Friday, May 06, 2005

A Ta'anah

A comment to one of my Purim posts:

At 3:44 AM, Litvak said…

"R' Tzadok brings that the first time a concept is mentioned in the Torah is theshoresh of that inyan."

I think I saw that in the name of the GR"A. Actually, it may be much older than that.

How about citing and utilizing some more non-Hassidic machshovah sources - e.g. from Yekkes, as per that part of your background, or Litvaks, for example ? Hassidim don't have a monopoly on deep machshovah or even kabboloh.

I am surprised when I see non-Hassidic people so into Hassidic machshovah, always mentioning Reb Zodok, etc., and one hears no (or almost no) mention from them of all the many writings of the GR"A in such areas for example, or other non-Hassidic gedolim. Do they think there was no machshovoh before Hassidism ??

I suspect that this comes about because so many Litvaks/Non-Hassidim today are weak in machshovoh (that may be overstating it). That is deplorable. So non-Hassidim interested in such often get hooked up with Hassidic types to learn more in that area. But, for a mature talmid chochomim, who can learn from seforim, and can therefore peruse great non-Hassidic machshovoh works, what is the excuse for ignoring them ? Also, there are some Litvishe/non-Hassidic baalei machshovoh as well - you just have to look harder for them.


  1. The ta'anah is a fair one.

    But it is difficult to see how the clock can be turned back. The fact is that when great thinkers in the Litvishe yeshiva world sought "Machashovoh" they found in the world of Chassidus.

    Perhaps this has something to do with the rather mystifying eighty-some-odd year gap between the Nefesh HaChaim and the next faint stirrings of interest in Machashovoh in the Litvishe world. The fact is that great thinkers from R' Yosef Leib Bloch, who turned to the Tanya (albeit to the Leshem as well) to Rav Dessler and Rav Hutner, who turned to Reb Tzadok (although both made extensive use of Maharal - but so does Reb Tzadok, if not always b'feirush) to the Ohr Gedalyahu (who reached out to bring in other Gedolei HaChassidus, particularly the Sefas Emes) and ylct"a R' Shlomo Fisher (who is holding in everything) all base their Machashovoh writings on Chassidus to a very large, actually dominant, extent.

    As Reb Moshe Weinberger wrote in his "Jewish Action" essay on Reb Tzadok:

    The fateful day in lzhbitza would in time prove to have been a remarkable meeting of the sage and the prophet, the Vilna Gaon and the Baal Shem Tov, within the "Kohen" himself. All of Rav Zaddok's (post-lzhbitza) writings must be understood in light of this encounter. It is only then that we can truly appreciate the historic role played by Rav Zaddok in the progressive revelation of G-d's will in these days preceding the final Redemption.

    Indeed, if you ignore the Hotzo'as Zera l'Battalah shticklach in Reb Tzadok, you have a Machashovoh that both synthesizes and transcends the peculiaristic and specific schools of Chassidus and Misnagdus.

  2. I thank R. YGB for addressing my taana and for conceding that "The ta'anah is a fair one". Now I have a better understanding of where he and others like him are coming from. I am still not satisfied though, however.

    R. YGB says that it's difficult to see how the clock could be turned back. I think that it could be done, even if it might be somewhat more difficult. Just like certain teachings of the Maharal were only popularized many years - or even centuries - after he was niftar, so too could teachings of the GRA and others non-Hassidic machshovoh masters be put on the front burner now. Ein dovor omeid bifnei harotzon.

    Rav Yosef Leib Bloch's utilization of the Tanya was a brief exception to the rule - even in Telshe. Ditto re R. Dessler who grew up in a Lubavitch environment. Rav Hutner was partly Hassidic (on his mother's side), and came from the Hassidic stronghold of Warsaw, so it's no surprise that he was influenced by his neighbors. Rav Gedalia Schorr (Ohr Gedalyohu) was of a total Hassidic background from both his parents. He cannot be considered a Litvak by any means, even if he learned briefly in Kletzk for about a year, while on a break from the Hassidic leaning Yeshiva Torah Vodaas.

    Maybe in the eyes of Hassidim like R. Weinberger, R. Zodok was a part Litvak, but in my eyes he is a Hassid (by the way do you have any comments on Professor Alan Brill's book on Reb Zodok ?).

    Finally, re the eighty year gap you mention - I must give it more thought. However, I suspect that if it existed, it was not a total cessation of activity in that area, rather, if anything, more like a temporary slowdown. You must realize that olam haTorah of Lita was more than just a few famous Yeshivas. At that time there were still great Rabbonim, magiddim, people learning in beis midrash. The Yeshiva movemement was still not that big.

    Also, one must distinguish between the derech of the GR"A (which I think is the real Litvish way-to have broad yedius in various chelkei Torah rather than just some 'lomdus' in a few blatt of Yeshivishe mesechtos) and the derech in some so-called Litvishe Yeshivas. Some of the latter have lost their way, IMHO, and have deviated from the authentic way of Lita in the good ol days.

  3. Actually, the more I consider Litvak's ta'anah, the more I tend to disagree. What inherent restriction limits one to one's forbear's derachim or machashavah?

    There is no reason why a Yekke should not find Reb Tzadok speaks to his heart - just as there should be no reason why a Chosid should not find that RSRHirsch speaks to his.

    I could agree that it may be worthwhile to arouse interest in the Gra - but not because of "heritage" issues, but rather because the Gra was the Gra.

    But I really would like to see your take on the eighty-year gap. The fact is that even the Rabbonim beyond the yeshiva world and the Maggidim darshened al pi derush, not al pi remez.

    As to Dr. Brill's book, I found it very hard to stomach. It denuded Reb Tzadok of the Yiras Shomayim that is an inseparable part of the ambience and of the study of his work.

  4. Tayerer R. YGB -

    I am not advocating an absolute restriction to the derech of one's forebears or kehillah/roots (although perhaps a case could be made for such, at least in some cases). What I am advocating is that they should have a preference - they should have kedima. If someone learned the Torah and derochim of his background and then went on to explore other derochim, I can understand that. What bothers me is when some people skip baalei machshovoh or halocho from their own roots/edah and go straight to others. That might be because some such other school seems popular at the time and/or is more easily accessible. Just like there is a chiyuv of al titosh toras imecho - to stick to ancestral minhogim - I would suggest that there might be a similar inyan to study and hew to the Torah of one's ancestors/edah, at least initially. That might even include things such as derech halimud and machshovoh. I know that people think of al titosh only in terms of halocho and minhog, but, al pi sevoro, why couldn't it apply to the other areas I suggest above as well ? I know that such a position might not be wildly popular in our age, when, as a result of the influence of the western stress on 'freedom', people feel alot freer than in the past to adopt new derochim and abandon their ancestral ways. Nevertheless I will bring it up anyway for consideration. :)

    People could easily get around this by saying that they were exposed to some of Rav Hirsch or the GR"A, e.g., in high school. for example. I would be reluctant to consider such fleeting exposure at a young age as fulfilling my proposed requirement of 'look in your own backyard first'. Moshol limah hadavar domeh - if x looks in his own backyard first by scratching the surface to a depth of 1/2", while in the other guy's backyward he exacavates to a depth of six feet and finds more of what he seeks, and therefore concludes that his own roots have nothing for him compared to the other yard. Is that a fair test ? Certainly not. Maybe if he would have dug 6' in his yard, he would have found alot more.

    Re an 'eighty year gap' - I still have to think more about it, so am not commenting further at this time.

  5. I agree that High School exposure is meaningless - and often detrimental.

    For myself I would like to note for the record that while I learn and teach much Chassidus, my core role model is R' Avraham Elya Kaplan, an amalgamation of Lita and Ashkenaz, much as I am half-Yekke half-Litvak. And, I have written on Dr. Isaac Breuer and Dr. Nathan Birnbaum, who I hold in high esteem on the one hand; and have dabbled extensively in Shiurei Daas and Telzer lore (my Lithuanian side is Telshe born and bred) on the other.

    However, I still stick to my point: "L'olam al yilmad adam elah b'makom she'libo chafetz" - that makom need not be, cannot and should not be, pre-determined.

    And, to take it a step further, have not consolidations and redirections taken place throughout Jewish History? No Jew inhabited Lita until the late Middle-Ages - yet the Lithuanian derech is most certainly not the German derech (from which direction the Lithuanians got there). To take another example, the Hungarians were not hooked on the Chasam Sofer before the Chasam Sofer arrived, and ever since they are fixed on him.

    Perhaps what we are seeing is the development of a new derech - "the melting pot" derech of the new EY and USA?

  6. the problem with the melting pot derech is that it's the predominant one. I believe r dessler said that in our generation, we need to use all the derachim we have available, and the current educational system reflects this. most people grow to adulthood with a hodgepodge of ideas from different sources, many of which are at root contradictory. a bit of "halacha determines morality and reality" approach, a bit of chassidus, a bit of mussar, etc, but all of it blending in a fairly incoherent mishmash. I don't buy the toras imecha argument, perse, but I envy the purity of those who were raised in an atmosphere in which one school of thought was predominant, and who only came to alternate derachim later. I think that it's preferable to turn to alternate approaches only after being steeped in one coherent derech, and that is pretty much off the table nowadays what with so many litvishce borrowing so liberally from others. It takes great effort to prune ones attitudes and examine premises of so many ideas that one has absorbed because they are just sort of floating around - I think it's far better to begin with one basic school of thought, and treat others as icing.

  7. I am not sure how I feel about the comment of anonymous at 5:55 am. For it is perhaps essential to distinguish between the yechidei segukah and the hamon am. For the yechidim, they will anyway transcend the melting pot and attain clarity (hopefully!). As for the hamon am, OTOH, isn't the melting pot best for them?

  8. Wow - I was pleasantly surprised to read the comments of 5:55 anonymous.

    I thank him for reminding me of something that has bothered me that I didn't raise earlier. Namely that some of the pieces of the hodgepodge/chulent/melting pot/whatever you want to call it approach of today is that various parts contradict each other, but few seem to realize this and/or care. Maybe because they didn't think too deeply into it.

    It's like certain Breslov things like 'mitzvah gedola lihiyos besimcha tamid' having become almost universal recently, when even a great Chassidishe Rebbe like R. Aharon of Karlin stated that there is no mitzvoh to be besimcha (but it can bring one to the greatest mitzvos...). Breslov was (and still is to some) something very controversial - even or perhaps especially by other Chassidim - but today one hears little about it and people can think it is universally accepted. I suspect that is due to the influence of the general zeitgeist in the western world today of accepting everything. So in the religious world that translates into not opposing other derochim actively and openly like in the past.

  9. "For the yechidim, they will anyway transcend the melting pot and attain clarity (hopefully!). As for the hamon am, OTOH, isn't the melting pot best for them?"

    Nothing like the current system ever existed - our greats were basically raised in one derech, and added other perspectives later. I think the yechidim will attain more clarity if they come to other perspectives later. I am fairly sure that one reason our current yeshiva system, for all the emphasis on learning only, seems to be producing fewer "gedolim" is the hodgepodge of ideas that almost everyone is exposed to from a young age.
    The hamon am is the group most negatively affected! Many don't evaluate the source of many of their ideas. Very few people can really uproot ideas they picked up from the general environment and examine from first principles - that's something that requires a lot of deliberation and even then, it's hard to do completely. And it makes it harder to add perspective as an adult, if you are busy unraveling "Alien" hashkofas - adulthood is really the time to add perspective.

    I don't think it's good that the general environment in the nonchassidic world has so much intrusion from essentially alien sources at the same time that some of the basics reject those sources. I think ideas from different derachim need to be more clearly labeled as such.

  10. No hamon am like the current hamon ever existed either. On the one hand, they are far more Torah-sophisticated, and OTOH far more World-sophisticated than any preceding generation. That is doubtless why Rav Dessler felt that the melting-pot approach is necessary.

  11. I think the "melting pot" approach would work. IF:

    1- If people actually realized what they were doing and tried to construct a mehaleikh. I agree with the observation that most people hold conflicting views and don't even realize there's a question to be answered. Whether HQBH is Immanent or Transcendent, whether the role of mitzvos is to lead one to deveiqus or temimus, etc... These all have answers that allow the "chulent" to persist, but to not even know there's a question?

    2- People didn't settle for the unsophisticated views they were taught as school children. Tzadiq vera lo. You can't simply believe that mitzvos lead to a happier life, and not address the fact that tzaddiqim don't have lives particularly more carefree than the rest of us.

    What's the baal teshuvah to do with her beliefs while sitting shiv'ah for her daughter; meanwhile her intermarried sister just got a new job and is on her way to a career? How does this fit the oversimplified pablum that she was taught while becoming frum? How is her emunah equipped to weather real life? And how can we fault her when the rav who taught her has a worldview that isn't particularly more sophisticated? Does he really have the tools to deal with life -- or would he, when facing ch"v a similar tragedy simply continue to be frum because that's the culture he knows?

  12. look around you. it sure aint working. our generation may be learning and committed to mitzvos, but it is extremely confused hashkafically. in fact, many will accept "hashkafa" that outright contradicts meforash ma'amrei chazal, so long as it's dressed up as mussar.

    "On the one hand, they are far more Torah-sophisticated"
    There were many people in the past who just had gone to cheder. OTOH, Compared to people who were considered even moderately learned in the past, a "good" yeshiva graduate is *vastly* less knowledgeable in basic material, and has no sense of history. There is much LESS torah knowledge among people who consider themselves educated.

    As well, the hamon in the past was educated profoundly in one derech, regardless of formal knowledge.

  13. I think we need to distinguish between Hashkafah and Machashavah.

  14. how do you distinguish?

  15. Machashavah is specifically the profound understanding of Tanach and Chazal in and of themselves. Hashkafah is the subsequent stringing together of several understandings (either inductively or deductively) to produce a weltanschaaung.

  16. Distinction must be made between:

    1. Deios
    2. Machashavah
    3. Hashkofos

    Deios are certainly subject to psak; they include Ikkarei Emunah and certain allied areas.

    Machashavah is specifically the profound understanding of Tanach and Chazal in and of themselves. I am not sure psak is relevant to this area - although there are certainly "right" and "wrong" approaches.

    Hashkafah is the subsequent stringing together of several understandings (either inductively or deductively) to produce a weltanschaaung. It is here that we find many darchei avodah, which can be right or wrong "for me" yet legitimate as one of the many panim la'Torah.

    When RSZA stated that his advice that I go to Baltimore and to college rather than stay in EY and learn was a "psak," he taught that certain life decisions that relate to halachos (such as kibbud av va'em OTOH and Talmud Torah OTOH) are also deios.


  17. "Hashkafah is the subsequent stringing together of several understandings (either inductively or deductively) to produce a weltanschaaung. It is here that we find many darchei avodah, which can be right or wrong "for me" yet legitimate as one of the many panim la'Torah."

    you find differences in machshava too, and sometimes what you call deyos (If I understand the definition correctly) based on "darchei avoda" also.
    The problem is with stringing together machshava (and prob. deyos too) from different approaches.

    The different "darchei avoda" that you speak of don't spring up out of wholecloth, they arise from different approaches.

    If the building blocks come from a consistent approach, the resulting weltanschauung will be coherent.

    What tends to happen is that people get lower order information or building blocks from different approaches, *and* read or hear hashkafa from different weltanschauungen, and just land up with a big mess.

  18. "When RSZA stated that his advice that I go to Baltimore and to college rather than stay in EY and learn was a "psak," he taught that certain life decisions that relate to halachos (such as kibbud av va'em OTOH and Talmud Torah OTOH) are also deios."

    Was this formulation ("Deyos") RSZA's? Did he call this "Deya"? Or did he just say that the decision was a matter of halacha, not choice or hashkafa?

  19. RSZA did not say it was a matter of deios. He merely stated (and reiterated) that it was a psak.

  20. iow, it wasn't deyos, it was hilchos talmud torah or hilchos kibud av v'em, as the case may be. the deyos would at best relate to thinking college is permissible. someone else might view college as ossur (and classify that however they like) and disagree. what am i missing?

  21. if someone thought college was ossur and paskened differently, that would seem to be an example of this:

    "you find differences in machshava too, and sometimes what you call deyos (If I understand the definition correctly) based on "darchei avoda" also."

    Yet you write:

    "It is here that we find many darchei avodah, which can be right or wrong "for me" yet legitimate as one of the many panim la'Torah."

  22. Perhaps I was unclear. I did not come in wanting to go to college and asking if it was permitted. I came in wanting not to go to college and was told I must go anyway.

  23. what relevance does that have? my point is that if a person thinks college is ossur, then the issues of kibud av v'em etc don't arise. If someone thinks college is mutar, the question is not one of deyos, but straightforward halacha. So this is a fine example of where machshava/hashkafa impacts halacha, not of deyos vs supra-categories.

  24. I disagree. College is not like, say, sturgeon, where there is a machlokes as to whether it is kosher or not. It is not objective; it is subjective. One therefore would expect it to be a matter of eitzah, not one of psak.

    The same thing is true of the Kibbud Av va'Em/Talmud Torah nexus. Were RSZA to render psak on the basis of Shulchan Aruch "vee shteit," he would have had to render the exact opposite psak, since the halachah is that you are not required to pursue your parents directives when TT is at stake. Clearly, RSZA took the case subjectively, as opposed to objectively, and for reasons having to do with the impact of life choices not only advised, but again, paskened hefech ha'halachah ha'pesukah.

    Hashkafah played no role here.
    Machashavah did not either.
    Why Dei'os?
    Because subjective psak is based on Dei'os, as we learnt in Berachos: כשם שאין פרצופותיהן שוין זה לזה, כך אין דעתן שוה, אלא כל אחד ואחד יש לו דעה בפני עצמו

  25. I think it grossly incorrect to assert that there is a dearth of baaleit machshava in the tradition of the Gra. There is dearth of great baalei machshava, period. Few, if any, sforim on machshava written by chassidim compare with what Rav Dovid Cohen (from Chevron) wrote over the past couple of years.

    I suggest anyone who has any doubts as to the perpetuation of geniune Torah thoughts should peruse his sforim. You have only to gain.

  26. I am not familiar with Rabbi Cohen's seforim. What are they on, what are they called and are they available in Chu"l?

  27. Try Yimei Chanuka . . .it should be available in chu"l.