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Given that there are far more people learning torah full time today than the past few centuries, why are there so few Gedolim coming out of the yeshivot compared to previous generations? (By "Gedolim" I refer to torah scholars who know the shas and poskim in depth and have it at their fingertips. Many of them also had ruach hakodesh and powers to "change things" with their berachas, as can be seen for example from reading artscroll biographies of them or from numerous first hand accounts of people involved.)

I once heard from Rabbi Nachman Bulman zt'l "when I was a boy in NYC, in every shietble you went to there were baal batim that were great lamdanim in kol shas kulo" (i.e. great talmudic scholars everywhere). What is going on here?

Please provide a source and no lashon hara.

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You don't notice the younger ones because of all the extreme focus on only two or three rabbis' opinions on everything. They're there, though. –  Double AA Nov 6 '13 at 22:54
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To second @DoubleAA, after the Holocaust, too many older Rabbonim were killed, so the up and coming Gedolim were younger, and thus became very famous over a longer period of time. And אחרי מות קדושים אמור. That is not to say there isn't a big ירדת הדורות, but the differences are more subtle than they appear. || But on the question, I'm skeptical a good sourced answer exists. –  Yishai Nov 6 '13 at 23:25
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Related to @Yishai 's apt point about the effect of the Holocaust, there may also be a perception (romanticized or not) that the caliber of gadlus from the pre-Holocaust period cannot be matched. This perception likely drives the popular determination of who is a gadol. And if you identify a gadol as whoever is widely acclaimed to be a gadol (which is sort of circular), then you might be drawn to conclude, like the adage (or cliché) repeated in this question, that "there are so few great gedolim today." –  Fred Nov 7 '13 at 0:55
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The author of Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh answers it this way: bilvavi.net/content/view/418/57 - note the quote from Rav Yechezkel Levenstein, that yeshivos in his day were not producing gedolim because of the distraction of public phones in the yeshiva, and since we have cell phones, that is, among others, an even bigger distraction. –  Ploni Almoni Nov 7 '13 at 1:17
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I'm trying to understand how to source this. Several things to point out: 1. People have less free time now. That includes time for study. 2. People live to be older, so we respect great rabbonim for longer (and thereby suppress the "youngsters"). 3. As @Fred said, we have a mythos about our past that neither the present nor reality can ever live up to. 4. We have a more global culture, so people don't look to local leaders much any more. 5. Who says we have fewer gedolim? That's a pretty steep assumption to make without proof. –  Charles Koppelman Nov 7 '13 at 1:29

2 Answers 2

You ask two questions.

  1. Learned Baalei Battim - I think we have many more now than we used to. Volozhin (one of the largest Yeshivas in Europe had ... 400 students. Many of those were the Rabbonim. Who were the Baalei Battim? Some had time to learn, some were unable to read. Artscroll, Yeshiva trained Baalei Battim (all those post-high-school yeshivas)? Few to not existent. No one could afford to go. Now you see programs like Dirshu or Mifal HaShas who have hundreds of people who know (or at least learned through and got tested on) Shas.
  2. Rabbonim - Due to the above, a lot of current Yeshiva graduates aren't what they used to be, which is fine. All that happened was that Mir grew from being under a hundred students to close to 8,000 students. Most of those aren't the cream of the crop, simply because we can afford to send every guy to Yeshiva. If Mir+Lakewood+Chevron+(All of Tomchei Tmimims around the word) would shrink to around 1000 of the best students, they would probably be the same geniuses who are Boki BeShas.

    Another possibility is that nowadays many (in America) go through dual-track High schools. Unlike the Yeshiva of Europe (where all those who learned Limmudei Chol did it under the table or at least outside of class), one frequently has around 5 hours of Limudei Kodesh a day (and summer vacations, etc.) They only start learning seriously by Zal age (18 or so), and then they learn Iyun. As a result, by 25 (that's Post high school Yisraeli yeshiva -> "Big American Yeshiva"), they only had some 7 years of serious learning (without much of a chance to learn Girsa/BeKiyus). If then they enter the "Smicha" track, they spend the next few years learning Yoreh Deah (with Gemara BeIyun in the morning). Now you have a guy who spent 10-12 years of serious learning who never learned through Maseches Shabbos.

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"we can afford to send every guy to Yeshiva" ??? Really? –  Double AA Nov 8 '13 at 5:33
    
@DoubleAA I don't know about everyone, but there are a large amount of Americans learning in Israel (defiantly much more than you had in Europe) –  Shmuel Brin Nov 8 '13 at 5:34
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*or at least pretending to learn :) –  Shmuel Brin Nov 8 '13 at 5:37
    
do you think people are mentally weaker now than they used to be. i.e less able to work concentrate and work hard in talmud torah? –  ray Nov 8 '13 at 12:39
    
@ray there are a lot more disturbances nowadays. What would one do in the Shtetl 150 years ago? Play with goats? By 14 years old, one either went to Yeshiva or went to work. –  Shmuel Brin Nov 8 '13 at 16:23

saw this over shabbat from a parsha sheet.

the Nefesh Shimshon writes: The key to success is constant [thrust]. When they first wanted to build a spaceship to fly to outer space, they calculated how much fuel was needed. But due to the great distances, the amount of fuel needed seemed enormous, way beyond the capacity of any spaceship to possibly carry. However, afterwards they realized that the difficulty is only in the first stage - when the spaceship is still close to the earth's atmosphere, where the force of gravity still binds it to the earth. But when it breaks out sufficiently far from the pull of gravity, it will be able to continue towards the moon. Until the heavens! This patent exists also in Judaism. A person desires to reach the Ribono shel Olam (G-d), and people jump and jump, 80 years they jump, but they remain on the ground. They do not succeed in soaring. Why? Because "to learn one hour and stop, one hour and stop upholds nothing" (Chazon Ish). Hence they jump and jump but remain in the same place. The advice is to make a powerful leap, to apply oneself to his learning with all of his might. Until when? Until he feels that he is freeing himself from the pull of gravity. The pull which draws one towards the childish, the foolishness and vanities. True, the first effort is extremely difficult. But the foundation is to break out of the force of gravity, the pull towards life attached to the earth, because all the time one remains on the ground, it is impossible to soar. One learns and learns, but in effect he paces around the same place.

maybe this answers it, in that perhaps today people dont have enough mental strength to apply themselves far beyond the "comfort zone" for much time.

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Do you have any reason to think that this problem is particularly relevant nowadays? –  Double AA Nov 10 '13 at 16:40

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