Sunday, August 20, 2023

Even though we know gedolim are fallible, woe is the person who points out their errors - Why?

I have been severely criticized for claiming that Rav Shmuel Kaminetsky and son have seriously erred in understanding modern psychology and how it relates to the din of kiddushei ta'us. I have been severely criticized for claiming that Rav Nota Greenblatt has seriously erred in blindly accepting the conclusion of the Kaminetsky's regarding the mental state of Aharon Friedman and paskening that he is incapable of being a husband.

Of course this isn't new. I have also strongly criticised gedolim in the Tropper case, Hirsch case, Kolko case etc etc. Sometimes I do this with the support of major rabbonim - as happened in the Tropper case, the Meisel's Seminary case and the Dodelson divorce and sometimes I rely on my own judgment.

The following are some thoughts which I hope to expand - perhaps into a book. The question is the degree which we must rely on ourselves and the degree which we must accept the views of gedolim.

As Rav S. R. Hirsch notes, the Bible does not cover up the mistakes of our forefathers and that this is one of the proofs of its validity. 

Rav S. R. Hirsch(Bereishis 18:24):  Moshe was not very perceptive in this area and this lack of talent was proof that whatever he did was from G-d's command. [Nothing is so instructive for us, as this information regarding the first legal institution of the Jewish State, coming immediately before the chapter of the law-giving. So little was Moshe in himself a legislative genius, he had so little talent for organizing that he had to learn the very first elements of state organization from his father-in-law. The man who tired himself out to utter exhaustion and to whom of himself did not occur to arrange this or some similar simple solution, equally beneficial to himself and his people, the man to who it was necessary to have a Jethro to suggest this obvious device, that man could never have given the People constitution and laws out of his own head, that man was only, and indeed just because of this the best and most faithful instrument of G-d.
Rav S. R. Hirsch(Bereishis 12: 10 – 13):.  The Torah does not seek to portray our great men  as perfectly ideal figures; it deifies no man. It says of no one: “Here you  have the ideal; in this man the Divine assumes human form!” It does  not set before us the life of any one person as the model from which  we might learn what is good and right, what we must do and what we  must refrain from doing. When the Torah wishes to put before us a  model to emulate, it does not present a man, who is born of dust.  Rather, God presents Himself as the model, saying: “Look upon Me!  Emulate Me! Walk in My ways!” We are never to say: “This must be  good and right, because so-and-so did it.” The Torah is not an “anthology  of good deeds.” It relates events not because they are necessarily  worthy of emulation, but because they took place.    The Torah does not hide from us the faults, errors, and weaknesses  of our great men, and this is precisely what gives its stories credibility.  The knowledge given us of their faults and weaknesses does not detract  from the stature of our great men; on the contrary, it adds to their  stature and makes their life stories even more instructive. Had they  been portrayed to us as shining models of perfection, flawless and  unblemished, we would have assumed that they had been endowed  with a higher nature, not given to us to attain. Had they been portrayed  free of passions and inner conflicts, their virtues would have seemed  to us as merely the consequence of their loftier nature, not acquired  by personal merit, and certainly no model we could ever hope to  emulate.
The Talmud also mentions mistakes of great people.
Sanhedrin (52b): Imarta the daughter of committed adultery. Rav Chama had her surrounded by bundles of twigs and burnt. Rav Yosef said that Rav Chama erred in two laws. He erred in Rav Masna dictum and he erred in this braissa, “And you shall come to the cohanim and the leviim and to the judge that shall be in those days (Devarim 17:11). This verse means that only in the time that there are the priesthood is functioning in the Temple is capital punishment carried out. However when there is no priesthood in the Temple then there is no capital punishment.”
Similarly Barbara Tuchman has an interesting book, "The March of Follies" where she discusses errors major historical figures have made.  We also find mentioned in the Talmud and other rabbinic rights where the mistakes of major rabbinic figures are discussed. David Halberstam wrote "The Best and the Brightest" which describes the disaster of America's involvement in Vietnam as being the result of brilliant men who had had a lifetime of success after success - unable to face the reality of failure -  because they couldn't conceive  that they had errred

In our times however it is assumed that even though gedolim can make mistakes - but the masses are not supposed to think that they can identify them nor even be aware of them. This is interesting in light of the Chazon Ish who says that our leaders are no different than plumbers in that it is permitted to speak lashon harah about their faults in order to know when and how to rely on them.

Chazon Ish(2:133): Knowledge about a talmid chachom who shapes yiddishkeit is similar to that of an artisan. Just as one is permitted to convey accurate information about an artisan if there is to'eles so it it permitted to reveal information about a gadol if there is to'eles. Of critical importance is to be totally accurate otherwise it is slander. This implies that expressing negative information about others is relevant for those who are considered influential authorities – in order to understand the degree to rely on them.
Yad HaMelech (Hilchos Mamrim 1:2): …It is clear that according to the understanding of Rashi and the Mizrachi the intent of the Sifre [that one must listen to the rabbis even when it apparently involves Torah prohibitions] is against the view of the Babylonian Talmud and also against the Yerushalmi. Furthermore since the Rambam omits mention of this Sifre therefore we have only the halachic view that is explicit in the Bavli and Yerushalmi. Thus all halachic rulings which appear to contradict the words of the Torah e.g., eating prohibited fats or killing an innocent man – irrespective as to the authority of the rabbi giving the ruling they are not to be accepted. It is stated explicitly in the Yerushalmi and also the Bavli that if someone errs in this matter and thinks it is an obligation to listen to these rabbis to eat fat prohibited by the Torah because he thinks it is a mitzva to always obey the rabbis – this individual is obligated to bring a sacrifice as he would be for eating any Torah prohibited food in error.
Yerushalmi (Horios 1:1): You might think that you must obey the [Sanhedrin or Rabbinic authorities] even when they tell you that “right” is “left” and that “left” is “right” – but the Torah says that you are to follow after them “right and left”. Thus it is only when they tell you that “right” is “right” and “left” is “left” that you should obey them.

So the issue is do we assume that for all intents and purposes they are guided by ruach hakodesh and even when they err - it is the Will of G-d which must be accepted. Or do we say that these are great men with much greater holiness, intelligence and wisdom than the masses - but that they are capable of error which must be questioned, criticized and at time even opposed?

Ramban (Devarim 17:11): Left and Right. Rashi explains that even if the Sanhedrin tell you that right is left or left is right – [you must obey them]. Meaning that even if you are certain that the Sanhedrin has erred and it is as obvious to you as the difference between your right and left – you still must comply with their understanding of the Torah. In other words you can’t argue, “How can I eat that which is prohibited by the Torah or how can I execute this person when I know he has not transgressed?” Rather your attitude must be, “The absolute obedience to the rulings of the Sanhedrin is what G d has commanded me and I must observe the mitzvos exactly as the Sanhedrin (which is in G d’s presence in the Temple) says. The Torah was given to me according to their understanding – even if they err.” This is what happened when R’ Yehoshua had a dispute with the Sanhedrin as to what day was Yom Kippur. R’ Gamliel the head of the Sanhedrin ordered R’ Yehoshua to appear before him on the day that he thought was Yom Kippur (Rosh HaShanna 25a). The necessity for this mitzva is very great. That is because the Torah was given to us in writing and it is known that people don’t think identically in all matters. Therefore it would be natural for disputes over what the Torah means to continually multiply and it would end up that there would be many Torahs instead of one. That is why this verse tells you that one must obey the Sanhedrin which convenes in G d’s presence in the Temple – in everything they say concerning the understanding of the Torah. There is no difference in the requirement to obey whether this Torah understanding is part of the Tradition which goes back what G d told Moshe or what their understanding of the meaning or intent of a Torah verse. This requirement to accept their Torah understanding is because the Torah was in fact given to us according to their understanding. Therefore they must be obeyed even if their view contrasts with your understanding as left contrasts with right and surely if you agree with their understanding. That is because G d’s spirit is on those who serve in His Temple and He does not desert His pious ones. G d always protects them from error and mistake. The Sifri (Shoftim 154) says that you must obey them even if appears that they have reversed right with left and left with right.
Michtav M’Eliyahu (1:75): The Talmudic sages (Chazal) have told us to obey the words of gedolim – even if they tell us that left is right. This expression isn’t meant to imply that we must obey them even when they have actually erred. But rather that we must listen to them even when we - with our lowly understanding – think that we definitely have observed that they have erred. That is because our senses are totally nothing as if they were the dust of the earth compared to the clarity of their intellect and the Heavenly support they have. Thus our belief that they have erred has no practical consequences since there is a rule that a beis din cannot nullify the ruling of another beis din unless it is greater in wisdom and number. Even without this rule it is clear that what we think is awareness or experience is only a figment of our imagination and unstable moods. This superiority is Daas Torah within the framework of emunas chachom (faith in our sages).
Rabbi Avi Shafran(spokesman for Agudath Israel of America – N. Y. Jewish Week): Da'at Torah is not some Jewish equivalent to the Catholic doctrine of papal infallibility. Not only can rabbis make mistakes of judgment, there is an entire tractate of the Talmud, Horiut, predicated on the assumption that they can, that even the Sanhedrin is capable of erring, even in halachic matters.  What Da'at Torah means, simply put, is that those most imbued with Torah-knowledge and who have internalized a large degree of the perfection of values and refinement of character that the Torah idealizes are thereby rendered particularly, indeed extraordinarily, qualified to offer an authentic Jewish perspective on matters of import to Jews - just as expert doctors are those most qualified (though still fallible, to be sure) to offer medical advice.

Any feedback or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

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