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Jul 22, 2012

Rav Elyashiv's Empty Legacy

Anshel Pfeffer of Haaretz has written a nasty article about Rav Elyashiv, written practically before the body was even cold.

According to Pfeffer, Rav Elyashiv's legacy was an "empty one" and it seems that the only thing Rav Elyashiv was good for was encouraging high birth-rates, freezing progress in time and keeping members of the community from leading productive lives.

Pfeffer is judging Rav Elyashiv by the wrong barometer. Pfeffer seems to have had unrealistic expectations of Rav Elyashiv as a leader. It seems that Pfeffer expected Rav Elyashiv to lead the haredi community according to standards and expectations set by Pfeffer himself along with those of the general community.

According to Pfeffer, because Rav Elyashiv did not move the haredi community to be more in line with the general public, he was a failure, his was an empty legacy.

The problem is that the haredi community does not want to find a way to move in line with the general public. The haredi community does not choose it's leaders, whether they be political leaders or spiritual leaders, by their promises or stated abilities to lead the community towards modernization. That is neither a goal of the haredi community nor is it something the haredi community is interested in. The haredi community wants to stay separate, and its leaders operate under a different set of guidelines and priorities than do the secular or more modern religious communities.

One can argue and debate the ideas and philosophies, one can even criticize decisions made. However, the only way one can call Rav Elyashiv's legacy to be an "empty legacy" is by not having any understanding at all of the haredi community, and by looking at it from the wrong perspective. The haredi community does not consider Rav Elyashiv's legacy to be an empty one - far from it.

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  1. I can't read the article, b/c it's a 'premium' article, so I don't know what it said. What I will say, is that as I told my wife, that with all the strength that he was blessed w/ by Hashem, he didn't live up to the name that he was given: Yosef Shalom - Adding of peace (will) El-Yashiv - bring (people) back to G-d. Unfortunately, under his leadership, as a nation, in many ways, we are now a more divided and fractured people with more hatred for one another. Imagine what could've happened if he had been working towards that goal. Chaval.

  2. "The problem is that the haredi community does not want to find a way to move in line with the general public. "

    I hardly think this is true anymore. Aside from the burgeoning populations at charedi technical colleges and the success of charedi call centers and companies like CityBook in Kiryat Sefer, this statement might be what charedim keep telling themselves, but it's not reflected in what they are actually spending or how they are really living their lives. I read this great article in Globes this weekend that pegs charedi consumer power at 10.5 billion shekel a year. This isn't a population that is holding itself apart from anyone else.

    I think the opposite: The charedim are finally developing a middle class and RE fought hard to prevent that.

    I haven't read the Pfeffer piece, but my problem with Rav Eliashiv that he wasn't grappling with the real problems his community faced, in terms of poverty and child abuse and molestation. Throughout our mesora, it's well accepted that a leader is not only someone who's learned, even brilliant, but also someone who can help Jews with their actual world problems. There are numerous examples of poskim going out of their way to help Jews in real trouble. I don't get the impression that that was Rav Eliashiv's major goal. To me, it seemed to protect Torah at all costs, even human. But this impression is admittedly doesn't come from a deep knowledge of all of his piskei halacha.

  3. the article also mentions people joining the workforce in greater numbers. that is true, as are your points. However as a gadol, as a spiritual leader, even those joining the workforce arent looking for a gadol who is flexible and looking to change the haredi community.
    people have their own personal rabbonim they ask their questions to, and personal rabbonim are generally flexible. eve th inflexible gedolim can be flexible on an individual level.

    But as a community, the haredi community is not looking for that type of a leader.

    If they were, they would just join the Modern orthodox community.

  4. Well guess what? The majority of Jewish life up until about a 100 years ago looked more like Modern Orthodox life than modern charedi life, in that no one ever questioned the concept of working and living a Torah life. So what you're saying is that the charedi world wanted and needed a gadol that would create and uphold this false conception of Judaism which many would promptly disregard in their own personal lives, because the ideal simply makes no sense. Those that chose to uphold it would suffer needlessly. Just so they won't be Modern Orthodox.

    1. I'm really trying not to be harsh. I do understand he was a major figure for many many Jews and they are mourning him. For me, he wasn't the gadol that R' Moshe Feinstein was. That was a gadol who truly understood what it meant to lead a community and how to bring Torah and a community together so that the honor of both were exponentially increased. There's just no comparison.

    2. Apologies, HE was a gadol, not That. :(

  5. no argument, Abbi. but that is all besides the point.
    I am just saying that saying he left an empty legacy is only looking at his life and leadership in the way that you (not you, but Anshel Pfeffer) would have liked him to have lived it. To the community he led, he left a tremendous legacy. So he didnt live up to Anshel Pfeffers hopes and expectations...

  6. Shalom Eliashiv was a leader to litaim charedim, no daudt! But, Stalin, Fidel, Che Guevara were leaders.
    He was not gadol, he was kattan. He incresead the gap among charedim and datim leumin and chilonim, put his comunity in a shtteitl (guetto) and was intollerant to fight with Shlomo Goren.
    He no have capacity to understanding the present time and recongnize the miracle of Hashem to give Medinat Israel to iechudim.
    Opposite to Pirkei Avot, don´t incentive his kachal to earn the life.
    He Supported rabbies that invalidated conversion.
    The charedim think that he was goog for them. But, he was good to Am Israel?
    When ignorant rabbies caret yechudim that conversion in spanish inquisition, Rambam writed a igeret protected them. Rambam was example of gadol hador.

  7. The following is not a criticism, but rather a sober perspective.

    Rav Elyashiv was a very, very great man.
    An astonishing masmid and an astonishingly focused learner of Torah, with a dedication that all of us should be absolutely in awe of.

    However, he was not a leader and never wanted to be.

    He was thrust into that position by the power-hungry jackals who surrounded him, took advantage of his isolation from human contact and the outside world, and used him towards their own ends.

    If you say that there was leagcy, what was it, other than "No Change!"?

    In his capacity as "leader" and "Posek Hador" where are the teshuvos that will be studied for generations, complete with stunning creativity in their logic and boldness in their innovation?

    Where are the writings or the speeches that demonstrate sustained arguments and a mastery of some contemporary issue, be it social policy, a medical issue, a technical issue, or any other thing that is unique to the modern world and requires an informed response?

    Of course, the answer is that there is none of the above.

    That is not a criticism, though, for it is certain that the Rav never took an interest in any of these things and was only maed a leader in order to satisfy those who wished to use him towards their own ends.

    His legacy is one thing and one thing only: An unbelievable masmid and genius who cared about nothing other than Torah and Avodas HASHEM.

    However, he was not a leader and is not responsible for ANYTHING in the Charedi world or any other society, neither the bad (contra Anshel Pfefer) nor the good.

    1. Will the Real Gedolim Please Stand UpJuly 23, 2012 8:13 AM


      If that is in fact the case he should have made one clear declaration many years ago:

      "I do not want to be a leader or forced into political issues. THEREFORE I will sign my name on NO proclamations and if you see my name attached to a pashkevil know that it is pure falsehood."

      Had he done that he would truly have left a legacy based on his hasmada and piety.

      I am sick and tired of hearing about all of the gedolim who really didn't sign a kol koreh or "never said" such and such.

      Real gedolim would kick out the "jackals" to which you refer and not let anything be said "in their name"

  8. I think Shlomo's comments makes the most sense to me, and accords with what I have heard elsewhere. I also think Rafi's initial point is valid, i.e., that the writer from HaHaretz is judging Rav Elyshiva from an outside point of view that has no meaning for the world in which Rav Elyshiva lived and functioned.

    But I would be curious to see a more positive portrayal of Rav Elyashiv's legacy from somebody that can view that legacy in a more appropriate context.

  9. The am Israel has study Torah to live and not live to study Torah.
    Shalom Eliashiv was inapacity to understand the Torah. A false rabbie.

  10. Baruch:
    I thought I answered that: His legacy was single-minded dedication to Torah Study, to the exclusion of all else.

    He was a figure of mythic proportion in that regard.

    1. Yes you did. I guess I was soliciting other views, and wondering if anyone could portray his legacy as a leader in a more positive light. I further wonder if his single-minded dedication to Torah study would constitute a "legacy," in the sense of something that will influence the world in future generations. Maybe so - is that how you meant it - that his example had the impact of making such dedication to Torah study an example for others to emulate?

    2. We can both be inspired by his unbelievable dedication and recognize that he never chose to "lead," not even his own family, let alone Klal Yisroel.

    3. Fair enough. You'll get no argument from me on either point.

  11. he was a unique level of a savant in that regard. far beyond what is normal for even top scholars.

  12. Mishpacha Magazine (in Hebrew) had a whole section this past weekend devoted to R' Elyashiv. One article dealt with R' Elyashiv's unbelievable hasmada in learning and had some stories which demonstrated his unbelievable hasmada.

    Here are 2 stories from the article:
    1. "When R' Chaim Kanievsky was a young Avrech, his wife, Batsheva Kanievsky [R' Elyashiv's oldest daughter], complained to him that he didn't learn the same way that she saw in her [father's] house. There is no need to say that the Grach even then was one of the biggest masmidim of his generation and learned day and night. Even so, the Rabbanit said "You recognize the children and can identify each child by name. By us, when we were little children it was patently clear to everyone in the house that father [R' Elyashiv] due to his tremendous diligence in learning didn't recognize us and didn't know our names"

    2. "R Yosef Shalom was not involved at all in the running of the house. He didn't receive a salary from anywhere he didn't preside over the Shabbos table and he had no idea where the money came from.
    The lack [of material goods, money] was so terrible that it literally became life threatening, one of the daughters was hospitalized because of malnutrition and almost died."

    What are we supposed to take away from these stories? These stories are so far removed from any semblance of normal life (even the life of other Gedolim portrayed in Artscroll hagiographies) how can we relate to them? Is this the level of commitment to learning that Hashem expects from us not to recognize our children?

    1. With all due respect, if these are the stories that are being told to demonstrate Rav Elyashiv's greatness, then we have lost our moral compass as a religious society. He didn't recognize his own children, did not preside over the Shabbos table, and his daughter almost died from nutrition! I really hope these stories are not true...

    2. Why do you think you need to relate to them? Did R' Elyashiv ask you to do as he has?

      He probably couldn't care less about what you think. Why should he?

    3. Moshe, a gadol hador is one who is supposed to be a great leader of am yisrael and thus a role model for the am. Are you suggesting that we are not supposed to look to R' Elyashiv as a role model? Are you suggesting we aren't supposed to strive to emulate his greatness? Because that would be odd, considering he was a gadol hador. The issue isn't whether he cares or not. He was thrust or he chose to become a gadol hador (it's really not clear). Regardless, that role carries responsibilities.

    4. Abbi-

      Why do you presume that everyone should emulate the godol hador? He is not like you or me - he is from a totally difference background, and therefore has different ideals and goals.

      Should we emulate Rabbi Akiva? 12 years away from home? Another 12 years away from home?

      Miriam was punished for discussing how Moshe Rabbenu did not fit her ideals of being a "godol" to emulate. He separated from his wife - something that she did not think others should do - so why should he? God thought otherwise.

    5. Moshe also thought it was a good idea to hit the rock instead of talk to it. God thought otherwise.

    6. "He didn't receive a salary from anywhere"

      Sure he did. He got a regular salary from the State of Israel for decades. Because he worked directly for them.

    7. Not from the age of 19 when he got married until he was around 40 when he started working for the Rabbanut. for the first 20 years of his marriage he had zero income, he simply sat and learned day and night.

    8. Who comes out of the stories looking worse: Rav Elyashiv, for not knowing his children, or Rebbetzin Kanievsky for admiring and longing for such behavior?

  13. with an eye to eternityJuly 22, 2012 8:02 PM

    In Pfeffer's book its an 'empty legacy'; his own will be nonexistent - at least where it really matters...


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