Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Hareidi Modesty Guidelines and Rabbinic Authority

The Israeli Yated has an article about a new beis din(religious court) set up to safeguard kedushas Yisroel and tsnius(Jewish sanctity and modesty). Although no one knows yet exactly what its role will be, there has already been internet comment, both positive and negative, depending on ones's hashkafic(philosophical) inclinations. The beis din has the support of Israeli gedolim(Torah leaders), and the purpose of this post is certainly not to criticize. Nevertheless, I wish to post some respectful comments which have appeared elesewhere on the internet, including my own, representing different reactions to the Yated piece.

Do you agree with either Reuvein, Shimon, Levi, myself(Baruch), or do you support any other view in between? Slow- to- change Americans would no doubt prefer the interesting approach I quote from a woman blogger, at the very end of this post.


...Why can't the Chareidi segment of our population more strictly govern the manner in which they buy and wear ladies' clothing? I think they can, it doesn't affect me, and I wish them gezundteheit. There will always be people who need strong direction in their lives - people who prefer to live in an authoritarian society, or at least community. They need less toys in their life, their meals are simple, and they're happiest with a sefer, a table and a chair, maybe a cup of coffee too. They enjoy living in a rabbinic-led community. Let's just leave them alone, and let them live and be well.

I agree with "live and let live". But people might be concerned that this will influence the American charedi world. On the other hand, as I said above, that might be unrealistic.

As I said earlier in a post, the real issue is control and fear that women are becoming too "modern." Again, I repeat, when the ban against women studying in various insitutions for higher degrees was announced the Haredi women who were the object of the ban were comptely taken unawares and many were insulted, upset, hurt, and shocked, though as part of the Haredi community they could not speak for the record.

Shimon-- I think you are wrong about this. I don't think the ban on higher degrees had anything to do with controlling women - it is about government interference or perceived government interference in the beis yaakov schools, an old battle that has little to do with women specifically. It also is not really about what they allow women to study - it is what they want in the beis yaakov system itself.

Levi--I made the same point. It true that in the charedi world, women play a less public or prominent role, may not be given a public voice, and rulings such as those being discussed are issued and handed down through men, but I see no concept of a need to control women, neither in general, nor in regards to the educational and modesty directives in particular. When there is a ruling which affects men, they are also expected to comply even if they personally disagree.

Baruch-- Where I differ from you is that while I don't think the gedolim are trying to control women with modesty decrees, I do think they reflect a level of anxiety in the culture that is unhealthy and a change in attitude among the rank and file. I think the anxiety is more general - but yeshivish culture can be quite hard on men who arent going to be the next gedolei hador and some of this reflects displaced tension IMO.

There is also anxiety about the general coarsening of the culture, and in Israel there is also much general tension and anxiety due to the security situation. Many of the tznius decress are explicitly linked to the security situation - "the arabs have the z'chus of tznius" etc - some of the mehadrin buses were made mehadrin after terror attacks to "increase zchusim" etc. I do not think the tznius trends are benign. It is true that these anxieties spill over to male issues too, but right now they are spilling over to women. I think the educational issue is separate.

Shimon--Some see a sinister motive in a hechsher for ladies' clothing. Its about control, power, etc. I just had two Williamsburg Satmar ladies in my[law] office. I told them about the Jerusalem beis din, and it was no big deal for them. Their first response was, We already have it for the girls in school. Quite true, hadn't thought of it. So do my girls, who attend centrist Beis Yaakov schools.

We have an outbreak of pedophilia here and in Israel today, that we never had before, because of the sexually charged environment in which we live. Its in the media, on the Internet, it is in women's clothing, it is everywhere. Respectable corporations are selling porn. Underdressed women are in the workplace, and as a Jewish historian, you know that wasn't so years ago, when women were almost always home. Men are being sexually stimulated today 24/7, and a few men who cannot handle these images are acting out with children. Let the old rabbis and their zealous followers try the beis din, and let's see what happens.


Reuvein--From everything I read I think there was absolutely no consulting with the haredi women effected to see how the ban on certain types of higher education would in practice effect them, and whether any alternatives were possible. I am ready to be corrected.I believe this new Bet Din will be used as an instument of control, not just of guidance and pesak. Time will tell.


Levi-- I am uncomfortable with the uniformity in the charedi world and the way rules are sometimes set down, and I understand your point.

To develop my previous point, the following was from the text of the modesty guidelines in Israel:

"Each and every individual has an obligation to ensure that his wife's and daughters' attire meets accepted standards of modesty, both in terms of covering the body and clothing styles — at all times and in all places. "

Some may see this as "controlling" women, and I could see their point. But my sense of the Israeli Torah world is that there is a healthy balance between women and men's contributions and oversight of each other's spirituality, and any "control" is tempered(those with a sense of humor will point to "hen-pecked" husbands, which is presumably, a universal phenomenon). In a healthy marriage--Israeli/charedi or otherwise--men and women have a respect for each other which tempers the role of each spouse's "oversight".

While I don't see the woman issue as a major factor, I agree that many people, especially Americans, are comfortable with a more individual, slow, and personal approach on various issues. However, as Reuvein wrote, the Israeli community is generally happy with a more uniform and authoritative approach(I agree that, as in the case of Beis Yaakov degrees, there can be exceptions).


I saw this comment some time ago by a woman on another blog, and I think that this approach would be better for some in America:

"Our family's yeshiva... has a very nice program in place that provides the forum needed to address issues, including "delicate" ones. Every so often, one of the rosh yeshivas will call a married guy va'ad. Basically, it's a discussion group where a specific topic is addressed. Guys are encouraged to submit topics which they would like to discuss. It's a great way to provide suggestions in a gentle, non-threatening environment.

The va'ads are also an opportunity for guys to ask questions and get practical ideas for applications of principles set forth. Each guy can share the ideas from the va'ad over dinner with his wife. The key ingredient which I believe makes this sort of forum successful is the smallness of the unit. That is, rather than having an entire community gather in a huge auditorium to listen to speeches, this set-up provides the opportunity for a real give and take, making it all more personal and, therefore, more effective. These kind of discussion groups can be held periodically by shuls or other smaller community groups."


Sunday, May 27, 2007

Daas Torah and Secular Knowledge: Towards a Minimalistic View

FKM's post has inspired some additional thought on how daas Torah relates to other sources of knowledge. I would like to argue in favor of a more minimalistic view of daas Torah, insofar as the question of secular knowledge impacting on a daas Torah opinion or decision is concerned.

First, a practical point. I think that if one wants daas Torah to be accepted by centrists, or even by "left-wing charedim", one needs to allow for a flexible or minimalistic concept of daas Torah. While I agree with the general concept of the Torah's transcendence, as implied in "daas Torah is daas that is formed solely by Torah", I don't know if we need to de-emphasize the role that "secular" ideas may play in a daas Torah decison.

For example, in article titled "What Daat Torah Really Means", R. Avi Shafran writes that some conception of Daas Torah can indeed be accepted by all Orthodox Jews:

Whether Da'at Torah should be discounted by non-haredi Jews or not (not)... 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…The phrase "Modern Orthodox" seems to mean several very different things to different groups of Jews. But if the word "Orthodox" is to have any meaning at all, it has to reflect a basic belief in the supremacy and scope of Torah.

Upon reflection, I think that one can't have it both ways. If non-charedim are supposed to accept, to an extent, daas Torah, then one must, for example, accord RYBS and RAAK a certain daas Torah and Gadol status(even if, in the charedi view, they are "not our Gedolim").

Similarly, there are talmidie chachamim in the charedi world who are referred to as Gedolim and whose views are given daas Torah status, yet have secular knowledge. If these talmidie chachamim don't have gedolim or daas Torah status, then we shouldn't be asking them questions( I understand that the question of "who is a Gadol" was not the original subject of discussion in the above two links and quotes, and that one can respect talmidie chachamim with secular knowledge, as well as their decisions, no matter how one relates daas Torah to secular knowledge, but I bring up this point, as it is somewhat related). Eventually, if one maximizes the concept of daas Torah and Gedolim, at a certain point, one undermines the concepts. That is one reason why I question if the existence of Gedolim cards, in the long run, strengthens or weakens the concept of Gedolim, particularly beyond charedi circles.

I agree with Rabbi Adlerstein's points in "Daas Torah: The Core Values":

There is a second casualty generated by any Daas Torah discussion, besides the animosity and recriminations. Lots of people are turned off by extreme positions – either for good reason, or for lack of understanding…

A corollary of this is that all Torah giants have these gifts, whether or not they agree with each other. If you[deny] the Daas Torah of any individual who spends decades steeped in the full time pursuit of Torah learning, achieving recognized excellence therein, you undermine the entire concept. You can take issue with positions of that person for a variety of good reasons, such as following the Daas Torah of a larger group of luminaries, or following the opinions of your own rebbi and mentor, but you should not be able to deny him the gift of Daas Torah.

That’s it. I am purposefully avoiding issues such as who has more Daas Torah than whom, how to weigh the contribution of Daas Torah to a decision relative to other contributions, such as experience and specialized study, and which kinds of questions need to be brought to Torah leadership for answers. About these, reasonable people – as well as many unreasonable ones – will passionately disagree...

The question of the impact of secular knowledge on daas Torah, really relates to the question of the relation of secular knowledge to Torah. As was discussed in the comments of FKM's previous post, the interface between Torah and secular knowledge is an age-old question, as is the issue of being "influenced" by secular thought.

Furthermore, even though the kabbalistic sources quoted are part of our mesorah and I personally consider the Ramban in the preface to Bereishis to be a fundamental of Yahadus, I think it would be fair to note that the Rambam or other rationalistic rishonim or acharonim might not hold that it a required belief to express the concept of the Torah's transcendence in terms of saying that physiognomy and palmistry can (theoretically) be understood from Bereshis without other knowledge, or with the illustration of the Chazon Ish miraculously advising on surgery as a result of Torah study. Even if everyone would agree that it is indeed a required belief of Judaism(eg, based on the fact that chazal say that Torah predated the physical universe, and on how one defines maaseh bereshis and maaseh merkaveh), some might still argue that in contemporary times as well, gedolim should attain secular knowledge and integrate it with their Torah knowledge.

Although "rishonim k'malachim", and we can not compare our ability to relate/filter/synthesize secular studies with Torah to theirs, I think that it is fair to say that there was, and still is, some difference among rishonim, acharonim, and current Gedolim/talmdie chachamim, about the relationship of secular knowledge to Torah, and how "maximalist" a Daas Torah concept one should have as a result. Hopefully, these differences can be supported by cogent arguments, and in a manner of mutual respect.


Friday, May 18, 2007

Voice from the Middle

The following is a link to a discussion that I participated in earlier, comparing and contrasting the strengths and weaknesses of the Right and the Center of Orthodoxy. This comment caught my eye, and as noted on that blog, the commenter appears to be a thoughtful person for his age-group. I wish him hatzlacha in resolving Jewish Life's great issues, and hope that he gets a solid foundation in the principles of limmud haTorah and Yiddishkeit, no matter which of the paths, or combination thereof, he ends up choosing.

I actually had a discussion about this topic this past Shabbos with one of my older Rebbeim who I am close with. He was a Talmid of Rav Moshe, and identifies with the Yeshivishe Olam (but does realize the importance of being "normal").

As opposed to speaking about the differences between YU and Hesder, it was more about differences between YU and the Chareidim.The way he put it was that, Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch came up with his concept of "Torah Im Derech Eretz" and created a set path, before doing anything.

YU on the other hand, kind of just morphed and formed, and was much more reactionary. (And when Rav Soloveitchik entered the scene, the concept of Torah U'mada was something that they latched on to). While I do believe that there is a concept of Torah U'Mada, like you said, it is not necessarily being conveyed or articulated to the hundreds of students in the MYP program.

For anyone who has been following recent YU activities, it seems they are really trying to make a push to have a "derech" and spread it around North America... [The goal of] the "Center for Jewish Future" at YU, is to basically do exactly what you said YU has not done.

I am still currently in Highschool, and i often think about what I am going to do with myself later in life. And while I value the love and importance of Limud Torah that the Charedi world gives, I do not feel I could be apart of that Olam. On the other hand, I know that being in the MO world, the challenge will be much greater. (Especially because who knows where NCSY kollel etc. will be 10-20 years from now). Often I find myself interested in ultimately residing in one of these Religous Zionist Communities, that have that love for Torah, and the teachings of Rav Kook etc., and the Love for Israel, and is acutally reflected in the actions of adults and children alike.

I don't mean to bore you with all of my personal thoughts, but because everything has become institutionalized and labeled, it is much harder to live with the unique identity that you create for yourself, and instill that identity in your children.


Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Elements of the Daas Torah Concept

Some musings on the concept of Daas Torah, as a continuation of the comments in the previous posting. I also link at the end of this post, two essays on the subject which I feel are nuanced.

I mentioned two points about Daas Torah in the comment section of my previous post:

(1) Who makes final decisions for the klal, ie, it is gedolim versus politicians.

(2) Daas Torah , by definition, is where there isn't any clear-cut halachic issue involved.

Another point is the ruach hakodesh element. The concept extends the Divine inspiration element in Torah itself to Daas Torah issues, however one understands Divine inspiration by actual Torah(eg , the Raavad's statement that 'Ruach Hakodesh appeared in our Beis Midrash"; in this sense, daas Torah is similar to "chacham adif mnavi').

As far as Daas Torah and infallibility, the fact is that the gemera applies the pasuk of "meshiv chachmim achar", that chachamim can err in judgment. I wonder how R. Dessler's opinion, which is, if I correctly understand, that gedolim could not have erred during the Holocaust because of Divine guidance, would explain this gemera. Actually, Rav Hutner(quoted in Rabbi A. Cohens' essay, below) said that one need not say that the outcome of certain decisions turned out in fact correct, rather that the process was a correct one.

The concept of Daas Torah, to the extent that one accepts it, applies both on the individual and the communal level. Daas Torah is not a new concept, but perhaps one might suggest that R. Elchanon extended the concept of Torah authority to a radically changed world in the 20th century, where the Torah world interacted on a global and political scale, and needed to be organized. Alternatively, perhaps his chiddush was a response to the weakening by Haskala of Torah authority.

The authority of daas Torah on a communal level is an organizing force in the modern era, where there is little central authority, and when there needs to be a unified reaction or behavior. For certain issues, there needs to be some organization, rank, and hierarchy--someone needs to advocate for the cause of the Jewish State publicly observing Shabbos, or local concerns like tzniyus or education which affect the entire klal in each city, and it is as if there is an informal hierarchy of the Sanhedrin, in terms of final psak. In effect, it is the creation and organization of a Torah nation in galus.

For example, during the El Al crisis, gedolim in Eretz Yisreal communicated to rabbonim in America not to be lenient for hefsed merubah out of concern of chillul Hashem. The concept of poskim in Eretz Yisrael telling American poskim how to rule, I think is based on the fact that the issue of El Al is primarily relevant to Eretz Yisrael, and gedolim from that country are naturally more familiar with and responsible for the issue, and therefore are the ones to impose the final psak(otherwise, each rav should be able to rule for himself).

As I mentioned in the previous post, parts of modern Orthodoxy accept the idea of Daas Torah as well, although in less intense degrees. Some differences might be, how much to rely on secular knowledge or on expert, non-Torah opinion, whose opinion qualifies as authoritative to bind a community, how intensely or monolithically should Daas Torah opinions be stated, how much public debate to allow on the layperson's level, such as in the media, as well as the actual differences in the content of the Daas Torah opinions.

Concerning these differences, I would appply the quote from the Cross Currents essay below:

A corollary of this is that all Torah giants have these gifts, whether or not they agree with each other. If you[deny] the Daas Torah of any individual who spends decades steeped in the full time pursuit of Torah learning, achieving recognized excellence therein, you undermine the entire concept. You can take issue with positions of that person for a variety of good reasons, such as following the Daas Torah of a larger group of luminaries, or following the opinions of your own rebbi and mentor, but you should not be able to deny him the gift of Daas Torah.

Finally, as someone mentioned to me, Daas Torah may be taken overboard by some individuals even by charedi standards, and to the extent that this occurs in public perception, the true concept is undermined.

Here is a link to Rabbi Alfred Cohen's essay(you need to further click on the link which is in the first paragrpah of the linked article) and to a Cross Current discussion.


Monday, May 07, 2007

Chochma/Torah B'goyim

The interface between Torah and other sources of knowledge is by no means a new issue. See link and comment here, or join the discussion there.


Thursday, May 03, 2007

Of Accuracy, Fairness, and Precision

In the sea of information of the Internet we see ourselves as an island of accuracy, fairness, and precision that is always present. Ynet is committed to uphold the rules of ethics of the Israeli Journalism Council and the Israeli Association of Journalists - no less than to the rules of speed and flexibility on the Internet.

No, this is not a description of Mishmar, but rather a self-description of Ynet News, which according to their website, is

based at the headquarters of Ynet in Tel Aviv, Israel... we develop our daily updates and features from the quality reporting and writing at Ynet and the best items from “Yedioth Ahronoth” and other publications from our parent company, Yedioth Group, Israel’s leading newspaper, book and magazine publisher.

I link to an article discussing an editorial which has appeared in the Israeli Yated, according to Ynet. While I think that discussion of the Yated editorial is a fair and important topic in of itself, I can not help but being turned off by the blatant anti-charedi stereotyping which appears in the "island of fairness", which in my opinion, renders the news source in question unprofessional .

For the record, if Ynet quotes the Israeli Yated editorial accurately and in context, I certainly do not agree with that editorial line, which I think goes beyond a strictly charedi point of view(my assumption being that there are varying degrees of acceptance of and sensitivity to secular Israeli's accomplishment in the charedi world).

What bothers me, for example, is the photo with the caption " Haredim Ungrateful", which appears on the upper left of the Ynet editorial. According to the Society of Professional Journalists, journalists should

make certain that headlines, news teases and promotional material, photos, video, audio, graphics, sound bites and quotations do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context.

Of course, all writers, including this one have biases which may slant their writing and analysis. For that reason, advocacy journalists declare their biases upfront, and argue that they are better than mainstream media, whose biases may be more subtle and implicit.

Now considering that some consider the New York Times to have anti-Israel or other biases, what would be the equivalent of the Ynet photo and caption in the New York Times ? Sure, some, or even a number of charedim may support the Yated's views in varying degrees, but saying that a group as a whole, is "ungrateful" and attaching a graphic image to it, is taking sides in a complex situation resulting from a decades-long kulturkampf, can easily lead to ill feelings in the splintered Israeli society, and additionally as mentioned above, is unprofessional stereotyping. After all, we know who(or what) haredim are, so why the picture next to an editorial? I find it hard to imagine the New York Times or any major American media outlet doing the precise equivalent about Jews, Charedim, or about Israel. I realize that this is a broad statement, so I welcome comparisons in support or in disagreement with my contention.

I would think that the biases of the NYT and other mainstream media would appear to be more subtle, and in that way, the newpapers would have therefore not committed such egregious stereotyping. Yet some might feel that any issues in the other media are a worse example of bias, precisely because the slant is more subtle and it appears more professional than the Ynet example.

Back to Ynet, this post is based on my impressions which I have had for some time, and is obviously, not an exhaustive study. As above, if someone wants to cite examples from Ynet, supporting or disagreeing with my view, I welcome that as well.