Tuesday, January 05, 2010

A Response Regarding the Issue of Daas Torah

Guest Post by Rabbi Meir Goldberg

The following was sent to me as a response to Rabbi Yossi Ginzberg with respect to his post Reversed Wisdom: Daas Torah vs. Daas Baalei Batim. It is written from a Charedi perspective

It was with a heavy heart that I read your recent editorial regarding Daas Balabatim vs. Daas Torah. I would like to point out what I perceive to be certain flaws in your understanding of Daas Torah and how it is applied in our day to day lives.

On page 210 of Yonasan Rosenblum’s “Rabbi Sherer” (ArtScroll 09), there is a letter from Rav Hutner zt”l to Rabbi Moshe Sherer written in 1970, in which Rav Hutner wrote the following:

“There are very few gedolei Torah remaining after the holocaust whose daas can be truly called daas Torah.”

Bear in mind that this was written in a generation of giants.

Allow me to bring an excerpt of an email I wrote to a student of mine, a recent Baal Teshiva, struggling to put a recent scandal into context:

I think that this is an important lesson when one becomes more involved in the religious world. The frum world has so much to offer and has so many positives. However, we have our crooks, charlatans, perverts, miscreants, etc. Perhaps Rabbis such as myself carry some blame as we present too much of a beautiful picture without the warts.

Most Rabbis are good, decent, and sometimes holy people. However, you will get some bad apples there too. The question is how do you know whom to trust?

I would say that there are three types of Rabbis. The most basic level of Rabbi is someone who is relatively knowledgeable, may have a synagogue or be a campus Rabbi (such as myself). This Rabbi may or may not be a great person and could be relied upon or trusted up to a point. What they say isn't gospel; they may have valuable insights and may be able to teach a great deal. But they aren't necessarily great in any way and aren't necessarily Jewish authorities.

The highest type of Rabbi is someone who I'd classify as a "Godol." This is a great person who is a generational leader. This is hard to classify, but I would say that he'd have to have an encyclopedic knowledge of Torah, have had a strong connection to a great leader of the previous generation (who taught him what he knows, how to lead, etc) and is beyond reproach ethically and in terms of character.

There are a few like this who come to mind in the previous generation, Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky, Rav Yisroel Yaakov Kanievsky (the Steipler as he was known), Rav Elazar MM Shach, etc. This is the type of person that one can strongly trust and one should follow what he says (though they aren't infallible - even Moshe Rabbeinu made mistakes).

The problemn that we have today is that we often don't really know what they really say. Being in Israel you'll often see signs and protests allegedly "signed" by certain great Gedolim (such as Rav Kanievsky, Rav Elyashiv, Rav Shteinman, Rav Ovadya Yosef).

Never believe these posters ...or any rumors about what this or that godol allegedly said unless you have very good knowledge, or someone you really trust, that can verify it. There are fakers constantly misquoting gedolim all of the time.

The middle class of Rabbi is the most hard to define. This would be a great person who is scholarly and may head an institution and may have a reputation as a first class Talmud chacham. While the majority of these Rabbis are reliable or trustworthy, one cannot necessarily go by what they say unless one has a personal connection to them.

This brings me to my final and most important point. In Judaism you must have a Rebbe whom you are close with. He should be someone who is a Talmud Chochom, but must also have common sense, an understanding of life and people, have excellent character, be humble, etc. Then one can rely upon him. No he isn't perfect, but he has the life's experience and wisdom and sensitivity that make him worthy of being your rebbe.

Reb Yossi let me tell you about the yeshiva world in which I’ve grown up. When someone quotes something, whether it is a psak din, a letter allegedly signed by a godol, or the like, the knee jerk reaction of the vast majority of my friends is to ask, “Who told you this is true? How do you know that this wasn’t misquoted? Do you know someone on the inside who can verify this?”

Listening to daas Torah is not about accepting every rumor, hearsay, or poster that someone supposedly stated or signed. Nor is one supposed to follow blindly something that one heard a great Rav mention in a speech unless one understands the context in which it was stated and the group to whom it was addressed.

When an issue arises about which a Rav or godol supposedly commented on, we don’t necessarily follow it unless we can verify what exactly has been said, in which context, in response to what question and to whom the comment was addressed to.

About eight years ago Rav Mattisyahu Solomon spoke out strongly against certain college programs popular with women in Lakewood. My wife wanted to attend one such program. I discussed with Rav Solomon my particular situation and he said that my wife could attend that program. My situation was different.

Finally, we are taught in the yeshiva world, over and over again, to have a Rebbe with whom we discuss our life’s issues. No, he doesn’t need to be a godol. But he must have a Rebbe with whom he learned life lessons, he must be wise, understand life and people, etc. He may not have daas torah in the classic sense but his opinion is still worthy of listening to. It is through this type of Rebbe that one is most able to determine the proper course of action regarding ones life’s decisions.

There seems to be such confusion regarding so important a concept.

Rabbi Meir Goldberg attended Yagdil Torah in Israel, then Beis Medrash Gavoha in Lakewood. New Jersey. In 2004 he founded the Rutgers Jewish Xperience - a campus Kiruv organization at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, and has been its director ever since. He currently resides with his wife and four children in Lakewood and can be reached at: mgoldberg@rutgersjx.com.