Who is Going Against the Mesorah?
Earlier this week, we heard Rav Gershon Ribner of Lakewood declaring that his hero Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel hates any rabbi that has a touch of modernity or is involved with Zionist organizations, and will not work with them. And his explanation of that was that Rav Elya Ber is kol kulo mesorah.
A friend of mine made an excellent observation. Having such an attitude and approach is actually not a reflection of fidelity to the Lakewood mesorah. Rather, it's a total corruption of it. Rav Aharon Kotler may well have been an extremist in various ways and an anti-Zionist, but he didn't hate rabbis who took a different approach, and he certainly didn't refuse to work with them.
There are two striking examples of this. One is Rav Kotler's reverence for Rabbi Dr. Yitzchak Herzog, first Chief Rabbi of Israel. To quote Marvin Schick's first-hand account of a Shabbos that he spent with Rav Aharon in Israel during which they learned that Rav Herzog had passed away:
"Rav Aharon spoke highly of Rav Herzog, adding that he hoped to be one of the maspidim. Rav Yaakov Schiff’s protest that Rav Herzog was a Mizrachist who had not opposed the draft of girls into military service was brushed off by Rav Aharon who noted that Rav Isser Zalman (his father-in-law - NS) had eulogized Rav Kook.... Rav Aharon also noted that Rav Herzog was a Talmid Chachom who had done much to assist Jews during the European Churban... Rav Aharon spoke at the cemetery in Sanhedria where Rav Herzog is buried. His eulogy was warm and contained much praise of Rav Herzog.”
Then there is Rav Kotler's respect for Rav Soloveitchik. Rav Aharon obviously strongly disagreed with Rav Soloveitchik's approach, which included a lot more than a "touch" of modernity. Nevertheless, not only did not hate him or refuse to work with him, he actively reached out to him to work together on behalf of Chinuch Atzmai, and there was clearly immense mutual respect. Alas, this is not well known to those believing themselves to be continuing in Rav Kotler's path - in the book The Legacy of Maran Rav Aharon Kotler, a photograph of Rav Kotler sitting next to Rav Soloveitchik at a Chinuch Atzmai dinner has been carefully cropped to remove Rav Soloveitchik, even though Rav Soloveitchik was the guest of honor at the behest of Rav Aharon, who asked him to give the keynote address!
This sort of censorship is one of the ways in which the charedi community fools itself into thinking that it is kol kulo mesorah even as it goes against it. A few years ago I wrote a critique of Rabbi Avi Shafran's claim that charedim, unlike Centrist or Modern Orthodox, are practicing the "original" form of Judaism. In my response, I pointed out some of the significant ways in which charedi Judaism has deviated from traditional Judaism. This week, someone posted the following objection to my post:
"This is my first time seeing Slifkin's blog, and realize that I am 4 years late to the party for this post, but I feel I must respond to the absurdity of it. Slifkin, as well as many of the commentors here, seem to imply that Hareidism is a recent invention. While I don't think that anyone will dispute that certain cultural nuances have evolved over the years, as they are wont to do, anyone claiming that Haredi practice of Judaism in novel vis a vis the Modern Orthodox approach, is either plain ignorant or gaslighting. There exist many thousand of seforim that were published over the centuries, down from the rishonim, achronim including codifiers of halacha and responsa. The only segment of Jewry which aspires to follow these codifiers to their truest form are the Chareidim. That's what the many thousand of talimdei chachomim around the world do every day. I myself spend hours everyday on Otzar Hachochma, learning from these seforim directly. No one is "brainwashing" me or "rewriting" history..."
The tremendous irony here is that Otzar Hachochma has a special "Bnei Yeshivos" edition of their database which censors out all the many traditional sefarim which contradict the charedi worldview! And, of course, while the charedi community is punctilious in its observance of many halachos - generally those bein adam l'Makom - there are other very basic aspects and directives of the Torah and Chazal that they simply ignore or revise, whether it's Moshe Rabbeinu on the basic idea of sharing national responsibility, or Chazal's various statements about a man's obligations to his family, his children, and society. Meanwhile, this person continues:
"...Whether or not secular studies should be studied, there have definitely been those that have learned them and those opposed over the centuries, but other than R' Hirsh who by his own admission was an innovator, has there ever been an entire "shita" been made out of it to teach it to the masses as a means unto itself. So I see no reason why Haredim are radically changing tradition by eschewing secular studies in the Yeshivos."
Of course, Chazal had an entire "shita" that everyone should work for a living and raise their children to be economically self-sufficient, which charedim ignore, and many Sefardic rishonim had an entire "shita" that everyone should ideally know various "secular" fields of knowledge, which charedim just don't learn about.
It is extraordinary that so many people who fervently believe themselves and their leaders to be "kol kulo mesorah" have no idea of the extent to which they are corrupting and reforming it.
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