Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Infallible Gedolim Or Just A Looney Letter?

I'm sorry folks. I know it seems like I'm beating a dead horse but I can rarely resist when I see letters like this.

This week's Letters to the Editor of the Jewish Press contains a letter that is just so irrational and full of silly logic that I just have to step in and say something. Here's the letter verbatim:

Re the criticism leveled by readers at the banning of the Lipa Schmeltzer concert (Letters, March 21):

Whatever happened to “naaseh v’nishmah” or “kiymu v’kiblu”? Whatever happened to listening to daas Torah and emunas chachomim? Chazal say the common sense of people is the opposite of the wisdom of the chachomim.

The same rabbonim who pasken on whether the chickens we eat are treif are now paskening on whether our entertainment is treif. We trust them for kashrus – why not for our ruchnius? Perhaps we should have a mashgiach’s hechsher haskomah on our “kosher” entertainment, especially when we expose our children to it. Why can’t we have kosher concerts with completely separate seating with mechitzas and shomrim for tznius? We sit separately in shul and at simchas – why not at concerts?

It was a complete chillul Hashem that this story leaked out to The New York Times. The secular world does not have to see us degrade our rabbonim by calling them “dictators.” They are infallible! These gedolim from across the spectrum are very responsible, caring, concerned, sincere tzaddikim who worry 24/7 about our hashkafa – our ruchnius and our gashmius.

The cancelled concert was billed as “The Big Event.” The real Big Event for B’nai Yisroel was Mattan Torah at Har Sinai, when we accepted our zekainim our leaders, our daas Torah. We have to listen to our gedolim even when we have questions. If Chazal say it’s night, we must trust them even if it’s really day.

These rabbonim help people day and night with agunas, almonos, yesomim, shidduchim, children at risk, chinuch, parnossah etc. They daven for us and make time for us to answer our questions, solve our problems, etc. There’s an aveirah min haTorah of “Lo sosur m’divrei chachomim” – which applies even when we disobey the chachomim in our days. If we’re not going to obey our elders, why should our children respect us when they disagree?

On Purim, the Jews did teshuvah for disobeying Mordechai and once again accepted his leadership and decisions. Let us reestablish our own commitment to our chachomim, our gedolim, our tzaddikim, our rebbes.

Oy. Where to start? Well, I suppose we can start at the beginning:

Whatever happened to “naaseh v’nishmah” or “kiymu v’kiblu”?

Sorry, but when the Jews said "na'aseh v'nishma" they said it specifically on things that were coming from God, not from Moshe. In fact, having learned about the Dor HaMidbar (the Generation of the Wilderness), I'm always willing to bet dollars to donuts that they were only willing to accept what God gave them. Had Moshe said "oh, and I have this 614th mitzvah for you as well" they would have rejected it out of hand (the prohibition of Bal Tosif [adding commandments] notwithstanding).

Whatever happened to listening to daas Torah and emunas chachomim? Chazal say the common sense of people is the opposite of the wisdom of the chachomim.

Sorry, but "Emunas Chachomim" has never meant completely shutting off your brains and literally following the gedolim without seeking to understand why they rule as they do.

The same rabbonim who pasken on whether the chickens we eat are treif are now paskening on whether our entertainment is treif. We trust them for kashrus – why not for our ruchnius?

There is a very good reason why we should not trust the rabbanim on this issue (at least specifically with regard to the Lipa concert). When I bring a chicken to a rav and he rules trief, I know that I can be reasonably assured of four things: (a) he will actually look at the chicken in question and base the decision on his own findings (b) I can also inspect the chicken and look up the halachos and also determine that the chicken is treif, (c) if I take it to another rav, the overwhelming likelihood is that he, too, will say it's treif and (d) if I bring another identical chicken to the rav, he will give an identical ruling.

That's not the case here. The Lipa Schmeltzer concert was banned based on false information, rumor and innuendo. The gedolim (to the best of my knowledge and according to published reports) did not so much and pick up the phone and contact the organizers of the concert or the performers to find out if the rumors they were hearing were true or not. They simply took the word of the instigators and relied on that without any further efforts. In other words, they didn't even look at the chicken.

In addition, I know that if I bring my rav a chicken, I can ask him *why* the chicken is treif. I can ask him to show me where in the Shulchan Aruch or later authorities it says that it is treif. In other words, I can ask him what the basis for the ruling was. No real basis for the ruling was given in the kol koreh that was distributed.

The biggest problem, however, is the last item I mentioned above. There have been countless other concerts in the past that have gone on, some with mixed seating and some with separate seating, without any problem. In addition, there are concerts coming up in the future that have both mixed-seating and separate seating sections and there is no kol koreh concerning them. Why not? If one of the criteria for a concert being "bad" is the presence of mixed seating (as indicated later in the letter) then why haven't the 33 rabbanim who signed the previous kol koreh against Lipa also signing one against the upcoming Miami Boys Choir concert? In short, if a rav rules my chicken treif and then one that is more obviously trief is ruled kosher without explaining why, then I *have* to question the rav's judgement. Of course, if he can tell me the reasons for his ruling, then that's a different story. But that's not what is happening here.

Why can’t we have kosher concerts with completely separate seating with mechitzas and shomrim for tznius? We sit separately in shul and at simchas – why not at concerts?

The short answer to your question is because there is no halachic requirement to have a mechitza by a concert. If you want to hold to the chumra of separate seating by a concert, then kol hakavod -- but don't force your chumras on me or everyone else.

The even shorter answer is that the Lipa concert had *ony* separate seating -- so don't try to pretend that that's the reason the concert was banned.

It was a complete chillul Hashem that this story leaked out to The New York Times. The secular world does not have to see us degrade our rabbonim by calling them “dictators.”

If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck... Seriously - if you're suggesting that the gedolim be given the power to dictate every last detail of our lives, then what else would you call them but dictators?!

They are infallible!

I don't know how any rational, thinking person can believe this. I have to conclude that the letter writer is completely ignorant of Jewish history where gedolim who were far, far greater than the current group have made errors - sometimes very grave ones with terrible consequences for the Jewish people as a whole.

Only God is infallible. To suggest that any human being is infallible is bordering on heresy IMHO. He is attempting to ascribe to a human being a quality that God alone has.

These gedolim from across the spectrum

From A to B (okay, maybe from A to D). I didn't see anyone outside the yeshivish/chassidic communities signing the prohibition. Or does the letter writer just assume that people who fall outside the narrow band of the communities represented by the gedolim aren't "Jewish enough" to be included?

are very responsible, caring, concerned, sincere tzaddikim who worry 24/7 about our hashkafa – our ruchnius and our gashmius.

I'm certain that some of them are. But that doesn't make every decision that they make very wise or even correct.

The cancelled concert was billed as “The Big Event.” The real Big Event for B’nai Yisroel was Mattan Torah at Har Sinai, when we accepted our zekainim our leaders, our daas Torah. We have to listen to our gedolim even when we have questions. If Chazal say it’s night, we must trust them even if it’s really day.

You might want to check out the Yerushalmi in Horiyos on that. It says that you should listen to Chazal only when it is correct -- not when they make obvious errors.

These rabbonim help people day and night with agunas, almonos, yesomim, shidduchim, children at risk, chinuch, parnossah etc. They daven for us and make time for us to answer our questions, solve our problems, etc.

That's all true and to their credit. And yet, it's completely irrelevant to the question of their fallibility.

There’s an aveirah min haTorah of “Lo sosur m’divrei chachomim” – which applies even when we disobey the chachomim in our days.

Again, see the Yerushalmi in Horiyos. And I'd like to ask the letter writer the same question that I asked last week -- if a rav told him to do something completely drastic (divorce his wife, move to the Congo, kill his neighbor, send his kids to live with frum strangers on the other side of the country, etc.) would he really then follow up and do so without a second thought or without *any* hesitation?

If we’re not going to obey our elders, why should our children respect us when they disagree?

There's a difference between respect and blind obedience. I respect my father, but if he told me to take my 401(k), cash it out, and invest it in a uranium mine in Asbury Park, or no-cal pizza, I'm not going to do it (unless he can really convince me that it's the right thing to do). We owe our parents respect for the hard work and effort they put into raising us, but not blind obedience. They same applies to the chachamim. They deserve respect for their Torah knowledge and for their efforts to the community; but not blind obedience.

The Wolf

22 comments:

Shira Salamone said...

Infallible??! That really got me steamed. I thought only the Catholics believed that any human being could be infallible. Have our rabbis suddenly become popes?

BrooklynWolf said...

Heck, even Catholics don't ascribe infallibility to the Pope all the time - only when he speaks ex cathedra. But some of our flock seem to think that it's impossible for a gadol to make a wrong turn while driving.

The Wolf

Rabbi Moshe Shochet, March 7, 2007 said...

Universe Maintained By Torah Study

The world cannot exist without Torah. Even by the holy shvatim there was Yissocher, who sat in kollel and learned day and night, and there was Zevulun, who learned and worked to support Yissocher. Yaakov Avinu sent Yehuda ahead to Mitzrayim to build a beis medrash for the bnei Torah to sit and learn full time in golus. We cannot survive in golus without Torah.

Hagaon Harav Ahron Kotler, zt”l, built Torah in America by introducing the kollel movement in Lakewood. Rav Ahron (along with other gedolim such as Harav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, zt”l, menahel of Yeshiva and Mesivta Torah Vodaas) was responsible for saving Torah in the golus of America. When Rav Ahron would visit potential donors, he would take pride in the fact that there were Yidden just sitting in kollel day and night studying Hashem’s holy Torah that keeps the entire world in existence.

It’s true that not everyone is cut out to learn full time. But if someone has it in him to learn in kollel or to go into chinuch to be marbitz Torah, he should be praised and given chizuk, not criticized.

Rabbi Moshe Shochet
Brooklyn, NY

Rabbi Moshe Shochet, January 18, 2002 said...

Question For Ms. Gruenbaum

I was appalled that The Jewish Press would print Esther Gruenbaum's stinging, anti-kollel letter to the editor. How ironic that such an anti-Torah viewpoint would appear during Chanukah, the festival commemorating our fight to regain our holy Torah.

Ms. Gruenbaum sarcastically asks, "And if we don't drastically change things, who will support the next generation?" Well, madam, if we don't learn, who will teach and pasken for the next generation?

Rabbi Moshe Shochet
Brooklyn, NY

BrooklynWolf said...

Rabbi Shochet,

Please stick to the topic of the post. I agree with everything you wrote in your first comment, but it (like the second one) has nothing to do with the subject of my post.

If you think I unfairly criticized your letter, then say so and rebutt it. But don't go off topic.

The Wolf

BrooklynWolf said...

(Assuming, of course, that it's Rabbi Shochet posting here and not someone else).

Rabbi Moshe Shochet, May 19, 2004 said...

More On Non-Jewish Melodies (I)

I wish to protest the tremendous chutzpah exhibited by reader Robert M. Solomon in his April 2 letter to the editor responding to Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser's earlier criticism of non-Jewish music being appropriated by frum Jews.

I have no problem with debating the issue in a respectful manner (see reader Kalman Fischer's letter in the same issue), but what Mr. Solomon did was to attack a beloved rabbinical figure and insult Daas Torah.

I'm sure that Rabbi Goldwasser in his column was not referring to simple and harmless melodies that our holy tzaddikim and rebbes adopted and to which they added genuine Jewish ruach and taam. What Rabbi Goldwasser was no doubt warning against is the type of rock or rap music distinguished by wild and provocative beats (and whose original lyrics celebrate immorality and sinful lifestyles).

L'havdil bein kodosh l'chol, bein Yisrael l'amim.

Rabbi Moshe Shochet
Brooklyn, NY

Dr. Robert M. Solomon, May 26, 2004 said...

The Beat Goes On

So, at least according to reader Moshe Shochet, it is not musical notes that threaten to corrupt, but rather "the beat" (Letters, April 23).

In responding to my earlier letter to the editor, Rabbi Shochet sounds the alarm: The pulsation of a 'rock beat' will so craze us that our very souls will become corrupted. But what really stands out in his letter was that rather than address the facts, he resorts to name calling and then retreats behind what he perceives to be the invincible wall of claiming to speak for 'Daas Torah.' (Kind of like in yeshiva when you'd ask a sincere question that the melamed couldn't handle and he'd throw you out of class and call you a chatzuf.)

Sorry, Rabbi Shochet, but much as you might wish it to be, you as an individual are not infallible, nor is the right-wing community you presume to speak for.

As far as my alleged chutzpah is concerned, I welcome the charge. Better that than being a purveyor of skewed spiritual theory, a declarer of fatwah-like pronouncements, and an instigator of needless anxiety and guilt among innocent music lovers.

As for that "rock beat," I guess the good rabbi hasn't been to any Mordechai ben David concerts lately, or joined the men contorting themselves to the "rock beat" at frum weddings.

Dr. Robert M. Solomon
Brooklyn, NY

Robert M. Solomon, May 19, 2004 said...

Non-Jewish Melodies (I)

The outrageous denunciation by Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser (Jewish Press, March 19) of melodies not written specifically for Orthodox Jewish purposes smacks of a medieval type of thinking that, unfortunately, characterizes much of today's right-wing Orthodoxy. To imply that simple musical tunes - nothing more than a combination of musical notes - will in any way have a corrupting influence goes beyond any attempt at rational thinking. (Rabbi Goldwasser had previously gone so far as to state that secular melodies corrupt one's neshama.)

Now, if he had denounced the often licentious and disgusting lyrics that some modern- day songs contain, I would certainly support his assertions. But instead he issued a blanket condemnation of all non-Jewish melodies, even if they have Orthodox Jewish themes and words as their lyrics.

Maybe Rabbi Goldwasser does not recall that the Lubavitcher Rebbe permitted his chassidim to make the French national anthem into a niggun. The Rebbe stated that by doing so one raises something that is not holy into the realm of holiness.

Anyone who finds himself spiritually corrupted by a secular melody alone - especially one that's been made into an Orthodox Jewish song - is more likely to suffer from a mental illness than any spiritual threat.

Robert M. Solomon
Brooklyn, NY

Anonymous said...

Just so you know who you're dealing with.

zach said...

Wolf, do you really think that Shochet is posting stuff on your blog? It looks more like someone is doing some cut & paste to provide more ammunition against him (not that any more is needed, considering that laughable "infallible" comment of his).

BrooklynWolf said...

Nah, I realized after the third one.

I'm a bit slow... but not *THAT* slow. :)

The Wolf

Anonymous said...

"I'm a bit slow... but not *THAT* slow. :)"

Yeah, but are you...infallible? ;-)

BrooklynWolf said...

Old Joke:

I used to think it was possible for me to be wrong. Then I found out I was mistaken.

The Wolf

Anonymous said...

Lshitatam, the writer is correct that according to the popular understanding of charedi hashkafa they should obey when gedolim rule and no one counter-rules. BTW the Yerushalmi in Horiyot is only if it's 100% clear to one capable of making such distinctions (not just "it seems to me their judgement is not spot on")
KT
Joel Rich

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

it hurts my soul when i see jews rehashing old racist european-american slanders against rock music

Holy Hyrax said...

Other than making my blood pressure rise, what is the poing of posts like these? :P

Abbi said...

Wait, you didn't even address the last part about teshuvah and Mordechai. I have never heard that one and I spent my entire schooling in Jewish schools. When did this supposed Teshuva happen? I'm fascinated.

Zach Kessin said...

Heck, even Catholics don't ascribe infallibility to the Pope all the time - only when he speaks ex cathedra. .

Basicly the Pope only gets to be infallible on church doctrine, and that is only in the sense that the Roman Catholic church gives the pope the authority to set doctrine, so if he says "The doctrine is X" then it is.

As for a "Jewish Pope" I keep expecting to see white smoke over Mea Sharim or Beni Barak

Shira Salamone said...

Steg said, "it hurts my soul when i see jews rehashing old racist european-american slanders against rock music"

Racist? That thought had never occurred to me, but you may have a point. I have seen rock described as "jungle music," which is probably a racist description.

Rafi G said...

infallible? The Torah itself says no Rav is infallible. There is a korban for when Sanhedrin (!) makes a mistake. Is any Rav nowadays greater than the Sanhedrin that sat in the Lishkas Ha'Gazis in the Beis Hamikdash? Could they make a mistake and require a Korban, but Rabbonim nowadays are infallible?

I think not.

ZB said...

Wolf, sometimes I think your a masochist with your postings on yeshiva world. I just read the latest jerk to berate you concern your innocent question. You know a charaidi isn't supposed to question - just accept. C'mon most of the people who post their hardly have a high school education. Continuing to post in that site is just asking for it.