Friday, March 03, 2006

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and Rabbi Yochanan

Orthomom takes issue with a specific statement of R' Ovadia Yosef, that anyone who votes Shas will get a place in heaven.

Firstly, I wouldn't necessarily trust the article in YnetNews, because many, many times statements of various rabbinic figures have been taken out of context or misreported by Israeli papers, for the purpose of mocking them or for providing an amusing anecdote. These stories often find their way to "Oddly Enough" news in America, without proper context.

In this case, the context is that since Shas supports various Torah and mitzvot projects, providing support for Shas via a vote makes Shas your emissary, and thus one gets merit, and a share in the reward. He illustrated this with a story of a man let into heaven even though he though he felt he had few personal merits; he had merits because he voted for Shas and thus supported the cause of Torah and mitzvot. To cite the article:
Anyone who votes for religious Sephardic party Shas in the upcoming elections is assured of a place in heaven, the party's spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef told about 8,000 activists at a pre-election rally in Tel Aviv Tuesday evening.

Rabbi Ovadia told the enthusiastic listeners about a man who reaches heavens and fears God's verdict. At that point, a white angel appears and tells the man he is heading to heaven for building a mikvah (Jewish ritual bath) and a synagogue. The man says he has not done any of that because he had no money, but later admits he did vote for Shas.

The angel's reply: "Exactly. And by sending emissaries who built mikvahs and synagogues and safeguarded the world of Torah, you're a party to mitvzot and your place is in heaven." Therefore, the rabbi explained, anyone who votes for Shas will end up in heaven.
The article sums up R Ovadia Yosef's position as being that whoever votes for Shas will end up in heaven. But note that the quotation mark ends at end of the previous sentence. This is the article writer's summary.

One can easily understand his remarks as being that one attains merit, and that this merit will go into the calculation when standing before God on Judgement Day, such that one might enter heaven for this, helping outweigh certain sins. Why? Because voting for Shas and thus supporting Torah projects is a meritorious act. But not that voting for Shas automatically allows one into heaven.

And even if he said it, it is possible that he overstated the case for rhetorical effect.

So let us not leap to conclusions. Rather, we should certainly give R Ovadia Yosef the benefit of the doubt, and not blindly accept sensationalist reporting whose purpose it to provide amusement at the expense of the "backward" chareidim.

Anyhow, compare with this statement by Rabbi Yochanan, which we will encounter fairly soon in Daf Yomi, and which will be posted on the Rif blog soon:
And Todus of Rome was a great man. And furthermore, he cast merchandise into the pockets of Torah scholars {=gave them opportunities for trading}.
For Rabbi Yochanan said: Whoever casts merchandise into the pockets of Torah scholars will be privileged to sit in the Heavenly Academy, for it is stated {Kohelet 7:12}:
יב כִּי בְּצֵל הַחָכְמָה, בְּצֵל הַכָּסֶף; וְיִתְרוֹן דַּעַת, הַחָכְמָה תְּחַיֶּה בְעָלֶיהָ 12 For wisdom is a defence, even as money is a defence; but the excellency of knowledge is, that wisdom preserveth the life of him that hath it.

Also, the Rif cites a related source from Ketubot:
We learn at the end of shenei dayanei edut {Ketubot 111b}: It is written {Devarim 4:4}:
ד וְאַתֶּם, הַדְּבֵקִים, בַּה', אֱלֹקֵיכֶם--חַיִּים כֻּלְּכֶם, הַיּוֹם. 4 But ye that did cleave unto the LORD your God are alive every one of you this day.
Now is it possible for a man to cleave to the Divine Presence? Was it not already stated {later in the same perek}:

כד כִּי ה' אֱלֹקֶיךָ, אֵשׁ אֹכְלָה הוּא: אֵל, קַנָּא
24 For the LORD thy God is a devouring fire, a jealous God.
rather, anyone who marries off his daughter to a Torah scholar, and anyone who gives trade to a Torah scholar, and anyone who gives benefit to a Torah scholar from his possessions, Scriptures considers it as if he has cleaved to the Divine Presence.

Thus, in classic Jewish thought, providing support for Torah is considered meritorious, and according to Rabbi Yochanan, assures one a place in the Heavenly Academy. This certainly seems of similar nature to Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's statement.

But I would think that many of the people who would attack R Yosef for this statement, had they lived in the days of the first generation of Amoraim, would also attack Rabbi Yochanan for his statement.

Update: Thanks to Hirhurim and Yeranen Yaakov for the links!


Anonymous said...

But I would think that many of the people who would attack R Yosef for this statement, had they lived in the days of the first generation of Amoraim, would also attack Rabbi Yochanan for his statement.
Count me as one such. A statement by a Rabbi that Hashem treats favorably one who treats Rabbis favorably is too tinged with self interest for me to accept uncritically. What was that about bribes 'blinding the eyes of the wise' again? But we all know that the Oral Torah trumps the Written Torah, so obviously the Amorah is correct.

To a lesser extent, saying 'vote for Shas because they'll give you more goodies' (Torah institutions, mikvaot, chelek in Olam Habah) makes Shas the same as from Shinui (vote for us and we'll open the stores on Shabbat), or any other political party that says 'vote for us and we'll give you stuff' rather than 'vote for us and we'll do the right thing'.

Akiva said...

Anonymous - I assume you don't live in Israel, because it has nothing to do with goodies.

All the parties say "vote for us to support our lifestyle". So when it's Shinui, it's de-fund anything Torah and fund theaters and the arts, when it's Shas it's de-fund secular culture and fund Torah society supporting institutions.

The problem is there's no compromise, nobody is "doing the right thing". Would you like all Mikvaot shut down because Meretz wins? Conversely all theaters shut down if Shas wins?

In the past it has balanced out with coalitions that are somewhat mixed. The last 4 years this has not been the case, with heavy secular coaltions having very limited religious partners. Torah is being starved out.

joshwaxman said...

perhaps you would count yourself as one such. but i don't think that orthomom would count herself as one such.

there are many "critical" ways of reading Rabbi Yochanan's statement besides the obvious cynical one. In this statement, he expands the canopy of Divine favor (in the next world) past only those who have the ability and drive to actually learn Torah, to other well intentioned folk who recognize its value and to their best to support it. it can be read as a fairly liberal statement. this reading is by no means an "uncritical" reading.

and the pasuk about giving a judge a bribe does not necessarily contradict such an expansive statement about how Hashem treats well intentioned people who support his works. It is not a contradiction between Oral and Written Torah. But if you wish, I can say in a humorous and cynical vein that in fact it reinforces the Torah's statement, in that Hashem, who is Wise, is being influenced by a bribe.

"But we all know that the Oral Torah trumps the Written Torah"
The Oral Torah interprets the written Torah. Rabbi Yochanan interprets a pasuk in Kohelet.

as to your "lesser extent" argument, that this is a promise of goodies in exchange for a vote, as *opposed* to
"vote for us and we'll do the right thing," Rav Ovadia Yosef is saying: "Look, with political power we will do the right thing, and you will have a share in doing the right thing, and thus you will be rewarded for doing the right thing in the next world."

Note that this post, and this comment, is not an endorsement of Shas as a political party, but rather of trying to understand nuance.

I forgot to post this in the original post, but this situation is actually similar to the Vote Torah! campaign that was promoted recently on several blogs.

all the best.

Anonymous said...

Weak apologetics, at best. Remember Shas's and the amulets during the last elections? And then the Supreme Court ruled that to be illegal. Plus, the amulet writer, Rav Kaduri, ztz'l, passed away. This is as close as Shas can legally get to buying votes with amulets.

joshwaxman said...

"weak apologetics, at best"
so what is it at worst?

not everything is a scandal, and not every rational explanation of someone's words that makes clear that they are NOT the basis for a scandal is apologetics.

what i presented appears to ME at least as the most likely meaning of R' Yosef's words.

Anonymous said...

The Supreme Court case about the amulets was one of the worst decisions handed down in Israeli legal history. Yes, it is illegal to buy votes with presents, money and even non-financial benefits. But amulets, please. Another example of judges legislating from the bench.

Anonymous said...

"what i presented appears to ME at least as the most likely meaning of R' Yosef's words."

I don't doubt that. It's still very weak apologetics.

joshwaxman said...

frankly, Shmarya, based on your track record, i do not take any such assessment seriously.

do you still think (among many other wacky things) that the entire copepod issue was a conspiracy by rabbis to collect money for offering hechsherim on water? I will do you a favor and invite readers of this blog to check out your blog, to get a sense of what your general approach is.

i do not doubt that may be largely an effort to persuade people to vote for Shas. even with my explantion, it is an effort to do so - by explaining to them that they thus have a share in the mitzvah, which gives merit. But to think that it therefore is exactly equal to a statement - pull the level for Shas and you will automatically get into heaven - well, that is not the same.

That there was some event involving Shas (and not R' Yosef) handing out amulets does not implicate R' Ovadia Yosef and lead one to interpret ANY other action in exactly the same light. Whether handing out amulets should or should not constitute bribery, making a speech that one gets merit does not mean that he is offering a Get-Into-Heaven-Free card. And the *simplest* explanation of R' Yosef's words is *exactly* as I specified.

Imagine he had said "Hello," and someone had interpreted his words and yelled, "He threatened Hell to anyone who did not vote for Shas!" An explanation of his words and what they actually mean is not weak apologetics, strong apologetics, or any apologetics at all. It is simply a tactic that you like to use, to label any statement that X is not a scandal as apologetics.

Here is article in HaAretz, which by no means is flattering to Shas.

and here is a quote from the article:

"In the 1996 elections, Rabbi Yosef watched sadly as masses of people voted for Shas because of the charms and amulets dispensed by followers of the aged kabbalist Rabbi Yitzhak Kaddouri, for whom Rabbi Yosef has only disdain."

Without endorsing any negative portrayal of R' Kaddouri, if R' Yosef disliked the passing out of amulets to get votes, why assume that his speech, made to convince people to vote for Shas, is exactly of a kind with the amulet incident, and that he is promising automatic entry into heaven?

but I've wasted enough breath. I know there will be no convincing you.

Tzvee Zahavy said...

1. I agree that it is correct to compare Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and Rabbi Yochanan. And further what ROY said is in step with classical rabbinic Judaism.

2. IMHO using traditional rabbinic ideas to manipulate the gullible into voting for the questionable is reprehensible.

Anonymous said...

Okay, Josh, try to process:

1. The amulets ROY so distained won the election, and brought Shas many extra seats.

2. The party is down in the polls less than a month before an election.

3. The amulet writer is no more.

4. ROY is desperate.

5. Therefore, Vote Shas, Get Olam HaBa.

You can't follow this line of reasoning? Perhaps that is because you are so hell-bent on "protecting" Orthodoxy from "attack." If you actually focused on the truth, things would be much clearer to you.

joshwaxman said...

In terms of (1), we are in agreement. In terms of (2), we are also in agreement. The question is whether what Rabbi Ovadia Yosef intended to use "rabbinic ideas to motivate to gullible." If R' Ovadia beleives that Shas is doing something good; and that the people who enable the doing of this good will be getting merit; and then telling them this truth will encourage them to act on it, then it is not an attempt to "motivate the gullible."

I am perfectly capable of following the lines of reasoning in conspiracy theories. That does not make them more believable. I beleive I have already answered your points. It is pointless to argue with you, and will just be a further drain of my time, and so I am going to follow the advice of Mishlei 26:5.

lamedzayin said...

I don't see these statements as any worse or different that the recent "Vote Torah" campaign - he is saying that voting for Shas supports Torah institutions. So?

I have a lot of issues with many statements of ROY, but this one's pareve.

Unknown said...

I actually posted on this as well at the following link .

I think that Josh may have the nuance correct and that the subtle inference to the common man's ability to help in service of God was Rav Ovadyah's intent. However, when you are a public figure like Rav Ovadya (I would encourage people not to use ROY when talking about a Gadol) you also need to anticipate how your statements play in the public arena. In my opinion (and I think the Israeli press lays this out), Rav Ovadyah's statement, pro-torah as it may be, depricates religion in the public's eye. It does not help bring people closer to God but rather distances them further because of what they perceive as a eschatological election gimmickry.

Unknown said...

I posted the wrong link in the last comment. here is the right one


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