Monday, July 23, 2012

Interesting Posts and Articles #378

1. At Embodied Torah, "Why my blind son is returning from camp Ramah in Canada a month early". Read the follow-up as well.

2. At Judaism.Stackexchange, ostrich eggs in shul, based on Midrash Talpiyot:
The eggs symbolize the fact that the Eye of Hashem (so to speak) is at all times focused on Klal Yisrael. Nothing can possibly get in the way of this Hashgacha Pratis. Like the eggs that hatch only through the continuous surveillance of the mother ostrich. whose gaze must be continuous without distraction or interruption, or else the chicks will not survive. so we owe our survival solely to the constant Hashgacha of Hashem.
This sounds like it is based on the Galenic theory of sight via extramission, that rays shoot from the eye and see at a distance.

3. Other blogs picked up the story of the Tznius Lady. Is mockery the best way to go about this? Perhaps.

4. Emes veEmunah does not think very much of the stories about Rav Elyashiv. In a post titled "Inspiration? Or Idiocy?" he tells over the following:

Mishpacha Magazine (in Hebrew) had a whole section this past weekend devoted to R' Elyashiv. One article dealt with R' Elyashiv's unbelievable hasmada in learning and had some stories which demonstrated his unbelievable hasmada.
Here are 2 stories from the article:
1. "When R' Chaim Kanievsky was a young Avrech, his wife, Batsheva Kanievsky [R' Elyashiv's oldest daughter], complained to him that he didn't learn the same way that she saw in her [father's] house. There is no need to say that the Grach even then was one of the biggest masmidim of his generation and learned day and night. Even so, the Rabbanit said "You recognize the children and can identify each child by name. By us, when we were little children it was patently clear to everyone in the house that father [R' Elyashiv] due to his tremendous diligence in learning didn't recognize us and didn't know our names"
2. "R Yosef Shalom was not involved at all in the running of the house. He didn't receive a salary from anywhere he didn't preside over the Shabbos table and he had no idea where the money came from.
The lack [of material goods, money] was so terrible that it literally became life threatening, one of the daughters was hospitalized because of malnutrition and almost died." 

He feels comfortable criticizing because he believes that they must surely be made up. Thus, he writes:
Now - I do not believe these stories. I am convinced that these are exaggerations to highlight his devotion to Torah study. What is important to note  about this is that Mishpacha felt this was something positive  and thereby something to emulate!
He makes a good point that it is interesting that Mishpacha felt that this was something positive. And that deserved address. But it is also interesting that he is so convinced that these stories must have been made up. There is little basis for saying so.

As one commenter there notes:
Besides that these stories are recorded in the new book "Rebetzin Kanievsky", these stories can be verified by contacting R ' Elyashiv's children and grandchildren. This speaks very poorly of your level of secular education that you so advocate and espouse. No secular academic would allow himself to make public pronouncements of opinions of which he did not verify (when they are verifiable). It makes you look highly foolish and ignorant to publicly express disbelief in something that can be verified.
Further, these quotes can be traced directly to his daughter. And Rabbi Maryles (the blogger) reponds:
I don't care who said it. I do not believe a Gadol of any stature would ignore his own children to that extent. That ArtScroll published it in one of their Hagiographies shows that they too thought this was a flattering statement about him. Perhaps you think so too. 
Personally - I think this is about as unflattering a statement about a Gadol anyone can make!
In other words, the disbelief is a form of Gadol worship. Remake the Gadol in your own image. (So while yes, people for example attribute plenty of false things to Rav Chaim Kanievsky, there does not seem to be reason here to doubt these biographical details.)


Yet, what some people view as negative others view as positive. This is not the first time such reports have been made about him. I read over Shabbos a praise of Rav Elyashiv that he made sure to pay a contractor before heading to his daughter's (?) funeral. Isolated, it seems quasi-positive. But it forms part of a larger trend.


See this earlier article about Rav Elyashiv, from March of this year. All is relevant, but some excerpts:
[P]rofessor Marc B. Shapiro says in 2010: “One of you wants to know if I have read the new biography of Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv.
“This is an interesting and unusual book. The ethos in the haredi world is different from what we think is normal.
“I’m going to read you some things here that are stated as praise and things to be admired. I’m certain that everyone listening, no matter what community you are from, will be shocked. I don’t know anyone who’s read this book and his opinion of Rav Elyashiv has been raised.
...
“I see the Rav Elyashiv’s behavior as completely dysfunctional. He has no relationship with his children.
“From pg. 62, his daughter says our father could not distinguish us by our names. He couldn’t identify us. He didn’t have any time to play with his children. Only motzi Shabbos he’d go for a walk. That was the only time during the week that he’d talk to the children.
“He never once had simple conversations with his children or with his wife.
...
“If something was needed, Rav Elyashiv would say what to do. He never went anywhere with his wife. He’d speak to his sons sometimes to see what they were learning but he would not speak to his daughters.
“His daughters say, you don’t talk to your father. Do not disturb him.
“All he does is learn.”
“When the children come to visit, they visit the mother. They have no relationship with the father.”
“He was able to overcome all emotion. When his daughter dies, he puts down the volume of choshen mishpat (business laws) and picks up a volume on the laws of mourning.
And so on and so forth. Finally:
Marc B. Shapiro emails me: “It is also the case that Israelis approach these matters differently than American haredim. What Israeli haredim often admire, is a turn-off for the typical American haredi. I have a collection of stories of haredi gedolim that appear in Israeli books but would never appear in English translation simply because it would be distressing for American haredim to see what these gedolim did and thought.”
I'm sure Rav Elyashiv was a great Torah scholar. I am suspicious of the labeling of someone as the 'posek hador', or even Gadol, since it sounds quite political. But regardless, it is quite possible for someone to be the scion of rabbinic greats, and excel in Torah himself, and still have a personality that leaves something to be desired.

Not that it is impossible that all these stories are being made up by well-intentioned morons. But it does strike me as unlikely.

5. Related, see this discussion at Life In Israel about Rav Elyashiv's legacy. Also, Rabbi David Bar-Haim weighs in on Rav Elyashiv's passing.

6. At COLlive, a misguided apology to R' Mendel Morosow. Here is the original NYPost article for which he is apologizing, which was likely sparked by this.

7. The Evolution of American Orthodoxy: An interview with YU Librarian Zalman Alpert.
http://lifeinisrael.blogspot.com/2012/07/gender-discrimination-back-in-news-in.html

8. Here are parshablog, Devarim sources.

22 comments:

ba said...

Concerning #4, the second story must be wrong, because R' Elyashiv wouldn't be the cause of someone's death (it would be a violation of לא תעמד על דם רעך).

joshwaxman said...

if he was unaware about the finances, and unaware of his children's well-being -- then it would not be a deliberate violation of לא תעמד על דם רעך.

I actually saw a recent gemara (can't bring the precise source to mind; it would be either in Berachos, Avodah Zarah, or Horayos, since those are the gemaras I learned through recently.)) that in order to obtain Torah, one needs to be cruel to one's family in this regard. And the case was of an Amora whose wife said they did not have anything to eat, and he asked whether she could not collect some sort of food from the swamp. Perhaps he adopted such an attitude and it went too far; or he was just completely out of it...

i also don't know why it is so clear that, due to a severe character flaw, someone designated as a Gadol could not indeed end up violating לא תעמד על דם רעך; or almost so, as the case may be...

ba said...

if he was unaware about the finances, and unaware of his children's well-being -- then it would not be a deliberate violation of לא תעמד על דם רעך.

If so, it wouldn't have been chosen as a story by Mishpacha to demonstrate his dedication to Torah.

I actually saw a recent gemara (can't bring the precise source to mind; it would be either in Berachos, Avodah Zarah, or Horayos, since those are the gemaras I learned through recently.)) that in order to obtain Torah, one needs to be cruel to one's family in this regard. And the case was of an Amora whose wife said they did not have anything to eat, and he asked whether she could not collect some sort of food from the swamp. Perhaps he adopted such an attitude and it went too far; or he was just completely out of it...

I don't know that gemara. Maybe some commentator says that it's not literal or something. If there's no "some commentator," I don't know what to say.

i also don't know why it is so clear that, due to a severe character flaw, someone designated as a Gadol could not indeed end up violating לא תעמד על דם רעך; or almost so, as the case may be...

Not just a gadol, but *any* stam Jew. The difference between a stam Jew and a gadol, though, is that you have to judge a gadol favorably even if the chances are so remote. (I remember that from the Chafetz Chaim. I don't know where it is in the Chafetz Chaim, but it is clear from the Rav Ovadiah MiBartenura on the mishnah that says to judge everyone favorably in the first chapter of Avos (mishnah 5?).)

Jr said...

The aforementioned gemorrah appears in eiruvin, app. daf 21 or 22.

There is a letter from the sridei eish stating something to the effect that one has to be very cautious in applying that gemorrah.

Moshe said...

After readin Rabbi Bar Hayim's article, I realize that his criticism is on the idiot who made up the loudspeaker announcement, and on the radio copywriters.

Message to Rabbi Bar Hayim: These people are simply interested in sensational headlines. Micro-analyzing them is a waste of your time. Reading your critique of them is a waste of our time.

joshwaxman said...

Jr:

Thanks. Here's the gemara in question, Eruvin 22a, summarized in English.

"Shechoros ka'Orev"
(Rava): It is one who is makes himself callous like a [black] raven on its family (it does not show mercy on its children, for they are white);
1. Rav Ada bar Masnah was going to learn from his Rebbi; his wife asked 'What will I do for your children?' (She did not object - she merely asked how to help him fulfill his obligation to them.)
2. Rav Ada: Are there no more vegetables in the swamp?

indeed, one should be careful applying it!

joshwaxman said...

ba:

are you sure you are not extrapolating from tzaddik to talmid chacham?

i've discussed that Mishna in the past. see here. This is what the Rambam says in his perush hamishnayos:

"And judge every person to the side of good -- its meaning is that when a person, who you do not know about him whether he is a tzadik or a rasha, and you see him do some action or say some thing, which if you interpret it in one way it is good and if you interpret it in another way it is bad, take the good one and don't think about him that he is bad. But, if that person is known as a well-known tzaddik, by his well-known good deeds, and yet it appears that he has done an act which almost certainly seems to be a bad act, such that one cannot explain it is a good act except by a very farfetched and unlikely theory, it is fitting that he take him to be good, since there is some possibility for it to be good, and it is not permitted to suspect him. And this is what they {=Resh Lakish, Shabbat 97a} say, 'anyone who suspects the innnocent is bodily afflicted.' And so when he is a wicked person and his {evil} actions are well-known, and afterwards we see him perform an action which seems to suggest that he is good, and there is a distant possibility that it is evil, upon this it is states {Mishlei 26:25}

כה כִּי-יְחַנֵּן קוֹלוֹ, אַל-תַּאֲמֶן-בּוֹ: כִּי שֶׁבַע תּוֹעֵבוֹת בְּלִבּוֹ. 25 When he speaketh fair, believe him not; for there are seven abominations in his heart.

And when he is unknown, and the action is not weighing towards one of the two possibilities, the one needs, according to the dictated of chasidut, to judge to the side of favor whichever one it is of the two sides."


Note that "well-known tzaddik" is " by his well-known good deeds". Not to knock him, but do you really know of Rav Elyashiv's well-known good deeds? He is a talmid chacham who spent a great amount of time learning, teaching, and answering questions. And he was promoted by the chareidi establishment to "Gadol". That is not the same thing as tzaddik! It seems more the third category, someone you don't know whether he is a tzaddik or rasha. (if you can count aspergers-type personality traits as 'wickedness'.)

And we are not talking about one act, but multiple acts, published in a biography. And ones that you can investigate, rather than covering your eyes and saying 'my religion does not permit me to see reality, so this reality cannot exist'.

it is, of course, possible that the Chafetz Chaim applied this to further extremes than the Rambam.

kol tuv,
josh

joshwaxman said...

ba:
by the way, this blogpost at RationalistJudaism says it better than me. An excerpt:

"A long time ago I posted about two related and curious phenomena.

The first is that there is a common assumption that if someone excels in one area of Torah knowledge, it means that he excels in all areas. The most common manifestation of this error is that it is assumed that if someone is a great lamdan, then he is also a great theologian. Yet this is clearly not the case.

The second phenomenon is the common, but baseless, assumption that if someone is a great Torah scholar, then they must be a tzaddik, and often vice-versa. I don't think that this is entirely baseless, but there certainly is not a firm correlation."

ba said...

We do seem to assume that a talmid chacham is a tzadik: Brachos 19a , תנא דבי ר' ישמעאל אם ראית תלמיד חכם שעבר עבירה בלילה אל תהרהר אחריו ביום שמא עשה תשובה שמא סלקא דעתך אלא ודאי עשה תשובה

joshwaxman said...

yes, i know of that source. but we also hear of a talmid chacham whose tocho is not like his boro. and a comparison of one who has Torah and maasim vs. one who does not.

Given that the Rambam takes pains to specify that he is known as a צדיק מפורסם ובפעולו הטובות, specifying that there are evident good deeds, it does not seem that he makes this same leap.

Here we have someone whose Torah knowledge is known, but that is half the story. Also quite evident are *many* known stories demonstrating a pattern of problematic (to us, at least) behavior and attitude. You can't just stick your fingers in your ears and only hum to drown out those facts you don't like, and then claim that he is a tzaddik mefursam by his deeds!

In general, I am somewhat jaded at the labeling of someone a tzadik or Gadol, at which point all facts are irrelevant and must be ignored. Just last year, Baba Elazar, despite not being anywhere near astounding a Torah scholar as Rav Elyashiv, was labeled a Gadol. Therefore, we must ignore that he was a con artist being investigated by a Brooklyn DA for fleecing gullible Jews out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. It couldn't be, because he was a "Gadol"!

kol tuv,
josh

joshwaxman said...

Also, allow me teitch up both of these sources for you.

The Rambam is talking about (in one of his three classes of people) someone who characteristically does good deeds, and is known for this, and suddenly does a bad deed. You don't shut your eyes to this, but if it is at all interpretable, even in a far-fetched manner, as a good deed, by all means do so. (Of course, it might not at all be so interpretable, in which case don't.) This is different from someone (like Rav Elyashiv) who apparently exhibited a consistent pattern of this behavior towards his family members. The one incident of malnutrition you choose to disbelieve is not uncharacteristic at all, based on the known facts.

What about that gemara about the Talmid Chacham, where you should assume he will do teshuva? Note that the gemara assumes we are talking about a specific type of offense, a sexual offense. But other types, such as misappropriating money, we make no such assumption until he has restored the money. So it is not blanketly applied. And we again don't shut our eyes and claim that he didn't sin, despite our knowledge that he did. But regardless, this is assumed to be an **uncharacteristic** act by the Torah scholar. This is different from a well-established personality trait and pattern of behavior. You can't then highlight the one incident of malnutrition and say you are not permitted to believe it, and therefore you don't believe it.

Besides, I don't know if I would think very highly of a religion that would require this disbelief, despite clear contrary evidence...

kol tuv,
josh

ba said...

The one incident of malnutrition you choose to disbelieve is not uncharacteristic at all, based on the known facts.

What known facts? This is the first story I have ever heard saying R' Elyashiv did that or anything similar.

What about that gemara about the Talmid Chacham, where you should assume he will do teshuva? Note that the gemara assumes we are talking about a specific type of offense, a sexual offense. But other types, such as misappropriating money, we make no such assumption until he has restored the money. So it is not blanketly applied. And we again don't shut our eyes and claim that he didn't sin, despite our knowledge that he did.

The only reason we don't apply it concerning misappropriating money is because we see with our own eyes that he still is keeping the money: There is a way for him to reverse the bad thing that he did. Here, there was no way for R' Elyashiv to "unmalnutrize" his daughter — if he even did it. I was not trying to apply the gemara in Brachos to our case, but rather to give it as an example of "talmid chacham" being equated with "tzadik." It can't be used an example here, because we still haven't agreed on him having done it (not that I am accusing you of believing that he did it).

Friar Yid said...

Thanks for the link, Josh!

Yitz Rephaeli said...

To Moshe:
I cannot agree with you. Rav Bar-Hayim's article is insightful and far more interesting than stories about Rav Elyashiv zt"l which may or may not be true. Understanding Haredi hashkafa is essential if we wish to understand the world around us.

joshwaxman said...

"What known facts? This is the first story I have ever heard..."

that's because 'It is also the case that Israelis approach these matters differently than American haredim', so they weren't told over until now. but they've been published in the book 'Rebbetzin Kanievsky' and can be verified by the family. and were published earlier in a whole book dedicated to Rav Elyashiv's bio. don't look at half the facts!

again, it is not one story, but a **pattern** of behavior. and what is suggested for the talmid chacham in Berachos is not what the Rambam suggests for the tzaddik.

but mostly, even if you want to equate the talmid chacham and tzaddik, both the gemara and the Rambam are talking about a single uncharacteristic action, not a whole book and the testimony of those who actually know him establishing a pattern of behavior, into which one of those stories you want to reject falls perfectly...

ba said...

"What known facts? This is the first story I have ever heard..."

that's because 'It is also the case that Israelis approach these matters differently than American haredim', so they weren't told over until now. but they've been published in the book 'Rebbetzin Kanievsky' and can be verified by the family. and were published earlier in a whole book dedicated to Rav Elyashiv's bio. don't look at half the facts!


I don't have that book. However, from what you said (and this is also implied by the original post), this is the only story in the whole book that says so. Even that book, from what I understand, doesn't claim that it's a "pattern of behavior." You apparently seem to agree with me, if not for this being a pattern of behavior, based on the facts.

joshwaxman said...

the only story?!

what about "“From pg. 62, his daughter says our father could not distinguish us by our names. He couldn’t identify us."

what about "“He never once had simple conversations with his children or with his wife."

what about "He’d speak to his sons sometimes to see what they were learning but he would not speak to his daughters."?

and on and on.

do you understand that Dr. Shapiro was summarizing the contents of the book? if you do, why don't you see this as establishing a pattern?!

kol tuv,
josh

ba said...

It certainly establishes a pattern of not paying attention to his family, but there is no pattern of not feeding his family.

ba said...

I didn't explain myself. What I mean, in yeshivish terms, is that you can't make a tzad hashaveh from not talking to not feeding, because not feeding is a transgression.

joshwaxman said...

Who says he knew? If he didn't pay attention to the children, was living in dire poverty, and his wife didn't want to disturb his learning, it seems quite possible that this could come about, in the dysfunctional family setup described.

Knowing that you and the children are very hungry and are eating an extremely sparse diet is not the same as having the seichel and nutritional knowledge to realize that this is putting a child in harm's way.

I wasn't suggesting that he watched closely as he deliberately withheld food from his daughter and didn't care that that would cause her to be hospitalized or die.

ba said...

I wrote above (comment 3) that it couldn't have been from lack of knowledge, because otherwise, they wouldn't have chosen as an illustration of his greatness in learning.

Who knows? Maybe they chose it as a story even when it was inappropriate, and what you say is true.

ba said...

(By the way, I later found something similar in the introduction of the son of the Gra to Shenos Eliyahu; see there.)

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