Sunday, November 14, 2021

Daas Torah Ain't What it Used to Be

Republican candidate for mayor of New York, Curtis Sliwa (NYP)
I have often (and as recently as last Friday) expressed my problem with the way Daas Torah is defined by Charedim. That of course does not mean I have a problem with the concept. I fully believe in the ‘wisdom of the Torah’. I just don’t assign it all to a specific group of rabbis. Even if those rabbis are all Gedolim - to the exclusion of all others. But this how Agudah defines it. Although I’m sure they would deny it, their rhetoric at public gatherings says otherwise.

I understand that in the larger Charedi world, Daas Torah extends beyond the walls of the Agudah. There are Gedolim that do not belong to the Agudah Moetzes that will express their own Daas Torah on issues of the day.  But all of those Gedolim are ‘card carrying’ Charedim too.

To be clear, Daas Torah is not about deciding Halachic decisions. It is about directing public policy as seen through the prism of the Torah.  The pronouncements of Daas Torah is how these rabbis decide whether their community should interact with outside events that impact their lives. And if so, how to do it.

The election of politicians to public office is an example of this. Daas Torah might endorse a particular candidate they see as beneficial to their agenda – which they believe is the Torah’s agenda. 

Not long ago I asked a Charedi woman I know if she votes for the candidate that Daas Torah endorses. Her answer was quite revealing. She said that she was not all that knowledgeable about which candidate was best, did not have the time research it, and trusted her Daas Torah to have done their due diligence in that regard. She then simply votes for who they endorse.

Well... ‘the times, they are a ‘changin’.  Charedim are increasingly ignoring their Daas Torah And not for the better. 

One might think I would be happy with this turn of events. A Charedi individual thinking for themselves about who to vote for? What a novel concept! But I sometimes have to wonder whether many of them are thinking at all!  Or worse, that they have a new ‘Daas Torah’ - the Republican Party. And that their new Gadol is the former President.

This is the only way to interpret events reported in 2 very different media sources. One secular and one Charedi. First – from the Shore News Network:

In years past, a predominantly local population in Lakewood would often take political direction from the Lakewood VAAD, a once powerful and influential group of rabbis and business owners that speak directly to the city’s large Orthodox Jewish population.

In the past, the endorsement of the large, typically conservative population of Orthodox Jews living in Lakewood had a large impact on statewide elections. This year, most in Lakewood ignored the VAAD’s endorsement, or so it seems.

The Lakewood VAAD endorsed Phil Murphy for Governor. Jack Ciattarelli however, won the Lakewood vote but lost the election. In a city where over 37,000 people came out to vote overwhelmingly for Donald Trump in 2020, just 18,000 people came out to vote in last Tuesday’s election.

Trump reigned supreme in Lakewood, getting 30,648 of the 37,000 plus votes here in 2020.

Ciattarelli won more votes in Lakewood, despite the VAAD’s endorsement. Jack, as he went by during the election had 11,644 votes to Murphy’s 7,112.

Then there is what happened in the recent election for mayor of New York. From Mishpacha Magazine columnist Eytan Kobre: 

Let’s look at last week’s mayoral election in New York City, pitting Democrat Eric Adams against Republican Curtis Sliwa. Adams won in a landslide, but according to news reports, the largest frum community outside of Eretz Yisrael voted 55 percent to 39 percent for his opponent… 

(Sliwa) is a walking caricature and has been for the last four decades: a bloviating attention hound — with an actual red beret. He belongs nowhere near Gracie Mansion...

What makes this even more incredible is that Sliwa went on record as being against the very way these people live. A life that is advocated by their (now former?) Daas Torah. A life that considers Torah study the epitome of Jewish life. Here is what Sliwa said about it: 

…able-bodied men who study… Talmud all day… and then all they do is [have children] like there’s no tomorrow and who’s subsidizing that? We are…. They don’t vote the way normal Americans vote… They’re being told by the rebbe or rabbi this is who you vote for…. If somebody comes in and tries to take over your community lock, stock, and barrel and break all the rules and expect the tax dollars to go to their community, and they’re taking away from you,… then you got to righteously stand up and say no, it ends right here.”

Anyone else that would have made a comment like this would be branded an antisemite. Rightfully so. It doesn’t matter that there is an element of truth in what he said. Sliwa exposed a deep seated prejudice against (if not outright hatred of) the very community that voted for him. Which apparently is the largest observant Jewish community outside of Israel. They voted for him anyway. As Eytan points out, it’s probably because he had a R next to his name.

That a thinking person can vote for a clown like Sliwa is an oxymoron.  And yet that is what happened in Boro Park. So much for the vaunted intelligence of the Jewish people. Especially the observant Jewish communities of Boro Park and Lakewood. At least when it comes to politics.

Is this what happens to the Charedi world when their Daas Torah is abandoned? Because if it is, BRING IT BACK!