Friday, January 28, 2011

As the Pendulum Swings

I never met Mrs. Bracha Goetz. All I really know about her is that she is an author of books and has penned columns for magazines like the Jewish Observer, The Jewish Press, and Perhaps most importantly she is an executive committee member of the Jewish Board of Advocates for Children, an organization in the forefront of the fight against child sex abuse in the Jewish world.

I have always admired her from afar for her work and dedication to this important cause. I have had one or two e-mail exchanges with her and the one thing I noticed is that she is very receptive to criticism. She is not a ‘my way or the highway’ type of person. Her natural inclination is to seek truth. Not to self aggrandize. For that I very much look up to her as a role model for all Jews.

That was before I read an article she wrote for a the Lakewood View, a website that apparently caters to mainstream Lakewood community. After reading her essay there - my admiration increased many times over. And it validates my perception of her as a seeker of truth. An Isha Emes.

I must also give credit to this website for publishing her point of view. This website caters to a community whose views are the exact opposite of the views expressed by Mrs. Goetz. That they published this without comment means that insular walls of Lakewood are being breached and the people there are hearing reasoned opinions that are a lot different than the ones they usually hear. Of course if they are connected to the internet, that has already happened. What makes this unique is that it is on a Charedi website called the Lakewood View. That implies that this website is more or less in concert with the predominant views of Lakewood Rabbanim. Or at least Lakewood residents.

Her story is quite remarkable. If I understand correctly she is a Baal Teshuva who became observant over 30 years ago. She tells of a conversation among some guests she had over for a Shabbos meal a couple of years ago. That conversation stuck with her.

One guest was there to experience Shabbos in his own quest for truth. There was another couple there who had become Frum about 15 years ago. The conversation between that couple revealed an attitude that is one of the things that I truly feel has gone awry in Orthodox Judaism. The perception by more and more people that Rabbinic opinions cannot be questioned. Or put another way that rabbinic views and edicts are infallible:

The wife stated very emphatically that one must never question a Rav.

Those who read this blog regularly know my views on this subject. Human beings no matter how great - make mistakes. We have also seen all to often that even the greatest of Gedolim alive today admit making mistakes - Rav Elyashiv among them. And more recently in America Rav Shmuel Kaminetsky.

And yet the feeling among many on the right is that a Rav – let alone a Gadol - may never be questioned.

After witnessing this exchange Mrs. Goetz opines that the Judaism she grew into 30 years ago has changed. When she was becoming religious, she was not only NOT forbidden to ask questions, she was encouraged to do so! Today questions are stifled.

Just to be clear, we are not talking about Halacha Shailos. Of course people should ask questions to find out what the Halacha is about anything they don’t know. No one would say that is forbidden.

We are talking about challenging Hashkafa type questions. This is what is being quashed by the right. If for example a ban comes out against a Jewish website like Vos Iz Neias it comes out with a ferocity akin to banning murder, adultery or idol worship! Questioning it as I did brought a quick response from a Charedi website basically throwing me out of Orthodoxy.

The trend has been obvious. It seems like almost every day new bans and edicts come out and no one better dare question them.

Of course most people ignore them anyway. But that is besides the point. Even when they are ignored the bans and their rabbinic signers are defended and questions are treated as insults to those Rabbanim. On the other hand maybe the point is exactly the fact that so many of their own people ignore those bans. And that is why an article like this was published in Lakewood. So perhaps I should not be so surprised. Either way I am certainly pleased.

Here is the money quote from Mrs. Goetzbolded in the article:

It no longer tastes like the Torah we were first offered, when those with clout invalidate sincere questioning by dismissing it as being presumptuous. When people only feel unafraid to voice their doubts and questions as anonymous comments on frum blogs, we can be grateful for these opportunities for suppressed voices to be heard, but it also highlights that a fear of speaking up is prevalent. Instead of feeling threatened by these anonymous comments, and seeking to forbid them by imposing bans on these venues, we need more leaders who can garner genuine respect by encouraging as much open questioning as possible. Then they too can actually benefit from the perspectives and challenges presented.

Amen! The entire article is worth reading. It is a must! Pure gold.

I truly appreciate Mrs. Goetz words here and all she does for Klal Yisroel. And once again it is a truly courageous act for a Lakewood publication to publish these words without any editorial comment on their part. My black hat is off to them. (Yes, I wear one on Shabbos with my Kipa Seruga underneath.)