Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Sage, not a Saint

Rabbi Elyashiv, the last "great sage" of Haredi Judaism, died today at age 102. While he has been admired by many in the Orthodox world for his integrity and respected for his knowledge and leadership, I don't feel it's quite appropriate to celebrate his life "with a full cup."

As a leader, he was "principled" to a fault, vigorously refusing compromise or accommodation with other communities he disagreed with. In cases where he could have ruled leniently, he quite often decided that the true path to righteousness lay with hardship and difficulty-- for his followers and for many others. As Failed Messiah notes, his tenure as leader of the Haredi world also saw not a few moments of hypocrisy, as well, most notably declaring that it was forbidden for Haredi Jews to donate organs but perfectly kosher for them to accept them. Leah Vincent at Unpious discusses how Elyashiv's positions may have empowered and enabled child abusers in Haredi communities. Anyone who has kept abreast of academic/intellectual freedom in the Haredi world knows how far-reaching Elyashiv's power was when it came to silencing writers like Natan Slifkin or Nathan Kamenestsky. And, of course, under his tenure, the position of Haredi women, particularly in Israel, has deteriorated even further under an epidemic of misogyny masquerading as a concern for modesty.

Reports suggested that he had sacrificed much to become a great sage in his community. He seemed to be estranged from his family and lack personal connections with friends or colleagues. Worst of all, under the pretense of caring and assisting their great rabbi, a group of hangers-on used his name and position to advance their own pet interests and biases, in activities that can only be described as elder abuse as the rabbi's mental and physical state steadily deteriorated.

I would like to admire R. Elyashiv. But the truth is that I feel sorry for him, and his family, and even his followers, who have spent so much time denying any problems with his health (or their community's) that they now seem at a total loss to do anything now that the inevitable has happened.

A sof shalem to Rabbi Elyashiv. And hopes for a chayim shelayim to the ones whose lives he touched-- for good and bad.


Antigonos said...

And fortunately, the funeral was last night, so Jerusalem traffic wasn't snarled all day.

Now the fights over the "succession" will begin...

Garnel Ironheart said...

There's no fight over succession. Rav Shteinman had already received the title of "Maran" a couple of weeks ago.
Rav Eliashiv was an interesting posek because he paskened in total isolation from the real world. It's like if you were to take a doctor, stick him in an office with a bunch of patient cases and ask him to comment on the proper management of each, assuming all medications were available in unlimited amounts, you could get any test you wanted instantly, as many assistants, nurses, PT's etc as you need, how would you manage each patient?
That's why he could take such strict stands or make declarations that even many Chareidim shook their heads at (when no one was looking). And that's why he wasn't accepted as a major posek outside the Chareidi community, unlike Rav Moshe, zt"l and Rav Shlomo Zalman, zt"l, who did interact with the real world.

Antigonos said...

Another not inconsiderable achievement for R. Elyashiv was that, at the time of his death, he had almost 1000 descendants over six generations. He himself fathered 12 children, 10 of whom lived to adulthood.

Factoid of the day.:-)