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.

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