Monday, December 9, 2013

Chazal Said It Straight

Thinking back to yesterday's post, it occurred to me that it provided an example of how Chazal had a very different view of the world than many people today.

What kind of a person is a Torah scholar? I don't mean someone who's learned some Gemara and has the title "rabbi." I mean someone that Chazal themselves would consider a Torah scholar. Which is presumably, according to many people, someone leagues above the Gedolei Torah of today.

Previously, I have posted about the common assumption that if someone excels in one area of Torah knowledge, it means that he excels in all areas of Torah, and that he is also a great leader. There is likewise an assumption that if someone is a great Torah scholar, then they must also be tremendously great in character. It would be unthinkable to speak of such a person having serious personality flaws.

Chazal, however, felt differently.

Let's take another look at the Gemara in Yoma 86a:
Each of us is obligated to make G-d beloved through his or her actions. If a Torah scholar deals kindly with others, people will say, 'Fortunate is his father who taught him Torah! Fortunate is his rabbi who taught him Torah! Woe to those who do not study Torah! This one to whom they have taught Torah, see how beautiful are his ways!' If, however, he is not honest in his dealings and does not speak kindly to others, people will say the opposite: 'Woe to this one who has studied Torah! Woe to his father who taught him Torah! Woe to his rabbi who taught him Torah! This one who has studied Torah, see how crooked are his deeds and how ugly are his ways!'

Chazal said it straight. They tell us here that it is perfectly possible to have a Torah scholar who is not honest in his dealings and does not speak kindly to others. They tell us that such a person will deservedly be described as crooked in his deeds and ugly in his ways.

It seems clear that a great Torah scholar who is not honest in his dealings and does not speak kindly to others is creating a chillul Hashem. And Chazal say that when there is a chillul Hashem, one does not apportion honor to a Rav.

Thus, Chazal tell us that there can be scenarios where one does not apportion honor to a great Torah scholar. Yet many people today believe - or act as though they believe - that this scenario cannot exist. It's a pity that they don't take Chazal seriously.

32 comments:

  1. עם לבן גרתי ותרי"ג מצוות שמרתי ולא למדתי ממעשיו הרעים

    Rav Ruderman reportedly would point out that Rashi says two things - "tryag mitzvos shamarti" and "lo lamadeti mimaasav hara'oim." It is possible to keep all taryag mitzvos but still act like Lavan.

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  2. You assume certain people have the status of "talmid chacham." Why is that - because they call themselves "rabbi"? Anyone involved in a Jewish field is today called rabbi. And if you know anything of history, for many hundreds of years the title has been given to anyone who either paid for it, married into certain families, or needed it for a position, whereupon it was given on the spot. It's not an objective measure of ability.

    Even if it were, what does it mean - that someone's studied a bit of yoreh deah? Big deal. In today's world where everyone has gone to yeshiva, there are tens of thousands of businessmen, professionals, and academics, who are more learned, and are familiar with more areas of Torah, than many practicing rabbis and gedolim. Usually the practicing rabbi, by the simple nature of his practice, has more knowledge of orach chayim and the "reid" of a few masechtos. That's nice, but hardly the definition of a talmid chacham.

    Remember always your audience. A certain strata of every society (the bottom part) will always be uneducated, attracted to charismatic leaders, happy to let others think for them. Traditionally that strata has been orthodox Jews. A certain percentage has risen above that, but they are never going to outnumber what we today call "charedim." You look back wistfully at the period of chazal because of a few statements you cherry pick, but it was no different back then, when they were called perushim.

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  3. You assume certain people have the status of "talmid chacham."

    No, I was making a kal v'chomer!

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  4. You can find it even more directly. Go look what Chazal have to say of the Torah learning of Yerav'am ben Nevat in perek Cheilek. Or of King Menashe.

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  5. You'd have to use Chazal's definition of speaking unkindly, not modern sensibilities. What if the rough terms are Talmudic? And Hazal were definitely not a very tolerant crowd. I can make a very large list of things that Chazal said that would horrify most people today
    eg Talmud states that you can stab an ignoramus even on Yom Kippur!

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  6. Brooklyn Refugee SheygitzDecember 9, 2013 at 6:15 PM

    from Vayikra Rabba
    כל תלמיד חכם שאין בו דעת, נבילה טובה הימנו

    http://etzion.org.il/vbm/archive/17-sichot/RAL-im-ein-daat-manhigut-minayan.pdf

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  7. I find it ironic that you constantly attack Rav Ovadia zt"l when he is on the record saying that Rabeinu Avraham is an acceptable approach for some. (Yabia Omer vol 10 YD #24)

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  8. Reminds me of the statement of Rav Hutner that Rav Aharon Lichtenstein quoted on the Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 1):
    כל תלמיד חכם שאין בו דעת נבלה טובה הימנו - Any talmid chacham who lacks 'da’at' is worse than a putrid animal carcass!

    According to R. Lichtenstein, R. Hutner said: “Did you hear this? ‘Any talmid chacham who lacks da’at.’ Consider this - we are not discussing an ignoramus who lacks da’at, but rather specifically a talmid chacham. A talmid chacham, who has 'filled his belly' with Talmud and the responsa literature, who is an expert in the 'Ketzot HaChoshen' and 'Netivot HaMishpat'. But if he lacks da’at which can direct and guide him so that he will act with understanding towards others, and interact with them in a civil fashion, he is worse than a putrid animal carcass.” (http://www.aishdas.org/avodah/faxes/daatTorahLichtenstein.pdf)

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  9. "And Hazal were definitely not a very tolerant crowd. I can make a very large list of things that Chazal said that would horrify most people today."

    Yes, indeed. And not just upon social issues like homosexuals and feminism [which, despite loud noises from the left, remain contentious.] We are talking about basic questions of honesty and morality. There are things chazal did that you yourself would never do, and would never permit your children to do.

    That's why I'm pretty sure articles like R. Wein's will not result in anything, as good as it is. Because rather than be nuanced, we've taken the easier approach of saying EVERYTHING in the Talmud is our gold standard. Thus, all the tricks of getting around the tax collector, all the questionable business deals, all the scorn for "the other" - it's all part of us. And since the other extreme, of rejecting the Talmud in toto, is unpalatable, we are left with both the good and the bad, and no one can try to distinguish without being labeled conservative. This is simply not going to change.

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  10. "I find it ironic that you constantly attack Rav Ovadia zt"l when he is on the record saying that Rabeinu Avraham is an acceptable approach for some. (Yabia Omer vol 10 YD #24)"

    Mr. Yabia Omer, I find it doubly ironic that having acknowledged the validity of Rabbeinu Avraham's approach, Rabbi Ovadia is also on record banning Rabbi Slifkin’s books because "they are full of heresy, falsification of the words of our Sages … and contempt for the fundamentals of faith …"
    (http://www.zootorah.com/controversy/ROY%20Letter.jpg)

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  11. Yechavh Da'at and Yabia Omer,

    I find it ironic that we are supposed to be impressed that Rav Ovadya said Rabbeinu Avraham's approach is legitimate. No one doubted it was legitimate until Rabbi Meiselman's book. It still is printed in almost all editions og Ein Yaakov and Rav Shmuel Hanagid's statement regarding Aggadah is still printed in almost all editions of Shas.

    Gershon Picklers,

    Right on!

    Rabbi Slifkin,

    More power to you!

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  12. Tone, Rabbi Slifkin, tone!

    In an article about how Torah scholars should be nice, you say "I mean someone that Chazal themselves would consider a Torah scholar. Which is presumably, according to many people, someone leagues above the Gedolei Torah of today."

    What's with that? For a moment I thought it was a joke.

    You have interesting things to say, but you are too combative. Your tone makes people mad, and your message is lost.

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  13. You entirely misunderstood me (although it was my fault for not being clear). What I meant was that according to charedim who believe in an extreme form of yeridas hadoros, the talmidei chachamim of Chazal's time were many orders of magnitude greater than even the very great Torah scholars of today,

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  14. To 'There You Go Again': Of how many contemporary 'gedolei Torah' can it be said שואלין אותו דבר הלכה בכל מקום ואומר, ואפילו במסכת כלה - that he has complete mastery of every nook and cranny of Torah to render halachic decisions on demand? It is not disrespectful, in tone or in substance, to acknowledge the reality that precious few if any of the people considered 'gedolei Torah' by today's standards would qualify as talmidei chachamim according to Chazal's standards.

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  15. I've posted something similar before but I think it's worthy repeating that, to Haredim, it doesn't matter what Chazal said: Haredim don't follow Chazal, nor do they believe in the "descent of the generations" - they only purport to. The reality is that, for them, Torah interpretation starts and stops with contemporary Haredi gedolim. Any conflicting opinions are disregarded and/or reinterpreted (nonsensically). Haredism is a subculture that defines itself on not being part of the outside world, which they define as toxic. This, in turn, serves as a form of self-empowerment for them. Their problem is emotional - not intellectual - which is why these and other reasonable arguments have little effect. Notwithstanding, great post Rabbi Slifkin!

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  16. I have unfortunately been several times in the very awkward position of having to defend R' Ovadiah's provocative comments to members of the general public.

    He was truly a Talmid Chacham of the very highest order, ranking with the Mechaber himself, his work will influence the Jewish People forever.

    But he still caused people to say, "How does a Talmid Chacham say something that nasty?!"

    Then again, given certain statements in the Talmud, I'm sure they used to say that about R' Eliezer HaGadol...

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  17. As far as I know, Chazal held a view that great Torah scholar must be a very righteous man - otherwise he could not succeed in his learning. I am looking for an exact citation.

    Unfortunately... for my great regret... no words to express how much am I sad from that... I believe it is not relevant for our generations. That were said when the Torah learning was strictly voluntary. If one does not love the Lord and His Torah enough, he will not find a strengh to learn Torah too much, it does not worth enough to him to learn; therefore if he did learn he definitely does love the Lord and His Torah. Now, when the Torah learning became profession, the success in the learning does not prove anything. It's now like any other intellectual profession - if one is great dental surgeon, does it mean he is also righteous and never makes unnecessary holes in your teeth?

    Now, in the best case, if one is Gadol it proves he is talented more than others. Don't expect too much from him.

    This is a site of my friend dedicated to this and similar issues, I suggest everyone to have a look at it:
    http://milhemet-tora.blogspot.co.il/

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  18. As usual HaZaL is quoted out of context. The question is of hillul HaShem. R' Yochanan thought walking four amot without learning Torah or wearing tefillin is that, which makes ALL orthodox males hillul HaShem.
    However, the quoted Baraita is simply an ILLUSTRATION of what happens when the person looses their good reputation! And, a reputation is formed by the apparent impressions of others, which may or may not be true. For example a very learned person may do something which is completely in accordance with the Torah, but an person observing him who is not as learned may misinterpret this completely and spread a rumour to that effect, ruining reputation. For this reason the Baraita is preceded by the statement that one is hillul HaShem when his friends are embarassed because of his behaviour. And the answer is "May his Master forgive that person". Why? Because embarrassment is like killing someone. Can one gain atonement (we are in Yoma!) for mass embarrassment?
    So Baraita gives a definite ADVICE - one should read, learn and serve Torah scholars. And when does one start to read? At the age of 5. When does one learn? At the age of 10. When can one serve scholars? When he has learned mitzvot starting from the age 13, so at 16 he is able to SERVE, i.e. be an eved rav, just like Moshe Rabbeinu was eved HaShem. And why is this? Because when time comes to marry, he will be allowed to marry based on his REPUTATION, not good looks or wealth, because good looks or wealth can be lost, but reputation is sort of permanent.
    Now look at the preceding Mishnayot. 82a talks about a child followed by a pregnant woman followed on 83a by a man seized by bulmos. Bulmos is a desease caused by hunger. And who is usually hungry? Poor people. And who is a poor person in the eyes of HaZaL? You need to go to the first daf of Berakhot to find out. If you find the answer to who is a poor man mentioned there, you will see that ONLY a talmid hakham in the HaZaL mould could have a good reputation through the lifestyle he adopts. Since most rabbis today, and indeed for the past 1,500 years have NOT lived that lifestyle, I would agree that no rabbi could claim to be on the same level as envisaged by HaZaL.

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  19. As usual HaZaL is quoted out of context. The question is of hillul HaShem. R' Yochanan thought walking four amot without learning Torah or wearing tefillin is that, which makes ALL orthodox males hillul HaShem.
    However, the quoted Baraita is simply an ILLUSTRATION of what happens when the person looses their good reputation! And, a reputation is formed by the apparent impressions of others, which may or may not be true. For example a very learned person may do something which is completely in accordance with the Torah, but an person observing him who is not as learned may misinterpret this completely and spread a rumour to that effect, ruining reputation. For this reason the Baraita is preceded by the statement that one is hillul HaShem when his friends are embarassed because of his behaviour. And the answer is "May his Master forgive that person". Why? Because embarrassment is like killing someone. Can one gain atonement (we are in Yoma!) for mass embarrassment?
    So Baraita gives a definite ADVICE - one should read, learn and serve Torah scholars. And when does one start to read? At the age of 5. When does one learn? At the age of 10. When can one serve scholars? When he has learned mitzvot starting from the age 13, so at 16 he is able to SERVE, i.e. be an eved rav, just like Moshe Rabbeinu was eved HaShem. And why is this? Because when time comes to marry, he will be allowed to marry based on his REPUTATION, not good looks or wealth, because good looks or wealth can be lost, but reputation is sort of permanent.
    Now look at the preceding Mishnayot. 82a talks about a child followed by a pregnant woman followed on 83a by a man seized by bulmos. Bulmos is a desease caused by hunger. And who is usually hungry? Poor people. And who is a poor person in the eyes of HaZaL? You need to go to the first daf of Berakhot to find out. If you find the answer to who is a poor man mentioned there, you will see that ONLY a talmid hakham in the HaZaL mould could have a good reputation through the lifestyle he adopts. Since most rabbis today, and indeed for the past 1,500 years have NOT lived that lifestyle, I would agree that no rabbi could claim to be on the same level as envisaged by HaZaL.

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  20. It is not disrespectful, in tone or in substance, to acknowledge the reality that precious few if any of the people considered 'gedolei Torah' by today's standards would qualify as talmidei chachamim according to Chazal's standards.

    Wow, I guess I was really unclear. My point was not at all that people considered 'gedolei Torah' by today's standards would not qualify as talmidei chachamim according to Chazal's standards. My point was that even those who qualify as talmidei chachamim according to Chazal, can still have serious character flaws.

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  21. "Chazal said it straight. They tell us here that it is perfectly possible to have a Torah scholar who is not honest in his dealings and does not speak kindly to others..."

    Ha! An obvious forgery.

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  22. "It seems clear that a great Torah scholar who is not honest in his dealings and does not speak kindly to others is creating a chillul Hashem. And Chazal say that when there is a chillul Hashem, one does not apportion honor to a Rav."

    From the gemara in Yoma you conclude that it is permissible to say about a Talmid Chacham that his ways are ugly. Then you bring the above quote as additional proof. However, this is an incorrect understanding of the gemara quoted above. This gemara is referring to a situation in which a chillul Hashem is taking place in the presence of a talmid chacham. Out of respect for the talmid chacham, the other people present would normally have to defer to him as to how to proceed. However, in the case of a chillul Hashem, they do not have to wait for him to rule.

    The proof of the gemara is the Pinchas did not wait for Moshe Rabeinu to rule on Zimri's act with Kazbi bas Tzur, but rather acted immediately.

    The two gemaras are totally unrelated.

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  23. BTW, I did not ch"v intend to suggest that R' Ovadiah did not deal kindly with others on a personal level.

    My understanding is that his harsh statements were aimed at his specific audience; he would have judged that to fail to make them would cause greater harm. That is, that the cause of the Torah is advanced due to those comments, and if someone misunderstands or disagrees, that does not constitute a Chillul Hashem.

    But it was still awkward to have to defend that ... From how people who wish to love and honor our tradition perceived it, it was a Chillul Hashem.

    Chazal also said, "chachamim tizaharu b'divreichem"

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  24. It seems to me that HaZaL in the Baraita is saying that the making of a chakham is a process that starts in childhood, and the deviation from the desired model is very traceable. In a modern sense its a psychoanalytical Baraita. For a person to mend his personality, he needs to experience a journey into his past to identify where he had gone wrong, sometimes as early as early childhood.
    Present-day rabbis are in my experience above such a level of self-critical analysis.

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  25. "There is likewise an assumption that if someone is a great Torah scholar, then they must also be tremendously great in character. It would be unthinkable to speak of such a person having serious personality flaws."

    Stop slandering straw!

    It is most certainly accepted in the Chareidi community that everyone has free-choice at any level. Everyone knows about Yerav'am ben Nevat, Acher ( and others will even mention RYBS).

    But what the assumption is in the Chareidi community is that being a Talmud Chacham is highly synchronous with Yirat Shamayim. This is actually supported by the Chazal you are quoting. The implication is Torah should better ones character. Also, as you were once part of the Yeshiva world, you surely know that the Chafetz Chaim is widely quoted saying that this Chazl is not referring to an actual Talmd Chacham, but to any Yeshivah Bochur (in his times at least) has that status to outside world. This is also the implication of "woe to his rabbi", if we were referring to a "a great Torah scholar", there would be no reason to refer to his "rabbi," a direct reference would be sufficient.

    The Chazals about how Torah perfects ones character are legion, I'm not sure what you want.

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  26. I'm not so sure the Gemara quoted is dealing with a Talmid Chacham--it says שיהא קורא ושונה ומשמש ת"ח.
    That's more like someone who is just Torah-literate, not necessarily a Talmid Chacham-- that is more someone who is qualified to give a halachic ruling on any question posed.

    That is, even just a Torah-literate person, who has learned Tanach and mishnayos, must be careful that his behavior can be a reflection on the value of Torah study in general.

    To paraphrase what gh500 said, a person should consider himself a talmid chacham l'chumrah--he shouldn't absolve himself from having exemplary behavior, on the grounds that he's not a talmid chacham.

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  27. I'm sorry I misunderstood you, Rabbi Slifkin.

    I once heard a kiruv rabbi say something I found very memorable: "The most effective kiruv comes from being a happy Jew." That stuck with me.

    I think you have an important message to convey, your own personal kiruv mission. And I think the best way to convey it is to be happy. Don't pick fights. Don't get pulled into feuds (R. Meiselman, etc.). Don't be angry. Stick with your message.

    I think you're doing a good job.

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  28. R Slifkin, can you please defend your blatant ASSERTION that the gemara is talking about a Talmid Chacham? Your entire point rests on this ASSUMPTION.
    In addition it would be nice if you could respond to the people who explain how you have used the gemara out of context.
    To simply quote a gemara to support an idea you like without doing the requisite work necessary to understand exactly what their point was is reckless.

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  29. "Assumption"? It's right there in the text!

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  30. שיהא שם שמים מתאהב על ידך שיהא קורא ושונה ומשמש ת''ח ויהא משאו ומתנו בנחת עם הבריות מה הבריות אומרות עליו וכו'
    אבל מי שקורא ושונה ומשמש ת''ח ואין משאו ומתנו באמונה וכו'


    Where does it say we are discussing a "talmid chacham"!? We are discussing people in general.

    Soncino Translation:
    Abaye explained: As it was taught: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God,19
    i.e., that the Name of Heaven be beloved because of you. if someone studies Scripture and Mishnah,
    and attends on the disciples of the wise, is honest in business,20 and speaks pleasantly to persons,
    what do people then say concerning him? ‘Happy the father who taught him Torah, happy the
    teacher who taught him Torah; woe unto people who have not studied the Torah; for this man has
    studied the Torah look how fine his ways are, how righteous his deeds! . Of him does Scripture say:
    And He said unto me: Thou art My servant, Israel, in, whom I will be glorified.21 But if someone
    studies Scripture and Mishnah, attends on the disciples of the wise, but is dishonest in business, and
    discourteous in his relations with people, what do people say about him? ‘ Woe unto him who
    studied the Torah, woe unto his father who taught him Torah; woe unto his teacher who taught him
    Torah!’ This man studied the Torah: Look, how corrupt are his deeds, how ugly his ways; of him
    Scripture says: In that men said of them,: These are the people of the Lord, and are gone forth out of
    His land.22

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  31. You are absolutely correct.

    I was relying on the RCA translation (which, looking around on Google, it appears that they might have gotten from others). Indeed, the text of the Gemara is not referring to a talmid chacham. I should have checked it myself rather than relying on them. My sincere apologies.

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  32. It makes sense to assume that they would be accurate in their translation.
    Thank you for being straight, yasher koach.

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