Thursday, March 31, 2016

Emunas Chachamim and the Rabbinic Leaders of our Day

R'A.L. Shteinman: The new MO leader? Maybe on this issue
Modern Orthodoxy may have a new leader. Well he may not be all that new. In fact at over 100 years of age he’s quite old. And very few people would think of him as Modern Orthodox. But he has a very clear mind and has just articulated a Modern Orthodox view of Emunas Chachamim - Faith in our wise leaders  upon which the Charedi world bases its concept of Daas Torah. His name is Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman, a man that many in the Charedi world consider the Gadol HaDor.

Rafi Goldmeier’s blog, Life in Israel, posted a video that poses this very question to Rav Stheiman. His response: There is no Emunas Chachamim today. It existed only in the times of the Gemarah. There can be no mistake about what he said. It is there permanently recorded in Hebrew and posted on YouTube for anyone to see. (available for viewing below).

This seems to undermine the very concept of Daas Torah upon which Agudath Israel was founded and still based upon. From its very inception the idea was that we are to be Mevatel our Daas (negate our own views and common sense) and submit completely to the views of the Gedolei HaDor. (Just to be clear, these are not Halachic issues. A Halachic Psak must be obeyed. These are policy issues like whether we may use the internet.)

The argument is as follows. Since they know the most Torah and know it better than anyone else, their views are the closest thing we have to the Torah point of view on any issue placed before them. So that even though they can be wrong (since human beings are fallible) we have no choice but to trust their judgment and listen to them when they make public policy statements. As noted - they call it Daas Torah and base it on the concept of Emunas Chachamim, a requirement of Judaism discussed in the Gemarah.

But not today, according to Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman. He says there is no such thing any more.

The question arises, ‘How could this be?’ The Gemarah also tells us, Yiftach B’Doro K’Shmuel B’Doro. Yiftach is a biblical figure who was a leader in Israel during the period of Shoftim – before the establishment of a kingdom in Israel. The story of Yiftach is that he made a foolish pledge to God in preparation for war, saying that he will sacrifice the first thing that passes through his door after being victorious. That ended up being his daughter  - an only child. He felt obligated to make good on his vow and he actually ended sacrificing her! (There are other interpretations but this is the plain meaning of scripture (Shoftim,11:39).

And yet as a leader in Israel the Gemarah makes no distinction between Yiftach and the prophet Shmuel, the greatest of the biblical prophets - second only to Moshe. They have an equal status of leadership in their respective eras.

This argument is often used when people try to compare today’s rabbinic leaders with the Gedolim of yesteryear - saying that they are nowhere near that level. Their obvious point is that these are the leaders of our era. ‘We play the hand we are dealt’. We must, therefore, accept their version of Daas Torah because that is all we have.

Well, it appears that Rav Shteinman disagrees with that.

So how does that impact major policy decisions in our day? When the Agudah Moetzes makes a public policy decision, are we bound by it - even assuming that the members of the Agudah Moetzes are the leading wise men of our day?

I think the answer is clearly, no. We are not bound by their edicts at all – despite Agudah loyalists at virtually every public gathering saying that we are.  Especially if there are other rabbinic leaders who disagree that are not on the Moetzes. That would be the case even if we do apply Emunas Chachim to our leaders. But if there is no Emunas Chachamim at all today – as per Rav Shteinman, it seems we don’t have to obey any rabbinic edict on matters of public policy. No matter how great their stature in Torah the might be.

Does that mean we can do whatever we want on issues of public policy? And how do we treat those rabbinic opinions if we are not required to obey them?

First of all, to answer difficult questions that arise today, we need people that are expert in the subject matter at hand and who are also expert in the Torah applicable to it. So their views do have value and should be given considerable weight. But they are not in my view necessarily the final word - as they would be if we applied Emunas Chachamim to them.

Just some of my thoughts on this surprising video.