Wednesday, February 14, 2007

does being an expert in torah make one an expert in finance or medicine?

Jonathan Rosenblum's article here makes a number of accurate observations about the negative attitude of the chareidi community toward outside experts, and I admit my surprise that it was published in chareidi venues. One of the tenets that the chareidi community seems to hold dear which is rejected by most in the centrist orthodox/modern orthodox camp is the belief that da'as torah affords a gadol b'yisrael some form of transcendent wisdom that enables him to have insight into any and all problems. A local Rabbi in the 5 Towns recently put it this way: “Da‘as Torah is the belief that this complete dedication and commitment to Torah has not only transformed them into great Torah scholars, able to decide upon halachic issues of every type, but has also transformed their thinking on all issues of daily life—whether for individuals, for communal problems, or for global matters—into genuine Torah responses with clarity and understanding.” (See Krum’s post in response.) I recall exchanging comments (see this post of mine on mishmar and the comments) once with another blogger who affirmed that he would not undergo surgery despite a doctors direct advice if a gadol counselled against it, and he would not (in Israel) take the precaution of wearing a gas mask during an attack if a gadol advised that it was not necessary. In my mind such behavior is simply assur - there is a mitzvah in the Torah to guard one's life and health, and presumably the experts who know most about those subjects are doctos or generals as the case may be. The approach of this 5T Rabbi and others stands in stark contrast to Rosenblum's conclusion: "As one of Eretz Yisrael’s major young poskim puts it, one must always know whether a shayla is one for a rav or a doctor (which itself is a shayla for a rav). But knowing Gemara does not by itself make us a doctor or an actuary or a financial wizard." I could not agree more, but I do not pretend to identify with chareidi hashkafa. I am not sure those that do will be as sympathetic to Rosenblum's point.


  1. Within Daas Torah, there are essential beliefs, and issues which are less clear. The differences between charedim and centrists, as well as those among the RW themselves are more pronounced regarding the second category. Rabbi Adlerstein put it this way in "Daas Torah: The Core Values"(Cross Currents, 12/12/06):

    "I am purposefully avoiding issues such as who has more Daas Torah than whom, how to weigh the contribution of Daas Torah to a decision relative to other contributions, such as experience and specialized study, and which kinds of questions need to be brought to Torah leadership for answers. About these, reasonable people – as well as many unreasonable ones – will passionately disagree."

  2. I'm not sure what your point is. Are you denying that many (certainly not all) in the RW or chareidi community ascribe to gedolim insight into matters like law, medicince, finance, etc. even though these leaders have no formal training in any of these areas? You mean your average chassidishe yid does not ask his rebbe if he should or should not embark on a business venture even though his rebbe is not aa businessman - an example/image like this is just a figment of my imagination but not reflective of the reality mainstream chareidi life?

  3. I am not denying the phenomenon, rather I am saying that it is not a *core* aspect of charedi philosophy. It is certainly more of an issue amongst chassidim, but since it is not a core aspect of charedi philosophy, less insular charedim amongst litvish will be more open to secular advice.

    There are distinctions in *types* of secular questions even amongst insular charedim. As Jonathan Rosenblum wrote, a charedi posek told people to distiguish between halachic and finacial questions. No insular charedi will ask a gadol," does Daas Torah say I should marry this woman?" If he does, the answer would be, "do you want to marry her?"

    Of course, all agree that there is benefit in asking advice of talmedi chachamim, as chazal say that dinie mamonos makes one wise. There are also famous medical referral organizations run by charedim and charedim do go to doctors, so recognition of medicine is an element in charedi society, your point nonwithstanding.

    The El Al issue is a grey area. I assume that the charedi vaad consulted with legal experts. But afterwards, there is still room to make predictions about El Al's responses and to make strategies. Such predictions can be made by sociologits and political scientists, but also by gedolim(there is also the issue of meta-halacha referred to by the Chazon Ish , "my heart tells me XYZ", but that is also a Jewish issue). Making such a prediction is not the same as making an actuarial pronouncement, but since some charedim are used to the former, they are indeed at risk for the latter.

  4. Charedi3:10 PM

    RE: The Elal case. The Vaad had one of Israel's best lawyers on their side.

    I think the question is who is the authority who decides when you go to a rav and when you go to an expert. Even according to Rosenbaum, the reason he goes to the expert is because the rav told him to do so.

  5. Let me restate the point of the post from a different angle, brought to my attention in a private e-mail which said that a "true chacham will tell the person he should consult an expert or speak to the experts before giving out advice." Instead of looking at how chareidi society perceives the role of da'as torah, lets look, Baruch, at how the gedolim act in their role. Here was an insurance scheme that involved a financial/actuarial question. Rather than advise those who sought their counsel to consult professionals, this scheme was given approbations by the greatest of chareidi torah giants. One of these gedolim was featured in a bio in a chareidi magazie a few months ago which highlighted the fact that he was oblivious even to how a credit card was used - this was seen as praiseworthy, a sign of how removed such a figure is from the mundane reality we all must cope with. This lack of knowledge was apparently no impedement to this gadol offering his haskama to the scheme planned. How does one justify such action? Are those who gave their support to such a scheme with no knowledge liable for the thousands of dollars wasted by the innocent who followed their advice?

  6. I agree with the e-mailer you mention, that a "true chacham will tell the person he should consult an expert or speak to the experts before giving out advice", as well as that there is a risk in the charedi system that the lines will be crossed.

    I can not comment on the specific case you mention, but there certainly are charedi rabbonim who have common sense as when to advise people to consult an outside expert, and when they need to consult one themselves. I agree that charedi society is theoretically more *at risk* than MO for not consulting secular experts when they should be consulted, but I don't think that it is always a problem.

  7. As a Yeshivesh educated individual I can personally attest to having witnessed the workings of this phenomenon. For example, while I was in high school I was told that what made the RaMBaM a great doctor was learned from the Torah because everything is in the Torah (a la "hafoch ba vehafoch ba..."). Of course the blatant disregard of historical facts is not that surprising to the initiated either.

  8. Bob Miller10:51 AM

    I think the quality of humility enters into the decisions of the greatest poskim, in the sense that they know what inputs they need from content experts. Regardless of their reputations, such poskim are very aware of their own strengths and limitations. If someone senses that the posek he has approached to answer a difficult question is not of such a caliber, he should take his shaila to a higher level.

  9. B'mechilas kvodchem, Bob and Baruch, you are simply denying reality. You say great poskim have the humility to consult experts when the need arises. Yet, here is a clear case where the facts speak louder than your assertions. I quote - "The collective insurance plan was encouraged and blessed by gedolei Torah shlita. A letter from HaRav Yitzchok Zilberstein reads, "R' Elimelech Firer contacted me regarding the health insurance... in my humble opinion it is worthwhile and desirable to join this and may the verse Ki ani Hashem rof'echo be brought to fruition in us." (from
    Does R' Zilberstein know enough about insurance to encourage such a venture? Clearly, in light of actuarial review, he does not. So how could he put his name to such a letter?

  10. Bob Miller11:52 AM

    Why don't you think there are greater poskim?

  11. Irrelevant. Do you mean to dismiss R' Zilberstein as a voice which is not respected in the chareidi community? Are only the 'greatest' poskim bound by the ethical imperitive to not give their support or opine on matters they know nothing about?

  12. Bob Miller12:42 PM

    Relevant. As an article of faith you ought to believe that there are poskim in each generation who can judge even the weightiest matters properly. All great poskim try to be fair and to size up the relevant facts appropriately, but some may be putting too much trust in the technical expertise of the askonim. I'm sure other great poskim would seek out actuarial advice, so these would be better equipped to render a psak about insurance.

  13. Chaim Markowitz2:23 PM

    also, to be dan l'kaf zechus on rabbi Zilberstien, we don't know how the issue was presented to him. It could be the askanim involved convinced him that it made sense and spoke in very persuasive terms.

  14. Again, so what? All you have established is that persuasive askanim can twist arms of gedolim to get their way. That's bad enough. But it ignores the more fundemental issue - why is R' Zilberstein being consulted and why is he even attempting to offer advice on a purely financial matter? He had the option to say "I am not an actuary and am in no position to evaluate your claims". Those who consulted him could have consulted actuaries and acted on their advice. Yet, the chareidi community invested its trust in a gadol to render a decision on a financial matter. To my mind that is the same as asking a doctor for advice on the stock market. For those who subscribe to da'as torah, this attitude is eminantly sensible - torah gives one knowledge of all matters in life.
    Bob, this is not a theological issue. The question is not "Are there poskim who act responsilbiy" or "Are there poskim who are competent to render complex decisions". The question is whether it makes sense to consult 'gedolim' on NON-halachic issues (see title of the post) like an insurance scheme and assume their knowledge of torah gives them the right to render decisions in all areas of life. To those of us outside the chareidi community the answer is an obvious No. To those in the chareidi community, to the leaders who govern that community and offer advice of every and all areas of life, the answer is Yes. The results of that thinking are in this case a loss of money from the tzibur. In other cases, the loss may be greater and more damaging.

  15. Bob Miller3:06 PM

    The askonim didn't do all their homework here. It was they, the ostensibly savvy businessmen, who should have checked with actuaries first. Only after the program was found to have made sense should they have asked for a Rav's blessing.

    This all points to the need for poskim to be more skeptical of askonim than might have been necessary until now. "Askonim as information filters and gatekeepers" has been discussed a lot already, and we know there are problems nowadays.

  16. >>>Only after the program was found to have made sense should they have asked for a Rav's blessing.

    And only after the Rav ascertained that due diligence was performed should he have given his OK, in which case the Ok is just a rubber stamp on the expertise of others, but inherently meaningless.

  17. Bob Miller3:38 PM

    I said "blessing" for a reason.
    Isn't it likely that the askonim were ready to roll and basically wanted the Rav's good wishes for success?

  18. When a chareidi publication claims a venture has received the blessing of gedolim, do you mean to tell me that is not interpreted as an imprimatur of approval - i.e. far more than a "good luck"?
    The fact that taking issue with something like R' Kanievsky's position re: the El Al boycott is seen not as a challenge to the askanim who present information to R' Kaneivsky but as a challenge to the concept of daas torah (as R' Ginzberg and others have framed the issue) underscores what daas torah means to the chareidi community. R' Ginzberg spells out his belief in exactly what you seem reluctant to accept - torah knowledge alone grants expertise in ALL areas of human life. A gadol's OK is more than a rubber stamp or wishes for good luck - it is an approval based on transcedent torah knowledge that can even trump expert opinion to the contrary. You can call yourself chareidi and not agree with that POV - I don't care what beliefs match what labels or stereotypes - but I don't think it is fair to deny that a vast segment of religious orthodoxy subscribes to R' Ginzberg's view rather than your own.

  19. “B'mechilas kvodchem, Bob and Baruch, you are simply denying reality. You say great poskim have the humility to consult experts when the need arises. Yet, here is a clear case where the facts speak louder than your assertions...”

    I don’t deny reality. You are asking a good question, and I can not answer this specific case.

    I don’t claim to understand everthing in the charedi "system", and I don’t think that it’s perfect. And I don’t believe in “rabbinic infallibility” either. But there are certainly rabbonim in the charedi community who consult with professionals and secular experts.

    In his shour on Daas Torah, Rav Herschel Shacter says that just as in psak, you need “shimush”, and knowledge of the facts on the ground(I think of the story of the “heilge kurkavan”), so too, regarding Daas Torah.

    He notes that in the times of chazal, political decisions were made by the tannaim, not by secular leaders. He makes an analogy to a a jigsaw puzzle; if you are missing two pieces than you can figure out the rest, but not if you are missing 500.

    RHS says that RYBS ztl consulted with an expert on Soviet politics before using his "Daas Torah" to support a course of action regardong Soviet Jewry.

    On the general concept of Daas Torah, note the following from Rabbi Alfred Cohen’s article in Journal of Halacaha and Contemporary Society:

    "The Jewish community has been guided for millenia by its Torah leaders. That leadership entails far more than simply deciding whether a chicken is kosher or not, or whether something is assur or muttar. There is also a deeper awareness of the obligations of the Jewish community visa- vis other nations and their role on the world stage at any particular juncture in history... Whether the phenomenon should be called "Daat Torah" or not, there has long existed an awareness in the hearts and minds of Torah greats that, even if one cannot pinpoint the exact chapter and verse, there are certain things which are not in the spirit of Torah or even harmful to it, and therefore should be stopped...It is my understanding that these quasi-intuitive responses were what the Netziv and R. Chaim Ozer were referring to when they mentioned Daat Torah.”

    He quotes RYBS ztl, from the hesped for R. Chaim Ozer ztl(as quoted in Dr. Kaplan's essay) :

    "The very same priest, whose mind was suffused with the holiness of the Torah of R. Akiva and R. Eliezer, of Abbaye and Rava, of the Rambam and Rabad [sic], of the Beth Yosef and the Rema [sic], ***could also discern with the holy spirit [roeh be-ruah hakodesh] the solution to all current political questions, to all worldly matters, to all ongoing current demands*** "

    I agree that using the "holy spirit" does not imply infallibility, nor would it solve actuarial equations(miraculous medical stories regarding the Chazon Ish ztl notwithstanding) !

  20. Bob Miller12:19 PM

    Chaim, I'm trying to add some shades of gray to your reality.

    The way to educate the rank-and-file to send certain technical questions directly to technical experts is for poskim fielding such questions to refer those questioners to those experts, repeatedly.

    However, not all technical questions should be routed around the poskim! Some have halachic implications that the technical expert will overlook. To ask such questions, one needs to approach the type of posek who has a grasp of the halacha and either knows the technical aspects of the issue at hand or knows with whom to consult about them.

    Using the posek as a one-stop shop can create the difficulties you discussed, but can also (if things are handled properly) prevent the potential halachic aspects of questions from being overlooked.

    Over time, I hope the specialist poskim who are the most thorough and professional in dealing with technically related shailos will become better known, and people will learn when to utilize them instead of generalists.

  21. "He makes an analogy to a a jigsaw puzzle; if you are missing two pieces than you can figure out the rest, but not if you are missing 500."

    The context which I quoted this ,above, was unclear. RHS's point was that a gadol needs to have brought to his attention the facts and technical information, as in having 498 out of 500 pieces of the puzzle, and then using "daas Torah" to intuit the rest of the picture, instead of only starting out with two out of 500 pieces in the first place.

  22. Anonymous7:13 AM

    Here is the answer for the CHaredim From a medical Doctor Listen to doctor akiva tatz shiur called
    Torah - The Cause of Reality
    maybe even a cynic like you would accept it from a medical doctor its avlibile here free

  23. "maybe even a cynic like you would accept it from a medical doctor"

    When did calling people names become part of the ideology?

  24. Anonymous12:16 AM

    People can be as critical as they want of the orthodox no one says a word calling someone a cynic gets a reply though and notice that no one actually listened and responded they just were critical and judgmental,non the less i do think it was strongly worded and hereby beg for forgiveness to all those who were wronged