Interlude – Who is qualified to be a Teacher of Torah?
In this article I want to deal with the issue of who is qualified to be a teacher of Torah in general and specifically for the Laws of Noah. This is critical because non-Jews, especially on the Internet, are confronted by many people teaching Torah subjects who are openly unorthodox (unOrthodox), and unqualified. How are these non-Jews (and some Jews) to know if they are being fooled as they were in their previous religious experiences?
This is an issue of extreme importance in these series of articles for two reasons.
1. Underlying these articles is an attempt to explain clearly why a number of Rabbis who are expert in the 7 laws have come out against the ‘Ger’ business and see it as dangerous to the non-Jews themselves who wish to be close to HaShem as HE wants them to be, and also dangerous to Judaism.
2. Why should you believe me anyway? As non-Jews are not raised or trained to have the skills to discern who is learning the Torah texts as they were meant to be understood, why are my words to be given more consideration than theirs?
This discussion requires us to start with a basic but obvious assumption. What I am writing here and in these articles are for those Jews and non-Jews who believe:
There are 7 laws required of all non-Jews and that their observance is defined within the oral Torah. The later includes the later commentaries on the Talmud and codes. There is no other valid expression of HaShem’s will. The system of the oral and written law is called today ‘Torah Judaism’.
If you deny that obligatory nature of Torah Judaism, which includes the works of our Rabbis, than not only what I say here is of no purpose for you, but the true meaning and the obligations of the 7 laws themselves are outside your worldview. It is not a part of these articles to prove the validity of the oral law.
There are some pretty basic prerequisites needed, which should be obvious to all, and without them, you cannot even consider whether this person is qualitied.
First is that the person needs to be an Orthodox Jew who is faithful to the Torah, oral and written. His life is based on the foundation of Torah Judaism. His faithfulness to the Torah needs to be unquestionable.
This person needs to have spent years in the study of Talmud and Halacha in general, and works discussing the 7 laws in particular. The reason is that true Torah knowledge takes years to acquire. Proper understanding of Halacha requires knowledge of many areas. It is not acquired just by reading some books in English.
The teacher should not be a new convert or Baal Tshuvah (and certainly not a non-Jew). It not only takes time to gather the skills to understand a page of Talmud or a Halacha in Rambam or Shulchan Aruch, it takes time to learn the Torah perspective and approach to life in general. One who has not absorbed the Torah life style, cannot understand the nuances.
This person should have credentials to show they have some qualifications to correctly teach Torah subjects. The best thing would be that the person has already taught in a yeshiva or gave shiurim in a kollel where they were held under scrutiny to see if they mastered the Torah subjects they were teaching. Internet classes have no review and so are not qualifications.
Smicha also indicates some knowledge, but not with regards to the Noahide laws, nor does it indicate an ability to teach.
Without these some letter of support from someone who is qualified who will confirm the teacher’s qualifications is also good. Unfortunately there is no test of ones knowledge of the 7 laws that exists today. Acceptance by others who have interacted with him who are known to have the knowledge is certainly a positive indicator.
The bottom line here is that a teacher needs to be someone who isn’t learning the subject as he goes along, or who never gained the skills. We don’t want someone who is fooling people influencing people in life effecting decisions. Yeshivas don’t just hire people from the street, you should not accept someone who could never be accepted to teach in a real live Yeshiva.
Having the above is not enough. I think there are a few things that are key in choosing who you are going to follow and listen to.
Is this person knowledgeable? It is not hard to appear knowledgeable when speaking to people who do not know the sources. So how do you tell? One way is if the person is part of a community and is respected as knowledgeable there.
Does this person present the material in a way that, from beginning to end, is organized and understandable? If you don’t understand what he is trying to say then this person may not be such a good teacher, or worse, he may not really know the material well.
Are they prepared when they teach? Or do they try to wing it? All gadolim I have known were prepared BEFORE they would teach. I heard this from one of my Rebbes, HaRav Shmuel Kraus ZT’L. He once saw his Rebbe the Galanter Rov HY’D before giving a shiur looking over the Gemara. He asked his Rebbe why he did that since he knew all of Shas (all of the Talmud) and certainly knew the material he was going to teach. The Rov HY’D told him that he was taught that before one gives a shiur one has to review the material you will be teaching, even if you know it.
Many issues in the Talmud and in Halacha will have differing views. It may come as a surprise, but Jews don’t always agree with each other, and that is also the case with Rabbis. Does the teacher understand them? Can he explain what the differences are; why they disagree and why we follow the Halacha like one of these views?
If there are doubts in your mind, especially on key issues being taught, then this person is not qualified.
It is interesting to note that in Shulchan Aruch in the laws dealing with from whom we can learn Torah it is not sufficient to know the subject material; they have to be of a certain character. How do you discern who has the right character? How do you discover who is qualified.
Just as an example: I taught for a number of years in a chassidic yeshiva, and also as a private Rebbe where my students were weekly tested on the material I taught. I with my sons are integral parts of a rather large sized Chassidic group. As to my knowledge of the Noahide laws, I was personally approached to sign the letter about the ‘Ger movement’ because I was known to have in depth knowledge of the subject of the 7 Laws. This last point will become more apparent as these articles continue.
As I have pointed out in previous articles, Chaim Clorfene has continually denigrated Torah Judaism, as such he is not qualified for us to learn from him Torah subjects. (I would like to point out that after pointing out his previous articles to some who even considered him a friend, not one will say they support his views on Torah Judaism, and they agree it is outside of what is acceptable.) David Katz is another story. There is no question in my mind as to his allegiance to Torah Judaism. I have other problems with his works that I feel would disqualify him.
Let’s move from the theoretical to the practical. A good way of approaching this problem is to look at those kinds of things that lead people away from Christianity (or any other false beliefs) in the first place. These red flags apply here too. This opens some good tools of analysis that adds to what was said above.
The first thing is the distortions or mistranslations of the Tenach. In this case there are many good examples from Katz’ book and lectures which are similar. I intend to have a whole article on the misuse of the Biblical words by Katz which seems to be the foundation of the theories of Clorfene and Katz. Let me just give two here.
The first is a minor point in the whole picture but it indicates what the big problem is. In The Laws of Ger Toshav and more in his lecture series on Ger, Katz distinguishes between the pshat (פשט) and the lefi pshuto (לפי פשוטו). This happens in his lectures often when discussing Rashi where he claims Rashi is not ‘pshat’ but ‘lefi pshuto’. But this is a total distortion and misunderstanding of the Hebrew language.
First pshat (פשט) is a common noun but pshuto (פשוטו) is possessive. It literally means: his (or its) pshat. They mean essentially the same. He then compounds his error by a misunderstanding of Rashi. Rashi never says he is explaining the ‘pshuto’. What he says is that he is explaining the ‘pshuto shel mikra’ (פשוטו של מקרא), which literally means ‘the pshat of the verse’. (See Rashi on Bereishis 3:8 as an example.) These mean the exact same thing as just saying ‘pshat’.
Rashi’s use of Talmudic and Midrashic sources in his commentary are well known. It is also well known that his grandson the Rashbam many times disagreed with his grandfather as to what the true pshat was, but there is no indication that Rashi’s intention was other than to explain the pshat (except where he explicitly says he is quoting from a Midrash and bringing a Midrashic interpretation.) All this is known to those who learn Rashi weekly, as mentioned in Halacha, and are familiar with his method of interpretation.
To add to this there is the famous dictum of the Talmud (Shabbos 63a, Yavamos 24a) Ayn Mikra Yotzei mYidei Peshuto (אין מקרא יוצא מידי פשוטו) which means that a verse is not to be interpreted other than according to its pshat. Making a distinction between these two words is just wrong and deceptive.
Next I want to just discuss a single word of the many I will discuss in a later article. This is the word ‘nochri’. On page 11 of The Laws of Ger Toshav Katz says a nochri is ‘a goy/akum’ (i.e. idol worshipper).
On page 144 we learn of a ‘nochri chasid’ who appears similar to a Ger toshiv. His language is hard to comprehend there. It seems to be based on something that appears in Od Yisroel Yosef Beni Chai. On page 7-8 there the term ‘chasid nochri’ is used by the Beis Yosef in his commentary, which appears to mean the same as chasidei umos haolom’. This ‘nochri’ is clearly not an ‘akum’.
Then we see on page 149 where he says something different again, but here it is much closer to the proper definition. He says ‘nochri’ is “synonymous with acum, goy, non-Jew and sometimes kuti.”
However the clearest definition of ‘nochri’ is in the Talmud Brochos 47b. There the Talmud discusses the Mishnah that says that we do not make a zimon (united blessing after meals) with a ‘nochri’. There it says the Mishnah refers to a non-Jew who is in the process of converting but has not yet immersed, and it states: “however long he has not immersed he is a nochri.” That means everyone born a non-Jew who is not a Ger Tzedek is a nochri. That is how it is meant in all places in Halacha. (As to the Biblical text, I will discuss the Biblical terms used in verses in a later article.)
Besides that he has a continual tendency to misunderstand or misuse texts. For example chapter 304 has a big place in his book and it is based on the Gemara in Yavamos. He wants to use it as some proof of what a non-Jew is or is not allowed to do for a Jew. But that is not what the purpose of that is.
I will be discussing Yavomos and the sources behind 304 at length. In short 304 is about slaves and Shabbos, because it is interested in when it is Biblically forbidden for a non-Jew to do work for themselves or when a Jew cannot Biblically ask a non-Jew to do work for themselves. The Biblical prohibition applies when the non-Jew is under the control of a Jew either as property, or otherwise.
The general laws for non-Jews and Shabbos work are that they are rabbinic and are discussed in other places like: chapter 307:2-5 (Laws of Shabbos related to speech) 243 (Laws of renting land and a bathhouse to non-Jews) 244 (The types of work a non-Jew can do for a Jew) 245 (A Jew and non-Jew who are partners; how should they act on Shabbos.) 246 (Laws of borrowing and renting to a non-Jew on Shabbos) and various other places throughout the laws of Shabbos. Those are the places we need to look for the relevant laws that apply to a non-Jew today.
Likewise he misrepresents the view of the late Rebbe of Lubavitch ZT’L. He claims the Rebbe Z’TL ‘got Ger’ but the Rebbe was clear that there was no Ger Toshiv today. (See Lekutei Sichos vol. 26 page 136. Also the responsa of the Lubavitcher Rebbe ZTL in HaPardes May 1985 page 7).
The confusion seems to come from a simple error. While it is clear in the sources, like the late Rebbe ZTL there is no Ger Toshiv today, there are many sources who agree that a Noahide is treated as one in many cases, like being allowed to live in Israel for example. But that doesn’t make that Noahide a ‘Ger’
The term itself is found offensive by some true Gerei Tzeddek because it negates the difficulties and sacrifices they have made in order to undergo full conversion. Because of the effect this has on true Gerim calling non-Jews ‘ger’ may even violate the commandment to ‘love the ger’, which means the Ger Tzedek. (See Rambam Sefer HaMitzvos positive command 207 and Sefer HaChinuch mitzvah 431 where it states explicitly this is a ger tzedek who has completed conversion.)
One of the big issues is with contradictions within the New Testament. Obviously someone who writes a book or teaches and contradicts himself is a problem. We are not talking about minor misstatements, which anyone can make, and do not indicate lack of qualification. No book comes out without errors. However contradictions that effect key issues and concepts are what we are concerned about.
In this case Katz’ book is a good example. In the back he has two chapters which are almost the same in purpose. One is an ‘Elucidation of Terms’ and the other a ‘Lexicon’. But when you read the same definition/issue in both of them and compare you are led to total confusion.
To give one example of the contradictions if we compare what he says about Ben Noach gamor/kosher in both places there is a clear contradiction. Page 141 says this means a gentile in the time of the Jubilee who has accepted the laws before a rabbinic court. But on page 148 this is a Ben Noach who has taken on more than the 7. In fact if you just compare all the multiple categories of Ben Noach and Ger Toshiv in these 2 chapters you will be totally confused.
If we compare what he says about these terms with the Ritva, which he discusses on page 165, these definitions make no sense and are totally confusing. It is either a clear contradiction or just an indication of total confusion by the author.
I will be clarifying all the issues with regards to this in the upcoming articles, but let me here summarize 99% of the issues involved here:
1. According to the Ritva, Ramban and basically all the Rabbinic sources I have seen there are 3 categories of non-Jews:
a. Those who do not follow the 7 Laws.
b. Benei Noach/Noahides who do keep the 7.
c. Ger Toshiv who are Noahides who have appeared before a Beis Din (Jewish Court) to formally accept upon themselves the observance of the 7 mitzvos.
2. Of those Noahides who keep the 7; according to the Rambam if they do so because of a belief in the Torah of Moshe, then they are called Chasidei Umos HaOlam (pious of the nations) and have a place in the world to come.
3. There are views that a formal acceptance before three Jews of the 7 laws today have a spiritual benefit to the Noahide. (I agree and will discuss it later)
4. There is no Ger Toshiv today. Anything that would apply to a Ger Toshiv (except what I discuss in the next point) does not apply.
5. In some ways a Noahide is considered like a Ger Toshiv today (allowed to live among us/forbidden to do harm to them) and they are therefore considered like Gerei Toshiv, even though they are not.
6. Tosephus (Avodah Zarah 64b Who is a Ger Toshiv) indicates #5 applies to any non-Jew who repudiates idol worship and has not been convicted of violating any of the other laws. In this case the concept of ‘Ger’ as opposed to a Noahide seems meaningless to Tosephus,
That’s it in simple words. In general all teachers of Noahides really try to influence non-Jews to be Chassidei Umos HaOlam. What appears above is the view of virtually every Rabbinic work on the subject. Sometimes Katz seems to agree; other times clearly not. It is just impossible to make out what he thinks at times.
Another issue is that of being deceptive or being less than totally truthful. One of the obvious examples of this is done by messianics, who while being non-Jews dress like Jews and imitate Jews in various ways. I have seen non-Jewish Messianics who you would think they were very religious Jews, even Rabbis or Rebbes.
There are many followers of Katz and Clorfene who you would not know were not Jewish if you looked at them and didn’t know.
We see a similar thing with Katz and his book. It has a nice picture of him with a hat and suit jacket. That is the ’uniform’ of a Litvish or Yeshivish man. However in real life all the pictures of him show him without hat or jacket, and looking like what is called ‘Chardel’. This is not a big point, and there is nothing wrong with that, but many people would find it strange that the picture of him does not match how he normally dresses.
Though not specifically deceptive, it is interesting that Chaim Clorfene in his last missive (https://www.chaimclorfene.com/new-blog/2017/11/17/the-nilveh-imperative) uses the nickname ‘serious six’. His followers use similar names as does Katz. But the Rambam is clear (Laws of Repentance chapter 3 Halacha 14) that using nicknames for people, and even more for Talmidei Chochamim (of which there are among the six) is one of the things for which you lose your place in the world to come. (I will not even bring what appears in Shaarei Tshuvah says on such things which is even stronger.) He is misrepresenting himself when he acts that way.
The final issue is that it is really common for Christian pastors to act as if they are prophets and have special knowledge which makes them above others. One need only look at Chaim’s last missive to see that this is a perfect description of him. Besides that he insults the Baal Shem Tov and all the Holy men who follow in his teachings, whose spiritual path was not Chaim’s.
There are various spiritual paths within Judaism, so who is he to denigrate any of them? One thing is clear, it is a sign of arrogance, which the Talmud teaches (Sotah 5a) that if one is arrogant, HaShem cannot stand to be together with him. That is even ignoring his constant attacks on Torah Judaism, which place him beyond the pale.
In conclusion, there are many Rabbis and teachers out there, who are knowledgeable and what they teach has clear sources in Halacha. They do not distort these sources, and even when there are issues on which we disagree, we can agree that the views were arrived at within the Halachic system, by people who understand the sources.
That is absolutely not the case with Chaim Clorfene, and David Katz. I will be examining many of these issues in the next articles in the hope that Katz and others will read them and reexamine what they have misunderstood. Maybe it will influence them to change what they are saying so they teach in accord with what is accepted.
I would like to point out that unfortunately these articles will take time to finish. I have no intention of making a book of this, nor making any money. I do not insist anyone follow me. Just listen to those who teach Toras Emes. What I write is just to clarify and spread Torah. But it will take time.
I again ask for comments, but keep it on the topic and no personal attacks please.