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How Do We Know What Gedolim Really Hold

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#1 meirgoldberg



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Posted 11 June 2013 - 11:29 AM

Rav Shapiro, Sunday's macha'a against drafting of Yeshiva bochurim caused great confusion when conflicting reports of R' Chaim Kanievsky's opinion regarding whether to attend or not, surfaced. This calls attention to a greater problem - how do we ever really know what gedolim hold? Clearly, the past decade has shown that the gabbaim of Israeli gedolim filter much information going in or out, thus the gadol's opinion can never really be known, because a gadol can only answer the question he is asked and, unless we were there, we never really know how he answered. I suppose then that we should only accept opinions from American Rabbonim who are more accessible. But I have found that most Rabbonim do not have time to discuss big issues with people they don't know and are often reluctant to do so because of various fears. So we end up with little hadracha and are left to figure it out ourselves even if we don't know the full story. Is there any eitza?

Meir Goldberg

#2 Rabbi Shapiro

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Posted 12 June 2013 - 07:17 AM

To answer your question, I need some more information. You wrote: Clearly, the past decade has shown that the gabbaim of Israeli gedolim filter much information going in or out."


What makes you say this? I am not agreeing or disagreeing, just simply asking why you think such a thing is clear and can you give me an example or two? And do you think this happens with certain Gedolim in particular or is "all in Eyetz Yisroel"? And is it only in Eretz Yisroel?

#3 shaya



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Posted 12 June 2013 - 08:42 AM

i second meirs question.


there has to be a way to determine on your own what is the correct version of any Stirah in letters or for that matter conflicting reports.


but, לעניות דעתי we might be able to get closer to the right answer by process of elimination, first a random website or blog is surely not the right approach to find the answer.


second, we have to be able to see what the conflicting letters or statements say and what the question was to each.


third, you have to have a little background on both the questioner and the responder.


forth, and that is to every halcha shaale and shita, the same question can have several different answers, some get a lchatchila answer, and to some the answer is b'dieved, and to some its shas hadchak etc.


there were conflicting reports on the satmer rebbes shitah of people traveling to EY, but than i figured out that to bucherim in yeshivah he had one shita, in the 50's another and in the 60's another, this is just an example that it takes shikul hadaas to figure this out.


but now adays the blogs run our lives and we get "confused" and we dont know why.


perhaps the rabbi can answer in more detail but i think thats a start...

Start with God - the first step in learning is bowing down to God; only fools thumb their noses at such wisdom and learning.

#4 meirgoldberg



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Posted 12 June 2013 - 09:47 AM

Well, the older Israeli Gedolim, due to their age and the sheer volume of people who want to meet them daily, have gabboim who let or don't let people in. So who gets in is subject to their decision.  I know this from friends who experienced this. Furthermore, I have heard numerous instances, sometimes from first hand accounts, when Rav Elyashiv's psak will change based on who and how the question is asked. So the rest of us hear conflicting psakim. (Rav Nissan Kaplan mentioned this regarding  twist tie's. This was the case regarding Indian hair sheitels.  My Rosh Yeshiva once sold land in Eretz Yisroel so that people outside of EY could be mekayaim the mitzva of resting the land on shmitta. He was allowed to do this only privately so as not to hurt Keren Hashviis which supports shmittah observant farmers. When a competitor published ads selling land, Rav Elyashiv came out against him and my Rosh Yeshiva, because the information he was given was that both were putting ads in the paper which was not the case with my Rosh Yeshiva. When Rav Elyashiv found out about this mistake, he graciously offered to publish ads supporting my Rosh Yeshiva's campaign.) My point isn't chas vesholom to blame Gedolai EY, they are only human and can only answer that which they are asked. This isn't so much of a problem in America because almost every great Rosh Yeshiva is accessible to the public and they can be called by anyone in their home. But even so, they are reluctant to explain things to people they don't know.


I tell my students not to believe any psak they hear unless they have a source on the inside confirming it. But when something is time sensitive, such as a big rally, we don't have that luxury. 

#5 meirgoldberg



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Posted 12 June 2013 - 09:49 AM

This is certainly the case with Rav Chaim Kanievsky and Rav Shteinman, who are, at least in my own opinion, the two primary gedolai EY.

#6 Rabbi Shapiro

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Posted 13 June 2013 - 07:53 PM

Your question is a valid one, but it's not limited to the last 10 years, nor is it limited to Eretz Yisroel. 


The Ben ish Chai in Teshuvos Rav Pealim was asked about something written in the Teshuvos of the Bais Yosef about the Arzai. The Ben ish Chai says the Bais Yosef was misinformed by a Shliach regarding what the Arizal holds. When asked how this is possible, seeing that the Bais Yosef was such a Godol as well as a Baal Ruach haKodesh, the Ben ish Chai responded that that is not a valid objection, because Gedolim - even neviim - can and have been misinformed. Why not? All you have to do is give them false or mistaken information. 


I'd like to add that besides all of the above, the Bais Yosef and Arizal were neighbors as well. Nevertheless, the Bais Yosef wrote in his Teshuvos that what the Arizl said was incorrect, based on, according to the Ben ish Chai, a misrepresented version of what his neighbor, the Arizal, had said.


It happens. Elisha was fooled, Yitzchok Avinu was fooled. It happens.


Rav Chaim Ozer wrote a letter opposing a united rabbinic organization on the grounds that the secretaries often misrepresent the members of the Moetzes. He says that he learned this "from experience."


The Satmar Rebbe in Vayoel Moshe cites some bad Hashkafos that were disseminated by the Agudah, and he says when he asked the Agudah Gedolim about it, some of them even said it was Apikorsus, in any case all of them agreed it was wrong, but they said what can they do - the Askanim didn't ask them before they took it upon themselves to represent the Agudah on their own. (It appears from another source that at least one Godol he was referring to then was Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky).


It happens all the time. I know about the Rav Elyashev human-hair shaitel situation you mention, because I was the one who gave Rav Elyashev his information - the first time. I was the one who asked him that shailah and his first teshuva was in response to it. Years later the facts he received were mistaken. Rav Feivel Cohen went to him after he prohibited the shaitlach based on the second (wrong) set of facts, saying that we know he was misinformed, and Rav Elyashev said to him basically that he's not the FBI (of course I'm paraphrasing here) and that if we know the facts to be different that what was presented ot him then of course we should follow what we know and not what he paskened.


When I was in 12th grade, there was a letter printed in the Jewish press from Rav Moshe recommending that people should attend a certain event. When we confronted out Rebbi, who was also our Menahel, about it (he prohibited us to go) he went to the Rosh Yeshiva (Rav Hutner) who called Rav Moshe who told him that he wrote that letter for a totally different event and someone (I know who but it doesn't matter ho he is) took it upon himself to decide that the letter also applies to the event in question, and so printed the letter without the permission of Rav Moshe. Rav Moshe did not recommend going to that event.


Rav Avigdor Miller (Q&A vol. 2) complains about a certain frum organization (it's obvious who he is referring to) who have a rabbinic group that they consult, but they ask their questions in a way that maximizes the chances of getting the answer they want, as opposed to the real opinion of their rabbonim. They first decide on a plan of action, then say something to the effect of  "We plan on doing such-and-such, is there a problem?" Add to that if they say they already made plans and set things up, and now they come and ask if they have to undo all their plans or if it is OK for them to continue. Of course, undoing what theyve done so far would involve a lot of time money and effort, and then there would be no other approach that they could take because by that time it would be too late to do anything, plus the "Baalei batim" would maybe not support any other approach, etc etc etc etc. Then The Rav may then say OK then do it. Obviously, that's a sneaky way to get the public to think that the Rav being asked actually thought what they are doing was what they לכתחילה should be doing.


It's quite simple: Someone can go to the Chofetz Chaim and ask him what to do with his milchige dish that he washed with a felishige sponge, and whwn he tells his wife the psak shell correct him: But it was a milchige sponge, not fleishg. Then the husband says "But I got a  psak from the chofetz chaim!" Do you think that in such a case there is any hava aminah that the wife should follow that "psak"? Or that the Chofetz Chaim should have first "investigated" to see if the sponge was in fact used for milchigs or felishigs?


It happens all the time. It's quite simple. Gedolim, poskim, rabbonim, can only base their decisions on facts presented to them. Like doctors. Or lawyers. Or anyone. 


There is nothing to do about that except to be educated on your own so that when a Godol seems to say something that does not make sense - such as Rav Moshe's "letter" about the above mentioned event - you'll start asking questions. You need to learn the Sugya if youre going to try to understand whats going on, as opposed to just following some Kol Koreh. Listening to a Kol Koreh without knowing anything about the topic is, at the very best, like knowing the Psak of the Kitzur Shuchan Aruch without knowing anything about the Sugya. You may misunderstand what it says, you may misapply it, or you may get it right - maybe. 


Rav Moshe stated many times that he did not intend his Igros Moshe to be used by people reading the last line alone. You need to read and understand the whole teshuva in order to understand it. otherwise, you may not correctly apply when where and to what his final psak applies.


When you find a statement of a Godol on a certain topic, if you are completely ignorant of the basic Halachah or Hashkafa surrounding the issue, if the Kol Koreh or letter or statement is all you know about the topic, you're very likely not going to understand what the Godol was really saying. See my article here about this. In short, it's about the "clear and explicit" letters that Gedolim such as Rav Chaim Kanievsky write apparently asking people to give Tzedaka to certain specific organizations, and if they do, they'll get some kind of Brachos.


Here's the rule: People who understand and issue based on Kol Korehs and statements of Gedolim are like people who start a Sugya with the Rav Shmuel Rozovskys without knowing the Gemora Rashi and Tosfos. Or like learning Halachah from a Kitzur without knowing the Gemora anf Shulchan Aruch. You're going to make mistakes. And youre going to misunderstand what the Kol Koreh says. And so, we have a Shulchan Aruch and Poskim telling us where our priorities in Tzadaka are, and Rav Chaim Kanievsky will not write any letters changing those priorities - signed documents notwithstanding. It is not going to happen. Clearly, whatever bounty Rav Chaim promised for people who give to whatever organizations he is writing about will also be granted to those who give to other euqally valid organizations. The inviolable, first-principle rule is: Jews follow shas and Poskim. No Godol is going to change that. 


And so I wrote a letter to Rav Chaim asking him if someone simply follows the Shulchan Aruch and gives to whatever Tzedaka he wants - not the one specificed by Rav Chaim's letters - will he get the same Brachos as if he gives to the organizaiton specified by Rav Chaim.


His answer: אין צריך לברכתי


So we know two things so far: (1) The accuracy of a Teshuva depends on the accuracy of the shailah. How many times have you seen two people ask the same Rav the same question - or a Rebbi or a teacher - and received two different answers. The reason is because the question was asked 2 different ways. You want to be sure that the person who asked the question is (a) reliable and ( b.) accurately knows all the facts about the issues being asked about


And (2) you need to know the basic issues - Halachah or Hashkafa - that are involved in order to properly understand what the Psak says; in order to recognize a Psak that needs further clarification,; and in order to recognize a Psak that does not make sense and therefore should be suspected of being a distortion. I remember about 15 or so years ago there were "very reliable sources" saying in the name of Rav Shach that as a response to the suicide bombings in Eretz Yisroel that were taking place then, people should all start Shabbos 10 minutes earlier that week. The entire thing from the content to the way ti was conveyed did not make sense to someone even remotely familiar. Of course, it turned out to be false. Another example is that silly Dibbuk story. 


Finally, the third thing to know (3) is what Shaya said above - and I cannot overemphasize this because this is usually the main reason people are confused: Do not get your information from blogs or Jewish websites or rumors in the street. Its not merely an issue of the consistent factual inaccuracies found in these places. It's also the spin, the agenda, and so many other factors involved. Anyone who gets their information from such blogs is דמו בראשו. He is handicapping himself from knowing what's really going on, and should not expect to know what anyone holds about anything. This is an important choice people must make. You can choose to live in the internet world of misinformation disinformation and distortions, but then don't expect to be anything except confused and disheartened when you acquire the false view that it's so hard to know what the truth is.


Now on to the protest, which is the issue being discussed.


(to be continued)

#7 Rabbi Shapiro

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Posted 16 June 2013 - 07:51 AM

Before we get to Kol Korehs and letters, we already have a Sugya. It makes no sense that this issue - when to make a Machaah and when not to - has not already been determined some time within the last 2,000 years, and that nobody ever addressed the topic until someone asked Rav Shteinman.


And the fact is, it ahs been addressed. Open a Mishna Brura - you don't have to go far. Siman Alef, Buri Halachah. Quote:

 ולא יתבייש וכו' - עיין במ"ב בשם הב"י. דע דהב"י לא איירי כ"א במצוה שהוא עושה לעצמו ובני אדם מלעיגים עליו אז בוודאי אין לו לחוש כלל ללעגם ולא יתקוטט עמהם אבל אם הוא עומד במקום שיש אפיקורסים המתקוממים על התורה ורוצים לעשות איזה תקנות בעניני העיר ועי"ז יעבירו את העם מרצון ה' ופתח בשלום ולא נשמעו דבריו בכגון זה לא דיבר הב"י מאומה ומצוה לשנאתם ולהתקוטט עמהם ולהפר עצתם בכל מה שיוכל ודהמע"ה אמר הלא משנאיך ד' אשנא ובתקוממיך אתקוטט תכלית שנאה שנאתים וגו':


Here's the rule: There are two types of Gezeiros against Klall Yisroel. One is where the Jews are in danger, such as with the Persians on Purim; the other is when the Jews are safe, but the Torah is in danger, such as with the Greeks on Chanukah. In response to the first type of Gezeirah we pray; in response to the second, we act.


On Purim, when the Jews were in danger we prayed; on Chanukah when the Torah was in danger, we pulled out the swords.


The reason for this is, Hashem protects the Jews. But the Jews - not Hashem - protect the Torah.


Hashem gave us the Torah as a Pikadon to safeguard and to uphold and to protect. And when I say "gave" I mean not only did He reveal its laws to us but He transferred to Torah to our possession.



 תלמוד בבלי מסכת ברכות דף ה/א 
בא וראה שלא כמדת הקדוש ברוך הוא מדת בשר ודם מדת בשר ודם אדם מוכר חפץ לחבירו מוכר עצב ולוקח שמח אבל הקדוש ברוך הוא אינו כן נתן להם תורה לישראל ושמח שנאמר כי לקח טוב נתתי לכם תורתי אל תעזובו 


This means that Hashem gave up the Torah when He gave it to Klall Yisroel. Kavyochol, He no longer possesses it; we do. Torah Lo Bashamayim Hi - He doesn't pasken shailos anymore after Matan Torah. The Torah is now ours. Hashem asks us to please protect and maintain the great gift He gave us. כי לקח טוב נתתי לכם תורתי אל תעזובו.


Therefore, while Hashem protests Klall Yisroel, Klall Yisroel are entrusted with protecting the Torah. It is up to us, not Hashem, to make sure the Torah does not get damaged. When the Jews are attacked, Hashem reacts; when the Torah is attacked, the Jews respond.


Hashem goes to war to fight for the Jews: רבת את ריבם דנם את דינם נקמת את נקמתם - 


The Jews go to war for the Torah: להשכיחם תורתיך ולהעבירם מחקי רצוניך


We fight for Hashem's battles and Hashem fights ours. That's the rule.


Therefore, when there is a Gezeirah of Shmad, when Jews are safe but the Torah is attacked, we act. We don't merely pray. It's not enough in such a case to turn to Hashem to protect His Torah; Hashem gave the Torah as a Pikadon to us. He relinquished His possession of it. We can't just go back to Hashem and ask Him to protect the Torah. he gave it is US. We accepted the responsibility to safeguard it. We need to show Him that we are willing to be Moser Nefesh to protect His Torah haKedoshah that he relies on us to protect. 


When there is physical danger to the Jews, such as a Gezieirah of להשמיד להרוג ולאבד, we turn to Hashem and ask Him to protect us. כי לא יטוש ה עמו But when there is danger to the Torah, Hashem expects us to protect it; not Him - תורתי אל תעזובו.


When someone fights against the Jews, Hashem protects us; when someone fights against Hashem, we fight them!




 ספר תהילים פרק קלט 
כא) הֲלוֹא מְשַׂנְאֶיךָ יְדֹוָד אֶשְׂנָא וּבִתְקוֹמְמֶיךָ אֶתְקוֹטָט



 That is the issue here. ובתקוממיך אתקוטט.


There is a Gezeira of Shmad. It is our job to rise up and fight against those who attack the Torah. Hashem expects that of us. 


Throughout history, you will find that pattern, not only regarding Chanukah and Purim, but all the way down to modern times. When they wanted to draft girls into the army, we protested - as hard and as strong as we could. Whenever you see Gedolim calling a protest it is only when there is an attack against the Torah. Never when there is an attack against Jews.


The Steipler wrote a letter saying that of course we should protest the deviant actions of the Zionists! And especially in Chutz LaAretz! Because the Israelis care more about the protests of Jews in Chutz LaAretz. The Steipler was not saying a chidush. He was following the Torah approach that we have followed for millenia. (see attached)


Now we have the Sugya. This is the starting point. To just look at Kol Korehs or letters from gedolim without knowing this is like reading the letters of Gedolim about those Tzedakah organizations without knowing Hilchos Tzedakah. It leads to confusion and disillusionment. To someone who knows Hilchos Tzedakah, those letters do not mean anything close to what they may seem to mean if taken at face value. So too with these letters of Rav Chaim about the protest. If you know the requisite background of the Sugya, you'll understand. if not, not.


(to be continued)

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#8 Rabbi Shapiro

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Posted 16 June 2013 - 09:24 AM

Meir Goldberg's question is that we have 2 contradictory reports of what Rav Chaim Kanievsky held about Sunday's protest, and I may add to the problem that both reports came from the same person, within 24 hours of each other.


Rav Eli Ber Wachtfogel asked Rav Chaim Kanievsky, through his son, about the protest and Rav Chaim said of course you should do it, and that it is proper to make machaos and do anything possible to prevent the draft gezeira. 


Then another letter from Rav Chaim's 2 sons (including the one who was on Rav Eli Ber's letter), written in response to a questioner who we have no idea who he is, saying that Rav Chaim says not to make Hafganos but rather to just learn and daven, since Rav Sthteinman holds that way. 


In both cases, we do not have the text of the question posed to Rav Chaim; just his answer, and an implied claim that the questioner was both aware of the facts and nature of this protest and presented that information accurately to Rav Chaim (and to Rav Shteinman).


Meir Goldberg is confused because here we have another example of the many cases we know of that a Rav was asked the same question by two different people and we receive two different answers. And we do. 


And as in all those other cases, the first thing we need to know is what exactly the question was that was asked. Unfortunately, we don't have that information and we have to therefore rely on the knowledge of the situation and reliability of the people who asked the question.


We also cannot accept any explanation of what Rav Chaim or what Rav Shteinman holds, that says in general cases such as our current one, we should not protest but rather learn. That is unacceptable because we know that the basic, undisputed Judaic Halachah and Hashkafa is not that way. Nobody will disagree with that (just as nobody is going to disagree with basic Hilchos tzedaka in the previously cited example)  In particular, Rav Chaim's father, the Steipler, said clearly that "without question" (ודאי) when there was an attempt to draft yeshiva students, everyone has an obligation to scream out in protest. There is no way Rav Chaim is going to say that in a shaas hashmad we should just pray - just as there is no way Rav Chaim would say that people should channel their Tzedaka to a certain place. We do not just rely on the last line of a Teshuva. You need ot know the Sugya; and the Sugya in this case says to scream.


This is why, in Rav Dovid Soloveitchik's letter saying that people should go protest, he states to the person who asked the question: "I am bewildered at what kind of doubts you can have about this." (אני מתפלא איזה ספיקות יש לו בזה). We have been doing this without any disagreement about it, throughout the generations. What exactly is the question here?


That leaves is with the issue of what exactly was asked to Rav Chaim? What facts were presented to him that led him to dictate his second ruling? And the same regarding his first ruling? Was there a discrepancy and if so, which facts were the accurate ones?


As I said, we do not have the text of what was asked to him. But this we know: The first question was asked by Rav Eli Ber Wachtfogel, who, besides being Rav Eli Ber Wachtfogel, also was intimately familiar with the details of what this protest was going to be - more so than almost anyone else on earth - he was one of the main organizers. We can very safely assume he presented the issue correctly.


On the other hand, we have no idea who asked Rav Chaim the second time, whether he knew what the protest was going to say, do, and be; and whether, if he did know, did he present the the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth. In other words, we have no idea what question was posed to Rav Chaim.


Add to this, the fact that there are many people with motive to present things to Rav Chaim in an inaccurate way - both those who perceived this protest a Neturei-Karta type anti-Israel, or even pro-Arab (see here) as well as those who perceived it as anti-Rav Shteinman.


We also know that there are those who perceived the protest as an extension of, or at the very least a confirmation of, the position of those who violated the honor of Rav Shteinman in the Yated-HaPeles issue. 


We also know that this bogus propaganda, that the protest was something against Rav Shteinman, led to American Jewish Frum news-sites on the internet portraying the protest as such, even disgustingly posting a picture of one lone nutcase who had a sign against Rav Shteinman as being representative of the protest in general. That's how far people were willing to go to present this protest as something it was not. In view of that, that someone would misrepresent it to Rav Chaim would not be unexpected in the slightest.


I also know that there was a threat made after Rav Eli Ber received that letter that if it gets out to the public, it will be presented to Rav Chaim as people attacking Rav Shteinman and Rav Chaim will be asked to defend Rav Shteinman's honor.


וכך הוה


The bottom line is this: Two people presented a situation to the same Rav got 2 different answers. One was Rav Eli Ber Wachtfogel, the other was an unknown person. We have no idea what was asked. To me the issue is simple, even without the factors such as the politics and the Steipler's letter, and the threat - not to mention the default Torah position of matters of Machaah. When you take into consideration all of that, what we should do is very clear.