Wednesday, February 2, 2022

On Criticizing Gedolim

Can a regular person criticize a Gadol B'Torah? 

There are many people (usually, but surprisingly not always, in the charedi world) who believe that this is utterly inappropriate. However, if we look at the actual sources and practices in traditional Judaism, we see a very different picture.

First of all, it should be noted that some people (especially in the comments section of this blog) use terms like "bash" and "denigrate" when they are referring to statements coming from people that they don't like, whereas they use terms like "criticize" when they are referring to statements coming from people that they do like. For the sake of precision, I am referring only substantive criticism of the content of a person's speech or actions, not to ad hominem personal disparagement such as calling someone a "nobody."

Let's further deal separately with criticizing a Torah opinion, and criticizing conduct. 

Criticizing the opinion of a great rabbi can be done by anyone. The only restrictions placed on this are on where it undermines one's personal halachic authority. And as discussed in the chapter "Arguing With God: When May Students Dispute Teachers?" in my book Rationalism vs. Mysticism, even that case is greatly limited in application. Although the Talmud condemns one who disputes one's own teacher, subsequent generations of halachic authorities removed its force greatly by either redefining it altogether, to refer to usurping authority instead of intellectually disagreeing, or by greatly restricting its scope. Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin  writes that not only is a student permitted to disagree with his teacher, he is obligated to do so if he cannot accept what the teacher is saying - and he may well be correct. 

Rav Moshe Feinstein was once asked by a rabbi in Bnei Brak if he was allowed to dispute the view of the Chazon Ish, widely respected as the Gadol HaDor (Iggrot Moshe, Yoreh De’ah III:88). R. Feinstein notes that it is permitted to disagree even with one’s teacher; all the more so with a rabbi who is not one’s teacher, and the difference in age or stature is irrelevant. (See also Iggrot Moshe vol. 2, Yoreh De’ah I:101, p. 186, where he even permits disputing Rishonim.) 

What about criticizing the conduct of a Gadol B'Torah? This is, unsurprisingly, no different than criticizing a Torah opinion. Chazal say explicitly that במקום שיש חילול השם אין חולקין כבוד לרב - in places where God's Name is being desecrated, one does not apportion honor to a rabbi. (And obviously the rabbi himself does not feel that he is desecrating God's Name.) Furthermore, the Gemara (Taanis 20, Eruvin 53) approvingly relates several stories where laypeople criticized various Tannaim and were correct to do so.

Judaism has never believed in infallibility. Great people can make mistakes, and lesser people will sometimes notice that. Chazal further stated that even a Torah scholar can lack wisdom and in some cases be comparable to a "putrid carcass"! Everyone is required to follow their own best understanding of Torah and act accordingly.



40 comments:

  1. "Judaism has never believed in infallibility. "

    Indeed that is a Christian thing. We don't have Popes in Judaism.

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    1. And it's only been a Christian- Catholic, really- thing since the mid-1800's, and then for political reasons. (Pretty much why Daat Torah got started a few decades later.) And the Pope invokes it very rarely, and usually for esoteric theological matters.

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  2. Protestants are upset that Catholics believe the Pope is infallable. Why shouldn't we be upset that charedi Jews believe the Gedolim are infallable.

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    1. Because Charedim don't believe that Gedolim are infallible. Some Chassidim may think so, but not the non-Chassidim.

      The simplicity of including all Charedim as one, as well as the total misunderstanding of the nature of the leadership position that Gedolim possess are hallmarks of the foolishness of the MO.

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    2. Let's differentiate between "belief" and "assert". Charedim don't assert infallibility of gedolim as a formal religious doctrine as some Catholics do. However, if on a practical level they are shielded from obvious justified criticism then they believe it for all tense and purposes. The fallibility of gedolim is just a hollow shell if never actualized.

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    3. Oh come on. Most chareidim don't criticize Gedolim because they actually agree with them. Not because they're infallible. We saw this with covid. How many chareidim actually wanted to shut down schools and shuls indefinitely? What is "obvious justified criticism" to you is not to them. I bet you can't find me even one case of "obvious justified criticism" that the typical chareidi AGREES with but refrains from stating so in deference to a Gadol.

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    4. RYB, Rabbi Lopiansky and Rabbi Yehuda Greenwald all of whom condemn the Walder atrocities and even admit it wasn't handled well. All the while never implicating the rabbinical leadership.

      In a vacuum, there are tons of things many rabbonim would condemn but wouldnt never do so to implicate the Gedolim.

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    5. You might find this snip from a recent audioroundup of interest:

      https://content.blubrry.com/shiurimeshelpub/Da_Ma_Shetashiv-41-Gedolim_and_Leadership.mp3

      Da Ma Shetashiv – #41 – Gedolim and Leadership

      A particularly worthwhile listen as R’ Lopiansky struggles with the hagiographic (infallible) vision of daas torah and the actual historical record (the “good old days” weren’t so perfect) and current conditions. Agudah is a loose confederations of tribes and tribal leaders with their own values, so some things emerge by consensus and others don’t. It’s all that we have and there are no easy answers as to how to better the situation.

      The complete series:
      https://www.torahmusings.com/2022/01/audio-roundup-special-rabbi-lopiansky-2/

      https://www.torahmusings.com/2022/01/audio-roundup-special-rabbi-lopiansky/

      KT

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    6. "Most chareidim don't criticize Gedolim because they actually agree with them"
      So if they disagreed they would criticize? But Daas Torah ideology insists on uncritical acceptance despite disagreement. Do most Charedim agree with this ideology, that they wouldn't criticize if they would disagree?


      "What is "obvious justified criticism" to you is not to them."
      And what if there were "obvious justified criticism"? Would they criticize?

      "We saw this with covid."
      Lies. The Gedolim insisted that people follow the guidelines. Were the guidelines followed? Address specifically mask wearing which do not involve closing of shuls and schools.

      "the typical chareidi AGREES with but refrains from stating so in deference to a Gadol."
      And if he disagrees, then what?
      What about the common practice of two cellphones?



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    7. "Most chareidim don't criticize Gedolim because they actually agree with them."

      Do most charedim agree with Yated's labeling Chaim Walder as a צדיק?

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    8. zichron, the fact that Chassidish belief and practice has spilled over into the Litvish world in recent decades is well-documented. You need look no further than the fact that yeshivish boys all wear black and white uniforms. And that's also true of ideology, such as attributing da'at torah to roshei yeshiva. This is really obvious; to deny it is gaslighting.

      In any event, the vast majority of charedim in the world- Israel, the US, Europe- are chassidim.

      happy, of *course* da'at torah is more about what the individual (or, at best, the macher) wants than what the gadol actually says. We've known this for years. And it's human nature. But it will never be *admitted* by the supposed followers of da'at torah, which is the whole point here.

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    9. In Chabad folklore and history, I can't think of an instance where one of the Rebbes was considered ever "wrong".

      For example, it's related that the Ba'al HaTanya differed with the contemporary Chassidic leaders as to whether to prefer Napoleon to succeed in conquering Russia. The other Chassidic masters felt that Napoleon would end the oppressive Czarist rule, while the Ba'al HaTanya said that "Napoleon would be better for the Jews in גשמיות, but worse for them in רוחניות". The two sides can't both be right!

      On the other hand, one story related by the chassid Rabbi Mendel Futerfass went as follows: Chassidim of different streams were sitting and relating various מופתים that their Rebbe performed. A Chabadnik spoke up: "I had a business proposition that I was considering. I consulted with the Rebbe, and he told me to go ahead with it. I lost all the money I invested."

      The other Chassidim were waiting for the "end" of the story: "Where is the מופת in that?"

      The Chabadnik answered: "The מופת is that I'm still a Chassid."

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    10. Nachum - if the depth of your argument is the clothing styles of the Litvishe bochurim then I have no answer for you. There is no way you can comprehend anything as nuanced and complicated as human behavior.

      But for the rest of the readers, da'as Torah never meant infallibility. Even those sources that speak about da'as Torah do not mention infallibility. Da'as Torah is no more than Torah, and people can make mistakes in Torah without being amei ha'aretz.

      Most Chassidim don't really believe in the infallibility of their Rebbe. In Satmae, arguably the largest Chassidus in the world, it is a matter of faith that the Rebbe did not want his Chassidim to believe in his infallibility. Most other Chassidim believe that they are obligated to listen to the Rebbe even if he makes a mistake. I think most people believe the same about the laws of their countries, we can't have each person deciding on his own speed limit. The stretch to a Rebbe is of course ludicrous, but it doesn't imply infallibility.

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    11. @BM, "RYB, Rabbi Lopiansky and Rabbi Yehuda Greenwald all of whom condemn the Walder atrocities and even admit it wasn't handled well. All the while never implicating the rabbinical leadership."

      What rabbinical leadership in the Walder case? What are you even talking about? Please respond with something specific. Something that a certain Gadol said, that you know those individuals disagreed with, but refrained from speaking out. Please don't be vague.

      @Ephraim "So if they disagreed they would criticize? But Daas Torah ideology insists on uncritical acceptance despite disagreement."

      You are assuming that which I and zv above are disputing. You clearly know very little about "chareidi" ideology. This is what zv meant by foolishness.

      "Lies. The Gedolim insisted that people follow the guidelines. Were the guidelines followed? Address specifically mask wearing which do not involve closing of shuls and schools."

      Now you are contradicting yourself. I actually agree with this statement. Same with smartphones, internet. You see that Chareidim/"chareidim" do NOT necessarily follow the Gedolim, they do NOT practice "da'as Torah ideology". They have their own culture, which the Gedolim are definitely part of, but "uncritical acceptance" plays very little role.

      @Nahum " You need look no further than the fact that yeshivish boys all wear black and white uniforms"

      Typical secularist mind-rotted blather, only looking at externals. I can just as well say that MO are goyim, because they dress like them. OK?

      "In any event, the vast majority of charedim in the world- Israel, the US, Europe- are chassidim."

      Not true. But even if it was, who cares, we are not chassidim. The vast majority of secularists are mechallel Shabbos. Actually the vast majority are goyim. So by extension, all the MO are as well. OK?

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    12. @Ephraim "Do most charedim agree with Yated's labeling Chaim Walder as a צדיק?"

      Who the hell cares what the Yated says?? You guys really think we care, eh? Another example of what zv above called MO foolishness. I can find plenty of chareidim/"chareidim", including myself who says (provisionally) he was a rasha.

      To all of you secularists (including BM even though I recently learned he is just faking it) I am what you call a "charedi" and yet have no trouble criticizing Gedolim. I will criticize them right now for their promotion of Daf Yomi. This alone should put to rest all your foolishness.

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    13. This is a great comments thread! This is what it boils down to: "Most chareidim don't criticize Gedolim because they actually agree with them" - They don't criticize because they agree OR perhaps, there is no real capacity to disagree with the powers that be so they don't criticize??

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    14. From my experience, charedi Jews *do not* believe the Gedolim are infallible. (How it is ever possible when different Gedolim have different opinions on the same topic?)
      They only say so when that suits them.

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    15. brodsky, some do believe they are infallible, or at least in my experience. They will also say the sages (Chazal) are infallible and sometimes it looks as though they worship dead rabbis (although they probably don't; it just looks that way.)

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    16. I asked, "Do most charedim agree with Yated's labeling Chaim Walder as a צדיק?"

      You answered, "Who the hell cares what the Yated says?? You guys really think we care, eh?"

      I'm going out on a limb and interpret your answer as "no". The Yated was founded by Rav Schach as the voice of Daas Torah. When the Gedolim want to disseminate a message they issue a "press release" to the Yated.
      You say Charedim don't care about the Yated which is an official disseminator of Daas Torah.

      Delete
    17. "To all of you secularists (including BM even though I recently learned he is just faking it) I am what you call a "charedi" and yet have no trouble criticizing Gedolim. I will criticize them right now for their promotion of Daf Yomi. This alone should put to rest all your foolishness."

      How brave of you. Your anonymous criticism really reflects the Haredi norm.

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    18. Isaac, don't worry, I make that same criticism non-anonymously, in real life, all the time!

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    19. @Ephraim "You say Charedim don't care about the Yated which is an official disseminator of Daas Torah."

      I'm sorry, every time you write something, you show how clueless you are. You really, really think that just because the Yated was founded by Rav Shach, just because it's a so-called "official disseminator of da'as Torah", therefore chareidim take everything in it Very, Very Seriously. Like gufo shel Torah. Like a proclamation from the Sanhedrin. That's really what you think, eh? I'm sure you're very clever and capable in all areas of life, but this just goes to show how even clever and capable people can be completely clueless about things that are outside their range of experience.

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    20. @Yehuda P.

      Interesting that non of the rebbes had the 'ruach hakodesh' or political insight to see that Napoleon would lose, nor the common sense to realize that if you support your country's enemies at the times of war, you shouldn't complain of being mistreated after it's over.

      Delete
  3. "The total misunderstanding of the nature of the leadership position that Gedolim possess are hallmarks of the foolishness of the MO."

    So instead of entering a meaningless, ad hominem comment, why don't you provide an argument of actual substance?

    Because there are numerous instances of evidence on this blog showing what a substantial portion of the Charedi community believes in terms of how Gedolim work. Your comment includes none of that.

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    1. There have been no statements from actual CHaredim on this blog that Gedolim are infallible, or that one may not question them. Only from MO(rons) who think they know what others are thinking.

      Yes, we believe that they are the ones who have the responsibility for the public decisions that have to be made, and they have the necessary knowledge and understanding of the matters. I know that I do not have the responsibility, knowledge or understanding to make these weighty decisions. Which is why on public matters I defer to those who know better. In matters of health, it is the Department of Health, in matters of Torah, it is to Torah scholars. In my private life, I decide.

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  4. "Everyone is required to follow their own best understanding of Torah and act accordingly."

    Should one with limited Torah knowledge and/or limited mental acumen, simply follow "his best understanding of Torah and act accordingly"?

    Suppose one believes smoking on Shabbos is permitted. Should he research well-established halachic precedent and contact a halachic expert before taking matters into his own hands, or "simply follow his best understanding of Torah and act accordingly"?

    The error you make is that permission to dispute assumes that the disputer is at least knowledgeable enough, capable enough, has yiras shamayim, and has researched the thoroughly and to his full ability. At least that.

    He doesn't shirk his duties or act flippantly because "a student may argue with a teacher". One thing has nothing to do with the next.

    Not every assumption must be spelled out. Must it be pointed out or is it self-understood that "the legal right to remain silent" assumes that the interrogated one is actually living and that they actually understand what is being being asked?

    Here too, it goes without saying that one disputing, say, the Chazon Ish, is, among other things, very knowledgeable in halacha, serious about keeping halacha, not intellectually limited, has studied the topic extensively, and does not have an agenda or an axe to grind with Torah, Torah-Scholars, G-d, and who knows what else.

    The mishna in Avos urges us to "make for yourself a teacher". That is much better advice than to make your own decision based on your own best understanding of Torah. It is not unreasonable to assume that your "best understanding" will be faulty in a given situation.

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    1. You're setting up boogeymen here. Of course that's not what the argument is.

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    2. But that is the argument.
      When it comes to things like politics, the Charedim generally believe that the Gadol has done more research than him, is more invested in the outcome, and cares more about the matter. The idea that each and every person, while scratching his feet in the Mikvah, should offer an opinion about weighty matters, is wrong and frivolous. You wouldn't make medical decisions based on your own ideas, why is Torah less than medicine?

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    3. Yes it is what the argument is about, Nachum. It goes to the heart of the discussion. Please don't lie and deflect like that when you don't have a good answer. It demonstrates poor comprehension skills.

      The piece states that "criticizing the opinion of a great rabbi can be done by anyone" and that "everyone is required to follow their own best understanding of Torah and act accordingly." Reread what I wrote a few times until it sinks in. Best.

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  5. I understand seeing statements along the lines of "It is a mistake to criticize Gedolei Torah" or, "Remember that Gedolei Torah are above our paygrade" coming from people who believe that the avos were perfect, the Tannaim never sinned, the Amoraim never disagree with a Tana, and so forth. It is quite something else to hear such statements from people who are comfortable with viewing the Avos as human, taking seriously the occasional criticisms of their behavior by the rishonim. It is strange to see people who will not hesitate to disagree with a R' Chaim or Mishne Berurah in matters of lomdos or halacha suddenly feel "they are way above our paygrade" when it comes to blatant human failings, which all of us, as humans, can so easily understand.

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  6. I know you are always looking for ppl to point out "tone" issues. The following lines from this post drip with arrogance IMHO

    "Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin writes that not only is a student permitted to disagree with his teacher, he is obligated to do so if he cannot accept what the teacher is saying - and he may well be correct."

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  7. R’ Slifkin,

    What do you mean by “where it undermines one's personal halachic authority”?

    “Personal” as opposed to…?

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  8. One thing I do wonder about, then, is the concept of yeridah hadorot, which does give rabbis of past generations an infallibility not necessarily afforded to those that are our contemporaries - even older contemporaries. It's an issue I've long had with and within Orthodox Judaism. It effectively cuts down our ability to adapt to changing circumstances and moral frameworks. It leaves individuals, especially those in an individualistic age, questioning whether they really want to be effectively ruled by people who lived hundreds, even thousands of years ago. It renders contemporary halachic authorities unable to find the authority and/ or will to effectively deal with contemporary issues. And it leaves those who blindly follow the gedolim having given all the authority to someone who actually has very limited authority in ways that often matter most.

    I dont know, it seems to be something that is often overlooked in discussions about dealing with today's Gedolim.

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  9. One thing I do wonder about, then, is the concept of yeridah hadorot, which does give rabbis of past generations an infallibility not necessarily afforded to those that are our contemporaries - even older contemporaries. It's an issue I've long had with and within Orthodox Judaism. It effectively cuts down our ability to adapt to changing circumstances and moral frameworks. It leaves individuals, especially those in an individualistic age, questioning whether they really want to be effectively ruled by people who lived hundreds, even thousands of years ago. It renders contemporary halachic authorities unable to find the authority and/ or will to effectively deal with contemporary issues. And it leaves those who blindly follow the gedolim having given all the authority to someone who actually has very limited authority in ways that often matter most.

    I dont know, it seems to be something that is often overlooked in discussions about dealing with today's Gedolim.

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  10. I think the solid grounds for disagreeing rise dramatically when we are dealing with questions of facts in the world, with metzius. This is especially true when the gadol has already demonstrated factual ignorance. Possible examples include medicine, sex abuse, the nature of the internet, etc.

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  11. Dear RNS, what do you mean with "the Talmud condemns one who disputes one's own teacher"?

    I am afraid there is a misunderstanding. Although the Hebrew word חולק usually means a dispute or an arguing, the statement כל החולק על רבו כאילו חולק על השכינה means something different: opening a separate court or a separate beith-midrash without the explicit permission of the teacher.

    I am not aware about any prohibition to dispute with his own teacher. Moreover, as far as I know there is no prohibition to dispute with Sanhedrin and question their decisions, so long the person does not act and does not urge others to act in contrary to their decisions.

    If you have any talmudic source that says differently, please share.

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  12. Where is Rabbi Dr Natan Slifkin when the goose is cooked in his own backyard?!

    Talk about only banning books by the charedi community!

    https://vinnews.com/2022/02/03/70-rabbis-sign-declaration-against-rabbi-melameds-peninei-halacha-series-one-may-not-rely-on-his-rulings/

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  13. You know what, all you men pontificating here... I have a story for you. A true one. I needed a get or I was going to off myself because the situation was that terrible. Reb Moishe ztl was my mesader kedushin, and I had gone from pillar to post with my father, from rebbe to rebbe looking for a solution. By that time I had figured out that the minhag ke Halacha was that you could not go to court to get a civil divorce if you didn't have a get, putting the agunah, especially if she was a mother, in a terrible bind. If she couldn't get her divorce, get or not, how was she supposed to support her kids with no child support, let alone alimony. I had been to the Lubavitcher, the Satmar, the Sqverer, and finally I was brought to Reb Moishe, whose wife stood in the kitchen door between the tiny room where Reb Moishe sat on his day bed, literally crying into her apron that I need to stay with a wife batterer for the sake of the child. And I said a few things. One was that I had already attempted checking out once, and if I have no outs, I will find a way to succeed the next time I tried, not really understanding until a few minutes later, that I had turned the whole thing into an issue of pikuach nefesh. Then I maybe not as respectfully as some of you might have wanted me to be, I asked him why he made it impossible for women to provide for their children by preventing them from getting their legal divorces, which involved community property, child support, visitation and all that, making the women and children suffer for no conceivable reason. And he listened. And he changed his mind about getting divorces, and had put into my decree that if I didn't get my get with my decree, my ex would be held in contempt, which he was. The Agudah and the rest of the "gedolei" Hador, went through the roof and sued for separation of church and state, claiming it was a forced get (you could break his knees, but you can't take him to court?!) In the end, Reb Moishe sat with the late Shelly Silver and rewrote NY State divorce laws so that any ex who prevents an ex from getting remarried doesn't get community property or custody. I just love that R Natan used a photo of Reb Moishe for this post. Just goes to show ya, even a 22 year old girl could stand up to a gadol hador and school him in the facts of life.

    ReplyDelete

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