I don't know if it this really happened as reported: Geulah Perspectives, who first reported it, took down the blogpost in the meantime, while he does some more research to substantiate it -- since it attracted a lot of attention, has the potential to possibly embarrass Rav Kanievsky if it does not come to pass. I saved a copy of it and posted it as if it happened in 2005 (though it happened in 2008), in order to be able to discuss it at more length. It is thus available here. Even if it happened, I would not describe all this as a "psak" but rather as an "eitzah," some good advice.
Let us assume, for the purpose of discussing this, that Rav Kanievsky actually did say this. It then seems to me that there Lewis' trilemma applies -- Lord, Liar, Lunatic. I will modify it afterwards, but just to cast it in these terms:
- Lord: Rav Kanievsky is a gadol baTorah, and thus has some level of ruach hakodesh. He thus is somehow tapped into something On High, and knows something will occur by Chanukkah. (Or someone in government, whom he trusts, confided this to him.)
- Liar: He is just pulling this out of his black hat to mess with people, and didn't think this would get out. And this will then blow up in his face.
- Lunatic: He is not really receiving messages from On High, but he thinks he is. And this will then perhaps degrade his stature if Chanukkah passes without incident.
I don't think so.
According to the DSM IV, used to perform diagnoses of psychological issues, a belief cannot be labelled a delusion if the person's culture or subculture maintains this. This has recently been problematic, as reported by Slashdot, and the New York Times, because a bunch of folks with mond-control delusions have formed a community on the Web. Of course, the excluding factor there should be that the culture is one which specifically grew up around, and because of, the delusion. But it is still problematic, and I wonder if that was what David Malki was thinking of when he recently produced this WonderMark comic strip, reproduced below:
Now, this exclusion is important, and true in many cases. For example, it is what prevents a psychologist from calling me delusional based on a belief in Torah MiSinai. Or for that matter, any religious belief.
I think we then have to modify Lewis' trilemma, above, in terms of redefining this "lunacy." Because it is not lunacy if it is part of your culture.
Is this part of Rav Kanievsky's culture? I think it very well might be. Thus, I have a number of different beliefs from him, because he is chareidi. And chareidim are wonderful, and there are a number of wonderful aspects to chareidi Judaism and culture. But there are aspects which I think are not the optimal way of living Jewishly -- or else I would be practicing differently. I disagree with the idea of certain modern-day rabbis confidently explaining to us why certain tragedies occurred. And the dismissal of the importance of knowing about Hashem's creation -- science -- has led in some cases to some chareidim seeking fortunetellers and women who cast lead. I could go on, but I won't.
The question, to my mind, is whether Rav Kanievsky is leading here or being led. There is nothing wrong with even a gadol being led, sometimes. He is a human being, embedded in a particular culture, in a particular society, and certain things make perfect sense in that particular environment. During Shabtai Tzvi's time, many great and holy rabbis fell for that nonsense, and it makes sense once we truly understand the culture at that time and that place. And as we know from the letter from Rebbetzin Kanievsky, his wife is a believer in what I would term segulah-ism.
There have been what I personally would consider certain excessively silly proofs about the end-of-days, such as the Obama gematria or Torah Code. And there have been the words of autistics, or rather, the accidental messages being conveyed but really created by the unwitting facilitators. And there have been the dreams at Dreaming Of Mashiach. But there have also been the words of great rabbis and kabbalists. We have Rav Kaduri, z"l, who as covered recently, based on the writings of the Gra, expected last year to be the year mashiach arrived, and who said that he met mashiach. We have the rabbis dreaming of the Chafetz Chaim, telling them mashiach is soon arriving. We have the rabbi with the watches from the Baba Sali's son, now both standing at 12:00 purportedly. (More on that in another post, bli neder.) And the former, I think, is interacting with the latter, both ways, reinforcing and strengthening the message. And when everyone around you believes it, it is easy to believe it to, and when thinking about it all day, as the gemara says, it will enter your dreams as well.
They thought mashiach would come by Rosh haShanah. And when that didn't happen, by Succot. Now that Succot has passed, they look to the next Jewish holiday, Chanukkah. And in the email that is going around, Rav Ovadia Yosef wept when he heard that Birchat HaChamah will occur on erev Pesach. So it is natural to think some cataclysmic event will happen this coming Chanukkah. Even though it well might not.
I don't know if Rav Kanievsky came up with this himself, or heard it from somewhere and believed it. Geulah Perspectives had the same idea, when he wrote:
I was personally curious as to how Rav Kanievsky knows this information, perhaps through Ruach Hakodesh, or perhaps he's had conversations with Moshiach, or maybe from learning Kabbalah or the sifrei HaGra? Rav Levy gave me a sheepish look and said that of course he can't answer that, but he affirmed that on a number of occasions in the past when they have asked Rav Kanievsky shailos, he clearly had Ruach Hakodesh.This ruach hakodesh approach would be the equivalent of (1), Lord. But it is also possible that he dreamed it though it was not prophetic, because of the cacaphony of voices around him saying the same thing. Or it is also possible he got it from Sifrei HaGra, which was where Rav Kaduri, zatzal, got the idea. Or he heard some dvar Torah to this effect from someone he interacts with, whom he respects. And if so, it is not (3), but something else -- subculture rather than delusion.
I don't think any less of Rav Pappa for believing in sheidim, even though I do not believe they exist, or existed. And I don't think any less of Ramban for believing in the four elements, even though I do not agree that that science is correct. And the same will be true here, if people in Israel are not in bomb shelters on Chanukka, and if the Israeli real estate market does not collapse in a few months.
All of this is all assuming, of course, he said what is reported.