Who are the Gedolei Ha’Torah?

Who are the Gedoei Ha’Torah?

Occasionally, people from the hareidi community question or attack my articles. Even though they are aware that I strive to follow in the path of Maran HaRav Kook zt”l, nevertheless they argue: “Why don’t you accept the authority of the gedolei ha’ Torah (eminent Torah scholars)?” The answer is: I don’t consider them gedolei ha’Torah. They most definitely are importanttalmidei chachamim (Torah scholars) whose fear of sin precedes their wisdom, who educate many disciples, and it is a mitzvah to respect them, but they are not gedolei ha’Torah.

Godlute b’Torah (Torah eminence) necessitates an all-embracing, entirely accountable handling of serious issues facing the generation, including: the attitude towards Am Yisrael in all its diversity and levels – both religious, and non-religious; the attitude towards mitzvoth yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land) and the on-going war which has surrounded it for over a century; the attitude towards science and work, and the contemporary social and economic questions.

Technical versus Fundamental Questions

It is important to note that merely relating to these questions is not enough, because it would be easy to settle for trivial answers offering technical ways in which an individual Jew could survive the changes and revolutions facing the nation and world in modern times. Even accomplishing this necessitates expertise, and the more complicated the situation, the greater amount of competence is required. But this does not demand godlute b’Torah. The expertise leaders and public figures already have is adequate; if they are loyal to the path of Torah as taught by their rabbis, and understand the social realities before them,  then they can find creative solutions to difficulties faced by various sectarian groups (hareidi or dati, Ashkenazi or Sephardic). This is the type of expertise required of Knesset members, ministers, and middle-level intellectuals today. They obviously can consult with rabbis who are familiar in this field, but this does not entail significant Torah input.

However, true gedolei ha’Torah are required to deal with fundamental questions, so they can provide significant and important answers to the perplexities of the generation. They need not offer detailed plans for implementation, but they must fix a vision, thoroughly analyze the events and phenomena confronting them, distinguish between their positive and negative points, and offer direction wherein the positive can prevail over the negative, and even rectify it.

What is Godlute b’Torah?

How godlute b’Torah is determined is indeed a weighty and important question. Obviously, the mere fact that a person decides to tackle the essential questions does not entitle him to the designation of gadol ba’Torah, as long as he lacks the competence. Likewise, it is clear thatgodlute is not determined by the degree of proficiency. Throughout all the generations there were talmidei chachamim famous for their great erudition, but nevertheless, their knowledge did not place them in the top row of gedolei ha’Torah, because godlute is determined by the degree of comprehension and penetration into the roots of the matter.

In very general terms, there are three levels of godlute b’Torah:

The first level are those who merit understanding the root of the s’vara (rational inference) of every individual halakha or agadah – these are the regular talmidei chachamim.

The second level are those who merit delving deeper, understanding the inner s’vara which clarifies several halakhot collectively, and thus know how to resolve various questions. For example, rabbis who present the important lectures in yeshivot, who were able to explain numerous sugiyot (issues) in accordance with one foundation, and are great in lamdanut(erudition). Or, important poskim (Jewish law arbiters) who, out of their profound comprehension, understand numerous halakhot, and know how to contend with new questions, and usually are gedolim in a some fields of halakha. A number of those on this level merit comprehending the inner s’vara which clarifies various matters of aggadah, and they aregedolim in machshava (Jewish thought) and emunah (faith).

The third level are those who delve deeper into the inner roots of the s’varot, both in halakha,aggadah, and pnimiyut ha’Torah (the deeper side of Torah). Consequently, they understand the general rules of the Torah more profoundly, and as a result, the details of halakhot andmidrashim are clearer to them, and they know how to give comprehensive instruction and guidance in matters connecting the affairs of the clal (general public) and the prat (individual), the spiritual, and the practical. These are the true gedolei ha’Torah. And among them, naturally, are numerous intermediate levels – according to the extent of profound thought and inner orientation in the various areas of Torah.

Maran HaRav Kook zt”l – The Gadol of Recent Generations

Maran HaRav Kook zt”l was one of Israel’s unique gedolei ha’Torah. He was gifted with tremendous natural talent and through extreme diligence and dedication to righteousness and virtue, merited delving into all areas of Torah to an extent beyond description, particularly in general matters comprising both halakha and aggadah together, clal and prat, sacred and secular.

God performed an enormous act of kindness with His nation Israel, and with the entire world, by sending us such a great and holy soul to illuminate our path in these extraordinary generations. Generations of heights and lows, tremendous scientific achievements and terrible moral confusion, the discovery of individual talents and the decay of national, societal, and family values.

In generations where all orders of life are changing, it is essential to delve deeply into the Torah so as to instruct, correct, and redeem all the continuously discovered talents. In order to contend with such types of challenges, regular godlute b’Torah is not sufficient – not evengodlute of third level. The type of greatness of Moshe Rabbeinu, Ezra HaSofer and the like, is required.

Torah Scholars Who Do Not Understand the Teachings of Rav Kook

Needless to say, someone who does not understand the teachings of Maran HaRav Kook zt”l cannot be considered one of the gedolei ha’Torah of the generation. He can be an expert and well versed in numerous details from the technical side of halakha and aggadah. But he cannot truly be gadol b’Torah.

And even among those who understood Rav Kook’s teachings, there are two main distinctions. There are those who accept his general instructions regarding the importance of Eretz Yisraelin our times, the generation of kibbutz galyiot (Ingathering of the Exiles) and atchalta d’geulah(beginning of the Redemption). Similarly, they agree with his teachings in relation to science and work, and the fundamental attitude towards Jews who abandoned Torah but identify with the values of the nation and the Land, or universal values. Such talmidei chachamim merit emotional connection to the third level owing to their identification with his teachings and luminous character.

And then there are a select few who delve deeper in understanding the ideas, which genuinely illuminate life, paving a path to redemption via the light of Torah guidance.

It should be noted that among the elder rabbis of the previous generation who the hareidi community consider also as gedolei ha’Torah, many were  influenced significantly by Maran HaRav Kook zt”l. And although they did not continue his path of public leadership, they accepted some of his ideas, and remained admirers and honored of his image all their lives. Among them: Rabbi Frank zt”l, Rabbi Aeurbach zt”l, Rabbi Eliyashiv zt”l, Rabbi Wallenberg zt”l, and Rabi Ovadia Yosef, shlita, may he live a long life.

The Words of Rabbi Charlop

Similarly, Rabbi Kook’s great disciple, Rabbi Yaacov Moshe Charlop zt”l, wrote in his book “Mayanei Hayishua” (Chap. 9), that at this time in history, gedolei ha’Torah must engage in the general rules of the Torah.

In that chapter he explains that the prophets dealt with general rules, because when the general rules are put right, all the details follow in order. However, as a result of transgressions, the general rules deteriorated and the Holy Temple was destroyed; consequently, our main task in galut (Diaspora) was rectifying the details themselves. But when the beginning of salvation occurs, and as the world gradually recovers, the longing for

the general rules increases (and when the general rules from the source of the Torah are not provided, consequently, they are sought after in foreign places, and chutzpah (audacity) and lawlessness intensify). “Israel’s gedolim must be deeply aware of this yearning, and pay heed to speak inspiringly, at length and in brief, about rectifying the general rules. In such a way that not only will speaking about the general rules not obscure the details, but rather, will add force and strength, yearning and enthusiasm for the details and their rectification…”

“When the time arrives, if narrow-minded people appear, assuming to hasten the final redemption by speaking only about rectifying the details alone, failing to speak highly about correcting the general rules, they are considered ‘a student who has not reached the level of teaching, but nevertheless teaches’, disarranging all the spiritual conduits, because the hidden light is best revealed through illuminating the general rules, and uplifting the worlds. It is appropriate to make vigorous efforts against such thoughts. The true gedolim wrap themselves with might and strength to stand at the head of the nation, guide them in the correct path, and know that truth and God are with them.”

The Chief Rabbinate

As an extension to the vision of revealing Torah in its greatness, Rabbi Kook viewed the establishment of the Chief Rabbinate as a nucleus from which a significant and united Torah leadership could develop. However, after Rav Kook zt”l passed away, the independent status of the Chief Rabbinate steadily deteriorated. From a rabbinate which presented a vision emanating from a totally autonomous position, devoid of any subordination to public institutions or to any public circles, the rabbinate grew to be one of the most subordinate public institutions, subject to the current legal establishment.

No longer are we talking about offering a comprehensive vision, but rather finding halakhic solutions for the present situation, shaped by the public and political leadership. Even the attempt of Rabbi Herzog zt”l to suggest an alternative constitution for the State of Israel was not an effort to propose an all-inclusive constitution, rather, to find ways to ‘kasher’ the norms of the country’s leaders within the framework of halakha.

In spite of everything, the Chief Rabbis and the members of the Rabbinical Council were the gedolei talmidei chachamim of the generation. Over time, this status also gradually eroded, with the rabbinate becoming a supervisory department for a handful of religious matters, such as marriage, conversions, and kashrut.

In such a situation, although the rabbinate plays a very important role in managing these affairs, we are no longer talking about a supreme, moral, and spiritual Torah authority of mara d’atra (lit. “master of the house” or the local authority in Jewish law. Rather, the role of the Chief Rabbi is at best similar to that of a director of religious affairs, and at worst – the spokesperson for religious affairs.

This example underscores just how much we must continue studying, delving, and identifying with the great vision of Maran HaRav Kook zt”l, in order to increase and glorify the Torah and elevate the status of its bearers, so the light of the redeeming Torah can illuminate the entire world.

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