Sunday, August 13, 2006

Tosphos and Shakespeare

Once again in the “House of Israel” Centrist Hashkafos have come under attack by members of the right. This time it is from an American who is a Rosh HaYeshiva in Israel. But it wasn’t only the Hashkafa that was attacked, it was a personal attack against the very person I consider to be the ultimate expositor of Centrist Hashkafa, HaRav Aaron Lichtenstein. It was specifically stated with respect to Rav Lichtenstein's view about the positive impact Mada can have on Limud HaTorah.

Over Shabbos, an acquaintance of mine who reads my blog and who is a Talmid of this Rosh HaYeshiva told me the following had occurred when he was there; he heard it with his own ears. When I pressed him about the veracity of the story, he confirmed that the following is exactly what happened:

During the course of a Sicha, this Rosh HaYeshiva decided to say to all the Bnei HaYeshiva words to this effect: “A certain Rosh Yeshiva has had the Chutzpa to say that one must know Shakespeare in order to understand Tosfos! Well, not only does that Rosh Yeshiva not understand Tosphos, he doesn’t understand Shakespeare either!”

This blew my mind! Just when I thought I had heard it all, another disgusting diatribe reared its ugly head again. This Charedi Rosh HaYeshiva had absolutely no compunction about bashing one of the finest minds in the Torah world. And not only did he bash him personally but by implication he bashed all people who have similar views, including my own Rebbe, Rav Aaron Soloveichik and the Novominsker Rebbe, Rabbi Yaakov Perlow! And he did so without even telling the truth. Either he misunderstood it… or he deliberately lied!

Rabbi Lichtenstein never said anything of the kind. What he did say is that his knowledge of English literature helped… him… understand certain portions of Tanach better. He had related this information about himself to demonstrate how Mada can increase one’s understanding of some areas of Torah. He no more thinks that Shakespeare can enhance one’s understanding of Tosphos than I do.

Futhermore, Rav Lichtenstein has explicitly stated that not everyone needs to know any given piece of Mada to understand any portion of Torah. Only that for some… perhaps many… people it does. He fully agreed that Rav Chaim Soloveichik in no way needed Mada for him to reach his heights of understanding Torah. Rav Lichtenstein was only speaking for himself, and others like him. That this Charedi Rosh HaYeshiva demeaned Rav Lichtenstein the way he did smacks of the worst kind of Lashan Hora or worse yet, Motzei ShemRa!

I recall when I was in the Beis Hamedrash in HTC, one of my fellow Talmidim who was very close to Rabbi Perlow, (a graduate of NYU, if I recall correctly) asked him why he went to college. Rabbi Perlow told him that the reason he went to college is so that he could understand certain Sugyos in Shas better. Will this Charedi RY now bash the Novominsker the same way he bashed Rav Lichtenstein? Will he say about Rav Perlow that not only does he not know how to learn a Tosphos, he does not know Shakespeare either?

In his Halachic analysis of Torah U’Mada, Rav Aaron Soloveichik mentions the introduction to the P’as Hashulchan. The author says in the name of the GRA that “All knowledge is necessary for the understanding of Torah.” Rav Baruch MiShklav, a Talmid of the GRA, in the introduction to his translation of Euclidean geometry says in the name of the GRA, “For every measure of knowledge one is missing, in Torah this lack of knowledge is magnified one-hundred fold”. And then Rav Soloveichik posits, “the Malbim who defined Mada as the knowledge of nature isn’t limiting himself to natural science alone.”

Is this Charedi Rosh HaYeshiva about to bash Rav Aaron Soloveichik, the Malbim, and the GRA? Do they too not understand either Tosphos or Shakespeare?!

This is the same Charedi Rosh HaYeshiva that bashes Yeshiva University all the time and succeeds in discouraging all of his students from attending it upon their return to America. This is also the same Rosh HaYeshiva who when he comes to America to solicit funds for his Yeshiva stays at his brother’s house, a man who is a decades long rabbi of a non-Mechitza Shul!

To this Rosh HaYeshiva, I would say, if you want to bash someone, start with your own brother. It is time for your own Chesbon HaNefesh. And as we approach Elul… stop lying about those with whom your disagree.