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In Defense of Yated (Mostly)
And now for something that you never expected to see on this blog: A defense of the Yated.
After the passing of Elie Wiesel, the Yated published an article by Rabbi Yaakov Feitman in response to the obituaries that appeared in the general media. I saw responses by several people, describing it as "vile," "sickening," and unacceptably "judging him."
Yet the article was none of that. Rabbi Feitman made it extremely clear that he was not judging Mr. Wiesel at all, and explained at length why nobody can judge him. He showered him with praise for his various achievements, even though Mr. Wiesel certainly does not reflect the Yated's values. (I was actually quite amused to see Rabbi Feitman praise him as being the shaliach for the charedi world on Darfur, Rwanda and so on.)
Yes, Rabbi Feitman did take issue with some of Mr. Wiesel's theological statements, which are being amplified in the media. But he made it as clear as one possibly can that he was disputing the statements, not criticizing the person. What is the crime in that?
I can only think of two reasons why people would react so strongly to Rabbi Feitman's article. Perhaps Elie Wiesel was such an icon that some see it as unthinkable to dispute anything that he says. But surely such an approach, of idolizing certain figures to the extent that it is unthinkable to disagree with them, is exactly what these people criticize with regard to charedim! Alternately, perhaps these people have a knee-jerk reaction to criticize anything in the Yated. That is unfortunate.
(Incidentally, Rabbi Feitman's response to Elie Wiesel's theological challenges was rather weak. It might have been better to simply acknowledge that the question of why bad things happen to good people is as old as the Torah, and indeed the Torah itself openly states very clearly that God will sometimes do extraordinarily horrible things.)
If there's something to criticize in Rabbi Feitman's article, it's in the parable that he provides for having faith that God must know the answers:
"The Alter of Novardok offered a moshol that everyone who has ever learned Torah seriously will instantly understand. When we learn a sugya, a section of Gemara, and then look it up in the Rambam, we sometimes discover that the Rambam does not seem to follow the conclusion of the Gemara. This requires analysis and explanation, and sharp Talmudic heads work hard to “answer the Rambam.” No one would simply answer that the Rambam forgot that sugya or page of Gemara. Neither would any Torah scholar think for a moment that the Rambam was simply mistaken. The brilliant scholars of the past eight centuries have always been able to find a solution to these problems."
As Rabbi Dr. Marc Shapiro demonstrates at great length in Studies in Maimonides and his Interpreters, this is sorely inaccurate. The brilliant scholars of the past eight centuries who answered that the Rambam indeed sometimes "forgot that sugya or page of Gemara," or was "simply mistaken," include Raavad, Sefer HaChinnuch, Rivash, Tashbetz, R. Yosef Caro, the Vilna Gaon, Rav Yaakov Emden, the Netziv, and countless others - including Rambam himself! If you want to provide a mashal for God's infallibility, it's not a good idea to use a human being.