Friday, August 27, 2010

Manipulating the Gedolim: Did Rav Amnon Yitzchak do this to Rav Shteinman?

People were very upset at Rabbi David Orlofky's remarks, five and a half years years ago, in which he disparaged Rabbi Weinreb and said that modern Orthodox were not frum Jews or bnei Torah. (In his letter of apology / clarification, he explains that he has now apologized to Rabbi Weinreb and was forgiven, and that he meant to say Conservative Jews, for surely modern Orthodox accept the Gedolim, or some Gedolim, or would if they had any. I don't buy the latter, because of the transition to secular Israeli, which shows he was giving a list, and because indeed modern Orthodox do not accept the Gedolim in this manner he describes, and do not buy in to the chareidi version of Daas Torah. Consider the second-to-last paragraph of this article by Rabbi Bejamnin Hecht, about yardsticks.)

But all this is beside the point. I want to put up his statement against some modern goings-on. Consider his statement. I haven't seen a transcript on line so I have transcribed it myself.
"And this is what people are doing all over and I'm hearing this. It's frightening. 'The gedolim don't know what they're talking about; the gedolim are being manipulated; the gedolim are being fooled by people; the Gedolim don't read English; the gedolim don't know {?} what's in the book; the gedolim don't know what they're talking about. Dadadadat.' That's it. You have now taken Torah Judaism and thrown it out the window. You are now a Conservative Jew. I want you to appreciate that. If you accept that argument you are not a frum Jew. You are a conservative. Finished. Finished. Take off the yarmulke, put it in your pocket, and put it on when you eat. You are done. You are no longer a Torah Jew. I want you to appreciate that. Once you strip yourself of the Gedolei Torah it's over. I don't care if a Conservative Jew says that. I don't care if a secular Israeli says that. I don't care if a modern Orthodox guy says that. But that a person who considers himself a ben Toirah would say such a thing?!"
If is indeed frightening. But if one accepts this argument, then it does not mean that one is not a frum Jew; that one is not a ben Toirah; that one is not chareidi. Right or wrong, I know chareidim who accept such an argument, and who cast the blame for certain pronouncements from Gedolim as a result of manipulation by askonim. The end result is that, due to the poverty of our generation, we cannot trust a statement from Gedolim unless we hear it ourselves (or from someone we trust) together with the precise context in which the question was phrased and framed. This is terrible, and as Bnei Torah, we should get angry, rather than living in denial. We should do something about it, to reclaim our Gedolim.

See this video of an askan manipulating Rav Elyashiv, shlita, and get angry at the askan's tone and his manipulation. Don't say that manipulation is impossible.

Here is a recent example of such manipulation. Consider the following report, at Kikar haShabbat, and compare it with what goes on in the video -- even though the video has been edited. It is the result of a conversation by Rav Amnon Yitzchak and Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman.

Kikar HaShabbat:

"יעקב שוואקי, הוא חילוני?" שאל הגראי"ל שטיינמן

"זה בסדר מה שאני עושה?", שאל הרב אמנון יצחק את הגראי"ל שטיינמן, בפגישה שנערכה בנושא המאבק בכוכבי הזמר החסידי. הגראי"ל השיב: "הלוואי שזה יועיל". במשך דקות ארוכות, סיפר הרב יצחק על המלחמה ב"זמרים הרשעים, מחטיאי הרבים". הגראי"ל השיב: "טוב מאד, "שתצליח" (חרדים)

"זה בסדר מה שאני עושה?", שאל הרב אמנון יצחק את הגראי"ל שטיינמן, בפגישה שנערכה בנושא המאבק בכוכבי הזמר החסידי.
הרב אמנון יצחק הגיע השבוע לביתו של הגראי"ל שטיינמן, וסיפר לו על המלחמה שהוא מנהל נגד זמרים חרדים המופיעים מול קהל מעורב.
"הוא חילוני?", שאל הגראי"ל כשהרב יצחק סיפר לו על יעקב שוואקי. "לא, דתי. אברך לשעבר מליקווד. יש כמה כאלה, כל העולם החרדי שומע אותם".
הרב אמנון יצחק סיפר ש"אין בית דתי שאין לו את הדיסקים האלה".
הגראי"ל הגיב בחיוך: "לי אין".
"הוא מחטיא את הרבים, הוא רשע. הוא נקרא גדול הזמר החסידי", המשיך הרב יצחק להלום בשוואקי. "חייבים לעשות משהו לעצור את זה. הרב חתם בזמנו על פסק כזה. יש דבר אחד שלא ברור: פשוט מאוד אסור לשומעם ואסור להחזיק את הדיסקים שלהם. הם מחטיאי הרבים שאין כדוגמתם".
הרב יצחק סיפר כי בפלורידה, בעידודו ובהכוונתו, שוברים אלפים דיסקים חסידיים. "תוך כדי הרצאה שאני מדבר, שרואים אותי בכל העולם, אנשים שוברים דיסקים".
"הלוואי זה יועיל", הפטיר הגראי"ל. "זה יועיל, כשאני נלחם זה עד הסוף ותמיד זה מועיל", השיב הרב אמנון יצחק.

Here is a video of this meeting.

See also the analysis at Life In Israel, and at Blog in Dm. While considered the context of the statement, and looking at body language and evasive language, he doesn't give the wholehearted approval implied by the report in Kikar haShabat, he still does wish him success and does express the hope that it helps. But this was a clear attempt at manipulation by Rabbi Amnon Yitzchak, and indeed he left with the ability to say that Rav Shteinman agrees with him. (Also manipulation by the other speaker, who summed up that 'certainly the concerts are bad, but do you agree that the CDs are also terrible, such that we should be smashing them?')

But here are some pointed questions, in light of Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky's statement.

(1) After seeing this video, do you get the impression that Rav Shteinman knows what the Internet is, other than that it is bad and the source of all modern woes?
(2) After seeing this video, do you get the impression that Rav Shteinman knows what a CD is?
(3) Does Rav Shteinman understand the implications of family seating at concerts and how some rabbis approve of it?
(4) Does he know Shwekey, his personality, whether he is a yerei Shamayim, the nature of his music? If he heard the music, would he be able to put it into musical context? Does he understand the role Jewish music plays in Judaism nowadays, how it puts words of Torah on Jewish kids' lips, and how it gets them excited about Judaism? Does he understand that Rav Amnon Yitzchak believes that there is no such thing as teshuvah meiAhavah?
(6) Related, rather than one side ambushing Rav Shteinman like this, wouldn't this have been better if both sides had been given opportunity to present their case? Bet Din doesn't hear one side without the other.
(7) Is someone trying to get Rav Shteinman's imprimatur on his own project, knowing that Rav Shteinman doesn't really have the background, because the name recognition of this Gadol will make people agree to his project?
(8) Does asking these questions, and being disgusted by this manipulation of a Gadol, make me not a Ben Torah and not a frum Jew? Should I strip off my yarmulke and put it in my pocket? Or rather, should we ask whether someone who would manipulate a Gadol in this manner (or in the manner of the askan in tznius video linked above) should be considered a Ben Torah?


Garnel Ironheart said...

Maybe it's time to say: A true Ben Torah follows what a Godol says... when he's heard it directly from the Godol himself.

S. said...

>Maybe it's time to say: A true Ben Torah follows what a Godol says... when he's heard it directly from the Godol himself, and he didn't tell him to say it, and neither did anyone else.

Is what I think you meant?

Akiva said...

I would like to say that the change is we used to trust that those who speak in the name of a Gadol were honest enough and considered Torah true Jews enough that they wouldn't dare put their own spin on the Gadol's words.

However, historical reference to letters sent about the Rambam's works by askanim in France would seem to demonstrate that this is nothing new.

At best the difference is the quantity of such occurances and the level of distribution of such manipulated pronouncements.

Anonymous said...

Meir says
I as you know dont personally trust 'gedolim'. For a start they come up with 'daas tora' something unheard of before our generation, its either written in the Torah or it isnt. One cant make up ones own. It also says they have to know seventy languages, whatever for if they can always ask their experts? I say these gedolim should leave it for those who know English to give an opinion. And when giving an opinion it should be with full chapter and verse. It says god went down to s'dom to have a look, not because he cant see from heaven but to teach us that a dayan has to see for himself before paskening.

Anonymous said...

As regards to Amnon Yithak's own track record with a Beis Din of a Godol:


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