Friday, February 26, 2010

What makes a gadol?

What makes a gadol? According to recent post on Emes veEmunah, it is the following traits:
I’ve written in the past about what I think the qualifications should be for that. They include but are not limited to encyclopedic knowledge of Shas, Rishonim, and Halacha and at least a working knowledge of Mada. They must also have a high level of Yiras Shamayim, a refined character, and highly developed degree of personal ethics.

Additionally they should have leadership capabilities, a certain type of wisdom that usually comes with age, and the willingness to unselfishly serve Klal Yisroel with great humility. Perhaps the most important characteristic of all is acceptance by their peers and their people - Klal Yisorel.

Occasionally one can become a Gadol without some of these traits - or at least greater strength in one area over another. But in the vast majority of cases all of the above traits are found in Gedolim at some level - perhaps excelling in one or two of them.
This reminds me of a midrash (? in Yitro ?) contrasting the lists of traits for a judge with what Moshe eventually took. Yachdus takes exception to the requirement to be an expert in madda, writing:
Yet, when making his own list from the past,

Rav Moshe Feinstein (pictured), Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, Rav Ahron Soloveichik, Rav Aharon Kotler, Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky, Rav Avroham Pam, Rav Yitzchak Hutner, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum, and Rav Menachem Mendel Schneersohn.
he seems to be omitting something. Yes, some of these very Gedolim had little working knowledge of Mada. The Satmar rebbe and Rav Aharon Kotler both come to mind.
I don't see this as a contradiction. After all, Rabbi Maryles did write that "Occasionally one can become a Gadol without some of these traits" -- and presumably, they could consult with an expert, when it came to madda. So perhaps one could say that the Gadlus of the Satmar Rebbe and Rav Aharon Kotler were lacking because of their unfamiliarity with madda. 

I kid, I kid! Seriously, why is he so certain that the Satmar Rebbe was unfamiliar with madda? Sure, he did not have a formal science education, but the gemara tells us "Sod Hashem Liyre'av"! Indeed, that is why, while other people (such as Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky) were fooled by the hoax that was the moon landing, the Satmar Rebbe saw right through it, since it went against the beliefs of the Jewish religion (either something about the fiery nature of space, or else what we say in kiddush levana, ve'eini yachol lingoa bach). And apparently many of his followers believe him, and likewise know this truth.

{Update: According to Anonymous, in a comment below: nowhere does the satmat rav write that and he neve said that-rmmk was reffering to a different rebbe }
{Further update: In the comment section, Yosef Greenberg/Yachdus provides possible confirmation that it was the Satmar Rebbe: 
IIRC, it was the Satmar Rebbe who believed so but withheld comment after R' Yonason Shteiff who discouraged him from doing so. Depending on your belief, either because he would make a fool of himself, or he actually convinced him that it did happen.
But then, see Anonymous' response. Anonymous commenters, please at the least choose a pseudonym. Even better if you keep that pseudonym consistently. It makes it easier to track different people in a discussion, and lends further credence to your words as you build a reputation.

And Rav Aharon Kotler was able to solve a complex mathematical problem which the head of the Kovna Gymnasia was unable to solve. Certainly, he could have rivaled the Chazon Ish in skills at neurosurgery, despite how the latter read medical journals.

Really seriously, now, it depends what the role of the Gadol is, in his particular community. Certainly for pesak halacha, knowledge of metzius seems to me to be rather critical (though knowing how to competently consult and understand an expert is the real skill); but for other roles, and particularly for a community that has chosen to shut out the outside world, it might well not be critical.

And as Yachdus writes:
Who recognized your list as Gedolim, R' Harry? Is it possible that the conferral of the title happened simply by acceptance?

I think that the title of Gadol is limited only to people who are wholly accepted by a large segment of klal Yisrael. Regardless of the specifics noted above.
Yes, indeed, one definition of Gadol is someone accepted by the community as a Gadol. Probably the truest definition for this concept. But there might be different definitions of a Gadol, one being a leader who is truly worthy of being a leader in klal Yisrael.

I saw an interesting thing in Shiluv HaMasorot, by Rabbi Yekusiel Aryeh Kamalhar (b. 1871, d. 1937) -- a devar Torah touching on masorah, Tetzaveh, megillat Esther, and the question of why our modern day religious leaders cannot have this broad secular knowledge, like the luminaries of the past possessed, while still being religious leaders.

ונשמע ג׳ במסורה:
ונשמע קולו בבואו אל הקדש (שמות כח — לה)ש
ונשמע פתגם המלך (מגילת אסתר א — כ.)ש
נעשה ונשמע (שמות כד — ז.)ש
רבים שואלים, על מה לפנים היו רבנים גאונים, וחכמים בכל חכמה וקרובים
למלכות ויחד עם זאת היו צדיקים גמורים, כמו האברבנאל, ר״ש וורטהיימר• ור״ש
אפנהיימר וכו׳ ובזמן הזה, מי שאך טועם מעץ הדעת! נעשו חכמים להרע ורחוקים
מהצדקה ומצדקות ה'. ועוד שאלה בפיהם: מפני מה בעבר לא רחוק לפני ששים
שנה עוד היו בישראל צדיקים, פועלי ישועות בקרב הארץ והי׳ בבחינת ״צדיק
גוזר והקב״ה מקיים״ והיום פסו אמונים וגמר חסיד. על שתי השאלות הללו יש
חירוץ פשוט לשתיהן: כל שמעשיו מרובין מחכמתו, למה הוא דומה לאילן ששרשיו
מרובין וענפיו מעטין, שאפילו כל הרוחות שבעולם אין יכולים להזיזו ממקומו וכל
שחכמתו מרובה ממעשיו וכו׳ (פרקי אבות), כן הדבר גם בצדיקים ופועלי ישועות,
שהראשונים היו מוסרים את נפשם בעבדות ה׳ (ברכות כ:) ועל ידי המעשים
הכבירים שעשו למעלה מכח אנוש במסירות נפש, זכו לעשות נפלאות ודבריהם
נשמעו בשמים.
ובכן באה המסורה ושואלת: לפנים היה מרדכי בלשן ויודע שבעים לשונות
והיה ראש הסנהדרין ועם זאת היה יושב בשער המלך והיה קרוב למלכות ״ונשמע
פתגם המלך אשר יעשה״ והיום אין למצא איש כזה? לפנים היו צדיקים שקולו של
כל אחד ואחד היה נשמע בשמים ״ ונשמע קולו בבואו אל הקודש״ להתפלל• 
על ישראל והיום שומע אין להם התשובה היא, כי צריכים להקדים ״ נעשה״
כלומר ״עשיה לשמועה״ — להיות המעשים מרובים מהחכמה ומעשים ממש
כבירים, במסירות נפש כנ״ל.
The masorah notes that the word venishma (with a sheva under the yud) only appears three times in Tanach (though once with a kametz and twice with a patach under the mem). Shiluv HaMasoret makes this into a derasha, or drush. The three pesukim are as follows. Once in Tetzaveh:

לה  וְהָיָה עַל-אַהֲרֹן, לְשָׁרֵת; וְנִשְׁמַע קוֹלוֹ בְּבֹאוֹ אֶל-הַקֹּדֶשׁ לִפְנֵי יְהוָה, וּבְצֵאתוֹ--וְלֹא יָמוּת.  {ס}35 And it shall be upon Aaron to minister; and the sound thereof shall be heard when he goeth in unto the holy place before the LORD, and when he cometh out, that he die not. {S}

Once in Mishpatim:

ז  וַיִּקַּח סֵפֶר הַבְּרִית, וַיִּקְרָא בְּאָזְנֵי הָעָם; וַיֹּאמְרוּ, כֹּל אֲשֶׁר-דִּבֶּר יְהוָה נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע.7 And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the hearing of the people; and they said: 'All that the LORD hath spoken will we do, and obey.'

And once in megillas Esther:

כ  וְנִשְׁמַע פִּתְגָם הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲשֶׁר-יַעֲשֶׂה בְּכָל-מַלְכוּתוֹ, כִּי רַבָּה הִיא; וְכָל-הַנָּשִׁים, יִתְּנוּ יְקָר לְבַעְלֵיהֶן--לְמִגָּדוֹל, וְעַד-קָטָן.20 And when the king's decree which he shall make shall be published throughout all his kingdom, great though it be, all the wives will give to their husbands honour, both to great and small.'

He notes: "Many ask why in earlier times there were rabbanim who were geniuses, who were scholars in every discipline and who were close to the government, and together with this were complete tzadikim, such as Abarbanel, Rabbi Shamshon Wertheimer,  Rabbi Shmuel Oppenheimer {thanks again to Yosef Greenberg for providing these identities, of his ancestors}, etc., yet in these days, anyone who merely tastes of the tree of knowledge becomes a scholar for bad and are distanced from righteousness and from the righteousness of Hashem? And another question in their mouths: Why, no more than 60 years ago, there were in Israel tzaddikim who performed wondrous yeshuot within the land and were in the category of "The tzaddik decrees and Hakadosh Baruch Hu fulfills", yet today the godly man ceases and the pious is finished? {See Tehillim 12:1.} Upon these two questions, there is a single simple answer: Anyone whose deeds are greater than his wisdom, to what is he compared? To a tree whose roots are many and its branches are few, where even if all the winds in the world blew they would not be able to move it from its place. And anyone whose wisdom is greater than his actions, etc. (See Pirkei Avot). So is the case by tzaddikim and those who perform wondrous salvations. For the early ones would be moser nefesh in serving Hashem (Berachot daf 20, the case of R' Ada bar Ahava ripping the red clothing off the woman). And based on the great actions that they did, greater than human capacity, in mesirus nefesh, they merited to perform wonders and their words were heard in Heaven. 

And therefore the masorah comes and asks: In past times, Mordechai was Bilshan {בלשן}, and he knew the 70 languages, and was head of the Sanhedrin. And with all this, he sat in the gate of the king and was close to the government -- "and he heard the kings decree which shall be done." And today, there is no man like this? In past times, there were tzadikim whose voice, each and every one was head in heaven -- "and his voice was heard when he entered the Holy place" to pray for Israel -- and today, no one hears for them? The answer is that they need to put first the naaseh, that is to say, the action, to the hearing, such that the actions will be greater than the wisdom, and the actions truly great, like the aforementioned ones with mesirus nefesh."

A nice derush. But I wonder how much is nostalgia, and also believing the many made-up miracle stories of years past. Also, perhaps the nature of the broad knowledge changed. For Abarbabel at least, one could be expert in the various sciences and disciplines and still maintain one's faith. And one could be a man of faith and reason. With the rise of haskalah, and the rise of certain modern sciences, perhaps knowledge of these other disciplines led, in many cases, to a dismissal of religious beliefs. Or perhaps this was just a social trend, part of the zeitgeist. Or perhaps society changed, such that one who possessed this sort of broad knowledge was not considered a Gadol, or religious leader. And so those who gained this broad knowledge would not be considered religious, and those who started out with a religious upbringing would avoid the broad knowledge (such that certain yeshivot banned the study of Tanach with Malbim). Of course, I don't know enough about the author's time period to make such speculation. But I am thinking aloud in terms of our own. (Except of course that I do know of some who developed this sort of broad knowledge. They are not chareidi Gedolim, though.)


Anonymous said...

nowhere does the satmat rav write that and he neve said that-rmmk was reffering to a different rebbe

joshwaxman said...

thanks. i updated the post to include your comment.

but who is rmmk, and which rebbe was he referring to?


Yosef Greenberg said...

A few points.

"I don't see this as a contradiction."

I didn't mean it as such. It was just to lead into my next point, that there's no fast & hard rules.

"ve'eini yachol lingoa bach"
Are you sure this is in reference to the moon?

IIRC, it was the Satmar Rebbe who believed so but withheld comment after R' Yonason Shteiff who discouraged him from doing so. Depending on your belief, either because he would make a fool of himself, or he actually convinced him that it did happen.

"But there might be different definitions of a Gadol, one being a leader who is truly worthy of being a leader in klal Yisrael."

And you will forever have people disregarding him. We are Jews, after all.

"Rabbi Sh{lomo?} Wertheimer {I think this fellow}, Rabbi Sh. Oppenheimer {this fellow, a plagiarist?}"

Not at all. Most probably, he reffering to an illustrious ancestor of mine, R' Shamshon Wertheimer, the great Austrian imperial financier and Rabbi, and his FIL (I think), R' Shmuel Oppenheimer, who had a similar position before him.

joshwaxman said...

thnx.i'll make updts whn no bby on lap.


Anonymous said...

r abbi kasher in his "adam al hatareach" brings a "certain rebbe" who claimed this

and no yosef-that is mythlogy never happened

joshwaxman said...

thanks again. it is now updated.

"Are you sure this is in reference to the moon?"
pretty sure. we do have the custom of dancing at the end of kiddush levana, after all. and baruch osech etc., preceding it, is addressing the moon. what is the alternative? Hashem? how could that be, if Hashem is corporeal? How would those Raavad defends perform kiddush levana? ;)

i was tempted to try to somehow establish the minhag for the chassan to dance before his kallah before the chuppah, singing this song. but then, since the kallah goes to the mikveh beforehand, it is not true, since she is a pnuya. (and so not just joint pictures but "touching" pictures should be permitted.)

"And you will forever have people disregarding him. We are Jews, after all."
true; even moshe rabbenu had his detractors. but if the person (in theory) is not to be considered a gadol, then the pegam might come from his side.

shabbat shalom,

Yosef Greenberg said...

Well, its kind of hard to say that this never happened. Unless you were with him *all* the time.

I cannot vouch for the veracity, but thats the way I heard it going around. And Josh heard a variation of it as well. Proof? No.

But by saying that it never happened you're bringing the burden of proof on you.

In any case, theres a point being made here, and it still stands.

Anonymous said...

I CAN- mainly because i just got of thr phone with my uncle who was his "hoizbucher" for quite a while who said he scoffed at such an idea

Anonymous said...

and rabbi kasher brings this as well-now in wikipedia-that sefer is the source
One example of Goren's desire to adapt halakha to changing realities in science was his controversial stance on Kiddush Levana, the monthly blessing over the new moon. A prayer customarily added after the blessing contains the words "just as I dance before you and am unable to touch you." Rabbi Goren claimed that since the Americans landed on the moon in 1969, this line should be changed to reflect that it is in fact possible to touch the moon.[citation needed]

joshwaxman said...

this was not my original source (can't track it down), but here are others who say this is a Satmar belief.

so which rebbe was rmmk referring to?

shabbat shalom,

joshwaxman said...

and here is another reference.


same anonymous said...

course-thats a lubavitcher site-imagine reading on a satmar site s/t rav kook said

Eliyahoo William Dwek said...

When ‘dayanim’, ‘rabbis’ and false ‘mekubalim’ use the Torah for their own power and commercial profit, this behaviour is abhorrent.

No other ‘rabbi’ will ever act against another ‘rabbi’ - even when he knows his colleague is clearly desecrating the Torah. Each rabbi is only worried about losing his own position.

Therefore, the ‘rabbi’, ‘dayyan’ or false ‘mekubal’ (‘kabbalist’) will never effect justice. And he will never truly stand for the Torah or the Honour of Hashem. His pocket will always prevail.

The Torah must never be used for commercial gain and profit. Amm israel can only be lead by those who have the necessary love and respect of Hashem and the Torah.

Eliyahoo William Dwek said...

Any man who chooses to be a ‘rabbi’ (‘true teacher’ of Torah) or a ‘dayan’ (‘judge’), or a ‘mekubal’ (‘kabbalist’) should be doing so Voluntarily. Out of his pure love for Hashem and the Torah. And his Ahavat Yisrael.

If he refuses to do community work voluntarily, and wants and accepts payment for everything he does, such a man should not be leading a community. He should get a job and earn a living. He can collect milk bottles or clean the windows. That is what is called ‘earning a living’.

Torah is learned, studied and taught: out of Love. Voluntarily. But the ‘rabbis’ have turned the Torah into their ‘Profession’, from which they earn money.

We are commanded in the Shema to:
‘LOVE Hashem, your G-d, WITH ALL YOUR HEART, and with all your soul and with all your might.’

‘VE’AHAVTA et Hashem Elokecha BECHOL LEVAVECHA uvechol nafshecha uvechol meodecha.’ (Devarim, Vaethanan, 6:4-5)

Is the ordinary man or woman PAID to pray to Hashem, or to say some words of Torah? No. Has veshalom! But the rabbis are. These men can give ‘lovely’ shiurim that they have rehearsed. But they would not give a shiur without being paid for it.

The true hachamim and rabbis of old, all actually worked at proper jobs and professions.

Wake up! Even a little child could have worked this out. These salaried men can never truly stand for the Torah, because in a case of conflict between a correct course of action according to the Torah, and the rabbi or rav’s pocket – his pocket and position will always prevail.

Pirkei Avot: (2:2)
“Raban Gamliel beno shel Rabi Yehuda HaNassi omer: yafeh talmud Torah im derech eretz, sheyegiat shenaihem mashkachat avon. Vechol Torah she’ein imah melacha sofa betailah ve’goreret avon. Vechol haoskim im hatzibbur yiheyu imahem leShem Shamayim……”

“Rabban Gamliel, the son of Rabi Yehuda HaNassi, said: It is good to combine Torah study with a worldly occupation, for working at them both drives sin from the mind. All Torah without an occupation will in the end fail and lead to sin. And let all who work for the community do so for the sake of Heaven………”


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