Thursday, October 25, 2007

Question & Answer With Schneur Zalman - Me'am Lo'ez

A Simple Jew asks:

In the introduction to "Me'am Lo'ez", Rabbi Yaakov Culi wrote,

"When a person reads this book, it is counted if he had studied Tanach, Gemara, Midrash, and Shulchan Aruch, since all are included in it. I have written it in the vernacular so that everyone will be able to understand it and read it daily. When Hashem asks him if he set aside times for Torah study, he will be able to answer in the affirmative."

Despite this promise, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan wrote that today "many yeshiva students seem to shun it". To your knowledge, historically to what degree did Me'am Lo'ez gain popularity within Chassidic communities in Eastern Europe?

Schneur Zalman responds:

An interesting question. In my reading I cannot recall that sefer ever being mentioned as being part of the daily or weekly Torah corpus of the Chassidic Jew in Europe. The Or HaChaim HaKadosh, Pele Yoetz, Chok LeYisrael - yes, but Me'am Lo'ez I would have to say no. Actually the Chok was established with the same reasoning by the talmidim of Rav Chaim Vital Calabrese to enable the Jew to study all sections of the Holy Torah daily and yes that was translated to Yiddish in Eastern Europe and was popular, certainly amongst Chassidim.

Finally the yeshiva world shuns everything besides Limud BeIyyun. They shun Shnayim Mikro, Chok, Mishnayot, saying Tehillim and until recently the Daf Yomi. As Dr. Nachum Lamm so knowingly said, the Torah world of today has become Pan-Halachic forgetting about our wealth of material on Midrash, Hashkofa, Kabbalah, Mussar, Chassiduth, Kedusha, Piyyutim, Liturgy, Hebrew Language, etc.


At October 25, 2007 at 10:20:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Talmid said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't believe Meam Loez was translated out of the original Ladino that it was written in until the last 50 years or so. This, understandably, made the sefer inaccessible even if they had the sefer. If one is capable of learning the various midrashim and commentators on Chumash from the original sources I don’t see that as a knock to the Meam Loez.

Personally, I like Meam Loez because he gathered together so much from so many sources and wove it together so beautifully with footnotes to everything so one can look up the original source. I recommend it to everyone. As far as it being shunned by yeshiva students, perhaps, but I have heard a prominent Rosh Yeshiva (a Lakewood talmid) quote from Meam Loez.

The last comment about “the yeshiva world” is not accurate. “The Yeshiva World” is a very general statement. Shnayim Mikro is a whole section in Shulchan Aruch, and virtually all the Bnei Torah I know of (Yeshivish, Chassidish, Sfardish, Askeneizish”) make sure to do Shnayim Mikra. Mishnayos – while they may not have actual sedarim in Yeshiva to learn it, it is a common site to see Kolel yungerleit and bochurim with a small Mishnayos learning it during meals or at other times. Many Yeshivas do learn Nefesh HaChaim, mussar, etc...
For example, in Yeshiva Chaim Berlin they are very involved with learning the teachings of Reb Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin, Maharal, Pachad Yitzchok and others like this.

I don’t think these things are shunned by the Rosh Yeshivas because you will see that they are well versed in many aspects of Torah besides Limud BeIyun. Students may shun them but that isn’t a reflection on the attitude of a Yeshiva.

At October 25, 2007 at 10:30:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oy vey!! That is how a frum Jew talks about a large and chashuv segment of Klal Yisroel!? Oy vey! Hello? Are you not aware that Rav Wolfson is part of of Torah VaDaas? Have you never read Rav Solomon drahsos or Mishnas Rebbi Aharon? Or Pacahd Yitzchad, or gone the Maharal Shiur of Rav Aharon Shecter? How about Rav Dessler shmuessen, many said in Ponovich. Rav Shack pushed to learn faster, Rav Wolbe talks about the chashivus of learning bekius and how it helps the iyun also. In Mir Yerushalyim there is huge chabura that learns very fast, an amud a day with m'forshim.

At October 25, 2007 at 11:01:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Finally the yeshiva world shuns everything besides Limud BeIyyun

Only very litvaks oriented yeshiva world.

At October 25, 2007 at 11:13:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I echo the earlier comments. There is truth to the idea that the Yeshiva world focuses on Gemara but the way this is phrased is an over simplification of the situation...and quite possibly motzei shem ra.

See the Divrei Chaim 2Y.D. 47 that the Divrei Chaim's main learning during the day was Shas and Poskim. This is our primary avodah in learning.

At October 25, 2007 at 11:14:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As we approach Shabbos, we should focus on seeing the good in various Torah communities. In this spirit, I wish to point out that the stereotype of the yeshiva world that appeared in these comments is somewhat distorted, and it came across as a "put-down" of an entire community of Jews. As the Chofetz Chaim and other gedolim caution us, if we are to be careful about how we speak about an individual Jew, we should be even more careful about the way we speak about an entire community of Jews. This is especially true now, when our people are facing great dangers.

From my own experience and encounters, I am aware that many yeshivos include Mussar and Hashkafa. For example, Mesilas Yesharim by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto is studied in many yeshivos. The emphasis on iyyun has its benefits, and when I studied in the yeshiva world, I grew tremendously from this emphasis. I also had rebbes from the yeshiva world who included the study of Chumash, Midrash, and the writings of the Maharal, Rav Dessler, and other Torah thinkers.

I have gained much from the wisdom of the great teachers of Mussar within the Lithuanian yeshiva world, and I have gained much from the wisdom of the great Torah teachers within other Torah communities, including Chassidic, Hungarian Ashkenazic, and Sephardic communities. In fact, the writings of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch have been a major influence in my life, and the Hebrew translation of his commentary on the Chumash has recently become more popular within the Israeli yeshiva world.

Let each of us choose the community and approach that best meets our needs, while remaining open to what we can also learn from other communities. In this way, we can strengthen the unity of the diverse "tribes" of Israel.

At October 25, 2007 at 11:22:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonym: See the Divrei Chaim 2Y.D. 47 that the Divrei Chaim's main learning during the day was Shas and Poskim. This is our primary avodah in learning.

Divrey Chaim (with all respect to his gaoynus and tzidkes) drifted away from Baal Shem Tov's path to quite a degree. I.e. he return the system of values to pre Baal Shem Tov's views, however without misnagdic outlook towards chasidim. It was done consciously and intentionally, and it is a subject for a long discussion why.

At October 25, 2007 at 11:26:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A manifestation of recent Orthodox jewish life in the US is the inability for any introspection and the inability to regard any
comments less than laudatory as a direct attack. Add to this the new political sectarian loyality that is part of the charedi world and you have a situation where any negative comments are regarded as necesiating a major defense.

I suppose if I were to say that all Yeshiva people in the US wear black hats some one would reppond that there are 2 roshe yeshiva in Toronto and S. Louis who were once seen wearing straw hats. If I said that the yeshiva world is basically Brisk influenced, the response would be no there are rosh yeshiva in Miami, and a small yeshiva in Monsey that still learn the old way. if I were to say that the office of the mashgiach is "dead" the reply would be no there is Rabbi Solomon and R. Wolfson.

Frankly my comments were not meant as an attack on the Yeshiva world just a statement of fact. That people sometimes open up other seforim is fine , but nothing the bloggers said change the facts . Yeshivas are interested in Gefes. Midrashim, history , Drash etc are all but ignored. All I ask if for the people from that world reading these comments to do a tad of introspection. and not to take offense as their poltiical party is being attacked. Think about it, this is not a Gmora shiur
where you come up with new pilpulim and exceptions. The facts remain.

At October 25, 2007 at 12:57:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The responses indicate that some of the so-called facts mentioned in the article are wrong, or they are a distortion of the whole picture. For example, the article stated that the yeshiva world shuns Mussar; yet, anyone very familiar with the yeshiva world knows that this is not true for most yeshivos.

It is sad that those who gave a thoughtful critique of the article are accused of doing so because of a narrow sectarian political loyalty, rather than because they have a thoughtful disagreement. It is even more sad that the ahavas Yisrael in some of the responses was ignored.

At October 25, 2007 at 2:41:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

@Schneur Zalman

While I agree with you to some extent, to claim it as "fact" instead of being "your opinion" is not right.

That being said, it is "my opinion" that there are some areas of learning that get overlooked and could use some improvement (As there are areas in all aspects of life that could use improvement). I can't claim to know what goes on in every yeshiva (or even a percent of a percent of all yeshivas), but one thing that always bothered me was that Nach (Neviim & Kesuvim) seems to get glossed over. And seeing as to how the gemarah is full of sources in Nach, it would stand to reason that learning Nach would be essential (including making a seder of it).

If I'm wrong about this, I humbly apologize.

At October 25, 2007 at 3:41:00 PM EDT, Blogger Moshe David Tokayer said...

Finally the yeshiva world shuns everything besides Limud BeIyyun.

Give me a break! The yeshiva world shuns mussar? It's the Yeshiva world which started the mussar movement!

The Yeshiva world shuns shnayim mikra vechad targum?! That's some stereotype. The Yeshiva bachurim that I know do not shun it.

Your statements are outrageous and inaccurate. They are motzei sheim ra on a large section of klal yisrael. Shame on you. You should take your own advice and do a little introspection.

At October 25, 2007 at 4:18:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think a key point here is the lashon "shun". There is a world of sdifference between stressing one thing, and "shunning" another.

At October 25, 2007 at 4:28:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would add, and this not a criticism but an opinion based on observation, that the yeshiva world is actually much broader in their learning than the chasidish world. It seems to me, from Lubavitchers, Breslevers and others that I know personally, that they have adopted a prism through which they view everything. IE the binding of CHITAS. Or Brelevers friends quoting Rabbenu on all issues. Yes, that is chassidus and it is a beautiful thing. But one is much more likely to find a Litvak to answer a question by saying "Well, the Gra holds like this, but I saw in K'dushas Levi that he learns like that. But then there is a Maharal..." By some Chasidim, the prism is so exclusive it can result in a narrowing of perspective (and perhpas a deeping of that one perspective which is the possitive side).

At October 25, 2007 at 5:53:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the article stated that the yeshiva world shuns Mussar; yet, anyone very familiar with the yeshiva world knows that this is not true for most yeshivos.
Do they learn Kav haYoshor, Reyshis Chochmo, Toymer Dvoyro or Shaarey Kdusho? These are called musar. Most are very limited to Mesilas Yeshorim, censoring other things.

one is much more likely to find a Litvak to answer a question by saying "Well, the Gra holds like this, but I saw in K'dushas Levi that he learns like that.
One is probably to find that litvak has very little idea who Kdushas Leyvi is, lest to say what he writes in his seyfer.

At October 26, 2007 at 4:07:00 AM EDT, Blogger Moshe David Tokayer said...

Ok, now that I've had a chance to calm down, Shneur Zalman has actually provided us with the opportunity to cull something positive out of his post.

As I and others have commented, Shneur Zalman's post contains obvious innaccuracies. That being said, it is also obvious that the litvishe Yeshiva world stresses different things that the Chassidishe world. Within the Chassidishe world there are different stresses and, for that matter, the Yeshiva world is not homogeneous either.

Ultimately, we are all here to come close to G-d. Since each of us has a unique neshama, whose roots are in differently spiritual places, it follows that what each of us needs to do to come close to G-d differs.

One person may need to effect a tikkun through learning Torah his entire life. Another person's tikkun may involve spending an entire life immersed in works of chessed. What works for one will not work for another simply because his spiritual needs differ.

Stated simply, there are many different paths leading to closeness with G-d. What this means in practical terms is that Chassidus A may be the best thing for Reuven but Shimon will gravitate towards Chassidus B and Levi will only find happiness in a litvishe Yeshiva environment.

Neither is better than the other. Notwithstanding the views of certain Chassidus and Roshei Yeshiva, Klal Yisrael needs all of it.

Nothing in this world is perfect. There are obviously problems in the Yeshiva world as well as in the Chassidishe world. Nevertheless, the best thing for Klal Yisrael is to focus on the good that each has to offer. (Doesn't Rebbe Nachman of Breslev say to focus on the good point within each person?) In my experience, serious people tend to gravitate to that which is good for them spiritually.

On a personal note, I had a decidedly litvishe upbringing and raised my children that way. Nevertheless, one of my sons left the litvishe Yeshiva he was learning in for a Breslever Yeshiva. Another one of my sons is very happy in a litvishe Yeshiva. This son went to Uman last Rosh HaShana. It was an experience but he was happy to return to his litvishe Yeshiva. I encourage them to do what makes them happy and fills their inner needs.

I sincerely believe that the geula will come not when all Jews become ____________ (fill in the blank with your favorite segment of Klal Yisrael.) Rather the geula will come when we all recognize that the Rebono shel Olam loves each part. When there is shalom between us, there will be shalom between us and the Rebono shel Olam.

At October 26, 2007 at 6:19:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Mesilas Yesharim by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato is one of the great classical works on Mussar. It is only natural that different Torah communities may emphasize different Torah classics; however, my rebbes in the yeshiva world also introduced us to other great classical works on Mussar such as Orchei Tzadikim, Sha'arei Teshuvah, and the modern classic, Michtav Eliyahu by Rav Dessler, which some of us may know from the English translation, Strive for Truth. By the way, Michtav Eliyahu also contain Kabbalistic and Chassidic insights, and it has become a popular work within the yeshiva world in Eretz Yisrael..

Yes, communities and individuals may choose to emphasize different Torah works, and this may be related to the "seventy faces" of Torah. Just as we want people to respect our choices, so too, we should respect the choices of others. As we approach Shabbos, let us not ignite old wars between Yidden through arrogant remarks which attempt to put-down the other Torah community, and let us not use language that creates a distorted and negative stereotype of the other Torah community. Instead of sending more of these type of comments, let us allow the shalom of Shabbos to have the last word.

At October 26, 2007 at 4:30:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nireh Li that Schneur Zalman has made a very common mistake. He has based his summarization of the differences between the Chassidish and Litvishe (or "Yeshivishe" - although equating the two is not 100% possible) world upon genralizations and characterizations which have become part of an anecdotal history of chassidus vs. non-chassidus. This characterization may have had some truth in the early 1800's, prior to the rise of mussar as a movement, but today it is a factually flawed statement. Nowadays the lines between "Yeshivish" and "chassidish" when it comes to derekh ha-limud and haskafa are tremendously blurred. The Frum world of today is more a continuum or spectrum rather than the dichotomy of the past. Arguably, the characterization of the ashkenazi world as a dichotmy between chassidus and "yeshivish" has never been completely correct. The truth is that Jews prior to the Chassidic movement were a vastly, vastly diverse group. When chassidus showed up, a machlokes did arise, but much of the Jewish world kept doing what they were doing before and didn't align themselves with either faction. Today we resemble much more the diverse milieu that existed before chassidus arose rather than the "chassidic" vs. "non-chassidic" black-and-white world of many, many years ago.


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