Monday, January 09, 2012

Reading Mevakshei Panecha - Part 3 - Leadership For Our Community.

Continuing with the interview of Rav Lichtenstein in Mevakshei Panecha, Rav Sabato asks him about leadership as part of a general discussion about educating Talmidei Chachamim:

This question, whether a Talmid Chacham should grow exclusively in Torah or should he also be involved in leadership matters, is a difficult question in our generation. Look at Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ZL; there is no other in our generation like him. It will take a long time until we find another such great. One of the things that were outstanding about him was that although he expressed himself here and there about communal issues, he refused to be involved in leadership issues.  I had many conversations with him about a variety of issues and he used to tell me: I don’t want to deal with this. On the other hand there are other Gedolim in Torah who took upon themselves this responsibility because of how important it was to them. If Rav Shlomo Zalman is one kind of figure amongst Gedolim, Rav Elayashiv is completely a different kind.

It is clear that we need great people but there is a great distance between being a great man (Gadol) and a leader. In great measure in the Chareidi world, notwithstanding all the due respect and appreciation for what they accomplish in the field of learning, those who become the heads of the community, don’t know the world around them and that is no coincidence as they are trained not to.  They are taught that there is no point in dealing with anything that does not enter the world of the Beit Hamidrash and then they expect these same people who were taught not to notice their surroundings to become leaders? They should tell us how to behave [in the world outside]?  No wonder that in our era this road is strewn with failure!

If one devotes time, significant time, dealing with external matters one gets to know reality, and knowing reality does not mean knowing the gizzard of a chicken for the purpose of ruling Hilchot treifot. It means to know in depth the soul of the nation, the community. I believe that they say in the name of the Chazon Ish that in the area of psak there is a greater risk of improperly understanding the circumstances of the case than in misreading the Halacha. (Rav Sabato points to Iggrot Chazon Ish letter 31). For many there is not enough understanding of what it means to know reality. They look at technical areas, one learning about electricity another about medicine. Of course one cannot rule certain halachot in Hilchot Shabbat without knowing a little physics, medicine etc… but this is far from enough. To deal with issues of values, those things that are on the agenda of the community, those issues that engage the community, one has to arrive to a certain depth in understanding the psyche of the individual, the nation and that requires investment, significant investment. The truth is that it is hard to see on the horizon personalities that will become such people in the future. I do not see a Rav Shlomo Zalman sprouting here [in Eretz Israel]. While in the Lakewood Yeshiva, with all the investment that is there and with all its glory, it is hard for me to see a new Rav Aharon Kotler coming out of there.  They are around several decades and so far one has not emerged.

It is possible that it is our fate to get used to a different kind of leadership and preparation for leadership. This getting used to is difficult. Who does not want a leader like the Chafetz Chaim?

I do not see in our own group anyone like the Rav ZL. There are many Talmidei Chachamim who are Lamdanim with breadth and depth but a leader par excellence is missing….”

Rav Aharon Lichtenstein makes an interesting point about leadership in our community. He does not belittle the advantages of Torah leadership but it has to be someone prepared for the task by being deeply involved in real life outside the Beit Hamidrash.  He does not subscribe to the school that believes that a lifelong Torah scholar somehow miraculously gains insights into the workings of the community and world outside. The required external involvement may come at the cost of some Talmud Torah but it is necessary and only then can we rely on such a leader. It is interesting that he does not see this kind of leadership emerging in any of the groups that make up the community of observant Jews. He does not however address enough the underlying causes for the lack of this type of leadership. By including his own group, who are active in the world outside the Beit Hamidrash, amongst those lacking the necessary leadership traits, he leaves us with a sense of helplessness and even despair.  


  1. From the Churban Habayit, came a new leadership of Anshei Knesset Hagedola.

    From the Churban of the era of the Hageonim came the new leadership of the Rambam.

    From the Churban of Europe will come a new leadership as well.

  2. RJS, I am not used to you in such an optimistic state!

  3. Oh yes, I am very optimistic indeed. There is much optimism in what R Lichtenstein is saying as well. It is just very difficult to transition from a particular European methodolgy that has been so dominant for so many centuries, but whose time is at an end.

    Transition involves both an admiration for what was, as well as a growing conviction that the old can longer function in the new environment, much as we would like it to.

    With this comes a search for a new direction.

  4. Actually R Lichtenstein seems to be pointing to the same point R Kook made long ago about what must be done to bring about a new leadership in post European Jewry.

    כמדומה שראוי להתרגל הרבה בחזרת הרמב"ם כסדר, פרק או פרקים בכל יום, כפי האפשר, פעם בלא נושאי כלים ופעם עם נושאי כלים היותר עיקריים, אבל העיקר החזרה ההיקפית, שבהמשך העניין כמדומני שעתיד ספר "היד" להיות המעיין המרכזי לתלמידי חכמים, על פי סדרי הלימוד שבהכרח יחודשו" אגרות הרב קוק, א, קכ"ה