Thursday, September 5, 2019

The Leadership Disconnect

Which rabbinic leadership do you follow?

A while ago I was surprised to see two major Jewish organizations feting R. Chaim Kanievsky as being "the Gadol HaDor." Now, of course there are countless people who would disagree with this assessment, such as various chassidim and sefardim and dati'im and followers of R. Shmuel Auerbach and so on. But there was a different reason for my surprise.

The reason for my surprise was that both of these organizations engage in activities of which R. Chaim would undoubtedly disapprove. R. Chaim, having lived his life in the Beis HaMidrash of Bnei Brak, has a very conservative Israeli charedi worldview.

I reached out to a director of one of these organizations, and he admitted this to me. He said that they are well aware that he would disapprove of various of their practices. But, he continued, they would not able to function if they adhered to his worldview, and so they do not seek his guidance.

To my mind, this was rather odd. You are claiming that he is the greatest Torah authority in the world, the wisest of men, and yet you do not think that he has the wisdom to be able to give you remotely suitable guidance?

It's a real tragedy. There are rabbinic leaders who are of a different worldview, and who would understand the situations faced by these organizations, and who would be able to address them. But they do not have long white beards, or they wear kippot serugot, and so these organizations will not fete them as rabbinic celebrities.

One of the benefits of the controversial ban on my books was that many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people realized that those to whom they had looked up to as their rabbinic leaders were operating with an entirely different worldview from their own. Some of these people had the strength and opportunity to seek different rabbinic leadership. They were much better off as a result.

It's a good idea for everyone to figure out and to be honest with themselves about what kind of rabbinic leadership they need, and not to be embarrassed to seek it out.

(See too this post: Who Is A Gadol?)

26 comments:

  1. I am not sure I see such a contradiction in the organizations you mentioned: stating that R' Chaim is the Gadol HaDor doesn't necessarily mean that one follows him - in other words, that he is their Rav. It simply means that he is the greatest Talmid Chacham in the world.

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    1. You are proving R. Slifkin's point! Someone can be the "Gadol Hador," the "greatest" Talmid Chacham, as you put it - but you don't follow him? Meaning his Chachmah and his Gadlus have little practical value for you? How do you reconcile that?

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    2. I don't see the difficulty, he can be great without a practical value for me. His knowledge of and dedication to Torah is something to learn from. He may not be the best in relating to 21st century American teenagers and that ok. Being a great person isnt all or nothing.

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  2. Oddly, the premise of this post seems to be that everyone is obligated to submit themselves to the authority of the gadol hador, whomever he may be.

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    1. We-e-ell, perhaps the premise of the post is that people of a certain strain of Judaism, of a sort who would readily USE the term Gadol HaDor, we would assume that such people consider themselves and all others obligated. Is that better? (in other words, RNS could have put in a disclaimer of "It's fine by me whom they follow...")

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  3. What is the problem? The title "gedol ha-dor" does not mean that he is the one and the only authority. It only means that many people see him as one of the leading authorities.

    I don't like Bibi and am not going to vote for him in next election, but he clearly deserves a title of political leader. Why r. Chaym is worse?

    The problem is actually different: some people think there is a halachic requirement to obey "gdoley ha-dor", while it is not.

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  4. R. Chaim Kanievsky is their second god. https://bit.ly/2kjQsnX

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  5. I do not follow any rabbi(s) anymore. I regard them as functionaries to ask a question of, if I am unable to find an answer. Other than that, I do not seek nor want their guidance. This has brewing over the years. Some time ago, I noticed that the local Chabad I went to did not the blessngs after using the facilities. I offered to the Rabbi there a laminated one so people could use it. He told me that they could not use as it was not their Nusach?! Later I found out he was looking for someone to donate a fancy one. Another rabbi I went to guidance for never gave me straight answers(he did this to everyone). Another who was a psychologist never wanted to talk about my issues I had at the time...only stuff he wanted to talk about and ask money for it. So I have no need for them as spiritual guides, etc.

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    1. So you had a bad experience with a few rabbis and now you've given up? Asei lecha rav means it might take some doing before you find the right one. No excuses.

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    2. Asei lecha rav -- But if there is no competent "rav", then you must be patur... The same way if there were no kosher esrogim and lulavim, you can't be held accountable for not shaking on succos-- it's not your fault.

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    3. In one of the Maggie books, there is a story about a man on a plane who sees a rabbi fail to make a blessing over his meal. He stewed about it for a long time, but learned at the end of the flight that the rabbi was in mourning and was not permitted to say the blessing. Maybe that's not the same situation as yours, but dan l'kaf zchus still applies.

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    4. At first I was a little surprised by the non acceptance of your laminated "Asher Yatzer". Whilst you might be right as to the reasoning, I would like to suggest 2 things, one, your dedication to getting this issue raised may have spurned the rabbi into acting. It might not have been the correct nusach (some communities are particular about this). The other thing is that I am involved with a Synagogue that was furnished by a donation from one donor. If he was to come and see things that he doesn't approve of, he may withdraw funding for most of the learning that goes on in the Beith Knesset. Someone has taken upon themselves to stick up posters. The Rav and I are stuck, because on the one hand, we don't know who did it, so we cannot talk to them. On the other hand, the donor's objection could cost us dearly (he donates 10's of scholarships to people to come and study Torah, so please don't assume that the Rav and I are worried about our parnassah).

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    5. @CJ Srullowitz

      I would love to hear your approach to the following questions:
      1. What source for "asei lecha rav" are you quoting? (careful now, there's more than one)
      2. What is the understanding of "asei lecha rav" and is there more than one approach? Is it possible that within the Anonymous poster's comments that he is actually still abiding by one of the approches of "asei lecha rav"?
      3. Is your understanding of "asei lecha rav" the only one that should be followed? If so, explain why.
      4. When you quote things from Torah, how often do you really know anything about the line you are quoting?
      5. Who do you think you are to end off a comment with a brazen statement like "no excuses" when your words demonstrate a shallow and watered down understanding of Torah?

      Looking forward!


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  6. Does one need to follow a particular authority? Granted it makes life easier to look to one source for all one's minhagim and interpretations. But why not look to a variety of sources, presuming they meet your minimum standards, and use one's sechel to understand, interpret, adopt?

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    1. I was instructed years ago that you do not need ONE rebbe. You can have a rav to ask your halachic shailos to, another who can guide you in family matters, etc. Nothing wrong with a Brain Trust provided they are each qualified for what they do.

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  7. I think that even in secular context there is more than what's on the record. Not every allowance can be entered into the official rules. The records posture things that can be looked away from. Each case is different.

    feting R. Chaim Kanievsky as being "the Gadol HaDor." Now, of course there are countless people who would disagree with this assessment, such as ... followers of R. Shmuel Auerbach.

    I would disagree, unless you are reading more into the connotations of "gadol hador" than I.

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    1. Gadol hador is understood to be the pre-eminent Torah scholar of that generation. As a Sephardi, I think that the last one was Rav Ovadia, before him may have been either the Chabad Rebbe or Reb Moshe. I say this because all of these leaders had a profound effect not only on their world (i.e. Sephardim or Chabadniks, etc) but also on those outside their immediate circle of followers. As such, I find some of those fetted as G'dolei hador as strange, because those that I mentioned are leaders whose stature means that I would be hard pressed to fail to acknowledge their impact on my Judaism, even if I don't follow everything they say.

      On the other hand, I have heard it said (and I think that there is some truth to this) that the Litvaks have adopted the Chassidishe tradition of having a Rebbe, but have made it their own. Thus, the "Gadol hador" is always Litvak. He then becomes "the pre-eminent authority", but interestingly, mainly only the Litvaks listen to him. Chassidim have their rebbes, and Sephardim have our Hakhamim.

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  8. It's a good idea for everyone to figure out and to be honest with themselves about what kind of rabbinic leadership they need, and not to be embarrassed to seek it out.

    There was once this Chassidic fellow purporting that you can only get advice from someone who's perfect. I beg to disagree. And didn't you once consult a Chassidish Rebi? There are many variables- which question to address to which person.

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  9. "Gadol HaDor" is a political position - it means he's the political head of the Litvish Chareidi community, except for Peleg and any other dissident groups that have their own "Gadol haDor" because who would want to be led by anyone else.

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  10. אֵיזֶהוּ חָכָם הַלּוֹמֵד מִכָּל אָדָם

    You conflate appreciation with complete alignment.
    Should I ignore that which all Daati Rabbis have to offer simply because we aren't 100% aligned in all our views?

    Your charedi buddys approach seems nuanced, whereas yours seems, well, obtuse.

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  11. All.of the above aaaannnnddd.... Your piece presumes that the only scholars/rabbinic leaders, etc. Who can understand broader ideas are those without beards and hats. And that, as you well know (even if too many others do not) is patently false. Play nice.

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  12. Many of those who have commented here, reasonably, interpret the status of Gadol Hador as a tribute to the subject's mastery of Torah - his accomplishments as a talmid chahcham. No more. Certainly, this understanding allows for multiple gedolim in a dor. It also allows for gedolim to disagree with one another.

    This may, indeed, have been the ruling situation in the past.

    Today - at least among Litvish charedim, there is one paramount Gadol HaDor. He is the undisputed authority on all Torah matters (and all matters are Torah matters). Therefore, he has the right - no, the obligation - to instruct the Torah-true community on any question. This derives from דברים יז:ח-יב. "ח כִּי יִפָּלֵא מִמְּךָ דָבָר לַמִּשְׁפָּט, בֵּין-דָּם לְדָם בֵּין-דִּין לְדִין וּבֵין נֶגַע לָנֶגַע--דִּבְרֵי רִיבֹת, בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ: וְקַמְתָּ וְעָלִיתָ--אֶל-הַמָּקוֹם, אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בּוֹ. ט וּבָאתָ, אֶל-הַכֹּהֲנִים הַלְוִיִּם, וְאֶל-הַשֹּׁפֵט, אֲשֶׁר יִהְיֶה בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם; וְדָרַשְׁתָּ וְהִגִּידוּ לְךָ, אֵת דְּבַר הַמִּשְׁפָּט. י וְעָשִׂיתָ, עַל-פִּי הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר יַגִּידוּ לְךָ, מִן-הַמָּקוֹם הַהוּא, אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר יְהוָה; וְשָׁמַרְתָּ לַעֲשׂוֹת, כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר יוֹרוּךָ. יא עַל-פִּי הַתּוֹרָה אֲשֶׁר יוֹרוּךָ, וְעַל-הַמִּשְׁפָּט אֲשֶׁר-יֹאמְרוּ לְךָ--תַּעֲשֶׂה: לֹא תָסוּר, מִן-הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר-יַגִּידוּ לְךָ--יָמִין וּשְׂמֹאל. יב וְהָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר-יַעֲשֶׂה בְזָדוֹן, לְבִלְתִּי שְׁמֹעַ אֶל-הַכֹּהֵן הָעֹמֵד לְשָׁרֶת שָׁם אֶת-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, אוֹ, אֶל-הַשֹּׁפֵט--וּמֵת הָאִישׁ הַהוּא, וּבִעַרְתָּ הָרָע מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל.". Obeying is a mitzvah de'Oraysa and a Rav who disobeys opens himself to accusations of being a zaken mamre. Rav Shmuel Auerbach has been called a zaken mamre for challenging the Litvish gedolic consensus on the draft. See, for one example this article as well as the comments: https://www.theyeshivaworld.com/news/israel-news/1783819/fascinating-responses-hagaon-harav-chaim-kanievsky-says-to-vote-before-making-bris-on-election-day.html

    Litvish charedim have, stealthily to be sure, created the position of Pope in all but name and whoever occupies it speaks from his magisterium. Dissenters risk effective excommunication.

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  13. A couple years ago, I visited a big synagogue in a major NJ suburb. Posted on the door was a notice from the (highly qualified) shul Rabbi, that this past summer, on his visit to Israel, he went to Rav Chaim with a couple shul members, and asked him about saying tachanun, what days to skip, etc.
    Of course, like any other litvak, Rav Chaim said almost always.

    Not said, is that this is not what one goes to a gadol for. The Rabbi is more than qualified (though I'm sure he wouldn't ban your books, and not ask Rav Chaim about it) and is the one to make this decision. (I'm sure he didn't ask about Yom haAtzmaut, which used to be the custom of that shul not to say tachanun that day.)
    It's the blind worship of a respectable Torah gadol, not necessarily a posek for individual kehillot congregations.

    2. Forget about Rav Auerbach.
    Half of the main yeshiva in town does not respect Rav Chaim, yerushalmi litvish are probably also fifty fifty. I guess Americans and Europeans see him as a repository for their tzedakah, despite the misleading marketing campaigns (and hazy statements about where the money goes to.)

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  14. There seems to be two separate kinds of leadership. That of the novi, latterly the chacham, who has spiritual insight and can give guidance. This is the man at the center of the maze that the Ramchal describes in mesilat yesharim. Then there is the Rav, who has the authority to decide matters of law such as kashrut. It seems to me that owing to the dearth of the first group, the second group have moved into that area too with mixed results.

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  15. One last thing, even in the days when we had undisputed Gedolei hador, there were 2 converts (Shamaaya and Avtalyon if I am not mistaken) who were the Gedolei hador. Now, they, by right of their position, had to be consulted by the Sanhedrin, but as converts they were not allowed to be members of the Sanhedrin. Thus the Sanhedrin invited them to discuss the issue, and then would vote. As they were not in the majority, it may be that the Sanhedrin voted against their recommendations (as they did against Rabbi Akiva amongst others). The Godol hador has no authority to single handedly decide halacha and thus create ziknei mamrei (dissenting rabbis). As is written in Pirkei Avot, one may not judge alone, as only the One may judge alone.

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    1. I'm not sure that's correct. The "Zugot" that appear in Pirkei Avos, Chapter 1 all were Nasi and Av Beis Din, respectively. So Shamaaya was Nasi, and Avtalyon was Av Beis Din--despite that fact that they were descendants of converts.

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