Thursday, January 27, 2011

Differences in the Modus Operandi of Gedolim

Guest Post by Rabbi Dovid Landesman

In my search for Emes I am once again pleased to present a guest post by Rabbi Dovid Landesman. He is a Charedi Jew that I truly believe represents the wave of the future. As I have said in the past, I honor his intellectual honesty and though we sometimes disagree I think it is safe to say that we both seek similar goals.

The following was sent as a comment on the last post – but it describes a truism about the state of authoritative religious figures that deserves far more exposure than it would get near the end of a very lengthy comment thread of the post that generated it. The following are his words.

I am not an authorized spokesman for either Rav Yosef Sholom Elyashiv or for Rav Ovadia Yosef; nevertheless, I think that it is critical to try and understand where each is coming from. As is the case with many public issues in Israel, there is a fundamental difference in approach that is manifested in their opposing views. R' Elyashiv - and the rabbanim who follow his direction - choose to live in a halachic bubble where the only issue of concern is what halachah demands.

The political ramifications of a halachic stance are immaterial because, in their view, the political exigencies of a state and its need to satisfy the needs of all of its constituents are immaterial and have no bearing since the state itself has no real legitimacy. In this view, the chiloni majority in the state has no standing in terms of being a part of the klal for whom they are responsible and they can therefore be ignored.

Rav Yosef, on the other hand, in his dual role as posek and political leader, must by force take other factors into consideration. If there is a means of relying on a lenient opinion, then for the sake of the needs of the entire klal it is within the posek's authority to do so, even if the majority of opinions holds differently.

I would posit that Rav Goren zt'l issued his decision on the Langer mamzerim issue on this same basis. Although the halachic consensus would have had him declare them mamzerim, the political exegincies at the time, in his view, called for him to reach a conclusion - with precedent albeit limited - that was politically potable. The same might be true of the psak of Reb Yitzchak Elchanan regarding the heter mechirah. The needs of the time may have caused him to decide to rely on a leniency that he would not have considered in other situations.

Obviously, Rav Elyashiv is aware of political realities. I would conjecture, however, that he is reluctant to follow Rav Yosef's analysis of the political needs at this juncture because he is reticent to create these kinds of precedents which, in his view, will only lead to demands for a more amenable approach to questions of halachah vs. medinah. Better to take a stand on this issue and protect halachah than to compromise and be subject to pressures.

As such, what we have here is a political debate between gedolai yisrael on a subject that, in truth, has never really been resolved since the founding of the State. Until such time as a consensus can be reached that will bind all poskim [something that only Eliyahu ha-Navi can bring about], we will continue to be subject to these types of arguments. I only pray that they remain civil and respectful to both sides.

[As a paranthetical aside, in his biography, former MK R. Shlomo Lorincz recounts a number of conversations he had with the Satmar rebbe in which he asked R. Yoelish if he would be prepared to join the Agudah if the party left the knesset. The rebbe demurred and Lorincz writes that he assumes that the reason was the rebbe's opinion that before the coming of mashiach, each kahal must remain separate and not attempt to create a unified body since we lack the tools [sanhedrin] with whhich we can reach a decision that will be binding on everyone. This would seem to me to underlie the position of Rav Elyashiv and cohorts who are dead set against creating a unified body of shomrei mitzvot - from left to right - to represent the interests of the klal. Doing so, would require compromises that they would prefer to avoid.]