Saturday, December 6, 2008

Looking for a source

Friday night, I got into a pointless conversation with someone -- one of those "discussions" when you don't agree with each other and you're not going to sway the other person's opinion, so it could go on for hours until someone decides to end it. Rather fruitless, on the whole, but it was civil.

In the course of this conversation, the other person asked me if I believe that gedolim receive a special siyata dishmaya when they pasken or make decisions. I responded that unless the person had a source for this concept, I was skeptical - to me, believing that gedolim get special siyata dishmaya is a "feel-good" idea: if you think it's true, then gedolim will ALWAYS be right, because Hashem wouldn't let them make mistakes, and so you can legitimately follow everything they say and never question. In other words, this special power, as it were, gives gedolim a status of infallibility, and exempts their followers from having to take stock of what they say.

But if you don't think it's true, then you accept that gedolim are using their knowledge and bechira when they make decisions and/or pasken, and then it's much more up to you whether or not you buy into it or follow what they say.

As an aside, I find the concept of da'as Torah to be one of the stickiest things to discuss, which is why I normally steer clear of having those sorts of conversations -- this one sort of just happened. When we had both gotten thoroughly tired of recycling the same ideas in the conversation, we resolved to each do our research and try to find out if there is a source for the siyata dishmaya idea.

Note: When the other person said "gedolim," they meant people like Rav Elyashiv or Rav Scheinberg (who are without question gedolei Torah, but I wonder if all of Orthodox Judaism considers them gedolei hador [and I think there is definitely a difference]).

So... any thoughts? Is there a source for this concept, that gedolim -- because of their stature -- get special siyata dishmaya when they pasken/make decisions?

(Of course, I didn't bother to tell this person that to my mind, it's not definite whether or not there are really even gedolei hador in the world nowadays . . . that might have been a little too traumatic for this person to hear.)

11 comments:

Ezzie said...

All seriousness, if there's truly no chance anyone will be swayed, what are the odds having sources - for or against - will help? I can understand having the discussion if it's interesting (although some may disagree even with this), but why come back to it once it's over?

That said... FWIW, I've seen it discussed about specific gedolim (most often Rashi) being viewed - from a much later date usually, sometimes by their own constituents at the time - as having (had) a special siyata dishmaya or ruach hakodesh in their decision making/writings. Of course, each side interprets that differently: Just consider people nowadays who will discuss a ruling/speech/writing of a Rav they admire and respect and attribute it to the same. It can be viewed in multiple ways.

For example, perhaps it's a way of expressing how strongly we should view those rulings, or it's just a self-perpetuating concept (it must be that it was from God), or it was specific to those people, or it's meant to impress upon people to view da'as torah in a certain way (either because it should be viewed that way or because it was necessary in a particular period/place), or whatever. Even in a case where it is written it can easily be interpreted either way and/or dismissed entirely. [Sorry - I assume this was unhelpful in the slightest and mostly repetitive of what you already discussed.]

As with most discussions, it almost all depends on how you view it from the outset - everything is viewed in that light.

From my own POV... I'd only note that even those who were most often attributed as having Ruach HaKodesh (in particular Rashi) were never accepted even in their own times as infallible, even within their writings that were specifically mentioned as having been done with Ruach HaKodesh. That there are countless Perushim on Torah that so often disagree with Rashi seem to show just how much that idea should be applied to day-to-day life, whether one wants to attribute said Siyata Dishmaya or not. More recently, R' Moshe's explanation of how he became a Gadol HaDor (the NYTimes interview) seems to show that it is through proper psak that one becomes a gadol and not the other way around.

the apple said...

I think it's worth it to have a source so that someone will at least understand where an idea is coming from -- was it something that was fabricated just so people would be scared into/awed into following gedolim without their own thinking, or is it a legitimate concept -- even if the person isn't necessarily going to change his/her mind.

Ezzie said...

Fair enough. While you're still faced with the problems stated above (essentially a source is only as valuable as the way its used), it's a noble approach.

I'd look for quotes on Rashi and start from there.

While I doubt highly it was done specifically to make people not think, and more likely it's legitimate insofar as people were trying to accentuate the 'greatness' of the gedolim to whom it referred, it is more important to determine whether - even if one accepts that it actually was a specific s'd/ruach hakodesh that was given to them - what follows from that is a blind allegiance to the words of gedolim or even how much accord their statements should be given.

As for specific sources, a quick perusal via Google implies a widespread belief Rashi wrote using Ruach Hakodesh starting from the Ari, which was then taken by the Besht and others [MailJewish has tons of posts on Ruach Hakodesh, most of which are at a decent level]. Frumteens (!!!!) says that according to the Divrei Chaim on Yoreh Deah, someone who denies that gedolim in any generation have a level of Ruach Hakodesh is guilty of apikorsus. Yet in the same place the same person quoting this says that people can disagree because all sides were given on Har Sinai, which makes the Ruach Hakodesh pretty worthless, so make of it what you will.

Chana said...

Source: I am pretty much certain this is discussed in the book Daas Torah by Daniel Eidensohn. I don't have the book on me currently because my friend borrowed it.

G said...

Why do I get the feeling that, regradless, your source will not be as good as their source.

(as an aside - this is why one should avoid serious discussion with other cabon based life forms at all cost.)

G said...

In other words, this special power, as it were, gives gedolim a status of infallibility, and exempts their followers from having to take stock of what they say.
But if you don't think it's true, then you accept that gedolim are using their knowledge and bechira when they make decisions and/or pasken, and then it's much more up to you whether or not you buy into it or follow what they say.


Why can't there be a middle ground btwn "I trust everything w/o question" and "well, let's see what he has to say and then I'll decide whether I'm good with that".

Kind of like you have confidence that the person's immersion in the world of Torah and vast knowledge allows for a clearer/better understanding of certain things.
It is also key, in my rarely humble opinion, to know that being a talmid chochom and being a good baal eitza do not always go hand in hand.
Being a good posek and being a good decision maker are not necessarily the same thing.

the apple said...

Okay, now for actually responding to comments (had a really busy weekend):

Ezzie - I will look up the NYT article you mentioned. And using Frumteens as a source?!? :P Seriously, I'd take anything said on that website with an entire canister of iodized salt.

Chana - thanks. Will look it up.

G - Yeah, probably. And lol.

Re your second comment - sorry if I implied that you shouldn't have that middle-ground attitude. I think it's common sense to assume that someone with more knowledge/life experience has a clearer/better knowledge of things -- and yes, I do believe that greater Torah knowledge gives someone a special "edge" in understanding the world through a Torahdik (I know I know I know) lens.

It is also key, in my rarely humble opinion, to know that being a talmid chochom and being a good baal eitza do not always go hand in hand.

Right. Now we just have to make everyone else realize this! Hehe.

Ezzie said...

Just think positively: At least MailJewish came out higher than FT in the results on Google. There's some hope yet...! :)

As for the NYT piece, I *think* it's this one, but I can't see the whole thing: http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=FB0E1FF93E5D137B93C7A9178ED85F418785F9&scp=1&sq=Moshe+Feinstein&st=p

Jon said...

Hi, Let me ask - Does it matter whether they have syata dishmaya...if one thinks we're obligated to listen to them for either psak or other decisions (public or private policy). FWIW, R' Herschel Schachter at YU thinks they have syata dishmaya regarding psak halacha. I'd argue that history argues that they don't have it with respect to public policy (see R' Elchanan Wasserman regarding leaving Europe b4 WW2).

harry-er than them all said...

well there is a whole mesechta out there for what happens when beis din makes a mistake (horayos).

also a recent line i heard (froma charedi rebbi)- there is a machlokes in Megilla whether achashveirosh was a smart or stupid king. the Amoraim were talking about political decisions that he had made. So it follows logically that the Amora that holds he was stupid, also holds the other Amora also makes stupid political decisions.

So you can even be an Amora and not know anything about politics

Freeda said...

I know I'm mighty late here but just chanced across this and have to say, you guys are all missing some basic things needed before you can discuss this topic. Research, ailu ve'ailu divrei elokim chaim, shivim panim latorah and machlokes lesheim shamayim- then you'll understand how 2 mefarshim can argue and we can understand and realize the truth in each. From there, you can understand how even when gedolei hador may say different things, there's truth in each. You just have to know who you listen to and follow them all the way, even if one one topic, you like someone else's ruling better. If you'd like more exact sources, say so and I'll get them 2 u.