Friday, April 04, 2008

Manipulating Gedolim pt ii

With the background of yesterday's post, and with the general trend of askonim attempting to manipulate gedolim, I think it is clear that when we hear a halachic ruling in the name of Rav Kanievsky, we should take it with a grain of salt. We should read carefully, or inquire carefully, into the circumstances of how the question was asked and barring being able to determine that information, we should not simply assume that everything was on the up-and-up.

As YeshivaWorld reports, ARecently, chareidi activists started publishing a "black-list" of stores where Arabs are still employed, "Following the p'sak halacha (Rabbinical ruling) by Rav Chaim Kanievsky Shlita." (I think following is used in the sense of logical outgrowth rather than paying heed to.) Yet I am not at all convinced that this was the meaning of Rav Chaim Kanievsky's ruling. It is an extension of it. And even the original ruling is suspect. Please Note that I do not know that everything was not on the up-and-up in the following case, but there are certain aspects of this that give me pause.

Based on information from various reports, what happened was that administrators of a particular yeshiva thought to fire " older Arab man who they do not suspect of any involvement in terrorism." But for such a serious matter, they decided to consult daas Torah.

Look, if they wanted to do it because of security concerns for their students, they did not have to ask a gadol about it. If they really had fears, and they thought this the right approach, go ahead and do it. But asking a gadol and then publicizing the result accomplishes two things, assuming you can get the gadol to agree: it justifies your approach, and it might just force everyone else to adopt your approach as well.

That is, there is potential for manipulation here, in which someone has a "brilliant" idea, and to get the community to adopt is, "consults" a gadol and persuades him that this is the right approach. How does one "persuade" him? Rav Kanievsky is unfortunately susceptible to it -- all you need to do is present the metzius in the appropriate light.

It is one thing to go to him without suggestion, and ask for guidance in general of how yeshivot should act, and relate all the various aspects. But if a particular gadol if susceptible to suggestion, don't strongly suggest one specific approach, describe questionable metzius to support that conclusion, come without anyone else who would argue the opposite position with other metzius, then expect me to follow it as a ruling from that person!

There are three points of metzius that Rav Kanievsky appears to have been unaware of, and that the did or could have informed him of.

1. He expressed surprise that yeshivot and other places were employing Arabs. Thus, this was something they informed him about.

2. He said that one should employ a Jewish person first, unless there is a huge disparity in cost. "Rabbi Kanievsky went even further, saying that Jews should refrain from employing any non-Jews, not just Muslim Arabs, and instead grant livelihood to Jews, unless there exists a huge disparity between the labor costs." In fact, Arab and non-Jewish labor is indeed much cheaper than Jewish labor, so there is consistently this huge disparity. Stating it as an "unless" implies lack of knowledge about this metzius. (I also wonder if he is aware of Israeli anti-discrimination law, which might make such discrimination illegal. This would also be something in the metzius to be informed of.)

3. He was presumably informed of the specific reason for considering this measure now. And that was that this was in the immediate aftermath of the Mercaz haRav terror attack, where an Israeli Arab mamzer attacked Jewish teenage boys as they were studying Torah. There were rumors that this Arab had worked as a driver for the yeshiva. And the yeshiva administrators who were asking the question wanted to fire an elderly Arab driver for the yeshiva. The fear was that Arab workers for yeshivas would have a certain security clearance, which would put the students at risk. And this recent case, this metzius, is proof. Indeed, news reports about the ruling mention "following reports that the terrorist who carried out the massacre at Jerusalem’s Merkaz HaRav Yeshiva had been hired as a driver on occasion."

But, subsequent police investigation showed that these rumors were false. The terrorist had not been employed as a driver for the yeshiva. If Rav Kanievsky based his ruling on security concerned put forth by these particular yeshiva administrators which were false, and was not informed of the general large labor disparity, then he would might well have been basing his ruling on false metzius.

Furthermore, after he agreed with them that it was forbidden to employ Arabs, particularly at yeshivot, all this was was his personal assessment of the halacha. And it is an assessment that is based both on the sources and on an assessment of the metzius. But not everyone follows Rav Kanievsky on every matter. His followers (as I have experienced) want everyone worldwide to follow him as Gadol haDor, with whom there can be no dispute. But there are other rabbonim, and other gedolim, who can both (a) read the sources differently, and (b) read the metzius differently. And I don't think Rav Kanievsky would disagree with this assertion.

He did not say "this is absolute halacha; and everyone must follow it; and no one can argue; and no one may consult their own daas Torah; and anyone who argues is wrong and a mechutzef." Indeed, he did not ask for this proclamation to be distributed as a takkana at all. Rather, we see that
When Rav Kanievsky was asked if his ruling should be publicized, he stated “certainly” and now, after his ruling is public knowledge, hundreds of Yeshivos around the country are expected to follow his decision.
This was the second part of the scheme of the manipulators. He did not ask that this be a takkana. But he was asked if they could share this information with others, or had to keep it secret. Rav Kanievsky was not ashamed of his ruling, and others should know about it, and either follow it, or consult their rabbanim and decide. But this was manipulation in the questioning and then in the spinning of the response, just as we saw in yesterday's post about manipulation by Kupat haIr.

And indeed, if there are many stores that employ Arabs, and there are non-discrimination laws on the books, and there is indeed a huge labor-cost disparity, and your evaluation of the metzius is that there is no security risk, and you do not rely on Rav Kanievsky as your sole daas Torah, then there is no reason to be blacklisted. Yet now, activists are taking down names and on the basis of the erroneous ruling, are applying it to stores in general and coercing them via flyers and posters to fire their Arab employees. And making the assumption that Rav Kanievsky's manipulated opinion is the only possible position within the bounds of halacha.

Nor do I think that if you asked Rav Kanievsky, he would say that one must, or should, boycott all stores (secular, or religious) that do not follow his ruling. Rather, this is independent action by kanoim taking his statement and running forward with it, to pressure store-owners in the community.

It is shameful situation, but it is an important lesson in general about how these things work, and how to react to them.


Anonymous said...

A couple of points. Was this a "daas Torah" question or a halachik question. I think there is a distinction.

Second, you quote the article as saying that he was asked "if his ruling SHould be publicized" so his answer was that it SHould be publicized. you then presnt it in the next line as Could it bepublicized, meaning are they allowed to. Two different things.

Third, I am curious to know how you know that Rav Kanievsky is "unfortunately susceptible" to being manipulated. I am not agreeing/disagreeing, I am just curious to know how you know that.

joshwaxman said...

please choose a pseudonym, and then I may decide to respond.

kol tuv,

joshwaxman said...

the temptation to respond was too much, and so I'll post short responses (just to show that responses are possible). But please choose a pseudonym when you respond.

1. I think it was both. It seems like they thought this was the appropriate course of actions, but wanted to consult "daas Torah beforehand." But he answered also in terms of what the halacha should be, based on the metzius. And in either case, a false perception of the metzius calls into question the result. And people can rely on their own rabbonim *both* for halacha and for daas Torah.

Which do you think it was? And what do you think is the distinction?

2. True, there is often a difference between could and should. But once again, this idea to publicize did not originate with him. (Just as the idea to fire did not originate with him.) In the initial conversation, he did not say to publicize it. It was *their* bright idea, and he agreed with "certainly," not with "ok, you don't have to keep it secret" or "yes, make sure everyone knows this so that they have to adopt this as my takkana." It all depends on how they framed it both at the time, and after. And given the general trend of askonim and kannoim reframing things, I would not trust it. But even with "should," it could mean different things. "I was thinking of publicizing this? Should I?" "Certainly." And even if it was should in the sense that it is an important thing to do, that does not mean that therefore he meant it as a takkana. He could mean it as a way of letting people know his opinion on this issue, without insisting that they may not have their own halachic take.

3. There is a general pattern of askonim doing this to gedolim, and this case smells of it. But there is a *reason* that this is part ii of a two-part series. Feel free to read part i and disagree with my assessment, though.

Kol Tuv and Shabbat Shalom,

Anonymous said...

It's well-known halacha that 1) you should prefer Jewish workers unless there is a big salary difference and 2) you may not employ a worker who may reasonably be expected of violence. The ONLY "chiddush" in his comments was in the metzius. And even if you assume that R' Kanievsky was well informed and his comments were accurately transmitted, there is a problem when the metzius has to be transmitted through an elaborate game of telephone before being acted on. The mentality seems to be that even when you KNOW the halacha, you do not apply it unless you are told to. That is not a responsible halachic attitude. But it is what characterizes the charedi community today.

Anonymous said...

I should clarify one line of my post to:
"2) you may not employ a worker who is likely to want to commit violence, and will be given the opportunity to do so by the employment"

(as i phrased it beforehand, the halachic basis was much more dubious)


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