Saturday, September 16, 2017

Daas Torah is in the Eye of the Beholder

I was deeply distressed to discover recently that someone that I used to know is suffering from a very serious illness. It was further told to me that the person has to make a choice between two radically different courses of action to deal with this illness. It's a very difficult decision to make, with significant pros and cons on each side. So the person has decided to ask Rav Chaim Kanievsky.

Rav Chaim Kanievsky is 89 years old. He has spent virtually his whole life insulated from the outside world. He is a selfless person who has dedicated his entire life to the study of Torah (apart from a very brief period during the War of Independence when he served on guard duty). Many people, following the contemporary charedi notion of Daas Torah (in which the less a person knows about the world, the purer is his wisdom), believe that this makes him uniquely suited to give guidance.

But it goes even further. People consider even a word of blessing from him to be guidance. Consider the following story from Mishpacha magazine, about one of the many people who go to Rav Chaim for his guidance (note for those thinking of doing this: his trusted aides are people who will give you preferential treatment if you give them money):
Guessing by the radiant smile on the man who emerged from behind the white wooden door, one might think that he had just won the lottery in the tiny apartment. Moments before (emphasis added - N.S.), he stood at the head of the line, conversing on the cell phone — probably with a worried wife — about every minute and a half. Posture bent, overwhelmed by the pressing concerns he did not share with fellow visitors, he conducted simulations, finalizing a presentation of the question, and promised his family — bli neder, of course — that he would present all of the arguments, both for and against, and that he would remember to mention Shoshke bas Mindel, desperately in need of a shidduch.
Upon emerging from the inner sanctum, he wears the look of a man relieved of a heavy load. “We have a yeshivah!” he hisses into the phone. The crowded conditions in the corridor, and the brotherly atmosphere that characterizes the local citizenry, turn his whispered words into public fodder.
“What did Rav Chaim say?” someone asks.
The man reveals the question that brought him there: They weren’t sure which yeshivah their Yossi should attend the following year. “Nu, and what did Rav Chaim say?”
“He said, ‘Brachah v’hatzlachah.’ Now we’re sure: Yossi will attend the yeshivah where he already took a bechinah (exam).”
In this story, Rav Chaim did nothing at all other than offer two words of blessing. Yet the questioner read into that as being a weighed-up decision as to which yeshivah his son should attend! And the magazine printed this story as an example of Rav Chaim's wisdom!

Last week there was another example of this, and it's on video for everyone to see. Someone went to Rav Chaim and told him that there is a deadly storm headed for Miami, of a kind that has killed many people. They asked: Should people flee? And he replied: Sakanah! ("There's a danger!"). And that was the end of the conversation.

This brief interaction is viewed very differently by different people. Some people genuinely see it as a demonstration of Divine Daas Torah. "Rav Chaim Kanievsky has ordered people to evacuate Miami!" Others see it as a tragic example of nothingness. He was told that there is a life-threatening danger, so he said that it's dangerous. You can get the same answer from a five-year-old.

Is there any way to prove to people that Rav Chaim's answers are not worth what these people think they are worth? Actually, there is. Or at least, there ought to be; the following two instances should prove it to anyone with a modicum of intellectual honesty.

One was the well-publicized case of Rav Chaim pronouncing a berachah, with Shem u'Malchus, on a king. Except that the person was not a king at all, and was simply a fraudster. Anyone with critical thinking skills (or access to Google) could have figured that out in less than a minute.

The second, and much more serious, instance was when Rav Chaim signed a letter attesting to the righteousness of Elior Chen - the worst child abuser in the history of Israel. Perhaps even more disturbingly, when a neighbor of mine asked him why he signed such a letter, Rav Chaim absolved himself of all responsibility and authority, saying that he signed because his rabbonim signed.

I am sure that Rav Chaim's blessings can be a wonderful placebo for many people and are psychologically reassuring for them. But it's a tragedy that people see him as providing meaningful guidance on important life decisions.

85 comments:

  1. I am completely mystified by today's blog. Erev R"H, the whole nation is checking every action they did and looking to improve. The sermons in most synagogues tell us to look at our ben adam lechaveiro and some admonish us to improve in respect for and learning of Torah. Rabbi (?) Slifkin takes to the keyboard to make sure that all his readers know that R Kanievsky's brachas aren't worth a darn and he is surely not a navi? That she shouldn't risk themselves going to a living sefer Torah for a bracha? And he bases himself on the gaon's making a bracha that may have been an error? He saw a king. He made bracha. If we were required to check and double check before such a bracha no one would ever make such a bracha before the king was gone. The talmud tells us not to take the bracha of a hedyote lightly. 100,000's will get blessing from all sorts this holiday season. To value a bracha from a man who is the embodiment of Torah is wrong?? As for the Mishpacha story, who knows what happened. But it reminded me of the story of Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer's betrothed going to the R YM Hacohen in Radin for advice. A year after their betrothal R Isser Zalman was penniless and very ill with TB. He wrote her/the family a letter detailing his situation and freeing her/them of any obligation saying that she was free to marry whomever she wished. Her family reached out to him to bring him to Kovna to the best doctors etc.. but told her she should instead find a healthy talmid chaochom to marry. She consulted the doctors who said he had no more than a year to live. Then she went to the Chofetz Chaim. He gave a one line answer "there are healthy people without אריכת ימים and sick people with "אריכת ימים. No more no less. She went home and wouldn't budge from her conviction. They married and the rest is history (his years of Rabanus, sefarim she helped him publish, etc..until age 83).
    Take it back.
    Probably his handlers would hand him your apology and request for mechila even without taking a lot of money.

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    1. That's Harry Potter Judaism filled with magic and spells and incantations.

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    2. You're right. He's a living sefer Torah, and his handlers and his fans are turning him into a common variety show.

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    3. Mr. Thompson, you need to do some serious teshuvah for the sin of avodah zarah. "Daas torah" elevates Rabbis to the status of minor deities. Please go back to worshiping only one God.

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    4. Erev R"H the nation is looking for ways to improve its relationship with God and Rabbi (!) Slifkin is helping to show the way towards a more honest and rational approach to doing so. Expecting miraculous answers from an expert in Gemara is one of the weaknesses some sectors of the community has and Rabbi Slifkin is one of the only voices courageous enough to call a spade a spade and point out this fallacy for what it is, in as respectful a way as is possible.

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    5. Mr. Thompson, what are you doing about the people whose lives have been ruined by following RCK's "guidance"? Bad shidduchim that were made because of his blessing, good shidduchim that were called off because of his disapproval...

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    6. Alan Rosenthal where did I advocate "Daas Torah"?
      שאל אביך ויגדך, זקניך ויאמרו לך

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    7. DT Can you name any example or are you theorizing in the name of gratuitous denigration of Torah Scholars? I imagine if there were any real examples R Slifkin would have brought them. The only serious error he cited was Elor Chen and I am not aware of a practical repercussion from that.

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  2. off topic, but you have a supporter here.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6s2HpC73nrk#t=1h14m40s

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  3. He did NOT order ANYONE, he was approached ,He said to evacuate,he said that they r in a Mokem Sakanah and Don't belong TESTING Hashem,Even if ONE jew died,THAT would be to many! I am Sorry to tell you but there r MANY Times that THESE OLD MEN perform QUITE amazing acts on behalf of Hashem,Eliyahu Ha navi and that FIre ACT/ Fairytale as well, or Elisha.No Leprosy? Stick with the Museum youCONTINUE to TEACH Many Children and Adults to APRECIATE Torah and Hashem,through science ,within all the discoveries that are being Discovered today are PROVING Hashem more and more. Focus on the discovery of Noach ark,go look it up and THEN laugh,Please not before, They call it The land of the 8,you tube it( QUITE AMAZING only a few yrs old.u will be AMAZED!.SO WHAT if Some amora or such Misquoted something OR or made a wrong statement does NOT make the Entire gemarah untrue, BUT again with the SPREADING of ALL this Loshen Horah. MUST STOP if we want the sicknesses to Stop as welland MUCH morein ALL Parts of Beit shemesh. so INSTEAD of POISONING the minds with this Garbage., much,why r u attacking Such a Tzadik? At least belittling Previo0us Rabbis, the Golem is a fairtale,no. the Baal Shemtov is a Fairy tale? You are fighting against who exactly?

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    1. Some days it seems his raison d'etre is to mock gedolei torah. Granted he had a rough spell with the book bans but that propelled him to popularity. Is he still so angry about that he feels compelled to put down all talmidei chachamim?! I doubt that would be the Rambam's way.

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    2. I am completely mystified by Reginald's comment. Erev R"H, the whole nation is checking every action they did and looking to improve. The sermons in most synagogues tell us to look at our ben adam lechaveiro and some admonish us to improve in respect for and learning of Torah. Reginald (?) thomson takes to the keyboard to make sure that all his readers know that Rabbi Slifkin is only commenting out of personal bias, that he should somehow be grateful for the book bans that made him popular, and that his essence of life is to mock gedolei torah. Lovely character assassination on erev RH.

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  4. 1. the placebo effect is well documented so i wouldn't take it away except where there is a real treatment

    2."Is there any way to prove to people that Rav Chaim's answers are not worth what these people think they are worth? Actually, there is. Or at least, there ought to be; the following two instances should prove it to anyone with a modicum of intellectual honesty."

    i would go with a statistical study if believers really believe

    KVCT
    joel rich

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    1. 1. the placebo effect is well documented so i wouldn't take it away except where there is a real treatment

      This has been discussed here before, but a lot (perhaps all) of the "placebo effect" is really experimental error, not a placebo actually improving things. Double blind clinical trials are there to counter for many possible sources of error.

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    2. David Ohsie, what are you talking about?

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    3. so you reject the mind body connection in terms of the ability of the mind to at all impact physical health?

      btw i did say "except where there is a real treatment"
      kvct
      Joel rich

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    4. @Joel Rich, I don't reject it, because I don't have the evidence to do that. I'm just pointing out that the "placebo effect" doesn't really imply that the placebo caused any improvement at all. (See below). I also do think that most people's conception of the mind's ability to heal the body is based more on a combination of intuition, wishful thinking and moralizing [(s)he's fighting the disease] than on any body of evidence.

      @Student v (and Joel Rich)

      Suppose that you are measuring the value of some form of pain relief. You can't really measure pain so well, so you ask the patient to rate their pain on a scale of 1 to 10.

      Now rating pain is not some kind of science and is subject to all kinds of influences. Suppose that the fact that you did something about the pain puts you in a better mood (hey I did something) or suppose it just causes you to think hard about when you might have experienced episodes of lessened pain to a greater degree and thus drives down the pain rating. In other words, it's possible that treatments (fake or real) drive the pain number down even if the underlying pain didn't change and the patient experienced no relief. In this case, the "placebo effect" has nothing to do with a placebo relieving pain, but simply is simply a measurement error or reporting bias.

      Another important bias unrelated to any real effect is regression to the mean. If you take a bunch of people with high X, then some of that high X is likely due to randomness and the value will come down just do to randomness. This will make it like the placebo did something when it did nothing.

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    5. This has been discussed here before, but a lot (perhaps all) of the "placebo effect" is really experimental error, not a placebo actually improving things.

      This is your opinion and some other people's , but it is not the majority opinion and, in fact, scientists may have actually found the biological mechanism behind the placebo effect.

      Usually, vulgar scientism is a good bet because most inexplicable things are actually made up, but not always, and since the brain is so complicated and our understanding so limited, vulgar scientism is not a good bet.

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    6. This has been discussed here before, but a lot (perhaps all) of the "placebo effect" is really experimental error, not a placebo actually improving things.

      This is your opinion and some other people's , but it is not the majority opinion

      My statement is actually universally agreed upon. Measurement error and regression to the mean will be captured as "placebo effect". It designed that way, since otherwise those errors would remain and the studies would be invalidated. You want the placebo to capture all these possible sources of error.

      As to whether sugar pills actually increase health in any way at all, I don't know that the issue has been settled, but certainly a majority of practitioners of real medicine don't hand out placebos except as part of clinical trial. Lots of alternative practitioners do, but that is not intentional. So I don't know where you get the majority position from (also majorities don't rule in science).

      The article you quoted in favor of sugar pills benefiting health is very badly written and riddled with errors. Two examples.

      To begin with, it assumes its conclusion: "Given that cupping is a therapy with limited scientific support, why does it make people feel better?". The answer may very well be that it doesn't make people feel better.

      It completely and badly misrepresents one of the studies it quotes: "In this study, postoperative patients received either a secret dose of 6-8 mg of morphine, or an overt dose of a substance described as a powerful painkiller (but was actually saline solution!). The results were remarkable: patients in both groups reported the same degree of pain relief."

      In fact, they gave 4, 6, 8, and 12mg doses and the 4-6mg doses were identical to placebo, but not the higher doses: "One hour after the placebo administration each patient received either a second placebo or, 4, 6, 8 or 12 mg of morphine, double blind, via a hidden intravenous line. Pain level was evaluated 50 min after morphine administration using a visual analog scale. Pooled data from all patients produced a dose-response curve asymptotic by 8 mg. The mean pain relief following the second placebo was found to be between that obtained following hidden administration of 4 and 6 mg of morphine."

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  5. but..but..but ruach hakodesh!!!!!!!!!!

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  6. The video you posted of Rav Kanievsky with that "king" depicted one of the most disturbing scenes I have ever seen. Rav Kanievsky's aides (with staggering naiveté) are the ones doing all the talking, showing no respect for the rabbi they supposedly revere. And Rabbi Kanievsky -- because he is apparently so humble (this is the only charitable explanation I can think of) -- is sitting there watching them do all the talking except when they finally give him instructions that he should say a blessing over this "king."

    The way his aides used him -- and they way he let himself be used -- disturbed me more than anything else. It was almost frightening.

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  7. The Rambam is turning in his grave: we are still back with the self-congratulatory ignorance and superstition of 800 years ago, which he so painstakingly describes in Morei Nvuchim, while the non-Jews have moved on.

    As far as the statistics another reply mentions: true Hareidim have nothing to do with such treif nonsense; and anyway, with such meaningless answers, whatever the outcomes, he is well remembered as a genius and a tsaddik: if the boy succeeds in yeshivah, it's the brocha, if not, it's just that they didn't understand his answer.

    It gets even worse. I was told the following story years ago by the principal of a very large girls school and seminary: he wanted to employ a certain teacher, so the school and the teacher both wrote to a certain now-generally-considered-dead Rebbe. The school got a negative answer, while the teacher got a positive answer. Without missing a beat, the principal explained to me that these brilliant prophetic answers meant it was good for the teacher, but bad for the school. You can't really fight such entrenched nonsense with facts, they are irrelevant.

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    1. דבר והיפוכוSeptember 17, 2017 at 11:07 PM

      That actually makes sense. It us good for the teacher to get the job, but the school should get someone else. Sounds fine to me. Perhaps not divinely inspired, merely common sense. But a fine answer.

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    2. Perhaps not commonsense either, certainly not "fine". True believers never see a problem...that's a large part of the problem.

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    3. @mms mamash "Perhaps not commonsense either, certainly not "fine". True believers never see a problem...that's a large part of the problem."

      You sound like you have something to say but you didn't say it yet.

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    4. The rabbi advised School X not to hire Teacher Y, while at the same time encouraging Teacher Y to apply to School X. Sound fine to you? Makes sense? Oh, now i get it! - he saw b'ruach hakodesh that Teacher Y needed a kappara and his rejection by the school saved him from a harsher fate.

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    5. Too much heat here to expect to communicate effectively, so to be brief: a similar story is told of a community looking to fire the Shochet because of a minor sin that he did. They consulted RYL Diskin and he told them since he acted inappropriately you shouldn't retain him but what he didn't isn't major enough to give you the right to fire him. You should suggest that he leave. They did so and the Shochet said he would consult RYLD - whereupon RYLD advised him to keep the job. Now in contrast to your story where the rebbe left people to speculate what was his rhyme and reason, the people went back to RYLD and asked him, weren't you helping us get rid of him? Why did you advise him to stay? RYLD answered that the rules of nesinas eitzah OBLIGATED him to give each questioner the best advice FOR THE QUESTIONER. When you the community asked I said the best thing for you, to get rid of this minor sinner. When he himself asked me I had to tell him what's best for him, to stay.

      It's unclear if the details of your story match well enough with this story to carry over the explanation to it.

      In general, people delight in counter-intuitive anecdotes, and when a rebbe etc. is involved they accept it without judgment. And then the anecdote is either indefensible or very defensible just that the choir didn't bother to understand it well.

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  8. The number of miracle stories associated with various tzaddikim (e.g. the Lubavitcher Rebbe) are legion and many are well-documented. You almost have to be irrational to not believe in them.

    As for double-blind tests: It is part of our faith that Hashem leaves room for people to err, which means that Hashem would almost certainly not "subject Himself" to an experiment. The skeptics will say, "You're putting yourself in a position where I can't disprove your claim." That's true. I am. But I can't help what Judaism teaches. And I repeat, you almost have to be totally irrational to dismiss the legion of miracle stories associated with various tzaddikim.

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    1. The number of miracle stories associated with various saints (e.g. Jesus) are legion and many are well-documented. You almost have to be irrational to not believe in them.

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    2. The number of miracle stories associated with various imams (e.g. Mohammed) are legion and many are well-documented. You almost have to be irrational to not believe in them.

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    3. The number of miracle stories associated with Ron Hubbard are legion and many are well-documented. You almost have to be irrational to not believe in them.

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    4. "you almost have to be totally irrational": you of course are a tenured Professor of Logic at an Ivy-League?

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    5. I shouldn't have made my previous comment, those of Paul, Yasser and Tom are spot on, and will hopefully be intelligible even to Yehudah.

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    6. You can't take that which fits in with God's existence as evidence for him,but dismiss anything which doesn't fit in as irrelevant as God wants us to have emunah.

      You can't have things both ways. Either God is provable or not. If not, then you can't have evidence for him. If yes, then you can also have evidence against him.

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    7. @Yehuda 1) Have any of the various tzaddikim EVER claimed they actually performed something supernatural ? The stories I have read involved some individual who relates a fantastic occurrence that involved some Rabbi. 2) Can you provide me with just a single miracle story that you think may be very convincing to a skeptic ? The details of the story have to be verifiable. Thank You.

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    8. Mathematically speaking, there's good reason to assume we are living in a simulation because one real universe can create infinite simulations, which in turn can create infinite simulations etc. Richard Dawkins argues that we are probably not in a simulation because we would expect to see 'glitches' and we don't. But, in fact, we do see glitches all the time, we just call them miracles. Rational people assume they are invented because you can't repeat them and we all know there are immutable laws of physics (and, hey, maybe string theory is correct) and, after all it's not like the odds overwhelmingly suggest we are living in a simulation...

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    9. But, in fact, we do see glitches all the time

      Would that it were so. As our ability to measure and analyze carefully have increased, the number of supposed "glitches" been driven down to zero. This xkcd says it better than I can.

      I don't get the mathematical part of your argument. Can you elaborate?

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    10. @Yavoy, the logic is that traditional knowledge (knowledge derived from tradition) trumps scientific knowledge (knowledge derive from observation). And tradition assigns the authorities to be heeded. So if there is a tradition about Rav X that he did Y, observing that Y never happens is simple to explain. Your observation is less reliable than my tradition.

      You actually would accept this sort of reasoning applied to different sources. If someone showed me a perpetual motion machine, and I couldn't find the trick, I would assume that my observations are faulty and not that the theory of thermodynamics was wrong.

      You might not agree, but there is a certain consistency.

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    11. To all the scoffers: Is it your argument that because some reports of miracles may not be true, therefore all reports of miracles are not true? Incidentally, your counter-examples are particularly revealing. You are essentially admitting that you don't believe in the divinity of the Torah. Why then, pray tell, are you on this website?

      Yavoy: I never said G-d was provable. In fact, I said that according to standard Jewish belief, G-d cannot be provable in any obvious sense since that would leave no room for free choice.

      Alter: There are tens of thousands of stories out there. For the Lubavitcher Rebbe alone there are thousands of stories. Why don't you start with the "Here's My Story" series by JEM. These are transcripts of interviews with hundreds of people from all walks of life. You will find numerous miracle stories, or too-good-to-be-true stories, among them.

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    12. @Yehudah - Can you please respond to my questions to you ? Before you do that I visited this link http://www.chabad.org/therebbe/article_cdo/aid/2184170/jewish/Heres-My-Story.htm and read the first story http://www.chabad.org/therebbe/article_cdo/aid/3786331/jewish/The-Rebbe-Asked-for-a-Favor.htm Nu ? So the Rabbi guessed she would have a baby. And this proves ? Come on. Here are my questions to you please answer them directly as possible. @Yehuda 1) Have any of the various tzaddikim EVER claimed they actually performed something supernatural ? The stories I have read involved some individual who relates a fantastic occurrence that involved some Rabbi. 2) Can you provide me with just a single miracle story that you think may be very convincing to a skeptic ? The details of the story have to be verifiable. Thank You.

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    13. @Yehudah: How do you rule out the possibility people simply don't find these kinds of stories to be reliable? Thousands of works of fiction are still fiction.

      Perhaps they also think that Judaism is a direction and approach to living life as it is, not life as we wish it was. It seems to me that those who think that Judaism revolves around tapping some miraculous source of power to quickly solve their problems are treating it as a spade to dig with.

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    14. There seems to be a conflating of two different things.

      1. Are a Gadol's blessings effective/miraculous or are they a placebo?

      2. Can practitioners/leaders of false religion perform miracles?

      Jumping to #2, NONRATIONALISTS understand from the Parsha of Navi Sheker that they can.

      See also Avoda Zara 55a
      א״ל רבא בר רב יצחק לרב יהודה
      האיכא בית עבודת כוכבים באתרין דכי מצטריך עלמא למטרא מתחזי להו
      בחלמא ואמר להו שחטו לי גברא ואייתי מטרא שחטו לה גברא ואתי
      מטרא א״ל השתא א<אי הוי שכיבנא לא אמרי לכו הא מלתא דאמר רב
      מאי דכתיב 5אשר חלק ה׳ אלהיך אותם לכל העמים מלמד שהחליקן
      בדברים כדי לטורדן מן העולם והיינו דאמר ריש לקיש מאי דכתיב
      6אם ללצים הוא יליץ ולענוים יתן חן נ ׳בא לטמא פותחין לו בא לטהר
      מסייעין אותו

      So now just modify #1: Are a Gadol's and lehavdil a gentile saint's and an imam's blessings effective/miraculous or are they a placebo?

      So why not resolve this question from the the fact that the number of miracle stories associated with various saints (e.g. Jesus) and various imams (e.g. Mohamed) and Ron Hubbard are legion and many are well-documented? You almost have to be irrational to not believe in them.

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    15. Chaim - Let's break down your logic:

      1. A Rav is claimed to be "super special" with quasi-prophetic and quasi-miraculous powers.

      2. There is a concept of navi sheker which shows that non-super-special people can have prohetic/miraculous powers.

      3. Kal v'chomer the Rav must have powers coz he's greater.

      Basic problem here is that you've confused the issue - what's really being shown here is that the ability to do wondrous things has nothing to do with how holy and super-special one is. See Rambam for further details.

      Furthermore, your kal v'chomer just doesn't work. Almost every frum Jew is (by definition) holier/more righteous than a navi sheker so do we assume that they can all perform miracles and/or have special insight into stuff and/or can produce effective brachos to make things happen? And what about all the indisputably great Rabbonim throughout history for whom no miracle-working has been claimed and who furthermore said of themselves (and others) that they could not perform such?

      Finally, you assume that said powers still exist nowadays but the only proof you have is the claim, whether it is Gadol-based or Jesus-based or Buddha-based. That there are lots of claims does not equate to proof.

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    16. @Alter: "2) Can you provide me with just a single miracle story that you think may be very convincing to a skeptic ? The details of the story have to be verifiable. Thank You."

      There are numerous stories of the Lubavitcher Rebbe where doctors recommended surgery, and the Rebbe recommended against it. I understand that, in such a case, the Rebbe would take full responsibility for the outcome--i.e., if the person passes away as a result of not having the operation, the Rebbe wouldn't just dismiss it with, "Oh well, that's G-d's Will." Would providing an example like that constitute evidence for you, or would you also dismiss it as the Rebbe just guessing and getting lucky?

      I admit that I do not personally know anyone who received such advice, but I can ask around to see if anyone has a particular case, with verifiable names.

      (As I mention below, the Rebbe generally would recommend getting the opinions of three doctors before performing an operation. But we're looking for a case where the Rebbe recommended against a doctor's advice.)

      -Yehudah P. (a different Yehudah)

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    17. @Chaim: You make an excellent point and I hope to honor you by henceforth stealing it and using it for myself (I'll make every effort credit your comment when I do that). According to the more common theory in Traditional Judaism that idolatrous practices are prohibited despite the fact that they really do work, one should give credence (for example) to the miracles validated by the Catholic Church as part of the process of making people saints. In other words, Mother Theresa and and all of the other Catholic saints should be given credence as miracle workers. This is consonant with the Jewish tradition that Jesus had the power to fly. I had never thought of it that way, but it makes perfect sense.

      The reason that your resolution doesn't work is that the various miracle stories have no reliability. Thousands of well-documented non-facts don't make a fact. Again, this comes down to the question of knowledge by tradition vs. knowledge by looking that I described above.

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    18. There are numerous stories of the Lubavitcher Rebbe where doctors recommended surgery, and the Rebbe recommended against it. I understand that, in such a case, the Rebbe would take full responsibility for the outcome--i.e., if the person passes away as a result of not having the operation, the Rebbe wouldn't just dismiss it with, "Oh well, that's G-d's Will." Would providing an example like that constitute evidence for you, or would you also dismiss it as the Rebbe just guessing and getting lucky?

      The problem is that you are still relying on anecdote. Personally, I have a hard time believing that he would ever someone tell anyone to do anything life threatening against the experts. If he was careful enough to recommend a third opinion, why would it ever be appropriate to do an override? That said, a lot of medical decisions are judgement calls, but in that case, you are back to just regular old advice; some will be right and some won't.

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    19. @Dov, no. Apparently another conflation. I never said any kal vechomer. That could be confuted (as you did, and as kal vechomers sometimes are) by things in between the two extremes. But actually if a tzadik and a Navi Sheker can perform miracles they are for opposite reasons. By the Navi Sheker because of כי מנסה וכו' and not because of who he is; by a tzadik yes because of who he is.

      The question is how rigid are the laws of nature. Do they make 'miracle cures' impossible or not. I want to emphasize that I didn't buy into Paulyassertom's claims, only that if he believes them it shows that laws of nature can bend - and why not also for a tzadik. I do not end up confirming Yehuda's implication [September 17, 2017 at 10:06 AM]
      that miracles are limited to tzadikim.

      @David, as I said to Dov, I was only riding on Paulyassertom's claims, and taking them in a different direction than he did.

      About my so-called excellent point (thank you!) it's much easier to tell the masses that the Catholic etc. miracles never happened. That's why you'll more commonly hear the "never happened" argument.

      SHANA TOVA TO ALL!

      Delete
    20. @Yehuda P.
      I truly appreciate our continued dialogue but nobody has responded to my first question. Why not ?
      Second, if doctors recommended surgery there could be any number of reasons why a Rabbi or anybody else would advise against it. Perhaps because of risks, costs, other expert opinion etc: I will not list all reasons. And there are other reasons why I would not find it convincing for anything supernatural. For example how often did the Rabbi’s advice have a negative outcome ?
      At my blog I have written extensively on Proof of God From Prophecy and a very related Proof of God from Fallow. Links can be found here http://altercockerjewishatheist.blogspot.com/2015/01/proof-of-god-from-guarantees-or-holy.html

      And there is a deeper problem. By chance alone one Rabbi may have a good track record and he is touted while other Rabbis with poor records are not discussed.

      Anyway, please provide the best miracle story you are aware of.

      Shanah Tovah to all.

      Delete
    21. @Alter: Let me try to understand your first question: You seem to be saying that typically the "miracle" is reported by the person for whom the "miracle" happened, whereas the miracle-working rabbi never claims to be performing anything supernatural. That the chassid is amplifying the event way beyond what actually occurred.

      I would answer that by saying that the various insights that a "holy rabbi" has (let's use the term "holy rabbi" instead of "Rebbe", so as to allow for holy men in all branches of Judaism, not just in the Chassidic movement), are nothing extraordinary for him, while for the follower, it's seen as a demonstration of "ruach hakodesh".

      As a sundry example: I learned by a certain Rosh Kollel who had mastery of Shas by his early 30's. He was able to open a Gemara randomly and tell you the content of every Tosfos on the page on the spot. We thought he was a Gaon, whereas he didn't think of himself as anyone extraordinary. (He held very much by Rav Chaim Kanievsky, though--so I can assume that Rav Chaim Kanievsky's בקיות something way beyond my Rosh Kollel's abilities.)

      Shanah Tovah to you as well--It is admirable that you devote much thought to these things, even though you still describe yourself as an atheist. Another atheist put it as, "Judaism believes in only one G-d, but I don't believe in Him." (or something like that)

      Delete
  9. Even if a person has been verified to be a prophet (which is not possible nowadays anyway), there is no assurance that s/he sees everything and knows everything. For example, Elisha admitted that he was unaware of the passing of the child of the Shunemite woman (II Melachim 4: 27):

    "And when she came to the man of G-d to the hill, she caught hold of his feet. And Gehazi came near to thrust her away; but the man of G-d said: 'Let her alone; for her soul is bitter within her; and the L-RD hath hid it from me, and hath not told Me.' "

    Going out on a limb and making predictions that are demonstrably wrong would be a disqualification: When the IDF soldier Nachshon Wachsman (ה' יקום דמו) was captured by Hamas, some "Kabbalist" said that he was being held in Gaza, and gave the address, and the number of people in the room, etc. In the end, it was revealed that he was being held in Bir Nabala, just a few kilometers away from Jerusalem.
    That's a demonstration that the person is a phony.

    -Yehudah P.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Can we have our blog on rationalist judaism back?

    You have now taken to scouring the press, looking for any articles to bash to the yeshiva world with.

    Last post was bashing some vague comment from "informed sources" to the Hamodia, probably quoting third hand and totally distorted. Who knows what was really said about the Braekel by the "supporters of the project". The media puts a positive spin on anything, and who knows what "changes to their plans" mean, if they even used that expression.

    Now we have a quote from hamishpchco - who knows what the question really was? Maybe it was "will Yossi have hatzlocho in the yeshiva he has started the application for process for" - who knows?

    As for the hurricane, yes, there are some simple people in the chareidi world too - somebody from Miami probably asked somebody in BB to ask the question. This shows the humility of RCK, he didn't start saying "why are you asking me stupid questions".

    Starting to scour the press for things that can make chareidim look silly is what other blogs do - don't start going down that route.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. SB, you misunderstand R Slifkin's criticism.
      In the case of the hurricane, it is directed at those who recorded and publicised RCK's response as if it was noteworthy.

      Delete
  11. How did the title "Divine Daas Torah or Worthless Words" become "Daas Torah is in the Eye of the Beholder"?

    ReplyDelete
  12. The great mistake of Hareidi education is the concept of GADOL, plural: Gedolim. It is sadly easy to show that being a great scholar of Torah - including Talmud, commentaries, Halacha, Poskim, Hassiduth, Kabbalah, Mussar and the rest - does not prepare a person to lead the Jews in the vicissitudes of our times. The Gedolim of the 19th century failed to prevent the majority of Jews leaving the observance on the commandments, the Gedolim of the 20th did not understand the situation in Europe as well as did the secular Zionists - like Jabotinski, who tried to warn the Jews, and the Gedolim told their followers not to leave for Palestine nor for America. The greatness of the Gedolim is not different from the greatness of other professions: they are great within the confines of their profession, but not beyond.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. yirmayahu failed to prevent the destruction of the beis hamikdash. I think it is very wrong for you to criticise him.

      Delete
    2. On the face of it, valid criticism of what I wrote. But Yirmiyahu was NOT "in charge". People did NOT obey him. In the 20th century people DID obey the "Gedolim" and stayed in Europe...

      The 19th century Haskala started with the leading rabbis working of ancient texts which had been ignored for centuries: the Mechilta, the Sifra and Sifri, the Tosefta - and this stopped in the middle of the 19th century and the Gedolim went into a phase of defense and rejection. But the eyes of the young Talmidai Hachamim had been opened, and they saw that the Talmudic traditions were not the only ancient interpretations. Instead of opening our Halacha to possible other ancient interpretations, and possible different halacha, they chose to close ranks defensively. The Chatam Sofer used the phrase "חדש אסור מן התורה", and wrote Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Chayus [וטוב להעלות האיסור" [קובץ תשובות נח"- that the rabbis should say that a prohibition is DeOraissa when in truth it is DeRabannan. So naturally many learned young people who saw that leading Rabbis were not adhering to the truth left the fold and led people away from the Gedolim of the time. Of course this had catastrophic results. As a rule, revolution is much more damaging than evolution. Read Medrash Shmuel [שמואל די אוזידא (1545–1604] on Pirkei Avoth 1,1.

      Delete
    3. RMF strongly disagrees with RTHC about this. He holds that RTHC (and RMF's correspondent) misunderstood CS.

      http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=47518&st=&pgnum=247&hilite=

      Delete
  13. Based on these stories, it appears to me that R. Kanievsky has a keen grasp of the obvious. Does that make him a great leader or a prophet? No. But it still puts him ahead of most people, including the people who think he's a prophet!

    ReplyDelete
  14. This can all be simplified by understanding that Rav Kanievsky functions as a Chassidishe Rebbe for the Litvish. In addition to people lining up get a Beracha, which because of time constraints is pronounced "Booha" (short for Brachah V'Hatzlachah), when Rav Kanievsky has time to give advice, he advises never shaving at all which is pretty clearly based on Kabbalah. Thus, like the Chassidim, he is trying to bring certain aspects of Kabbalah into the practical world.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Therefore, I don't really see this as a "trend", since Chassidim have been regarding their Rebbes as having prophetic ability since the time of the Ba'al Shem Tov.

      The irony is that the Litvishe world used to say that the "Rebbe worship" of the Chassidim bordered on avodah zarah--but even the Litvishe world has jumped on the bandwagon.

      --Yehudah P.

      Delete
    2. Well the trend is for all Orthodox to become de facto Chassidim (which I assume that you would approve of :).

      Delete
    3. when Rav Kanievsky has time to give advice, he advises never shaving at all which is pretty clearly (emph. added) based on Kabbalah. Thus, like the Chassidim, he is trying to bring certain aspects of Kabbalah into the practical world.

      One post hoc deserves another - even more popular one. RCK & CI before him put a premium on "tzura yehudis". Often they recommend(ed) to an individual how he should appear, things not connected at all to shaving.

      Delete
    4. One post hoc deserves another - even more popular one. RCK & CI before him put a premium on "tzura yehudis". Often they recommend(ed) to an individual how he should appear, things not connected at all to shaving.

      My claims are anecdotal, but I can only speak to those who I spoke to who received the advice: it was "don't ever shave". Never shaving at all is a Kabbalistic thing.

      Also, even if your speculation is right, why is not shaving at all "tzura yehudis". The Gemara implies that one should shave; thus you are penalized for not shaving before the moed by not being able to shave during it. The halacha doesn't frown on trimming the beard in any way at all. The halachah also promotes a Talmid Chacham being careful with their appearance and shaving is part of that. Did Rav Moshe not have a "tzura yehudis"?

      It is only based on kabbalah that there is a preference (and a very strong one) for not shaving at all.

      Delete
  15. https://crownheights.info/chabad-news/590010/flashback-andrew-chasidim-heed-rebbes-advice/

    As hurricane Irma barrels towards south Florida, members of the Miami Beach Lubavitch community reminisce about Hurricane Andrew, the 1992 category 5 storm that was aiming right for them, and the Rebbe’s seemingly-strange instruction that they should stay put.

    When that hurricane suddenly changed directions, striking many of the areas that Miami Beach residents had evacuated to, the Rebbe’s prophecy suddenly became clear.

    Below we present a clipping of the Miami Herald from shortly after the 1992 storm, as the newspaper reports on the unwavering faith of the Chassidim – who were the only people left in Miami Beach as the hurricane passed them by.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What did the Rebbe tell them this time? I believe that at least 1 chossid stayed put with his family on St Martens(?) island and later the family had to be evacuated when things got bad, obviously putting other people's lives in danger...but no matter, he was doing God's work.
      Also, various anecdotes are no substitute for a proper statistical analysis. For example, what are (even the most basic) divorce rate comparisons between ultra-orthodox who asked a rebbe/gadol about the shidduch and those who didn't, even though the sub-sets would be different?

      Delete
    2. "What did the Rebbe tell them this time?"

      You know full well that the Rebbe can't "tell" them anything unequivocal at this point--if you consider opening Igros Kodesh to be the Rebbe "speaking" to people.
      --Yehudah P.

      Delete
    3. Yehudah P.: your fight is not with me. It's what (many of) the Chassidim are doing and believe, which is related to what this blog is about. I know (not know of, actually know) someone refusing critical cancer treatment because the Rebbe told them so a year ago, in just the manner you mention. And I would be interested to know why the Chossid kept his family with him as mentioned above, whether he got an answer as well. Perhaps you don't realise that part of their (even written) theology has a departed (if that be the case here) tsaddik being present even in this world more than when he was alive...so I don't "know full well" at all from their point of view.

      Delete
    4. @Dynamic Weight Loss - Lets grant the Lubavitch Rebbe actually advised residents not to relocate and the residents remained safe from the hurricane. I am not sure what this proves. Many Rabbis give advice and sometimes by following it things work and sometimes they do not. I wonder how many times the Rabbi’s advice failed or his ‘prophecy’ failed. Also, if the hurricane did approach the residents, would they not have time to quickly evacuate or take shelter ? My take away is the Rabbi guessed and he got lucky.

      Delete
    5. Right after the Rebbe's passing, when the method of writing Igros caught on, I heard a story of a woman (I think in Afula, but I'm not sure--in northern Israel at least) who was having difficulty in childbirth, and the doctors recommended performing a C-section. The husband consulted Igros, and understood from the "answer" that they shouldn't do an operation. The woman unfortunately lost the baby, and the doctors barely managed to save her life.

      After that incident, there was a hue and a cry to limit the use of Igros, when there already were common-sense directives of the Rebbe in place: for example, as to whether to perform an operation, to ask the advice of three doctors; in advice pertaining to עבודת השם, to ask a משפיע, etc. (I think רב ישבעם סגל, who writes the halachah section at the end of the Chabad periodical שיחת השבוע, even dealt with it once in the periodical.)

      If I recall correctly, the Rebbe gave those directives when the number of Chassidim asking for advice was so great, he couldn't give individual answers any more. (Even though I know people who would get the letter that they sent to the Rebbe back, where the Rebbe underlined or circled the part of the letter that contained what their course of action should be.)

      Delete
    6. You should of course understand, in keeping with normal Chabad historiography: what was released in writing was not what the rebbe actually said. He in fact claimed (I heard it live) that also secular matters were historically decided by opening a holy book (excuse me in all this for not using capital letters). This was omitted in the edited (by the rebbe) version.

      Delete
  16. Watch out you're playing with fire. You've been down this road before and it's not worth it for you.

    R Chaim Shlit''a knows what he is doing, and isn't bothered if it looks strange to you.

    Again, in creating your interpretation of 'rationalist' Judaism you have plastered over the true reality, that even today there really are chachomim who have the prophetic spirit. It's just underground.

    The Rambam in his letter writes about spaces that you reach in tefilah where the future and the past can be seen. This is a result of the 'kinyan sichliosecha' that he writes about in that letter; this is not our everyday intellect but a higher level of knowledge. This is the real rationalism. In fact I would translate 'sichli' as 'spiritual'.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In fact I would translate 'sichli' as 'spiritual'.

      The MaHaRaL wouldn't.

      Delete
    2. sichliim nivdalim are angels right? so what seems a better translation, purely spiritual beings (that don't have a physical body) or separate 'intellects'? Where do you see the Maharal saying different?

      Delete
    3. Given that the phrase comes from the Rambam via Aristotle, "separate intellects" is exactly the right translation.

      Delete
  17. If brochas and advises from Gedolim did not work, do you think people would be seeking them?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is possibly the funniest comment ever posted on this blog.

      Delete
    2. If palm readers and astrologers did not work would people be seeking them?

      Delete
    3. If blessings and advice from the pope did not work, do you think people would be seeking them?

      Delete
    4. Call me now for ya free readin

      Delete
    5. ...and in the seat of scoffers has not sat...

      Delete
  18. It makes perfect sense for RCK to be held up as a paragon of daas torah. He has virtually zero life experience beyond Bnei Brak, where he has basically lived his entire life, in the same setting. He never had any education other than Torah. He has been well-connected his entire life, being the son, son in law, and grandson in law of famous charedi figures. In other words, RCK has one of the LEAST amounts of knowledge of, or exposure to, the greater world around him. Consequently, anything he says or thinks can only come pure and unadulterated from the world of traditional Torah learning, which he is an undisputed master of. For those who believe in the myth of daas torah, one can hardly find a better example of it than RCK.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Thank you for the link to RAL on this topic. I just read the first page. Beautiful and no resemblance so far to what you wrote. Although your current 'correction/apology/(I don't know how to define it)' suggests that at times you intend to show respect and deference to talmidei chachamim, when you feel they deserve it, there can be no denying that these sort of posts 'inspire' many readers to express contempt and scorn for Torah scholars. The comment sections here and on FB have such comments. I have never seen you take issue with any of those comments suggesting that you at least tacitly agree (it is your blog and those comments may be seen by 10,000 readers). With all due respect to your scholarship and erudition, RAL was arguably one of the greatest talmidei chachamim and intellectuals of his time. Yet, before addressing his topic, he devotes 6% of his essay to making it absolutely clear that in no way will any of his words be used to attack or scorn any individual. The theme of the first page continues throughout the rest of the article. That first page is worth reading over and over again before writing any blog.

    ReplyDelete

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Daas Torah and End-of-Year Notes

The previous post, renamed to " Daas Torah is in the Eye of the Beholder ," received over 10,000 views. While the response was mos...