Friday, April 23, 2010

R' Shafran: Community's learned elders are wisest arbiters of what is Jewish

Five Towns Jewish Times

As a Jewish teenager, I absorbed a vital truth—arguably the essence of Orthodoxy: The community’s learned elders are the wisest arbiters of what is and is not Jewishly proper.

Over the many years since, I have come to see that truth vindicated time and again. Had I not perceived it in my youth, I sometimes reflect, I might have become enamored of the Conservative movement, which declared fealty to halachah while expressing sensitivity to American realities. I could have chosen to see it as the most promising standard-bearer for Jewish observance in America. And I would have been devastated to see its claim to halachic integrity crash and burn. But I trusted the elders. And, it turned out, they saw more than I did, and predicted precisely what came to be.

What brings the thought to mind are reactions to a recent pronouncement of our contemporary gedolim and z’keinim. When a congregational rabbi tried to create a new institution in Orthodoxy—women serving as rabbis—the Council of Torah Sages felt compelled to declare that any congregation with a woman in a rabbinical role “cannot be considered Orthodox.”


  1. The problem with Rav Shafran's apologetics was spelled out on Rav Harry Maryles blog several months back in a guest post that spelled out the difference between Daas Torah and Daas Baal Habatim, showing over and over how the common sense approach of the latter differentiated from the indecipherable reasoning of the former.
    For Rav Shafran, the argument is circular. Rabbinic leadership works because it's rabbinic. But too many events over the last few years along with the technology to spread the news of them has challenged that assumption thoroughly.

  2. Garnel,

    I spoke to R' Shafran directly (after my comment to the Cross-Currents copy of his article) about his phrasing of that first sentence.

    Look at the context: he is talking about religious questions. Not how to handle the sex offenders among us. Not even the pragmatic issues about how severely women may need/want a greater role in religious leadership. Rather, he wrote about whether there is room within Yahadus for the ordination of women -- the purely religious side of the question.

    He also doesn't really advise the person to go to a panel or get a quorum of sages to answer this question.

    When he wrote that "The community’s learned elders are the wisest arbiters of what is and is not Jewishly proper." he just meant one goes to a poseiq to get a pesaq, and not simply run off on one's own or bounce ideas off friends.

    The mo'etzes is against the notion of Maharat. I don't think RYBS would have argued, but I'm guessing. But who is JOFA going to with their she'eilos? On whose shoulders are they justifying that they are being loyal to halakhah (including that of behaving in a manner consistent with the values in aggadita)? That question is the thrust of the editorial.

    I was uncomfortable because that was far from clear, particularly to anyone who knows what RAShafran does for vocation and avocation. It sure sounds like he's excluding large chunks of the observant community who do not believe in getting "daas Torah" from a panel (such as the mo'etzes), never mind positing that it is "arguably the essence of Orthodoxy".

    The answer is no one, and thus the title's reference to a place outside of Orthodoxy.

    But it's not actually what he says nor (as he emailed me in a lengthy exchange) what he intended to say.


  3. The older I get, the more I miss my grandparents. I wish I could turn back the clock and ask them more.

  4. See the many comments on the original post to understand how awfully wrong this is. Cirular reasoning is only a small part.

    The Gedolim are always right? I could point out the pre-Holocaust rabbis that said not to leave. I could point out those responsible for the Kolko affair. Without too much effort, i could likely point out another hundred failures of the gedolim.

    The biggest issue is that he uses the word "gedolim" as if they are somehow licensed. Who are the Gedolim? I know who he thinks they are, and that's where the (IMHO) the problem is.

    It's my contention that any Rabbi who condoned any of the very many Chilul Hashem issues of this part year is disqualified from the title, even more than a woman is unable to be a rabbi. That includes rabbis who flew to Postville but couldn't take a stance on Kolko because it was "out of their community" (by a few blocks), those who publicly allowed tax fraud, and too many others.

    Sadly, the Agudah has changed from being a staunch representative of all that is good about Orthodox Judaism to being a standard-bearer and apologist for the dark underbelly of Orthodox misbehavior.

    How tragic!

    Yossi Ginzberg

  5. So according to Rabbi Shafran, Devorah the Shofetet and Prophet did not have "Daas Torah"?

  6. Garnel:
    With all due respect, do you not concede that the issuance of a press release -- written by Agudah laypersons -- urging that we maintain the status quo regarding women Rabbis is not proof enough of the exquisite wisdom and vision of the Agudah Rabbis, something way, way beyond what one would see in the top intellectual tier of any other society?

    And didn't it take real guts, real vision, and real leadership to come out against Avi Weiss?

    Imagine the flack they would be taking in their own shuls and yeshivos over having signed this press release.

    Yet, they did it anyway!

    Personal interests were put aside and risks were taken, all in order to Do The Right Thing!

    And you, Garnel, can't even recognize that!

    Proof once again that Da'as Ba'al HaBayis Hepech Torah Hu!

  7. Micha, I agree with much of what you wrote and thank you for that.

    Your point about JOFA is quite important as well. I've been to their website. On one hand, they have several teshuvos to justify their positions. On the other hand, something Rav Yitzchok Adlerstein wrote about on Cross-Currents many moons ago also rings true. A lot of their halachic reasoning is based on the method "pick a posek" - if you can find someone, anyone, who said what you want then announce you hold like him and act as if it's a valid halachic position.

    The problem with Rav Shafran's position is that, whether he realizes it or not, he does exclude large swaths of Orthodoxy that do not run to his Gedolim with every question or have shitos that differentiate them from the Agudah. It is this that many, including me, find troublesome.

  8. I wish r’ Shafan would be concerned about molester rabbis than women rabbis.

    This is from the person who said he has more respect for Madoff than for "Sully" Sullenberger

    The different between him and the other haredi mouthpiece Jonathan Rosenblum is that Rosenblum actually believes in what he writes as repulsive as it is.

  9. Garnel,

    I tried to make this point clear in my earlier comment. There was no intent in R' Shafran's sentence to discuss using a panel of poseqim (such as the mo'etzes) or to discuss questions beyond halakhah.

    Rather, all he intended to say was that major changes require major poseqim, and that poseqim define halakhah -- Catholic Israel at most ratify (nispasheit bekhol Yisrael).

    Would someone allow a couple who had a non-Orthodox wedding to remarry other people without a get had it not been someone with the stature of Rav Moshe Feinstein who argued for permitting it?

    I read the post as Garnel did, but R' Shafran cogently replied that given the topic of the post, there was no reason for us to do so.

    (I did point out, though, that as a political representative, he has to be more careful with his wording anyway. But I hope the post and the comments it received was sufficient experience to make that point.)



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