Friday, June 28, 2013

Hirsch: Daas Torah & Agudas Israel

Prof Alan Mittleman ( The Politics of Torah- History of Agudas Israel page 85): In Hirsch's view, the constitutional centrality of Torah implies a republican political philosophy. The stress on lay participation in Torah study means that no religious profes­sionalism - the clergy model of Christianity which he blames the Reform Jews for importing into Judaism—is acceptable." The decisions of the rabbi and the elected officers are accepted as authoritative only when the people are imbued with Torah. If the people are not steeped in Torah, the officers elected by them will lack discernment and the rabbi's decisions will bescorned. Hirsch interprets the rabbinic maxim, "raise up many students" (Avot 1:1) as a rule for rabbis: make yourselves superfluous, when all are full of Torah, your leadership will be unnecessary."

A number of strands come together here. What Hirsch is  proposing is a complete sublimation of the political dimensions of communal life in a system of sacred administration.  The sovereignty of the Torah, the total identification of any  authoritative public decision with the dictates of the Torah, subsume the sphere of political action into the routine of  administration. Hirsch seems to envision, like other nine­teenth century thinkers ,the replacement of politics by ratio­nal administration. Hirsch’s is a liberal utopianism, albeit rooted  in an incipient tendency of the Jewish political tradition, in  full flower. The social reality of the Jews can be ordered  according to the sacred ideas of the text as it has been rationally explicated by the sages and their followers. The  Religionsgesellschaft is to be the embodiment and the model  for this subordination of the uncertain world of politics to the  certainties of the sacred canopy.

It is interesting to note that Hirsch minimizes the role of  rabbinic authority. His view points in the opposite direction  from the Eastern European Orthodox elevation of “ daat  Torah,” the application of charismatic rabbinic authority to  contemporary political questions." Hirsch does not present the rabbi as a kind of oracle, but rather as representative of the  community by expressing those truths of which everyone is  (or should be) aware because they underlie the community's consensus. As in the late medieval kehillah, the rabbi's authority is strictly derivative. It depends on the will of the com­munity board, on the one hand, and his demonstrable competence in legal matters, on the other. Appeals to a supra-rational  charism are out of order.

Hirsch employs what we have termed an empirical or historical model of Jewish community. Drawing perhaps from the social contract tradition of Rousseau, he understand Israel and its public institutions to be a product of decision and choice. The people band together and form authoritative insti­tutions in order to better fulfill the Torah (which they freely accepted) than they could have on their own. The Torah is phenomenologically primary. The community is derivative and instrumental. Yet once composed by covenant or contract, the community has the right to compel its members to continue to acknowledge the basic norm of their collective enterprise. The tradition, according to Hirsch, values mutual compulsion for the public good." Rousseau's tendency toward maximal consensus and his thick view of the common good, expressed in his notion of the volonte generale come to mind here."


  1. There is an anachronism in this quote. R' Hirsch died before "daas Torah" became a concept in Eastern Europe. (Outside of chassidishe attitudes toward their rabbeim, which started in the Baal haTanya's day. We know, because he objects to it in the Tanya.)

    No Litvak turned to "the gedolim" as a panel, or even their own rabbanim (or their rabbanim) until the turn of the 20th cent. See, for example, R' Chaim Brisker's opposition to the whole concept, back when the Agudah (Europe) was in the planning phase. It was new then, which is why it was still open for debate.

    And the takeover of the rashei yeshiva from the rabbanim in the field wasn't until after WWII!

  2. "It is interesting to note that Hirsch minimizes the role of rabbinic authority. His view points in the opposite direction from the Eastern European Orthodox elevation of “ daat Torah,” the application of charismatic rabbinic authority to contemporary political questions."

    Yes and no. In his open reply R Bamberger (in which one of the main bones of contention was R Bamberger's involvement in R Hirsch's hometown of Frankfurt) R Hirsch talks about the Chasam Sofer as "someone whom we must all bow our heads to." More fundamentally though, he didn't feel a need to justify his P'sak of austritt very much. He may not have believed in
    "charismatic rabbinic authority to contemporary political questions" but he certainly believed in the 'Shulchan aruch hachamishi'. So for all intents and purposes, 'If the rabbi says, you listen' (provided he's not a reformer)

    "Hirsch’s is a liberal utopianism, albeit rooted in an incipient tendency of the Jewish political tradition, in full flower."

    I'm not quite sure what that's supposed to mean, but if he's refferring to RSRH's positive view of the future, that needs to be tempered with essays by RSRH such as 'Sober thought on Purim', as well as an Ohr-somamyach-type-prophecy about Berlin in CW volume 1 Av (I think it's #3, but don't have it in front of me.)

    "Hirsch employs what we have termed an empirical or historical model of Jewish community. Drawing perhaps from the social contract tradition of Rousseau, he understand Israel and its public institutions to be a product of decision and choice."

    Again, this has to be tempered by RSRH pirush on Pirkei avos where he talks about the tzibbur. He gives it quite a supernal role.

    "The people band together and form authoritative insti­tutions in order to better fulfill the Torah... The tradition, according to Hirsch, values mutual compulsion for the public good." Rousseau's tendency toward maximal consensus ... come to mind here."


    "...This tendency begot the erroneous conception of a majority which has sway in every direction and in every case. So that finally everything is considered the highest by the majority, ipso facto becomes considered and honored as the highest by everybody. It is true of course that the majority of every community should be the representative of all that which is truly the highest and holiest; and it is in the presumption that such is the case, that Judaism, too, values attachment to the community as being supremely important. Nevertheless at the head of Judaism the words לך לך "go for yourself" stand as being higher still; nobody may say: I am as good, as honest, as everybody else is, as is the fashion here today. Everybody is responsible to G-d for himself. If necessary, alone - with G-d - when the principle worshipped by the majority is not the true godly one. this what was demanded from Abraham as the starting point of his and his future people's mission. Our very language teaches, as we have seen, in the word ארץ and בית how strong are the bonds that attach a person both; yet stronger than the bond that attaches us to fatherland and family should the bond be that attaches us to G-d. How could we have existed, how continue to exist, if we had not, from the very beginning received from Abraham the courage to be a minority!"

  3. R. S.R. Hirsch was a member of the Agudas Yisroel.

    1. Agudas Yisroel was founded in 1916 so he obviously wasn't a member. However Aguda used his ideas about a voluntary community as the basis of the organization. I just found it interesting that despite the reliance not only of R S. R Hirsch's ideas as well as Hirschians such as Moreinu Rosenheim - the authority of the Aguda is based on Daas Torah - something that he would not have accepted.

    2. did the concept of DT exist prior to Aguda?
      If we go back to say, the Gra / Besht, the rishonim, Rambam/Raavad etc - there seems to be no DT. It is a false concept, or false nevuah.

    3. Eddie you must know that this is much discussed and your summary doesn't do any justice to the issue in fact it is a gross oversimplication and perhaps simply false.

      The Raavad is on record as saying that the halacha is like him because of ruach hakodesh. Rambam is on record as saying that nevuah is a natural occurence - unless G-d intervenes - for a well developed philosophical mind.

      Don't think that anyone could argue that the Besht didn't think he had ruach hakodesh. See the words of the Divrei Chaim.

      So that leaves the Gra. Haven't researched the issue - but I would assume that the Gra held that he had some form of ruach hakodesh.

      Chasam Sofer(vol 1 O.C. 208) wrote: the spirit of G-d comes to those who busy themselves with Torah for its own sake, who merit reaching the truth even if according to the level of their intelligence they would not reach such adhivements. Neverthelessthe Holy One Blessed Be He in His lovingkindness gratns wisdom the wise temporarily.

      You also might want to check out BB 13

    4. Firstly, my incendiary comments are usually to stimulate debate.
      If we look at the Rambam and raavad - they can't both be neviim, i.e. nevie haemet. Rambam wrote abotu Neviim, but he also wrote that they do not exist nowadays.
      The crux of the debate is in Rambam's coutner atatck on Raavad's gloss to his MT. In The Guide (1:36) he retorts to the Raavad's claim, equating it to avoda zara. How is that for alleged ruach kodesh?

      As for the Gra, he didnt even trust his own magggidim, kal v chomer, he wouldnt trust the besht's or the Alter rebbe.
      Just like one can make shogegot on halachic data, so can one make them on spiritual, and on nevuah.

      Now, if you take the position that raavad and the Besht were correct, that doesnt help the Rambam and Gra. So minimum, you have to reject one side or other.

    5. Regarding actual Nevuah - it has a strict test given in the Torah. Very few if any claim to actually have nevuah - perhaps becasue theya re aware of the consequences.
      The Torah tells us not to fear anyone who makes a false prediction. But the DaasTorah ideology (I mean Aguda, not RDE) is the exact opposite - to fear anyone who claims he has DAas, and subdue your logical thinking that might disprove such a claim!

    6. how many admorim, roshei yeshivot, or rabbanim living today have developed the philosophical mind, have learned the materials required, to qualify for nevuah (according to the rambam)? so while the rambam may have agreed in some theoretical way that there is a possibility of nevuah, there aren't too many candidates whose CV's would be accepted.

    7. There are several historical approaches to receiving Torah and deciding halacha - beginning with Nevuah, eg Moses, Zechariah and many great Neviim.
      There is also the Hoshen MIshpat and Urim v Thumim of the Kohen Gadol, which is a supernatural occurrence.
      The next method, of a Sanhedrin - majority vote, is not Daas Torah, in that it can be voted by numbers. If a sanhedrin was led by a Gadol with DT, he could be outvoted by other members (in theory).
      The Agudist view of DT is an innovation - where the Supreme leader makes statements, which are accepted by his followers, and any debate is deeemed heretical.

    8. Sanhedrin was created by taking from Moshe Rabbeinu's Daas Torah and giving it to the Sanhedrin. That would indicate that the members did have Daas Torah - but since they all had it that halacha was decided by vote. When there was a single leader - such as Moshe or Yehoshua - counting views obviously wasn't needed. Daas Torah is not viewed as a fixed prophetic message but something which is dependent on interpretation. The prophets also needed to interpret their visions.

      You are comparing apples and organges

    9. Depends which are the apples and which the orange, and whether my apples are greener than yours.
      Or, what are we talking about when we speak of the Sanhedrin? Moshe said he will take the cases that the 70 elders cannot handle. And it is explicitly recorded that he would communicate directly with G-d for a halachic decision.
      Yirmiyahu said tofsei Torah lo Yadaoni - and Rashi writes this is the Sanhedrin he was referring to.
      My distinction between Sanhedrin and the post-modern Aguda type Daas, is that the sanhedrin was not a papal style institute, to the point where in capital cases, the smallest Hacham would state his opinion first. Today, the "Gadol hador" states his opinion in papal style, and then all the smaller guys simply agree with him. That is not the way the Sanhedrin would act. So yes, Sanhedrin and Aguda are not the same.

    10. first of all who is the gadol hador that everyone follows? Who was the gadol hador before him? I agree that some claim that is the process - but in real life it has always been much more complex and no single individual was followed slavishly on all issues. The process is much more complex then you seem to realize.

    11. I agree it is more complex. And I think we now live in a post-Daas Torah world - in that for the past 50 years, there were major Daas Torah figures, eg R' Shach,R Elyashiv, and R' Feinstein, all ztl. Today, there is no single figure who speaks with DT or that is recognized as the leader of the Dor.

      As a proof of argument, that historically there was no DT, I will give a short vort.
      In Vayikra 11, it says:
      כו לְכָל-הַבְּהֵמָה אֲשֶׁר הִוא מַפְרֶסֶת פַּרְסָה וְשֶׁסַע אֵינֶנָּה שֹׁסַעַת, וְגֵרָה אֵינֶנָּה מַעֲלָה--טְמֵאִים הֵם, לָכֶם; כָּל-הַנֹּגֵעַ בָּהֶם, יִטְמָא. 26 Every beast which parteth the hoof, but is not cloven footed, nor cheweth the cud, is unclean unto you; every one that toucheth them shall be unclean.

      Apparently the Karaites said this applied to living animals. Ibn Ezra thus attacks this interpretation of the Tzedukim (karaites), saying it only applies to a dead animal.
      But on the verse, the Rashbam gives exactly the same reading as the Karaites!

      So what does that mean ? Was Rashbam not quite "Orthodox"? Of course not, he was a brilliant scholar, who learned the same way as the karaites (at the time also brilliant Bible scholars). Daas Torah could not and did not exist in that situation.

    12. Eddie: The Rashbam was a Tosafist, so you can see what he held lehalakhah. He gave peshat in the pasuq, while believing that halakhah derives from derashah, not peshat. So, he kept Shabbos starting from Fri night just like everyone else. Even though he explains "Vayhi erev vayhi voqer" as referring to the day starting at boqer. That example is off topic.

    13. It is not off topic. The verse is saying what is forbidden, and he is giving his opinion. His opinion contradicts the Ibn Ezra.
      Remember, some people gave their DT that the world is only 6000 years old, even though there is no halachic information in such question.
      Or are you claiing that he wrote a derasha on this pasuk with a different conclusion? if so, please send the reference.

    14. Eddie, please read what I wrote. The Rashbam gave peshat in the pasuq, as he saw it. But due to how he views the relationship between Torah sheBikhsav and TSBP, that has nothing to do with halakhah! Halakhah comes from derashah, which in his opinion means that peshat could be at odds with the din.

      His opinion of what the verse says is forbidden isn't his opinion of what the Torah as a whole says is forbidden.

      The Rashbam is not a dershah. It's the opposite extreme -- it's peshat with no regard to halakhah. He accepted the Bavli's conclusions for the halakhah. As I opened -- he was one of the Baalei Tosafos, of course he considered the Bavli's word final.

    15. Micha, I am not sure I follow your argumentation - however,
      the Ibn Ezra was also reading pshat. Since Rashbam reads differently, it means there is no DAas Torah on this particular pasuk.
      You did not bring a citation that the Rashbam disagrees with himself on this, but you reach that fro your convioluted theory.
      Also, note that rav Shach was not a posek in Halacha, and his DT comments were on wider issues, policy issues etc.

      One further point, which is off topic - but you raised it. if pshat is at odds with the din, then the karaites have won - since that is precisely what they are arguing!

    16. Also, note that rav Shach was not a posek in Halacha, and his DT comments were on wider issues, policy issues etc.

      From what alternate universe do you derive this assertion?

    17. R Shach himself said "ain li yad b'halacha".
      During his reign, halacha was decided by RSZA and later RYSE.

      Are there any collections of halachic teshuvos that you have from him?

    18. from the wikipedia article on rav shach:

      סדרת ספרי הוראות והדרכות אורחות החיים (ענייני יום יום), אורחות הישיבה (ענייני ישיבה) ואורחות הבית (הנהגת הבית)

    19. There is a list of books or collections of shiurim he gave,a nd these are right at the bottom.
      I do not see any SH'uT. These seforim you refer to are essentially Hadrachot for the the Yeshiva.
      Hi major works are biurim and Raianot, ideas. His Gadlus was in ideas, in lomdus, and in leadership. At the time, nobody went to him for complex halachic questions, they went to RSZA.
      This is all in the context of where his major areas of Daas Torah was. He could, for example, attack Steinsaltz for bringing out a Talmud which was not in keeping with how he saw the mesora; or the rebbe of Lubavitch for starting a false messianic movement.
      BTW - during the messianic fervour, I met Steinsaltz, and challenged him on Hilchot Melachim of the Rambam, arguing that the rebbe does not fulfill the halachic criteria of the rambam to be presumed Moshiach. Steinsaltz said the precise criteria don't matter, they are just characteristics [i.e. non-normative halachic requirements).
      It was here that I realised steinsaltz is a quack.

    20. "The Raavad is on record as saying that the halacha is like him because of ruach hakodesh."

      But this was back in a time when rabbis who said something like this really didn't believe they had divinely ordained authority. Saying he had ruach hakodesh meant he had a great answer or a killer svara. NOT that any Jew out there in the masses who does not follow me is a kofer and loses his olam haba (as we hear today from those of the Aguda camp who truly do believe they have divinely ordained authority). So citing these examples, even though they are true and you can probably add the Ramchal to this list, is anachronism.

    21. Eddie, why try to provide a rejection of something you already said you didn't understand? Other than the fact that you already admitted you're trolling... ("Firstly, my incendiary comments are usually to stimulate debate.")

      The Rashba gives strict peshat. Halakhah derives from derashah. He doesn't explain the pasuq to reflect the halakhah. Rashi's defniition of "peshat" is different, so his commentary tends to be consistent with Chazal, medrash and hlakhah. The IE has a third definition, and aims to give a different explanation. They are all right, the Author intended us to work with a multiplicity of messages from the same text. "Eilu va'eilu divrei Elokim Chaim."

      But none of them are daas Torah, which extends our trust in our sages in directions beyond Torah.

    22. Micha,

      since when is stimulating debate the same as trolling? Or is it just that you could not get through your day without a gratuitous insult?

      Seems you have no concept of what you are talking about. You are simply diverting attention from my argument, in order to disprove it.

      Ibn Ezra claims that certain interpretation is wrong, and this is a broadside against the Karaites. Unfortunately for IE, the Rashbam holds exactly as the karaites do - on this particular verse. I claimed, therefore that there was no Daas Torah in this case. You cannot claim that either Rashbam or IE were Tzedukkim. (same goes with Rambam in Issurei Biah 11, where he refers to the Dmei Tehora for 40/80 days being a Tzedduki opinion re: the Geonim).

      Next you allege some imaginary Rashbam where he says the opposite of the pshat, without bringing any evidence of its existence.

      Finally, you agree, that none of these views were DT. Ok, so you agree with what I am saying, that there was no DT in those days (using the Agudist era definition of DT).

  4. The Rambam on nevu'ah is a da'as yachid that comes more from Aristotle than chazal. According to R' Hirsch. But to be on topic...

    Daas Torah is different than believing in siyata dishmaya when giving a pesaq. Halachic authority and civil leadership are different things. The Tanya actually berates the concept (Igeres haQodesh ch. 22), and that was early chassidus, not Litvaks.

    1. Does any other major chassidic leader agree with the view of the Baal HaTanya? Furthermore The Baal HaTanya apparently eventually gave in to his chassidim- despite his declared views - and did provide Daas Torah responses to their requests.

    2. According to rav michael rosen tz"l in his book, The Quest for Authenticity. The Thought of Reb Simchah Bunim, the whole school of Przysucha denied special powers to the rebbe.

    3. I didn't see any such statement in the book - what page does he say that? Of interest there is no mention of Daas Torah in the index to the book. He does emphasize that the role of the tzadik is to be a teacher and the student needs to learn independence. However I don't see any place where he says that the rebbe lacks special powers.

      It seems he was saying that with other chassidim the main task in life is to cling to the tzadik - to be subordinate to him and everything he achieves is through this relationship. In contrast it seems that Reb Simcha Bunim asserted that the rebbe is a teacher, a role model - but that developing one's own individual nature is paramount.

      He has a long discussion of miracles clearly indicating that zadikim can do miracles - however they are not desirable and interfere with person growth.

    4. is that the point of saying that a rebbe is just a moreh derech?

    5. i will admit that i am relying on memory.

    6. The Tanya proves that the concept of daas Torah didn't exist until the late 18th cent. And ironically was bootstrapped from the masses up -- against the wishes of those who were being assigned daas Torah!

      If you accept that, and you appear to, then we could discuss how long it took for the idea to migrate beyond the chassidishe world. I stand by my claim that there is no evidence before the turn of the 20th cent, when the people planning what would become the Agudah (including a number of gedolim in their own right) were looking for an organizational model.

      Daas Torah is on far shakier legs than, say, universal hashgachah peratis extending beyond humans to apply to animals, plants, and non-living things. At least UHP came from the minds of the Baal Shem Tov and the Gra.

      (Tangent: I actually think what happened with UHP is not so much a break from the past in substance as a change in topic. Hashkafah in the days of the rishonim was more about ontolgy. After the Ari and Kant, hashkafah focussed more on how the world is experienced. So that the Besht-Gra notion of HP is more related to bitachon than to what the rishonim were doing -- describing the metaphysical mechanics of the universe. It's almost a reuse of the same idiom, rather than a change in position compared to the rishonim. But that's just a pet theory with no real basis.)

    7. i didn't have much time last night, so i glanced through some of the sections. since rav rosen is no longer with us (a huge, huge tragedy), we can't ask why he didn't write about daas torah.

      however it is clear, that even with the stuff about rebbe's being able to do incredible miracles, rav simcha bunim saw the rebbe's role as one which is much more restrained, low key, and down to earth than say how the qedushat levy saw the same role.

  5. The author of the piece shows his tru colors of a lack of Derech Eretz by numerously referring to H'Rav Shamson Raphael Hirsch "Hirsch"

    1. you are a true troll and ignoramus. In Yeshiva circles he is typically referred to as "Hirsch". More relevant is that in Yekke circles that is how their distinguished spiritual guide is referred to. There is no intent to insult his memory - that is simply the way I have heard him referred to.

      You might find it worth while reading Dayan Grunfel's valuable - Introduction to the Horeb - where he repeatedly refers to him as "Hirsch". In fact I could only find one time - in the very beginning of the Essay where he used the title "rabbi". The cover does not refer to him as "rabbi" either.

    2. But we don't usually speak "academic". You're citing examples from non-yeshivish culture, and in academia authors are usually referred to just by last name. To switch just for one rav is odd.

  6. On which issues does Daas Torah apply? See what the Chovos Halvovos says:

    אבל אם אתה איש דעת ותבונה, שתוכל לעמוד בהם על בירור מה שקבלת מהחכמים בשם הנביאים משורשי הדת וקוטבי המעשים - אתה מצווה להשתמש בהם, עד שתעמוד על העניין, ויתברר לך מדרך הקבלה והשכל יחד. ואם תתעלם ותפשע בדבר, תהיה כמקצר במה שאתה חייב לבוראך יתברך. וזה יתבאר משני פנים: אחד מהם ממה שאמר הכתוב (דברים יז) כי יפלא ממך דבר למשפט, בין דם לדם בין דין לדין, וגומר, ועשית על פי הדבר אשר יגידו לך, וגומר. וכשאתה מסתכל במה שכולל הפסוק הראשון מענייני הדינים, תמצאם דברים שצריכים לפרוט אותם ולחלקם ולדקדק בהם בדרך הקבלה, לא בדרך אותות השכל. הלא תראה, שלא הזכיר בכללם עניין מן העניינים אשר יושגו מצד השכל. כי לא אמר: כשתסתפק בעניין הייחוד איך הוא, או בשמות הבורא ובמידותיו, ובשורש משורשי הדת בעבודת המקום, ובטוח עליו והיכנע לפניו, וייחד המעשה לשמו, ולברר המעשים הטובים מפגעי ההפסד וענייני התשובה מן העבירות, ולירוא ממנו, ולאהבה אותו, ולהתבושש מפניו, ולחשוב עם הנפש בעבור שמו, והדומה לזה ממה שיגיע אליו האדם בדרך השכל וההכרה, שתאמין בהם על ידי חכמי התורה והסמך, ותסמוך על דברי קבלתם בלבד.

    1. The ChL spells out the need for a moreh hora'ah (poseiq) and moreh derekh (aggadic / mussar rebbe). Not for a rav to help in questions where the unknowns are secular. Nor for a panel of rabbis offering civil leadership.

  7. Some thoughts on rabbis giving out advice:

    I studied in rabbinical school in Israel for five years to become a rabbi – but no one ever comes up to me and asks me to do their root canal work! Why is that?

    I studied as an adult in yeshiva for 10 years – but no one ever asks me to fill their cavity. Why is that?

    Maybe it’s because I never studied those things and have no idea how to do them.


please use either your real name or a pseudonym.