Friday, April 18, 2014

Accepting Charedi Gedolim As They Are

I am a big believer in accepting charedi gedolim's positions. In fact, I am a much bigger believer in this than many people in the charedi community.

I'm not talking about accepting their positions as binding on me; after all, there is no reason, halachic or otherwise, for me to do so. Rather, I am talking about accepting that gedolim have certain positions, even if it's uncomfortable to acknowledge it.

When the first ban against my books came out, many people, including myself, were flabbergasted to see the letter by Rav Yitzchok Sheiner. He cursed me for my belief that the world is millions (actually, billions) of years old. What?! We all thought that this was something that had been settled years ago. As one extremely chareidi Rav said to me that day in astonishment, "Aren't there about twenty different terutzim for that?" Rav Aharon Feldman, who called me from Baltimore to offer chizzuk, was likewise astonished. "Rav Sheiner said that?" he asked me, after I read it out to him. "But he's a very wise man!" he said in surprise. He found it hard to believe that Rav Sheiner had written that. But indeed he had.

For many people, it was simply too hard to accept that the charedi gedolim deemed such a basic fact to be heresy. It meant that either gedolei Torah were not what they believed them to be, or that they themselves had heretical views - both of which were too disturbing. Much easier was to convince oneself that their objection were specifically to my books - the nebulous problem with the "tone."

Yet the charedi gedolim, most of whom did not read any of my books and were not in a position to evaluate the "tone," were very clear about their objections. As noted above, Rav Sheiner considered it absolutely unacceptable to believe that the world is billions of years old. At an EJF conference, Rav Nochum Eisenstein reported that Rav Elyashiv holds that any person who believes the world to be older than 5768 years is kofer b’ikur. Even if Eisenstein is not the most reliable person, I don't think that there can be any question that Rav Elyashiv strongly opposed such a view. The same goes for Rav Chaim Kanievsky, who is reported as saying that someone who believes the world to be millions of years old may not be accepted as a convert. And even Rav Moshe Feinstein ztz"l writes about how modern science textbooks have heretical statements about the development of the universe. There's no doubt that the vast majority of Charedi gedolim are of the view that belief in an ancient universe is, at best, deeply wrong both factually and theologically, and at worst, heretical. But for many people, it was extremely difficult to accept that they actually hold this view.

I wrote the above words in a post several years ago, but I was reminded of all this in the response to yesterday's post. Yesterday, I quoted a story that I heard from Rabbi Shlomo Riskin about his meeting with Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, in which Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel explained why the Mir Yeshivah refuses to say any form of prayer for the IDF. The response to my post was fascinating - many people flat-out denied that the story could be true. But why? Their reason was that Rav Finkel's given reason for not saying the prayer seemed very offensive, and inconsistent with the wonderful reputation that he had. Hence, the story could not be true.

Now, it is certainly possible that the story is not true - after all, it happened quite a few years ago, and human memory is a fragile thing. However, there is no reason to presume that it is false.

It is an undeniable fact that the vast majority of charedi shuls and yeshivos do not pray for the IDF. Not only will they not recite the Zionist prayer, but they will not say any form of prayer or even recite Tehillim for them, as they do for helping sick gedolim, getting yeshivah students out of Japanese prisons, winning the Beit Shemesh elections, or annulling the decree of the draft. This is true not only during "normal" times, when soldiers are nevertheless putting their lives on the line for us every day, but even in times of particular danger for soldiers, such as during the Jenin campaign.

This fact is very discomforting for a lot of people, but it is nonetheless true. Even people who are not charedi often have a favorite fuzzy charedi rav, maybe their son's Rosh Yeshivah or something like that. Deep down, these people presume that deep down, that charedi Rav has the same outlook as them. But whether it's with regard to the age of the universe or praying for the IDF, they don't.

There are a few explanations given as to why charedi yeshivos and shuls will not pray or say Tehillim for the IDF. Some are silly, some are offensive, and some are both. But there is no reason that will sound remotely acceptable to non-charedim. If there was, you can be sure that rabbis Shafran, Hoffman, Rosenblum and Menken would have articulated them long ago.

It's uncomfortable for people to accept that a beloved Rav such as Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel had an offensive approach. But it is an undeniable fact that his yeshivah does not pray for the IDF. The particular explanation given by Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel in the story is no more silly or offensive than any other - in fact, it is slightly less so. If people do not accept it, this says more about their discomfort in accepting the realities of the charedi world then about the veracity of the story.

(See too this post: And Man Made Godolim In His Image)


  1. Recent discussions about seemingly radical statements that are hard for many of us to understand lead me to the question about whether those making these statements really believe what they are saying, or is it really for "internal consumption". For instance, the Mussar Shmuess that Shlomo Zalman brought in the previous thread in which it is forbidden to pray for non-religious soldiers because the Torah supposedly tells us that there is no spiritual value in what they do and being "reshaim" they are not entitled to any spiritual support from the religious community seems to contradict the basic message of the Torah and TANACH. (Yes, I am aware that people would say that I am not qualified to say what the message of the Torah is, but since there is an obligation to read it publicly on a regular basis, I am going to assume that it has a message that a simple Jew can understand). Now, given that this was a mussar talk, is it possible that the Rav who said it would say to us PRIVATELY , "yes, you are right, but I have to say this in order to prevent the 'yeshivaleit' from abandoning the beit midrash, since the temptations to leave are so overwhelming...thus we have to 'stretch the truth' in order to get them to do the right thing." I was once told that is permitted to say an untruth in order to get someone to do the right thing - in fact this might be in the Talmud itself (please someone correct me if I am wrong). This could be the reason for the stories that have appeared here where some rav is listed as signing a petition banning someone or something and then when asked about it he has said he didn't know anything about it. The one who put his name there could justify this falsehood to himself by saying that it is a most meritorious act to put this herem through so it is permitted to put famous rabbanim's names there.
    Is this what we are witnessing in all these statements that we find very discomfiting? If it is permitted to spread false statements for a "good cause", then we are adopting the policy of "the ends justify the means" which I thought the Torah opposed. If a whole climate of falsehood becomes accepted, won't that erode the whold basis of mutual trust between people that a healthy society needs? What does TORAT EMET mean if it is permitted to spread falsehoods?

    1. Dear YBD,
      Small qualifier before Shabbat. Nowhere in the shmuess does Rav Weintraub distinguish between religious and non-religious soldiers. The stream of the shmuess is that being a soldier is a psul, an automatic disqualifier. The prohibition on saying tehillim for soldiers was all inclusive.

    2. Pretty ironic that the first. Comment on this blogpost is a lengthy exposition giving creative reasons for why what the gedolim say is not truly representative of their views.

    3. Actually, reading the Shmuess ( he says that when davening for a yeshua, we leave the methods up to Hashem entirely, and simply cry out for a yeshua. We don't have the arrogance to say "save us in a way that leaves soldier A, B, C" alive (p2).

      He then goes on to argue that the view of "soldiers being moser nefesh for the learners" implies that it is through the koach of the soldier, not the koach of Torah, that the Jews will prevail, and therefore that fundamentally contradicts our requirement of emunah baTorah.

      He further says that "of course it's true that we need a yeshua and it's permissible to pray that people return alive" and that even if the state is a state of rishus the chayalim have a status of Tinokos SheNishbu and that they deserve hatzalah and there's no question about this - but that b'nei yeshiva shouldn't be entering into a "partnership" with them and declaring the service of soldiers equivalent to the service of b'nei yeshiva.

      There's a lot to take issue with in that Shmuess - but he clearly was not saying that it was prohibited to say tehillim for soldiers or that soldiers were Pasul.

      I urge anyone who has read these posts to read the whole Shmuess for yourselves rather than accepting what turns out to be motzi shem ra about Rav Weintraub. There is more than enough to argue about without falsely representing Chareidi viewpoints, and we should make certain our approach is always based on ahavat yisrael, not sinat chinam.

  2. I recall that when I commented on this blog some years ago about Rav Riskin's experiences with cherem in the pre-internet age, regarding Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach zt"l and Rav Elyashiv zt"l (where the latter hung up the phone on him when he asked why he had been condemned despite Rav Elyashiv's never having met him), there were also people then who who quick to cast doubt on the accuracy of the story.

  3. Does your acceptance of the chareidi gdoilim recognize that they have any authority in Judaism, or would you say that they are not really any different from Christians or Moslems trying to interpret the Bible? I heard a rabbi explaining that a person is able to see because a ray of light comes out of his eye and the audience loved it. If they think the world is is created and a kezais is half an egg, and child molesters should not be reported, and the laws of the society should be ignored, etc... Why should we take seriously their opinion on any halacha ? You certainly show them to be dishonest, petty ignoramus .

  4. Hareidim pray every day for the safety of Israeli soldiers at the same time they pray for the safety of all Jews in Israel.

    Stop perpetrating this red herring against Hareidim.

    There is no more reason to make a "special" prayer for soldiers than to make one for all Jews in Israel who are in danger of terror.

    Another untruth is that Hareidim don't specially pray for those in danger during special times of danger, such as in times of war. They DO make special prayers during those times.

    1. Please send me your address, I'll mail you the red herring. It's in Yeshivish Hebrew of course, I assume that's not a problem.

    2. By your logic, there should be no mi sheberach for refuah for specific cholim - they all should be subsumed in the general tefila of Refaenu.

  5. why are people so shocked by what Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel has reported said? We have heard much more shocking things from gedolem like the Holocaust was because of the Zionist or secular Jews.

    this is mild by comparison

  6. Rabbi Finkel is both the son and son in law of the Mirrer Roshei yeshiva family. (You know, R Beinish Finkel, R Leizer Yehuda Finkel, etc.)

    Rabbi Scheiner is the son in law of R. Moshe Bernstein, himself the son in law of R. Baruch Ber Leibowitz, of the Kaminetz Yeshivah.

    Rabbi Elysahiv was the son in law of the famous R. Aryeh Levin.

    WAKE UP, all you holy zealots rushing to defend "kovod hatorah." The entirety of the yeshivah world (the world of the "Gedolim") is all built on intermarriage and connections. It has NOTHING, repeat, NOTHING, to do with one's ability or scholarship. You may be a scholar, as at least one of the aforementioned was. Or you may not. But to express shock or disbelief that "Gedolim" can say stupid things is absurd. As somebody else said, the definition of a godol is someone who finds himself in control of a yeshivah or a chassidus, regardless of how he got there. There are tens of thousands of Jews walking around out there who either know more or are better human beings than "Gedolim." Go look up the list of the current Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah. I recognize 90% of them as sons or sons in law of roshei yeshivahs or rebbes. For all I know the number is higher.

    Are there exceptions? Of course. But in 999 out of 1000 cases, you can be the greatest talmid chocham in the world, and the finest example of manhood to ever walk down the street. But if your father's an accountant and your father in law's works for the social security office, you're never getting into the club of Gedolim, and no one will pay Artscroll to write a book about you. You don't have daas torah, no matter how much you know, unless you married or were born into the right family. Then, all you have to do is stay in "learning", and eventually you too, will be considered a godol.

    1. Alas the above is true. If you are looking for a yeshiva head who is a talmid chacham look for a son-in-law who got the shidduch for learning ability, not yichus or money.

    2. Apparently it does not occur to you that one must be distinguish learner and possess fine middos to become a son-in-law of a Gadol. For example, HaRav Eliashev zt”l all his life was waking up at 3 o’clock at night to begin his daily Torah study. And he became the leader of Ashkenazi Jewry only when he was around 80 years old. It worse checking facts before saying motzi shem ra.

    3. "Rabbi Finkel is both the son and son in law of the Mirrer Roshei yeshiva family."

      Sorry, wrong again.

      "Go look up the list of the current Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah. I recognize 90% of them as sons or sons in law of roshei yeshivahs or rebbes. For all I know the number is higher."

      Good idea. I don't have anything current but a letter from 10 Adar 5770 was signed by:
      Rabbi Simcha Bunim Ehrenfeld
      Rabbi Yitzchok Feigelstock
      Rabbi Dovid Feinstein
      Rabbi Aharon Feldman
      Rabbi Yosef Harari-Raful
      Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky
      Rabbi Aryeh Malkiel Kotler
      Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Levin
      Rabbi Yaakov Perlow
      Rabbi Aaron Schechter
      5 out of 10 are neither sons nor sons in law of Roshei Yeshiva or Rebbes. Another 2 happen to be sons of Roshei Yeshiva/Rebbes but did not inherit their positions.

      The elder Rosh Yeshiva in Israel, R Steinman, has no power yichus. RCK and RSA were left no position from their fathers (in law).

      That's a far cry from 90%. It's a pity that if you have legitimate points you bury them under a pile of wild errors.

    4. Yerachmiel: Or, better yet, look for one who isn't a son-in-law AT ALL. Why is this so difficult to grasp? YU has 34 roshei yeshiva. R' Lichtenstein is a son-in-law of R' Soloveitchik and R' Twersky is a grandson. The fathers of about four (R' Schachter, R' Rosensweig, R' Miller, R' Shulman) taught at YU in some capacity, and another four (R' Tendler, R' Goldvicht, R' Charlop, R' Blau) are connected to major rabbinic families. That leaves 24 major talmidei chachamim with little to no yichus whatsoever, which sounds pretty good to me.

      Lazar: I'm an Ashkenazi Jew. When did he become leader of me? (I know the answer: Taanit Esther of 1986. I remember when it happened. It's still nonsense.)

    5. a schreiber -- r elyashiv was a grandson of rav aryeh levin, not son in law (not that he ever upheld that grandfather's belief in the goodnes of ALL jews) and a grandson of another great mekubal.

      nachum -- no one claimed that YU was immune to that. however, i can say that talmidim (like me) flocked to some of these RY because of their own merits, not cause of their f-i-l's. (i highly doubt you will find that in the charedi yeshivot. i simply dont see that.) and many of those names are RY in title only, not giving shiur at all. (one RY not mentioned by you is some sort of special assistant to the president of yu. doesnt give a shiur or nothing. when i had to talk to him, i was given a runaround betweeen the RIETS office and the fourth floor (the presidents office) and never did meet him.)

      also, RMT f-i-l was a rebbi at MTA (visa requirement) (consult the official family biography in beginning of volume 8 of his shu"t for a fascinating, non artscroll biography. an excellent read.)

      RMB's f-i-l never had anything to do with yu, short of sending a son to yu / riets after the s-i-l was "mashgiach". and the f-i-l was never interested in grandsons (from the daughters side) position (witness what happened to RMB's son.) Rav G's shiur is very popular with students from his / his f-i-l's yeshiva (and the only shiur given in ivrit, another major draw) and attracts many top students to yu.

      yosaif -- you list the american moetzet. specifically designed by RAK (and reconstituted when they had to get rid of RYBS) to allow him (his successors) to control membership, activity, and admitance to meetings; in practice, some were purposely not invited to meetings, due to caprices of the chair). and you have to include top talmidim of RY who didnt have "proper" children as "yorshim". also, pulpit rabbis were specifically excluded from the american moetzet to keep it as an impractical halachic making body.

      the israeli moatzot are creatures of their respective political parties, a whole other discussion.

      RSteinman inherited the position as RY of ponevez; someone had to represent ponevez / rav schach, though admittedly, that didnt work out. RCK and RSA family had no official position to inherit, but they inherited the position of influence their family had. besides, RCK wife had yichus, and an artscroll book with two covers, one tzniyut, one not (using their convoluted definition.) and RCK (like his father) inherited his uncle's position, too.

      chag sameach, as its already yom tov in israel.

      MiMedinat HaYam

    6. No, sorry. R' Elyashiv was very much the son-in-law of R' Aryeh Levine. There are even pictures of him visiting Beit Knesset Achdut Yisrael- the Etzel/Lechi shul- with one of R' Aryeh's sons. (A grandson, the well-known Benji Levine, is the new rabbi there.) R' Kanievsky is a son-in-law of his, thuse giving him double or triple yichus.

      I didn't mean to imply that YU *wasn't* immune; I think that 32 out 34 roshei yeshiva is a very good record for non-nepotism. (I'm not saying it doesn't exist at YU, but unlike other places, Torah leadership in YU seems to have nothing to do with family, and unlike pretty much every other yeshiva, YU is not family run.)

    7. So Yoseif's defense is that ONLY 70% (by his calculation) of the American Moetzes are there because of nepotism, while Lazer's defense is that they must certainly have been good bachurim when they were 20 to become somebody's son in law [and it cannot be for any other reason] and so therefore we must accept them as Gedolei Yisrael sixty years later. That's great, guys. Brilliant.

      Go to Wikipedia, under Moetzes, current members. It has the Israeli list of members. Kimat every single of them is a rosh yeshivah's son or son in law. It's ludicrous to claim otherwise, and I wont waste time further pointing it out. if you want to worship somebody because he's the son in law of the son in law of the son in law of somebody's middle son, go right ahead. Just don't expect thinking people to follow suit.

    8. "So Yoseif's defense is that ONLY 70% (by his calculation) of the American Moetzes are there because of nepotism..."

      What a pathetic misread. As for your conspiracy theories, those die hard, and I don't spend time arguing about them. Hopefully your soft science has less holes than your hard science.

  7. I'm afraid that the logic here is not compelling. Because we are sometimes surprised by what we hear, or what we hear from Charedi Gedolim, we should turn off our filters and accept all surprising statements with little evidence?

    I'd also say that "some" were surprised by the ban on you works, but probably those were people with more Charedi backgrounds, such as yourself or Rabbi Feldman. I think that it was probably easy for many people with non-Charedi backgrounds to accept that Charedim believe these things.

    Finally, I think that the motivations here are being mis-characterized. The reason for skepticism is not that a "great man" could never have said this. It is the precise opposite: we'd like to believe that the "other side" is willing to say ridiculous things in order to discredit them. For that reason, we need to be careful about what we accept.

  8. "we should turn off our filters and accept all surprising statements with little evidence?"

    But it's not surprising! It's a FACT that the Mir doesn't pray for the soldiers. The explanation being given here is one of the more reasonable of all possible explanations.

    1. Your a liar. I was there during the war when R' Asher stopped shiur early to say tehillim for the soldiers. His speech before hand was to think of their mothers. Pure unadulterated lies. You should be ashamed of yourself.

  9. "Hareidim pray every day for the safety of Israeli soldiers at the same time they pray for the safety of all Jews in Israel."

    We pray every day for the health of the sick. So why did people say Tehillim for Rav Elyashiv when he was sick?
    We say Acheinu Bnei Yisrael. So why did people say Tehillim for the yeshivah students imprisoned in Japan?

    "Another untruth is that Hareidim don't specially pray for those in danger during special times of danger, such as in times of war. They DO make special prayers during those times."

    Only when its civilians in danger. When it's just soldiers in danger, such as during the Jenin campaign, no special prayers are recited.

  10. And even Rav Moshe Feinstein ztz"l writes about how modern science textbooks have heretical statements about the development of the universe.

    I always understood the problem with modern science textbooks in the view of Rav Moshe and others as the lack of attribution to God rather than specific content issues. You understand Rav Moshe differently?

    1. The real problem is that fundamentalist (Wahabi, Christian Fundie, Haredi, choose your poison) metaphysics and epistemology are radically incompatible with Science. You can wave your hands and make all the claims you want, backfill furiously when you have to change your position or simply call scientists heretics and silence them (with bans or bullets). The moment you claim that your sacred text or human opinion is infallible concerning natural phenomena you cannot at the same time do Science. Can't work. Won't work.

      The best you can do is carefully define non-overlapping magisteria as Rav Slifkin does. Let Science investigate the physical world and let tradition, rabbinic wisdom and Torah guide religious practice.

    2. @Dan, Moshe David is claiming that R Feinstein isn't one of those fundamentalists. You aren't addressing that.

    3. How is this a reply to what I wrote? My point was that the only thing about science that's incompatible with the Torah is the assertion that everything happened by chance. Once you assert that God is behind everything, then science simply becomes a way of understanding the method through which He did it. I thought that the objection to science textbooks is not the method that's taught but rather the assertion that everything happened by itself - the lack of attribution to a Creator.

  11. R. Slifkin: I'm more skeptical because of the source. Rabbi Riskin has done tremendous work in the Efrat community, but in his writings and speeches he tends to have anti-charedi overtones. I take anything he says of that nature with a grain of salt.
    David: Which tefillah or kapital of tehillim or misheberach are you referring to?

    1. I've heard Rabbi Riskin many times, and have never heard anti-charedi overtones. ("overtones" is a fraught word; anyone can detect anything he wants to hear.) He simply presents his own worldview. To promote your own vision is not be "anti" the other one.

      Actually, if one wants to know who a real Godol is, Rabbi Riskin would be one. An unquestioned scholar and talmid chacham. Someone who went into Russia before it was cool. Someone who built (practically) a great city in Israel. He's had a massive impact on many Jews, far far more than, say, Rabbi Sheiner. I say this as someone who disagrees with R. Riskin on quite a few of his social programs, which are too liberal for my tastes. But I can still have a great deal of respect for him, and can still learn from him.

  12. "we should turn off our filters and accept all surprising statements with little evidence?"

    But it's not surprising! It's a FACT that the Mir doesn't pray for the soldiers. The explanation being given here is one of the more reasonable of all possible explanations.

    I suppose that this is a matter of taste. It sounds to me to be one of the more ridiculous justifications and that it makes the speaker look ridiculous.

    1. While it may be a fact that there is no Prayer for soldiers, and the explanation seems good, that doesn't mean the story is true. Also, It may be slightly possible the source is biased? I agree with David that there may be some confirmation bias here.

      Also, I have been trained( as a lawyer ) to take any hearsay statements ( especially regarding people who have passed away) with a grain of salt.

  13. As i read the last two posts ( Im new to this blog ) Just wondering if some of what is being said might fall into the category of Lahson Hara or motzi shem ra?

  14. Dear Rabbi Natan,

    As an old schoolmate of yours and now settled back in Manchester, I look forward to learning more from you. Your contribution to this generation is legion, and it is a sad fact that so many people - even gedolim - have been led to make inexcusable comments and pass judgment on you - whilst refusing to meet you as the parties concerned, to even give you a chance to explain your position. The reason why the don't is in case they actually hear a cogent case supporting your case and that wouldn't suit the "oilom". Sure, the gedolim and rabbonim in the chareidi sector will insist that they are after the "emess" but somehow that "emess" manages to exclude considering what the greatest rabbis of ancient times including mekuablim have said on the matter of of creation, time, the universe, past worlds etc. You will, as was Maimonides in his time, be condemned for being who you are, but also celebrated. Half the world of rabbonim and the ages "gedolim" burned Rambam's books for five successive generations. If you haven't got there yet, it is because you are not yet as great as him :-) So keep striving with the broad, confident smile we all remember you for at MJGS and you are not alone, we are with you and thank you for your regular, inspirational addresses on this forum. Chazak, venitchzak be'ad ameinu. Ariel Abel.

  15. In a previoius post, G3 said, "I think the answer to "if one yeshiva boy goes otd I couldn't forgive myself" is "if one boy dies because your students wern't davening for him..." This was a good comment. BUT:

    The real problem, as I see it, is that the original questioner did not pose this question. Why not? Until we know what Rav Finkel might have answered, we simply cannot speculate. I am not chareidi, but I do take issue with picking on people who cannot answer back (especially if they're dead!), whether they are gedolim or not. Because we are hearing a piece of a puzzle only, and it could be there is much more that is unknown, and certainly no way to do anything but postulate (perhaps inaccurately!). My husband's rebbe was a chareidi gadol, and many of the things he said (against certain elements of chareidi life) were somewhat shocking. I have no idea if the statements were intended for our ears only, or for the klal. But taken out of context and without further elaboration, the remarks could certainly be misconstrued, for better or for worse. I would suggest that this particular topic raised by Rabbi Slifkin is treading dangerously, and serves only to provoke rather than be truly constructive. I have to say I am disappointed by R. Slifkin's tone. I think the real point should be: gedolim are not gods, they are fallible. I think chareidi society, and the world at large, is, for perhaps completely different reasons, somewhat aggrieved and despondent over the way the world is going today, and people feel helpless and vulnerable. When people feel like this, they turn to someone who can give them a sense of hope, because they think such a leader/gadol/ is better qualified to give a sense of perspective and leadership. Unfortunately, as we have seen throughout history (whether they are Jewish or not; political or religious), these leaders are often not qualified; rather it is their charisma or nepotism that makes them shine. In fact they may be downright evil in a worst-case scenarios or just inept at best. It is because the people/klal are weak, so the fault is really not with the gedolim, but with ourselves. It really isn't any different than the tremendous reliance on segulos or being afraid of an ayin hora - it becomes superstition rather than a valid aspect of religion when taken to an extreme. And think of this: when you say "I follow/hold by Rav Ploni" - you have chosen him as your posek, but HE might not have chosen YOU if it were up to him! I always kind of pity gedolim and rebbes because their "chassidim"/followers often act on behalf of what they THINK their rav would want them to do, which is often counter to reality.

    1. So, what you're saying is, the views of gedolim are not really their own but only come about due to pressure from those who follow them? This is sure getting creative but in a sort of unbelievable way. Or were you just making a general observation that wasn't related to the point of the post (ie accepting the actual views of gedolim as their own) ?

      By the way, the statements about Rabbi Slifkin during the book banning were made publicly and there is no doubt as to their intended audience, and yet people are still in denial that these are the views of those gedolim.

  16. On the subject of the Mir "party line" on prayer for soldiers of Tzahal in time of war, see "Leregel Hamatzav" in Sichot Mussar of R. Chaim Shmuelevitz, pp. 456-464 (5762 expanded addition). R. Chain seems to have considered it obligatory back in 1973.

  17. It's interesting to compare what R. Finkel is reported to have said with Rav Dessler's nonchalance at the prospect of the majority of talmidim being failed by the yeshiva system in its quest to produce 'gedolim'.

  18. I think we have to define "What Is a Gadol" and also "What Do We Want/Expect From a Gadol." And also, is the definition of "gadol" 1000 years ago vs. 200 years ago vs. today all the same, or has it evolved into something different. I think many people equate "gadol" as someone who has nevua or ruach hakodesh and that's where the problems start. Can a person be a gadol if he is not universally accepted?" Can a person whose hashkafos are dramatically different than mine be a gadol? Will a Litvak accept a chassidish person as a gadol or vice versa? A Sephardi vs. Ashkenazi? Will a non-Lubavitcher accept the Rebbe as a gadol? A chareidi vs. dati leumi? Is there an objective way of qualifying a gadol that goes way beyond "talmid chacham?"

    1. Adam from ManchesterApril 20, 2014 at 2:01 PM


    2. Can a person whose hashkafos are dramatically different than mine be a gadol?

      No way, if adhering to your personal hashkafa is a criterion of being a gadol!

  19. Brooklyn Refugee ShyegitzApril 20, 2014 at 3:44 PM

    I've been trying to post this comment for a while but for some reason the mobile phone version wasn;t working. finally got to a computer...

    I am not surprised by the comment at all. As I commented previusly, the Mir yeshiva is founded upon deep roots of selfishness and entitlemenmt. It is well documented that the Mir yeshiva refugees took double refugee funds and had what were considered "luxuries" while Jewish refugees in Shanghai not affiliated with the yeshiva went cold and hungry.
    The government of Israel has begun to release data about government support of non-for-profit organizations. The single biggest donor to the Mirrer Yeshiva each and every year is...drumroll...the State of Israel! Has the yeshiva ever honored the finance minsiter or the economic affairs minister at the annual dinner, instead of honoring some macher rich american who rpobably provided only less than 1/20 of what the government does?
    Is there a plaque to this effect ackowledging the support of the State of Israel in maintaining the existence of the Yeshiva altogether?
    No, I'm not surprised by the story at all and accept it as 100++% true.
    Even "nice" roshei yeshiva have absored the selfishness and entitlement which pervaids much of the yeshiva world.

    1. Shagetz, can you please direct me to where it's documented that they took double refugee funds?

    2. what is the %age of americans / non israelis to israelis in mir? (definition -- how many need student visas? unless someone has a better definition.)

      compare that to govt assistance per student. (not that the yeshiva cant charge as much it wants. call it the microeconomic price.) (and not that israelis dont charge more to foreigners; americans in particular. often legally.)

      if you want to put up a plaque, put it up in the name of the politicians who arranged the funding / political extortion.

    3. In Kobe all the refugees were treated well by the Japanese. No one went cold and hungry.

      In Shanghai everyone, including the Mir Yeshiva went cold and hungry.

    4. Brooklyn Refugee SheygitzApril 23, 2014 at 12:27 AM

      that is simply not true
      see here for example

      Jonathan Rosenblum really tried but his piece really has no more credibility than most arstcroll gadol biographies - including the ones written by him

    5. Mr Tokayer, in The Fugu Plan by Marvin Tokayer (any relation?) and Mary Swartz there is a detailed chapter on the 17,000 Jewish refugees in the International Zone of Shanghai. The situation was certainly different there than in Kobe, where there was only one refugee organization to look after 5,000 refugees. According to it, the Mir rabbis and students did demand special treatment as they were adamant about being able to continue their full-time studies undisturbed in their compound and away from the general Jewish population of refugees, those they called "dregs of society" and "apikores" when protesting a planned move to a different compound See pp 274, passim.


  20. I just wanted to add a few things to the discussion that I think are important for everyone to keep in mind. I haven't read all the comments to all the previous posts, so I apologize if some or all of this has been stated before. I also think that R' Slifkin included some of this in his posts. But in any case, it's probably worth repeating.

    1) As in any political debate, public arguments presented by either side are often just rhetoric and may have little to do with the true underlying motivations. Again, that's true for BOTH sides.

    2) There's a strong history of government and non-chareidi efforts to "secularize" chareidi culture. Everything that's been going on is therefore read by chareidim, leaders and lay people alike, as a possible evil attack on their lifestyle. This view of things is exacerbated because in fact some of the people involved do appear to have secularization as a motive. It is possible that the Mishpacha poll will reduce this perception. But I highly doubt it, if only because I doubt how many gedolim or chareidim on the street will ever hear about the poll.

    3) Chareidim have self-consciously separated themselves from secular society - in a sense that is the essence of what they stand for. As such, any act that is primarily done as a part of a larger society (e.g., civil service, the army, even publicly appreciating the army or government) is largely ignored. This is not necessarily even done intentionally. Chareidim simply don't consider themselves part of the larger society and it therefore doesn't even dawn on them that they should contribute to society "as members of society". Is this a lack of hakaras hatov? Probably, in a way. But chareidim can respond that by expressing hakaras hatov they'd be identifying with the larger society, which is anathema to them, and the benefits are outweighed by the risks. Now you can argue that chareidim should try to be part of the larger culture, but that's a totally different and much older conversation.

    4) Israeli culture is generally very polarized. Every issue seems to be black or white, with very little grey. This is something that Americans actually have a very hard time understanding. But one consequence of this is that in Israel, for a lot of people the feeling is that you're either all chareidi or all secular. If you tell people to go to the army or to leave the beis medrash before the absolute last minute, it can be argued that you are risking people going completely off the derech.

    5) There's of course the old "eis la'asos la'Hashem" argument that we've probably all heard about how people need to sit in the beis medrash to rebuild klall yisroel after the Holocaust. Now possibly that might have expired, but in the meantime the "everybody should sit and learn" mentality has sunk deep into the chareidi consciousness and it's extremely difficult to tell people that times have changed.

    There are also several other factors that get involved and make the issue yet more difficult for chareidim to accept, but these factors are less central in my opinion. These other factors include the fact that army is at least somewhat toxic to chareidi values, and that sending yeshiva students to jail can and will be construed by many as a severe insult to the Torah, no matter what the justification might be.

    Finally, I'd like to point to an interesting shiur on this topic by Rabbi Moshe Hauer. Rabbi Hauer learned for many years in Ner Israel and is the rav of a largely MO shul in Baltimore, MD. The shiur is long but worth it IMO. Here's the link:

    1. Iarwain-
      Your point no. 3 misses an important fact. It is not just that the Haredim don't identify with the larger society. If it was only that, there wouldn't be so much tension. The problem is that they DO actively participate in the outer society in getting financial subsidies for themselves, and they insist on controlling the Chief Rabbinate and the state Orthodox religious establishment, which they also claim they don't recognize, but which they insist on having in their hands. If they were really willing to give up their demands on the outside socieyt, give up control of the Rabbinate, then I think it would be possible for the rest of Israeli society to accept a permanent exemption from military or civilian service for them. However, as I pointed out above, I was told by a knowledgable Rav that they were indeed offered something like this 20 years ago but they rejected it.

      Regarding point 4-I don't agree that Israeli society is polarized the way you say. That may have been true up until a quarter century ago, but young Israelis are MUCH more tolerant and open-minded than their parent's generation. The new attitude is "live and let live". For example my town has a large religous minority yet there are several stores that now sell pork and other trefot and nevelot openly, which was not the case when we arrived almost 28 years ago and which generated stormy protests by the religious community when attempts were made to open such establishments. On the other hand, even though there is a secular majority, there is a religious mayor! This would have been unthinkable years ago.
      The fact is that religious DL people, many with as high a level of religous observance as Haredim are found at all levels of society and all branches of industry. Secular people are used to having religious people around and are FAR more willing to accomodate religious requirements in things like kashrut in company cafeterias, concern about Shabbat and Hagim and even organizing special social events especially for religious workers that don't want to particpate in those events with a secular atmosphere. I am sure the Haredim are aware of this so their opposition is NOT to fear of going OTD, but because they adhere to R. Shimshon Rafael Hirsch's "austritt-seperaation" ideology which prohibits granting any religious legitimacy to an individual Jew or Jewish organization (including the State of Israel) which is not Haredi., even if he or it is Orthodox/religious.

    2. Excellent sum-up if the situation.

    3. "I am sure the Haredim are aware of this so their opposition is NOT to fear of going OTD, but because they adhere to R. Shimshon Rafael Hirsch's "austritt-seperaation" ideology which prohibits granting any religious legitimacy to an individual Jew or Jewish organization (including the State of Israel) which is not Haredi., even if he or it is Orthodox/religious."

      1. The Chareidim today do NOT follow R' Hirsch, and I don't think they ever did. Those who know about him at all see his whole program as a horoas shuuh, an emergency measure necessary for kiruv in his time and place.

      2. My impression is that the old yishuv cut itself off from the rest of pre-State Jewry without any influence from R' Hirsch (I'm open to being corrected on this.)

      3. I think a careful reading of R' Hirsch will show that he only demanded that, IF POSSIBLE, a Jew should separate from an institution that has kefira or apikursis as part of its mission. When the German government granted the Frankfurt Orthodox the right to secede from the Jewish community, R' Hirsch demanded that they exercize that right, because the Reformers stood for, and promoted, kefira and apikursis.

      There is no such option to secede from the State of Israel. And even if there was, it does not appear that the State as a State stands for, and promotes, kefira and apikursis (though some who have run the State have, in the past, tried to use it to those ends.) The State never, for example, tried to bring organs into shuls, or fill in mikvaos, or ban Torah learning, as was done in some Reform-dominated kehillos in Germany.

      I don't think he ever prohibited granting religious legitimacy to an individual religious Jew; or, to a Jewish organization that disagreed with him in any other way.


  21. According to the gemara about R. Meir in chagigah 15b, the definition of a "gadol" might be one who is able to learn from all sources, including "unholy" sources, taking the good from them and continuing to follow Hashem's ways.

    Whether or not R. Slifkin qualifies, at least according to this definition he is a better model than most big ravs for those of us who hope to follow in the path of the "gadol" R. Meir.

  22. Y. Ben David---an additional point:

    Some other kehillos in Germany and Hungary did seek to follow R' Hirsch's Austritt-separate community policy. But the Gedolim and the Jews in general of Eastern Europe, and especially of Lithuania, rejected Austritt, because the non-religious in their communities--for the most part--were not trying to change Judaism; they just didn't want to be personally bound by it.

    Therefore, to blame R' Hirsch for the what the Lithuanian and other East-European-based Chareidim are doing today in Israel is probably historically inaccurate. I think that, unless you can show otherwise, you are obligated to stop repeating this in your comments.


  23. Regarding R. Shimshon Raphael Hirsch and his "austritt" policy-I do admit I am not an expert on modern Orthodox Jewish history. However, I do know that the Haredi Agudat Israel was founded in 1912 and prominent among its founders were German Orthodox Rabbis who were anti-Zionists and followers of R. Hirsch's 'austritt' philosophy. Two of the main planks of Agudah's founding policies were anti-Zionism and opposition to cooperation with Zionist and non-Orthodox Jewish bodies.
    This was brought to Eretz Israel in the 1920's and it corresponded will with the exiting views of the Old Yishuv which vehemently opposed cooperation with the Zionist bodies and harsh, very harsh opposition to Rav Kook, even though his Zionism was basically theoretical and ideological but not political (he himself belonged to Agudat Israel and did NOT belong to the Mizrachi).
    In more modern times this austritt philosophy in the US prevented Haredi cooperation with non-Orthodox Rabbinical bodies. I recall that when Natan Shcharansky was Interior Minister he tried to get Orthodox rabbis to meet with non-Orthodox rabbis in dealing with the conversion controversy and he stated that he could not get the Orthodox rabbis to even enter the same room with the non-Orthodox. Thus, wheter or not modern Haredim are conciously aware of the 'austritt' policy and ideology, in practice, they do abide by it. I think Rav Finkel's statement in addition to the Mussar Talk that explained the prohibition of praying for Israeli soldiers are very clear manifestations of "austritt"
    It has become clear to me that the austritt is the REAL reason for things like the adamant opposition for saying the Misheberach for IDF soldiers whereas arguments that is a major violation of halacha to create new misheberachs or that the "soldiers are included in general prayers for the Am Israel and it is superfluous to mention them specifically because then we would have to also say a special prayer for electrical workers, liion tamers, etc and it would take too much time".

  24. I should also add that Andy's comment that modern Haredim don't follow Rav Hirsch and view his philosophy as "hora'at Sha'ah" seems to be referring to his "Torah Im Derech Eretz" philosophy and NOT his austritt policy. The Haredim do seem to adhere strictly to his 'austritt' policy, and the proof is that Hirisch, who was much more radical in his modifications of Orthodox Jewish life (e.g. having a sermon in German in the synagogue and having a choir, in addition to advocating strong German patriotism) is accepted in the Haredi world, whereas Rav Kook, who was quite conservative in Halacha is rejected. Haredi synagogues will allow Rav Hirsch's books in them but Rav Kook's are banned. I think this proves my point.

  25. " However, I do know that the Haredi Agudat Israel was founded in 1912 and prominent among its founders were German Orthodox Rabbis who were anti-Zionists and followers of R. Hirsch's 'austritt' philosophy...."

    It was at an early Agudah convention that R' Solomon Breuer (R' Hirsch's son-in-law and successor)wanted Austritt to be implemented in Eastern Europe as well. But it was REJECTED by, I believe, R' Chaim Soloveitchik of Brisk, because the non-religious in Lithuania weren't trying to change Judaism.

    "This was brought to Eretz Israel in the 1920's and it corresponded will with the exiting views of the Old Yishuv which vehemently opposed cooperation with the Zionist bodies...."

    Is this your surmise, or is there evidence for this? Are you sure that before the 1920s, the old yishuv cooperated well with the secular Zionists??

    "In more modern times this austritt philosophy in the US prevented Haredi cooperation with non-Orthodox Rabbinical bodies."

    So you think that when R' Moshe Feinstein, R' Aharon Kotler, et. al. made this decision, they did so due to R' Hirsch's influence??? Do you have any evidence for this??

    The Chereidim accepted R' Hirsch because they saw his program as a horoas shuuh, an emergency measure being implemented in Western Europe. R' Kook was right there among them, in their faces, and there was no way to believe that R' Kook was advocating his grand vision for the future in Eretz Yisroel as a horoas shuuh.

    So you have presented no evidence of any connection, either historically, or in the philosophies behind the respective phenomena, between R' Hirsch's Austritt, and Chareidi separatism. If all you have is your surmise on this issue, are you sure it's fair to continue to present it as fact??


  26. Y. Ben-David--just to be clear on where we disagree:

    I don't disagree with you that R' Hirsch demanded separation, where possible, from institutions whose missions included changing Judaism----Reform-dominated kehillos, the Breslau Seminary (i.e. early Conservatism), etc. Chareidim obviously do as well.


    1. I don't know of any evidence that shows that this position of R' Hirsch had any substantial influence on Chareidim in America or Israel. If not for R' Hirsch, you honestly believe the Chareidim would have cooperated with Reformers and Secular Zionists, and would have joined in with Israeli society? Hard to believe.

    2. The State of Israel does not promote changing Judaism--if anything, to this point at least, it has favored the Orthodox against Conservative and Reform. There is no way to know for sure; but I think a careful reading of R' Hirsch's Austritt policy would lead one to lean toward assuming that R' Hirsch would not have applied Austritt to the State of Israel.

    3. Blaming R' Hirsch for attitudes that frown on praying for soldiers, etc.----I think you might consider going to R' Hirsch's grave and begging for forgiveness for writing this.


    1. I am not sure what your point is. All I am saying is that it was the German Orthodox separatists who gave a legal-ideological basis for the austritt policy, and that Agudat Israel formally adopted it due to the crucial influence of R. Hirsch's successors who were a driving force in setting up the Agudah. It is irrelevant today whether modern Haredi advocates of separation are aware of R. Hirsch's influence. The fact is that SEPARATION became the main basis of many of the followers of this philosophy, even more important that the Torah itself. I will give you an example. This is from the book "Adass Yeshurun of Cologne" by Rabbi Alexander Carlebach, written in the 1960's. He states that after World War I there was a influx of Polish Jews to Cologne who wanted to join the separatist Adass Yeshurun congregation, but you could not join the shul if you were a member of the Gemeinde-general community and this was financially advantageous for these immigrants since the Gemeinde community was larger and had greater financial resources available. The Rabbi of Adass Yeshurun wanted to end this policy but he was blocked by the majority of members WHO WERE NOT RELIGIOUS AND DID NOT ATTEND THE SHUL but who had inherited membership from their parents. For these people, separation was all that was left of their Judaism. Thus, separation and anti-Zionism are more important than Torah itself for some people. R. Hirsch's grandson, Dr Yitzhak Breuer wrote about these anomalies, drew the appropriate conclusions and became a Zionist.
      Apparently, you view refusing to pray for soldiers as being a negative phenomenon yet we see a very prominent Rav indeed held this position. I don't know how R. Hirsch would view this, but it is very possible he would agree, it is certainly in line with the austritt philosophy.

  27. "Agudat Israel formally adopted it due to the crucial influence of R. Hirsch's successors who were a driving force in setting up the Agudah."

    Per the lecture I attended, which was given by a history professor, Austritt was NOT adopted by Eastern Europeans. And I believe that, in fact, there were relatively few (or maybe no) separate Orthodox communities in Eastern European cities and towns. Can you name a substantial number of separate Orthodox communities in Eastern European cities? If not, then if you are a responsible person, you will stop repeating this.

    "I will give you an example. This is from the book "Adass Yeshurun of Cologne" by Rabbi Alexander Carlebach, written in the 1960's. He states that after World War I there was a influx of Polish Jews..."

    This story is just one more example of idiocy that has been committed by foolish people in the name of all types of principles---good and bad. Would you renounce Religious Zionism because of some of the idiotic things that extreme Religious Zionists have done? (No need for me to enumerate these, I hope.)

    "Apparently, you view refusing to pray for soldiers as being a negative phenomenon yet we see a very prominent Rav indeed held this position. I don't know how R. Hirsch would view this, but it is very possible he would agree, it is certainly in line with the austritt philosophy."

    How much of R' Hirsch's writings have you read? I have read a substantial amount. A significant repeated theme in his writings are meditations, almost prayers, for the spiritual and physical well-being of all Jews (and sometimes mankind in general), regardless of affiliation. He and his true followers only believed in separation as regards Torah-true ideology. In fact I think I remember reading that he cooperated with Reform elements when it came to sending relief to Jewish victims of pogroms. So unless you have evidence to the contrary, if you are a responsible person, you will stop repeating this.

    "I am not sure what your point is..."

    Here is my point: you have presented NO evidence that:

    a. Chareidi separatism was substantially influenced by R' Hirsch's Austritt policy.
    b. R' Hirsch would have applied Austritt to the State of Israel (similar to Chareidim who try to separate from the State.)
    c. R' Hirsch would not pray for soldiers.

    Please either provide evidence, or maintain your credibility and stop repeating these ideas as fact.


    1. Andy-
      We seem to be going in circles here, but I will add one final comment. The austritt-separation policy contains two different aspects which you have merged into one. First of all, there is formal, legal separation of the Haredi community from the general Jewish community. This indeed happened in Germany and caused many problems over the decades it existed. I don't know if it has been proven that this, in itself, "saved" German Orthodox Jewry, because many German Orthodox leaders and Rabbis opposed it. You are quite right that Eastern European Haredi Rabbis opposed it. However, there is a second aspect which is the deligitimization of non-Haredi Jewish religious (Orthodox and non-Orthodox) and civil groups. Agudat Israel and mainline Haredim today in Israel do not practice the formal, legal separation from the State of Israel, unlike the Eda Haredit which does (it is estimated that they comprise about 10% of the Haredi population rejecting any identification with the state and its symbols and opposing voting in elections). However, the mainline Haredim do practice the second, rejecting any recognition of non-Haredi forms of Judaism, including Orthodox (e.g. Religious Zionism). Thus, as I understand it, sefarim from RZ writers and thinkers, such as Rav Kook or the Tehumin series on Halacha are not permitted in Haredi synagoges, schools and yeshivot (please correct me if I am wrong!). In addition there is the annual discussion of whether to be seen to be participating in things like standing in silence during the memorial sirens on Yom HaShaoh and IDF Yom HaZikaron (Memorial day). In the UK this spearation policy was reflected in the refusal of Haredi elements to participate in the pan-Jewish "Limmud" gathering. Here we see that separation is considered more important than bringing the Haredi view of Torah and Judaism to possibly thousands of people who had never been exposed to it previously.
      Thus, I stand by what I stated was R. Hirsch who began the formal policy of austritt which is more or less accepted by all Haredim today, in at least the second, non-legal aspect, if not the formal disassociation from the state of Israel.

  28. 1. If there was a storm in California on Sunday, and it rained in New York on Friday, does this mean that the storm in California caused the rain in New York?

    Maybe. But you would need evidence that one caused the other. Just pointing out that we have separation policies in two distinct times and places does not mean that one caused the other. Your anecdotes are interesting, but none show this causality.

    2. Orthodoxy sees G-d as the giver of the Torah, and His mitsvos as eternal. Even those Orthodox who were against Austritt did not consider Reform a valid form of Judaism, and separated from Reform-dominated institutions: shuls, schools, butchers, chevra kadisha etc. etc. because Reform changed, and even deleted, mitsvos.

    They only argued that in places where Reformers were willing to provide separate, Orthodox-run institutions (which, ironically, Reformers did due to the R' Hirsch-provided threat that the Orthodox would secede), that they should remain one community in the eyes of the State, i.e. as regards community finances and taxes.

    You have presented no evidence that: a. Chareidi separatism was substantially influenced by R' Hirsch's Austritt policy. b. R' Hirsch would have applied Austritt to the State of Israel (similar to Chareidim who try to separate from the State.) c. R' Hirsch would not pray for soldiers.

    Therefore, I ask that you show integrity and stop presenting any of these three ideas as fact.



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Unhealthy Obsession or Valuable Critique?

The comments section on the previous post turned in an unexpected direction, with several people arguing that I have a mental health problem...