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September 3, 2015 / 19 Elul, 5775
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Time For Agudah To Widen The Tent


Agudath Israel of America will be holding its annual convention next week. Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zweibel, an executive vice president of Agudah, has been quoted as saying:

“In recent yearsthe authority of daas Torah has been significantly undermined . Most troubling has been the proliferation of Internet ‘blogs’ where misguided individuals feel free to spread every bit of rechilus and loshon hora about rabbonim and roshei yeshiva, all with the intended effect of undermining any semblance of Torah authority in our community. It is most appropriate for an organization like Agudath Israel, whose very essence was built on the recognition of the authority of Torah leaders, to address this issue head on, and formulate concrete plans to reinvigorate public awareness of this essential element of the Torah way of life.”

I’m not sure how he would characterize my own blog, Emes Ve-Emunah. And I agree that some Orthodox bloggers – and their readers who reply, often anonymously, with incendiary comments of their own – do cross some lines that shouldn’t be crossed. I don’t, however, think Rabbi Zweibel is talking only about those blogs. I believe he is talking about blogs like mine as well. But that remains to be seen.

At this point I do not yet feel the need to defend what I write. I’ll wait until after the convention and see what Agudah will say. But if my suspicions are correct, there will be criticism of blogs like mine and by implication bloggers like me as lacking kavod haTorah and “undermin[ing] any semblance of Torah authority” (otherwise known as Daas Torah) because of articles I have written disagreeing with some Agudah positions.

It is of course untrue that I seek, chas v’shalom, in any way to undermine Daas Torah. I do not.

But it is true that my approach to Daas Torah is not the Agudah approach. The goal of my essays on this issue is only to improve how Daas Torah is achieved and to make Daas Torah more inclusive. It is also to explain my beliefs about when acceptance of it is mandatory and when it is not. I differ with Agudah on that. But that is not undermining Daas Torah – it is only defining it differently. And I base my beliefs on gedolim outside of Agudah – like my rebbe, Rav Aaron Soloveichik, zt”l.

Briefly stated, the differences between how Agudah looks at Daas Torah and how Centrists look at it lies in the attitude toward rabbinic responses to questions that are not specifically halachic, such as whether one should accept a particular job offer. To a Centrist, such questions are asked in the sense that one asks for advice. And you consider the advice and the person who gave it accordingly. But it is treated as advice, not as p’sak.

When I asked my rebbe – a gadol by anyone’s measure – a shaila in halacha, I listened to him. But when I asked him for advice on non-halachic matters, I would take that advice into consideration along with my own thoughts and the thoughts of others I had consulted.

I do not mean to suggest that the advice of a gadol isn’t valuable. Of course it is. You do not become a leader in Israel unless you’ve displayed some wisdom in your life. Their advice should be given substantial weight, but should not necessarily be considered the final word.

But again, the bottom line is that it’s advice, not p’sak. As I understand Agudah’s position, if a gadol tells you not to accept a job, it is treated as p’sak. This is one of the major differences between Agudah and those outside the Agudah camp. There are others, mostly having to do with public policy.

It is really too bad that Agudah has chosen to address Orthodox blogs and bloggers in such an indirect way. Don’t they realize that most of us are on the same team? Most of us want to do what is right and just in the eyes of God. And if we sometimes err, we are only human.

Most of the respectable blogs, like Hirhurim and Cross-Currents, are interested in promoting kavod haTorah, not denigrating it. The only question is how to do it properly, and there is room to differ about what is proper.

About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at hmaryles@yahoo.com.


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