To The Batcage!
I love getting the free weekly Yated Ne'eman and the other Israeli Charedi weeklies. They are so valuable! They are the absolute perfect size for lining the cage of my fruit bats. Bats are extremely messy animals, so I need a lot of these newspapers. Fortunately, I have a large supply available to me; the Israeli Yated recently publicized a psak of Daas Torah that it is permitted to take newspapers of a theologically dangerous nature and destroy them, even if they are in other peoples' mailboxes. (True, they were referring to Mishpachah, but what's good for the goose is good for the gander.)
(UPDATE: In the comments, some people objected to my using newspapers for such purposes, since they can contain divrei Torah. I'm sure that there are differing views on this matter, but Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ruled that such newspapers, which are printed by machine rather than written by hand, do not attain the status of sanctity as long as they are not read by people.)
Anyway, as I was lining my bats' cage the other day, I opened up the newspaper and saw the following full-spread advertisement (pictured here at the bottom of my batcage):
Combined in this advertisement are two abuses - that of rabbinic authority, and that of fundraising for charity.
One of the verses in the Torah most abused in the charedi world is "V'asisa k'chal asher yorucha." The general view amongst the Rishonim is that this is a directive to follow the Beis Din HaGadol, when it issues its rulings according to protocol. A minority view, presented by the Sefer HaChinnuch (very much not a major halachic authority), extends this to the Torah leaders of every generation - though the Minchas Chinnuch notes that this is only when they, too, are following the protocols of the Beis Din HaGadol. The Charedi world, however, presents this passuk as unequivocally demanding that everyone follows "Daas Torah" i.e. the pronouncements, issued without any protocol, of a few rabbonim named as Gedolei HaDor.
Fundraising for (alleged) charitable causes is also abused in the charedi world. The charedi world does excel at giving charity - I remember a study many years ago in the Jerusalem Post showing that National-Religious Jews give four times more charity than secular Jews, and Charedim give seven times more. (Of course, there is an issue of whether it really is charity to support people who have no intent to support themselves or to raise their children to do so; assisting them on the path to enforced poverty for their descendants may be cruelty rather than kindness.) However, the techniques used for fundraising are sensationalistic, superstitious and manipulative to the extreme, and sometimes offensive in other ways, too. A entire study could, and should, be written on the various advertisements of the various Israeli charity organizations such as Kupat Ha'Ir. "Ploni drove in an illegal manner, but escaped being punished by the authorities after donating money to Kupat Ha'Ir!" (That was an actual ad that I saw.)
In this ad we see how the charity manipulates potential donors using the popular charedi abuse of "V'asisa k'chal asher yorucha." Rav Ovadiah Yosef is pictured here writing a check to the charity. Fine. He writes about the importance of charity. Fine. But by headlining this with "v'asisa k'chal asher yorucha," the charity transforms this into a specific mitzvah for people to give to this particular charity! And it states that only by giving to this charity, does one receive the reward that he promises!
(A similar ad appeared a while back, claiming that one must follow Gadol X who insisted on giving to the kupa tzedakah of Bnei Brak - but of course he did this because it was his local charity - which does not apply to people outside of Bnei Brak!)
In case people accuse me of reading too much into it, and claim that the ad is simply asking people to give charity, I say as follows: If that is all the ad is doing, let them just talk about the value of charity, without having to invoke the Gedolim. Apparently, the mitzvah of tzedakah alone is not sufficient basis to ask for charity. After all, people might give to the wrong charity! But under the allegedly Biblical mandate to follow what the Gedolim say and/or do, one is now obligated to give to this particular charity! And if one gives to a different charity, such as the phenomenal Lemaan Achai, one does not merit the promised blessings!
On a broader level, this ad highlights a general problem: that Torah and Judaism is being transformed such that everything is about the Gedolim. But let's discuss that further on another occasion.