Sunday, August 20, 2023

A British madrich asks: What are gedolim? Can they answer all questions? Did Daas Torah originate with Chassidim?

update: April 16, 2015 response from A Prager Daas Torah and Gedolim - a stereotypic chareidi response

update - reply to David - see below

I recently received the following letter and thought it would be of general interest. The letter writer gave permission to publish his thought provoking questions as a guest post. I also thought it interesting in light of a recent discussion I had regarding the non-normative approach to learning and halacha of the Chazon Ish.

 Dear Rabbi Eidensohn,

I am an 18 year old madrich for Ezra in London. In two weeks time (parshas shmini here) a group of us are doing a shabbaton away for year 10 and I came across your book- which is an incredible eye-opener- whilst trying to prepare for a chabura that I need to give them over Shabbos, could I use your book and the sources you present for it?

Can I also ask you some questions?

I would like to give one on the topic of Gedolim and have read the sources that you bring on the topic (pages 275-286) but I still don't feel I have clarity on the issue. The Baal haTanya and Rav Hirsch are obviously against our attitude of addressing all our problems (secular, political...) towards Gedolim today, but do the other sources disagree (except the Igros Moshe)?

Is our concept of "Gedolei hador" a new thing? And is our understanding of "daas Torah" influenced by chasidim?

What do you personally think of the "gedolim culture" today? And are they able to answer us about everything?

Lastly, do you have a written up 'shiur' on the topic that you could send me, as it would provide a solid structure?

Your book is really incredible and thank you very much for giving an email address that I can contact. I appreciate that this is a busy time, feel free to reply/answer my question as you wish.

Good moed,

Gavriel Cohn
I just received a letter from someone who is member of a well known family of Talmidei chachomim that is clearly part of the establishment - but as he indicates he has the same questions. He gave me permission to post his letter. My  comments are placed after his letter.

Maybe I am naïve, but I struggle with this question and how so many take the extreme opposite views on it.  Neither direction makes sense.  To ask a Talmid Chochom how to fix your washing machine is absurdity.  To minimize the intellect and fund of knowledge of a Talmid Chochom is equally unacceptable.
All that makes sense to me is that certain questions require “Daas Torah”, and these fall within the confines of halacha and those matters that impinge on halacha.  These can involve politics as well as countless others.  There are those that are strictly mundane matters, , and these require only the guidance of someone who possesses the needed information.  I have zero skills in mechanics, so do not offer me to repair your appliances.  Now, just how many rabbonim (call them Gedolim, Talmidei Chachomim, or whatever title suits them) have the expertise to give advice and guidance on poilitics?  Perhaps R’ Meir Shapiro did, so his government service was useful and competent.  How many are good for advising couples with marital problems?  A few might, most do not possess the background or skills.  We could go on and on with the list.  The blind seeking of “Daas Torah”, as well as the rampant and irresponsible offering of advice is nauseating.  Eliminating the concept of “Daas Torah” in matters where Torah direction is needed is equally foolish.
There are those Gedolei Yisroel who became knowledgeable about. A well known example was Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ZT”L who studied electricity for many hundreds of hours until he became a responsible expert on questions of >.  Watching others “talk through their hats” is disappointing, as they are the ones who ruin it for others
update - reply to David's comment 4/14/15
The remark about my credibility bounced back. I did not make a statement to be “credible”. I shared an opinion, which I believe to be rational, and not stuck in the quicksand of the extremes.

I strongly disagree about the comment that one should always go to rabbonim with marital problems. Virtually all therapists I know who work with couples can attest to their clientele as having a majority history of having been incompetently advised by a Rov (includes Poskim, dayanim, Roshei Yeshivos, Roshei Kollel, and Chosson Teachers). Perhaps they can have a role as first responders, but they need to either get trained, or learn to refer to professionals.

There is much Torah guidance to be offered by Talmidei Chachomim on how to live. They should be offering this to talmidim throughout their formative years of chinuch. When problems occur, the same skills it takes to understand a difficult Rashbo or Reb Chaim are not useful to resolve an interpersonal problem. I am familiar with some gedolim who just “had the knack” for giving guidance. Others try and fail.

The respirator remark was imbecilic. The Rov has the halacha knowledge. He needs to work with the medical information. No one expects him to become a doctor. But to intervene blindly is irresponsible. One exception – if the koach of the Rov is through Ruach Hakodesh. That supersedes all. But do you really know that he is delivering divrei nevuah? Is the Rov truly permitted to claim that his direction is expressly, divinely dictated?

Who is dismissive about asking a Rov an electricity shailoh? We have been privileged to have had a Gadol, R’ Shlomo Zalman ZT”L, who paved the way for poskim to deal with electricity based on knowledge, not conjecture. Word is that the Chazon Ish also invested time with experts in the field, leading to his position that completing a circuit was “boneh”, not previously recognized by the contemporary poskim.

How many teshuvos from Reb Moshe Feinstein ZT”L relied on scientific information brought to him on a myriad of subjects (Rav Eidensohn should have the expertise to share a round figure). It is great to know halacha, but the facts on the ground must be addressed.
My reply
One of the interesting characteristics of a successful Orthodox Jew - is knowing that statements are made on many different levels and are not to be taken as literally true. Similarly a mature Orthodox Jew needs to know that sometimes he must challenge - either publicly or privately - certain official pronouncements. 
Child abuse is clearly such an issue. The same happened in marriage where the true gedolim had to protest not only the idea of a rosh yeshiva deciding who a bachur married but also to protest that the Shulchan Aruch had been thrown out by certain frum rabbis. 
Similarly  a father who gives up responsiblity for his child's chinuch and stands by while a child is systematically destroyed is another example
So yes it is true that gedolim need to be respected - but one also needs which gadol to ask which question and when to disagree with destructive pronouncements. 


  1. Daas Torah is Emunas Chachomim. Check out the sources for Emunas Chachomim.

  2. Quote from Maran Rashkbhag Hagaon HaRav Moshe Feinstein זצוקללה״ה:

    "There are people who maintain that Talmidei Chachomim are not qualified to decide political matters, that Gedolei Yisroel should limit themselves to Torah and Halacha. Such people cannot be considered within the Torah camp. One might well say ignoring the advice of a Talmid Chochom is far worse than violating a commandment. One who violates a commandment because he is too weak to resist temptation, at least knows that his action is wrong. By contrast, one who ignores theadvice of a Talmid Chochom denies that a Torah scholar's wisdom is superior. This is a far more serious breach."

    (Reb Moshe, p. 123)

  3. Can the letter-writer (and anyone else) please help clarify the questions for me?

    Is our concept of "Gedolei hador" a new thing?

    What was Moshe Rabeinu? What about the Zekeinim? The shoftim?... The Nasi and Av Beis DIn mentioned in Avos?

    What about the Neviim/prophets? One who violated the words of prophet was to be killed. Even when the prophet asked to be hit! פסוק לה', לו'

    is our understanding of "daas Torah" influenced by chasidim?

    What was our understanding prior to Chassidim? What are Chasiddim? What teachings did the early Chasiddim bring? Have the ways of the Baal Shem tov have been forgotten?

    This statement preceded the Baal Shem tov and Chassidim:

    דכד ברא קוב"ה עלמא אסתכל בה באורייתא וברא עלמא ובאורייתא
    זוהר תרומה (ח"ב קסא, א

    What about ethics? Are ethics something to be learnt from Gedolim - or gedolim in medical knowledge are good enough (like MDT)?

    Rabbi Ovadia Bartenura, a 15th centry Torah sage - who's commentarry on the Mishnah is the predominant one used all over the world - explains the first Mishan in Avos. He explains that while all nations may have their own ethical books and mores (i.e. Hippocratic oath, etc.), ours has been handed to us by Hashem at Sinai.

    The Tosfos Yom Tov explains that this is not the Bartenura's own explanation, rather it's from a Midrash quoted by Rashi.

    What do you personally think of the "gedolim culture" today?

    What is this culture you speak of?

  4. מרבה עצה מרבה תבונה

  5. very good questions
    there are a number of views on what Daas Torah actually is or should be. One end of the spectrum is that even for non - halachic questions, the question is still put to a Gadol, and that frum people must accept this.

    On the other hand, MO Gedolim, such as R' Aharon Lichtenshtein suggest that halachic questions go tot he posek, but other questions, eg who to marry are not binding on what a gadol says.
    An even more radical view was espoused by R' Rackman, but I also heard it from R Milelvsky. The idea is that we should strive to be knowledgeable enough to make out own decisions, both in halachic and non halachic matters.

    There are also differences between groups, where some will be critical of leaders of other groups, or even reject them outright.

    So who has Daas Torah? The answer is whoever you want to have or the opinion of the person who can influence/ threaten/ scare or persuade you the best.

  6. @David - you are citing the "authoritative" Artscroll biography.which I also cite in my Daas Torah page 286

    But I also cite

    Igros Moshe (Volume 8 Introduction page 27): Active involvement of gedolei Torah in politics - also in Israel - aroused [Rav Moshe Feinstein’s] opposition. He used to say that greatness in Torah is not combined with expertise in politics.

    As well as other sources that gedoliim are not infallible or necessarily superior.

  7. Not sure they are the same thing.

    Emunas Chachamim is Emunah in Chazal's tradition of Torah Sh' b'al Peh. So even if there is a Gemara we find dificult to agree with, the emunah is still that it is part of the oral law.

    Daas Torah (in today's sense) is not the same thing. There is no Gemara that says vote for one frum party vs. another.

  8. Active involvement of gedolei Torah in politics...aroused [Rav Moshe Feinstein’s] opposition.

    Rav Meir Shapiro was a member of the Polish Parliament. The Ponevitcher Rav was a member of the Lithuanian Parliament, among other Torah scholars of note. Was Rav Moshe opposed to their position in politics? Did Rav Moshe ever express his opposition to Torah scholars involvement in politics publicly? Rav Shlomo Lorincz claims that the Chazon Ish was the one who "forced" him into politics, and was the one who directed his moves. Its in his book In Their Shadow Vol I.

  9. RDE - Your citation directly contradicts my citation quoting Rav Moshe. Specifically Rav Moshe saying "There are people who maintain that Talmidei Chachomim are not qualified to decide political matters, that Gedolei Yisroel should limit themselves to Torah and Halacha. Such people cannot be considered within the Torah camp..."

  10. Do you know if any written or otherwise accessible source for this concept from R' Milevsky?

  11. As much as I have disagreed with Eddie in the past, (on second thought, I think I am technically disagreeing with him here too because he labeled the idea as radical. . .) I see nothing radical with the idea that one should strive to be knowledgeable enough to make his own decisions, both in halachic and non halachic matters. Why should a kollel avreich who has spent 15 years immersed in Torah, for example, not be qualified to make his own decisions.
    That being said, I would still trust a true Talmid Chacham above all to be the one to help sway a decision given that he is provided by the questioner with sufficient information to do so.

  12. I have heard the shiur from R' Millevsky ztl. He argued that the verse from Sefer Shoftim where it says "everyone did what was right in his own eyes" is interpreted by the Gemara as to mean that in the ideal world, eg Messianic times, each person will know enough Torah to do according to their own learning. Unfortunately, having raised this point before on this blog, we were unable to find the exact source in the gemara.

  13. This citation is nisht a hin un nisht a herr. It says to ask many people for advice and then combine all the advice into one and do that - because none of the advisers understand the conundrum as well as the asker. Sounds very different than Daas Torah, but also very different than using your own brain.

  14. I would paraphrase Chazon Ish'es comment about Mussar: I am against [Mussar/Daas Torah] but even more against those against it.

    If Daas Torah has no source, (and Mussar has no source), which should we oppose more strongly, yes Daas Torah or no Daas Torah?

  15. @DT "So yes it is true that gedolim need to be respected - but one also
    needs which gadol to ask which question and when to disagree with
    destructive pronouncements. "

    This is a very important statement, but there is no clear route to getting the right balance on this. R' Millevsky has a shiur on this called the "pyramid of confidence", ie one has to build a strogn base of knowledgeable and reliable people and assess their rationale or cheshbon on whom they follow / accept / disagree with. From there there is guidance on the kind of Gadol/Posek / Rosh yeshvia to follow.

    I don't think the internet is a good way of doing this. Someone can give an "opinion" on whom to follow, but we do not know that someone personally etc.
    On the other hand, many rabbonim I have asked this question simply say they did not make a choice, they followed their father, and that was all.

  16. There are people who won't fix their washing machine without consulting their rav. (The smart rav, of course, will say go to 'yenem' to fix your washing machine,)

    Citing prewar 'gedolim' who were members of the polish 'sejm' is hardly proof that they were right. Perhaps these rabbonim were knowledgable about olitical machinations (and the jobs that go along with it). Interwar poland was very anti semitic (despite current artscroll type books), not that this had any effect on the nazis,but even later, the poles were more nazi than the germans (ukranians, other, probably more, but point made.)

    Current charedi politics is centered on 'government grants' (legitimate and stealing.)

  17. Regarding the comment by the "member of a well known family of Talmidei chachomim". a) being anonymous he has no more credibility than any other anonymous internet commentator b) being a "member of the family" of a talmid chochom does not make him a talmid chochom or give him added credibility. That being said, about his comment, specifically:

    "How many are good for advising couples with marital problems? A few might, most do not possess the background or skills. We could go on and on with the list."

    Fech. A talmid chochom or godol is precisely who should be consulted about a marital problem. A marital problem is a question of "how should a Jew live his life". The Torah is our blueprint for life. And talmidei chachomim are our Torah guidance.

    He could have equally been dismissive about asking a shaila, yes a shaila, about whether it is permissibile to pull a sick man off a respirator. Ask the doctor! he would have yelled. The rabbi is no medical expert. Yet the rabbi must rule on the halachic consequences, even if he is a posek and not a doctor. Same about how to treat your wife or children. That's why we have a Torah. He was dismissive about asking a rov an electricity shaila. Yet it wasn't Rav Shlomo Zalman who banned electricity from being used on Shabbos. It was banned by poskim not by electricians.

  18. Sounds very different than Daas Torah, but also very different than using your own brain.

    It means that we are required to be responsible over our decisions and actions. However, not seeking proper advice and guidance is reckless. Equally reckless would be to only rely on someone else's conclusions.

    מי האיש חחכם ויבן את זאת? דבר זה נשאל להכמים, ולנביאים, ולא פירשוהו. עד שפירשו הקב"ה בעצמו...

    (נדרים פא.)

  19. Of course you should turn to a talmid chochom about marital problems. But unfortunately not every talmid chochom is equipped with the particular knowledge to give marital advice. You can't just go to anybody with the title rabbi and proclaim "Daas Torah" on his advice. Rav Shlomo Zalman made himself into an expert in electricity before he gave his opinion on its halachic context.

  20. reponse has been included in an update to the post

  21. In response to the update as to whether to go to marriage counselors or rabbonim for marital issues.

    What is the overall success - or failure - rate of marriage counselors? The divorce rate of those undergoing marital therapy is the same as that of the general population.

    I therefore don't see how you can definitivly say that marriage counselors are better at dealing with marriages than a competent rov, who knows when to say "I don't know" - and refer the couple out to someone else.

  22. Agreed. There are more horror stories circulating of marital counselors and therapists giving horrid marital or divorce advice destroying a marriage than such effects from rabbinical advice.

  23. Is the update (which mentions therapists and Ruach haKodesh) by RDE?
    How do we know if a Rav Has Ruach Hakodesh/Nevuah? This is treading on very dangerous ground. The reason being that if anyone claims to have nevuah, they can be tested for it, and if they cannot predict the future, they are liable to death penalty.
    Aside from exaggerated Hassidic claims about the koach of their rebbes, I read that the Chatam Sofer said that there are times when Hashem chooses a particular leader, and he becomes the Posek HaDor, and he said that was the case with him. The Chatam Sofer can say this, becasue of hsi overwhelming stature as the poseq supreme. They say that from Moshe (Maimonides) to Moshe (Sofer) there was noone like Moshe! But I don't think either the Rambam or the Chatam Sofer claimed to be prophets. They were the supreme Gedolei torah and Posqim of their day.

  24. no the update is not by me but by the original commenter

  25. "If Daas Torah has no source....."

    Well, that's not true. In חולין צ ע"ב there is a discussion of גיד הנשה, where דעת נוטה (probability) and דעת תורה are spoken of. There is your שורש for it in ש"ס.

    Yet, today you can't swing a dead cat around by its tail without hitting someone who is bandying about this term of דעת תורה, even though they have little idea of its true significance. By the way, this is the ONLY TIME in all of ש"ס that חז"ל ever used the term דעת תורה, which illustrates that they, unlike us today, were not in favor of belaboring this expression in every situation. Perhaps, we should take a לקח טוב from them.

  26. Plenty of people asked the Lubavitcher Rebbb's for advice on everything and he was always right, he had ruach hakodesh and a true daas torah not like other people

  27. In your other comment בדבור המתחיל "Can the letter-writer..." you apparently advocate standard "Daas Torah" yet you want us to figure out that your citation from Ruach Chaim just means to seek advice responsibly? Ok.

  28. you apparently advocate standard "Daas Torah"

    Please quote the exact words where I advocate a position.

    Additionally, what does "standard 'Daas Torah'" mean? I really don't know what it means, and I suppose that some use it as a straw man argument to advocate following in the ways of the gentiles. Others become confused by these self-declared "centrist" bloggers.

    Can you kindly answer any of the questions I posed in that comment?

  29. Thanks for the reference. I'll have to look at it. In general I don't rush to accept an explicit source that hundreds or thousands of people missed even when looking for it for years, and would give interested people much power.

    Actually I wasn't referring to the core concept of Daas Torah but to all the expanses to which it is applied. If there's no source to extend Daas Torah to X (politics?, etc.?), it might still be better policy to give in to it than to oppose it.

  30. he was always right

    Really? Was he right when he declared himself as being Moshiach?

  31. The problem is that people with any set of credentials can sometimes be unfit to solve a problem within their alleged expertise. Referrals from satisfied "customers" can be helpful.

  32. Where we once lived, there was a very Orthodox young rabbi who also led a simcha band and fixed appliances, including our clothes dryer.

  33. oops! sorry, i misread you. zai gezunt.

  34. For those adventurous enough Rav Shachter from YU gave an interesting shiur on it.

  35. Really ??
    When did he do that??
    or are you just regurgitating propaganda ?

  36. Stevel - well said. Since there are many thousands of hours of recordings of the Rebbe's every word (at least during weekdays), and hundreds (literally) of books transcribing every word he ever said (publicly), it should be easy for "Honesty" to back up his claim by providing at least one recorded instance of the Rebbe saying that he was Mashiach. There is a recorded instance of the Rebbe admonishing some people who did make that claim.

  37. "Emunas Chachamim is Emunah in Chazal's tradition of Torah Sh' b'al Peh"

    To quote "Daat Torah" - sources please!

  38. Lets begin with this:

    I will try to locate more later

  39. Please see the video I posted above. Here is another one. I'll provide you with more material later. One important question to you: have you made up your mind that he never made any mistakes, or are you willing to be objective?

  40. He did not (in this video) declare himself as anything. He was being polite to a woman who gave him a gift, nothing more.

  41. I have to admit that this is a bit worrying - I thought that the Rebbe only passively accepted his Chasidim's meshugasen after he had a stroke and was unable to properly be מוחה. Nevertheless, it is recorded that when Chasidim once called him משיח at a Farbrengen he said that he should leave, but that it wouldn't help. וצריך עיון.

  42. Would it be impolite to say, "But Madam - I am not Mashiach!"

  43. Hinesty - you misunderstand me. I never made any claim that the Rebbe was more infallible than any other Gadol. No human being is impervious to mistakes. I was questioning your statement in which you mentioned (implying that it is a known fact) that the Rebbe declared himself to be Mashiach. I stand by my objection that this is simply untrue. (In fact, I believe that the Messianic movement within Chabad would never have gained the traction it did, had the Rebbe openly declared himself to be Mashiach, because then the backlash from ALL the frum camps would have been unanimous and immediate.) The תועה in the video does provide a number of ambiguous statements which no doubt fuelled the Messianic movement, but nevertheless - nowhere did the Rebbe actually say, "I am Mashiach".

  44. Maybe or maybe not, but this is definitely not an example of the Rebbe "declaring himself to be Moshiach."

  45. Ironic then that R' C Kanievsky called one of his seforim דעת נוטה, the opposite of דעת תורה.


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