Find yourself a Rabbi

Yeshivah World News is reporting that R’ Kanievsky,  widely regarded by everyone as a holy man and Talmid Chacham of the highest order, has issued an order banning the internet to the extent of יהרג ועל יעבור. Now, we have not seen this advice written explicitly and it should, therefore, be ignored as purporting to be R’ Kanievsky’s view until such time as R’ Kanievsky writes and signs his opinion in his own clear sentences.

But we don’t need Yeshivah World News to report such things (via the internet) to be convinced that there are and will continue to be eminent Rabbis who issue blanket bans on various modes of modern technology, such as the internet. What does this mean for the בעל הבית? I’m not referring to someone who does business via the internet. I’d be surprised if there was even a single Rav of stature who would issue a ban on business activities using the internet. I’m referring to the rest of us: we who use the internet to interact with family and friends; we who use the internet to read and pass on articles of interest; we who use the internet to find out what is happening in the world; we who use the internet to have a laugh; and we who use the internet to discover Torah in an unprecedented manner.

I heard R’ Schachter speak last week. He amusingly pointed out that the Yekkes (Frankfurters vs Hamburgers) have a מחלוקת about what פרשה one should speak about on מוצאי שבת. One group holds that until Tuesday you speak about last week’s Parsha, and the other group opines that from  מוצאי שבת you speak about next week’s Parsha. In order to satisfy both opinions, he spoke about both חיי שרה and תולדות.

R’ Schachter noted that finding yourself a Rabbi very much depended on where you were at a particular stage of your life. When younger and learning in a seminary, it is natural and correct that the Rabbi is your Rosh Yeshivah. That Rabbi, like R’ Kanievsky, lives in a particular world, a refined idealistic world. They live in the world of the Yeshivah where consideration of halachic questions is inherently contextual. While spending formative years in a בית המדרש, it may very well be halachically correct to not interact with the internet. One’s interaction should be solely with our holy texts. One is able to learn תורה לשמה with relative ease, coupled with והגית בו יומם ולילה. Eventually, one leaves this environment. Some may return to חוץ לארץ others to their homes in Israel, but most assume and are consumed by a new and changing environment together with different challenges and expectations.

R’ Schachter asks: should that Rosh Yeshivah still be your Rebbe? He answers, probably not. The Rosh Yeshivah lives in a different world. It is not your world. Psak and halachic advice requires the Posek to appreciate and understand your new context. Some do and others don’t. Certainly, it might have been correct to Pasken one way when addressing a Yeshivah or Seminary student. Certainly, it is correct to Pasken in a particular way for certain types of towns, environments and shielded cities. That Psak may, however, no longer be relevant to someone’s new situation and challenges and expectations. R’ Schachter mentions that we find that the Malochim of חוץ לארץ departed and were replaced by the Malochim of ארץ ישראל. They served different roles in different contexts. They weren’t mixed. יצחק אבינו was not אברהם אבינו. He was מקודש by virtue of the עקידה and he was the only one of the אבות who was commanded not to leave ארץ ישראל and descend to the context of the טומאה of חוץ לארץ.

I’d like to suggest that we look at certain Piskei Din, such as those bandied around the internet as דעת תורה in the same light. A strict ban may well be appropriate for certain people at a certain place and in certain times. Such a Psak, however, can be entirely misplaced for someone in a different place in a different environment and facing another reality. Does this make the R’ Kanievsky’s of this world any less authoritative? Certainly not. He is and remains a holy man, one of the giants of our generation. Does it mean that one is ignoring דעת תורה? I would also say certainly not. So called, דעת תורה is what your Rebbe or Rav tells you today, for you, in your time, and in your place, and in your environment.

The bottom line is that you should respect these Psakim but understand their context.

עשה לך רב.

Author: pitputim

I'm a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia. I skylark as the band leader/singer for the Schnapps band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel.

12 thoughts on “Find yourself a Rabbi”

  1. The bottom line is that you should respect these Psakim but understand that they were never given authority to pasken for the world jewry.

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      1. For a sophisticated analysis of the issue, HaRav Aharon Lichtenstein shlita gave a quintessentially brilliant shiur on the topic many years ago. Yeshivat Har Etzion recently posted it as part of its daily KMTT podcast program:

        [audio src="http://traffic.libsyn.com/kmtt/ral-sichot_01_5772_Dec93.mp3" /]
        [audio src="http://traffic.libsyn.com/kmtt/ral-sichot_02_5772_Dec93-daas-torah-part2.mp3" /]

        Alternatively, Professor Lawrence Caplan wrote a seminal piece on the topic, focusing largely on the sociological issues associated with Daas Torah:

        http://www.balintlaw.com/DaasTorah.pdf

        As a final note, the adherence to Daas Torah within the charedi world appears to be fractured as the cries from the “Gedolim” at the recent Agudah convention would suggest.

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        1. Whilst I have read Lawrence’s article years ago and others including Rabbi Nachum Rabinowicz’s essay, I am not sure how they relate to what I wrote. Thanks for the R’ Lichtenstein links. I tend to prefer reading his words rather than listening to him because I find it easier

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          1. Professor Caplan’s article, amongst other things, highlights the tragic consequences of a Daas Torah framework that history (e.g. Belz Rebbe’s directive to his Chassidim that they not follow him to Eretz Yisrael during the war) has already proven. One might argue that Daas Torah is indeed NOT for you, NOT in your time, NOT in your place, and NOT in your environment.

            Rav Aharon’s point is typically dialectic in the sense that he encourages the sensitivity towards the Gedolim’s viewpoints on non-halachic matters, but cautions dogmatic adherence to them in isolation of those who have deep, relevant non-Rabbinic expertise on the relevant matter.

            Excuse the subtlety, but I was also alluding to the fact that the Charedi conception of Daas Torah, particularly as a result of Yeridat Hadorot, is becoming increasingly difficult to defend. Witness the remarkable following excerpt from http://haemtza.blogspot.com/

            “It’s nice to know that Agudah’s executicve vice president recognizes the contribution blogs have made to public awareness of sex abuse. Blogs have been in the forefront of shining the disinfectant of light onto this issue.

            But nothing tops what Dr. Asher Lipner has revealed right here on this blog in a comment to my post on whether blogs matter. Here is what he had to say:

            I once spoke to Rabbi Zweibel on the phone. He told me that working at Aguda is a daily struggle for him in Emunas Chochomim because of what he sees….BUT that he also gets daily inspiration from what he sees from the Gedolim as well.

            That Rabbi Zweibel gets inspiration from the leaders of the organization he works for is not a surprise. But to say that he struggles with Emunas Chachamim because of them daily – much the same way so many non Agudists do is nothing short of revolutionary!

            Struggles with Emunas Chachamim? Really? Daas Torah as Agudah uses the term is based on Emunas Chachamim. Daas Torah defines what Agudah is all about. And that is a daily struggle for its executive vice president?!

            If your executive vice president has thoughts like this, what should the rest of us think?”

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            1. I had read about the Belzer story in a book many moons ago. It was published by Jason Aronson. It’s important to realise that this phenomenon is not Daas Torah but is about the Chasid and Rebbe relationship something that preceded “Daas Torah”. The latter is the Misnagic answer to the Chassidic Rebbe/Chasid relationship.

              R’ Aharon was obviously not talking to the Chosid or indeed the modern Agudist. They will follow non-Rabbinic expertise if and only if the Rabbi suggests the do.

              Certainly the internet has highlighted the less than perfect world of perfect Rabbis/Daas Torah. I agree with that, as I’d expect most who are permitted to exercise free thought.

              On your quote regarding Aguda’s executive vice president, it’s important to remember that he is a mouthpiece that is used by the moetzes for whatever they see fit, and none of his thoughts or views have any official standing! Yes, I had seen that quote from Dr Lipner. If it’s true, no doubt his detractors will report him to the moetzes and he’ll have a cute answer for them (sorry for being cynical).

              If you want to read a nice piece about Daas Torah, I know that our reader Rabbi Dovid Segal has written a typically well-researched and scholarly review. Perhaps he will post a link. I looked for it, but couldn’t find it.

              All that aside, the point in my article was different and really not about the Daas Torah issue per se

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  2. Referring to the original article in the YWN and noting an astute comment, if this has been accurately reported then it is most probably referring to the World Wide Web (www) aspect of the internet. Though the wording may seem strong it would be no worse (not to minimise the oprobium cast) than the use of television in the home. Those that possess a TV accept it for what it is and the associated risks and those that hold by its ban would have no qualms to extend the ban to include the use of the internet at home.
    Trickier considerations are what would be the obligations governing its use at work, at school/college? Could one refuse to use it at work and would compliance be seen as religious coercion?

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  3. Questions I emailed R’ Schachter (still waiting for response) –
    Rav Schachter says that it is important to find a rebbe in chutz laaretz who is “in this world”? Can Rebbe please clarify what exactly he means by that? If a bochur fulfills his responsibility in properly asking a shaila and giving the proper background, what is the difference where his personal Rav lives? Is it dangerous for bochurim to maintain the same relationships with their Israel rebbeim once they leave the yeshiva? Is Rav Schachter saying applying to every bochur or depending on his situation once outside of Israel?

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