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The Shafran/Berman Exchange

On several occasions, we have taken Rabbi Saul Berman to task over the distinctively secularist bent of his organization called EDAH, which bills itself as the intellectual engine of
Modern Orthodoxy. Thus, when he convened an EDAH conference two years ago, purportedly to do no less than chart the future course of the Jewish community, it was driven by social scientists of various disciplines, such as political scientists, sociologists and political and social activists. It seemed to us at the time, and we noted so editorially, that the time-honored notion that Judaism was an halachic and rabbinic enterprise, was just not reflected in the agenda or deliberations. In a letter last week in The Jewish Week, responding to Agudah’s Rabbi Avi Shafran’s article on Da’at Torah, Rabbi Berman carried this secularist bent further, but also went well beyond the pale in his remarks.

In his article, Shafran defined Da’at Torah as follows:

What Da’at Torah means, simply, 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 of matters of import to Jews….”

Shafran then challenged Berman. First he noted that, 
 
At a recent conference, Rabbi Saul Berman, director of the modern Orthodox group EDAH, recounted how encounters with Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveichik had left him with the impression that the elder rabbi made a distinction between religious matters, where “his authority on halacha was binding,” and political or social matters, where they were not.”

He then attempted to link Rabbi Soloveichik, zt”l, considered the religious and intellectual inspiration for Modern Orthodoxy, with the notion of Da’at Torah by referring to some
comments he made:

“The very same priest whose mind was suffused with the holiness of the Torah of Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Eliezer, of Abaye and Rava, of the Rambam and Ravad, of the Beit Yosef and the Rama, could also discern with the holy spirit the solution to all current political questions, to all worldly matters, to all ongoing current demands.

Not to be trumped, Berman responded:

…Rabbi Shafran quotes a translation of a journalistic report of an impassioned eulogy offered by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveichik, of blessed memory, at a convention of Agudath Israel of America in 1940, in support of a broad concept of rabbinic authority in non-halachic matters. A few years later, Rabbi Soloveitchik left the anti-Zionist Agudath Israel, and from 1946 until his death in 1993 served as the honorary president of Mizrachi, Religious Zionists of America.

Perhaps his defection from Agudath Israel to Mizrachi was in consequence of his realization that the Da’at Torah of European Agudah leaders, to remain in Europe and to oppose the creation of a Jewish state, was disastrously erroneous.

Perhaps? How dare Rabbi Berman be so free and easy about attributing motives to someone of the stature of Rav Soloveichik? To say nothing about so cavalierly defaming such luminaries as the Brisker Rav and the Chafetz Chaim among others? Moreover, it is well known that Rav Soloveichik venerated the Brisker Rav, who was his grandfather! This reminds us of Rav Aharon Lichtenstein’s rebuke of Rabbi Berman several years ago in the pages of The Jewish Press following Rabbi Berman’s erroneously attributing certain views to Rav Lichtenstein, favoring certain compromises on the conversion issue in Israel.

Sadly, it also brings to mind the problem of the seeming continuing obsession of Rabbi Shafran to appear in the pages of The Jewish Week. Does he really think that the essentially secular readership of that publication will be swayed by his perforce summary assertions about so profound a concept, which also runs counter to their outlook on life? Does he not realize that
such efforts only invite the kind of unhelpful confrontations such as Rabbi Berman’s?

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