Thursday, November 30, 2006

Once More... With Feeling!

I wasn’t really going to write about it anymore but after reading the Internet Yated report of the Agudah convention, I must comment one more time.

This article details far more than anything I’ve seen on what was said that evening and by whom.

From the Yated::

"Rabbi Salomon took pains to declare that we have no complaint against anyone asking questions about our convictions, or even disagreeing — agreeably — with stances we have seen fit to take."

As I said I’m not so naïve to say that Rav Salomon has given my blog a Haskama. Of course he didn’t. But his words are quite clear in the sense of what he deems permissible. If the commentary is respectful, one can ask questions about the “convictions” of rabbinic leadership. One can even disagree with them! So to anyone who says that one cannot disagree with a Gadol, please direct your challenge to Rav Salomon.

But that isn’t all that was said that evening. In fact, as the leading rabbinic figure there, Rav Salomon was quite subdued in his comments. I don’t really think I disagree with anything he said vis-à-vis blogs.

Rabbi Zweibel’s take was rather interesting as well. In what I consider quite a conciliatory statement (perhaps reacting to my article in the Jewish Press) he actually acknowledged that there are Gedolim outside of the Moetzes:

"Citing Chazal's dictum, "Asei lecho rav — Establish a rabbinic authority for yourself," Rabbi Zwiebel declared that even those who do not look specifically to the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah as the ultimate arbiter of daas Torah must nonetheless defer to their own rabbonim."

That is an astounding statement. While he still has a far broader definition of Daas Torah then I do, to recognize that it exists outside of Agudah is quite remarkable and is, I believe, a first for Agudah. At least that I am aware of.

As for Rabbi Wachsman, that’s another story. As I said in my first post on the subject, I am not surprised at his words at all. They were as divisive as ever. And he managed to sneak in commentary about the impermissibility of relying on the Rishonim if current Gedolim say otherwise. This, it seems was an oblique “slam” against Rabbi Slifkin.

From the Yated:

"Rabbi Wachsman began by noting that attacks on daas Torah have been with us since the time of Moshe Rabbenu, and that present-day scoffers are but actors in the tradition of Korach, the Tziddukim and the Maskilim."

It isn’t that I disagree with that statement. I don’t. But there is a context missing. There is no delineation between one blogger and the next. No “upside”. Only a “downside”. Rabbi Wachsman could have done what I did in my article, spelled out differences between blogs and those who comment in them who are respectful and those who are not. He could have even said that some blogs provide a valuable service in disseminating information, Torah content, public awareness of wrongdoing, and as an outlet for serious issues which can be discussed, debated and clarified by a wide variety of Torah perspectives. He may in fact agree with all that... or not, he didn’t say. He thus leaves the impression that all bloggers fall into the category of “Korach, the Tziddukim and the Maskilim.”.

But the bottom line consensus it seems (in spite of the harsh tones in Rabbi Wachsman's words) is that there was no outright ban on blogs. As long as respectful tones are used and Kavod HaTorah is maintained, then the Agudah’s Rabbinic leaders apparently hold that blogging is at least not harmful (...and perhaps even praiseworthy. I’m not sure).

One thing they did not do is spell out guidlenes as to what they consider respectful criticism and what is not. Perhaps that was on purpose. Except for the patently obvious extreme disrespect, "respectful tones" in many ways it is subjective. Perspectives about what is and what isn't varies greatly between one individual and the next. As men of wisdom, these rabbinic figures know that, and do not want to criticize people who never had any real intention of denigrating Talmidei Chachamim. Even if some may interpret a blogger’s words as doing so. Put another way, it’s what they didn’t say that’s as important as what they did say.

So in the final analysis this is what I take away from the Agudah's convention: Responsible blogging is permissible. And I would add that it is often even praiseworthy.