Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Daas Torah

I'm in the middle of finals right now, but I'm not in the mood of studying so I'm going to blog. Actually I'm not even in the mood to blog, but I have something on my mind and I want to get it out there.

Here's something I don't understand. It's called Daas Torah. From what I can tell it basically means that people who are on a high level of learning are able to see more than the average person and are therefore qualified to deal with issues that do not fall under their expertise. For example, in Israel both Shas and UTJ defer to the will of a council of Torah sages to decide policy for the party. I think we can all fairly say that, naturally, someone who reads a daf of Gemara should not be any better at analyzing a political problem than you or me.

Learning science would make someone proficient in science. Learning math would make someone proficient in science. And learning Torah should make someone proficient in Torah (well, that's not even true since learning a part of the Torah would make someone proficient in that part of Torah, but I digress). That is the natural way of things. People know what they study.

Now it's true that someone who studies a complicated subject in depth for decades is probably very intelligent and his opinion should be sought out if he's knowledgeable. We might ask a brilliant mathematician about a political question if he shows the requisite knowledge to offer an informed opinion. But we wouldn't ask someone to decide a question of policy if he can't explain to me the basic reasons why some Mexican immigrants come here illegally no matter how much of a genius he is.

So there must be something special about learning Torah that gives people the ability to analyze questions even without knowing the facts. I mean how can someone offer a political opinion on disengagement without even a cursory understanding of the military issues involved? To have an informed opinion the person needs to understand the political situation in Israel, the contours of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular and the Israeli-Arab conflict in general, as well as the diplomatic relationship between Israel and the US, EU, and UN. Without this knowledge at the least, a person cannot analyze the situation properly.

So for the Daas Torah argument to work we must assume one of two things: either the Gedolim are well-versed in political matters, read the papers and journals, and have a rudimentary understanding of political issues or somehow by learning Torah this things come to them in some other way. Now since I highly doubt Rav Eliyashuv has a suscription to Azure, we'll assume the latter.

But why do we assume that? What evidence do we have that it's true? It clearly goes against reason. So why believe it?

(Note: Daas Torah is not only a Charedi concept; the Rav believed in a version of it.)

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