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Posts Tagged ‘Rav Moshe Feinstein’

You Must Know What You Don’t Know

Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

I believe it was last year when a respected Rav of the right got up on the podium of the Agudah convention and said that the Gedolei Yisroel are virtually infallible. Well, maybe he didn’t say exactly that.  I’m sure he knows that they are human and capable of mistakes. But the thrust of his address was the repetition over and over again that we must follow the Gedolim.  There was no room for disagreement. For they are the true representatives of God’s will on earth.

They are the most knowledgeable in Torah and their word cannot be challenged by the average Bal Habos. It would be like challenging God Himself. That was his message. It is the credo of Agudah: We listen to the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah – even when it doesn’t make any sense to us. Because they know more than we do.

There was a time when this made sense. There was a time when Gedolei Torah knew what they knew and knew what they didn’t know. This important educational point was driven home constantly by Rav Selig Starr, one of my Rebbeim at HTC.  In order to learn Torah properly ‘you must know what you know and know what you don’t know’ was his constant refrain.

Rav Moshe Feinstein famously never Paskined a Shaila on any issue of which he had limited or no knowledge until he had consulted with experts in the field and was fully informed about them.  For example he always consulted his son in law, Rav Moshe Tendler on all medical issues. That is unfortunately not always the case today.

Many of today’s rabbinic leaders unfortunately do not know what they don’t know. And that is one of the biggest follies of our day. It is responsible for some pretty bad public policy decisions on their part. Occasionally when they learn how misinformed they are, they withdraw what they said or modify it. But not always.

Sometimes the results of bad decisions are innocuous and for the most part ignored. The wide spread use of the internet in spite of its vilification by these rabbis is an example of that.  Although ignoring edicts of rabbinic leaders cannot be considered a good result by them.

But in some cases there is great damage done by such decisions. The approach to sex abuse is one such example.

One may ask, who am I to make such assumptions or accusations? How do I know they don’t consult or give bad advice in matters which they think they know… but don’t fully know? It isn’t my own logic that compels me to say it. It is my conversations with religious professionals – some of whom are also Charedi Rabbonim – that are experts in their respective fields. It is they who have made these comments to me.

Now none of us believe for a moment that the intentions of these rabbinic leaders is bad. Quite the contrary. We believe they act in accordance with what they believe is in the best interests of Klal Yisroel. That includes decisions in matters of sexual  abuse. They want to rid the world of sexual predators – just like everyone else. Nor do they have any wish to harm a survivor.

But some of their decisions are made without  the benefit of advise by experts in the field. This is why in my view they say that one must first report suspicions of sex abuse to them before going to the police. They sincerely believe that they are protecting innocent victims of possibly false accusations. But as one Charedi professional told me recently, many rabbinic leaders  are greatly uninformed.

A Shameful Tirade

Monday, December 9th, 2013

“I could not care less what’s going on in Agudah!” These are not my sentiments. They are the sentiments of the Rav – R’ Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik. I heard them uttered in Yiddish by him in a recorded address he gave to the rabbinic alumni of Yeshiva University in the mid 1970s. This does not mean that he disparaged the legitimate Gedolim that populated the Agudah Moetzes at that time. The names are well known. Among others they included Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky and, Rav Yitzchok Hutner. The Rav obviously respected them. His point was that he was unconcerned with what they had to say on many of the controversial issues the day. He had his own point of view.

If one reads the scathing attack by Rabbi Yitzchok Frankfurter against the RCA you would never know that. That’s because he uses words the Rav used in another context to say that the rabbis of this rabbinic fraternity have departed from the Hashkafos of their teacher.

What generated this tirade? A statement by a group of RCA rabbis (…or as more accurately described by them - All of us are members in good standing or identify with the Rabbinical Council of America). They had written a critical (although unofficial) response to newly installed Yeshiva Chovevei Torah (YCT) president, Rabbi Asher Lopatin.

Rabbi Lopatin was first severely criticize by the right for inviting leaders of the Reform and Conservative movements to speak at his installation. They compared his movement to the beginnings of the Conservative movement! Rabbi Lopatin -upset by that – retorted that he had not even been given a chance to be the ‘uniter’ of all factions of Orthodoxy he had hoped to be… and declared his movement (Open Orthodoxy) to be Orthodox… and ‘here to stay’.

Those RCA rabbis then reponded critcally themslves and in pertinent part said the following in its concluding paragraph:

(I)f Open Orthodoxy’s leaders feel some distance developing between themselves and mainstream Orthodoxy, they should not be blaming others. They might consider how they themselves have plunged ahead, again and again, across the border that divides Orthodoxy from neo-Conservatism. Why are they surprised to find themselves on the wrong side of a dividing line?

I said at the time that even though I generally agreed with their sentiments, I would not have signed that statement. I know Rabbi Lopatin. I would have given him some space and not pounced on him so quickly. Sometimes silence truly is golden.

Rabbi Frankfurter in an earlier editorial criticized this statement saying that it was not enough. It left the reader confused, he said,  about Rabbi Lopatin, YCT, and Open Orthodoxy. He believes there should have been an unequivocal condemnation of all three – much the same way the Conservative Movement was condemned in the past.  According to Rabbi Frankfurter, the RCA rabbis should have consulted with the ‘leading Gedolei Yisroel’ to obtain their views and followed them instead of acting on their own.

To his credit, Marvin Schick (one of my heroes) responded in writing to this letter (published as part of Rabbi Frankfurters’s response). He called it ‘breathtaking in its mean spiritedness’!

In this week’s editorial, Rabbi Frankfurter went on a virtual tirade… considering it to be an obligation to his mentor, Rav Dovid Soloveitchk to ‘call a spade a spade’ and tell the world what he really thinks of the RCA.  His words here made his earlier editorial look like a compliment by comparison.

What was his criticism? There were two things he singled out. One was the RCA defense of Tzohar head, and former candidate for the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, Rabbi David Stav, from some truly harsh and in my view very unfair criticism by Rav Ovadia Yosef, ZTL.  The other ‘sin’ was that they invited Rabbi Dov Lipman to address their annual convention. The criticism against the RCA hosting Rabbi Lipman was especially harsh because he was a member of Yesh Atid whose platform includes endorsement of same sex marriage.

Rabbi Frankfurter considers their defense of Rabbi Stav to be an insult to Rav Yosef. And then he has the unmitigated gall to assign guilt to Rabbi Lipman as though he too supports same sex marriage and – by association – the RCA by virtue of their hosting him. He blasts Rabbi Lipman as being anti Torah citing an exaggerated response he once made about how few Charedim would be exempt from the draft if he had anything to say about it.

I find this to be grossly disingenuous and highly misleading. Doesn’t he realize that inviting someone to speak at a convention doesn’t mean they will agree with everything he says? Does he really think the RCA endorses same sex marriage? Does he think Rabbi Lipman does? I am absolutely certain that he knows they don’t!

His only purpose here is to further the agenda driven by Israeli rabbinic leaders like his mentor, Rav Dovid Soloveitchik. An agenda in which – as Rabbi Berl Wein put it – we are being ill served, since those rabbinic leaders refuse to change the current ‘miserable status quo’. (Perhaps Rabbi Frankfurter considers Rabbi Wein to be in the same category as the RCA?)

As proof that the RCA has lost their way Rabbi Frankfurter publishes a 1975 lecture given by the Rav to his students before one of his Gemarah Shiurim. The Rav’s exorts his students not to allow the Zeitgeist to determine one’s direction of leadership. It was probably done in response the 1970’s stirrings of the modern day feminist movement which was just beginning to roar about that time. (Thank you Helen Reddy).

He explains that the Torah must always determine that. And therefore they must never cooperate with heterodox movements whose motivation is social justice rather than following the explicit dictates of the Torah and Chazal.

Rabbi Frankfurter’s mistake is that he thinks that the only people who can tell us what the Torah and Chazal dictates are his own ‘Chachmei HaMesorah’. But as Rav Soloveitchik pointed out, he could not care less about what Rabbi Frankfurter’s Chachmei HaMesorah say. The Rav had a different view of what the Torah want’s us to do on many issues and it was not the Agudah’s view nor was it that of his cousin, Rav Dovid Soloveitchik.

The Rav was the titular head of Religious Zionism in America. He was opposed to his cousin, Rav Dovid’s point of view. As was the Rav’s brother, R’ Ahron who famously said Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut.

R’ Dovid’s antipathy for the state of Israel rivals that of Neturei Karta. He has absolutely no use for the government and considers them anti Torah do this day. This – despite the fact that until a few years ago the government provided millions of dollars of support to Charedi yeshivas. I recall Mir Rosh HaYeshiva, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, ZTL telling a group of Chicagoans a few years ago that until that time 50% of their budget was taken care of by the Israeli government.

He claims that the Rav would have never supported what the RCA has done here. But the fact is he doesn’t know what the Rav would have done. That did not stop him from using the Rav’s words against the RCA.

This is so ironic in the face of some very positive articles he has featured in the past on YU Roshei Yeshiva like Rav Hershel Schachter. And on the Rav. And on Rav Ahron. And on former RCA president Rabbi Shmuel Goldin.

I cannot imagine a more divisive editorial that the one he has written here. I think he ought to publish a retraction and an apology. That is the only decent thing for him to do. He probably won’t. But I hope he proves me wrong.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah .

America’s Forgotten Posek

Sunday, March 24th, 2013

He was the Gadol haDor in the United States prior to Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l. And, unfortunately, his rulings and his seforim have, by and large, been completely forgotten.

Walk into any shul or Seforim store and you will be hard-pressed to find a sefer written by Rav Yoseph Eliyahu Henkin zt”l. Open up a contemporary Halachic work and you will rarely find a ruling quoted in his name.

Rav Henkin studied in Yeshiva Etz Chaim in Slutzk, Russia under Rav Isser Zalman Melter zt”l. He received Smicha from Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz, the Ridbaz, and the Aruch HaShulchan and served as a Rav in Russia. He arrived in this country in 1923, and eventually founded and headed the organization called Ezras Torah. Rav Henkin issued tens of thousands of rulings and wrote responsa to Rabbonim across America and beyond. He published three Seforim. Yet somehow, Rav Henkin has become “America’s Forgotten Posek.”

How did it happen? How did America’s leading Posek fall into such halachic obscurity?

This author’s theory is that there were three factors. Firstly, Rav Henkin spent most of his time dedicating himself to others, through the vehicle of his remarkable organization Ezras Torah. He did not make photo offset copies of his letters or rulings or write them again for posterity because he gave every spare moment to raising much needed funds for Torah scholars. Secondly, Rav Henkin lived in a time quite different from ours. Then, the Torah scholars were refugees, suffering in misery and distress. They could barely put food on the table. Who thought to put out Seforim? Even those that eventually were issued rarely had the name of the recipient of the letter. Finally, Rav Henkin did not have a Yeshiva or an official Rabbinic Shteller like other great Rabbis and Torah leaders. He was the Gadol HaDor and headed Ezras Torah true, but without a natural constituency demanding the Seforim, it was difficult to bring them to the printing house again. Boruch Hashem, this sad reality will soon be addressed.

With the encouragement of his Rosh Yeshiva, Moreinu HaRav Shmuel Kamenetsky, a Torah scholar with prodigious talents, Rav Daniel Osher Kleineman, has taken upon himself a remarkable project. Reb Daniel has started the painstaking task of reissuing, or rather newly issuing, Rav Henkin’s incisive and groundbreaking rulings that have been almost lost to oblivion.

Reb Daniel has carefully scoured the letters and archives found in the inner recesses of university libraries across the country for Rav Henkin’s letters. He has called nearly one thousand people from Maine to Los Angeles in his search for correspondences.

At times he has struck gold, finding a cache of letters back and forth from descendants of Rabbis who were active in the 20’s. 30’s and 40’s. Most of the time Reb Daniel comes up empty-handed, but he does not give up.

He has done a fantastic job in putting together the extant material. He has organized Rav Henkin’s writings in the order of the Shulchan Aruch, and has gathered all that is available in print. He has gathered material that has not been printed from Rav Henkin’s family and has found over 100 additional letters in his search.

He is now in his last stretch. This project needs our assistance. If anyone out there is a descendant of a Rav who may have corresponded with Rav Henkin zt”l, now is the time to speak up. If anyone has any such letters in their possession, please reach out to Reb Daniel at MachonRavHenkin@gmail.com or by calling him at 732 370-0995.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/interviews-and-profiles/americas-forgotten-posek/2013/03/24/

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