Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Baruch Pelta's Response

Reply to Rabbi Slifkin
By Baruch Pelta


Rabbi Natan Slifkin recently penned a postscript to his “In Defense of My Opponents.” At the end, he raises two issues.

1) Can those who share his approach truly be considered haredim from a theological perspective? After all, virtually no haredim who share Rabbi Slifkin’s approach have publicly said so and all of the figureheads of that community have denounced his approach at some point. In relation to this question, Rabbi Slifkin brings up those haredim who reject the call of the gedolim to vote for haredi political parties and instead vote for other parties. Rabbi Slifkin comes to the (tentative?) conclusion that these people, while haredi by sociological standards, are not haredi in ideology.

2) Should Rabbi Slifkin label those who share his approach as members of the Torah Umadda camp?


If I may be so bold, I would like to opine on both issues. I should note that later this year I will be beginning an in depth sociological study of Orthodoxy, so I may change my perspectives down the line.

With regards to Issue 1, Rabbi Slifkin asks whether or not people who share his approach may be considered haredi. To better clarify my answer I will focus on a specific example. For instance, if we are going to discuss whether somebody may maintain Rabbi Slifkin’s approach towards the age of the universe and still be called haredi, then I believe the answer is an emphatic yes.

Daniel Eidensohn has confirmed that Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky, for example, believes it is permissible to believe the world is older than 6000 years old. Whether he believes it himself or not may be a different story, but he believes it is permissible.

A person living in any haredi society who openly believes the world is over 6000 years old will probably feel very uncomfortable. It may be difficult for him to get his kids into school. He may lose friends. He may find his acquaintances often trying to “mekarve” him.

Yet I believe he still may be classified as haredi. To explain this, I must explain what, in my humble opinion, separates a haredi Jew from a non-haredi Jew. It is not whether or not he feels comfortable in his society or not. It is whether he believes in a certain notion of Daas Torah. Because I believe that this notion of Daas Torah is what defines haredi society against their non-haredi Orthodox brethren.

Daas Torah has been espoused by many, but it is often defined differently by different spokespeople. In its softest forms, it can even be accepted by the Modern Orthodox (e.g. guidance in non-halachic matters). In its hardest form (e.g. everybody, even Sephardic gedolim, must defer their judgment in certain important matters to R’ Eliashiv), it is unacceptable to some of even the most hardcore haredim. We must examine what the softest form of Daas Torah is which is considered acceptable to a significant subset of the haredim as well as some of their gedolim, while not considered acceptable by non-haredi Orthodox Jews. I believe that definition is roughly as follows: the living gedolim are the ones who decide what perspectives in hashkafa are acceptable; [1] as long as you believe a belief which “your gadol[2]” believes to be permissible, you are not a Zionist, and you do not believe that secular studies should be studied b’iyun and lishmah bizman hazeh, you are haredi.

But some of the beliefs of Rabbi Slifkin are regarded as permissible by at least one gadol. Therefore a person could believe many of these beliefs held by Rabbi Slifkin and still live in haredi society. The question is, why would he want to? Why would he want in a society which largely regards his ideas as treif? The answer – and whether it is a good answer or not would go beyond the scope of this paper – is because of perceived problems (real or imagined, sociological or theological) that the individual would have with a non-haredi society.[3]

With regards to Issue 2, now that I have noted that I believe haredim may share some of Rabbi Slifkin’s approaches, I do not believe that his approach should be called Torah Umadda. In Rabbi Lamm’s book, he notes that he cannot identify his approach with Torah im Derech Eretz because of that approach’s close identification with anti-Zionism and Austritt. Similarly, as Torah Umadda is closely associated with Yeshiva University, I do not believe that it can be identified with Rabbi Slifkin’s approach. That is not to say that Rabbi Slifkin does not identify with Yeshiva University, but that there are those who may adopt Rabbi Slifkin’s approach who perceive themselves as following haredi rabbinical authorities.


[1] The exception is Rav Hirsch. Although Rav Hirsch is long niftar, his approach is still considered valid by haredim (albeit that there is a significant amount of revisionism as regards exactly what his approach was).

[2] How the word “gadol” is defined is a different story. Also, “his gadol” may be a general consensus of a subset of gedolim that he perceives himself to be following.

[3] I hope Rabbi Slifkin will explore this issue is his forthcoming book. Whether he does or not, I eagerly await the volume!

12 comments:

  1. I believe the softest form of Da'as Torah accepted by most Chareidim, but rejected by most non-Chareidi Orthodox is simply the conviction that, in principle, there is something called Da'as Torah.

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  2. I disagree with this idea. First off, I don't think there are any Charaidi Gedolim alive that would agree with Rav Slifkin publicly. That said, if we bring up Gedolim of the past, like Rav Hirsch, Rav Kotler and other deceased Rabbis, why not just bring in the Rishonim that Rav Slifkin quotes?

    I believe that the general idea of the Charaidi philosophy of life means that you follow a set of rules for dress and general thinking. Anything outside of the box is considered non-charaidi. That is why I don't understand how you could perceive this approach as Charaidi since it is out of the box.

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  3. S,

    "I believe the softest form of Da'as Torah accepted by most Chareidim, but rejected by most non-Chareidi Orthodox is simply the conviction that, in principle, there is something called Da'as Torah."

    I think RY Modern Orthodoxy, which I associate with RIETS, holds of a "soft daas Torah". I've heard on recordings R. Hershel Shecter and R Michael Rozenzweig speak of daas Torah(even though I've seen quoted that RYBS didn't like the specific *terminology* per se).

    I link R. Alfred Cohen's article which may be called "soft daas Torah"(see the last page, "In a personal comment, however, I find it distressing...", where he raises issues with other forms of daas Torah--or at least with how those other forms are perceived).

    http://www.jlaw.com/Articles/cohen_DaatTorah.pdf

    R Slifkin,

    Thank you for creating open discussion about these issues; I think it is beneficial and can be done in a positive way.

    For the record, I don't think issues of rationality regarding Divinity of Torah have been discussed ad nauseum, but rather that they have never been discusses properly !

    Theoretically, a life-long frank, and very open discussion of even such fundamental issues should be "bakashas emes" of sincere ovdei Hashem, as long as one is willing to conclude "tzarich iyun" when stuck(as Dr. Moshe Bernstein put it in his TUM article).

    But you need someone with expertise in the specialized areas to moderate such discussion.

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  4. Mississipi Fred:
    Perhaps I'm misunderstanding you. As I'm sure you're aware, we know there is something called daas Torah, in contrast to something called daas nota, from the gemara.

    E-man:
    How's it going? I'm leaving for Atlanta on Thursday, so you can keep that book I lent you until I get back after Pesach. I got my phone charger fixed so we'll be able to get in touch that way.
    First off, I don't think there are any Charaidi Gedolim alive that would agree with Rav Slifkin publicly.
    Whether the gedolim would publicly agree with R' Slifkin is, in my view, irrelevant. The question is if there are any who regard his views as permissible. If you browse the writings of R' Leo Levi (who I've been convinced is a revisionist, but not an apologist), I think you'll find more than one thing that no gadol would agree with publicly.

    That said, if we bring up Gedolim of the past, like Rav Hirsch...
    I'm not exactly sure what you meant by this line, but let's be clear: Rabbi Joseph Elias, who last I checked was the chairman of the Jewish Observer's editorial board, brings him up. Rabbi Elias thinks R' Hirsch's philosophy can be followed today.

    I believe that the general idea of the Charaidi philosophy of life means that you follow a set of rules for dress and general thinking.
    I would appreciate it if you'd elaborate on this point.

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  5. If being wrong can be legitimate, the legitimation must be some truth. I disagree with those who seek legitimation of wrongness in community interests. There is no right to maintain a cult. I propose that the legitimacy of the Charedi approach lies in its unique emphasis on a great truth: We are the sons of prophets.

    It is possible to be extensionally wrong while being intensionally right. The world is not 6000 years, but the prophets left us Tenach as it is. Only a fool will denigrate the words of prophets. The 6000 years must be true in some way, even if we do not know how. And if we are sons of prophets, the Sages were earlier and greater sons of prophets. If I am a son of prophets, a Talmid Chacham is a greater son of prophets.

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  6. i think haredism if it exists is not tied to secular education. Maybe with prioritizing talmud torah over secular education. Society-wise, secular education is not the norm, but it could change in a heartbeat - for parnassah reasons, but they only allow it for parnassah because they do not really have a problem with it. They're not into mada, but they are not opposed to it IMO anywhere near the degree advertised. Veharayah Torah vedaas 1960. Say they are not haredi, but many of their graduates are pillars of the haredi community. R Wolpin, R Scherman etc You can make the case that the Jewish Observer no longer represents haredi community, and the haredi community is represented by the Yated, but how old is that case? Fifteen years? And is the JO outside the haredi community? It's not so easy to pin down what haredism is, and whatever it is is a shifting target, like most oppostional movements. But JO subscribers and editors and writers are in the mainstream of haredi life to this day, helping to create the mores of haredi life in the form of Artscroll and other publications, and who knows if they will swing back. (I wouldn't be shocked if some Artscroll editors are a little uncomfortable in the world they helped create.) A lot of the shift to the right is complicated by the greater cross-pollination between Israel and the US and that causes a generation gap among US haredim, but that can change too. Who says we should judge by a bunch of twenty odd year olds and bans created largely for them? Maybe the twenty odd year olds will become more normal in a decade or two, which is what happens in political movements? Right now, there is no clear definition of haredism except one that has some absolute respect for talmud torah/lomdei torah - not even kollel for the masses is a barometer of haredism. That's why there is so much confusion on what is a haredi. Maybe we should have different definitions for different generations of haredim? I say, no single definition exists, and any one of varying bottom lines will suffice to make a person haredi.

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  7. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, as well as many medieval Baalei kabbalh, would then "not be charedi" because according to Kabbalah sources, the world can be calculated as billions of years old, around 14 and a half billion, to be exact. Torah is deep and complex, much deeper and more complex than most, even well educated and Torah- knowledgable people can understand. Therefore, most people have a simple understanding of the world and torah, and those who truly learn on a deep level understand that "official charedi policy" is often the simple and primitive understanding of the charedi masses, and not necessarily the gedolim.

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  8. Of course R Aryeh Kaplan was not charedi! And kal v'chomer any medieval figures.

    "official charedi policy" is often the simple and primitive understanding of the charedi masses, and not necessarily the gedolim.

    What makes you say that it is not the understanding of the Gedolim?

    By the way, please use a pseudonym (or your real name!), not Anonymous.

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  9. Response to zoorabbi:
    Let me rephrase that, and say that UNofficial charedi policy- things you hear from fellow frum people as to what is correct and what is not- is frequently the simple and non-complex understanding of complex matters of the masses.

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  10. And what category do letters signed by the Gedolim fall into - offical policy, or unofficial policy?

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  11. "Daniel Eidensohn has confirmed that Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky, for example, believes it is permissible to believe the world is older than 6000 years old."

    Was Rav Kamenetsky referring to the Carl Sagan-version of billions of years, or the Gerald Schroeder-style of billions of years? (Or does it even matter?)

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  12. Bryce:
    http://hirhurim.blogspot.com/2006/06/age-of-universe.html

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