A Leadership Vacuum?
There has been much talk about whether the passing of Rav Chaim Kanievsky ztz"l creates a leadership vacuum in the charedi world. In my view, it does not, but I do not mean this in the way that you might think I mean it.
There are many different types of rabbis. There are Talmudists. There are Poskim (halachic decisors). There are theologians. There are synagogue rabbis. There are teachers in schools and yeshivos. There are Roshei Yeshivah. There are heads of institutions. There are scholars. There are community activists. And this is far from a full list.
Rav Chaim Kanievsky was a Torah scholar par excellence. He was incredibly, totally, utterly dedicated to learning Torah. He also answered questions that were asked of him, and wrote many works of Torah scholarship. But he was not a Rosh Yeshiva or Rosh Kollel and very rarely gave shiurim. And he never held any formal position of responsibility or power or authority. Nor did he travel or make any attempt to learn about the goings-on in society, and the opportunities and challenges that exist. He was a supremely modest, private, secluded person.
There are people claiming that Rav Chaim was a strong leader. And there are those criticizing him for being a bad leader, during Covid. But they are all mistaken. Rav Chaim wasn't a strong leader or a weak leader. He wasn't a good leader or a bad leader. He just wasn't a leader at all. That is simply not the role that he either wanted or played. He was the Torah scholar - and one of the greatest.
Why, then, are so many people describing him as a leader? The answer is threefold.
First is that charedi society has innovated a concept of Daas Torah whereby definitive guidance for all issues is best given by people who are completely isolated from the world. Accordingly, leadership (in the sense of direction) is taken even from those who are not actually leaders by any other measure.
The second reason is that he was wielded as an authority by others. As described in the previous post, Three Funerals in Bnei Brak, there were people who realized that precisely because he was not a leader, they could freely manipulate the concept of Reb Chaim for money and power. They could pronounce something as Daas Torah in Reb Chaim's name, and nobody would dare to disagree.
The third reason that people describe him as a leader is that there wasn't really anyone else competing for the title.
And so the passing of Rav Chaim did not create a leadership vacuum in the charedi world. It had already existed before he passed away.
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Since the reactions to the previous post were very mixed, I'd like to share a message that I received:
I know you've taken some heat for your recent article about Rav Chaim's passing. The truth is, I'm mostly familiar with the second version of Rav Chaim, the chassidic rebbe version, and that version of Rav Chaim means very little to me. However, even when I hear about the first version of the great Torah scholar and tzaddik, it's usually coming from those who also, to at least some extent, promote version 2, so I don't give too much weight to their words. The fact is, coming from you, I take the words to heart, and I feel like your post really helped me appreciate and respect the great loss of Rav Chaim version 1. So I guess what I'm trying to say is that far from being disrespectful or cynical, I found your post to be inspiring and to elevate Rav Chaim's life and legacy in my eyes by providing what I believe to be an honest overview of his true greatness in Torah and his humility and simple lifestyle, without adding dubious claims about his greatness in other areas, which, to my knowledge, he never claimed for himself.
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