Da'as Torah

Da'as Torah (or Da'at Torah, Da'as Toyreh) (Hebrew: דעת תורה, literally "Knowledge of Torah"), is a concept in Haredi Judaism according to which Jews should seek the input of rabbinic scholars not just on matters of Jewish law but on all important life matters, on the grounds that knowledge of the Torah aids everything in life.

In contemporary Haredi Judaism

Avi Shafran, Director of Public Affairs for the American Hareidi organization Agudath Israel of America, explains the concept as follows:

Da'at Torah is not some Jewish equivalent to the Catholic doctrine of papal infallibility. Not only can rabbis make mistakes of judgment, there is an entire tractate of the Talmud, Horiut, predicated on the assumption that they can, that even the Sanhedrin is capable of erring, even in halakhic matters.

What Da'at Torah means, simply put, is that those most imbued with Torah-knowledge and who have internalized a large degree of the perfection of values and refinement of character that the Torah idealizes are thereby rendered particularly, indeed extraordinarily, qualified to offer an authentic Jewish perspective on matters of import to Jews - just as expert doctors are those most qualified (though still fallible, to be sure) to offer medical advice.[1]

Similarly, Rabbi Pesach Eliyahu Falk writes:

That which Poskim cannot prove from an explicit source, is decided upon by a thought-process which has been tuned and refined by tens of thousands of hours of Torah study (and with elderly Talmidei Chachamim even hundreds of thousands of hours) which enables them to perceive where the pure truth lies. This process is called Da’as Torah - an opinion born out of Torah thought. Their thought-process has not been affected by secular and non-Jewish ways of thinking ...[2]

Accordingly, Haredi Judaism espouses a belief that Jews, both individually and collectively, should seek out the views of the prominent religious scholars of the generation (called Gedolim, "great ones", or gedolei Torah or gedolei Yisrael) not just on matters of Jewish law or matters "of religion", but in every aspect of life, from issues of health to secular politics.

Further whereas in declaring matters of Jewish law rabbinic authorities are required to render decisions based on precedents, sources, and Talmudic principles of analysis, a rabbinic authority has greater latitude when declaring Da'as Torah than when defining a halakhic opinion. While a halakhic opinion requires legal justification from recognized sources, simple Da'as Torah is regarded as being of a more subtle nature and requires no clear legal justification or explicit grounding in earlier sources. Indeed, different authorities may offer diametrically opposed opinions based on their own understanding.[3]

In Hasidic circles, a rebbe is often regarded as having extraordinary spiritual powers and is sought for personal advice in all pursuits of life by his followers. The views and edicts of a rebbe are considered to be an expression of Da'as Torah.


Some observers, such as Dr. Jacob Katz, feel that the idea that these are de facto binding on the whole community is a novelty within the history of Judaism.

Prior to the modern period, rabbis functioned as the primary leaders of every Jewish community. Lay leaders served under the general guidance of the rabbinical leadership regarding religious issues, and often on political matters as well. This was not understood to mean that rabbis, even gedolim, were infallible, but simply that they were seen as the best qualified leaders for the Jewish people (Feitman 1995).

Some argue (e.g. Kaplan 1980) that with the rise of modernity and the wider availability of secular knowledge (and a reduction of commitment to religion), various groups, including groups within the Orthodox world, raised challenges to the exclusive leadership role of the rabbis. These theorists suggest that to some degree, this generated a backlash in the Haredi world, intensifying the Da'as Torah concept to imply near infallibility for gedolim.

Avi Shafran disagrees that the concept is a new one. He writes:

The phrase Da'at Torah may be a relatively new one, but the insinuation that the concept it reflects is some sort of modern invention by "unmodern" Jews is absurd. "Emunat chachamim," or "trust in the judgment of the Torah-wise," has been part and parcel of Jewish tradition for millennia. The Talmud and Jewish history are replete with examples of how the Jewish community looked to their religious leaders for guidance about social, political and personal decisions - decisions that, as believing Jews, they understood must be based on authentic Torah values.[1]

Rabbi Alfred Cohen argues similarly: "[F]rom time to time rabbinic figures will make pronouncements about political agendas or personalities... Do great Torah scholars possess some kind of special insight even into mundane matters? The Gemara says that "a talmid chacham is preferable to a prophet." What does this mean, in what sense is he superior? Commenting on this dictum, the Rashba notes, 'Although "prophecy was taken away from the prophets," this refers to prophetic visions, but the prophetic insight of the wise men, which [comes] via wisdom, that has not been nullified; rather they [talmidei chachamim] know the truth through the Divine spirit which is within them.' Following in the same path, the Ritva also understands Divine wisdom as having been given to Torah scholars... The Maharal reaches a similar conclusion: '[T]he wise man [talmid chacham], based on his intellect...can grasp matters which are exceedingly obscure.' It is my understanding that these great Rabbonim are describing a phenomenon very close to what is colloquially perceived as Daat Torah: That a person who spends his nights and days immersed in Torah wisdom eventually becomes imbued with an almost intuitive grasp of what Hashem wants; in that sense, his advice can be wonderfully insightful for the individual and of great assistance to the community. Written centuries ago, these opinions hardly constitute a "modern phenomenon" reflective of a breakdown in traditional communal structures, and the concomitant weakening of the influence of community rabbis and lay leaders. Although the role of Roshei Yeshiva, possessed of great Torah scholarship and often personal charisma, may indeed be far more prominent nowadays than in the past, it is hardly indicative of a new phenomenon" [4]

Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein: “…I find the alternative view, that gedolei Torah are professional experts whose authority and wisdom can ordinarily be regarded as confined to the area of their technical proficiency, simply inconceivable. Our abiding historical faith in the efficacy of Torah as a pervasive, ennobling, informing, and enriching force dictates adoption of the concept of da'at Torah in some form or measure.” [5] Rabbi Nahum Rabinovich, in an article whose translation appeared in the Fall 2007 edition of the journal Hakirah, argued conversely that the practice found in some Haredi circles of blindly following the advice of rabbinic leaders for all personal decisions is not related to the mishnaic concept of emunat chachamim.[6]

Political impact

The Da'as Torah concept is the principle that guides the Haredi political parties in Israel such as the Ashkenazi Agudat Israel (working under the tutelage of the present Gerrer Rebbe, Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter) and Degel HaTorah both individually and during their alliance together as United Torah Judaism, and the Sephardi Shas party (guided mainly by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.) National Religious Party of Israel also has a centralized board of Rabbis, such as Rabbanim Shlomo Aviner, Dov Lior and Mordechai Eliyahu that formulate its policies, although its politicians have greater flexibility in devising such policies.


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