption is, in fact, incorrect.

    I think this is an important point for every parent to keep in mind. In the litvish-yeshivish view from the top, Klal Yisrael can afford to lose MANY indivual Jews to the jaws of history, as long as the flame of Torah is kept alive by individual gedolim that get produced along the way. I doubt that most parents will view the loss of their particular children with the same equanimity.

    I still don't have kids, and I'm still deciding (theoretially) where to send my future kids (iy"h) to school. I guess any educational institution has goals that can conflict with the goal of individual students and parents, and yeshivas are simply no different (at least in this narrow respect). Perhaps the take-home lesson here is that at the end of the day, a child's best interests is the responsibility of the *parents*, and outsourcing that achraius is done at their own peril.

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  4. Perhaps the take-home lesson here is that at the end of the day, a child's best interests is the responsibility of the *parents*, and outsourcing that achraius is done at their own peril.

    I would put it a bit differently. Many of the biggest roshei yeshivos differentiate between what they consider good public policy (i.e., that there's no lifestyle worth pursuing besides full-time Torah) and private advice (i.e., the particular talmid sitting before them requires broader career counseling). The former approach is what they'll speak about publicly and the latter is what they will very often offer specific talmidim under specific conditions. I have seen this personally many times. There's even a book of career counseling for bnei Torah that's been "published" with the invisible haskamos of a number of very big roshei yeshivos. See marbitz.com

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  5. Tzurah's point is very important and I pretty much agree with her entirely.

    What we have here are two universally recognized values that can be in partial conflict. On one hand, the survival of the Jewsh people depends on gedolim, on the other hand, a system geared to produce gedolim can harm some students, possibly even causing some to abandon Torah entirely.

    This is a classic moral conflict, and by its very nature, a classic example of why daas Torah is necessary for communal decisions.

    At the same time, a parent's primary responsibility remains the same - caring for the spiritual growth of their own children. In this case, for most of us, there simply aren't many viable alternatives outside of a conventional yeshiva education. Parents always have to carefully monitor their children's progress and take steps to enable them to succesfully weather the experience. They cannot simply rely on the "system".

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  6. This is a classic moral conflict, and by its very nature, a classic example of why daas Torah is necessary for communal decisions.
    I challenge that said assertion is pure narishkeit. Because there are priority issues in the frum community (like there are in EVERY community) you need the strictest, most hardcore, definition of Jewish authority, which has it's roots in either the Chasam Sofer's students (Katz) or Hasidic Poland or whatever?

    Besides, Daas Torah takes a stand on this issue? Is R' Mantel right or not? Is TIDE extinct?

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  7. RTW said...

    I challenge that said assertion is pure narishkeit. Because there are priority issues in the frum community (like there are in EVERY community) you need the strictest, most hardcore, definition of Jewish authority, which has it's roots in either the Chasam Sofer's students (Katz) or Hasidic Poland or whatever?

    It seems to me that you are irrationally lashing out a "codeword" that carries implications that you resent.

    In its most basic sense, the concept of daas Torah is simply that it is those within a community who have acheived the highest levels of Torah perfection who are best qualified to decide communal questions.

    Yes, of course, every community has to deal with such questions. The question is, how do we determine who should be making such decisions? Or, simply put, how do we chose our leaders?

    In any case, regardless of some of the statements made by some of its defenders, "Daas Torah" is not a monolithic concept. Gedolim can, and frequently do, disagree. There is no single "daas Torah" for all communities everywhere. Each community has to have the guidance of its own Torah leaders, who are the best equipped to decide such questions for their communities.

    The claim that the concept of Daas Torah - i.e. Torah leadership - was "invented" in the last two hundred years is, in my opinion, baseless. Throughout history, the leadership of the Jewish people has been dominated by the great Torah sages, whether it was the Sanhedrin in Temple times, the Gaonim of Bavel, the various naggidim of the Sephardic world, the Vaad Arba Aratzos, and, of course, local rabbonim. The only thing that changed in modern times was the need to defend this established practice in the face of new secular Jewish "leaders". (Rav Simcha Wasserman discusses this in his foreword to the Artscroll biography of his father, Reb Elchonon.)

    I'm not sure what your point is in mentioning Torah im derech eretz. Rav Hirsch's "TIDE" is not a contradiction to "Daas Torah", but, on the contrary, a perfect example of daas Torah in action. R' Hirsch, one of the leading gedolim of Germany, determined, in his judgement, that this was the proper path for his community to follow. They did so with great success.

    The question of applying "TIDE" in modern day America (which is, obviously, a very different situation from Germany of the 19th century) is one which the Torah leaders of the German community will have to make.

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  8. responding to lazera:
    I think that I'm following the logical conclusions of the scholarship that's been done on the issue.

    In its...questions.
    The amount of authority given to Talmudic authorities today (as well as how many issues they've taken public stances on) is unprecedented.

    Yes...leaders?
    A good question, I admit.

    In any case...communities.
    I don't disagree.

    The claim...Reb Elchonon.)
    I don't like the term "invented." Suffice it to say that the concept of Daas Torah, in the modern sense of the word, first appears in the last two hundred years.

    If I understand you correctly though, you think even that claim is without basis. That is more a reflection on your ignorance of intellectual history than anything else. If you think local rabbanim had the sort of power, influence, etc. that is distinguished by the concept of "Daas Torah," I can only advise you to read more.

    I'm not sure...success.
    You summarized the machlokis between R' Dessler and R' Schwab and wrote that due to the fact that we have these sorts of conflicts, we need DT to decide the issues for us. So I want to know what some particular DTs have decided in this case.

    As for your claim about R' Hirsch's hashkafa being an example of DT in action, it's simply silly and underscores the fact that you're unfamiliar with the scholarship in the area; you've obviously never read Katz's essay on the topic or if you did, you didn't pay it any attention.

    The question...make.
    Hm? I thought they already made it.

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  9. RTW said...

    I think that I'm following the logical conclusions of the scholarship that's been done on the issue.

    I don't claim to have any real familiarity with the academic scholarship on this topic. I will point out that it is obviously an issue with heavy political and ideological implications, and, as such, any scholarship has to be read with a strong dose of skepticism.

    In any event, the points I have made are all based on basic history and common-sense. Simply referring to scholarship without actually rebutting my points is nothing more than arguing from authority.

    The amount of authority given to Talmudic authorities today (as well as how many issues they've taken public stances on) is unprecedented.

    Really? More authority than the Sanhedrin or the Geonim? I would appreciate some clear examples of unprecedented authority by modern authorities, even as compared to the authority exercised by the rishonim in their various communities.

    I don't like the term "invented." Suffice it to say that the concept of Daas Torah, in the modern sense of the word, first appears in the last two hundred years.

    If I understand you correctly though, you think even that claim is without basis. That is more a reflection on your ignorance of intellectual history than anything else. If you think local rabbanim had the sort of power, influence, etc. that is distinguished by the concept of "Daas Torah," I can only advise you to read more.


    The phrase "Daas Torah", as it is used today, appears to be a fairly recent development. The idea it represents, that those who have acheived the highest levels of Torah perfection are best qualified to be Jewish leaders, is not. As Rav Simcha Wasserman points out, the idea was so self-evident in previous generations that it was not seen as needing a defense.

    You summarized the machlokis between R' Dessler and R' Schwab and wrote that due to the fact that we have these sorts of conflicts, we need DT to decide the issues for us. So I want to know what some particular DTs have decided in this case.

    Well, clearly, each yeshiva has its own policy decided by its rosh yeshiva. "Daas Torah" decisions, like most decisions made by communal leaders, generally don't come with a breakdown of the reasoning behind them. What the debate between R' Dessler and R' Schwab illustrates is the kind of decision making needed for such a decision. We are dealing with conflicting values of great import. Clearly, to make such a decision appropriately requires one to have great sensitivity to the way the Torah itself weighs these values as well as a deep sensitivity and awareness for how the decision will impact others. It is self-evident, in my opinion, that the ideal person to make such a decision is a genuine gadol (which involves much more than Torah knowledge). Ultimately, like most serious communal decisions, this is a value judgement, and, in a Jewish community value judgements must be made according to Torah values. The best equipped to do this are the greatest Torah scholars of a community. Do you believe that there are others who would be better equipped to make such a value judgement? If so, who?

    As for your claim about R' Hirsch's hashkafa being an example of DT in action, it's simply silly and underscores the fact that you're unfamiliar with the scholarship in the area; you've obviously never read Katz's essay on the topic or if you did, you didn't pay it any attention.

    While, as I said before, I have not read Katz's essay (nor would I even know where to get it), I don't see how my statement is "silly". As I said in my previous comment, "in its most basic sense, the concept of daas Torah is simply that it is those within a community who have acheived the highest levels of Torah perfection who are best qualified to decide communal questions." If this description of daas Torah does not apply to the communal leadership of Rav Hirsch, then who would it apply to?

    Perhaps you are operating with some other definition for Daas Torah. If so, then we are talking at cross-purposes. Moreover, if your definition of "daas Torah" is different, that might explain why you are so quick to attack it.

    Hm? I thought they already made it.

    I am not a member of the German community so I cannot say what their current position is.

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  10. The only thing that changed in modern times was the need to defend this established practice in the face of new secular Jewish "leaders".

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    How do you understand the role of melech as played out in tanach?
    gmar tov

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  11. lazera, you seemed from your posts here to be pretty wise and I'd figured that you'd read at least some of the scholarship; hence I was writing to you in that context. Otherwise I wouldn't have started this conversation; I'm not one of these bloggers who shmooze about this stuff with people who haven't gone through the literature. I'd advise you to do so before waving the facts away by attributing politically charged motives to the academic experts in the field.

    Have a great Sukkos.

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  12. Joel Rich said...

    How do you understand the role of melech as played out in tanach?

    I see that Rabbi Eidensohn has already made a new post in reference to this issue.

    I will simply make a few comments in this regard.

    It is clear from the various mitzvos uniquely incumbent on a king that the Torah sees it as vitally important that a king be deeply imbued with Torah values. Indeed, we find in Tanach that those kings who were genuine "gedolim" (e.g. Shaul, David, Shlomo) were the one's that brought greatness to the Jewish people, whereas those who were not brought great harm. (During the reign of the Hasmoneans we find a similar pattern.)

    We also find that Chazal believed that the highest ranking advisors of the king were all great talmidei chachamim (although, in some cases (e.g. Do'eg HaEdomi), severely flawed). It is difficult to say whether they believed that the kings were morally obligated to hearken to the words of these sages, as that role was generally filled by the prophets (who were also "gedolim"), who have a distinct halachic status. It is clear that they believed that the kings of the Second Temple period were morally obligated to obey the Sages (though they generally didn't).

    There is the case of Rechavom who rejected the counsel of the "זקנים" and brought catastrophe onto the Jewish nation. I don't know of anyone who specifically says that these "זקנים" were Torah sages, but it would be a reasonable assumption (as per Rashi Vayikra 19:32).


    RTW said...

    I'm not one of these bloggers who shmooze about this stuff with people who haven't gone through the literature. I'd advise you to do so before waving the facts away by attributing politically charged motives to the academic experts in the field.

    I did not wave away any facts, I advised skepticism. That is a very different thing.

    As for my failure to read the academic work on the topic, I will simply say that I am not an academic. While I am a fairly well-read fellow, I have a wide range of interests and I simply can't read everything out there on every topic. (I wish I could!)

    If the best response you can give to my, I believe, reasonably cogent points is to say that I am not worth talking to because I haven't read the same literature you have, then I believe that points to a fundamental weakness in your claims.

    In your original comment you described my reference to Daas Torah as "pure narishkeit" - now you appear to be unable to respond to my arguments with anything except "you must be wrong, the 'experts' say so!"

    In any event, just this evening I came across Jacob Katz's article on "Daas Torah" at http://www.law.harvard.edu/programs/Gruss/katz.html, in which he presents some of the basic points he makes in his book. I am, quite frankly, not terribly impressed. Most significantly, he explicitly takes for granted that the association between communal leadership and Torah authority is a modern development, his only interest is in determining "when the halachist began to function in this novel capacity" (note the language). He is not proving it happened, he is assuming it happened. If you don't share his unproven assumption, then all that is left is an interesting account of the conflicts and changing circumstances that brought about the need to justify a practice that had always existed.

    If the point that you wish to prove is that, until modern times, there was no connection between Jewish communal leadership and greatness in Torah, then you will apparently have to look elsewhere.

    As an aside, based on my somewhat cursory reading, it seems to me that there are many flaws in Katz's arguments, at least as presented in the article. Perhaps the one thing that bothers me most is his presentation of Rav S. R. Hirsch's ideology as a sort of crass halachic literalism that rejects any moral argument that is not based on strict, letter-of-the-law, halachic reasoning.

    As for my previously stated counsel of skepticism, my reading of this article only reinforces my opinion that there is a powerful ideological element in such scholarship. Katz's language is not that of a disinterested academic, but of thinly veiled polemic. While polemics certainly have their place, one is generally well-advised to use skepticism when reading such material.

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  13. Rav. Emmanuel JacobovitsOctober 31, 2008 at 10:53 AM

    See also regarding the successfulness of yeshivah system producing gedolim in the words of R. L. Emmanuel Jacobovits, quoting R. Menachem Kasher, in his essay on Torah Im Derekh Eretz in the "Encounter" volume published by Feldheim; it is the un-republished companion volume to the "challenge" volume which is on Torah and science. a sample of it with overzealous extrapolation is here;

    http://harherem.blogspot.com/2007/04/from-rabbi-immanuel-jacobovits-one-of.html

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  14. Where can the anonymous article of r schwab be found? thank you

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  15. Anonymous said...

    Where can the anonymous article of r schwab be found? thank you
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    I believe it was published anonymously in Yeschrun and Tradition translated it and identified the author as R' Schwab

    Also see Encounter by Jewish Scientists the Article by William Low

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  16. reject said...

    Rabbi Eidensohn Shlita,

    I am the one who wanted to ask a Shaalah and you not print it. Since you have a connection to Hagaon Rav Sternbuch Shlita and sort of his liason to the internet, what guidance has he offered for one [such as myself] looking to constructively, educationally use the internet to pulicize certain matters of interest.

    Thank you. Please respond privately to the enclosed eaddress

    I didn't see any email address so I'll respond publicly.

    The internet is not a simple question. I would suggest you ask him yourself.

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  17. Rav Sternbuch raises a valid point here, i.e. you cannot destroy other people. But as we have seen, this concept of R' Dessler is indiscriminate, it can destroy people financially, psychologically, emotionally etc. Perhaps this was one of the causes of the emancipation. Perhaps in many ways, this ultra-Chareidi shita is a realisation of "rodef b'Yisroel". What R' Dessler is saying, is that it is worth being rodef on the masses of the Jewish population, to create the odd "Gadol". One example of a "gadol" that came out of Gateshead yeshiva, is Rabbi Louis Jacobs, who ended up being koifer on the Torah and starting up a new "conservative" movement in England.

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