Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Torah Knowledge Doesn’t Always Produce Torah Wisdom

I just read the explanation by Rabbi Aharon Feldman about why he retracted his support for the March for Israel last week (available here). And I have come to the conclusion that his views do not represent the mantle of Daas Torah that Agudah places upon the words of all their Moetzes members

One may consider these words blasphemous. How dare I say anything negative about people where Toraso Umnaso – The Torah is their lifelong full time job- and are among the most Torah knowledgeable people of our generation?

First let me say that I do not deny they are among the most Torah knowledgeable.  The key word there is ‘among’. But it appears that the wisdom that usually attaches to people like that does not always happen. Sometimes their application of that knowledge is wrong. I strongly believe that this was the case here. It resulted in a message of rejection of Klal Yisroal - the entirety of  the Jewish people. Even though I am sure that wasn’t his intent.

Who am I to say he was so categorically wrong here?  Well the truth is that I am not worthy of debating him. My own Torah knowledge is minuscule compared to his. I do however have corroborating views from his own camp in the person of R’ Shmuel Kamentesky, head of the Agudah Motezes. He apparently not only disagreed with him, but I’m told that he actually encouraged going to it. 

Some Charedi Roshei Yeshiva actually attended it themselves. (R’ Aharon Lopiansky was spotted there.) Other Charedi Roshei Yeshiva (Like those of Chofetz Chaim) sent busloads of students there. As did many Beis Yaakovs (like Hanna Sacks here in Chicago).

It is not enough to simply say that the 4 additional  Moetzes members that banned it along with Rabbi Feldman are entitled to their opinion. Not when the very existence of Israel is at stake, Not when antisemitism is at a post Holocaust peak – all over the world. 

That they did not see this as a Hora’as Shah and a time to act exposes – I my view - a certain inability to properly apply the Torah knowledge they have.

To put it the way Rabbi Berel Wein did in a recodring widely circulated online at about the time of the ban - these Moetzes members are fighting a battles of 75 years ago that no longer exist as issues today. They are relying on decrees of the Gedolei HaDor of that era  - thinking their reasons still apply. That is the only way to interpret R’ Aharon Feldman’s explanation of why he retracted his support.

His retraction is also based on a totally uninformed view of Pastor John Hagee’s motives and a ridiculous fear that his address would be seen as   ‘a step towards interfaith acceptance.’ Hagee’s motives are based on his oft stated belief in the Torah (his old testament) that those who bless the Jewish people will themselves be blessed. Although he would be happy if the Jews would convert to Christianity, that has zero to do with his motives for supporting the Jewish people and Israel. Which is greater than that of even most Orthodox Jews. Support that includes millions of dollars raised for Israel and given to them unconditionally

Besides – Rabbi Feldman doesn’t seem to see it as ‘a step towards interfaith acceptance’ when Agudah partners with Christian ministers or Catholic priests to file amicus briefs to the Supreme Court on matters of mutual concern. 

Another fear he expressed is just as absurd. He said that attending the rally is an endorsement of Zionism (even religious Zionism) because one of the speakers via an online feed was Isaac Herzog, the President  of Israel.  And yet that very same Agudah invited the at the time sitting Chief Rabbi of Israel, Yisroel Meir Lau, to address their 12th Daf Yomi Siyum in person. You can’t get too much more Zionist that being a Chief Rabbi of the Zionist state.

Those 5 Moetzes members indeed still believe that the Zionist state of Israel is anti Torah. Even though there is currently more Torah study there now than at any time in modern history. More than anywhere else in the world. So much for Israel being at Torah. That - may -have been a legitimate concern 75 years ago. But it is a ridiculous concern now.

He doesn’t like Hatikvah - Israel’s national anthem? No one was forced to sing it. And I do not believe the phrase ‘to be a free nation in our land’ is a rejection of Torah observance. To be free also means to be free to serve God. Free to be fully observant, Free to study Torah full time. But if he dosn’t like the word Chofshi – free, he can substitute the word ‘Kodshi - holy. As DID my Rebbe, Rav Ahron Soloveichik when he sang it..

I will never forget the image (filmed and recorded for posterity) of Jewish refugees in a post war displacement  persons camp when they heard Ben Gurion announce the establishment of the Jewish state after the UN partitioned Palestine. The entire crowd started singing Hatikvah in one of the most emotional moments I have ever seen. Those Holocaust survivors understood what it means ‘to be a free nation in our land’.

I have no influence on who serves on the Agudah Moetzes. But one thing is certain. Torah knowledge alone does not always result in Torah wisdom. That is what Rabbi Feldman’s explanation of the ban said to me.