Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Incompatibility of Emes and Compromise

One of the true hallmarks of leadership is doing the right thing no matter what the fallout. One should always strive to live by one’s principles no matter how it affects them. Most people find it difficult not to compromise once in a while. Sometimes it is actually appropriate to do so. But if one is a leader one must never compromise on one’s principles especially when it affects Klal Yisroel.

If it causes personal anguish to the leader it should not matter. That is the mark of leadership. Which is why an off handed comment made by Jonathan Rosenblum sticks in my craw. It was made in an article explaining why Gedolim do not respond to the bullying of some of their zealous Baalei Baatim. The response was made by an unidentified Gadol to the effect that the Gedolim would do it but they didn’t want to be called ‘fake Gedolim’.

Much of the Charedi world considers the Moetzes Geodlei HaTorah of Agudath Israel to be the Gedolei HaDor. Not that they don’t concede there are other Gedolim. But that this particular group has a special standing in making pronouncements on matters that effect Klal Yisroel as a group. As I understand it the Moetzes is self constructed and the attempt is made to have a cross section of leadership from various right wing segments of Klal Yisroel.

They thus work together on issues facing Jewry and arrive at a consensus together about how to proceed. They will often come out with a unified statement about one issue or another. They view such pronouncements as having more ‘teeth’ than if each one made their own pronouncement. If there is any disagreement among them privately it is not made public.

What is an even more serious problem is when one member is in some way seen to have more authority than the others. Out of deference his view can easily end up being the one presented by the group as their unified view. It doesn’t matter that his view is L’Shem Shamyim. It is unfair and even dishonest to represent it as the unified view if there is in actuality disagreement.

To me this makes any authority claimed by the Agudah Moetzes questionable. The idea that an organization that arrives a decisions - or fails to make them - based on compromise, deference to others, concerns for the group’s prestige is not my idea of leadership at all.

Sometimes ‘strength in numbers’ is really a weakness.

I want to make perfectly clear (as I always do when this subject comes up) that I do not wish to disparage any single rabbinic leader. I in fact honor the members of the Moetzes as individual Poskim and Roshei Yeshiva who are tireless workers for Klal Yisroel. I firmly believe they deserve our respect as individuals and deserve to be treated with the Kavod – honor - that they have earned.

But as a group, for the reasons I just stated I have to question their authority. Principles should come first. Not compromise or consensus. If there is honest disagreement among great people they should make those positions known and not hide them. Hiding behind a façade of unity does not serve the cause of Emes. And certainly acquiescence to the views of another based on deference when one actually disagrees does not inspire any confidence in their leadership as a group.

Contrast that with my Rebbe, Rav Ahron Soloveichik. He was uncompromising and fearless. Many people feel that his fearlessness in fighting for what he believed cost him his health. The stories about his fight against the Traditional Movement and their rabbis are legendary. As was his fight to stop the sale of the Mizrachi building in Chicago to literal idol worshippers. Those two fights cost him his job as Rosh HaYeshiva in Skokie.

He did not make decisions based on what was popular. He made them on what he believed was right. And often he was on the minority side of an issue. Sometimes he was even alone. There are many examples of that even after his tenure at HTC. Just to mention a few:

He opposed the Eruv in Chicago because he firmly believed that Rav Moshe Feinstein would have assured it based on the way Rav Ahron understood R’ Moshe’s definition of Reshus HaRabim D’Oriasa. He did not insist on the Brisker definion which would make citywide Eruvin almost impossible. Had that been the issue he would not have protested. Based on the Psak of Rav Moshe - he saw the the Chicago Eruv as a cause for violation of biblical level laws of Shabbos.

So he fought against it for many years until he was over-whelmed by Baalei Baatim with a major push toward building it. They claimed that Rav Aron was wrong and R’ Moshe would not have assured it - quoting R’ Moshe’s son R’ Dovid Feinstein in agreement with them.

But Rav Ahron was not deterred. I will never forget what he said in a public Shiur shortly before he died – long after the Eruv was established and widely used even by many Charedim. Rav Ahron said that those who use the Eruv in Chicago are Mechalel Shabbos D’Oraisa - B’Shogeg. And the Rabbanim who built it are Chotim U’Machti Es HaRabim– they sin and cause others to sin.

It was that same fearlessness that led him to promote the idea of saying Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut. This went against the grain of the entire Charedi rabbinic establishment. I believe even his brother, the Rav, disagreed. But Rav Ahron was not deterred. He said Hallel every Yom Ha’atzmaut himself as did his yeshiva. He was not concerned about being called a fake Gadol and did not seek consensus.

Then there was the Chicago Mikva Association. In order for that committee of Baalei Battim to get Jewish Federation funding for a new Mikva being built, they had to allow the Conservative Movement to use the Mikva for their conversions. Rav Ahron - whom they chose to be Mikva Association Posek - Paskined that they could not allow Conservative conversions and to forego the money. The Mikva Association was determined to get those Federation dollars so they went to Rav Moshe who paskined they could take money on Federation terms. This meant allowing the Mikva to be used for Conservative conversions but that they should just avoid in any way being involved with those conversions.

Based on this Heter which they got after Rav Ahron Paskined against them - the Mikva Association got the Federation money, the Mikva was built and Conservative conversion took place there. Rav Ahron who recognized Rav Moshe as the Posek HaDor did not relent and continued to oppose them. Years later Rav Ahron had to defend a Jew who by himself protested whenever a Conservative conversion took place by picketing the Mikva. The Mikva association had him arrested after several attempts to dissuade him from picketing.

Like I said – each member of the Moetzes are by themselves truly great people – whether one agrees with them or not. And as individuals their advice is a valuable resource which should be factored into all public policy decisions. But as a group, I think they have not lived up to their potential. It is almost inevitable whenever they speak as one that their decisions are diluted by compromise - and Emes suffers.