Thursday, July 20, 2006

Rabbanim are NOT G-d

A signficant part of my chinuch involved the idea that Rabbanim are G-d's messengers. Does that mean that anyone with Smicha is a messenger? And doctors who "heal" are also messengers from G-d. My question is, how far must one go to believe in Rabbanim? How far do we have to take this undoubting, unwavering faith in our Rabbanim?

A few years ago, I saught Da'as Torah for a tough situation. He told me it would be resolved. Months later, it was, but in the complete opposite way that he had predicted. When I asked someone about this, she told me, "Well, the Rabbi is not G-d, and he isn't a Navi either." Understandable. Then a teacher in Seminary told me, "The Rav just did not have the Seyata DeShmaya for your Sha'ala." While this is a decent method of dealing with accepting that particular situation, it does not encourage me to seek Da'as Torah again.

I don't feel deceived by the Rabbi, because obviously he did not know better. Am I even allowed to say that about a Rabbi? But he was thoroughly mistaken on his analysis of the situation. I feel guilty saying something like that about a Rabbi. After all, we WERE taught that they are near-perfect figures.

A friend told me of her own experience seeking Da'as Torah about a situation. She had a choice in the matter, and did not take his advice. Will you call her an Apikores? Do you believe that she thinks she's "smarter" than this Rav? Certainly, we are the only ones who know our situations to the fullest extent. There are details that we might miss when describing the situation to the Rabbi, whatever.

Clearly, Halachic questions pertaining to Shabbos, Kashrus, Niddah, etc. should be asked. But personal things?

Many people, especially Ba'alei Teshiva express how they appreciate the presence of Da'as Torah, and that they no longer agonize over decisions. They have the Rabbanim make them for them. So, while that's really nice that they throw their whole selves into this, and have unwavering faith in these Rabbis, but is that a way to go?

Usually, in similar arguments,I say it's best to take a middle road. But how might one go about that here? Either as everything or nothing. Ask, but don't listen? Ask, and only listen if they said what you wanted to hear? Neither of these sound fair.

What are you experiences with Da'as Torah? Would you allow a Rabbi to dictate your personal (not spiritual or Halachic) life?


At 7/20/2006 1:40 PM, Blogger Orthoprax said...

"Many people, especially Ba'alei Teshiva express how they appreciate the presence of Da'as Torah, and that they no longer agonize over decisions. They have the Rabbanim make them for them."

Take responsiblity for your own actions. Saying that 'you were just following orders' is not an acceptable excuse.

"How far do we have to take this undoubting, unwavering faith in our Rabbanim?"

If you want an infallible Pope, be a Catholic. Rabbis are people too and don't gain superpowers because of smicha. 'Nuff said.

At 7/20/2006 6:46 PM, Anonymous Allie said...

I never thought I'd be one to fully rely on a Rav, but I have to admit that I have found what you might call the perfect Rabbi. Of course I don't ask him everytime I have to use the bathroom, if you know what I mean, but if I have any halachic question I will only listen to what he says as opposed to choosing which Rabbi's psak I like best. Regarding personal questions, if anything would come up that required a higher opinion, and of course if I felt comfortable discussing it, I would definitely ask this Rav. Unfortunately, I don't have respect for a lot of Rabbanim, because I feel that many of them don't deserve respect. (So maybe it's not really that unfortunate after all!) However, there are a select few out there that really are there to help you serve God in the correct way, and not there for their own egos. They are not afraid to say the truth even if it means being shunned and called controversial by those who think they matter.

Ortho - Actually, if you follow a Rabbi who fears God and truly know halacha (and is not in it for himself, as I mentioned above), then you really can say "you were just following orders." God commanded to find one Rav and follow him for everything, and if we do that we have the assurance that we won't be faulted for something said Rav told us to do, that might not really have been exactly how God wanted.
One more thing on the topic of choosing one Rav for everything - people are so quick to say that you can't go "heter shopping" and follow the heterim of various rabanim. Ok, so that seems a bit obvious. However, these same people fail to realize that you can't go "chumra shopping" either. Take a place like Lakewood, where everyone is so concerned with outdoing the next person in how stringent he is in halacha. When you think about it, that's really against human nature. It's not natural for people to constantly try to make their lives harder, and that isn't what Judaism is about either. All you end up with is a community of people who are doing every chumra but skipping half of the basic requirements. Simplistically, it's a building built high in the air with no foundation; heck, the first few floors are missing too! One day it's going to implode... It's scary, but that's how it is.

At 7/20/2006 6:47 PM, Blogger Isaac Kaplan said...

To add to Orthoprax's point, I'd like to add a line I saw in an article by Dr. Benzion Sorotzkin:

Harav Shach (Lulay Torascha, p. 242) states that in previous generations people didn't run to gedolim for advice and
berochos for every minor matter. The fact that many people do so today, said Rav Shach, is only because "they are too lazy
to think and daven for themselves." Perhaps I can add that they often don't sufficiently trust and/or value their own
thoughts and feelings.

At 7/20/2006 6:49 PM, Anonymous Allie said...

Sorry, I just reread the original post, and I guess I kind of got carried away and veered a liiitle off topic. But I still feel it was something that needed to be said.

At 7/20/2006 7:55 PM, Blogger Orthoprax said...


"Actually, if you follow a Rabbi who fears God and truly know halacha (and is not in it for himself, as I mentioned above), then you really can say "you were just following orders." God commanded to find one Rav and follow him for everything, and if we do that we have the assurance that we won't be faulted for something said Rav told us to do, that might not really have been exactly how God wanted."

I can't speak for God, but even if your Rabbi is an expert posek and has a heart of gold, if he gives you bad advice and you follow it, I will hold you responsible not your Rabbi.

I don't believe we were given free will in order to give up our decision making powers to another human being.

At 7/20/2006 8:24 PM, Anonymous potato lover said...

sadly, things have happened in my life that make me very leery, to say the least, of Rabbis. When I hear of a rabbi that makes a life altering psak for someone without hearing both sides of the story, alarm bells go off!!! how can this happen?

At 7/20/2006 11:53 PM, Blogger Sultan Knish said...

rabbonim cannot solve every particular problem, no human being can, moshe rabbeinu even couldn't since sometimes there were things he didn't know

a rabbi knows halacha, he can pasken what the halacha says on a particular issue, he can't predict the lottery or do anything beyond that

when it comes to problems beyond the purview of halacha he can only act as a counsellor based on his own skills and whatever additional assistance Hashem might give him, which Hashem may choose to give anyone

people begin to lose faith because they're taught nonesense instead of torah. we have no kohen gadol now with an urim ve'tumim, we have people. some good people, some who try hard to help. that in and of itself is a great thing. to the extent that we help each other, Hashem also helps us but there are never any certainities because we cannot know the mind and purposes of G-d

a rabbi can be a wise counsellor in a time of trouble, the right rabbi anyway, it doesn't mean he's infallible or that you should expect him to be no matter what's told to you in seminary

no one in this world is infallible but a wise counsellor is worth more than gold

At 7/21/2006 5:10 AM, Blogger exsemgirl said...

Emunas chachomim is a very deep and complex issue.
The basic rule is that one must trust in the answer that they got from their rav. Yet so often they seem to get it wrong. The simple answer is that we must have emuna. If we truely believe and trust in G-d then He will send the answers we need. And even if they appear to be incorrect, we see but a small part of the big picture and G-d never betrays our trust.

If anyone is interested in the subject the michtam eliyahu has a whole chapter discussing it.

At 7/21/2006 5:16 AM, Blogger almost_frei said...

Great post.
I think one has to understand the difference between a shelo (a question of halacha) and a eitza (advice.
With a shelo, u need to take a rov's answer period..
when askin an eitza, u only need to consider what a rov says.
Too many people confuse the two.. we are not obligated to ask a rov (or rebbe) everything we do.. but it's a good idea to seek their advice. Once we have thier opinion, we are free to do whatever we want...

At 7/21/2006 5:41 AM, Blogger Y.Y. said...

dont shove your personal misfortune on daas torah accept the bad and bless hashem and pray for the future
a yid is mechuyiv to consult daas torah whether it turns out in your favor or not somtimes it seems like it was the wrong decision while after a few years you see why it was destined to be this way and you appreciate it you cant understand hashems way all the time hashem knows the entire picture while you dont

At 7/21/2006 6:44 AM, Blogger Elster said...

On some level, it comes down to your understanding of Daas Torah, what it means and what it's role is. Do we understand Rabbonim to be perfect and incapable of mistakes? As far as I know there is only one perfect being and that is Hashem, not an earthly person.

Certainly, taking the advice of a Rav to heart, and carefully considering it, is very important. Blindly assuming that the words of a Rav will 100% come to fruition? That's an entirely different matter.

There is a story going around now that a Major Rav in Israel is blaming the War with Lebanon on aan upcoming Gay rights parade scheduled for Yerushalayim later this month. So based upon everyones understand ing of Daas Torah, to we automatically accept this cause and effect?

At 7/21/2006 7:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Da'as Torah is only important if you live by the belief that even decisions that fall outside the boundary of halacha still need to be made according to pseudo-halachic or community standards.

For example, I am going to graduate school in a field that has very few (or maybe no) frum Jews in it. If I asked a rabbi if I should pursue it, he'd probably say, no, go be a speech therapist or even a lawyer or something. But halachically there is absolutely nothing unkosher about this field, so if it makes me happy, why shouldn't I go for it?

The argument is, what sort of environment are you going to be in? Well, guess what, I have a friend who works in an all-female all-frum environment and it's awful in a number of ways.

At 7/21/2006 12:54 PM, Anonymous big bro said...

I think it is incumbent upon any Rav who provides advice (and even p'sak) that they either know the person well enough to give the advice that is appropriate for that person (or at least let the person know that it is something they should consider in taking the advice). People are complicated and it takes someone with the ability to read and understand people to give good advice that reflects daas torah. Even in p'sak - different people often will and should get a different p'sak from the same posek, depending on their level of observance, it may make more sense when talking to certain people to rely on a particular leniency or minority opinion for various reasons relating to personalities and situations.

I admit this may not be an issue when it comes to whether a chicken is kosher or not.

At 7/22/2006 10:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Best advice I ever had on this was from an aunt (or maybe it was a cousin, or then again maybe the mom of one of my friends) who used to say, "If he really knows so much why is he a rabbi?"

That's an exaggeration of course. But for the most part I've found it to be true. I just can't understand this whole Daas Torah business.
Some Rabbis might be excellent pastoral counselors, and some might be knowledgeable on specific matters. Too many of them though are in way over their heads when they deal with issues that involve something other than questions of halacha.

Another anon

At 7/23/2006 6:41 AM, Blogger sicko said...

Daas Torah was invented in the early 1980's

At 7/23/2006 4:18 PM, Blogger Michelle said...

allie-don't worry about it. Great points.

Ortho-Yeah, we know that Rabbis are human, but I believe the ultra-hareidim forget that.

This whole asking Da'as Torah reminds me of something that happens all the time. I seek advice from my teachers regarding particular life situations. I thought and thought about how to deal with a girl who had been bothering me for years. When I called my teachers, I expected some miracle formula. Something I hadn't thought of myself. But when they say things I've thought of, I remember that this is reality. There is no magic answer. people want a magic answer. They think a Rabbi gives it to them. They are misled, but that's what they believe. Ortho, Allie and Ike (and others)are right. People don't wanna think for themselves.

At 7/23/2006 5:00 PM, Blogger Orthoprax said...

"Yeah, we know that Rabbis are human, but I believe the ultra-hareidim forget that."

That's the least of what they "forget."

At 7/24/2006 2:09 PM, Blogger FRUM_RAID said...


Another great post. I almost missed this one because my Rabbi told me to stop reading blogs. :)

I decided to wait a few days to weigh on this issue. Here is my take.

Allie, you are wrong. You can never say I was just following orders and I will prove it to you. The entire Dor Hamidbar was wiped out for following the spies sent into Israel. Who were the spies? They were the leaders of their respective tribes. The Das Torah of their tribe. Yet, the individual people were held accountable. Why could they not have used the excuse we followed our leaders? Also, please check with your Rabbi whether he/she thinks it is a good idea to bash Lakewood. I would think if you did you would retract your insulting comments.

Orthoprax, right on! We have no Holy See. People deal with it.

Y.Y., Which mitzvah makes a yid mechuyiv to seek das torah? A person should be able to judge for themselves what to do. Das torah can be a guide but ultimetly a person must make the decision on their own.
We have to find a Rabbi for ourselves but that is to help us become people who will mature and know how to decide things on our own.

There are good Rabbis and there are bad ones and we must find good ones to guide us. The spiritual journey we undertake is our own.

When you say ultra-hareidim do you mean hasidim or yeshivish? I find it funny that the Yeshivish world treats their rosh Yeshiva like the hasidic rabbis of old. The Gr"a must be turning over in his grave.

At 7/24/2006 2:10 PM, Blogger FRUM_RAID said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 7/24/2006 3:47 PM, Blogger JBL the first said...

Well there are certainly times when things look wrong but in the long run they turn out great. (I have just the story in mind but I'll wait till I have more time.)

For now I can say just this;

1. Of course Rabbis aren't G-d but they can help alot. Talking with someone about a problem and opening up about it is the beginning of the solution itself. Beside they are usually wiser and more ehrlich than most usual people to share secrets with and to get advice from.

2. The gemorrah says "Al tiyi birchos hedyot kalleh beaynecha" so there is something which a brocho can help. If a brocho has a chance of success from simple people. It certainly has a much greater chance from a rav who is busy learning and doing mitzvos most of the day.

At 7/24/2006 4:26 PM, Blogger Y.Y. said...

shal uvecha v'yagedcha
parshas hazinu

At 7/24/2006 6:51 PM, Blogger workingema said...

michelle- Like you said- Rabbanim are human. They cannot be blamed for wrong advice if they do not necessarily know every detail of a situation, and if they do, perhaps they don't know how important certain things are over others, to that particular person.

but, if you had been told that something will work out- and it did, even if it was in a total opposite way- so what? it worked out, didn't it?

A Rav tells you what he can- and Hashem is the One Who puts those words into the Rav's mouth.

You were meant to hear those words- whether they were correct or not.

At 7/24/2006 7:26 PM, Anonymous Allie said...

I may have come across a little strong in my post, but I assure you my Rabbi doesn't have a big problem with bashing Lakewood. I'm not one of those people that go around cursing out Lakewood all the time, but sometimes there are certain things that need to be said.
Back to the topic at hand - to everyone who commented on the difference between asking a halachic opinion and a personal question, you are 100% right. You can't discuss something with a Rav and then not rethink it through for yourself. And I definitely agree that sometimes when you speak to a Rav or teacher, you realize that they have nothing new to say and there is no magic answer.
Regarding Halacha, however, you should fully rely on one Rav, regardless of your personal opinion. Too many peope think they're Rabbis and qualified to make a psak, just because they went to Yeshiva like everyone else. The Mishna Brura is a great halachic reference, but the average joe should not be using it to answer his own shaalos.

At 7/24/2006 7:57 PM, Blogger anonym00kie said...

im a BT and ive never wanted to hand over the decision making process to anyone, and maybe some do, but i find that hard to beleive, its so contrary to the way we were raised.. i think the thing about bt's is that we really dont have daas torah instincts like you may have and so we need a lot more guidance if we want to take into consideration torah opinions into our decision making. i know personally i cant imagine being told what to do, but my rabbi(s) have been brilliant in showing me the missing link over and over again - and that helps me make my own decisions.

At 7/25/2006 7:55 AM, Anonymous Shlomo said...

Daas Torah does not exist. It is a post war concept invented to maintain power over the masses.

See the writings of Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, in partuicular in his book "One Nation" and hear the words of R A Rakeffet of YU kolel. His drosha concerning the subject is at:

The fact is that rabbinical ordination does not qualify people as counsellors. To be honest, it often doen't even qualify them as rabbis - knowledge is often gained in specific fields which may not relate to issues later paskened upon.

Add this to the fact that, particularly in the Chasidishe world, ordination is often honorary. Many families add "Rav" after the chasseneh as automatically as they do "Mrs". A lot of the time it i just a way of saying someone comes from rabbinical or wealthy stock.

But no, you should not allow the bluffers of the 21st century to convince you that religious authority is all pervasive. Leave them to pasken chickens, niddah stains etc. Do not rely on the for common sense.

Following this advice will save disillusionment...


At 7/25/2006 8:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

dear shlomo,

i'm surprised that you would make a blanket statement such as "Daas Torah does not exist." even if you are referring to those that respond to the "aitzos" of the 21st century.
not everyone with smicha will give the best-correct advice to their clientele -- but that does not void the concept of emunas chachomin or daas torah or mean that one should disregard "the common sense" of a halachik authority for advice, not a psak, but for mentoring.

to the other commentators, food for thought:
in terms of halachic authority -- check out devarim 17.11 (in discussing the establishment of batei din and sanhedrin) "lo tasur min hadavar asher yagidu yamin u'smol" [don't deviate from the thing that they will tell you, to the left or right] rashi: afilu o'mer lecha yamin she'hu smol v'al smol she'hu yamin.." [even if they tell you left is right and right is left]

At 7/26/2006 3:11 AM, Anonymous Shlomo said...

The pesukim quoted relate to the Snahedrin and Beis Din HaGodol, neither of which exist. The verses are therefore not relevant. Please do not quote the invented baloney that modern ra-bonim replace the sages of old. There is not even true semicha in existence today.

Emunas chachomim remains a value, but let us be clear of its boundaries. Religious authority and not ruach hakodesh or counselling.

The "mentoring" culture which has developed is the cause of much inept advice being dispenses and, worse still, followed...

At 7/26/2006 1:29 PM, Anonymous Something! Anything! :-) said...

The conversation taking place over here touches on many of the same central themes as the discussion over at cross-currents. Feel free to take a look.

At 7/27/2006 3:34 PM, Blogger Tuvya said...

From my blogs response to UOJ.

3) Are Gedollim infallible? —Unlike Christianity, Judaism does not believe in papal infallibitiy. Our leaders can and do make mistakes. Yet, Klal yisroel has only survived through all the ages based on the advice of those steeped in Torah. It is a central tenet that those who immerse themselves in G-ds word have an undiluted view of current issues and are best able to advise. These leaders have and continue to seek counsel from professionals in various areas, where necessary. Can they make mistakes? Yes. This system, however, is the best that we have and one that G-d wants us to utilize. I can cite many examples for this, but will choose one from the current period of "The Three Weeks." The Gemorra tells us (Gittin 57, I believe) that when the Romans laid siege to Jerusalem it was the “gedolim” who were calling the shots. Rav Yochanan Ben Zakai was consulted regarding how to deal with issues of the day. It was those who knew better (the biryonim) who were zealots and ended up causing calamity and destruction.

At 7/27/2006 3:51 PM, Blogger Orthoprax said...


"It is a central tenet that those who immerse themselves in G-ds word have an undiluted view of current issues and are best able to advise."

Generally it's a good idea to seek the advice of smart people when you're in tricky situations. And generally, or at least ideally, only the smartest people can attain the intellectual acuity to gain the status of a godol.

Therefore, is a given godol a good source for advice because he's so steeped in Torah or is it simply because he's a smart guy?


At 7/28/2006 1:03 PM, Anonymous Shmuel said...

Tuvyah inspired an entire conversation about daas torah on the uoj blog.

At 7/28/2006 1:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking about the tree weeks have you forgotten about the Gedolim who refused to let the Roman Emperor's animal because it had a "Mum". Their decision is criticized as wrong!

What is wrong with the system is the fact that everyone who sits and learns for 10+ years is an instand godol.

People chosse a Rav follow him and watch out for the fakers and ignorant!

At 7/30/2006 10:11 AM, Blogger Michelle said...

The thing is, making assumptions about Rabbanim can be extremely dangerous. I would feel terrible if I said that someone was a faker and I turn out to be wrong. If someone has Smicha, and a significant following, I'd be bad to say he's a faker.

Rabbanim certainly aren't perfect, but they are supposed to set a example for us. Supposed to be leaders. If we look down on them and diss them 24/7, what do we have left?

At 7/30/2006 10:49 AM, Blogger Semgirl said...

Michelle, Daas Torah is important, and you like need to ask Shailos about Kasrus or Nidda issues, IY"H by you. But use your judgement, girl. Dont be a programmed robot. I cant begin to tell you how many times I got burned, by blindly following supposedly well-meaning Rabbis.

At 7/30/2006 10:50 PM, Blogger Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof said...

When you need to fix a pipe do you call a mechanic or a plumber?
My point is that going to a Rabbi for everything in ones life is absurd.
A)One should go when they have A halchic question that their knoweldge can;t sufficiently answer.
B)Most people need someone to listen to them and can work the problem out on their own rather than need advice. So maybe calling a confidant is more appropriate. However a Rabbi may be a person's confidant.
C)Rabbi's are NOT G-d. They do err, if they didn't then why would there be a whole section in Vayikra about what if Besi Din errs, or if something was unknown to them and later became known, what to do. Why is there an entire Mesechta in Nezikin called Horayot which deals with what if Beis Din Errs? The answer is because people do make mistakes. No one ever said a Rabbi is G-d. Heaven Forbid.
D)Some people can't say I don't know, and will say whatever they believe is appropriate without having true knowledge.
E) Having knoweldge of Halchah does not make you knowledgable in Hashkafa or in emotional or even certain spiritual matters, it qulaifies one to rule Halachically Hashkafah CAN'T BE LEGISLATED. Meaning if a Rabbi says I prfer not to do X,Y or Z but it is within the realm of Halchic permisability then one is not obligated to follow the Rabbi's Hashkafa as he may have personal stringencies NOT meant for everyone.
F) Judaism is not dogmatic by definition. Read the Mishnah,the Gemara, Rishonim and Achronim and so on you will find many people who disagree on many points of Homily,Hashkafah,and dare I say even Halachah. Judaism is not dogmatic and people need to be reminded of that.

At 8/17/2006 10:39 AM, Anonymous Just one thing... said...

frum_raid- That is incorrect. The dor hamidbar asked to be allowed to send in spies. IIRC when they heard the spies report, they cried out and didn't want to enter the land. It was everybodies sin. So you can't bring a proof from there... If you ask a rav a HALACHIC sheilah (not an eitzah) I am pretty sure you can not be held responsible if you follow what your rav said.


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