Monday, November 29, 2021

Insiders and outsiders in the Torah world

From comments I wrote on Avodah in 1999
 I think a rather inaccurate and naive black and white picture is being presented of the nature of information transfer in the Orthodox world. There are those who feel that if we only have Artscroll biographies - then future talmidei chachomim will inevitably repeat the errors of their predecessors. This is contrasted with the narrow minded rosy view of the right wing that halacha requires focusing only on the positive and perhaps even lying c.v.. I once asked one of my sons who was learning at Ponevitch about this issue. He replied, "the rosy stories are presented for the masses. The fact is that anyone who is going somewhere in the Torah world has full access to the stories - but it is kept as Torah Shebaal Peh. It is simply a question of to'eles. For someone who is an outsider and is not immersed in learning - the raw stories are harmful because they will be misunderstood. For the insiders - those who come in contact with the big people - the stories are understood in context." Thus for those historians (and baalei batim) who rely primarily on written material - there is a great disparity of what is learned compared to one who has close relationships to gedolei Torah - who pass down information concerning these issues. It is rather naive to think that someone who has studied world history, Jewish history and American History and regularly reads the New York Times, Jewish Press as well as participating in internet discussion is more sophisticated in understanding the dynamics of Torah and Torah politics than the elite who devote their lives to study at the main yeshivos whether it is Lakewood or Yeshiva University. This filtering of information relates to the problem of the letters published by the Tora UMaddah Journal. Aside from the halachic question of publishing these letters is the question of what information Rav Weinberg wanted publicized. There is no question that the harsh condemnations stated in the letters are stated nowhere else in his large numbers of published letters and tshuvos. Did he not publish them elsewhere because he simply felt that they would not be properly understood in written form or did he conceal them because he was legitimately afraid that he would be condemned for these views? Did he strongly exaggerate his views to Prof. Atlas as a way of empathizing with his correspondent's views or were these in fact his actual personal views that he expressed to anyone he felt he could trust? The bottom line is that the publication of the letters severely damaged his reputation in the Orthodox world where he has been acknowledged as one of the major talmidei chachomim of the 20th century. If the views are accurate then he and his halachic opinions will be discounted or ignored - if they are not accurate then his name has simply been besmirched. So what was gained? Did someone think that there would be a movement of talmidei chachomim to legitimize the harsh statements found in the letters? Did someone fantasize that Rav Weinbergs standing is so absolute that it would influence and bend the whole world in his direction?! 
I am sorry for the upset that my last posting caused but it *is* an accurate statement of the Litvak point of view. (I believe that there is a totally different dynamic in the chassidic world.) Let me mention two solid sources expressing the elitist litvak view. The first is Rav Dessler's famous essay (vol 3 page 355) stating that there should be only two options - full time learning or a low status job. The second is Rav Moshe's (Igros Moshes Y.D. IV 36.15 page 233) adamant refusal to give a baal habayis the status of a ben Torah. Thus in the litvische yeshiva world - those who are not major league talmidei chachomim or on their way to being such are outsiders and deliberately so. This puts tremendous pressure on people to learn - swim or sink. But even someone learning full time in kollel - but not regarded as going somewhere is also an outsider. In contrast I was told (by one of the Bostoner Rebbe's sons) that in the chassidic world being a chasid is itself adequate status. "As long as you cling to the Rebbe it compensates for the fact that you are not a tzadik or talmid chachom". He further stated that the chasid is more likely to learn in a gentlemanly way while the litvak's concern is to defeat his opponent - the result being that the litvak takes his learning much more seriously and personally. [I am aware that there are chasidim who learn like litvaks - but as a generalization it seems to be true] Bottom line. There are insiders and outsiders in the Torah world. (Something which I had thought was obvious to all.) The insiders have access to information which not available to the outsiders. This is related also to the issue of midgets and giants.

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