Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Rabbi David Hollander's Legacy

Over at the Yated Ne'eman Rabbi Pinny Lipschutz has bravely decided to criticize the gedolim. While making clear he respects their scholarship, he takes issue with problematic aspects of their leadership, and makes constructive recommendations for what the haredi world can do to improve on itself without blaming all of its problems on outside forces.

I'm just kidding. He's attacking the RCA again. Pinny thinks the RCA should condemn the Women of the Wall for "provocation" and condemns them for inviting Dov Lipman to speak to their convention. I'll leave addressing said charges to others, but what I found interesting was that R' Lipschutz chooses to utilize the Synagogue Council of America controversy -- which I've written about -- in order to frame the RCA in his narrative, and I wanted to shortly look at how he does it.

R' Lipschutz tells us how R' David Hollander in the 1950's "understood that certain aspects of halacha were not negotiable. He was ready to fight for the integrity of halacha and he did." We're told that he did this by fighting to get the RCA out of the interdenominational Synagogue Council. He didn't expect the fierce Modern Orthodox opposition to his move, we are told. After all, a psak had been issued by the leading gedolim, and who was the RCA to disagree? R' Hollander was "vilified and ostracized" for his brave stance. My understanding is that Pinny means to criticize the RCA for being too accommodationist towards the heterodox and ignoring the decisions of the gedolim today.

The trouble of course is that this story isn't true. The gedolim did not issue a psak halacha per se, but a Daas Torah proclamation. As I detail as meticulously as I can in fn. 26 of my essay on this topic, the Rav was quietly but firmly opposed to this proclamation and R' Eliezer Silver, a founding cochair of the Moetzes, saw it for what it was: an unwarranted attack on the RCA's autonomy to have their own poskim (in particular, the Rav) issue decisions. Indeed, this is the first American incident that I am aware of where Daas Torah is utilized to delegitimize another gadol. R' Hollander was indeed vilified and ostracized; he also brought it on himself. He regarded himself as "a rebel against the established trend of the [RCA], which was modern orthodoxy" and in that role went to various gedolim (including the Rav's uncle) to get them to pressure the Rav; he snuffed that he couldn't respect the Rav as authority due to the latter's "inability or unwillingness to take a clear stand one way or the other" and instead regarded himself as an "eved ne'eman" to Kotler. If Hollander didn't expect social repercussions for his rebellious attempts to pressure the halachic leader of the organization he was president of, he was being silly. This wasn't about clear-cut halacha, but a position regarding the heterodox, and Hollander wanting to enforce his opinion on the RCA, which was following the Rav.

Surely Pinny, known over the years for his strenuous defenses of the gedolei yisrael, would want an organization to follow its gadol and not play Salad Bar Judaism by trying to go pressure him with opinions from other rabbis...What could be more disrespectful to a gadol, right? But then, Pinny writes at the end of his article, Orthodox Jews must (emphasis mine) "show proper deference to the roshei yeshiva who represented the lion’s share of gedolei Yisroel and leading poskim of that time." In other words, to Pinny, it's not about what your gadol says, but our gedolim. Your gadol can't make his own decisions, only theirs can, because they have more. This majoritarian method of social control is a great means of enforcing one's will on a group while actually not respecting individual gedolim who themselves say you don't have to follow said social control (e.g. R' Silver, The Rav). And that, not halacha, is Hollander's true legacy to Pinny and his chevra.

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