Every generation has its gedolim. To be sure in the recent past we can point to such luminaries as Harav Moshe Feinstein, Harav Cook, Rav J.B. Soloveitchik, Rav Chaim Zimmerman, Harav Shach, Harav Eliyahu Lopian, Rav AharonAharon Kutler, Harav Yaakov Kamenetzky,and Harav Yosef Shalom Eliyashiv just to mention a few. There is no formula for the making of a gadol, or can a formula be created, which if followed will result in the making of a gadol. But they also just don’t happen. What makes a gadol? What is the full measure of a gadol?
Folklore has it that someone approached Harav Moshe Feinsein once and asked him how is it, that he is considered a Gadol. In his modesty he answered that “people asked for my opinion and I guess they must have had confidence in the answers because more and more asked.” He was obviously modest in his answer, because he, like no other was not only a decisor for the orthodox community, but ha dthe respect of all Jews no matter their persuasion. I think this was the case because above all else he was an extremely principled person. His positions were based on sources, not the amorphous Daas Torah. In fact, when he rendered a p’sak he cited all his sources. His reason was that people should understand the basis for which he arrived at a p’sak. The Rav welcomed those having read and studied his p’sak with questions.
Another luminary, and one whom history will treat a s a true Gadol was Harav Shach. He too was a man principled and shared his love and commitment not just for the immediate orthodox world he served but all of Am Yisrael. It didn’t matter if you were shomer mitzvot or not to Harav Shach. Being a yid was all that mattered in his weltenschaung. Haarv Shach, shortly after he had undergone surgery without the benefit of an anaesthetic, by choice, broke down and cried when word came to him that four chayalim were killed in a training excercize. He never concerned himself with whether or not they were frum. They were Jews in defense of their country. Ironically, during his surgical procedure though in intense pain he never cried, but upon hearing of these four chayalim, he broke down in tears.
Each of these gedolim exhibited different relationships to the general Jewish community, but both of these gedolim exhibited an incredible love and respect for the Jewish people regardless of their religious proclivities. That didn’t mean that they were willing to compromise their principles. Even if you totally disagreed with their piskei halacha, or their approach to halacha, you had to love them and respect them if for no other reason than their commitment to principles.
I raise this issue today because recently Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky, following a meeting with Senator Rich Santorum issued a Kol Korei to all the Jews of Pennsylvania. He noted that it befits every Jew to acknowledge his or her appreciation for their freedom in the United States by participating in the upcoming election and to vote for those strengthening the nation. His Kolkorei is somewhat supect because it was issued immediately following his meeting with Senator Santorum. It would appear that because of the timing of his Kol Korei he was endorsing the Senator. What I find disturbing in all this is that Harav Kamenetsky ought not be involving himself in local politics unless there are some principles involved affecting Am Yisrael. His endorsement of Rick Santorum is blatantly transparent, looking forward only for the political fallout and benefits to be gained if Santorum is elected. However, if I was Rick Santorum, I’d be cautious about Harav Kamenetsky’s endorsement. You see Harav Kanmenetsky is known for his “early withdrawal syndrome”.
Unlike other gedolim who have demonstrated incredible leadership, independent thinking, and rising above the fray, this gadol has capitulated to the powers that be on several notable occasions. In one instance he was supportive of Rabbi Reiman’s collaborative book with the reform rabbi Hirsch entitled “One People Two Worlds”. On the eve of the national book tour, Rabbi Kaminetsky removed his haskama due to unprecedented pressure from the moaetzes gedolei hatorah. On another occasion he had to back down for his support of Rabbi Natan Slifkins book The Challenge of Creation, again resulting from pressure from the moetzes gedolei hatorah.
To Santorum I would pose the question “why would you want the endorsement of someone as fickle and prone to bend under pressure as Kamenetsky”. Would you want an endorsement from someone who withdraws support from a powerful book that holds promise of possible rapprochement between two opposing factions? How can you accept support from a Rabbi who tries to repress and suppress freedom of thought and expression, pillars of our democratic way of life? And why would you wish to receive support from someone who actually believes the world is only 6000 years old?
To Rabbi Kamenetsky I ask the following: if you believe as your Kol Korei reads that every Jew should acknowledge his or her appreciation for the freedoms of the United Sates, will you be sitting down to turkey and cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving? Will your Yeshiva be serving it with all the trimmings this Thanksgiving or will you interject instead an extra seder to the day? On Flag Day will you and your Yeshiva be flying the colors of the United States, or does your love of country go only as far as Washington pork will take you?