The Corrupting of Daas Torah

Once again as I have in the past – I have to give kudos to Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein. He is an Ish Emes… a man of truth that refuses to be cowed by excesses of the right. He has published an essay written by someone he describes as ‘a card-carrying yeshiva-trained Charedi writer, living in Israel’.

Nothing that writer says is news to me. But it seems to be increasingly evident to the very people it is happening to. And it pokes a huge hole in the ‘Daas Torah’ of the right. In essence this Charedi writer has joined the chorus of those of us who realize that today’s rabbinic leaders, especially in Israel are being led down a path — not of their own choosing. A path that benefits Askanim – advisers upon which they rely for information upon which they make public policy proclamations.

What is most encouraging about this particular essay is that the writer lives in Israel. He has certainly absorbed the Hashkafos of Charedi Israel. He respects the concept of Daas Torah – whereby major decisions about public policy are decided by the great rabbis of the generation. And yet he laments that their decisions can easily be wrong based on their reliance on others – rather on direct examination of the facts.

Those ‘others’ each have agendas of their own and it is no secret that even great rabbinic leaders like Rav Elyashiv can be misled into making a decision based on fiction related to him by trusted Askainim. Askanim that lied to him in order to get the outcome they perceived to be the right one. Ask Rabbi Nosson Kamenetsky about that.

The reasons for his critical analysis of Daas Torah are immaterial. The point is that he no longer believes that their decisions can be trusted.

Although his reasons are immaterial to his conclusions, they too are the result of a flaw in the Charedi world that has developed over time. A flaw that has resulted in the inability of many Charedim  to make decisions even in the smallest matter. The  concept of Daas Torah has been extrapolated to  include ‘asking a Gadol’ about every decision one makes in life. And today’s rabbinic leaders have done precious little to disabuse them of this notion.

It is rare to go to a Charedi event these days without hearing the phrase ‘Daas Torah’ in every speech and lecture. Multiple times.  It should therefore not be surprising that there are many Charedim that believe that before making a decision about even the most mundane of matters, they must first ask a Gadol. To some the very suggestion that one need not consult Daas Torah on every matter is anathema. Of course most Charedim know that not every decision in life  requires a Gadol’s input. But there are many who do. From the essay:

“today there is a growing phenomenon of the chareidi public insisting that every small matter be brought to the gedolim to decide on. While in the past, it was only major matters concerning all of klal yisroel that were brought to Rav Shach and his contemporaries to weigh in on, today every minor decision is brought to the gedolim in Bnei Brak…The sheer volume of issues that the gedolim are being asked to get involved in have made it impossible for them to be able to research the issues themselves. They are forced to rely on those closest to them for information. And things will only get worse as the chareidi world continues to grow. This newfangled absurd idea that people cannot make even the most minor of decisions without consulting the gedolim in Bnei Brak has created a situation in which every aspect of chareidi life is now being controlled by a handful of gedolim… The gedolim will increasingly need to rely on those around them to help determine what is worthy of their support and what they should oppose.

This is huge. Rabbinic authority as it has evolved in the Charedi world is being challenged. We now have a  closet  Charedi ‘skeptic’ about Daas Torah. Here is how Rabbi Adlerstein puts it:

Many of us realize that the concept of Daas Torah underwent a transformation in the last decades. Some of it was for the better; much not. It has worked for some people, and put others on spiritual skids. The new Daas Torah has stifled individuality and creativity, and muted the voices of local rabbonim. It has narrowed the boundaries of our world, and erased diversity.

I want to make clear that in no way do I advocate abandoning asking Shailos. Even in matters of public policy. It is vital to know what our rabbinic leaders (…and I do not of course limit it to Charedi rabbinic leaders) have to say on these issues. For an observant Jew public policies should be based on what the Torah has to say about it. And that can only be determined if one has all the facts. It appears that even the Charedi world increasingly realizes that they can no longer rely on their rabbinic leaders. There is no way of knowing whether they have been fed facts… or lies and distortions by their Askanim.

This is what that Charedi writer said. I believe it is a major step forward. My only regret is that he fears retaliation were his identity to be exposed. I completely understand. The battle for Emes has a long way to go. But perhaps we are turning a corner.

About the Author
My worldview is based on the philosophy of my teacher, Rabbi Aaron Soloveichik , and the writings of Rabbis Joseph B. Soloveitcihk , Norman Lamm, and Dr. Eliezer Berkovits from whom I developed an appreciation for philosophy. I attended Telshe Yeshiva and the Hebrew Theological College where I was ordained. I also attended Roosevelt University where I received my degree in Psychology.