Shmuel has submitted the following guest post detailing the failures of Daas Torah, the haredi ideology that claims near-infallibility for haredi sages:
1. The Destruction of Jerusalem
Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, who might have asked for Jerusalem and its Beit Hamikdash, was considered by the rabbis in the Talmud in Gittin as having been inspired by Heaven not to ask for the right things, and they apply the pasuk from Isaiah that G-d turns aside the wise men from their wisdom. Wasn’t he the very embodiment of daas Torah in his generation? Was he mistaken?
2. The Maimonidean controversy.
Weren’t the French/German rabbis daas Torah? Today’s Charedim would say so. Yet they burnt his books and excommunicated Rambam. It wasn’t long thereafter that the Talmud was burnt. Many thought it was Divine punishment for the ban and burning. Wasn’t Sefer Shaarey Tshuvah written as a posthumous apology of a sort? And isn’t Rambam indisputably one of the greatest rabbis and halachists and philosophers ever? Of course he is. Wasn’t he invited back to the fold? Yes. Right you can’t be a Rosh Yeshiva today unless you can “farenfer” a shvere Rambam? Right.
Now, if a daas Torah Jew of today were to be transported back to France of the 12/13th centuries, and was confronted with the leading rabbis of the day about to burn Rambam’s books, knowing what he knows NOW, what should he do? Isn’t it pretty plainly evident that daas Torah back then was dead wrong?
3. Chasidim and Misnagdim
How about the Vilna Gaon’s ban on the Chasidim? I know they changed a bit, and don’t stand on their heads as often as they did, but he still banned them and refused to meet them. Now, we all know that (as quoted in the name of Rav Moshe Feinstein) Chasidm have served to prop up and maintain Judaism over the years. Love them or not, there’s no denying the simple truth that they are needed and serve the Jewish people. We’d all be the poorer if they weren’t on the scene. So what shall I do now, seeing that daas Torah, none other than the Vilna Gaon himself, banned a group that 200 years later has added immeasurably to the growth and vitality of Klal Yisroel? Was he mistaken?
4. Shabtai Tzvi
Didn’t many rabbis of his day think he was the Messiah? Were they not daas Torah? Weren’t they mistaken? Most of the Jewish world thought he was Moshiach. Why did they think that? Weren’t they told so by their rabbis?
5. Jewish education for Jewish women
There was enormous controversy about this at the outset, and there were plenty of rabbis who opposed chinuch for Jewish girls. Sara Schnerir just kept fighting until she won. Now, Jewish education for girls is so matter of course that if a rabbi can’t get a job teaching boys, he gets a job teaching girls. And no one bats an eyelash. Yet they did @130 years ago. Why? Knowing what we know now, were they mistaken?
6. The Mussar movement
I’m no expert, but it’s well known that there were indeed great rabbis who opposed the new movement, thinking it was unnecessary, would take boys away from Talmud study. Look who won the day. There are lots oif “mussar yeshivas today and they’re thriving. Were the opponents wrong in their assessment?
7. The Brisker derech in learning
Here, too, there was indeed opposition to Reb Chaim’s new methods. One rabbi criticized it vehemently as “chemistry” and not the mesorah of how Moshe Rabbeinu received and transmitted Torah. Today, learning in Brisk is what you need to do if you want to marry a wealthy girl. And who doesn’t want that?
8. The Agudah’s opposition to Zionism
a.There’s no denying this: we all know the Agudah effectively went 180 degrees from its original opposition. Today it sits in the Knesset and takes Zionist money. So cooprating with the Zionists is ok after all, especially when G-d seems to allow them to win? Were they mistaken originally?
b. Could the original Agudistim have foreseen a day when there would be tens of thousands of Jewish men learning Torah full-time in Israel? I guess not, or else they would have favored such a thing. Yet they opposed the creation of the state. With all its problems–and there are problems—you have more Torah being learned there than anywhere else in the world, and more than at any time since churban Bayit Sheni. Where was there vision?
c. The Hebrew language fight: it was bitter, but today there isn’t a yeshiva bachur in Israel who doesn’t speak Hebrew, and he can’t imagine what the fuss was all about. And neither can I. Now that we see that everyone frum in Israel speaks Hebrew (except for the linguistically challenged American yeshiva guys), who had the vision? Who was mistaken?
d. After 58 years, 4 victorious wars, aliyah of millions, tens of thousands learning Torah, an unbelievable buildup of Jewish life after 2000 years of dormancy in Israel, ongoing successful fighting against terrorism, and (for whatever the following is worth)a sea change in the attitude of nothing less than the Catholic Church (which considers itself the inheritor of the mantle of “Israel”) in its relations to the Jews and Israel, isn’t it fair to say that the creation of the State of Israel was G-d’s will after all? Were the charedi opponents then wrong?
9. America and Jewish immigration
a. We all know that European rabbis urged their townfolk and congregants not to leave for the treife medinah of America. Of course there was assimilation here, but it existed in Europe as well. Good thing my grandparents ignored those rabbis, or I wouldn’t be here today. Alive, that is. And neither would you. Where was the vision? Were they wrong? We have the privilege of debating it because our ancestors ignored rabbinical advice.
b. Rabbi Aaron Kotler had a vision of bringing back Torah lishma Torah study to the treife medinah of America. He succeeded. Is it fair to say that only he had vision, but the rest of his colleagues did not?