Sunday, December 04, 2011

Whose Fault is it that ‘Daas Torah’ is Eroding?

The negativity and arrogance of some of the speakers at this year’s annual Agudah convention is still ringing in my ears. I was again reminded of it while watching a report on the Catholic Church on one of the Sunday morning news shows. The message was (as it always is) about the high degree of respect demanded of the public towards their rabbinic leaders. Added to that this year was a sense of erosion of respect because of the Frum blogs.

I could not help comparing the speakers at Agudah talking about ‘Daas Torah’ to almost the same phraseology used by priests talking about the authority of Catholic Church.

The truth is that (as I say every time) I have great respect for the members of the Agudah Moetzes. I absolutely do. My differences with Agudah is in their unspoken attitude about Daas Torah that sees the Agudah Moetzes or like-minded rabbinic leaders as the only ones capable of expressing it. And the fact that the degree of respect they demand is tantamount to granting them infallibility – again without expressly saying so. The Catholic view of the authority of Church and the Agudah’s view of Daas Torah are expressed in virtually the same terms.

However I cannot help but notice of late that there are a few cracks in Agudah’s facade. There are three specific things that that lead me to notice it... all of them in the person of their own executive vice president, Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zweibel.

The first one happened at the convention itself. There were various tirades by some of the speakers against the internet and all media that can carry it, especially those that are easily hidden as in hand held devices like the BlackBerry (specifically mentioned by one of the seakers). When it was Rabbi Zweibel’s turn to speak he pulled out his own BlackBerry and sheepishly apologized for using it to make his point about how dangerous it is.

The second incident is deals with child abuse and the role of blogs. The Agudah position excoriating blogs on this issue is well known. In Rabbi Daniel Eidensohn’s new book, ‘Child and Domestic Abuse’. Rabbi Zweibel is quoted (page 94). Here is what he had to say in an interview carried in the Jewish Star in November of 2008:

Sexual abuse is an issue which has finally come out of the closet in a certain sense and is engaging the attention of our community and its leadership and ultimately that’s a good thing. That’s why it’s hard for me to be totally annoyed with excesses of the blog world. Their outrage, anger, and sometimes excessive advocacy and negativity towards the establishment, it’s a terrible thing, but at the same time, I know their hearts are in the right place and it is stuff to be very upset about. Is Agudah a fair target? I think we could always use a healthy dose of introspection and honest assessment of how well we qas a society have performed in this area and lots of other areas.

It’s nice to know that Agudah’s executicve vice president recognizes the contribution blogs have made to public awareness of sex abuse. Blogs have been in the forefront of shining the disinfectant of light onto this issue.

But nothing tops what Dr. Asher Lipner has revealed right here on this blog in a comment to my post on whether blogs matter. Here is what he had to say:

I once spoke to Rabbi Zweibel on the phone. He told me that working at Aguda is a daily struggle for him in Emunas Chochomim because of what he sees....BUT that he also gets daily inspiration from what he sees from the Gedolim as well.

That Rabbi Zweibel gets inspiration from the leaders of the organization he works for is not a surprise. But to say that he struggles with Emunas Chachamim because of them daily - much the same way so many non Agudists do is nothing short of revolutionary!

Struggles with Emunas Chachamim? Really? Daas Torah as Agudah uses the term is based on Emunas Chachamim. Daas Torah defines what Agudah is all about. And that is a daily struggle for its executive vice president?!

If your executive vice president has thoughts like this, what should the rest of us think?

Agudah is worried about what the Frum blogs are saying about them? I would suggest that they first look in house to see if their own people don’t struggle with the very same issues the rest of us do. This says a lot more about them than anything that was said at the banquet.