Friday, February 10, 2012

Extraordinarily Extravagant Exaggerations About Rav Elyashiv

Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv is an extraordinary person. He is extraordinarily brilliant. He is extraordinarily dedicated to learning Torah. He has survived to extraordinary age, notwithstanding his fragility.

Nevertheless, this editorial from Yated/ Matzav about his critical condition contains some extraordinarily extravagant exaggerations, which illustrate the problematic state of rabbinic authority in the chareidi world.

"We were confronted with a life-changing crisis and shocked out of our stupor when we heard news from Eretz Yisroel on Monday about the health of Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv. We have been hearing for several weeks now about his precarious situation, but each time, we davened and merited a strengthening of his situation. We began, perhaps, to take it for granted and slacken off in our tefillos for the posek and amud hador. We have it so good. We have had it so good for so long that we couldn’t imagine it being any other way."

We have had it good for so long? We are confronted with a life-changing crisis?

What were the recent rabbinic decisions issued in the name of Rav Elyashiv (and it's impossible to know how much he was actually involved with them) that were so invaluable? Was it banning charedim from seeking any form of professional training, and thereby condemning them to poverty? Was it banning Mishpachah? (Well, I guess that one was certainly invaluable to the Israeli Yated, and possibly also helpful for the American Yated.)

For many years now, the public pronouncements of Rav Elyashiv have been deeply problematic at best. They have often been issued without any attempt to hear the claims of the defendants. As Mishpachah magazine pointed out, this is a grievous abuse of rabbinic authority. Things have gotten so bad that YNet ran an article entitled "The Posek of the Generation is Disconnected from the Generation." To judge Rav Elyashiv favorably, once could say that all this is due to his being manipulated by the power-hungry zealots who control access to him. Even if this is the case, it still means that it is far from accurate to say that "we have had it good for so long." And it's a "life-changing crisis" for the power-hungry manipulative zealots who will no longer be able to manipulate him, not for the rest of the nation.

Then there's the way that the article portrays Rav Elyashiv as the halachic mentor for Rav Yitzchak Herzog. Now, it could well be that Rav Elyashiv contributed valuable analyses to Rav Herzog. But Rav Elyashiv went to hear shiur from Rav Herzog, not the other way around! He was his talmid, not his rebbe!

Praising people with false praise is not doing them, or the Jewish People, a service. And people should be placing rabbinic authority where it traditionally belonged: with local rabbis who are in touch with their flock, not centenarians who are cut off from the world and manipulated by askanim.


  1. Even if everything about Rav Elyashiv is meritorious, how is it a crisis when a centenarian is very ill? Does anyone expect him to live forever?

  2. Not chareidi but don't hate themFebruary 10, 2012 at 11:07 PM

    The article in no way portrays Rav Elyashiv as the halachik mentor of Rav Hertzog. What is does say is that Rav Hertzog thought Rav Elyashiv was a competent talmid chacham and posek and would regularly discuss halachik shailos with him because he felt he had what to contribute. Discussing difficult subjects with an inferior scholar is common practice in the torah and secular world. Ever read the gemara about תלמיד וצריך לו רבו?

  3. I don't think that people are genuinely upset about Rav Elyashiv's absences; after all, it really does not affect them. I think that they just want to sound piously charedi. Whoever can scream the loudest about the importance of Rav Elyashiv is the frummest!

  4. They have often been issued without any attempt to hear the claims of the defendants.

    I'm not convinced that Rav Elyashiv has heard the claims of any defendant or any plaintiff in years. I suspect that the askanim have been manipulating his power as he declined with the years.

    Shabbat Shalom everyone.

  5. Tesyaa, I'm afraid many believe if Moishe Rabbenu lived to 120 then Rav Elyashiv should as well. If he recovers, well and good.

    On the other hand, he's a frail man over a century old. He has had a long lifetime full of accomplishment. piety and learning. If it's his time, it's his time. I hope he dies content, knowing he's done everything he set out to do and surrounded by his loving family. Who can ask for more in this life?

  6. May we see the rise of rabbis of a different, Eretz Yisraeli paradigm. I respect HaRav Elyashiv's devotion to Torah but it is the Torah of Eretz Yisrael which will get us out of the rut in which we are in. As I have heard HaRav David Bar-Hayim say many times the old galuti hashqafah will not go away so easily if rabbis of a different bent do not "step up to the plate."

  7. Hard to argue with any of what you say, or what tesyaa says in her comment. I think what David T. says is also right on the mark.

    There are precedents for this type of thing. When George Washington died, the politicians and members of polite society engaged in a kind of competition to see who could mourn most loudly. This continued to the point where some of his greatest contemporaries, such as Abigail Adams and Thomas Jefferson, realized that this type of over-praise detracted from his greatness, rather than enhancing it.

    In the case of Rav Elyashiv, it would be better to ackknowledge him as a great lamdan rather than to pretend he is something he is clearly not, a great leader.

  8. I agree with "Not Chareidi etc.". The article does not portray R. Elyashiv as a mentor of R. Herzog. All it says is that R. Elyashiv "assisted the chief rabbi with the difficult agunah shailos that had been tormenting him", and that "Rav Herzog regularly visited Rav Elyashiv to talk in learning, establishing a serious relationship with him and promoting him to his post as a dayan on the country’s highest bais din."

  9. Beit Hillel, a new dati leumi rabbincal organization (which includes women and many shul rabbis among its leadership), seems to be a step in the right direction. This is both because it seeks to assert a moderate dati leumi outlook that is not bending to charedi norms, and because community rabbis rather than yeshivah heads play the prominent role.

  10. I agree with tesyaa. Rav Elyashiv is a very old man, and the next person to live forever will be the first. Why must his illness be portrayed as somehow the fault of the klal, a result of their not davening enough, rather than simply the normal course of a person’s life?

  11. RNS,

    Given his current medical condition and the role he played in "banning" your books I think posting this piece displays very poor judgement.

  12. This kind of reminds me of North Koreans crying when their "Dear Leader" passed away. Not the same situation (and I hope the good rav will live to 120), but a similar sentiment is echoed in the snippet you quoted. As if Rav Eliyashiv is some comforting figure in the shadows that somehow enables their lives to continue without even interacting with them but just by his mere existence. Very twisted.

  13. Well, now we know how the obituaries will handle the inconvenient fact that R' Elyashiv's actual experience basically consists of a long career in the employ of the State of Israel.

  14. If I may ask a acouple of innocent/ignorant questions... no cynicism intended at all; I really don't know and would like to understand:

    Exactly why is it that Rav Elyashiv is considered the "posek hador"? Who decided this?

    And if I'm going to daven for him to recover, I'd find it helpful to know a little more about his character. For example, people like the Chofetz Chayim and R' Aryeh Levin ZTz"L were famous for (among other things) unconditional love of all Jews. Others excelled in haschnasas orchim, kiruv rechokim, etc. And others made a big impact on the political scene, whether in Israel or Chu"l, e.g. rescuing Jews from the Shoah, or otherwise making the world a better place for Jews. What would you say are Rav Elyashiv's defining characteristics and greatest contributions to the world?

  15. I recall when Rav Eliezer Mann Schach died there was a similar caterwauling about how the world was bereft of its pilot/captain/leader/personal representative of God and how we were living in darkness as an orphaned generation. And then the next morning the sun rose.
    As the Chasidification of the Litvish system progresses, the cult of personality around the leader will only intensify.
    Next up to the plate... Rav Shteinman!

  16. I distinctly remember when we were "told" that R' Aurebach and R' Elyashiv were the "gedolei hador." It was shortly after the deaths of R' Moshe, R' Yaakov, and the Steipler (the latter two were not "gedolim" until they died).

    I also distinctly remember being "told" that R' Steinman was "next." Of course, he's 99 or 100 himself.

  17. Insert as many "lehavdils" as you want. But other religious leaders have issued letters of resignation if they were unable to perform their duties. Unprecedented in that religion too.


  18. What makes Rav Elyashiv extraordinary or brilliant? I, and many others, never heard of him until 5-10 years ago. What sefer has he written? What institution or yeshiva has he founded or taught in?

    The praise and respect he is given far exceeds his accomplishments. Moreover, like you imply, his recent pronouncements and decisions have done great harm, not good, in the world.

  19. After reading the first two paragraphs of this post, I was reminded of the following post of yours from a few months ago:

    (Yehuda, see: )

  20. R' Elyashiv's decisions for the Rabbanut were included in the volumes published by the State of Israel. Later, someone selected all the ones by him and published them separately. (Judge that well or not.) I believe that's the bulk of his writing, not that it's chopped liver.

  21. It is clear that virtually all those with serious torah scholarship look to Rabbi Elyashiv as the torah leader of this generation. One would assume such consensus cannot be achieved without cause.

    Oh, and by the way is taking potshots at ailing torah scholars also part of "the rationalist approach to Judaism that was most famously presented by Maimonides?"

  22. Michael -
    I do not mean any disrespect, but I have some very hard questions about Rav Elyashiv's "leadership".

    I have serious issues with his condemnation of all charedim to poverty al derech hateva, with his proclamation that it is prohibited for charedim to do any secular studies.

    But that's nothing. The hardest question I have is his apparent total indifference to the expulsion of Jews from Gush Katif. I was at the Kotel just before the expulsion. There were hundreds of thousands of Yidden there, of every stripe, color, shape... except for the "Litvakim". Where were they?
    Not long before that there were demonstrations against some supposed desecration of ancient graves near Kvish 6. Rav Elyashiv's followers know how to demonstrate forcefully. When they desecrated the graves of Gush Katif, where was the outcry?
    Worst of all, in March 2005 Sharon was struggling to pass the budget. He had a minority government but for technical reasons the opposition couldn't muster a no-confidence vote. There was one thing that could have brought down the government - a law that says if the govt has failed to pass the budget by the end of March, it automatically falls, and new elections are called. Sharon knew that, and so did everyone else. So what did he do? He threw a bribe to UTJ - IIRC 273 million NIS of the budget was to be given to yeshivos and kollelim. UTJ, who had previously voted against the disengagement, suddenly and conveniently forgot about the consequences to their fellow Yidden. The budget squeaked through with their votes, the government stood, and 10,000 Jews lost their homes, their livelihood, in many cases their shalom bayis, and in some cases their lives, because UTJ - who supposedly consult and obey the "Daas Torah" of Rav Elyashiv on their every move - decided that 273 million shekels was worth more.

    I have no basis for judging who is a Talmid Chacham, but I have a very good grounding in logic. "תלמידי חכמים מרבים שלום בעולם". If Talmidei Chachamim increase peace in the world, then the corollary is that anyone who increases machlokes is not a Talmid Chacham.

    My best attempt at judging Rav Elyashiv favorably through all this is to say that he simply has no idea what is going on, because his handlers filter everything coming in to and going out from him. In which case, he is not a leader at all; he is merely a figurehead, a kind of Jim Hacker to the askanim's collective Sir Humphrey. In which case, why should anybody look up to him at all?

  23. Dear Mr. Questions,

    Whether or not you agree with things Rav Elyashiv has allegedly said or done is irrelevant and misses my point. Let me try again.
    If one is to accept that he is the great torah scholar of this generation, which seems to be clear given the fact that virtually anybody with serious torah scholarship believes this to be the case, then anyone who believes in the Jewish tradition should regard him as having the most elevated human being alive, and deserving of the utmost respect and admiration. If we are to take this approach, maybe we shouldn't be so quick to pass judgement on so elevated a person.

  24. Michael Bendrisoi,

    I don't buy this whole sale of goods regarding Rav Elyashiv's greatness. How is it posible that I and others Jews I have spoken to never heard of him before 5-10 years ago if he was so great?

    He was propped up in recent years because the yeshivish world needs a gadol hador whom they can go to to offer his daas Torah and bans. Then they can declare to the rest of the world that anyone who opposes this man is rebelling against the mesorah.

    The whole thing is absurd and a sham.

  25. A difficult question that needs to be asked is should we be davening for R' Elyashiv to live based on the Gemara in Kesubos 104 with Rebbe. See Should we be davening for R' Elyashiv to live? for more details.

  26. Yehuda:
    Firstly, it is not immediately clear how your knowledge of Rav Elyashiv's existence has any bearing on his torah scholarship.
    Furthermore, i'm not sure who you refer to as the "yeshivishe" people.
    As I have said, anyone who has achieved real torah scholarship agrees that Rav Elyashiv is the great torah scholar of this generation and respect him greatly. I don't believe there is a divide between so called "yeshivish" or non-"yeshivish" torah scholars' opinions with regard to this question.
    So, in essence, you don't find torah scholars to be people that are worthy of your trust. Torah scholarship is seen in the highesrt regard according to traditianal jewish sources.
    You may want to re-examine your religious affiliations in light of this.

  27. >If one is to accept that he is the great torah scholar of this generation, which seems to be clear given the fact that virtually anybody with serious torah scholarship believes this to be the case, then anyone who believes in the Jewish tradition should regard him as having the most elevated human being alive, and deserving of the utmost respect and admiration.<

    Ever hear of Doeg or Achitofel?

  28. Michael Bendrisoi,

    All Torah scholars agree he's the greatest? When did that happen? And who are you considering a "true" Torah scholar?

    And do these scholars say he's the greatest (assuming they do for a second) because it fits their world view to have one "gadol hador" or because he actually deserves this tremendous respect?

    And by the way, does "all Torah scholars" include Rav Ovadia Yosef? Somehow I think he would disagree with your statement that all scholars agree Rav Elyahiv's knowledge is simply unparalleled.

    Finally, if Rav Elyashiv is so wise and respected so greatly for his knowledge, how come no one follows his recent psak regarding crocs on Tisha B'Av? Maybe because their respect for him is mainly due to their desire to have someone on a pedestal to issue his "daas Torah" on hashkafic issues (which he probably has no great expertise in) when they desire him to.

    Woe to us: Is this the nation that the Torah said all peoples will turn to and proclaim, "How great is this nation"?

    Sure, I imagine all people would bow in awe before someone who bans books, doesn't believe in evolution, bans women from becoming educated, bans a family magazine, bans men from joining the army, supports the worst child molester in Israeli history, and approves a government plan to expel 10,000 Jews from their homes because the government gave his institutions money.

    Sure, this is the greatest man the Jews possess.

  29. Yehuda said: 'I, and many others, never heard of him until 5-10 years ago.'

    35 years ago is as far as I remember first becoming aware that he is a Godol. In those days it was easy to walk in an ask a shaila and until recently anyone could attend his daily Gemora shiur and see for themselves. You can check out Rashba on Maseches Beiza with comments based on his shiurim. My son says its pretty awesome.

  30. By real Torah scholars I am referring to someone who has spent decades immersed in intense Torah study. I believe this includes Rav Ovadia Yosef Shlita. Yes, there are some people who can disagree with others and still have tremendous respect for them (I know, shocking, isn't it).

  31. Mr Bendrosai,

    Unlike Yehuda, I am not disputing Rav Elyashiv's scholarship. I have no doubt that his knowledge of Torah is at the very least among, say, the top one percentile of Torah scholars, and he certainly deserves respect.

    But he is not a leader of Am Yisrael, is certainly not the leader, and has not been since I don't know when, if he ever was. He has been surrounded by a veritable firewall of askanim, who only let in information they want him to hear, and only publicize statements from him that they want the world to hear, plus plenty other statements that he never made, e.g. that fiasco about the sheitels.

    Furthermore, Rav Slifkin was not allowed to speak to Rav Elyashiv to defend himself, yet a ban was still issued in the Rav's name against his books. The halacha is that a dayan cannot pasken a case with only one litigant present, so unless you want to suggest the unthinkable - that Rav Elyashiv actually violated halacha C"V - I am forced to conclude that he never read, saw or probably even heard of Rav Slifkin's books, and that the ban was issued in his name without his knowledge.

    Perhaps this is why his psakim are not so broadly accepted - because most of the world already knows that the credibility of any statements purporting to come from him is highly suspect.

    And perhaps this explains why there's such a panic about the fact that he is going the way of the world - because maybe (IY"H) his successor will be a little more world-wise, assert himself over the askanim, and not allow his signature to be printed indiscriminately on any pashkevil that takes their fancy.

  32. Michal Bendrisoai says:

    "As I have said, anyone who has achieved real torah scholarship agrees that Rav Elyashiv is the great torah scholar of this generation and respect him greatly."

    I can only assume, since your pen name is based on the name of a well-known criminal in talmudic times, that you're just trying to stir the pot here for fun. If not, then you are displaying an alarming level of ignorance.

  33. I am surprised that no one has mentioned the basic Jewish tenant of belief that a Tzadik increases the Kedusha on this world and protects the world from harm. For this reason alone we should pray that R' Elyashiv should live as long as possible. Not only for what he knows or is not able to do now that he is old. It might not fit in with a rationalist view of the world but the entire Jewish religion is, and never was, based on rationalism. Spirituality is not rational no matter how you twist it. It can not be seen or felt with the senses and neither can God. The brain can't grasp it, and most of intricacies of the world is unknown and will never be discovered.

    Since when does Paskening the latest Shailo becomes a measure of worth?

    Politics has no place in religion and I believe the red line has been crossed in this post IMHO.

  34. How do you know that Rav Elyashiv is a tzaddik?

  35. Obviously, a Tzadik is someone who tries to do the right thing. I doubt anyone will say that R'E did not follow the Torah meticulously and fastidiously, including not stealing and not speaking Lashon Hora. The slander on the blogs is hearsay and he can ban a few Sefarim and explain his POV for chumras and still love Slifkin with all his heart and be a Tzadik. He was never in jail and tried to the best of his ability and circumstances to follow the Torah. What more do you want from a person? That is a Tzadik in my book. I would love to have the honor of having my Sefarim banned by someone of R'E caliber. That means he is willing to examine the issue and say it is not for people who have deep emunah and faith. I want anyone to actually prove scientifically how carbon dating works. Maybe Slifkan can write a post how someone goes about proving the world is X years old. I want someone to actually take me out to my back yard,take some dirt, and prove to me how old it is.

  36. In other words, you have no evidence whatsoever regarding whether or not he is a tzadik. Got it.

  37. R' Slifkin-
    Just curious what you think of this?

    "Jerusalem Avreich Gives Maran R’ Elyashiv a Year of His Life":

  38. The evidence that I have is:

    I saw him when I was in Israel and he said Gut Voch to me; he wasn't in jail, no-one ever said he killed someone, he does kindness and good deeds, (verified first hand from the Sefer Alenu Leshabeach - this is just as valid as anything you know from history books) and he is very knowledgable about Torah and Halacha verified by what he wrote and what is said in his name. I value a nice, kind person who worked on himself to be a good person by learning mussar and Torah.

    The term Tzadik can also be applied to a non-Jew. Do you have evidence that Mother Teresa was a Tzadekis? I still believe that she was based on what I heard about her.

    He has more than several people who can vouch for his integrity and knowledge of Torah which is more than most people in the world.

  39. Mr. Questions,
    You are correct in your observation that a problem exists regarding the authenticity of public statements attributed to Rav Elyashiv. This is indeed the reason why many rabbanim generally ignore psakim publicized in his name. However, on an individual basis,there are many rabbanim from around the globe who consult with Rav Elyashiv.
    Furthermore, this does nothing to diminish his greatness in Torah, and the respect that we are commanded to have for him (see Kiddushin 57a).
    With regard to the incident involving Rabbi Slifkin: The halacha does indeed require court proceedings to be conducted in the presence of the defendant. I don't see how this is related to the question at hand.

    Close, but no cigar. My pen name is actually based on the eating habits of a well-known criminal in talmudic times, and the term embodies a very meaningful halachic concept.
    It is not helpful to characterize my ignorance as alarming if you are not going to provide sources for such a conclusion.

  40. Its humorous to me when a whole culture has built itself on a premise of circular logic, but even funnier when people talk about it. It goes something like this:

    "rav abc is a gadol hador because every single gadol or gadolei hador unanimously feel that that is the case."

    Response: "And how do you define what is a gadol and who fits that description to tell us who the gadol hador is or how we have to behave toward him?"

    "Duh. It's all the rabbis who hold rabbi abc in high esteem, follow his psak, and shower him wiith praise and admiration."

    Response: "Hmm, so what about Rabbi XYZ who I think is wiser than Rabbi abc, and he does not defer to or claim rabbi abc is gadol hador whom we must follow in everything. Doesn't that challenge your theory that everyone unanimously believes it to be the case that rabbi abc is gadol hador?"

    "Oh rabbi xyz is not a gadol."

    Response: "He's not? How do you know?"

    "Because he doesn't follow rabbi abc's psak. He's not in the Torah camp."

  41. Student V,

    The way you portray the conversation and logic is incorrect.

    People become the Gadol Hador when they demonstrate knowledge in Halacha and in the Mesorah, act ethically, and abide to the minutia of the Torah and people recognize that fact.

    I may recognize someone as a Gadol Hador but not abide or agree to all his rulings. As long as there is a source in Halacha for my actions I can follow that Mesorah.

    It has nothing to do with which Rabbi is 'greater' or if your Rabbi doesn't think the other Rabbi is the Gadol Hador.

    I can believe that the Satmar Rebbe, The Lubavitcher Rebbe and Rav Shach and Rav Feinstein, Rav Ovadia Yosef, Rav Kook and Rav Solivetchick are all Gedolim Hador but they do not all agree on everything.

    There are bigots who deny that fact but that is not how it should be.

  42. ETKE actually said: “I want anyone to actually prove scientifically how carbon dating works”.

    Wow! You are kidding, of course. I suppose when taking an airline flight you ask the pilot about how sure he is that the plane will fly and to prove to you that the science works? Or a cardiologist before he does his bypass surgery. etc...

    In any case, Here’s a useful link.

    BTW, nobody says that any specific dating can never be flawed due to various intrusive factors, but in general the theory is sound. And the idiotic notion that "nishtane hatevah" and radio-metric science radically changed in recent times is just that, idiotic.

  43. Sorry this is an "old" post but I thought it was most relevant here:

    Today's Daf Hayomi - Temurah 15a - Since R. Yose ben Yoezer, there was no "dofi" - the Gemara concludes that dofi refers to the beginning of machlokes in Judaism. The Gemara then asks that Yose ben Yoezer was himself involved in the semicha machlokes identified by the Gemara as the first dispute over a tradition. The Gemara that at a certain age, "liba batzra." Rashi explains that his heart (memory) diminished at the end of his days. My understanding is that at a certain time gedolim need to pass the torch - they will still be respected and revered but the reins of leadership will be passed to someone (at least slightly) younger.

  44. rav elyashiv is the posek hador


  45. Tottenham Hotspur is the greatest football club in the world.
    FACE IT.

    My Dad is bigger than your Dad.
    FACE IT.

    My posek is greater than your posek.
    FACE IT.


Comments for this blog are moderated. Please see this post about the comments policy for details. ANONYMOUS COMMENTS WILL NOT BE POSTED - please use either your real name or a pseudonym.