Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Can This Really Be Daas Torah?

I am truly puzzled by a letter signed by two people who are recognized as Gedolim by many people. Rav Nissim Karelitz signed a letter - later signed as well by Rav Chaim Kanievsky - banning Mishpacha Magazine as well as all weekly publications. According to Deiah VeDibur this is what the letter said:

All of the weeklies and freebies, including Mishpachah, distort and blur the holy Torah world view we received from our rabbonim and one should not, choliloh, bring newspapers of this sort into the home or promote them in any way.

And granting any hechsher to such newspapers is clearly out of the question.

This applies even more to radio of any kind and all Internet sites, all of which are provocative and destroy the soul, and are the root of impurities and harm.

This was followed by a 2nd letter with several other signatories on it. Here is the text of that one:

Gedolei Yisroel have issued warnings in the past to avoid the influence of the weeklies, and now we are hereby voicing our pain over the remarks recently made in the weekly magazine Mishpachah, which reflect on ongoing pattern of bringing in values from the outside world into our world, thereby causing extensive harm to the lofty and sacred values we work hard to bestow. Therefore they and all of the other various weeklies should be avoided.

This is ironic considering the fact that Mishpacha just did a cover story on Rav Karelitz that included an interview with him. I do not understand how anyone claiming the mantle of Torah leadership can speak so strongly against a Magazine that so clearly supports their values.

I can only guess at the reason for this. It is once again a situation where people with agendas that are based more on personal issues than Hashkafic ones have manipulated their rabbinic leaders into signing a document that will personally benefit them. The second letter seems like a band wagon jump. Most of the signatories on it are pretty obscure. I can’t help but wonder if they signed on to this just to be in sync and to identify with the two recognized leaders so as to gain in their own reputations.

I’m not exactly sure what precipitated it but it should not be too surprising that Deiah VeDibur - the thinly disguised internet version of the Israeli Yated - published it. Follow the money. Mishpacha Magazine has given them some real competition and threatens their very existence as a newspaper. Mishpacha is so superior to it in so many ways that most people would rather read that then the rabbinically controlled and sanctioned Yated.

Is this really leadership? Is this what Daas Torah is supposed to be about? If it is, then I question its priorities. Is talking about Parnassa in the context of learning Torah so bad that it deserves to be banned for doing so? Is that so consuming an issue that it requires the attention of Rav Karelitz more than any other issue? Is this what they think is priority number one? In the absence of any other proclamation about anything else, I have to assume it is.

Is it any wonder then that Rav Chaim Amsalem has the following views? From VIN:

Rabbi Amsalem lambasted the notion of Daas Torah, saying it is an invention of the last one hundred years brought to Israel by European Ashkenazim.

Saying his personal Daas Torah is the Shulchan Aruch, Gemara and Mishnayos, R’ Amsalem explained that while one should clearly seek Daas Torah in issues of halacha and spirituality, the idea that every word that emanates from the mouth of a gadol is like the word of G-d is a blatant lie, perpetuated by those who hope to control the masses. R’ Amsalem takes aim at Rabbonim who rule on topics such as politics that they know nothing about.

“The Rabbonim are surrounded by ‘courts’, they don’t listen to both sides,” said R’ Amsalem. “They listen only to one side, the side of the court. This goes against the Torah, which says Shomoa bein Achicha – you should hear your fellow Jew. They are not hearing both sides, they bring their decision only upon hearing one side. It should not be done this way. This is NOT Daas Torah.”

Rav Amsalem is a big Talmid Chacham. He was once a favored politician in the Shas party of Rav Ovadia Yosef. But for having these views and making them public he has been ostracized by Rav Yosef and has formed a new party.

I don’t know what kind of following he will develop. But I hope it is a big one. His Hashkafos are the right ones and as a Sephardi Rav who is also Charedi he has a chance to be heard by the community that needs him most.

With all of its growth and its successes in Torah learning the Charedi world (especially in Israel) has nonetheless fallen and is having a hard time getting up. They are beset with many problems. Poverty is crushing them. I hope his views takes hold. It’s more than time we put Humpty Dumpty together again. And set Klal Yisroel on the sensible path he advocates – which is the very thing that got Mishpacha banned.