Monday, November 28, 2011

Shouting ‘Daas Torah’ from the Rooftops

One of the speakers addressing the Agudah convention was Rabbi Shimshon Sherrer, son of the legendary - decades long leader of Agudah , Rabbi Moshe Sherrer. I listened to his speech which is available on YouTube in two parts. (Part one above, part two below.)

My reaction is as follows. On the one hand I was not surprised by what he said although it still disappointed me. On the other hand I was surprised by who he attacked. Without mentioning him by name it was clear that he was referring to Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein. That was because he dared to express a view that is not in concert with Agudist dogma about their rabbinic authority. Rabbi Sherrer sees this as challenging the Torah itself and condemned it. He might as well have said the same thing about Rabbi Berl Wein who had similar criticisms.

He seemed to lump all non Agudists into the same anti Torah camp: Left wing, Centrist… it is all the same to him. Unless you are supportive of the pronouncements of Agudah - you are the enemy.

Rabbi Sherrer’s message is typical of the right. They see the Agudah Moetzes as representing the word of God. Daas Torah they call it. Anyone who dares to criticize it is to be rejected. In a reference to last week’s Parsha of Toldos he said they are to be considered ‘Yidei Esav’ - the hands of Esav out to destroy the Torah.

He then made a reference to the Talmud’s admonition to follow the religious leaders of your day and not compare them to the leaders of the past. The point was made in a story he told about a meeting his father had with Rav Aharon Kotler.

His father had read a newspaper critique of the Moetzes of Rav Aharon Kotler’s day that said they were being led astray by Askanim… that the Moetzes of Rav Kotler’s day was not the Moetzes of the previous generation whose leaders were the likes of R’ Chaim Ozer Grodzinski.

Rav Kotler shuddered at the thought and made Rav Sherrer remove the paper from his house. And then he proceeded to insist that - absolutely! …the current Moetzes IS R’ Chaim Ozer! How dare anyone say they aren’t?

The difference is the members of the Moetzes of RAK’s day were the likes of Rav Moshe Feinstein. He was not led astray by Askanim. On the other hand the members of today’s Moetzes are being led astray their own admission! For example - did Rabbi Sherrer forget about the Lipa Schmeltzer concert debacle of a couple of years ago where a member of the Moetzes admitted he was led astray?

For simplicity’s sake let us define Daas Torah as the will of God about issues not spelled out in the Torah - but is interpreted or intuited by the brightest Torah minds of our day. If one accepts that premise then one thing needs to be made clear. There are many bright Torah minds and not all of them are on the Agudah Moetzes. Rabbi Sherrer’s Daas Torah is not necessarily the definitive Daas Torah to the exclusion of all others. He can shout it from the rooftops all day long. That will not make it any more true.

It may be true for him. But it is not necessarily true for other observant Jews. There are other great Rabbanim who disagree with them that are equal to or in some cases may even be greater than his Rabbanim.

Same as in the past. There were Gedolim that were not on the Moetzes then whose ‘Daas Torah’ was just as valid as their contemporaries who were on the Moetzes. Those Gedolim were the elders of the current members and in some cases even their own Rebbeim. The current Moetzes certainly has the right to side with those predecessors with whom they agree. But they should not claim exclusive rights to the truth.

What about Rabbi Sherrer’s belief that the Agudah Moetzes is Daas Torah and anyone who criticizes it is anti Torah? In answer to that I will quote the words of Rav Soloveitchik spoken to alumni of Yeshiva University in the 70s. I have a recording of that event and I heard him say the following. It was in Yiddish. ‘Es gait mich nit uhn vos tutzech in die Agudah’. Translation: ‘I could not care less what goes on in the Agudah’. And this was when the Agudah had Gedolim like R’ Moshe on it.

Rav Sherrer wants to be a cheer leader for Agudah? Gezunte Heit. May he do so in good health. But please don’t try and sell us the propaganda that the current Moetzes is in effect infallible and that their every critic is an Esav even if he is Frum. He probably believes it - but it is empirically untrue. The more he and others like him try to do that, the less people will respect them.

Yes - the current Agudah Moetzes are tremendous Talmidei Chachamim. Their opinions are valuable. But they are not infallible; they have admitted mistakes; and most importantly they are not above the criticism of some of the brightest Orthodox minds of our day.