Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Groupthink Wisdom

One of the things that resulted from the fiasco of the latest concert ban is the conclusion I’ve come to about the groupthink wisdom among today’s Gedolim. I’ve never been a fan of group bans ...or most any ban for that matter. But the idea of a group coming out with a unified statement should not only give me pause, it should give every Charedi pause as well. One can no longer rely on the veracity of any public document wherein a group of prominent names are undersigned.

This has been true for a long time. I recall an incident involving very stringent instructions on a Mikva bulletin that had Rav Avrohom Pam’s signature on it. It was fraudulent. When Rav Pam found out about it he had it removed. The unscrupulous group who posted it wanted to see their Chumros adopted and just assumed Rav Pam would agree. They were wrong. And they upset a lot of people who did not have those stringencies.

This happened many years ago. Today such events are almost commonplace. No one can take bans seriously anymore. Abuses of the term ‘Daas Torah’ and ‘The Gedolim’ who represent Daas Torah are so frequent it’s beginning to sound like the ‘boy who cried ‘Wolf” to increasing numbers of Charedim! Or at least it should sound that way as evidence of manipulation, clumsiness, and errors in these matters continues to surface.

Part of the problem as I see it is the advent of ‘Daas Torah’. That term did not exist until relatively recently. At least not the way it is used today. Not that those whose great knowledge of Torah shouldn’t be our guiding lights. Of course they should. In matters of Psak Halacha they must be followed. Their advice on non Halachic matters should be strongly considered.

But that is not how Daas Torah is commonly understood. In the world of Charedim it has come to mean the groupthink of an institutionally chosen selected few Gedolim. Now many of these people are indeed Gedolim. But when they speak as a group their words may very well not be Daas Torah at all.

Groupthink Daas Torah has taken on a life of its own. Instead of trying to see what the actual Daas Torah is on a given subject by speaking to an individual who possesses great Torah wisdom, groupthink proclamations have taken its place.

Charedim have developed a heightened sensitivity to the phrases ‘The Gedolim’ and ‘Daas Torah’. These terms evoke a level of awe almost identical to that reserved for God Himself. The feeling is that the groupthink statements of Gedolim reflects the will of God. Never mind if there was dissention in their ranks and it was covered up for the sake of unity. Or that many proclamations have been manipulated by individuals who have their own agendas and access to Gedolim. Daas Torah has spoken. But that is not Daas Torah. It is at best compromise for the sake of unity and at worst a lie - or partial lie as was shown in the last concert ban.

The latest misuse of the Daas Torah of the Gedolim has taken place in Israel and is in honor of Purim. Marty Bluke provides us with three posters about three different Tzedakos. Each one says that rabbinic leadership has decided that Matonos L'Evyonim – the special Mitzvah on Purim of giving charity to the poor - which is one of the primary Mitzvos of Purim – should be given to their Tzedaka. That, they say, will be the best way to insure the mitzvah is properly fulfilled.

The problem is that they are three different charity organizations are making essentially the same claim. True, they are all Charedi Tzedakos. But they are not the same. ‘Kupat Ha’Ir’ is not the same as the ‘Tzedaka of the Vaad Ha’ir’. And both are different from ‘The Kupa of the Gedolei Hador’.

I’ve written about the atrocious fund raising tactics of Kupat Ha’Ir in the past. They appealed not to the Mitzvah of giving charity but instead preyed on people in need - offering them Segulos ...salvation for their problems via their donations given exclusively to them.

This awe for Gedolim and their Daas Torah has allowed for misuse of the concepts. The mere mention of that term is enough to send shivers down the spine of any God fearing Charedi. The minute the phrase ‘Daas Torah’ or ‘The Gedolim’ is used on any document, it’s over. God has spoken. It dare not be questioned. But I think the day may finally be approaching where skepticism will replace blind obedience and the era of groupthink wisdom might just be over. I just wish these Gedolim would speak out now - each one individually - and end this misuse once and for all. And then end their own practice of group proclamations.