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Monday, June 18, 2012

Parshas Korach: Respect for Gedolei Yisrael

Much of the source material in this post is in Hebrew.  To minimize the possibility of further chillul Hashem, I don't want to translate it, but it is perfectly matched to this week's parsha.

I recently saw a highly respected web log, written by a talmid chacham and kli kodesh, that cited a statement by Rav Steinman as reported in Yediot Achronot.  He also brought someone else's reaction to Rav Steinman's statement.  I was disgusted by the azus panim of the latter, but nu, there are plenty of mouth breathers out there who think they are the Ramchal reincarnated; but I was extremely disturbed by the former's failure to objurgate that chutzpedikeh screed.  Coincidentally, I saw an article that reinforced Rav Steinman's statement, and a response (click on "Response from a Catholic Theologian") to that article by a Catholic theologian, whose thesis reflects the truth of, lehavdil, Rav Steinman's statement.  I direct you primarily to the first paragraph.  Unfortunately, there are people to whom the measured phrases of a Catholic theologian will mean more than....  The bottom line is that לא תרצח is a chiddush, and לא תנאף is a chiddush, and לא תגנוב is a chiddush.

I need to make this clear; one who remains silent when he hears of disrespect to a great talmid chacham, is complicit, rachmana litzlan, in the sin.  Other, more respectable websites, no doubt are loath to even mention this issue because it is beneath contempt, or because dissemination might add to the Chillul Hashem.  Baruch Hashem, this website doesn't have to worry about respectability, and it is so well matched to this week's parsha that I felt a need to post it.

There may be leadership figures whose status stems primarily from charisma or inheritance, and whose  authority and status is specific to their group of followers, who knowingly and enthusiastically participate in their own deception.  Rav Steinman, on the other hand, is a malach, a living sefer Torah whose middos and tzidkus and chesed are beyond the comprehension of the average human being.  If you have a question about something a man of Rav Steinman's stature said, if something he is quoted as having said troubles you, then either work hard to understand what was said and why it was said and what it means, or just shut the hell up.

article from ynet:
בכנס לקראת שבועות אמר הרב יהודה לייב שטיינמן, ממנהיגי הציבור החרדי-ליטאי, כי העולם נברא למען לומדי התורה: "יש שמונה מיליארדים אנשים בעולם. ומה הם כולם, רוצחים, גנבים אנשים בלי שכל"

הרב אהרון יהודה לייב שטיינמן, ממנהיגי הציבור החרדי-ליטאי, התבטא בחריפות נגד אומות העולם. בדברים שנשא בכנס בבית שמש לקראת חג שבועות - חג מתן תורה - הדגיש הרב את חשיבותה של התורה, ואמר כי העולם נברא עבור הצדיקים שלומדים ומקיימים אותה.

דברי הרב בכנס פורסמו במלואם בעיתון החרדי "יתד נאמן", שם צוטט כאומר על מי שאינם יהודים: "יש שמונה מיליארדים אנשים בעולם. ומה הם כולם, רוצחים, גנבים אנשים בלי שכל. זה הכל נמצא, אבל מי התכלית של העולם, וכי הקדוש-ברוך-הוא ברא את העולם בשביל הרוצחים האלה? בשביל הרשעים האלה?" כסמכות הרוחנית עבור ניצגי הליטאים ויהדות התורה, חזר בהמשך דבריו וטען כנגד העולם: "לגויים אין שום שייכות עם תורה. אומות העולם אין להם שום דבר, לא ביטחון (=אמונה) ולא שום מידה טובה". עסקו בחשיבותה של התורה והשפעתה על חיי היום-יום וחינוך הילדים. הרב הדגיש כי "מי שלא לומד תורה, הוא לא מקיים את המצוות. אם הוא לא לומד תורה זה חורבן, חורבן שלו ושל העולם...
"וזה אנחנו צריכים לשאוף, לראות שכל הילדים, כל הדורות שלנו, להכניס את הבן
ללמוד תורה... כל אחד ואחד שרוצה לראות נחת מהילדים, שיראה שילמדו תורה. אם לא תורה, יהיה עם הארץ וגם נחת לא יהיה ממנו. אפילו אם יהיה לו כסף. וכיז זו התכלית? כסף! האם    לוקחים כסף לקבר? אין דבר כזה, ומה יש כן בקבר - תורה".

מנכ"ל חדו"ש, הרב עו"ד אורי רגב, אמר בתגובה לדברים: "מדהים ומקומם לשמוע את ההתבטאות מלאת השנאה נגד כמעט כל המין האנושי. שוב חושף הרב שטיינמן את העובדה שאגדת המתינות שלו היתה במקרה הטוב מופרכת, ובמקרה הרע מעשה הונאה".

I don't want to reproduce the "Reaction article."

Here is the beginning of the journal article:
J Med Ethics doi:10.1136/medethics-2011-100411
  • Law, ethics and medicine
  • After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?
  1. Francesca Minerva
    Received 25 November 2011
  • Revised 26 January 2012
  • Accepted 27 January 2012
  • Published Online First 23 February 2012


Abortion is largely accepted even for reasons that do not have anything to do with the fetus' health. By showing that (1) both fetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons, (2) the fact that both are potential persons is morally irrelevant and (3) adoption is not always in the best interest of actual people, the authors argue that what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.


Severe abnormalities of the fetus and risks for the physical and/or psychological health of the woman are often cited as valid reasons for abortion. Sometimes the two reasons are connected, such as when a woman claims that a disabled child would represent a risk to her mental health. However, having a child can itself be an unbearable burden for the psychological health of the woman or for her already existing children,1 regardless of the condition of the fetus. This could happen in the case of a woman who loses her partner after she finds out that she is pregnant and therefore feels she will not be able to take care of the possible child by herself.
A serious philosophical problem arises when the same conditions that would have justified abortion become known after birth. In such cases, we need to assess facts in order to decide whether the same arguments that apply to killing a human fetus can also be consistently applied to killing a newborn human.
Such an issue arises, for example, when an abnormality has not been detected during pregnancy or occurs during delivery. Perinatal asphyxia, for instance, may cause severe brain damage and result in severe mental and/or physical impairments comparable with those for which a woman could request an abortion. Moreover, abnormalities are not always, or cannot always be, diagnosed through prenatal screening even if they have a genetic origin. This is more likely to happen when the disease is not hereditary but is the result of genetic mutations occurring in the gametes of a healthy parent. One example is the case of Treacher-Collins syndrome (TCS), a condition that affects 1 in every 10 000 births causing facial deformity and related physiological failures, in particular potentially life-threatening respiratory problems. Usually those affected by TCS are not mentally impaired and they are therefore fully aware of their condition, of being different from other people and of all the problems their pathology entails. Many parents would choose to have an abortion if they find out, through genetic prenatal testing, that their fetus is affected by TCS. However, genetic prenatal tests for TCS are usually taken only if there is a family history of the disease. Sometimes, though, the disease is caused by a gene mutation that intervenes in the gametes of a healthy member of the couple. Moreover, tests for TCS are quite expensive and it takes several weeks to get the result. Considering that it is a very rare pathology, we can understand why women are not usually tested for this disorder.
However, such rare and severe pathologies are not the only ones that are likely to remain undetected until delivery; even more common congenital diseases that women are usually tested for could fail to be detected. An examination of 18 European registries reveals that between 2005 and 2009 only the 64% of Down's syndrome cases were diagnosed through prenatal testing.2 This percentage indicates that, considering only the European areas under examination, about 1700 infants were born with Down's syndrome without parents being aware of it before birth. Once these children are born, there is no choice for the parents but to keep the child, which sometimes is exactly what they would not have done if the disease had been diagnosed before birth.

Abortion and after-birth abortion

Euthanasia in infants has been proposed by philosophers3 for children with severe abnormalities whose lives can be expected to be not worth living and who are experiencing unbearable suffering.
Also medical professionals have recognised the need for guidelines about cases in which death seems to be in the best interest of the child. In The Netherlands, for instance, the Groningen Protocol (2002) allows to actively terminate the life of ‘infants with a hopeless prognosis who experience what parents and medical experts deem to be unbearable suffering’.4
Although it is reasonable to predict that living with a very severe condition is against the best interest of the newborn, it is hard to find definitive arguments to the effect that life with certain pathologies is not worth living, even when those pathologies would constitute acceptable reasons for abortion. It might be maintained that ‘even allowing for the more optimistic assessments of the potential of Down's syndrome children, this potential cannot be said to be equal to that of a normal child’.3 But, in fact, people with Down's syndrome, as well as people affected by many other severe disabilities, are often reported to be happy.5
Nonetheless, to bring up such children might be an unbearable burden on the family and on society as a whole, when the state economically provides for their care. On these grounds, the fact that a fetus has the potential to become a person who will have an (at least) acceptable life is no reason for prohibiting abortion. Therefore, we argue that, when circumstances occur after birth such that they would have justified abortion, what we call after-birth abortion should be permissible.
In spite of the oxymoron in the expression, we propose to call this practice ‘after-birth abortion’, rather than ‘infanticide’, to emphasise that the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus (on which ‘abortions’ in the traditional sense are performed) rather than to that of a child. Therefore, we claim that killing a newborn could be ethically permissible in all the circumstances where abortion would be. Such circumstances include cases where the newborn has the potential to have an (at least) acceptable life, but the well-being of the family is at risk. Accordingly, a second terminological specification is that we call such a practice ‘after-birth abortion’ rather than ‘euthanasia’ because the best interest of the one who dies is not necessarily the primary criterion for the choice, contrary to what happens in the case of euthanasia.
Failing to bring a new person into existence cannot be compared with the wrong caused by procuring the death of an existing person. The reason is that, unlike the case of death of an existing person, failing to bring a new person into existence does not prevent anyone from accomplishing any of her future aims. However, this consideration entails a much stronger idea than the one according to which severely handicapped children should be euthanised. If the death of a newborn is not wrongful to her on the grounds that she cannot have formed any aim that she is prevented from accomplishing, then it should also be permissible to practise an after-birth abortion on a healthy newborn too, given that she has not formed any aim yet.
There are two reasons which, taken together, justify this claim:
  1. The moral status of an infant is equivalent to that of a fetus, that is, neither can be considered a ‘person’ in a morally relevant sense.
  2. It is not possible to damage a newborn by preventing her from developing the potentiality to become a person in the morally relevant sense.
We are going to justify these two points in the following two sections.

The newborn and the fetus are morally equivalent

The moral status of an infant is equivalent to that of a fetus in the sense that both lack those properties that justify the attribution of a right to life to an individual.
Both a fetus and a newborn certainly are human beings and potential persons, but neither is a ‘person’ in the sense of ‘subject of a moral right to life’. We take ‘person’ to mean an individual who is capable of attributing to her own existence some (at least) basic value such that being deprived of this existence represents a loss to her. This means that many non-human animals and mentally retarded human individuals are persons, but that all the individuals who are not in the condition of attributing any value to their own existence are not persons. Merely being human is not in itself a reason for ascribing someone a right to life. Indeed, many humans are not considered subjects of a right to life: spare embryos where research on embryo stem cells is permitted, fetuses where abortion is permitted, criminals where capital punishment is legal.

and here is the response by Charles C. Camosy , is Assistant Professor of Theology at Fordham University in New York City. 
 Concern for Our Vulnerable Prenatal and Neonatal Children: A Brief Reply to Giubilini and Minerva

Despite the wide public outcry over their article, Giubilini and Minerva’s arguments in defense of infanticide are nothing new. Peter Singer has become one of the best known philosophers in the world in part because of the attention he has received from defending the practice.  Infanticide was such an established part of the culture of ancient Greece and Rome that Christians and Jews became subjects of public mockery for opposing it.  Even today, infanticide is consistently practiced in places where the Judeo-Christian tradition does not serve as a moral foundation, such as China and India.

But the Judeo-Christian tradition’s influence has diminished in the developed West, and as a result it has become more difficult to claim that all members of the species Homo sapiens are persons with an equal right to life. Giubilini and Minerva provide an important example of what follows from the rejection of the sanctity of human life. Even the most ardent defenders of abortion rights cannot deny the science behind the claim a prenatal child is a fellow member of our species, but that—at least to some in our post-Christian world—is not morally significant.  What matters is having the interests and capabilities of persons: rationality, self-awareness, the ability engage in loving relationships, etc. Many already reject the personhood of our prenatal children because they do not have these traits, but Giubilini and Minerva make the fairly obvious point that our neonatal children do not have these traits either. Thus, they claim, if one supports abortion for this reason, one should support infanticide on the same basis.


great unknown said...

I suspect that the author of the "reaction" is closer in moral philosophy to Guibilini and Minerva than to the Catholic theologian; but would respect all three of them far more than Rav Steinman.

Barzilai said...

I wasn't surprised at that particular reaction. I was very upset about the other blogger, a big talmid chacham and mechaber sefarim, who copied and posted it. And I was upset that nobody had the seichel to protest and say that the best defense for the extremely dangerous act of being mevazeh talmid chacham is that the critic was momentarily insane, an irresponsible imbecile.

great unknown said...

Just speculation:

Consider than in many [some, most, all?] yeshivot, there exists a hierarchy of respect. Certain other yeshivos are highly respected, certain Rosh Yeshivos are considered gedolim, certain shitot and hashkafot are considered definitive. And the opposite is true of other yeshivos, Rosh Yeshivos, and shitot and hashkafot. And there is a continuum between the two extremes.

[I prefer not to mention blatant examples I experienced in my ephemeral experience in the yeshiva world such as Rav Kook, REITS, Lubavitch, the insulting seating arrangements at certain Agudah events for certain gedolim who were not part of the power bloc, etc., etc., ad nauseum. So forget I said anything]

And almost universally, a gadol who happens to be a Rov and not a Rosh Yeshiva is never considered significant.

Is it any wonder than this attitude carries on to later life?

Avi said...

I can't follow all the Hebrew, but I can understand anyone who would disrespect a "Rabbi" who calls all the world's population murderers and lacking of intellect.

Barzilai said...

My opinion is that a man like that is entitled to a high level of deference. If you find his statement objectionable, then you have an obligation to think very hard about what he meant and why he said it. In this case what he meant was that human philosophy, without being influenced by divine revelation, inevitably deteriorates to the justification and gleeful practice of all of the horrors and abominations conceivable by the human heart. This is not speculative; it is empirical.

chaim b. said...

I am behind on my blog reading and just saw your post. Y'yasher kochacha.

Eli said...


I surely agree to your statement "that a man like that is entitled to a high level of deference. If you find his statement objectionable, then you have an obligation to think very hard about what he meant and why he said it". One has to give credit where credit is due, but sometime your conclusion, after thinking, could be that the statement is, after all, objectionable.

Sorry, but your example is not convincing. There are moral disputes, including ones regarding issues of life and death, even within the Torah and Halacha world. Rav X permits abortions/organ-donations/etc in some situations, while Rav Y thinks they are considered murder. Should Rav Steinman include Rav X in his statement too? Of course, you may argue that *our* (define you circle of reference here: all Halacha observing jews? people who follow your favorite posek? only you?) moral standards are the correct ones, and those of others are wrong. They say the same of course. But regardless, this is not equivalent to what Rav S. said. My own experience with גויים, limited though, is that those who were raised in the civilized world are, by and large, not רוצחים, גנבים אנשים בלי שכל, certainly not all of them. Certainly, the גויים I met in my life, are very different from the peasants in Brisk of early 20th century. But I'd expect a leader whose words may literally affect the whole world (see below) not to base himself on limited anecdotal evidence.

More importantly, not only I humbly think his words are wrong empirically, it was also wrong to say it even if one believe them to be true. See . And this comes from a leader that uses the התגרות באומות card frequently. I guess Rav S. wasn't aware of the impact of what he says in a closed room, but that by itself, again, raises questions on how well does he know what is going on outside of his close circle.

Finally, to follow up on GU's point, living in a society in which a slight disagreement disentitles one of respect, it's no wonder that the attitude towards people of completely different cultures would be the way it is. This is another price one pays for being so isolated.

העולם טועים בשנים: טועים לחשוב שאדם גדול אינו טועה, וטועים לחשוב כי מי שטעה אינו אדם גדול.

Barzilai said...

Regarding Eli's comment, first, here's the article he linked:

PA Accuses Rabbis Yosef and Steinman of Incitement

The Haaretz newspaper reported on Sunday that, for the past two months, the Palestinian Authority has been circulating reports among its ambassadors and foreign diplomats which outline what is termed “Israeli incitement against the Palestinian population.” Among those accused of incitement are Shas’ spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and Rabbi Aharon Leib Steinman, a leader of the Lithuanian branch of hareidi Judaism.

The PA’s report quotes Rabbi Ovadia Yosef as saying that “the Torah prohibits desecration of the Sabbath for a gentile, and it is prohibited to treat a gentile who comes to the hospital during the Sabbath.” It also includes a quote attributed to Rabbi Steinman, who said that gentiles are “murderers, thieves, villains and are brainless.”

The quotes are the PA’s response to recent accusations by Israel that PA’s mufti was inciting by quoting a passage from the Koran which instructs to kill Jews, and are presumably based on reports recently published in the Israeli media.

Second, I still say that whatever middos tovos we find among the nations stems from and is commensurate with the degree they were influenced by the Torah. In China, allowing an injured infant to remain in the street is not unusual, which has been remarked on in their own newspapers. In India, giving alms to the poor is seen as interference with Karma. And let's not even talk about the Germans and Hitlers complaint, his Kampf, against Torah morality. Other than the influence of the Torah, the inevitable course ends in the worst atrocities. Goyim are rotzchim- to the extent that they are goyim. To the extent that they are Yidden, to the extent that they borrowed from or were influenced by the Torah, to that extent they can be malachim.

Eli said...

Is your claim based on (an interpretation of) Chazal/other sources, or is it due to observation? If the former - what's the source? Chazal say we can learn middos tovos from animals, are these animals Yidden too?

If the latter, I think one can safely say there are many Chinese and Indians, unaffected by Jewish culture or its descendants, with middos tovos. Rivka was chosen to be our mother based on her middos, before she was influenced by Torah, etc etc. Obviously, I do not deny the huge influence of Torah values (brought by Christianity to most of the civilized world). However, another important factor is prosperity and wealth. It's easier to be generous when you don't fight for bread. Jewish mothers too have abandoned their children at times, etc etc. I would like to believe that, on average, Jewish people, guided by Torah morality and maybe even those who were not, were doing better than goyim in the same situation. This is far far from the extreme hyperbole discussed here.