Friday, January 05, 2007

Can Rav Elyashiv impose his rulings on Klal Yisrael?

Baruch Horowitz at Mishmar has this interesting post discussing the strong negative reaction of non – Chareidi observers of Chareidi insularity. I would like to add my two senses to it and give you a personal point of view.

I am non-sectarian Jew meaning I believe in Metziut Hashem, TMS and the supreme authority of Halacha on our daily life. I also believe in truth and that it is the goal in life to find it. The basis for this last statement is that HKBH is the ultimate truth and we are supposed to seek Him out.

הוא שהנביא אומר "וה' אלוהים אמת
הוא לבדו האמת, ואין לאחר אמת כאמיתו
והוא שהתורה אומרת "אין עוד, מלבדו"
כלומר אין שם מצוי אמת מלבדו כמותו. ,(Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah 1:2)

וּמְבַקְשֵׁי יְהוָה, יָבִינוּ כֹל but they that seek the LORD understand all things (Mishlei 28:5)

To me all Jews who strive to live a life with these principles as their guideline, no matter what degree of success they have attained, are my brothers in arms, coreligionists and we are all one. The problem is that the meaning of some of these principles is quite open to interpretation. Metziut Hashem would seem to be an open and shut case – either you accept it or do not. It is not so simple though as evidenced by the arguments among the Rishonim where some believed God had a physical existence (R. Moshe Taku). TMS has even a wider range of possibilities of what it really means. Here again the Rishonim filled in the void with the different positions. (For an overview see Torah Shleima Miluim on Parshat Mishpatim – Kuntras Ketivat Hatorah and after Parshat Pikudei). Now we come to Halacha which is really the issue we are discussing and causes the friction, though sometimes Hashkafic issues crop up like the Slifkin affair.

Halacha is a system based on the original Torah Shebiktav and Torah Sheba’al peh with the addition of Gezeirot and other rules implemented by Sanhedrin over time and by the gathering of all Chachmei Yisrael in Bavel after the Sanhedrin were discontinued. The last such gathering was at the time of Rav Ashi. All rules that were set until then were included in the Talmud which was written down during his time and the next generations. As the Jews were slowly spreading all over the globe and central authority was eroding from both an implementation and legislative (no longer able to gather all Chachmei Yisrael) perspective, they all undertook to abide by the rulings of the Talmud. Of course what those rulings are lends itself to interpretation, but at least there is framework for discussion. Thereafter each Rav and Beit Din could legislate for its own community but the rules are no longer binding on Klal Yisrael. I am simplifying. The subject is very complicated and broad with many opinions about the details but I am summarizing based on Rambam’s introduction to Mishne Torah. Here are some excerpts: (I will not translate as I have summarized above already).

ועניין שני התלמודין--הוא פירוש דברי המשנה וביאור עמוקותיה, ודברים שנתחדשו בכל בית דין ובית דין מימות רבנו הקדוש ועד חיבור התלמוד. ומשני התלמודין, ומן התוספתא, ומספרא ומספרי, ומן התוספתות--מכולם יתבאר האסור והמותר, והטמא והטהור, והחייב והפטור, והכשר והפסול, כמו שהעתיקו איש מפי איש מפי משה מסיניי.
כה גם יתבאר מהם דברים שגזרו חכמים ונביאים שבכל דור ודור, לעשות סייג לתורה, כמו ששמעו ממשה בפירוש "ושמרתם את משמרתי" (ויקרא יח,ל), שאמר עשו משמרת למשמרתי.
כו וכן יתבאר מהם המנהגות והתקנות שהתקינו או שנהגו בכל דור ודור, כמו שראו בית דין של אותו הדור, לפי שאסור לסור מהם, שנאמר "לא תסור, מכל הדבר אשר יגידו לך--ימין ושמאל" (ראה דברים יז,יא).
כז וכן משפטים ודינין פלאיים שלא קיבלו אותן ממשה, ודנו בהן בית דין הגדול של אותו הדור במידות שהתורה נדרשת בהן, ופסקו אותן הזקנים, וגמרו שהדין כך הוא. הכול חיבר רב אשי בתלמוד, מימות משה ועד ימיו.
נמצא רבינא ורב אשי וחבריהם, סוף גדולי חכמי ישראל המעתיקים תורה שבעל פה, ושגזרו גזירות והתקינו תקנות והנהיגו מנהגות ופשטו גזירותם ותקנותם ומנהגותם בכל ישראל, בכל מקומות מושבותיהם.

This is important; Ravina and Rav Ashi were the last of the transmitters of the Torah Sheba’al Peh whose rulings were disseminated among all Klal Yisrael.

ל ואחר בית דינו של רב אשי, שחיבר התלמוד בימי בנו וגמרו, נתפזרו ישראל בכל הארצות פיזור יתר, והגיעו לקצוות ולאיים הרחוקים; ורבתה קטטה בעולם, ונשתבשו הדרכים בגייסות. ונתמעט תלמוד תורה, ולא נתכנסו ישראל ללמוד בישיבותיהם אלפים ורבבות כמו שהיו מקודם.
לא אלא מתקבצים יחידים השרידים אשר ה' קורא בכל עיר ועיר ובכל מדינה ומדינה, ועוסקים בתורה, ומבינים בחיבורי החכמים כולם, ויודעים מהם דרך המשפט היאך הוא.
לב וכל בית דין שעמד אחר התלמוד בכל מדינה ומדינה וגזר או התקין או הנהיג לבני מדינתו, או לבני מדינות--לא פשטו מעשיו בכל ישראל: מפני רוחק מושבותיהם, ושיבוש הדרכים; והיות בית דין של אותה המדינה יחידים, ובית דין הגדול של שבעים בטל מכמה שנים קודם חיבור התלמוד.
לג לפיכך אין כופין אנשי מדינה זו לנהוג במנהג מדינה אחרת, ואין אומרין לבית דין זה לגזור גזירה שגזרה בית דין אחר במדינתו. וכן אם למד אחד מן הגאונים שדרך המשפט כך הוא, ונתבאר לבית דין אחר שעמד אחריו שאין זה דרך המשפט הכתוב בתלמוד--אין שומעין לראשון, אלא למי שהדעת נוטה לדבריו, בין ראשון, בין אחרון.

This is a key paragraph so I will paraphrase it:
We therefore do not force people in one area to follow the rules of another, and we do not tell one Beit din to abide by a gezeirah that was implemented by another. And so too if one Gaon concluded that the law is such and such and another Beit din that followed him felt otherwise, we follow the one that makes the most sense whether earlier or later.
This paragraph does away with precedence from after the time of the Gemara. Not all Possekim agreed with Rambam and at some point in time there was a consensus to follow certain Rishonim. See the introduction of the Beit Yosef to his Kessef Mishna. That in itself generated quite a controversy especially when he published his Shulchan Aruch. Rambam himself accepts certain Takanot of the Geonim as binding on everybody.

לד ודברים הללו, בדינים וגזירות ותקנות ומנהגות שנתחדשו אחר חיבור התלמוד. אבל כל הדברים שבתלמוד הבבלי, חייבין כל בית ישראל ללכת בהם; וכופין כל עיר ועיר וכל מדינה ומדינה לנהוג בכל המנהגות שנהגו חכמים שבתלמוד, ולגזור גזירותם וללכת בתקנותם.
לה הואיל וכל אותן הדברים שבתלמוד הסכימו עליהם כל ישראל, ואותן החכמים שהתקינו או שגזרו או שהנהיגו או שדנו דין ולמדו שהמשפט כך הוא הם כל חכמי ישראל או רובן, והם ששמעו הקבלה בעיקרי התורה כולה, איש מפי איש עד משה רבנו

Clearly there is no basis for a universal Halachik authority nowadays. The big cities such as New York et al in America and Yerushalayim et al in Eretz Israel do not have a central Beit Din accepted by the whole population. It therefore is left up to each person to chose a Possek and abide by his rulings.

Now let us come back to Baruch Horowitz’s question – why do people care about the insular Chareidi rulings? It is the way they are promulgated. If Harav Elyashiv rules the Chareidi community expects everybody to abide by his ruling. True he is a great Talmid Chacham; let us say the greatest in our time but his rulings are still not binding. He can rule for those who wish to follow his rulings but do not try to impose on the rest of the community. There is no basis for that. Saying that traveling on ElAl is a Chilul Hashem is nonsense. Tell your constituents to boycott it but do not impose your Meta Halachik rulings on everybody. Education for women has to be curtailed. Sure – you want to test the resilience of your constituents – go ahead but why impose this on the rest of the world?

By the way it is clear to me that this is probably not Rav Elyashiv’s position either. He knows the extent of his authority Halachikally better than I would dream of understanding it in my lifetime. Power hungry sycophants who take control of the life of these great people as they get old, present things to them with their own bias. They themselves do not have the authority to impose themselves on the Klal based on their own merit; they therefore develop this mythical Godol canard and use it by taking over the great man’s persona.

That is why I am pained when I hear these nonsensical rulings. What can be more painful than the Chilul Hashem these rulings engender? What is a plain Jew supposed to do with them? He is taught that he has to listen to the Rabbis but this does not make sense. His choice is to ignore it but feel guilty or follow it and be resentful. It makes the Torah and its way of life a joke.


  1. Even if we assume that the Torah sh'bichtav is divine how do we know that Chazal's interpretation is the correct one & divinely inspired?
    If,as Chazal claimed,all their interpretations came down from Sinai,how come the Zadukim didn't accept Chazal's interpretation of tefilin or 'ayin tachat ayin & fur that matter all the rest of the Halacha.
    Just think about it.From Moshes time till the Chazal,did the people put on tefilin?
    Weren't people blinded,lost their legs & hands? How was the law paskent then? Wasn't it known by the people?
    How could the Zaddukim who were the kohanim-the upholders of the Law& in charge of the avodah in the Beit Hamikdash-rule against what was widely known amongst the people?!
    Unless one says that the daily practice of torah was forgotten untill chazal came & redicovered,which is very,very unlikely.
    I am familiar with what Rambam writes in his hakdamah lamishnah but IMO it's not convincing.
    It seems to me that the claim by chazal to a Mesorah for their system going back to Moshe lacks any solid foundation or credibility.

  2. This is a wonderful post because you go back directy to the sources. I would just add that what bothers people about charedim is the hypocricy of preaching insularity and disdain for secular education, but then reaching out to those who live outside the system to subsidize chumros.

  3. Yes, this is the crux of the matter and exactly why the Gadolim are scorned by many. We cannot know the intent of Rav Elyashiv and giving him the benefit of the doubt by blaming power hunger sycophants is also not adequate.

    There is a famous quote by the famous student of manufacturing Edward Demming. He reasoned that in heirarchical organizations there was an extreme tendency to tell the boss what they wanted to hear rather than the truth and that this would lead to bad decisions. He said that one of the key aspects of management was to "drive fear from the workplace". This would allow legitimate feeback to filter back up the chain.

    The Gadolim are great Torah Scholars, of this there is no doubt. But are they great community leaders? This is the question.

  4. Ytschak, as always your questions need more than comment answers. Re the tzedukkim issue next issue of Hakirah will have an interesting article on this issue. On the mesorah I will tackle this in time. RDZ Hoffmann wrote twp papers, The First Mishna and the graet assembly which address many of the things you talk about. It is a poor translation from the original german so if you read german and you can find it in israel you might enjoy it.

    Chaim B. point well taken. When in Yeshiva the Rosh Yeshiva used to say in his shmuessen that Eisav was a ba"al Habos while Yakov a ben torah. Well guess what i asked him why he came to eisav for money? (I gave anyway just wanted to make a point).

    David S there is a pattern that the Gedolim as they get older get more radical as it happened with Rav Shach A"h and now with R. Elayashiv YBL. It must be that as they age they get more isolated and controlled, at least i hope that is the case.

  5. The worldview of the Chareidi society is precisely that the gedolim have a right to posken for everyone since they are Daas Torah, which is binding on all Jews. In fact, this is the first, most basic and axiomatic Torah requirement. You are correct that there are halachic rules for whose psak is binding on whom but that does not apply to Daas Torah. I think that you, with the idea of the individual choice, and they, with Daas Torah would be talking past each other.

    It is not that the gedolim become more radical as they age. It is that they represent a hashkafa that becomes more out of tune with our rapidly changing world as they age. The Chareidi world is working under the mid20th century authoritarian structure (strong leaders who rally the masses - Stalin, DeGaulle, Mao, Churchill) while the secular society is already post-modernist and atomized. As the last Mishna in Shas says: Talmidei Chcahmim gain more wisdom as they age. It is the world that has gotten sillier. That does not mean that it is a good match, however.

    For Yitzhak, I recommend a book that is just out and should be in the stores shortly. I saw a preview copy last night. You will find this questiosn and related ones fully dealt with in a classic work now available in English as The Rabbis Advocate, published by Yashar Books. It is an annotated translation of the classic Mateh Dan by R. David Nieto, the early 1700s Chacham of the Sephardic community of London and is devoted to these questions.

  6. avakesh, I agree that Da'at Torah is the basis for the authority of the gedolim. Da'at Torah is made up shita but that works for people who accept it. It is not an Ikar or yesod of our emunah and if one rejects it so be it and it does not make him into a kofer notwhistanding the argument of the chareidi camp.

  7. A chareidi magazine a few months ago had a story of R' Shteineman and described how he was completely unaware of how a credit card works (this was in connection with a tzedaka). Yesh dorshim l'shvach - R' Shteineman is kadosh and therefore removed from the mundane triviliaties most of us deal. V'yesh dorshin l'gnai - how can someone who does not even know what a credit card is possibly claim be attuned to the complexities of the social, political, and economic realities of our world?

  8. Chaim B. You are right. The more there is an attempt to hermetically seal off all contact with the outside world, the more likely there is of an outright schism between what might be termed mainstream Judaism and Haredi Judaism. They will be like the Essenes or Karaites, a sect that will cease to be involved in the history of the Jewish people at the same time as the protest that they ARE the Jewish people.

    Is this a real problem? I'm not sure it is. Christianity has no problems living with Hutterites, Amish and Shakers.

  9. >For Yitzhak, I recommend a book that is just out and should be in the stores shortly. I saw a preview copy last night. You will find this questiosn and related ones fully dealt with in a classic work now available in English as The Rabbis Advocate, published by Yashar Books. It is an annotated translation of the classic Mateh Dan by R. David Nieto, the early 1700s Chacham of the Sephardic community of London and is devoted to these questions.

    Avakesh,I read Mateh Dan(or second Kuzari)in Hebrew years ago.Apparently it hasn't left an indelible impression on me,since it hasn't resolved any of my doubts.
    In general,I must say ,I find it somewhat of a cop-out when someone says read this or that book & you'll find the answer.What he is saying :"I don't have the answer but read this book or that book,it has the answer!
    One could say that e.g. in Mathematcis,one has problems in solving certain differential equations & is referred to a text book to acquire the technical know-how.The same applies to other sciences,
    But when it comes to religion,one should be able to succinctly to outline his beliefs & answer all questions without any pilpulim,IF WHAT HE IS SAYING MAKES SENSE!

  10. The book has introductions and notes that, within the limitations of the primary material, updates the arguments to the present. I think that it does a good job but you can judge for yourself. This is not the forum but I do adress some of these issues on a fairly regular basis on by blog.

    However, I concede that faith is about faith - utlimately a choice. I and R. Guttman disagree about this. Fideism!, see

  11. my dear david,
    please call me at 02/6415517
    dovid refson

  12. David, did you have the chance to look at my most recent post? I thought you'd enjoy it.

  13. RE: your age/radical comment.

    How about starting a movement that puts emphasise on the halakha that people are above the age of raising their own children can not serve as a Dayan.

  14. yitschak, you difficulties with mesorah cannot be answerd in a few lines of a blog. read the appropriate sefer or maybe learn with someone thru the sefer and things will hopefully get clearer. pls be in touch if you want a chavrusah, i am intersted in these questions also.