Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Is Rabbi Avigdor Miller, zatza"l, Responsible For Authentic Judaism?

In the first perek of Pirkei Avot, we read:
א,יא אבטליון אומר, חכמים, היזהרו בדבריכם--שמא תחובו חובת גלות, ותגלו למקום המים הרעים, וישתו התלמידים הבאים אחריכם וימותו, ונמצא שם שמיים מתחלל.
Avtalyon's message is that Rabbis should be careful with their words, because students who follow after them might stumble and end up causing a tremendous chillul Hashem.

There is a certain blog which bills itself as presenting authentic Judaism, in which the blogger presents himself as following after Rabbi Avigdor Miller, ztz"l. I haven't really heard much from Rabbi Miller, so I don't know firsthand if heated condemnations of others were of Rabbi Miller's style, but there are some commenters on the Hirhurim thread about this who say that this was indeed his style, and that some of the ideas are indeed representative. Thus:
This guy hasn't said much that Rav Avigdor Miller didn't, although AFAIK RAM never attacked the Rav in such personal terms. However, most of the content and tone is perfectly in line with what one hears on RAM's tapes.

RAM is revered in the yeshiva world as a forthright, outspoken talmid chacham and gadol. Many rebbeim and mashgichim emulate him, and I certainly heard plenty of this sort of stuff in my mainstream black hat yeshiva, contra Mark's statement that "those who seek to lump the mainstream Chareidi world together with him, are guilty of Sinas Chinam to the highest degree."
On the other hand, there are just so many idiots around, and if one had to be careful of all of them, one could not say anything. I discussed this back in 2008 with another story involving an idiotic student of none other than Rabbi Avigdor Miller. I cite myself, fixing a few typos:
About a decade ago, my parents encountered a fellow who was a big follower of Rav Avigdor Miller. And he was "boasting" of how big a talmid he was. For example, Rav Miller declared in one of his lectures, about the evils of television, "I want you to take your television and throw it out of the window." Now, this fellow lived on the fifth floor of an apartment building. But he unplugged his television, took it to his window, and literally tossed it out the window, to shatter on the pavement below. He said he looked first to make sure no one was standing below, but in the meantime, how did he really know that someone would not walk out of the apartment at that time?

Rav Avigdor Miller certainly did not mean for his listeners to take his words literally, but rather they were said for dramatic, and rhetorical effect. After all, he was a very talented orator. He wanted to drive home the point that his listeners should get rid of their televisions, and thus rid their homes of its dangerous spiritual influence. But had this overly-literal fellow actually hit someone, well then, in the good-old-days he might well be sent into galus. And then, as per the din, his rebbe could be sent to the Ir Miklat with him. Thus, שמא תחובו חובת גלות.
As I wrote there, I felt that the fault in that case lies with the idiots, who misinterpret his words. And I drew comparisons to certain folks who run with certain Gedolim's words, sometimes also giving them misinterpretations. And suggested that there might just be an obligation to take control of their words, to make certain that they are not misinterpreted or overapplied.

In the present instance, I don't know whether this blogger knew Rabbi Avigdor Miller personally, or just listened to many of his tapes. And perhaps Rabbi Miller was somewhat entitled to use this style, because he presumably had not only form but substance. When he condemned something, he could also back it up with sources and argue it. And perhaps he did it because it made for an "inspirational" speech, in which people are convinced that their path is the correct Torah path and thus are drawn closer to their Judaism, to Torah, and to Hashem. The best defense is a good offense, and all that. Even so, perhaps it was not appropriate to send out the message in this way, because look at the results.

Many people, with different practices, think their Judaism is authentic Judaism, or else they wouldn't be practicing it. The Nanachs certainly think their Judaism is authentic. Lubavitch certainly thinks their Judaism is authentic Judaism, and is the proper and ideal derech. XGH thinks that various brands of Judaism are authentic Judaism, including his own. Esser Agaroth thinks that mustaches are "not Jewish". Teimanim -- as least the few I've encountered -- are notorious for thinking that their derech is the proper derech, and best represents authentic Judaism, such that everyone else should adopt it. Indeed, Rav Ovadia Yosef declared that Moshe Rabbenu was a Sefardi and that when mashiach comes, he would pasken in accordance with Sefardi halacha!

So this is just one more fellow who thinks that his particular narrow and fringe brand of Judaism is authentic Judaism. The difference is partly that it is to the exclusion of everything else -- even Rav Ovadia Yosef allows nowadays for Ashkenazim to follow Ashkenazi halacha, and for real Breslovers to visit Uman. But it is mostly that while thinking his is the only way, he also generates a lot of heat, and his blog seems dedicated just to attacking those who don't subscribe entirely to his particular views. Such that it crosses the line into extreme sinas chinam. And he does not seem to have the substance to back it up, just the heat.

So perhaps Rav Avigdor Miller should be held partially responsible for this phenomenon, and this particular blogger's views. People will echo their rebbe, and he was apparently putting out this strident message on tapes heard by masses and masses of people. And he knew he was an inspirational speaker.

Similarly, should we lay the blame for modern day Lubavitch meshichists upon the Rebbe, zatza"l? He certainly endorsed the idea that this was the very last generation, in which mashiach would arrive. And meshichists can point you to some persuasive statements that the Rebbe made about mashiach, and about his father-in-law. Even if there is a defense for the Lubavitcher Rebbe holding this, the talmidim who followed him drank the evil water and are causing a tremendous embarrassment and chillul Hashem.

The same for people today, such as Rav Moshe Shapiro or Rav Moshe Meiselman. Should he be responsible for the form and substance of those who consider themselves his students? I would think he should be, to a large degree. Thus, if he does or does not provide direction, perhaps Rav Moshe Meiselman should be somewhat responsible for the conduct and writings of Freelance Kiruv Maniac, or Rav Shapiro for Rabbi Schmeltzer and his Chaim beEmunasam.

14 comments:

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

FKM is a talmid of Rabbi Moshe Meiselman, not Rav Moshe Shapiro.

joshwaxman said...

thanks. whoops, I'll fix.

kt,
josh

yaak said...

Was Antigonus Ish Socho responsible for Tzadok and Baitus? The Rambam's Peirush on Avot 1:3 seems to think so.

Was Ribbi Yehoshua ben Perahya responsible for Yeishu? The gemara seems to think so.

These 2 cases could be the basis of Avtalyon's words.

However, the aforementioned blogger didn't (yet) start a separatist movement and hopefully never will - so I hope we don't ever have to make such comparisons.

Anonymous said...

HaRav Avigdor Miller, zt"l, zy"a, also once said that the Lubavitcher Rebbe was Moshiach (this was when the Rebbe was still alive). He then said that every Rabbi is a little bit Moshiach if he brings Torah to people, and he did not only mean the Lubavitcher Rebbe but every Rebbe and Rabbi. Maybe someone would take this out of context and say that HaRav Avigdor Miller, zt"l, was a meshichist.

(It should be noted that of all of the Litvishe Charedi Gedolim, Rav Miller had only nice things to say about Lubavitch and Chassidus in general)

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

From what has been pontificated at me in his name, i get the impression that R' Avigdor Miller and Lubavitch share a similar view of Non-Jews.

moshe said...

Josh:

R' Moshe Shapiro should first take responsibility for *his own* actions taken against Slifkin and the lies he perpetrated and spread.

No need to go so far as his Talmidim.

Should you wish that I elaborate, I'll email you.

Anonymous said...

Well said!!!

Ari Enkin

משה רפאל said...

People of Truth are always ready to replace their views with better ones. Ba'alei Dogma do not suffer from this weakness. They already have the "truth," and of course Moshiach will be according to them.

Anonymous said...

Ech, Rabbi Meiselman's responsible for what he said about Rabbi Slifkin, I think that's more of a burden.

joshwaxman said...

be that as it may, the question at hand is how to consider the situation in which a talmid, or someone who puts himself out as a talmid, of person X. what are person X's responsibilities in terms of this? should we judge him based on his talmidim?

but yes, there might be other criteria as well, in particular cases. personally, i have not followed the controversy all that closely, so i am not in a position to say things on this matter.

kol tuv,
josh

joshwaxman said...

also (just doing a bit of research to educate myself), while rabbi meiselman said what he said years back, and never responded the Rabbi Slifkin's critique, the fact that he now stands back while someone who considers himself a student publicly attacks Rabbi Slifkin may just make it so that the conduct of the student reflects poorly on the teacher...

kol tuv,
josh

Baruch said...

Moshe:

I have before expressed interest as an aspiring academic in what you're saying and I too would be interested --

yodamace@gmail.com

Sam said...

I strongly disagree with the line of reasoning presented by the author here. I appreciate the respect with which you've approached the subject, but you are essentially passing judgement on Gedolim based on the action of those who choose to be misled. (This is like arguing that it is Hakadosh Baruch Hu's fault that some come to misinterpret the Torah).

In particular, I find it very troubling that you've chosen as the thrust of your article and it's title to (wrongfullly) single out R. Miller Ztz''l, especially because one of the key themes that R. Miller always taught and practiced was love of all Jews (regardless of what path they are on). This is something that he always talked about and wrote about, and to sully the Rabbi's name as this article does, is irresponsible and truly ashame.

I really hope that you re-consider your decision to publish such a piece as it is highly inaccurate in it's portrayal of Rabbi Miller.

Anonymous said...

I have heard scores of Rabbi Avigdor Miller's tapes, heard him in person, read through several of his books, and spoken to him personally. I never heard him condemn any Orthodox Jew by name or even give details that would lead the listener to identify anyone by name. From everything I have seen, he did not speak lashon hara at all.

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