Tuesday, June 30, 2009

What did R' Aharon Kotler advise talmidim to do before WWII?

Here is a description of a letter that R' Aharon Kotler sent to R' Gedalya Schorr after R' Aharon found out that R' Schorr was going back to America. This letter was written in the summer of 1939. (source Hamodia magazine Parshas Chukas))

...he could calmly remain in Kletzk and that he did not have to worry about a war in the near future

WWII broke out less then 2 months later and if R' Schorr had followed R' Aharon's advice he most probably would not have survived.

The question we need to ask is what is the lesson we need to take from here? The answer IMHO is that no one is infallible. Yes, RAK was a great talmid chacham but he (and almost all of the Gedolim in pre-war Europe) completely misread the situation before WWII.

RYBS said that R' Chaim thought that there would be Jews living in Brisk in 1979 just like they lived there in 1879 and therefore he didn't see the need for changes like secular education etc.

Today, the world is changing so fast that חדש אסור מן התורה doesn't work.


Chaim B. said...

>>>no one is infallible

But decisions must be made for yechidim as well as the klal. Given that no one is infallible, would you rather place your eggs in the basket of gedolei Torah, or the basket of vox poluli?

bluke said...

You are setting up a strawman, no one wants the vox populi to make decisions.

The question is what is the issue? for example, on issues like is there going to be a war or not, it is not clear that the gedolim are equipped to answer that. Before WW II if the US consulate told people to leave because they believed that a war was coming, that is not vox populi but an informed opinion which should be heeded.

Mark said...

Exactly, it depends on the issue. Sometimes, you decide yourself, sometimes you ask a Rav, sometimes you ask a Gaon, and sometimes you ask a secular source.

Not Brisk said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Not Brisk said...

Obfuscation of two distinct issues. One, understanding global politics. Two, spiritual adjustments regarding Klal Yisroel's future. One can argue that R' Ahron's expertise was only in the latter, but to associate that with the former doesn't grant any legitimacy for critiquing his position regarding the former; in which history is on his side.

abiebaby said...

When the British Minister in Kovno (Kauna), Lithuania, arranged for British passport holders to leave on Shabbos, a Canadian Yeshiva Bocher, on Friday, asked the Kovner Rov (the Rosh Yeshiva was unavailable) if they should go the the train station on Shabbos. "Go? Run!" was the reply.

The Bocherim left and all survived. The Rov stayed with his community and was martyred.

abiebaby said...

Typo in my comment:
"(Kauna)" should read "Kaunas" -- the capital of Lithuania.

abiebaby said...

I corrected the spelling of Kaunas, but promoted it from being a "former temporary capital of Lithuania."

Of course, the capital of Lithuania is Vilnius, known to Jews as "Vilna, the Jerusalem of Lita."

Chaim B. said...

>>>for example, on issues like is there going to be a war or not, it is not clear that the gedolim are equipped to answer that.

But they are equipped with enough intelligence to consult w/ people who are experts and assess the situation, just as they do in other areas where psak depends on understanding the metziyus.

If it was so clear that war was immanent why didn't all the non-religious Jews and non-bnei Torah who had no reason to heed the views of R' Ahron get up and leave? Yes, R' Ahron made the wrong call, but that does not mean it was a foolish decision at the time.

bluke said...


It was very difficult to leave Eastern Europe. This letter talks about a very specific case where he was an American citizen and had where to go.

bluke said...


I don't understand what you are trying to say.

Lion of Zion said...


"Before WW II if the US consulate told people to leave because they believed that a war was coming, that is not vox populi but an informed opinion which should be heeded."

when was the last time all the american olim heeded a state department travel advisory and left israel?

(not to say that i don't agree with your post overall)

Not Brisk said...

Introducing secular education and predicting world events are not related. I thought you were making an analogy with the second to last paragraph. Or else, I can't figure out what the relevance it has with the beginning of the post.

Shmuel said...

It doesn't have to be an issue of infallibility. Because then you have a problem. But if you see it as listening to divrei chachomim, and acting according to what they say, then this is what G-d wants you to do. It has nothing to do with being right or mistaken. Nobody guarantees that what the rabbi tells you is going to turn out OK.
In the article quoted it's all about the one who asks not the one who answers.
The problem today is that everything is seen through the prism of infallibility.

bluke said...

Not Brisk,

The relevance is as follows. RAK couldn't picture the wrold changing and there no longer being a Kletzk Yeshiva just like R' Chaim could not envision a world where no Jews lived in Brisk.

Given that worldview they were of course not ready to make any changes. What RYBS was saying is that if R' Chaim had been able to see the changes coming his approach to issues like secular education, zionism, etc. may have been very different.

RYBS believed that he was following in the mesora of his father and grandfather and that he was not creating a new derech.

bluke said...

Lion of Zion,

You have a point in the specific case of travel advisories to Israel. However, I don't think that it takes away from the overall point that it was clear to many many people that war was just a matter of time.

Not Brisk said...

I fail to see the connection between predicting a military invasion and predicting that yiddishkeit would have to make concessions.

E-Man said...

This is not yiddishkeit making concessions, it is yiddishkeit preparing for the future. Think about it this way, if there were no Jews that received secular educations then there would be no Judaism in America. This is mainly because the majority of money that comes to schools in America comes from people that got jobs and received secular educations.

It is kinda like advancement in warfare. The Polish army used to be a powerful army, with their horseback cavalry. However, they never advanced their army, so eventually the Germans were able to destroy them because it was cavalry vs tanks. So if yiddishkeit does not prepare for the future then they will be fighting tanks with their cavalry.