Tuesday, December 13, 2016

R. Hershel Schachter, Gedolim, Rachel Morpurgo, and More

R. Hershel Schachter, Gedolim, Rachel Morpurgo, and More
By Marc B. Shapiro
1. In listening to a recent shiur[1] on Daas Torah by R. Hershel Schachter, I found a number of noteworthy comments. In this shiur, which has been heard thousands of times, R. Schachter states, “If you have an outlook, if you have what I would consider a crooked, a krum outlook on Yom ha-Atzmaut, then your outlook on eruvin is also crooked. I can’t rely on anything that you say.” I find this difficult to accept, since can't someone be regarded as a great posek, one that can be relied on, even if one disagrees with important ideological positions he holds? In Eastern Europe, the people all relied on their local rav to decide halakhic questions for them. It didn't matter to them whether the rav supported Agudah or Mizrachi. He was the halakhic authority of the town.

I agree, however, that there are limits. What sense does it make to rely on a Satmar posek for a ruling if one wouldn’t accept anything he said in non-halakhic matters? (It is known that when men want a ruling that they don’t have to give their wives a get, they go to a posek in Monsey whom they wouldn’t ask any other questions of.) I think it is important for R. Schachter to explain what his definition of a “crooked” outlook on Yom ha-Atzmaut is? Does he mean someone who says tahanun on that day, or only someone who thinks it is a day akin to avodah zarah?[2]
Among other interesting comments in R. Schachter's shiur is that he states that a posek can give you a binding pesak concerning whom you must marry.[3] This too I find difficult, since where does a posek get the authority to tell someone whom he must marry? An individual can certainly consult with a posek for his advice in this matter, but since this consultation is done voluntarily by the potential groom, how do we go from there to a situation of pesak which binds the person asking the question? 
[Subsequent to writing these words I saw R. Schachter and asked him about this matter. He reaffirmed his position, stating that whom one marries is a halakhic matter and therefore a posek can indeed tell you whom you must marry. He added that this is almost always theoretical since in order to make such a ruling the posek would need to know both the bride and groom for many years so as to be sure that what he is saying is correct. But he also insisted that if the posek does have the requisite knowledge he can indeed give a binding pesak about whom one must marry.] 
In discussing the matter of Israel giving back land for peace, as far as I understand (and this is also the understanding of everyone I have seen who has written on the topic), R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik held that this is not a halakhic matter and therefore there is no place for rabbinic involvement. The political and military leaders should make a decision based on their knowledge of what is in the best interest of the country. However, R. Schachter has a different perspective. He states that according to R. Soloveitchik, first the politicians and military leaders should be consulted, and following this the rabbis need to make a halakhic judgment about what is permissible.[4] Yet the following are R. Soloveitchik’s words from 1967, as transcribed by Arnold Lustiger here:
I give praise and thanks to the RBSO for liberating the Kotel Hamaarovi and for liberating and for removing all Eretz Yisrael from the Arabs, so that it now belongs to us. But I don’t need to rule whether we should give the West Bank back to the Arabs or not to give the West Bank to the Arabs: we rabbis should not be involved in decisions regarding the safety and security of the population. . . . We have to negotiate with common sense as the security of the yishuv requires. What specifically these security requirements are, I don’t know, I don’t understand these things. These decisions require a military perspective which one must research assiduously. The borders that must be established should be based upon which will provide more security. It is not a topic appropriate for which rabbis should release statements or for rabbinical conferences.
Also of interest in this shiur is that R. Schachter rejects the legitimacy of Daas Torah proclamations by roshei yeshiva who do not deal with practical halakhic questions.[5] In his halakhic-centric approach, there is no room for such proclamations by figures who are talmudically learned but are not poskim. This means that R. Aharon Leib Steinman, for instance, who is not a posek, is not to be regarded as one who transmits Daas Torah. As R. Schachter says, one who does not decide practical halakhic questions dealing with Shabbat, kashrut, and taharat ha-mishpahah is not able to rule on matters that are not explicit in earlier texts, and are often categorized as being in the realm of Daas Torah. He specifically states that the Steipler and R. Shakh, who were not known as poskim, were not the ones people should have been turning to for Daas Torah.[6]
It is hard to imagine a stronger repudiation of the haredi notion of Daas Torah, for while R. Elyashiv was of course a great posek, there has never been an expectation among haredim that the transmitters of Daas Torah must be involved in pesak. Daas Torah depends on the Torah scholar being immersed in Torah and righteousness, but this does not mean that he has to be involved with halakhah le-ma’aseh questions. R. Schachter’s point is obviously in contradiction to the hasidic approach in which the rebbe is the leader, and the job qualifications of a rebbe have nothing to do with deciding halakhic questions.[7]
It is true, however, that R. Schachter’s description of who should be the religious leaders of the Torah community is what historically was the case before the rise of hasidut in the 18th century, the creation of the great yeshivot in the 19th century, and the rise of haredism in the 20th century. But even in previous centuries matters were not absolute. For example, what about R. Moses Hayyim Luzzatto? He was not a posek, yet would anyone today deny that he could speak with Torah authority on matters that fall into the category of Daas Torah? What about R. Nosson Zvi Finkel and many of the other mussar greats, or R. Zvi Yehudah Kook? Using R. Schachter’s halakhic-centric yardstick, they too would have to be excluded from what is today referred to as Daas Torah.
All this of course relates to the subject of gedolim, a topic that has recently seen a lot of discussion at the new website Lehrhaus. Professor Chaim Saiman’s essay, “The Market for Gedolim: A Tale of Supply and Demand,” was followed up by a number of insightful responses from people who represent the Centrist and Liberal Orthodox community, and by Rabbi Ethan Tucker who can be termed a leader of the halakhically committed egalitarian community.[8]
I have made the point a number of times that the twentieth century saw the creation of a new model in the haredi world. It is not just gedolim who are important, but the gadol ha-dor (technically: gedol ha-dor), that is, the gadol who stands above other gedolim. Although you had such figures in earlier times, such as the Hatam Sofer and R. Yitzhak Elhanan Spektor, in the twentieth century the notion of "the gadol ha-dor" has become institutionalized and is a basic feature of haredi society. Gedolim are not enough, but there also needs to be a supreme gadol. Thus, on the passing of the gadol ha-dor, the new gadol ha-dor emerges, (or he can actually be proclaimed, such as what happened when, after R. Elyashiv's passing, R. Chaim Kanievsky declared that R. Steinman was the new leader). This is now an expectation of laypeople in the haredi world,[9] and obviously satisfies a psychological need, so inexorably one gadol ha-dor will be followed by another.[10]
This can lead to disputes as we see now in the haredi world between the majority who follow R. Steinman and the more extreme elements who have lined up behind R. Shmuel Auerbach. A noteworthy point, which is hardly mentioned in the "mainstream" haredi press, is that the opponents of R. Steinman have been very harsh in their evaluation of him, and a steady stream of publications has appeared designed to show that his views are not in line with the haredi Daas Torah going back to the Chazon Ish and continuing through R. Elyashiv’s leadership. These publications have also attempted to show that he does not have the level of Torah scholarship required to lead the haredi world. Yet R. Chaim Kanievsky, who throughout the controversy has been the most vocal in attacking R. Auerbach and his followers, has, as far as I know, never been subject to written criticism. All of the many attacks on R. Steinman simply omit mention of R. Kanievsky even though R. Kanievsky stands together with R. Steinman. One who claims that R. Steinman’s views are not in line with “correct” haredi thinking must assume that R. Kanievsky has also departed from the "proper" haredi path, which is a difficult position for most haredim to adopt. At the end of the day, R. Kanievsky is the most highly regarded Torah scholar in the haredi world, and if he has subordinated himself to R. Steinman, that will be enough for almost all haredim even if they do have questions about some of R. Steinman’s liberal positions.[11]
There is a lot more to say about this, but I would like to make just one more point about the term gadol ha-dor which is now so important and means the most prominent Torah leader of the generation. I think it is the equivalent of the term manhig ha-dor and is parallel to the other term that has popped up in recent decades, posek ha-dor. Regarding posek ha-dor, since the passing of R. Elyashiv, and then R. Wosner, I haven’t seen the term used for anyone in the Ashkenazic haredi world, and there is no one towering halakhic figure (although one is bound to emerge). In the Sephardic world, after the passing of R. Ovadiah Yosef, both R. Yitzhak Yosef and R. Meir Mazuz have emerged as posek ha-dor as well as gadol ha-dor. When it comes to gadol ha-dor in the Ashkenazic haredi world, both R. Steinman and R. Auerbach are regarded as such, and my sense is that many also regard R. Kanievsky as the gadol ha-dor even though he himself claims that R. Steinman holds this position.
Contrary to what some think, the term gadol ha-dor is not a recent term. Tosafot,[12] and many other rishonim, use it in the sense of a great Torah scholar, but as far as I know, there is no implication in the rishonim that the term means the preeminent Torah leader, as it is used today when people say that X is the gadol ha-dor. (I perhaps should write "scholar-leader", since one cannot be the gadol ha-dor without being both a scholar and a leader.) When the rishonim use the term it means that X is a gadol ha-dor, i.e., a great sage. Even today, when “the gadol ha-dor” means the preeminent Torah leader, it need not mean that this individual is also the greatest Torah scholar, although sometimes times it does (e.g., when R. Elyashiv or R. Ovadiah Yosef were described as such, I think people assumed that they were the greatest Torah scholars.) 
At another time I can discuss different uses of the term gadol ha-dor among rishonim. For now, I want to call attention to a passage in Pesahim 49b: “Let a man always sell all he has and marry the daughter of a scholar. If he does not find the daughter of a scholar, let him marry the daughter of [one of] the gedolei ha-dor.” It is obvious that in this passage the term gedolei ha-dor does not mean great Torah scholars. Rashi explains it to mean: אנשי מעשה וצדיקים. Even in the 16th century R. Moses Isserles uses the term gadol ha-dor to mean communal leader, and puts gadol ha-dor together with am ha’aretz.[13]
ואין איסור לקרות ע"ה נכבד עשיר וגדול הדור לפני ת"ח כי אין זה בזיון לת"ח רק כבוד לתורה שמתכבדת באנשים גדולים.
Yet elsewhere, Shulhan Arukh, Yoreh Deah 244:10 (based on Terumat ha-Deshen: Teshuvot, no. 138), R. Isserles does use gadol ha-dor to mean an outstanding Torah sage.

Returning to the articles at Lehrhaus, I would like to call attention to a couple of passages that relate to gedolim in rabbinic literature (there are obviously many more). R. Hayyim Palache states that there is a tradition that every gadol be-Torah has opponents who persecute him.[14] Historically, I think this is the case, as I cannot recall a gadol who did not have enemies who tried to tear him down.
Most people assume that dayanim will know halakhah well, and that the elite and small group of dayanim on Israel’s Beit Din ha-Gadol will certainly be experts in all areas of halakhah. I recently picked up R. Yitzhak Yosef’s new volume of responsa, She’elot u-Teshuvot ha-Rishon le-Tziyon, and he wants to disabuse readers of the understandable notion that dayanim are experts in the breadth of halakhah.[15] He goes so far as to say that there are dayanim on the Beit Din ha-Gadol, men he knows personally, who while knowledgeable in Even ha-Ezer and Hoshen Mishpat, when it comes to Orah Hayyim and Yoreh Deah
אינם בקיאים כלל וכלל, יודעים קצת מספרי קיצורים, כמו בן איש חי וכף החיים וכדומה. אך אינם בקיאים בב"י ומפרשי השלחן ערוך והשותי"ם.
Being that the Beit Din ha-Gadol is a very small group of dayanim, I am sure people have been trying to figure out who R. Yosef is including in this negative judgment.
Finally, in terms of a definition of a gadol, R. Hayyim Eleazar Shapira actually offers us one:[16]
מפורסם בהרבה מדינות ובחיבוריו יורו המורים ולקולו יחתו וכיוצא.
By saying that a gadol is known in many lands, and his works are widely used, it is clear that we are dealing with a definition for the modern era where there is easy international communication. In pre-modern times there was no expectation that a gadol in say Morocco would be known outside this land. But I think that for the modern era R. Shapira’s definition is an excellent one as it captures the fact that the term “gadol” represents a sociological category. I would also add that the status of “gadol” is significant in that it is a lifetime appointment, as it were. It is almost impossible for one to be removed from “gadol” status once he has been elevated to this level. I think we can be very proud that in the long history of gedolim there are no examples – at least I am not aware of any – where gedolim lost their status because of immoral behavior. (We can be less proud of the language some gedolim have used in denigrating their opponents.[17])
2. In recent posts I discussed the idea of love before marriage in traditional Jewish communities. It is worth noting in this regard Rachel Morpurgo’s book of poetry, Ugav Rahel (Cracow, 1890). Here is the title page. 


Rachel Morpurgo was a cousin of Samuel David Luzzatto, and a fascinating and learned figure in her own right. In the introduction to the book, p. 6, R. Isaac Castiglione tells us that Rachel's parents wanted her to marry a certain man, but she refused as she was in love with Jacob Morpurgo. If she could not marry him, she preferred to remain single. (In the end, they did marry.)

Her cousin Luzzatto sent her a poem, trying to change her mind, and she replied also in a poem, expertly using many of the same words that Luzzatto had used. In her poem she says that if she can’t marry the man she wants, she will never marry, not even if given the possibility to marry the Messiah. Here are both of their poems, from Ugav Rahel, pp. 50-51, and Rachel's poem in honor of her marriage, p. 52.

 



Here is another interesting poem from p. 71. We see that Morpurgo wanted to join Moses Montefiore on his journey to the Land of Israel.


On p. 73 she has a poem of joy after an evil Catholic priest died and was buried on Purim.



She was also able to write riddle poems, which was a popular genre among the Hebraists. Here is one from pp. 76-77


3. In the archive of R. Isaac Herzog there are a number of letters from R. Herzog relevant to the issue of science and Torah.[18] He was writing to scientists and historians asking them how certain it is that the world is billions of years old and that humanity has been in existence for more than 6000 years. One of the people he wrote to was Professor George F. Carter. Carter was a believing Catholic, and in his letters to R. Herzog you see that he could not understand why there should be any conflict between Torah and science. It astounded him that R. Herzog seemed to feel that the scientific and historical information in the Torah must be accepted as factual, when from his Catholic perspective the point of the Bible is not to provide facts of this nature. In his letter of November 23, 1953, R. Herzog wrote to Carter.

[L]et me recapitulate my problem. Not that we have as a dogma a certain chronology but the chronology automatically results from the plain text of the Book of Genesis, as you undoubtedly know yourself, that troubled the minds of some great rabbis nearly a century ago with the rise of the science of Geology. Most ignore the data of science altogether. Some, however, replied that the world was created enormous [missing word] of time ago, but that at certain points mankind was recurrently blotted out and the present world is a certain phase in that recurrent process of creation and destruction. Hence they explained the fossils which bear evidence of such high antiquity etc. They based their explanation upon an old saying in a pre-mediaeval Rabbinic collection: “The Holy One Best be His Name kept on building up worlds and destroying them.” Note that the meaning of “destroying” in that connection is not total annihilation as you will easily understand. Now the problem as it presents itself to me is whether the short period of less than six thousand years or (counting from the deluge when according to Genesis only a few persons survived) some 5000 years is sufficient to account for the numbers of mankind, for its distribution all over the globe, for the advance and progress of mankind, which in the natural course require considerable time, say the art of recording or writing etc., etc. If you assume divine interposition, the progress could be achieved in much less time. Think of the time according to science it took wood to be turned into coal, and of the time it takes for that process at the kitchen fire-side! Yet the question remains: Is it possible to speak of such constant divine interposition within say the first 2000 years of the past 6 or 5 thousand years since the beginning of the Biblical chronology to promote civilisation, the distribution of mankind and to multiply mankind to such an extent? I may add that our great teacher Maimonides from whom your Catholic great thinker Thomas Aquinas drew so much, was in his time confronted with Aristotle’s eternity of the universe which contradicted Jewish belief. He started out with the premise that if Aristotle’s point was absolutely proved, he would explain bara in Genesis not in the sense of created but in another sense, and would thus reconcile the divine Towah [!] with scientific truth, but he found that Aristotle had not proved his point and he therefore left bara in its plain sense.[19] I say something similar. If men of science prompted by absolute truth definitely and unanimously decide that the above chronology is not only unlikely but is actually impossible and therefore absurd, I would reinterpret the Biblical text in a different sense, but before doing that, I must be perfectly certain. Remember that the divine truth of every word in the Pentateuch is a dogma of orthodox Judaism, is believed to be the word of G-d through Moses. Yet orthodox Judaism is not a slave to the literal sense. It teaches that G-d is beyond all human thought and imagination and therefore it regards the anthropomorphisms as mere figures of speech: it also lays down that the Torah speaks in the language of humans. But there is of course a difference between understanding the Eyes of G-d as meaning divine Providence and interpreting the chronology of six thousand years as standing for aeons!

In this letter, and in other letters in his archive, the issue R. Herzog is most troubled with is not the creation of the world and the evidence that this took place billions of years ago. Rather, his concern is with the length of time of humanity on earth, for if there is indisputable evidence of humanity for tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of years, then what is one to do with the chronology that “results from the plain text of the book of Genesis,” by which he means the record of generations beginning with Adam? As far as R. Herzog is concerned, this matter is not so much a religious question but a historical question, and that explains why he inquired from experts in this matter.[20] For if we are dealing with a fact, undisputed and recognized by all experts, that humanity has existed for longer than the biblical account would have it, then following Maimonides R. Herzog believes that is no choice but to read the Torah’s account in a non-literal fashion.

Readers can correct me if I am wrong, but I think that in the Modern Orthodox world the matter that R. Herzog was so exercised about has been settled. In other words, I don’t see any evidence that people in these communities are concerned that in Modern Orthodox schools, in classes on ancient history, students are taught things such as that around 10,000 BCE farming communities existed in the Middle East and North Africa. I know from personal experience that textbooks used in Modern Orthodox schools offer precisely this sort of information that assumes that human civilization predates the traditional Jewish reckoning. From what I have seen, this is presented to the students without, however, taking the step that R. Herzog mentioned, namely, explaining what then becomes of the biblical chronology when it is no longer viewed as historical.[21]

4. Following up on this post, here is a picture of a group of Slobodka students.[22]



R. Hutner is sitting in the middle. 


Here is another picture of R. Hutner.
Standing next to him is R. Harold Leiman who was principal of general studies at Yeshivat Chaim Berlin’s high school from 1936-1948. Prof. Shnayer Leiman informs me that this picture of his father has to be from 1940 or earlier..
5. In my post here, in discussing the newly published Ha-Mashbir, volume 2, I wrote that one of the articles is by R. Pinhas Zebihi who discusses the practice in Gibraltar that men in mourning do not wear a tallit on Shabbat. I added that this is only the case for the first month of mourning. Mr. Mesod Belilo of Gibraltar has informed me to me that the Gibraltar minhag is that those in mourning do not wear a tallit at all during sheloshim, whether it be Shabbat or during the week. (They do put one on if given an aliyah.) It is Shabbat that makes this minhag halakhically problematic as not wearing a tallit would appear to be an example of “public mourning,” and that is what R. Zebihi deals with. In fact, his conclusion is that the practice should be abolished, but I can’t imagine that the Jews of Gibraltar, even if they knew of R. Zebihi’s position, would give up a minhag that is hundreds of years old and was not abolished by any of the community rabbis. (R. Zebihi’s article is actually a responsum addressed to the rabbi of the small Gibraltar minyan in London.)
One of the editors of Ha-Mashbir is R. Yissachar Dov Hoffman who recently published another book, Avodat Ovadiah, volume 1. It focuses on practices of R. Ovadiah Yosef and deals with the first part of Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim (tzitzit, prayer, blessings, etc.). R. Hoffman’s learned notes include citations from a wide range of contemporary rabbinic works. 
6. Here is a quote from the late Robert Liberles that I find quite interesting, and I think readers will as well.
Historians, imbued with curiosity and a fascination with the dark side, can easily be drawn toward the negative, the hostile, the antinomian side of human behavior. In addition, deviant behavior has much to teach about a society under study. There is also the endless fallacy of being drawn by sources deep into the abyss of misrepresentation. Records in the public archives relate strife and despair more often than happiness and love. Rabbinic responsa pertaining to family life also tend to deal with discord. Abuses in Jewish family life can be abundantly documented, and they should be. These sources have been ignored too often, partly because they were not known, partly because they were at times consciously overlooked. Research based on prescriptive sources has depicted a portrait that is quite distant from the harsher reality that emerges from primary descriptive sources.[23]
7. In my post here I mention that in medieval rabbinic literature the words צעירים and דורשים mean Franciscans and Dominicans. David S. Zinberg called my attention to R. Joseph Ibn Caspi, Mishneh Kesef, vol. 2, p. 257. In commenting on how Moses was not celibate and even took a second wife, he writes:

כי אינו צעיר ודורש, או אגוסטי וכרמלי

“For he was not a Franciscan or a Dominican or an Augustinian or a Carmelite.”

Zinberg also called my attention to Mishneh Kesef, vol. 1, p. 106, where he writes about כת הצעירים מארצנו זאת

I also found that R. Israel Moses Hazan, Nahalah le-Yisrael, p. 84, refers to the Dominicans as כת הדרשנים

8. I know readers will be happy to learn of a significant event in the world of Torah and academic Jewish scholarship: A previously unknown responsum by Maimonides has just been published in Divre Hefetz 7 (Tishrei 5777). You can see it here.

9. The newest book in my series, Studies in Orthodox Judaism, has appeared. It is Darren Kleinberg, Hybrid Judaism: Irving Greenberg, Encounter, and the Changing Nature of American Jewish Identity. Anyone interested in a discount copy of the book should be in touch with me.

A few other books recently appeared that I would like to bring to readers' attention. R. Moshe Zuriel published the following works by Naftali Hertz Wessely: Gan NaulSefer ha-MidotMigdal ha-Levanon, and Hikur Din. The first two books have been published before, but Zuriel has included unpublished material. Migdal ha-Levanon appears in print for the first time. All scholars who deal with Wessely will have to examine these works.

Another recent publication is R. David ben Judah he-Hasid, Sefer ha-Gevul, edited by Bentsion Cohen. This is a kabbalistic work published from manuscript. The author, R. David, is none other than the grandson of Nahmanides. Here is how the book is described on the cover: "This book is one of the first attempts by a contemporary of the Zohar discovery to give a lucid and graphical interpretation to the mysterious complex issues of divinity as discussed in the Idra Rabbah of the Zohar. His approach is one of the earliest to present an interpretation of the Sephirot in the image of a person." The book also includes the numerous illustrations that appear in the manuscript.

10. Readers sometimes ask me about upcoming lectures, so I would like to inform people that on the Shabbat of Dec. 16-17, 2016 (including Saturday night) I will be speaking at Ner Yisrael in London. On Sunday night, Dec. 18, I will be speaking at the Hampstead Synagogue at 8:15pm. The topic is "Some Strange Jewish Christmas Eve Practices." On Wednesday, Dec. 21, I will be speaking at the London School of Jewish Studies at 8pm on the topic of "Touching God: What Are the Limits of Orthodox Theology?" On Thursday, Dec. 22, I will be speaking at Shomrei Hadath at 8pm on the topic of "Sense and Censorship: Is Historical Truth an Orthodox Value?" On the Shabbat of Dec. 24-25 (including Saturday night) I will be speaking at Kehillat Ohev Shalom.

On the Shabbat of Jan. 6-7, 2017, I will be in Flatbush. During services on Friday night at Bnei Yitzhak, I will give a short talk on R. Elijah Benamozegh. After an early tefillah at the Sephardic Institute, I will be speaking at 8:45am on "The Philosophy of Rav Kook: Is It Still Relevant?" On Shabbat afternoon at 3pm I will be speaking at Beth Torah on "Judaism and Islam: Some Historical and Halakhic Perspectives." On Saturday night at 8pm I will be speaking at the Sephardic Institute on "Did the Sages Always Tell the Truth (and Should We)?"




[1] “Da’as Torah – What are Its Parameters in non-Halachic Issues”, available here at 26:40.
[2] Usually it is Hungarian extremist rabbis who use terms like avodah zarah with reference to Yom ha-Atzmaut, but I found that R. Yehezkel Levenstein also uses this language. See Or Yehezkel, vol. 3, p. 118:

וברצוני לעורר כי הנה היום היה [!] יום העצמאות, ומה הוא מהותו של יום העצמאות. יום של עבודה זרה, יום שבו מראים הכל כוחי עוצם ידי.

I agree with a friend who wrote to me regarding this passage:

​יש הבדל בין השימוש בשם 'עבודה זרה' בהקשר של "כוחי ועוצם ידי", זה שווה למי שאומר שהרדיפה אחר הכסף הוא עבודה זרה "אלהי כסף ואלהי זהב לא תעשה לכם", ובין השימוש שסטמר משתמש בו שעובדים "העגל הציוני".​

[3] At 1:14:30. The Lubavitcher Rebbe had a different perspective. See Joseph Telushkin, Rebbe: The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, the Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History (New York, 2014), p. 189, who quotes what the Rebbe told R. Leibel Groner: "When it comes to a marriage, not I can help you, not your father can help you, not your mother can help you, not your seichel [your intellectual faculties] can help you. The only thing that can help you is your heart. If you feel for her, go ahead. If you don't do not."
[4] At 1:11:00. Because R. Schachter is citing from memory, his misremembered one point. At minute 59 he describes a case dealt with by R. Chaim Berlin that took place under communist rule. Yet R. Berlin died in 1912, before the Soviet Revolution. The responsum referred to by R. Schachter can be found in Nishmat HayyimEven ha-Ezer, no. 3, and is from 1911. As R. Schachter notes, it contains the following fascinating words, addressed to someone who was considering whether a certain woman was an appropriate marriage partner:

ויוכל לקיים בה מצות פו"ר להוליד לו בן ובת ויצא ידי חובתו. ובזה"ז דלא אכשור דרי אין להדר להיות לו בנים מרובים, שמי יודע אם ילכו בדרך התורה והמצוה, אך לקיים מצות פו"ר חובה עלינו למלאות חובתינו.

I don’t know of any other rabbinic figure who urged people not to have many children because of a fear that they would not remain religious. The standard rabbinic approach in such matters was to declare בהדי כבשי דרחמנא למה לך. This expression comes from Berakhot 10a where it deals with the exact matter discussed by R. Berlin.

In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And Isaiah the prophet, son of Amoz, came to him and said unto him, Thus saith the Lord, Set thy house in order, for thou shalt die and not live etc. (Is. 38:1) What is the meaning of ‘thou shalt die and not live’? Thou shalt die in this world and not live in the world to come. He said to him: Why so bad? He replied: Because you did not try to have children. He said: The reason was because I saw by the holy spirit that the children issuing from me would not be virtuous. He said to him: What have you to do with the secrets of the All-Merciful? You should have done what you were commanded, and let the Holy One, blessed be He, do that which pleases Him

According to R. Berlin, Hezekiah was mistaken in that he chose not have any children. R. Berlin states that one must indeed fulfill the minimal obligation of peru u-revu, but there is no need to have more children than this when there is a strong possibility that the children will not remain on the religious path.
[5] Ibid at 1:01:00.
[6] Hearing this reminded me of R. Avraham Shapiro’s point that certain “Daas Torah” personalities have published Torah works, and in these works they state that what they write is not halakhah le-ma’aseh. “It is as if they are saying that they don’t have the ‘Din Torah,” but they do have the Daas Torah.” See Aharon Eizental, “Ha-Kohen ha-Gadol me-Ehav,” Tzohar 32 (2008), p. 16. A number of times R. Shapiro commented that there is no precedent for the current phenomenon in which Torah scholars who won’t give halakhic rulings on commonplace Shabbat questions feel that they can issue rulings on life and death matters affecting the entire nation. As with R. Schachter, he saw this as a distortion of true Daas Torah.
[7] See R. Israel Berger, Eser Orot (Petrokov, 1907), pp. 13-14, who explains the hasidic perspective that one can be the gadol ha-dor without being an expert in Talmud and halakhah.
[8] None of the responses referred to the following important passage in Aviad Hakohen, “Zot Torat ha-Adam,” in Reuven Ziegler and Reuven Gafni, eds. Le-Ovdekha be-Emet (Jerusalem, 2011), p. 367. It shows that R. Yehuda Amital thought that there is a more important thing to hope for than that one’s sons or students become gedolim, namely, that they should be good Jews.

כמה פעמים סיפר לנו על בר המצווה של בנו היחיד, ר' יואל, שאליה הגיעו הרבה אורחים שנמנו עם משפחת האצולה הלמדנית של הרבנית מרים, משפחתו של הסבא ר' איסר זלמן מלצר. בזה אחר זה קמו האורחים, וכמנהג גוברין יהודאין בירכו את חתן בר המצווה שיהיה גדול בתורה, חריף ובקי, סיני ועוקר הרים, רב לאלפים, יודע ש"ס ופוסקים, עמוד החזק ופטיש הימיני. לאחר שסיימו, ניעור רבנו ממקומו ואמר בצורה אופיינית: "אני מודה לכם על דבריכם הטובים, אבל איני מסכים עמם. אבא שלי לא היה גדול בתורה. גם סבא שלי לא היה גדול בתורה. לא אכפת לי שבני יהיה חייט או סנדלר. העיקר שיהיה יהודי טוב."

[9] Brisk is an exception. A friend writes: 

בבית בריסק אומרים מפורש, מאן לימא שיש גדול הדור?

[10] I am referring to the non-hasidic segment of the haredi world. In the hasidic world the followers of a rebbe generally viewed him as the gadol ha-dor, and he was thought to be chosen for this role from Heaven. See Mendel Piekarz, Ha-Hanhagah ha-Hasidit (Jerusalem, 1999), pp. 22ff.; David Assaf, Ne’ehaz ba-Sevakh (Jerusalem, 2006), p. 240. The Steipler actually said that R. Shakh was chosen by Heaven to be the manhig ha-dor. See Avraham Yeshayahu Kanievsky, Toldot Yaakov (Bnei Brak, 1995), p. 263. The Hatam Sofer said that in every generation God establishes one person as the premier posek. Because of his central halakhic position, the Hatam Sofer understandably understood that he was this person. See Maoz Kahana, “Ha-Hatam Sofer: Ha-Posek be-Einei Atzmo,” Zion 76 (2007), pp. 545-546.
[11] In a future post I will discuss R. Steinman in more detail. After examining his writings and public statements, I have to say that I understand well why there is opposition to R. Steinman, and I think that without the support of R. Kanievsky he never would have been regarded as the gadol ha-dor. It appears to me that R. Steinman has indeed attempted  to move haredi society in a different direction, and as such has diverged from some of the previous haredi Daas Torah. Furthermore, there is evidence of his “out of the box” thinking for many decades. As far as I know, there is not even one scholarly article about R. Steinman, which is surprising, to say the least, since he is the single most important haredi rabbinic leader.
[12] Berakhot 31b s.v. מורה. Cf. Rashbam, Pesahim 100a, s.v. ברבי which I also don't think means the preeminent Torah leader or scholar. See also Or Zarua, Hilkhot Rosh ha-Shanah, no. 276, for the story of R. Amnon of Mainz who is referred to as gadol ha-dor. But again, I don’t think the meaning is that he was the greatest scholar of the generation. He certainly was not the greatest leader of his generation (and indeed, he was not even a real person).
[13] Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim 282:3.
[14] Nefesh Kol Haima’arekhet ת, no. 80. R. Palache also cites R. Nahman of Bratzlav, Sefer ha-Midot, s.v. צדיק no. 136:

אין לך צדיק שאין עליו מחלוקת ומחקרים.

[15] Vol. 2, p. 159. See also ibid., p. 249.
[16] Minhat Eleazar, vol. 3, no. 64 (p. 54a).
[17] There is a long list of negative things rabbis have said about their opponents, and I have cited some in prior posts. Perhaps the worst I have found was stated by R. Sason Elijah Halevi Samoha, the former hakham bashi of Baghdad. He accused R. Elisha Dangoor, his successor as hakham bashi, of murdering his own brother. See Yaron Harel, Intrigue and Revolution: Chief Rabbis in Aleppo, Baghdad, and Damascus 1744-1914, trans. Y. Chipman (Oxford, 2015), p. 98. 
[18] The letters I refer to come from the Israel State Archives, R. Isaac Herzog file 4243/6-פ.
[19] For my understanding of Maimonides, which diverges from that of R. Herzog, see here.
[20] In the file that contains the letter to Carter is also found a November 2, 1954 letter to Arnold Toynbee in which R. Herzog writes:

I have been struck by the point that you narrate the history of 5000 years of civilisation. Does that mean that in your view recorded history is not older?
I have been trying recently to explain the Hebrew Bible chronology according to which the creation of man took place only about 5700 years ago. This of course is rejected by anthropologists but may it not mean that man, truly civilised man, man properly called, is only of that age? Or do you begin the history of civilisation with the rise of agriculture?
Another letter in the file is from R. Herzog to Abraham Cressy Morrison, author of the book Man Does Not Stand Alone. R. Herzog’s letter is from December 19, 1951, and here is the section relevant to our discussion:
While not necessarily subscribing to all of its statements, I wish to compliment you on your very interesting and inspiring little book, “Man Does Not Stand Alone." It is calculated to help many spiritually.
However, permit me the following observations. Whilst you accept the belief in G-D and in providence in as far as the generalities of nature are concerned, you recognise the dates fixed by science as axiomatic. Let me call your attention to the consideration that the ages of the rocks and the like, are computed in the absence of the premise of the Rock of the Ages. Once you grant the agency of a super nature power and intelligence, it does not follow at all that because with the laws and forces working now in nature after the creational work has ended, this or that kind of operation must take so much time, it has been so during the creational process and hence it is not at all certain that G-D tool [!] milliards of years to perform his work as Creator.
The difficulty is great, I admit, when it comes to historic Biblical chronology. Literally taken, the Biblical chronology allows only 5712 years for the period since the creation of Man and only a space of about 12,000 years of civilisation. This of course is a different matter. If we take agriculture as marking the emergence from the savage state, some 6000 years would, I feel be sufficient. We may have to reinterpret the narrative portions of the Pentateuch, but not necessarily to allegorise them.
The same file also contains most of the Herzog-Immanuel Velikovsky correspondence published and analyzed by Raphael Shuchat in The Torah u-Madda Journal 15 (2008-2009), pp. 143-171.
[21] In the Israel State Archives, R. Isaac Herzog file 4253/6-פ there are other letters from R. Herzog focusing on the matter we have been discussing, namely, the short time given to humanity on earth if one reads the Torah literally. On 10 Av 5712, he wrote as follows to Dr. Yitzhak Etzion:


אפשר לפרש את תוה"ק בצורה אליגורית ושהשמות שבפרשיות הראשונות שבספר בראשית, הן של גזעים ואומות רבים, לא של יחידים, ושהשנים הן לא שנים רגילות אלא תקופות, אבל זהו כבר ענין אחר, ודורש קביעת כללים עד היכן ומהיכן

On 22 Adar 5712 he wrote to Dr. Samuel Belkin. 

זה מזמן שאני הוגה רעיון גדול בלבי והוא להוציא ספר גדול בכמות ובאיכות, מעין מורה נבוכים חדש שיכיל תשובותיה של היהדות הנאמנה לכל מתקיפיה, מצד המדע המודרני, האנטרופולוגיה, הגיאולוגיה, הזואולוגיה וכו', הפילוסופיה, בקורת המקרא, והדתות האחרות, וכן מצד בעלי הכתות שבקרבנו של העבר ושל היום, הצדוקים הקראים והריפורמים

אני קבעתי לי ליסוד את דברי רבינו הגדול הרמב"ם ז"ל, שאם אריסטו היה מוכיח בהחלט את קדמות החומר היה הוא מפרש את פרשיות בראשית בהתאם לה, וד"ל, אך צריך שהחולקים על קבלתנו יוכיחו תחלה את השערותיהם, וכן צריך לקבוע כללים פרשנייים, עד היכן ואימתי מותר להוציא הדברים מפשוטם. זהו מקצוע בתורה שעובד אך מעט מאד

On 11 Shevat 5713, R. Herzog wrote to Professor Ben Zion Dinur, who was then serving as Minster of Education.

ימצא נא בזה סיכום של פעולות שבתכניתי לשם יצירת תנועה רוחנית להגנה על מורשת סיני


בדעתי להתחיל מיד בעריכת ספר גדול על יסוד היסודות של היהדות הנאמנה המאמינה, "תורה מן השמים". בספר ההוא תופענה הגנות כתובות מאנשי מדע ואנשי אמונה כאחד, מיד כל אחד מנקודת השקפת מקצועו: אנתרופוליגיה, גיאולוגיה, תכונה, זואולוגיה וכו' וכו' . . .  כללים הם בידינו מאז מעולם: "דברה תורה בלשון בני אדם", "שבעים פנים לתורה", "התורה נדרשת בפרדס" וכו' וכו', ומאידך גיסא יש לנו כלל גדול "אין מקרא יוצא מידי פשוטו". הספר הזה יקבע גבולות על הפרשיות שבתורה שאינן ענין של הלכה למעשה, עד כמה ובאילו תנאים יש להוציא הדברים מפשטותם. לפנינו יהיו למורה דרך דברי המורה הידועים, שאם אריסטו היה מוכיח בהחלט את קדמות החומרeternity of matter  היה הוא ז"ל מוצא דרך לפרש את פרשיות בראשית בהתאם לה.

בהכרח שהיהדות הנאמנה המאמינה תמצא לה פרקליט בתקופה המודרנית הזאת, אך מפני התקדמות המדע בצעדי ענק אי אפשר לעבודה כזאת להעשות באיש אחד. אפילו הרמב"ם, אילו היה חי בדורנו, לא היה יכול להאבק יחידי בכל הזרמים המרובים ההם


In his 29 Shevat 5714 letter to Dr. Aharon Barth, R. Herzog speculates about a possible solution to the problem we have been discussing, and also a solution for other matters in which the Torah's description does not correspond to what is accepted by modern scientists and historians. He suggests that the Torah's description need not be factually correct, as it was in line with the conceptions of the generation of the giving of the Torah. 


תאמר, שהיא דברה לא רק בלשון בני אדם, כי גם בלשון המסורת של העברים שבאותו הדור שקיבל את התורה, אעפ"י שבעצם הדברים לא מדויקים. נוסיף ללכת ונאמר כדברי רבינו הקדוש הרמב"ן ז"ל שהתורה כולה שמותיו של הקדוש ברוך הוא, ויש בה בכל אות ובכל תג סודות וסודי סודות, למעלה למעלה מהשכל הרגיל, רזי רזין שרק יחידי סגולה זוכים בהם, ואין חיצוניותה בפנימיותה כלל, והצורה החיצונה נתחברה בהתאמה לדרגת המסורת העברית של הימים ההים  הרבה צריך עוד לדון עד שנקבל תיאוריה כזאת

As can be seen from the last sentence, he was not ready to adopt this approach.


See also the letter from R. Herzog that I published in my "Ha-Im Yesh Hiyuv le-Ha'amin she-ha-Zohar Nikhtav al Yedei Rabbi Shimon Ben Yohai," Milin Havivin 5 (2010-2011), p. 19.


In his reply to R. Herzog, Dr. Etzion makes the following interesting point which stands in opposition to the approach of some in the Kiruv world (and, truth be told, it is also in opposition to Maimonides' approach)..



 כבודם של כל חכמי ישראל שהשתדלו להוכיח את האמונה ע"י השכל במקומם מונח, אבל האמונה בה' ובתורה היא אחת ממצוות התורה ולו היה אפשרות להוכיח את האמונה הזאת, היינו לו אפשר היה להכריח את שכל האדם להאמין, הרי אין מקום למצוה, כמו שאין מקום למצוה ולשכר ועונש אם אין בחירה חפשית בחופש הרצון

[22] The picture can be found here where four of the five young men are identified. It was brought to my attention by Elchanan Burton.
[23] Robert Liberles, “On the Threshold of Modernity: 1618-1780,” in Marion Kaplan, ed., Jewish Daily Life in Germany, 1618-1945 (Oxford, 2005), p. 24.

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