Thursday, April 03, 2008

Manipulating Gedolim pt i

I am not talking about this out of the blue. I have cause, which I will elaborate upon in the next post. But I think it is shameful when people take advantage of Gedolim for their own ends (in instances where it is possible to do so), and to advance their own agenda. More often than not, it leads to chillul haShem and a cheapening of Torah and of great Talmidei chachamim.

Specifically, I believe that this latest instance of people first assuming Rav Kanievsky assur-ed Arabs working in yeshivot in Israel, and that he would approve of the blacklisting of fruit stores that did not fire their Arab workers is such an instance. But I will save this for the next post. This post is to set-up for that one.

Kupat haIr annoys me. The way that they manipulate the vulnerable to get them to donate money, by presenting their tzedaka as the way to solve their problems with fertility, life-threatening illness, bankruptcy, the feds closing in, and so on is bad enough. And the way the promise guaranteed yeshuos is awful. But I feel they also manipulate Gedolim towards this end.

I don't think Rav Kanievsky has seen the English glossy pamphlets they produce, and that if someone carefully explained the impression they convey, I would guess that he would be against them.

Two relatively recent instances. First, they already had Rav Kanievsky's seal of approval, though they took care of the specific disbursements. But then, they boasted in a recent pamphlet how they wasted Rav Kanievsky's time, and got him involved in the specific details of how the money was to be disbursed, in exacting detail.

This is great, to be involved in a mitzvah like this. But they did not really need Rav Kanievsky for this. They knew who needed money and how much, and if tough decisions had to be made, I am sure they would do it with the proper considerations.

But like this, they were able to claim that their disbursements are done consulting daas Torah. And that they were able to consult Rav Kanievsky, which is the equivalent of consulting the Urim veTumim (!!). Why do this? To be able to hype themselves, and to make a breathless headline. To say that they had daas Torah for each of their specific decisions. This gives them an edge over the competing Tzedaka organizations, some of which also have adopted Kupat ha'Ir's practice of promoting their tzedaka via Gadol tie-ins.

But another example. Kupat Aniyei Eretz Yisrael is a separate organization, which touts their approval of Gedolim and also hawks segulos, brachos, and yeshuos. See this blogpost for a sample. So Kupat HaIr has competition, from this place at least.

So what do they do?

The first thing is what I mentioned above -- get Rav Kanievsky to waste his time in the particulars, though it is not necessary, so that they can claim daas Torah. This is of course a perversion and undermining of daas Torah, because how can you rely on statements or actions of gedolim who are being manipulated?

But here is the other thing they do. (Updated Note: This might be reversed, with Kupat Aniyei Eretz Yisrael instead of Kupat haIr being "they.")

They claim that they do not only offer "yeshuos" (as we might know other places offer), but only they offer OPEN MIRACLES. And then, they manipulate Rav Kanievsky into supporting this claim. And furthermore, they got him to say that they were better than other tzedakos because only they, the gabaim of this charity, were on the level of Rabbi Chanina ben Tradion. And then used that for marketing purposes. Disgusting!

They prominently placed these claims in one of their glossy pamphlets. But they of course need to show how Rav Kanievsky made this statement, and a careful analysis shows manipulation.

To retell the story, they were meeting with Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky. And one of the gabbaim asked him to explain why people who donate to Kupat HaIr get "open miracles." (If I recall correctly, they did not explain that they intended "open miracles" as opposed to "yeshuos" in these questions.) Ever obliging, Rav Kanievsky adopted the premise of the question without argument. This is the tactic: Frame it as fact -- they are experiencing open miracles, can you explain why? -- and you are more likely to get the result you want, than if you ask whether people who donate are experiencing what could be termed open miracles. Especially if the person in question is aging and unfortunately open to such manipulation.

So Rav Kanievsky responded with a story of the Chazon Ish's Beis Medrash, that when during the Yamim Noarim, though it was packed, there was room enough for people to be able to prostrate themselves during Aleinu in the Amida. This corresponds to the Mishna in Pirkei Avos (5:5) that
“Ten miracles were wrought for our forefathers in the Beis HaMikdash: No women miscarried because of the aroma of the meat of the sacrifices, the meat of the sacrifices never became putrid ...when the people stood they were crowded together, when they prostrated themselves they had ample room; no snake or scorpion ever caused harm in Jerusalem, nor did any man say to his fellow, The place is too crowded for me to lodge in Jerusalem.”
Thus, concluded Rav Kanievsky, when Gedolim are involved with a project, you see miracles.

This was an obliging answer, and the type he presumed they were looking for, because they stress the involvement of the gedolim. Of course, this miracle is not necessarily so impressive to readers. Plus, they were hoping for something that would put them over the competition. So they pressed him for a different answer.

"That cannot be it," they said. (Or said approximately. None of this is an exact quote, and is done from memory.) After all, they pressed, other tzedakah organizations had Gedolim involved, yet people donating to those organizations did not report OPEN MIRACLES.

Rav Kanievsky was once again obliging. He did not question the premise, namely that other tzedaka organizations which use Gedolim do not disburse OPEN MIRACLES. (Besides the ones that do report that, it could be that donating to other organizations is a zechus which helps, but their pamphlets do not seek out such stories and breathlessly report them as marketing tactics; or that only Kupat haIr promises them, such that in the rare case something happens, people associate it with the tzedaka they gave and report it -- which in the cases nothing happens, these is no breathless reporting. And so on and so forth.) Instead, he accepted the premise of their question as the metzius, and worked from there. After all, why should they mislead him? He can surely trust their description of the metzius as factual.

And so, Rav Kanievsky explained that if people who donate to Kupat haIr experience open miracles, it must be because the gabaim of Kupat ha'Ir are like Rabbi Chanina ben Tradyon. A compliment they breathlessly repeat over and over in the pamphlet.

How are they like Rabbi Chanina ben Tradyon? They do not elaborate in the flyer. Perhaps we are to assume that they, too, utter the Ineffable Name of Hashem in public discourse?

No. To explain, Rav Kanievsky was presumably referring to the gemara in Avodah Zarah 17b. To simply cannibalize from Point by Point Summary:
(d) (Beraisa): R. Elazar ben Parta and R. Chanina ben Tradyon were seized to be tried.
1. R. Elazar ben Parta: You are more likely to be saved than I, they only have one claim against you, they have five against me!
2. R. Chanina ben Tradyon: Nevertheless, you will be saved and not me, for you engaged in Torah and Chesed, I only engaged in Torah.
i. (Rav Huna): One who only engages in Torah is like one who has no G-d (to protect him) - "V'Yamim Rabim l'Yisrael l'Lo Elokei Emes".
3. Question: Is it really true that R. Chanina did not engage in Chesed?
i. (Beraisa - R. Eliezer ben Yakov): One should not give a Perutah to the Tzedakah pouch unless the one appointed over it is as trustworthy as R. Chanina ben Tradyon.
4. Answer: Indeed, we want someone as trustworthy as R. Chanina ben Tradyon, but he himself was not appointed over it.
5. Question (Beraisa - R. Chanina ben Tradyon): I once collected money for (the poor for the feast of) Purim, and I mistakenly thought it was regular Tzedakah, and gave it as such (Tosfos - he realized his mistake after gathering the poor to distribute Tzedakah, but gave it anyway, he did not want to disappoint them);
i. Later, (Rashi - when I realized my mistake) I donated that amount for Purim.
6. Answer: He did (Tzedakah, and surely also) Chesed, but not as much as he should have.
Thus, he is referring to the conclusion of the gemara that these gabaim were exceedingly trustworthy. And he meant to compliment them. I don't know, or think that he meant that the other ones were not trustworthy and thus that one should not donate to them, despite this negative implication from his positive, and the brayta which states that
One should not give a Perutah to the Tzedakah pouch unless the one appointed over it is as trustworthy as R. Chanina ben Tradyon.
I think he only really intended the positive.

But see how they prompt him for an answer, fishing for a gem to hype, and when it is not enough, tell him he is wrong, feed him another biased metzius and strike paydirt.

Rav Kanievsky was and is a great gadol baTorah who knows many more gemaras, rishonim, acharonim at a deeper level than I know. (Though there are things I know in terms of gemaras that he does not know, because of a different methodology and openness to other sources, such as Tobit. But this is besides the point.) But a gadol can also give forth accurate psak when presented with an accurate portrayal of the metzius. If you go to a gadol to pasken about the kashrus of a chicken (as an example), but bring a different chicken, don't be surprised if the result is about the chicken you present. And it seems like people are presenting the wrong chickens to Rav Kanievsky, to get the daas Torah they want, so that they can present it to others as daas Torah. These two examples, besides the general reports of the "askanim" misreporting metzius to gedolim to get the result they want.

BeEzras Hashem, more in a later post, about how this relates to the purported "ruling" that one may not employ Arabs.

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