There is good reason for this attitude. As the old platitude goes, more than the Jews have kept the Torah, the Torah has kept the Jews. Forget matzah balls and tikun olam in the form of environmentalism. It's the learning and observing of Torah that makes us unique amongst the nations of the world. It therefore makes sense that the more one possesses of Torah knowledge the greater one is. No argument here.
But there is a necessary follow-up question: does being knowledgeable automatically grant one the necessary skills for leadership? Is the smartest guy in the room the best leader?
I would suggest that this is not the case. Leadership is a special task requiring skills all its own. Yes, knowledge is important but there are other factors. Knowing how to delegate, knowing how to run a team and trust its members to work in proper coordination, knowing the needs of the group being led are all important and such skills don't come with intensive book learning. There is also a need to know the limitations that the real world puts on ideals and goals so that they can be adjusted and implemented successfully. These skills can sometimes be intuitive and at other times they can be taught but they do not correlate with the basic accumulation of knowledge.
The current leadership structure of the Chareidi community, on the other hand, would seem to completely disagree with the preceding paragraph. Under the rubric of "Daas Torah" many in that community feels that the intense learning of Torah is the only thing needed to develop a great leader. With high level of knowledge comes some form of ruach hakodesh and this spirit is what guides the Gadol towards making the correct decision each and every time.
I was thinking about this as I recently read Rav Yonasan Rosenblum's early obituary for HaRav Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, zt"l. I say early because I don't doubt there is already an Artscroll hagiography in process to be published soon, one that will emphasize all the "right" midos HaRav Eliashiv possessed as well as a sanitized version of his life so that we shouldn't think, chas v'shalom, that he ever left his learning for an instant, even to go to the bathroom or something like that.
Actually I'm surprised it hasn't come out yet. Hagiographies for Rebbitzen Kanievsky, zt"l, and HaRav Nosson Tzvi Finkel came out seemingly within hours of the funerals but it's been several months now and nothing on HaRav Eliashiv?
Rav Rosenblum's piece hits all the right notes, of course. HaRav Eliashiv was a non-stop learner which, combined with his God-given genius level of intelligence and startling lack of need for sleep, resulted in his premier status as posek hador for the Chareidi community.
There are, of course, inaccuracies in the piece. The first is an outright contraction. At one point, we are told:
For ninety years, he sat alone in the same small shul learning almost all day, except for the hours he answered halachic questions or gave his daily Talmud class, open to all.But then Rav Rosenblum admits that HaRav Eliashiv did have a job at one point, working for the Zionists no less:
He served for 22 years as a dayan (religious court judge) on the Bais Din HaGadol of the Chief Rabbinate, until he resigned in protest over Rabbi Shlomo Goren's ruling in the Langermamzerut case. Chief Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Halevi Herzog assigned him the task of preparing the protocols for the Chief Rabbinate's batei din, which protocols are still in force today.But this is a minor quibble. Far more egregious is something that is an outright lie:
Even after resigning, he remained ever a dayan in his conduct, refusing, for instance, to hear one party in a dispute unless the other party was also present. He possessed the great dayan'sability to quickly separate out the extraneous and cut to the core of any issueYeah, just ask Rav Natan Slifkin about how truthful that statement is.
What struck me most was this set of ancedotes:
That was Rav Elyashiv. He thought in halachic categories and his responses were determined by those categories. Informed of the birth of a new great great-grandchild, he would respond "kasher l'eidus" (permitted to be a witness) – i.e., the proscription on close relatives giving testimony with respect to one another does not apply to a great great-grandchildren. (An only child himself, Rabbi Elyashiv left behind over 1,500 descendants at the time of his passing, extending into the sixth generation.) His first question whenever someone came to urge a particular course of action was always: What does the Shulchan Aruch say?
The same straightness could be seen in everything he did. One time, he needed an electrician to fix something in the one-bedroom apartment, in which he and his wife -- primarily his wife -- raised ten children. (She was the daughter of Rabbi Aryeh Levine, portrayed by Simcha Raz in A Tzaddik in Our Time.) He refused to take the electrician who prayed in the same minyan he did until the man agreed to charge the full price. While the man was doing the repair, Rabbi Elyashiv was informed that one of his daughters had passed away. He sat down and reviewed the laws of mourning. Then he paid the electrician. Only when the debt was taken care of did he leave for the funeral.The picture painted here is quite frightening, if you think about it. We who are fans of Star Trek, for example, enjoy the portrait of Mr. Spock, the half-Vulcan raised in a culture where emotions are forbidden and his constant struggle to understand them while maintained absolute control over his own. But here was a man who truly was Vulcan. Yes, it's quite admirable to draw an immediate halachic conclusion when being told about the first of a great-great-grandchild but is it normal? Is it healthy? There is a famous anecdote about Rebbitzen Kanievsky, his daughter, in which she tells her husband, HaRav Chaim Kanievsky, shlit"a, that he is not as intensive a learner as her father because unlike her father, HaRav Chaim knows the names of all his grandchildren!
If the only way HaRav Eliashiv could relate to such an joyous family event was to retreat into a legal structure, what does it say about his understanding of real, live human beings? If his grandchildren couldn't have a personal relationship with him, what does that say about his understanding of the needs of strangers?
Yes, HaRav Eliashiv was uncompromising in his approach to and implementation of halacha but really one have has to consider: when was he ever forced to do otherwise? When did any negative consequences of a psak he gave come back to haunt him? He could be an ivory tower purist because of his position and power but did that make him a great leader?
There is no question that the Torah world is poorer for his passing and the loss of his holiness and knowledge but is the Chareidi community in as health a position as they might have been had a more pragmatic leader, using the guidance of HaRav Eliashiv, been in charge the last few decades?