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Daas Toyre

(Heb., da‘at Torah; Torah view), doctrine attributing authority to rabbis for deciding matters secular and spiritual alike, usually associated with the Agudas Yisroel political movement of Orthodox Jewry. While the term daas Toyre does appear in the Babylonian Talmud (Ḥulin 90b), where it has the meaning of an unequivocal legal opinion that may be taught publicly, it carries none of the ideological significance that latter-day Orthodox thinkers assigned to it.

Scholars differ regarding the ideological roots of the doctrine, citing sources ranging from ancient midrash and medieval philosophers to the Hasidic and Musar movements. Almost all are agreed, however, that the technical term in its political and ideological connotations stems from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century. At that time, long-term institutional factors such as the nature of the Jewish communal structure and the strong influence of the Hasidic movement in Eastern Europe, along with more immediate historical factors such as the growing secularization of Jewish society and the rise of secular Jewish political parties, led to the development of the ideology of daas Toyre. The doctrine posited a special kind of divine inspiration with which great Torah scholars were endowed, which enabled them to offer the best solutions for political and social problems of the day.

Until World War II, the daas Toyre concept was most closely associated with Agudas Yisroel, which thus highlighted its fundamental difference from other political movements on the “Jewish street.” Unlike its secular rivals, Aguda claimed protection from error and improper motives by having all of its activities monitored and supervised by a council of rabbis. Unlike standard rabbinical decisions on matters of law, daas Toyre opinions are generally issued without being buttressed by citations from legal sources, but are delivered ex cathedra by rabbinical councils or charismatic individual rabbis. They touch on a wide variety of political and social issues, many not in the usual purview of halakhic decisors. Hence the rabbis function more as oracles or semiprophets than as standard rabbinic judges. Within the Orthodox fold, daas Toyre served as the ultimate legitimation for Agudas Yisroel, justifying both the innovative step of entering partisan politics and of setting off Aguda from its secular and religious rivals. The everyday reality of the party, however, did not exactly conform to this ideal. The Council of Torah Sages met but rarely, although politicians did confer regularly on an informal basis with certain leading rabbis connected to the party.

After the Holocaust and the destruction of the large Orthodox communities of Eastern Europe, the doctrine of daas Toyre did not disappear but underwent further development in Israel and North America, while consultation with the rabbis became more formalized and also more closely approximated the party’s ideology. The concept has also spread to wider circles of Orthodox Jewry, particularly in Israel, where eventually rabbinical councils that associated with not only Aguda, but also the Degel ha-Torah and Shas parties, have all claimed to speak in the name of daas Toyre. It has of late also made inroads into national religious circles in Israel, particularly regarding issues connected to settling the territories captured by Israel in the war of June 1967.

Suggested Reading

Gershon C. Bacon, The Politics of Tradition: Agudat Yisrael in Poland, 1916–1939 (Jerusalem, 1996), pp. 50–57, 306–310; Benjamin Brown, “Da‘at Torah ve-emunat ḥakhamim ba-hagut ha-ḥaredit” (M.A. thesis; Hebrew University, 1996); Lawrence Kaplan, “Daas Torah: A Modern Conception of Rabbinic Authority,” in Rabbinic Authority and Personal Autonomy, ed. Moshe Sokol, pp. 1–60 (Northvale, N.J., 1992); Jacob Katz, “Da‘at Torah: The Unqualified Authority Claimed for Halakhists,” Jewish History 11.1 (Spring 1997): 41–50; Mendel Piekarz, Ḥasidut Polin: Megamot ra‘ayoniyot ben shete ha-milḥamot (Jerusalem, 1990), pp. 81–96.