|HaRav Selig Starr, ZTL|
They are the most knowledgeable in Torah and their word cannot be challenged by the average Bal Habos. It would be like challenging God Himself. That was his message. It is the credo of Agudah: We listen to the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah – even when it doesn’t make any sense to us. Because they know more than we do.
There was a time when this made sense. That was a time when Gedolei Torah knew what they knew and knew what they didn’t know. This important educational point was driven home constantly by Rav Selig Starr, one of my Rebbeim at HTC. In order to learn Torah properly ‘you must know what you know and know what you don’t know’ was his constant refrain.
Rav Moshe Feinstein famously never Paskined a Shaila on any issue of which he had limited or no knowledge until he had consulted with experts in the field and was fully informed about them. For example he always consluted his son in law, Rav Moshe Tendler on all medical issues. That is unfortunately not always the case today.
Many of today’s rabbinic leaders unfortunately do not know what they don’t know. And that is one of the biggest follies of our day. It is responsible for some pretty bad public policy decisions on their part. Occasionally when they learn how misinformed they are, they withdraw what they said or modify it. But not always.
Sometimes the results of bad decisions are innocuous and for the most part ignored. The wide spread use of the internet in spite of its vilification by these rabbis is an example of that. Although ignoring edicts of rabbinic leaders cannot be considered a good result by them.
But in some cases there is great damage done by such decisions. The approach to sex abuse is one such example.
One may ask, who am I to make such assumptions or accusations? How do I know they don’t consult or give bad advice in matters which they think they know… but don’t fully know? It isn’t my own logic that compels me to say it. It is my conversations with religious professionals – some of whom are also Charedi Rabbonim – that are experts in their respective fields. It is they who have made these comments to me.
Now none of us believe for a moment that the intentions of these rabbinic leaders is bad. Quite the contrary. We believe they act in accordance with what they believe is in the best interests of Klal Yisroel. That includes decisions in matters of sexual abuse. They want to rid the world of sexual predators – just like everyone else. Nor do they have any wish to harm a survivor.
But some of their decisions are made without the benefit of advise by experts in the field. This is why in my view they say that one must first report suspicions of sex abuse to them before going to the police. They sincerely believe that they are protecting innocent victims of possibly false accusations. But as one Charedi professional told me recently, many rabbinic leaders are greatly uninformed.
Roshei Yeshivos have a false assumption that they know enough about everything that authorizes them to have an opinion on it. In matters of family counseling for example, the Shalom Bayis of a family can and often is utterly destroyed by the damage inflicted by ignorant advisers!
‘Knowing how to drive a car does not qualify one to repair one!’ he told me. The happily married Choson teacher, Rosh Yeshiva, or Rosh Kollel cannot qualify to counsel a struggling couple. With rare exception, rabbinic leaders who are great Talmidei Chachomim and know much about many things are ignorant about the professions.
This is the reason that Daas Torah is so mocked these days. It is the fallout of the false belief that vast Torah knowledge is enough to understand everything else. Even if one believes that all the wisdom is found in Torah, that does not guarantee that the even a great leader knows it!
In our day we are obligated to follow people who are experts in the field. People who have been trained professionally. How, one my ask, can we trust the expertise of a non Jew who did not get his knowledge through the Torah? The Gemarah tells us the answer: “Im Amar Lecha Yesh Chochmoh BaGoyim, Ta’amin”. If you are told that the nations of the word have wisdom, believe it!’
This is where rabbinic leadership in our day fails. It’s not that they don’t have Torah knowledge, or that they are not ethical, or uncaring. These are people who serve Klal Yisroel tirelessly. It’s that they refuse to acknowledge what they don’t know. It’s too bad that they did not have Rav Starr as their Rebbe. Maybe things would be different now if they had.
Please note: This post should not be construed as an opening to denigrate rabbinic leaders. Any such attempt will be deleted as soon as it’s discovered.