Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Black and White

I just got off the phone with a good friend of mine in the Mir. He suggested that in the charedi world, there are several qualities that are seen as necessarily connected - meaning, that if somebody possesses one of them, they are seen as automatically possessing all the others. They are:
  • Great Torah scholarship
  • Righteousness
  • Spiritual powers (e.g. berachos)
  • and I forget the fourth.
In other words, anyone who is a great Torah scholar is automatically also considered to be a tzaddik, and so on.

I have an elaboration of this concept which relates to the comments in the previous discussion about yeridas hadoros. Intelligence and wisdom themselves have several components. There are analytical skills and there is retention of knowledge. There are different types of wisdom and intellectual acument - Talmudic expertise and philosophical expertise are very different. And there are many other divisions that could be mentioned. But my impression is that many people assume that anyone who excels in any one of these, also excels in all of them.

23 comments:

  1. I once took a course on statistics for the behavioral sciences where the professor said "in the behavioral sciences always be suspicious of correlations of either 0 or 1. But clearly according to the ArtScroll school this is common. Since that is the case they could just list tzadikkm since the attributes don't vary much. Lets save a few forests and stick to the gadol cards.

    The number of cards will still increase because now when a rebbe dies all his sons and son-in-laws are entitled the inherit the rebbe title and the claim of being a tzadik. Just think of it, multiplying tzaddikim for the effort of adding a hyphen.

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  2. I still want to comment further on the bias topic, but let me add a quick comment here first.

    It should be obvious to anyone who learns the last perek in Avos where it details the 48 requirements to be koneh Torah, that on can have great technical knowledge and still not be what the Mishna would call a true Talmid chochom. I think any charedi would be hard pressed to argue this point.

    In fact, I think that the assumption that Charedim think one does not need to work on ones midos as long as one "knows how to learn", is not true at all.

    Mussar seder, which is standard in yeshivos would be one proof that it is not the charedi position that righteousness is not automatic.

    Sound like someone has a anti charedi ax to grind here. (And I don't mean you R Slifkin.)

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  3. To prove this false I will bring up a famous biblical character, Achitofel. He was considered the greatest scholar of his time, yet he betrayed Dovid Hamelech. So, although he was a great Torah scholar he clearly did not have the other three character traits you mention.

    Also, Bilaam Harasha TALKED TO G-D and was he righteous or great? These ideas are kinda ridiculous.

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  4. I think that the assumption that Charedim think one does not need to work on ones midos as long as one "knows how to learn", is not true at all.

    I wasn't saying that. The belief is that someone who is a great Torah scholar, HAS worked on their middos to an extraordinary degree.

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  5. >I wasn't saying that. The belief is that someone who is a great Torah scholar, HAS worked on their middos to an extraordinary degree.

    i would emend that to an "authorized" or already accepted great Torah scholar. I don't think there's an assumption that Saul Lieberman or Adin Steinsaltz and the like were/ are also tzadikim.

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  6. well it seems you failed on the 'retention of knowledge' count...otherwise what's you excuse for forgetting no. 4 on your list!

    (unless of course you would like to posit that none of the four were in the category of knowledge in the first place...)

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  7. Why do you always refer to the Litvish charedi world as THE charedi world?

    My guess is you have very little exposure to the chassidic world. The who conversation you had with the guy from Mir would not resonate with a chosid.

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  8. The fascinating thing is all know that a Tzaddik is not necessarily a Talmid Chacham. He may not be bright enough. However, a Talmid Chacham, say a Rav who wrote many good and accepted Halachic works, is automatically seen as a Tzaddik. This is amazing, as the principle does not apply at all. There are clear counter examples in the Talmud (Menashe ben Chizkiyahu, Yerovam ben Nevat). Legal expertise does not automatically lead to holiness. Especially in our times, with all of its career learning, we should watch out very carefully.

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  9. This issue is not at all limited to the charedi world. My wife says that growing up, she attended an Israeli, frum, Modern Orthodox school, and the administration / teachers conflated intelligence, behavior, and Jewish observance, such that enthusiastic kids who just couldn't keep up academically were lumped together with bright kids who misbehaved or ignored halachot: clearly a bad pedagogical position.

    I should add that they frequently didn't make a distinction between halacha and how they wanted kids to behave, e.g. tzniut and dress code, which are related but IMHO not the same.

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  10. The all-or-nothing phenomenon is also manifest in the way charedim assume that a gadol b'Torah must know every facet of Torah. The idea that a person might be a gadol in halakha, but relatively ignorant of machshava, is not a popular one. Therefore, when it comes to banning books, it is assumed that R. Elyashiv, for instance, must be expert in the issues at hand because he is a baki b'shas uposkim.

    Those with a more rationalist perspective will appreciate that the Professor of Mathematics may know very little about practical engineering, and assume that this compartmentalization also applies to most talmidei chachamim (with few exceptions - eg Rav Soloveitchik, Rambam).

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  11. Simplistic thinking can be found everywhere, as well as the exploitation of that mindset by people with agendas of all sorts.

    What is especially disturbing and cognitively dissonant (if that is a real phrase) in the Haredi Yeshiva world is the simultaneous emphasis on very detailed, critical study of certain texts within certain restrictions coupled with a tendency towards an extremely simplistic attitude towards some basic assumptions.

    This can drive anyone with a normal mind pretty well batty.

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  12. Around the time of the Disengagement, I regularly gave rides to students of the Yeshiva next to my office. I would often initiate a discussion about the Disengagement, and claim that Rav Elyashiv was making/had made a horrendous mistake. And always, in more or in less polite terms, I was answered that Rav Elyashiv had been studying Torah all of his life, and I was working in high tech. How dare I speak as I did. Some promised me Gehinnom.

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  13. Dov Kaiser - I think your bringing Rav Soleveichik as an example is wrongheaded. He would be the first to admit that his strength was not in psak, as Rav Lichtenstein talks about. Similarly, as Rav Shachter has spoken about, his bekius could also not compare to that of certain others (e.g. Rav Ovadia Yosef or Rav Chaim Kanievski). I am not at all claiming that he was any less great because of this, I'm just saying that one should be careful with their examples.

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  14. >What is especially disturbing and cognitively dissonant (if that is a real phrase) in the Haredi Yeshiva world is the simultaneous emphasis on very detailed, critical study of certain texts within certain restrictions coupled with a tendency towards an extremely simplistic attitude towards some basic assumptions.

    That's why "lernen" is a devotional activity, and sometimes distinguished deliberately from "learning" in academic literature.

    As for R. Soloveitchik, he knew halacha and philosophy well which already made him more multifaceted than many other talmide chachomim, but there were also vast areas of Jewish learning which he either knew little about or never showed that he knew.

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  15. J.
    I take your points about R. Soloveitchik's weaknesses, although he definitely did pasken. I agree that he was an oker harim rather than a Sinai. However, I think he is still noteworthy as a person whose knowledge spanned both Lomdus/Halakha and Machshava (not to mention general philosophy) on a high level. The only other person I can think of who meets that qualification is R. Y. Herzog.

    In the yeshiva world, expertise in lomdus and hashkafa is normally split, respectively, between the Rosh Yeshiva and the Mashgiach. Indeed, given that these roles are split in a yeshiva setting, I am all the more puzzled as to why charedim assume that their Gedolim know everything, as Moshe Raphael's anecdote illustrates. I think it connects to a point made by R. Slifkin in an earlier post - Gedolim are endowed with an irrational mystique which your average (or even above-average) Rosh Yeshiva or Mashgiach lacks.

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  16. That's why "lernen" is a devotional activity, and sometimes distinguished deliberately from "learning" in academic literature.


    That's just a restatement of the problem, not an answer.

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  17. I think the chareidi world subtly acknowledges that "all are learned but some are more learned in specific areas."

    However, the implied claim is that all the great ones are fully competent generalists. The implication is that a generalist can figure out what he does not know as needed and will take the effort to find things out.

    Alas, this is not true. The chareidi world only invokes the concept of ignorance to discredit outsiders. The first line of defense is they aren't lomdim. When faced with a Sol Lieberman they of course suddenly discover a profound concern for some other area in which he is weaker. Woe unto them if they ever subject themselves to the real scrutiny.

    The real problem is gadlus inflation. There are too many people of average ability in one or more areas being touted as great ones. Objective criteria have become irrelevant except among real cognoscenti.

    I was prompted by this discussion to post on rebbe inflation.
    http://wp.me/pFbfD-6u
    My main point was, that in the realm of chareidi mass culture, the multiplication of career aspirants has been matched by the multiplication of exaggerated claims about competence.

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  18. Speaking of chassidic sourcess... Interestingly, although Rebbe Nachman of Breslov says that there are Torah scholars who have improper motives and their Torah learning simply makes them more insidious, illustrating how the Torah is double-edged and can be a deadly poison, he also says something that sounds similar to the phenomenon you are discussing:

    "The power of the Torah is very great. Someone who labors in Torah continuously will have the power to bring about miracles. It is possible to achieve this even without being familiar with
    mystical devotions. The main thing is to study the legal codes until you know how to make legal
    rulings. In previous eras there were many leading sages who were able to bring about miracles
    merely by virtue of the fact that they devoted themselves to Torah study day and night." Likutei Eitzot.

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  19. There is, first of all, an assumption that our machaneh is where the real talmidei chachomim are to be found. It could be by accident somehow there's one or two talmide chachomim who unfortunately got stuck in another camp, but they're anomalies. The real experts, the real breadth and depth, that is only to be found among us. That's point A.

    Point B is that if our world is where the talmide chachomim are, then it follows that those who are the most acclaimed, who have risen near or to the top of the food chain in our camp, are obviously the greatest of the great. Since we define greatness by "knowing kol hatorah kula," and since there actually *are* some people who really do know a great deal, it just seems to defy logic that it could be any other way.

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  20. Anybody know if some Haredim hold that their gedolim are masters of secular disciplines by virtue of their lofty status?

    Yechi HaAdmor MeSlifka! Kol HaKavod for providing this venue for stimulating exchanges.

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  21. Dov Kaiser,

    1) I believe Norman Lamm writes in an article published a few years ago that both Rav Soloveitchik and Rav Ahron Kotler confessed to him that they didn't really know Hilchos Eiruvin well enough to pasken.

    2) You might want to add Rav Kook to your list. By the way I recently read that Rav Kook complained about the lack of innovative and creative "machshavah" thinkers in the 20th century -- precisely in the century when they were so desperately needed.

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  22. Dov Kaiser wrote: "The all-or-nothing phenomenon is also manifest in the way charedim assume that a gadol b'Torah must know every facet of Torah. "

    Why write "charedim" instead of "a decent percentage of charedim"? Falling into the "all or nothing" trap yourself?

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  23. When faced with a Sol Lieberman


    You mean HaGaon Rav Shaul Lieberman?

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