Sunday, April 14, 2024

Is There a Crack in the Wall of 'Daas Torah'?

Rav Moshe Hillel Hirsch (VIN)
I am no longer shocked or even surprised by the insular attitude of Charedi leadership. It has become the sine qua non of the Charedi world. The leadership believes that insularity is the best way to protect the Jewish people from the prevailing evil influences of the outside world.

It appears that the leader of Lithuanian Jewry (also known as the Yeshiva World)  Rav Moshe Hillel Hirsch has just doubled down on this attitude as noted at VIN:

Rabbi Hirsch requested that yeshiva students not go on any trips (during Bein Haz’manin – the Pesach vacation period) and not make any plans to go to places where they will meet with secular elements…

Needless to say I am upset at his attitude, But not surprised. Contrast this with a perceptive and thoughtful approach to current events by Rabbi Moshe Bane, immediate past president of the OU. 

Rabbi Moshe Bane (Jewish Action)
In his recent Jewish Action column he described how the world has changed since October 7th. Drastically for Israeli Jews but even for American Jews. After listing and detailing some of those changes, he suggested that we react with both individual and communal introspection. Which is how the Gemarah tells us to react when tragedy strikes. He then describes what that introspection should look like. 

Early on in his essay he makes the following caveat. Claims by anyone about a particular communal malady as the cause of our misfortune is a fallacy based on personal biases. Only a Navi can have that kind of insight. Something  that God no longer grants to human beings. (In my view people like this are either charlatans or fools. But I digress.) 

But at the same time the idea of introspection is always a good idea,. The Gemarah urges that when  tragedy strikes, that is a good time to have such introspection.

Rabbi Bane’s column is a must read in my view. I completely agree with all of his observations and suggestions about the various ways we can improve in light of the new reality since October 7th.

The following are excerpts of what Rabbi Bane sees as opportunities for positive change. 

1. (We need to revisit) ‘our place in American society and higher education’.

2. Each segment of our community (needs) to examine whether the events of and reactions to October 7 and its aftermath compel revisions to the assessments and forecasts that long ago shaped their respective positions toward Zionism. For example, is the Jewish State a beacon of safety for all Jews, or the cause of hostility to and vulnerability for Jews throughout the world? Do the current reactions of both observant and non-observant Jews to Israel’s needs in its time of crisis highlight an invaluable role played by Israel as a source of national Jewish brotherhood? And should the post-October 7 surge of connection among IDF soldiers to Yiddishkeit and to the community of Klal Yisrael alter the view of those who have understood the IDF to be necessarily hostile to traditional Judaism?  

His last suggestion, however, seems to fly in the face of Rabbi Hirsch’s insular ways: 

3. With new realities emerging since October 7, perhaps we need to rethink our community’s attitude toward outreach. Post-October 7, we observe a surge of interest in Jewish identity across the spectrum of American Jewry…

Perhaps there is a rare window of opportunity to engage unaffiliated Jews and provide a path for their greater connection to Jews and Judaism. 

As noted I agree with all of Rabbi Bane’s observations and suggestions We would all do well as both individuals and as a community to heed his call.

My fear is, however, that the reaction by the right will be to support Rav Hirsch completely and thus reject what Rabbi Bane has suggested. The rationale being that Rav Hirsch represents Daas Torah. And Rabbi Bane is not a Bar Plugta. Meaning that he is nowhere near the caliber of Rav Hirsch which would give his views legitimacy among the faithful.  

I have heard this kind of argument from the right ad nauseum. It might be expressed this way:‘Who is Moishe Bane to argue with the Daas Torah of the Gadol HaDor?’ 

The mantra of the American Agudah is that the advice of the  Gedolim are inviolable. Their Torah and Yiras Shomayim (fear of Heaven) is so great that it is the closest thing to being Godly advice on the planet!  As such they are Mevatel (negate) their own Daas (considered opinion) to that of the Gedolim. Even when it is in stark disagreement with them. 

This is probably why the American Agudah Moetzes recently fully endorsed the Daas Torah of their Israeli counterparts (whom they view as superior to theirs) - condemning the Israeli government as an enemy of Torah and of God Himself.

I am both encouraged and discouraged at the same time. I believe that Rabbi Bane has enormous respect for the members of the Agudah Moetzes and would never publicly disagree with their express views. And yet he has gone out on a limb and expressed a view that seems to completely disagree with their tendency to endorse what their Israeli counterparts say.

The discouraging part of this is that the majority of Charedi Jews will reject Rabbi Bane’s views in favor of their leaders’ Daas Torah. Even as they might privately agree with him 

There  is a glimmer of hope  in all of this. But how far that will take us remains to be seen.