Friday, February 29, 2008

Daas Torah?

An article in The Jewish Star confirms much of my thinking on the subject of Daas Torah today. As it does my thinking about those many people refer to as ‘The Gedolim’.

I have written in the past that I do not believe we have any Gedolim today. That is incorrect. And though I said that and explained what I meant, I should not have put it that way. Of course we have Gedolim. By definition and default the rabbinic leaders of our day are Gedolim. That is how Gedolim are defined. And we have to treat them with respect.

The Gemarah tells us,’Yiftach B’Doro K’Shmuel B’Doro’. Yiftach who was the Gadol HaDor of his generation and did some pretty questionable things according to one opinion in the Gemarah was nevertheless to be treated in his own generation like the Navi Shmuel was treated in his generation. Each are to be treated with respect because they are our leaders. Who those leaders currently are - how they became our leaders - or whether one group considers ‘this one’ a Gadol and another considers ‘that one a Gadol - is immaterial. If one is defined as a Gadol, we must treat them accordingly.

What I meant when I said that ‘We have no Gedolim’ is that the caliber of our Gedolim is light years apart from the previous generation, something I think they would themselves agree with. And although they are deserving of respect and honor, I cannot in all seriousness consider their pronouncements as having anywhere near the validity as those of the previous generation. The events surrounding this ban as described in this article confirms that for me …as does the subsequent ‘carrot and stick’ approach of pressuring of Lipa to ‘tow the line’. He of course succumbed to it.

Here are the key excerpts from that article:

In an interview with The Jewish Star, Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetzky, a rosh yeshiva in Philadelphia who signed the ban, said, "It is very general, you're right, but I don't think it will refer to all concerts. You have to have an outlet for kids." Rabbi Kamenetzky confirmed that he had spoken to Friedman and said that he had understood that the request for the ban originally came "from rabbis in Eretz Yisroel.

We didn't want to differ with them. It was expressed that certain performers...upset somepeople." The Rosh Yeshiva was asked whether anybody had confirmed the origin of the request. "It seems that it was a request from mouth to ear and everyone went along with them," he responded.

"What they said was that it was a request from Rav Elyashiv and Rav Steinman. I didn't:confirm that." Asked if it is unusual for distinguished rabbonim to sign a kol korei on the say-so of one person, Rabbi Kamenetzky was candid:"Usually we meet together. This time, with time pressing, we did not get together. Andmaybe it was not the right thing."

These quotes speak for themselves and show me just how these kinds of bans come about. A zealous Kannoi with an agenda contacts as many Gedolim as he can and describes his take on a performer. He then misleads them about the sources for the ban stating that two of the most prominent and elderly Israeli Gedolim are behind it. Instead of researching the veracity of this claim, due to the constraints on their time they allow this Kannoi to affix their signatures to the bottom of a declaration that they will not even read. … one that had they read, they would not have signed.

Just as was the case with Rabbi Natan Slifkin and Rabbi Nosson Kaminetsky, these Gedolim were manipulated into signing a faulty proclamation. And just as it was an injustice in the case of those two rabbis, so too it is an injustice here.

To paraphrase what Rabbi Nosson Kamitesky said about his ban, this would not have happened with the previous generation of Gedolim. Both of these rabbis reputations, and livelihoods, and Shiduch prospects for their children were all negatively affected by those actions. That Lipa Schmeltzer capitulated to this kind of pressure is therefore easily understood.

These are our Gedolim? This is Daas Torah?

What is most perplexing is that in addition to the other Gedolim, it was Rav Shmuel Kaminetsky who by his own admission so casually signed the ban. He is the brother of Rav Nosson Kaminetsky, who was treated in precisely the same way by zealous Kanoim in Israel. He knew the pain that his brother suffered, and probably suffred from it too.

Why did he sign so quickly? I don’t know but to quote him: "we didn't want to differ”. No independent thinking. They just did not want to differ from the Israeli Gedolim whom they thought initiated the ban. So in haste and without researching the facts, they signed on. No verification of any of the claims were made.

I am sure that these Gedolim are among the most knowledgeable of Torah in our time. I’m also sure that they spend countless hours of sacrifice working for the benefit of Klal Yisroel. They are Moser Nefesh and selfless to a fault. But the best of intentions do not always pave the road to a good place. And in this case we can see that quite clearly. And if they dropped the ball here, where else did they drop it? And when will they drop it again?