Sunday, February 28, 2016

Daas Torah vs local authority - a letter from Rav Chaim Ozer explaining when local authority is preferred

The following appeared in an article "Daas Torah revisited" by R Yitzchok Blau in Tradition Winter 2015. It is referring to a letter of Rav Chaim Ozer which is found in his collected letters vol 1 page 242-243

In late nineteenth century Germany, the secession controversy broke out in the Orthodox community. For the first time, Orthodox Jewry had the opportunity to secede from the larger Jewish community and maintain an independent financial and political relationship with the German government. R. Shimshon Rafael Hirsch favored secession whereas R. Yitshak Dov Bamberger opposed it. When the question reappeared in 1912, a German Jew wrote to R. Hayyim Ozer Grodzinski, the illustrious Rav of Vilna, for guidance. R Hayyim Ozer responded with a very significant letter and it is worthwhile to cite an extended passage : 

In truth, the foundation of a solution regarding this important question is, in my opinion, different from all rulings about issur va-hetter or questions of agunot, whose roots are clear in shas and poskim, and the respondent must focus on clarifying the rishonim and ahroinim, decide based on the canons of legal decision making, and find a solution to the complicated question. This is not the case regarding the solution to this question. Its unique foundation is based in a comprehensive understanding and a clear outlook, in order to recognize the correct way to make a fence and stand in the breach to strengthen religion. There is no doubt in my mind that the righteous rabbis, R. S. R Hirsch and R. Y. D. Bamberger were not arguing about Jewish law. Rather, their world outlook was different, each one according to his holy way for the sake of heaven. This outlook is especially illuminated for a sage who knows the area, who lives in that location and community, and who knows the traits or the people of the community and their particulars, is attached to them in all the binds that tie, oversees their needs, he has the discerning eye to properly investigate religious questions, and he can see the impact for the next generation. Therefore, it would seem, they did not ask for a decision on this serious questions from the great lights of the exile, the genonim R. M. L. Malbim, R. Yisrael Salanter, R. Y. L. Diskin, or R. Y. E. Spektor, may their memory be for a blessing, because this decision cannot be reached through Talmudic sources or the posekim but only based on quality reasoning and the correct and illuminating outlook. Those working from a distance cannot become involved and they did not find outlook strong enough to make a determination. They relied on the rabbis who dwell in that place.

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