Einei HaEdah

A collection of sources to help those who don't want to buy into myths about Modern Orthodoxy, religious anti-Zionism, and other matters. NOTE: This is more of a database than a blog. NOTE #2: I refer to HaRabbanim HaGaonim Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Yosef Dov HaLevi Soloveitchik, and Rav Ahron HaLevi Soloveichik, Zichronam L'V'rachah, as "Rav Moshe, "the Rav," and "Rav Ahron."

Monday, October 16, 2006

Da'as Torah & Emunas Chachamim

Bava Basra 12/a: The Insights of the Chachamim

"Rav Avdimi of Cheifa said, 'From the day that the Holy Temple was destroyed, prophecy was removed from the prophets and given to the Chachamim,' [meaning,] even though it was removed from the prophets, it was not removed from the Chachamim."

"The prophecy of the Chachamim, which is via wisdom, was not removed; rather, they know the Truth through the Holy Spirit that is within them ['B'Ru'ach HaKodesh She-B'Kirbam']."

"There are those [Chachamim] who grasp many things with their intellect that are not within the power of the natural intellect to grasp."

The Chasam Sofer:
In Orach Chaim teshuvah 208, he states that the Nevu'ah (prophecy) that was not removed from the Chachamim refers to that Chelek (portion) of prophecy that the Chacham attains through his Chochma. When he is learner of Torah Lishmah, he has intellectual attainments beyond his natural capacities and Hashem helps him arrive at the truth.

The Ran: Heeding the Gedolim

From Derashos HaRan HaShaleim
published by Mossad HaRav Kook * 2003

Drush 11

“Even if the matter is clear to you [“Barur L’cha”]—that the truth is not in accordance with the ruling of the Sanhedrin—even so, heed them…This is similar to the matter of Rabbi Yehoshua with Rabban Gamliel…It is G-d’s Will [ ] that we rely on what the Gedolei HaDor agree on.”

[Comment: One could ask, is he arguing on the Ramban as explained by the Torah Temimah below? I would say, not necessarily. Notice that the Ran uses the words “clear to you” instead of just “clear.” Also, note that the example he cites is the dispute between Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabban Gamliel regarding the calculation of the calendar. That was a difference in halachic opinions, not a case where Rabbi Yehoshua had objective incontestable proof. If the Ran wanted to say that there is an objective disproof, he could have cited the case of Rabbi Eliezer and the Akenai Oven, where the Bas Kol said that the Chachamim were wrong.]

Drush 12

Q. Why are we obligated to follow the decisions of the Chachmei HaDor even when they aren’t the Sanhedrin sitting in the Lishkas HaGazis?
A. The commandment to follow after a majority is a general admonition to follow what the majority of the Chachamim agree to vis-à-vis the laws of the Torah.

Sefer HaChinuch: Heeding the Gedolei HaDor

In Tradition 27:4 [Summer 1993], Rav Yonason Sacks has an article on rabbinic authority. He quotes the Mishnas Yavaz to the effect that, according to the Ramban, the Sifri and the Yerushalmi support the view of the Sefer HaChinuch in Mitzvos 495 & 496, viz., that following the Gedolei HaDor is a Chiyyuv D'Oraysa, and defying them, an Issur D'Oraysa.

Rav Hershel Schachter: The Chinuch's View on Following Gedolim

Our obligation to follow the rulings of the Beis Din HaGadol is not limited to the Beis Din HaGadol in the Lishkas HaGazis; it refers to the Gedolei HaDor in each generation, as the Sefer HaChinuch explains in Mitzvah #495. Their being in the Lishkas HaGazis is only a prerequisite for the execution of a Zaken Mamre. The mitzvos of “Lo Sasur” and “V’Asisa Al Pi HaDavar” are not limited to the Beis Din HaGadol in the Lishkas HaGazis; it refers to the Gedolei HaDor in each generation…This is so for the following reason: If a person has a Rebbe Muvhak, he has to follow his Rebbe Muvhak’s teachings. Generally speaking, Gedolei HaDor have the halachic status of Rebbe Muvhak with respect to the rest of us.
[see Nefesh HaRav, by Rav Hershel Schachter, pp.61-62 ]

The Rav, Zatzal: The Purview of the Sages

Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, the Rav’s son-in-law and student, and among the greatest living sages of Modern Orthodoxy, has written the following about his rebbe and father-in-law:

“True, he did not, in the long run, hold aloft the banner of the ideology [ ] which maintains that every political question has an essentially halakhic character, and is thus susceptible to the obligatory and exclusive decisions of the gedolei Torah. At first he inclined to this view, and even asserted it with enthusiasm…After [the Holocaust], he abandoned this view, and in the course of decades he accepted and even sharpened the distinction between matters involving mitzvot (divrei mitzvah), which are to be decided by halakhic decision-makers, and other matters (divrei reshut), in which significant weight is attached to the opinions and authority of other leaders, or to private judgment. Nevertheless, although he rejected the decisive reach of rabbinic authority in political matters, he was insistent that such matters be determined from a perspective of refined spirituality and in consonance with Torah values."
[from Leaves of Faith, vol. 1, pp. 227-228].

So indeed, the Rav did limit, to some extent, rabbinic authority in mundane political issues. However, the Rav maintained that rabbinic authority was in full-force in religious issues—apparently, whether those religious issues involved technical halacha or public-policy.

Indeed, as Rav Lichtenstein wrote elsewhere:

“I freely concede that, at times, acknowledged leaders of the Torah world issue pronouncements which anyone with even a trace of modern sensibility finds difficult to fathom, let alone accept…Nevertheless, beyond reservations, I find the alternate view, that gedolei Torah are professional experts whose authority and wisdom can ordinarily be regarded as confined to the area of their technical proficiency, simply inconceivable. Our abiding historical faith in the efficacy of Torah as a pervasive ennobling, informing, and enriching force dictates adoption of the concept of da’at Torah in some form or measure.”
[from his article “Engaging Modernity,” in Legitimization of Modernity, pp.21-22 ]

Elsewhere in that same article, Rav Lichtenstein explains that it would be problematic to adopt a norm or value that was not sanctioned by at least one of the Gedolei HaDor [the Sages of the generation]:

“In the absence of an imprimatur from any Shofet ShebeYamecha [contemporary authority] whatsoever, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to justify adoption of norms and values in defiance of a wall-to-wall phalanx of gedolei Israel. Such action would simply be regarded as error…[T]he ordinary person must base himself upon a Shofet ShebeYamecha…[And] no such course [of action, in defiance of the gedolei Israel,] could be championed in the public sphere.”
[from p.14]

[And I would add that—notwithstanding any lack of authority—there could have been no Modern Orthodox figure with a more refined spirituality, and with a greater command of Torah values, than the Rav. Even in secular endeavors, expertise carries much weight, even if its source is not an authority-figure. The same should be no less true in religious matters, whose import is transcendent and eternal.]

[NOTE: It is true that the Rav would tell people to “speak to the generals” when queried about Israeli land-for-peace issues. As Rav Michael Rosensweig pointed out, this was merely for ascertaining the facts; the course of action (given those facts) was meant to emanate from Da’as Torah. [from ”Knowledge, Wisdom, and Understanding: The Guidance of Daas Torah,” a Shiur given by Rav Michael Rosensweig and available atwww.torahweb.org/standards.html and http://torahweb.org/video/rros_043006.html]

Rav Michael Rosensweig: The Guidance of Da'as Torah

Excerpts from
”Knowledge, Wisdom, and Understanding: The Guidance of Daas Torah,”
a Shiur given by Rav Michael Rosensweig and available at

I. What is Da’as Torah? From Whom Do We Receive It?

There are two types of Talmidei Chachamim. One is a superlative transmitter of the Mesorah. The other is on a higher level; he is a person “who does not merely transmit Torah, but who enhances the content of Mesorah itself.” His “insight and direction goes beyond the sources that he can point to; he might be inspired by the sources, in some cases, but, maybe, no clear deductive or compellingly logical argument can always be constructed…” His insight and direction go “beyond source material and textual evidence.” “That special transcendant quality, halachic insight and instinct that transcends knowledge and that transcends even analytical skills, is sometimes referred to as, Da’as Torah.”

II. The Purview of the Chachmei HaMesorah

The notion that actions that are not described explicitly in the Shulchan Aruch are merely matters of public policy and are neutral vis-à-vis halacha is false:
“The fact is that matters of Hashkafa and values are every bit as important, and guidance in those areas, every bit as crucial—and the role of Chachmei HaMesorah is maybe even more crucial in those areas.”

“Guidance in the area of Hashkafa [beyond the ascertaining of facts], what impact [ ] policies are likely to have—these are areas in which the consultation of Da’as Torah, Chachmei HaMesorah, becomes critical.”

“Not all rabbanim are equal…being Mach’ria in [ ] Klal Yisroel issues requires more than skill and proficiency…it remains the prerogative” of Chachmei HaMesorah.

III. Is Da’as Torah Infallible?

“[The] question of infallibility has often been the strawman in the argument against” the concept of Da’as Torah. “Da’as Torah is the basis for powerful convictions, but nothing is infallible—except the Ribbono shel Olam, of course.”

Da’as Torah is “a powerful tool,” not “infallibility.”

Rav Ahron, Zatzal: How Does One Formulate Da’as Torah?

How does one formulate Da’as Torah?

Rav Ahron tells us in one of his seforim.

There are three types of wisdom:
Chochmah: learning from others
Binah: deducing from what you have learned from others
Da’as: common sense and intuitive wisdom

In the wrong order, they lead one to “a spurious Da’as Torah:”
First: Da’as
Then: Chochmah & Binah
Inotherwords, intuition and common sense lead to an approach, and then the approach is justified through rationalizing. [The target is painted around an arrow that has already been shot and landed.]

In the right order, they lead one to “an authentic Da’as Torah:”
First: Chochmah—all of the halachic data and nuances
Then: Binah—deductive wisdom
Lastly: Da’as—exercise of common sense

[from Logic of the Heart, Logic of the Mind, pp. 108, 110 ]

The Purview of the Sages: Even Completely Mundane Matters?

HaGaon Rav Eliyahu Dessler, Zatzal, stated that even in mundane matters, the Gedolim have gifted insight:

"Their opinions [‘Chavas Da’atam’] are clear and true even in matters where they have no explicit source—and in worldly matters [‘Stam Mili D’Alma’], as well.”

According to this approach, one could argue that it is preferable, and even praiseworthy, to consult them on mundane matters. Rav Alfred Cohen (see below) brings a similar statement from the Meiri's commentary to Pirkei Avot [6:1]: "People benefit from his [viz., the Talmid Chacham’s] wisdom and good counsel, [to know how to proceed] in their material activities." On the other hand, says Rav Cohen, there is another approach: that of the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, Zatzal, Rav Shneur Zalman of Liady. In chapter 22 of the Iggeres HaKodesh, he writes,“My dear friend....’Remember the days of old, understand the years of every generation’ – has there ever been anything like this since the beginning of time?! Where, in all the books of the scholars ofIsrael, whether the earlier or later ones, have you ever seen such a custom instituted, to ask about a secular question, such as what to do in some mundane matter, even from the greatest of the early wise men of Israel, such as the Tannaim and Amoraim...but rather [people would turn to] actual prophets, such as there used to be, such as Shmuel the Seer, to whom Saul went to ask about the donkeys which his father had lost. But in truth, all matters relating to a person, other than something having to do with Torah or fear of heaven, are not apprehended other than through prophecy, and not by a wise man.”

The Torah Temimah: Does Da'as Torah = Infallibility?

The Torah Temimah on Devarim 17:11 cites a Yerushalmi and a Sifri [in #61 & #62]. This verse tells us, “Do not swerve [‘Lo Sasur’] from the word that they will tell you, neither to the right nor to the left.” [“They” here refers to the authority that one sought out with a question.] The Yerushalmi states that one need only adhere to their words when they tell you that “right” is “right” and “left” is “left.” The Sifri says, “Even if it seems to you [‘Nir'in B’Einecha’] that the ‘left’ that they told you about is actually ‘right’ and that the ‘right’ that they told you about is actually ‘left,’ heed them.” Seemingly, there is a dispute between the Yerushalmi and the Sifri, but the Torah Temimah says there is no dispute. He writes, “Even if your opinion and logic [‘Da’at’cha U’Sevarat’cha’] incline in the opposite direction of their opinion and logic[, ] and it is as obvious to you that you are correct as it is obvious to you that your right-hand is not your left-hand, nevertheless, heed them….But, if they truly said that ‘right’ was ‘left,’ e.g. they permitted Cheilev (forbidden fat) or Arayos (sexual immorality), then it is forbidden to heed them.” Inotherwords, the Sifri refers to an error which is only apparent and is subjectively-determined, but the Yerushalmi refers to an error which is objective and demonstrable. The Torah Temimah ascribes this approach to the Yerushalmi to the Ramban, as well.

It seems to me that this is not at all a forced reading of the Ramban, because (a) I personally heard Rav Hershel Schachter attribute such a view to the Ramban without any qualifications, and (b) the Ramban refers explicitly to the questioner’s inner thoughts [“Mach’sheves HaLev”] prompting his disagreement and how it is “obvious in your (the questioner’s) eyes” [“Pashut B’Einecha”] that the authority is mistaken.

NOTE #1: If you look at Rashi on Devarim 17:11, he seems to have a different version of the Sifri. However, the Sifsei Chachamim there points out that Rashi's meaning and intent is to convey what our version of the Sifri has.

NOTE #2: HaGaon Rav David Tzvi Hoffman, Zatzal, in Melameid L'Ho'il [3:82], brings a citation from the Talmud Bavli [in Horayos 2/B] that agrees with the Yerushalmi that the Torah Temimah cited (see earlier post). However, he assumes that the Sifri disagrees with the Bavli and Yerushalmi on this issue.

Rav Alfred Cohen: Does Da'as Torah = Infallibility?

excerpted from Footnote 42 of Rav Cohen’s article in Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society, Spring 2003, and posted at jlaw.com/Articles/cohen_DaatTorah.pdf"

In Gittin 56b, the Gemara records the famous encounter between R. Yochanan b. Zaccai and the Roman general Vespasian during the siege of Jerusalem in 69 CE. At that time, when Vespasian heard that he had just been chosen as the new Roman emperor, he offered to grant R. Yochanan whatever he asked for. The rabbi requested that the Romans (a)spare the town of Yavneh and its yeshiva, (b) grant clemency for the Nasi Rabban Gamliel and his family, and (c) send for a doctor to heal R. Zadok…The obvious question is asked – why didn't R. Yochanan simply ask for the Bet Mikdash to be spared?! One of the answers tendered by the Gemara is most enlightening: the verse in Isaiah 44 says, "He turns wise men backwards and makes their thinking foolish." In other words, it was the Divine plan that the Temple be destroyed, and therefore Hashem deliberately prevented R. Yochanan from making the wise request which would have saved it from destruction. [W]e should take to heart the essential message that there are times when the Divine Will obscures an individual's wisdom."

Rav Avi Shafran: Does Da'as Torah = Infallibility?http://www.jewishamerica.com/ja/content/amechad/amarch16.cfm
excerpted from "What Da'at Torah Really Means"
by Rabbi Avi Shafran

[This article was written, in part, to disabuse the rejecters of Da'as Torah of the notion that adherents of Da'as Torah equate it with infallibility.]

"Da'at Torah is not some Jewish equivalent to the Catholic doctrine of papal infallibility. Not only can rabbis make mistakes of judgment, there is an entire tractate of the Talmud, Horiut, predicated on the assumption that they can, that even the Sanhedrin is capable of erring, even in halachic matters. What Da'at Torah means, simply put, is that those most imbued with Torah-knowledge and who have internalized a large degree of the perfection of values and refinement of character that the Torah idealizes are thereby rendered particularly, indeed extraordinarily, qualified to offer an authentic Jewish perspective on matters of import to Jews - just as expert doctors are those most qualified (though still fallible, to be sure) to offer medical advice. Jewish tradition refers to Torah leaders as the "eyes of the community." That is because they see things more clearly than the rest of us. Not necessarily perfectly. And there are times when G-d purposefully hides things from even His most accomplished disciples. But more clearly all the same."

Rav Berel Wein: Does Da'as Torah = Infallibility?

"Nevertheless, Daas Torah - the opinions and advice of the sages of Israel in every generation - was and is considered to be the best possible advice on the subject at hand. But it was never considered to be infallibility itself - it was only the best possible advice then available."
[posted at www.rabbiwein.com/print.php?sid=176]

HaGaon Rav Eliyahu Dessler, Zatzal: Emunas Chachamim

excerpted from Michtav MeiEliyahu Vol. I, pp. 59 & 77

“The root of all sin and the beginning of all destruction, Rachmana Litzlan, is non-recognition of our being nullified vis-a-vis our Sages [‘Chesron Hakaras HaHisbatlus L’Umas Raboseinu’], and all of the merits [one has accrued] do not equal the root of all [merit], which is Emunas Chachamim.”

“There is a long path before us [ ] until we are fit to judge the Truth for ourselves; what shall we do in the meantime?...[To help us cope,] Hashem in the multitude of His kindnesses has arranged spiritual guides [‘Morei Derech’] for us, the Sages of blessed memory—the Torah Sages—and all who reflect introspectively upon their words will see the extent to which their vision was clear…From their words we can have our world-views and practical deportment straightened-out [‘L’Kabel Hyshara’]…The Sages of each generation [ ] have merited this kind of straightness [‘Yashrus’] to an immense degree, to the point that their opinions [‘Chavas Da’atam’] are clear and true even in matters where they have no explicit source—and in worldy matters [‘Stam Mili D’Alma’], as well.”

The Seridei Aish, Zatzal: Emunas Chachamim

excerpted from Shailos U'Teshuvos Seridei Aish I:113

“One who does not believe in the Chachamim will violate their precepts light-headedly and with arrogance born of foolishness (“B’Kalus Da’as U’B’Yehirus Shel Sh’tus”), saying--without thinking it through (“B’Zechichus HaDa’as”)--they did not understand. It turns out that a person will not exert himself at all to attain a deep understanding of their words (“L’His’ameik U’L’Ha’amid Divreihem”). Ultimately, it becomes clear that we were in error and not them. Therefore, it is one of the paths of wisdom to believe that they did not err, Chas V’Shalom, but rather, it is only we, of constricted vision and minimal intellectual acumen (“Kitzrei R’os U’Me’utei Da’as”) [who erred].”(He then recommends the aggressive and energetic plumbing of the depths of the words of the Chachamim.)

Rav J. David Bleich: The Purview of the Sages

“[The] desire to promote a lifestyle likely to foster enhanced religious observance and spiritual sensitivity, as well as promotion of physical and social welfare contribute to what in some circles is termed ‘da’at Torah,’ i.e., policy considerations reflected in, and dictated by, the corpus of Torah in its entirety…[F]ormulation of public policy with regard to such matters is properly within the province of masters of Halakhah. It is they who are most sensitive to the need to assure the integrity of Halakhah and it is they who are best able properly to understand and interpret the values and ideals that Halakhah is designed to foster.”
[from Contemporary Halachic Problems IV, p. xvii]

The Chazon Ish, Zatzal: The Purview of the Sages

Those who hold that we need only subjugate ourselves to the generation’s Sages in matters of technical halacha--but need not do so in matters of everyday life--have embraced the view of heretics.
[paraphrased from the article Daas Torah, by Rav Lawrence Kaplan, in Rabbinic Authority and Personal Autonomy, pp.15-16]

Rav Mayer Twersky: The Sages' Scope & Our Two-Tiered Mesorah

excerpted fromhttp://torahweb.org/torah/special/2003/rtwe_wtg.html

The dual focus of Torah law has important repercussions for the methodology of pesak. Any contemplated action or course of action must be evaluated on two levels. We must investigate if it is technically correct and permissible—viz., are any particulars of Torah violated. In addition, we must determine if the proposal is consistent with Torah principles, attitudes, values and concepts. The permissibility or appropriateness of any particular action or initiative can only be determined after such a two-pronged analysis—practical and axiological. This latter concern, which we have dubbed axiological, may alternatively be described as hashkafic or public policy. Phraseology and nomenclature per se are unimportant. It is, however, vitally important that we recognize that the axiological concern is not optional or supererogatory. It is not, in halakhic terminology, merely a middat hasidut or mitsva min ha-muvhar. Instead it is an integral part of our Torah and tradition, and compliance therewith is mandatory. Accordingly, hakhmei ha-mesora transmit and implement both tiers of our mesora - viz., the technical-practical as well as the emotional-axiological. Questions regarding the kashrut of food are submitted to Torah sages; so too are inquiries regarding aspects of kedoshim te-hiyu. Moreover, the axiological questions are oftentimes more subtle and intricate. It can be exceedingly difficult to discern in which situations abstract or broadly formulated concepts are relevant. A profound understanding of Torah coupled with keen insight into reality is necessary to initially recognize and ultimately resolve axiological questions.

Perspectives on Da’as Torah from "The Legacy of Maran Rav Aharon Kotler"

Excerpts from "The Legacy of Maran Rav Aharon Kotler," by Rav Yitzchok Dershowitz, pp. 119-120

A Quote from Maran HaGaon Rav Aharon Kotler, Zatzal:

"[A]ll matters pertaining to Klal Yisroel are to be determined and decided by Torah. One must know the Din Torah, the law regarding more than [localized areas like] Kashrus and so on. There are principles that pertain to all four sections of the Shulchan Aruch and to the entire Jewish faith, and only the senior Chachmei HaTorah, individuals steeped in Torah learning and imbued with its wisdom and guidance, are capable of finding its guidance and [only they are] authorized to render its decisions, unadulterated by any admixture of other influences."

The Author on the topic of Da'as Torah:

"It in fact requires not only thorough knowledge of all parts of the written and oral Torah: Halocha [ ], Aggoda, [and] Hashkofa[; it also] requires Shimush Talmidei Chachomim-serving/studying the deeds of Gedolim of earlier generations--which provides interpretations and precedents and other forms of direction."

"Daas Torah requires an intimacy and unity with Torah resulting from ceaseless dveikus/absorption in Torah and appreciation and reverence for Torah so that one gets to know, to feel the direction the Torah is pointing to, so that one's thoughts are not befuddled with personal interests or with external, non-Torah-derived thoughts."

Rav Hershel Schachter: The Reliability of the Ba'alei HaMesorah

excerpted from "Why Was the Torah Forced Upon Us?"

[A]ccording to Talmudic tradition (Shabbos 88a), G-d pressured the Jewish people to accept the Torah, and forced it upon them against their wishes. The commentaries on the Talmud all wonder, why it was necessary to force the Torah upon the Jews if they had already enthusiastically expressed their willingness to accept it? The people were prepared to accept both G-d's written Torah, and all the halachos l'Moshe miSinai – transmitted directly from G-d. But the bulk of the Oral Torah is really [ ] halachos which were developed over the centuries with much rabbinic input. This the Jews at Har Sinai were not prepared to accept. This is a human Torah, and all humans can err. Why should they agree to be subservient to the idea of other human beings? And it was this part of the Torah that G-d had to force upon us. Whether we like it or not, G-d expects us to follow the positions set forth by the rabbis in interpreting the Torah. This is the significance of the expression we use (from the Rambam's formulation), that we believe (ani maamin) that the Torah as it is observed today, is an accurate transmission of that Divine Torah which was given to Moshe Rabbeinu. This added phrase, “as it is observed today”, implies exactly this idea – to include all of those halachos where there was rabbinic input. We have “emunas chachomim”. We believe that throughout all the generations there was an invisible Divine assistance given to the rabbis to develop the halacha in a correct fashion. Of course, the application of those “middos” is a science unto itself, which is only mastered by a small handful of qualified individuals in each generation. And the new additional halachos that read “in between the lines” have to “fit in” with “the spirit” of the rest of the Torah, which again can only be fully sensed by those few qualified individuals who have a proper sense of what “the spirit of the law” is!

excerpted from Did the Rabbi Distort the Psak?
Rav Soloveitchik zt"l pointed out on various occasions that when the Rambam speaks of the various heretics, he puts together the "one who denies the (Divine origin of the) Torah shebaal peh, and the one who contradicts its teachers ['Ma'ch'chish Maggideha'-editor's note]." One who imputes ulterior motives to the psakim (halachic decisions) of an honest bona-fide rabbi, and says that Rabbi X was a convert, so that's why he always favors converts, and Rabbi Y didn't like women, so that's why in his decisions he will always put down women, and Rabbi Z is a Zionist, so that's why he will always pasken lehokel in matters regarding Eretz Yisroel, is in violation of this Ikar (principle) of faith. We not only believe that there existed at one time a Torah shebaal peh which was Divinely ordained; but rather we believe that Hashem continues to assist the G-d fearing qualified rabbis so that they should pasken properly. Emmunas chachomim is the foundation of all Orthodox Tradition!

Rav Mayer Twersky: Emunas Chachamim as an Enhancer of Knowledge

Knowledge and Belief
[an excerpt]
Within religious life, knowledge and faith co-exist reciprocally. They nurture each other. Knowledge nurtures faith in that knowledge is the foundation of faith. We believe in Hashem though His essence is beyond human comprehension because of what we do know about Him (as explained above). We know of Hashem’s eternal love of the Jewish people – “He who chose us from amongst all of the nations and gave us His Torah” – and thus we believe in Him even when His will in history is inscrutable. Clearly knowledge fosters and nurtures faith. But faith also fosters and nurtures knowledge. Consider the following example from the world of learning. Tosafos raises a difficulty with Rashi’s explanation, Ra’avad with Rambam’s p’sak. Often, at first glance, the question is so compelling that Rashi or Rambam simply appear to be wrong. If one lacks confidence and trust in Rashi and Rambam, he will be complacently content to think that Rashi failed to notice nuances in the text and Rambam forgot a relevant Gemara. If alternatively one operates with the knowledge that the chachmei haMasorah displayed a profound and remarkable mastery of Torah and benefited from siyata d’shmaya, one will re-think and re-examine the relevant sugyos. The answer for Rashi or Rambam which ultimately emerges will, upon discovery, turn out to be totally natural; the approach of Rashi or Rambam runs out to be as internally consistent and compelling as that of Tosafos or Ra’avad. Without emunas chachamim in Rashi and Rambam, their approaches, brilliant and subtle, would have gone unnoticed. With emunas chachamim, however, our appreciation and knowledge of Rashi and Rambam’s Torah and greatness is enhanced. Thus we see that our belief in Torah and the chachmei haTorah allows us to discern the depth and profundity of Torah, thus adding to our knowledge of Torah.

The Steipler Gaon, Zatzal: Emunas Chachamim

An integral part of Jewish faith is placing one's faith and trust in the nation's Chachamim [Torah-scholars]. It is one of the 48 ways through which Torah is acquired [viz., Emunas Chachamim]. Not everyone is cut out to render rulings in Halacha or answer questions of any other kind in Judaism, so the majority of people must rely on the Gedolei HaDor.
from his introduction to his work, Chayyei Olam

The Rav, Zatzal: The Authority of the Sages

The Rav, Zatzal, discussed the rise of our best and brightest to positions of leadership and authority. In a lengthy discussion of Korach's rebellion, he refers to the Gedolei HaDor [the Sages of the generation] as our spiritual kings:

“The key challenge [of Korach] is ‘why should you raise yourselves above G-d’s assembly,’ i.e., the presumption of Moses and Aaron to authority--to rule, to judge and to lead…Apparently, Korach was unaware of the double aspect of Bechirah…The two aspects of bechirah may be described as the Social Aspect of Kedushah [sanctity], and the Individual Aspect of Kedushah. The Social Aspect of Kedushah--the chosenness of the nation of Israel (bechirat Am Yisrael)--means that each individual Jew possesses Kedushah because he is a member of the Jewish Community…If every Jew derives his Kedushah from membership in Knesset Yisrael [,] Korach’s argument [ ] would seem to be legitimate and morally appealing…However, there is a second aspect to Kedushah, Kedushat haYachid (individual sanctity), and a second source of Kedushah, Bechirat haYachid (individual chosenness). The implication of this concept is that the individual Jew is the direct recipient of Kedushah according to his own unique personal endowments, efforts, and achievements…Korach only understood the Social Aspect of Kedushah…Moses in his rebuttal [ ] refers instead to individual chosenness. In such a context the individual does indeed rise to positions of teaching and authority according to his merits. Thus Moses’ elevation is justified…In the case of Gedolei Yisrael, the community raises them. This is spiritual, not political kingship…[I]t is the Torah role that makes him a leader. Our Torah regards such authority as legitimate.”
from Shiurei HaRav, pp. 40-41
[And see below for another important piece from the Rav about Korach and authority.]

Rav Moshe, Zatzal: The Authority of the Sages

In 1973, Rav Moshe, Zatzal, gave an address. In an article based on this address, published in Rav Feinstein's lifetime, he is reported to have stated the following:“[A] central aspect of the Jewish commitment [is] the authority vested in the Torah leadership of each generation, as an integral part of Torah sheba’al Peh (the Oral Law)…This authority must be granted to the leaders of each generation[;] our obligation is to follow those of our age…One who does not accept the Torah leaders of his generation cannot claim to believe in the Oral Law."
from “A Time for Action,” Jewish Observer, June 1973

Rav Moshe reiterates this imperative in his discussion of Korach: “It’s a big error to think that each individual has to fulfill the words of the Torah according to what he understands and that he has to rely on his understanding; one needs to follow the path of Torah transmitted to us from one Sage to the next, through the Sages in each generation…One who says that he does not need the Sages anymore is an Apikoros (heretic)…”
translated from Darash Moshe (Heb.), Vol. 1, Parashas Korach

Rav Hershel Schachter: Did the Rav Coerce Anyone? And Who is Fit to Disagree with the Rav?

“Rabbenu [viz., Rav Soloveitchik] would regularly say—many times—that he is not saying, ‘Accept my view.’ He would say that with respect to halachic rulings and with respect to political matters…The world regularly uses the expression ‘Da’as Torah’ with the understanding that it’s a definitive decision that no one has the right to judge or argue against, but this was not Rabbenu’s way, as is known and public knowledge to all.
”From Kuntres B’Inyanei P’sak Halacha, by Rav Hershel Schachter, published in Beis Yitzchok #38 (5766)

Comments on Rav Schachter's statement: The Rav’s personal refusal to force anyone to accept his views is inter alia a fulfillment of the dictum in Avos 4:8, “Do not say, ‘Accept my opinion…’” It should be noted that his refusal to bind us is not germane to the question, “Does the Torah bind us to follow the sage’s view?”

And even as the Rav did not force his opinion on anyone, and even as he respected a shul rabbi's right to issue decisions, he did not necessarily agree with their decisions, and may even have opposed them! For example, in note 264 of an article on women's Tefillah groups (see the post on this blog entitled, "Feministic Innovations"), Rav Aryeh A. Frimer and Rav Dov Frimer write that the Rav had told Rav Shlomo Riskin that he was opposed to the establishment of a women’s Tefillah group in the latter’s synagogue. Rav Riskin reports that, opposition notwithstanding, the Rav conveyed confidence in him to assess his community’s needs properly. After Rav Riskin established a women’s Tefillah group in his synagogue, he got word of the Rav’s displeasure! [When asked about this displeasure, the Rav told him that he did not have to disband it. This echoed Rav Moshe Feinstein’s opinion, who told Rav Riskin that L’Chat’chila (ab initio) he would have forbidden its establishment, but that once it was established, it can be maintained (because its dissolution will lead some of the women to join Conservative temples).]

Question related to Rav Schachter's statement: The fact that the Rav did not force his students to accept his opinions did not mean he felt that they were as qualified to opine as he and his peers were! The Rav deplored any blurring of distinctions between “more qualified” and “less qualified.” Can just anyone be taken seriously when they judge or dispute the Rav’s views?

Seemingly not

“I heard from Rabbenu [viz., the Rav], Z”L, when we learned the Gemara in Sanhedrin in yeshiva, that the principle of following the majority in ruling [ ] only applies when the Chachamim who are arguing are at least in the same category of Torah scholarship [“Shayyachim L’Khol HaPachus L’Oso HaSug B’Limmud”]. In the case where they are not in the same league at all, it’s not tenable [“Lo Shayyach”] that we should follow the majority and rule like the weak and inferior ones against the distinguished one [“HaMufla V’HaMetzuyan”].”
[from Nefesh HaRav, by Rav Hershel Schachter, p.44 ]

In a piece on the subject of Korach’s rebellion, the Rav describes the Gedolei HaDor as individuals whom we should recognize as experts and authorities in spiritual matters:

“Korach [ ] would certainly concede that there were specialized fields in which only experts who have studied extensively over many years are entitled to be recognized as authorities…[R]easonable people concede the authority of mathematicians, physicists, and physicians in their areas of expertise, and would not think of challenging them merely on the basis of common sense. Why, then, are so many well-intentioned people ready to question the authority of the Torah scholar, the lamdan, in his area of specialized knowledge?…In our day, we are witnessing a resurgence of strength among those religious groups [who] recognize Torah scholars, Gedole Yisrael, as the legitimate teachers of Israel.”
from Reflections of the Rav, Vol. 1, by Rav Avrohom Beisdin, pp.141 & 148

In a very related piece, Rav Schachter states:

"We sometimes hear from religious people in our own circles that since Rav Soloveitchik has passed away, there is no one around to whom they can refer their shaalos. Many of those people use the passing of the Rav as an excuse to ignore the piskei halacha of contemporary poskim. They elect to make their own halachic decisions, justifying themselves by arguing that everyone in our generation is entitled to express their opinions equally, and all have equal authority. This was Korach's view, who stated that 'the entire nation is holy,' we all learned Torah together, and 'all men were created equal.' The Rav himself spoke out explicitly against such an attitude (See Reflections of the Rav, Volume One, Chapter 13)."
excerpted from "All Men Are Created Equal," posted at

Would the Seridei Aish and Rav Dessler agree with the Torah Temimah, Rav Wein, and Rav Shafran, i.e., would the Seridei Aish and Rav Dessler say that we are mistaken every time we disagree with the Sages if and only if it is based on our own personal assessments?

Or are there two different schools of thought here, where both schools agree that there is an authentic Jewish religious concept known as "Da'as Torah," and both schools agree that Da'at Torah is the best advice possible on questions of both Halacha and public policy, and both schools agree that it takes a world-class Talmid Chacham to issue a p'sak or policy against another world-class Talmid Chacham, but the two schools part company on the issue of inerrancy?

A Second Query

According to those Gedolim who permit embrace of the sheetos that say that Chazal can err in science, would Chazal's scientific errors be a further indication that Da'as Torah is not infallible (as seen in previous posts)? OR, could we say that scientific statements borrowed from the Nochrim and redacted into the Gemara are NOT Da'as Torah in the first place?!? Perhaps we can say that Da'as Torah is the Sage's opinion based on his knowledge and understanding of Kol HaTorah Kulah.

For a reductio ad absurdum example of what I mean--if Rashi had an answer to a math problem, is that answer "Da'as Torah"? I imagine not!

Furthermore, in Emess L'Ya'akov on the Chumash, Bereishis 1:1 [#2], HaGaon Rav Ya'akov Kaminetzky, Zatzal, states that the Rambam is contra-factual when he says that the moon is a Davar Ruchni. Rav Yaakov is bothered by this, however: the Rambam's words are Divrei Elokim Chaim! Rav Ya'akov resolves this difficulty by stating that the first four chapters of the Mishneh Torah are NOT based on Torah; they are based on his intellect alone ["Mi-Da'ato HaRechava...She-Lo MiChochmas HaTorah"]--and as such, are not necessarily Divrei Elokim Chaim.


I'd be puzzled if someone would seek to justify acting in defiance of the Gedolim. Even from the perspective of common sense, it seems problematic. The Gedolim are our best and brightest. If all a person wanted in life was to be physically fit, wouldn’t it be imprudent to disregard the advice of a cadre of Olympic fitness-trainers? Why, then, should spiritual fitness be different?