Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Dangers of teaching complex issues publicly

[I am making this a post due to its cogency and relevance]

mekubal comment to "Sexual molestation is absolutely prohibited accord...":

Shoshi wrote: So I learned, that in general, when people start insulting you "You are too ignorant for me to explain you" it really means that the person insulting you does not know the answer and does not want to tell you.

I wonder what you would have said to R' Kaduri Z"L, who would say to people who asked too many questions, "You are not worthy to learn Kabblah, leave." Thus removing them from his Yeshiva. I have heard from students of his when he still taught at Beit E-l that he would do the same there, effectively kicking people out of someone else's Yeshiva. That can be independantly verified from R' Tzadok of Kosher Torah.com.

Or what you would have said to my first Magid Shiur at BMG who started the Zman by saying, "I will gladly answer any question you may have once you know enough to ask a proper question."

The truth is that if one is given too much information before a proper foundation is laid it can lead to confusion and even kefira. I have no intention of insulting you when I say that your level of learning is not on a par where it can easily enter this type of discussion. This is all in the realms of Dayyanim, which is far more learning than most Rabbis will ever do. Most Rabbis never spend any serious amount of time learning these laws, let alone trying to become expert in them. One can only become a Dayyan after become a Rav(a process that takes a number of years) then one has to have the ability(financial) and willingness to devote 10-15 more years to study of these sorts of laws before one can become fluent in them. Most other Semichut the Rabbinute gives a single exam, for Dayyanut there are five consecutive exams that one takes over a course of years when one has prepared appropriately for each. Personally I have taken and passed the first two, that has taken 4 years. So please excuse me or D"T if we tell you that you are swimming in deep waters, and possibly waters that are out of your depth.

I have endeavored to answer each of your questions, asking only that you actually thoroughly read the answers before making assumptions. You seem to want full and complete answers not just sources. The truth is because of the nature of the topic and the amount of information involved a full treatment cannot be done on a blog. Not only would an exhaustive treatment take ample space, it would, because of the public nature of the blog violate the prohibitions of teaching Torah to non-Jews.

I truly don't think that you fully grasp the complexity of your question, if for no other reason than you don't seem to understand the unfounded assumptions that you are basing it on. There are two parts to your question, one is halakhic and the other is haskafic. However, the hashkafa has to be settled before we move on to the halacha.

For instance you want a guilty party to have to make some kind of reparations for mental health care. You are assuming that mental health care is a valid form of healing and that it is in line with Torah values. Take for instance this:

I post that because I know the Rosh Yeshiva he learned that from.

Then there is the perspective of others such as R' Mordechai Goldstein Shlit"a, who claims that psychology/psychiatry can diagnose accurate problems but is useless to resolve or heal them. He claims that is the shitta of the Yeshiva where he learned(Chafetz Haim), and has passed that on to each of his students at his own Yeshiva. Furthermore each of his former students that have started their own Yeshivas(at least each of the one's I have spent any time at) hold the same opinion. They have passed this on to their students, some of whom are Dayyanim that will hear cases.

On the other side of the spectrum you have R' Twerski(whom I personally agree with) and Nefesh. Each side believes that it is upholding Torah with its view points. Who is right who is wrong, who can decide? Both sides have Gedolim backing them.

Those view points will radically dertermine different paths and different solutions to the problems that you give. For instance if one does not believe in mental illness, but rather that "problems" are simply a lack of emunah, middot development and Torah Study, then for instance their is no such thing as a serial abuser who has a mental problem. Rather it is simply someone who has sinned, or who has not yet mastered the teivot. Thus why should they be imprisoned or punished? They need rather to be taught and helped. They need proper musar, and chizuk. Maybe they need to make a tikun for an aveira in a past life. You don't have to take my word for it, see the move "Trembling Before God." Granted it deals with homosexuality(though one of the individuals claims to have "improper feelings" for his school children) which is not classified as a mental illness, but nevertheless is a deviance according to Torah. You will see the variety of approaches portrayed there.

There are like streams of reasoning dealing with the victims, but because they disgust me I will not share them here. It is enough to say that there are Torah opinions that, because of their view on psychology and other things, essentially blame the victims for their ongoing problems.

Once those issues are sorted one can move on to halachic issues. As if the halacha was not already complex enough, you have to factor in the above into any decision of a B"D. Their Hashkafa will determine their interpretation of halacha. Simply look at the various posts on this blog about conversion to see how that plays out in a different realm of halacha. In general the less quantifiable a problem, the more complex will be the resulting halachic dispute.

[see rest of post as comment to "Sexual molestation is absolutely prohibited accord..."]


  1. slippery slope from you need more background to no one can question because no one is at my level.

    BTW what happened to ein habayshan lomed - if the R"Y doesn't have time to start filling in the broad background, how about a more senior talmid?
    Joel Rich

  2. Joel,

    Are you asking specifically in terms of Kabbalah or in terms of standard lumdus?

    They are different in some ways. In standard lumdus yes, one definitely has to be careful with the banning of questions. However, in the beginning steps I understand a Magid Shiur not wanting to get bogged down with questions that one could either work through in Chavruta or could ask a more senior Talmid.

    Kabbalah is a different animal all together. Also it should be noted that while this is the shitta of R' Kaduri Z"l and some others it is not the shitta of all. This was not R' Sharabi's Z"L shitta, nor that of his Talmidim, for the most part. However he discouraged the type of pilpul one would find in a Gemmara shiur on account that he said it could lead to Kefira. In Gemmara one is encouraged to look at things from every direction. In Kabbalah at times that is explicity forbidden by the text itself because it is Kefira. Normally(I have never seen a Kabbalistic Yeshiva where this is not the case) Havrutot are paired much differently as well. In Gemmarra they try to pair people on roughly equal levels. In Kabbalah one is typically paired with someone on a much higher level. My current Chavruta is 35yrs my senior and I am not a young man.

    Still Chaza"l had good reason to start a child in Vayikra and not Baba Metziah or Eitz Haim. Certain foundations must be laid before one can begin to grasp the intricacies of higher levels of learning. For the same reason one has to acheive Rabbinut before Dayanut even though the latter does not immediately seem to build off the former.

  3. Joel,

    One addendum. Sorry I was really tired when I wrote my first response. R' Kaduri's shiur at Beit E-l was very advanced, and at his one Yeshiva was the highest level(naturally). If a beginner wanted in, they essentially had to beg their way in(I know I did it). Everyone when first joining the shiur was told by the Shamash, not to ask questions for the first year.

    The reason is this. Eitz Haim is a complex work, and does not revolve around the typical sugya structure found in most Rabbinic literature. Every Chavruta and Rav I have ever had teach it to me, has said that you only learn Eitz Haim the first time, when you are learning it the second time. In other words before you have gone through the entire thing once the necessary background information is not there. R' Kaduri Z"l would often say during his shiur that one only truly begins to understand Eitz Haim after they have learned it at least 10 times(R' M. Sharabi Z"l said 60). Thus to have a beginner or relative beginner throwing a stream of questions at the Rav(it was not that he answered no questions, he just had a limit during shiur) was seen by him to be indicative of insurmountable problems.

    He would answer questions, though not always the way one would want, often by simply reading a different page on Eitz Haim that contained the answer, after three or four such attempts if one persisted with the question, he woudl draw the line, perhaps it had as much to do with not accepting the answer as the asking of the question.

    Aside from Shiur he was very approachable and often very helpful. He guided me through numerous difficulties. However I do remember once when I asked him a question, he paused, and said, "You are not ready for the answer." In a moment of daring, I asked what that meant. His response was that I did not have the requisite foundation to understand the answer without possibly being lead in the wrong direction.

    When I discussed the incident with my Chavruta he explained that Shabbtai Tzvi, in truth made only two errors in his understanding of Eitz Haim, and those lead him down his disastrous path.

    Ultimately I don't to give a wrong impression of the holy Rav. My point was more to point out that even big Rabbanim and holy Tzadikim draw a limit to the answers that they will give to the unprepared.

  4. One time my husband brought a young man who had never even celebrated a Pesach seder (he is Jewish, really, we checked first) to meet a famous mekubal.

    The young man asked rather insulting question after question and my husband was embarrassed and sorry to have brought him. The Rabbi only said, "you have no idea of the neshama you have collected back for us. I have all the time in the world to answer his questions. The only bad question is the one not asked."

    The young man later became Shomer Shabbat, went to yeshiva, married and today is a wonderful, upstanding, frum, Baal Habayit, a pillar of the community whose home and heart are always open and the father of a large wonderful family.

    This young man told my husband many years later that it was the patience and time that an obvious tzaddik took with him to answer his intentionally obnoxious questions that made him realize his own self worth and drove him to observe the faith of his ancestors (he actually descended on both sides from some very famous Chassidic Rabbeim).

    It is true when you say that even big Rabbanim and holy Tzadikim draw a limit to the answers that they will give to the unprepared, but sometimes, there is more underlying the questions and this is where the time, attention and concern of a Tzaddik can change a person's life and through that person, perhaps many, many others.

    The only dumb question is the one not asked.

    In general it is true that, the greater the person, the more intelligent and worthy he makes others around him feel.

    This was so true of Rabbi Noah Weinberg ztl, everyone whom he met felt like the most important person in the world and THAT is greatness.

  5. Jersey Girl,

    Normally you are 100% right. Like I said I don't want to give a bad impression of the Rav Z"L. I have seen R' Kaduri answer seemingly endless questions, especially on the more basics, and even fairly advanced halacha.

    In the issue of someone wanting to enter the realms of Kabbalah, for reasons that I simply cannot safely go into here, it just is not possible to do the same. Also there is a way to ask such questions. More than that though, and hopefully this will be understood, the very nature of Kabbalah requires one, within certain boundaries to come to one's own intuitive understanding. I am sorry but I don't feel free to elaborate more than that, especially on a public forum.

    With both R' Kaduri, and the issue that my response here dealt with. It is not so much the question that is the problem, it is the way it is recieved, and the venue in which it is asked.

    R' Kaduri for instance would sit, one on one with a talmid for hours explaining the most intimate details of an inyan(I have some of those conversations recorded). However, those were not for public consumption. They were not for the consumption of the entire shiur. It comes to a point where a full explanation for one may confuse another.

    In the matter at hand, these are highly complex issues. Yes they are questions that should be asked. However, as I stated full answers cannot be given. There are numerous reasons, the likiehood of teaching Torah to gentiles, being one. Someone with lack of understanding possibly taking away the wrong thing and driving them further away from Torah and mitzvot. When dealing with such a sensitive topic, yes that is possible. I already fear that some of what I wrote in that response could be used by the Yetzer Hara to drive a person further away from Torah and Mitzvot, simply by broaching some of the Torah views of mental illness.

    Electronic dialogue is impersonal and emotionless. Often one reads into another's comments emotions that may not be there. Look at some of the disputes that you, I and others have gotten into on this blog for example. I am willing to say that more than one is probably because I read something into a comment that was not there.

    Add to that the sensitive nature of this topic, and subtlety of Yetzer hara, and it could lead to diaster in a person's life. ChV"Sh that what we write here should ever lead a person away from Torah and Mitzvot, away from HaKadosh Baruch Hu, but for that very reason there are some questions that cannot be answered here.

    Yes any question, within the proper context should be asked. However, when asked in the improper context one also must be willing to recieve the answer that this is not the time or place. Or even that one is not prepared for the answer. Despite the years I have put in studying both halacha and Kabbalah, I still recieve that answer in both areas.

    In a one on one situation there are many things that I could answer, or one of my Rabbanim would answer. However, I am betting that even if that person that you spoke of, asked the Mekubal to start expounding upon the deeper secrets of kabbalah, he would have said, "everything in its time and everything in its place."

  6. "everything in its time and everything in its place."

    WADR, was I taught incorrectly that a man may not learn kabbalah until after age 40 when he has mastered aleph bet, tanakh with meforash, mishnah and gemara thoroughly, in the way that it would take a gifted and serious talmid chacham a lifetime to master??

    I once heard the Rosh Yeshiva Reb Leibal Schapiro say he was not qualified to learn kabbalah.

    Considering that Reb Leib is regarded as a great talmid chacham (when BMG and Telz Rabbis praise the scholarship of a Lubavitch Rosh Yeshiva, it says something), one has to ask "who is?".

    Rabbi Schapiro said "almost nobody is". The shiur is on tape, in the Bais Menachem library it was about ten years ago. The title of the shiur is "Kabbalah" but the shiur was about "why we shouldn't learn kabbalah".

    Anyway, I was wondering if I had learned incorrectly?

  7. Jersey Girl,

    That seems to be a prominent Ashkenazic opinion. Based on a Shach found in Yoreh De'ah 246:4, S"K 6. The Shach is commenting on the Rama's statement that one should not study things outside the realm of Judaism until reaching this profound level of understanding and age. The Shach applies this to Kabbalah.

    Sephardim have held differently. According to Sephardim, as detailed in Yehaveh Da'at of R' Ovadia Yosef Helek 4:47, any man over the age to twenty, married and with five years of Talmud study may study Kabbalah. He adds a few other pre-conditions, but essentially he takes the opinion of Rabbi Haim Vital as laid down in the introduction to Eitz Haim.

    It should also be noted that this was also the opinion of the GR"A. The GR"A in the same place in the Shulchan Aruch S"K 18, disagrees strongly with the Shach, and says that neither he nor the Rambam have ever seen Pardes to know what they are talking about.

    The Beir Hetiv also agrees with the GR"A. Today those Ashkenazim that follow the shita of the GR"A(who himself started learning Kabbalah at the age of 9) start their students very young(younger than most Kabbalistic Yeshivot would).

    I will not argue the validity of the view points of prominant Ashkenazic Rabbanim for their own communities. However I will state that the B"Y and Shulchan Aruch itself are silent, the Hid"a, Kaf HaHaim, Ben Ish Hai, and R' Ovadiah Yosef, all hold a very different opinion.

    R' Kaduri is quoted as saying, in Divrei Yitzchak(a new sefer of Shayalot and Teshuvot from the Holy Rav) that in this generation we should start young men learning Kabbalah as early as possible. His students who write longer Teshuvot explaining the words of the Rav, state various reasons for this. This was also the shita of R' M. Sharabi Z"L and is still followed by his students such as R' B. Shmueli Shlit"a. Given the fact that Sephardic Torah giants as well as these two(the last two Roshei HaMekubalim) held this Shita I do not see where one can argue it. At best we can say elu v'elu, that each community has its own tikun.

  8. Upon reading Shoshi's remarks and the patience DT and Mekubal exhibited, I couldn't help but think of this Mishlei:

    אל תען כסיל כאולתו פן תשוה לו גם אתה

    ענה כסיל כאולתו פן יהיה חכם בעיניו


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