Friday, January 07, 2011

Shifting the Focus

Gedolim are fallible. That is Emes - an undeniable truth. There is not a single person that will not acknowledge that fact - no matter how right wing. To say otherwise is heresy because it attributes God-like status to a mortal man. And yet there are so many Charedi Jews who as a matter of course grant them infallibility.

How can this be? They will explain that even though Gedolim are in fact fallible, we commoners are not the ones to recognize when they err. Why is that? Because of their great Torah knowledge. We commoners are not well versed enough in Torah to judge whether they are wrong in anything they say. The Gedolim are ‘Kulo Torah’ - all Torah. Every word they utter is based on their vast Torah knowledge. How - they ask - can people with comparatively little knowledge dare to even hint that they erred?! Thus their fallibility becomes infallibility.

This is the way Charedim have been indoctrinated over the decades since the Holocaust. They have taken the concept of Emunas Chachamin – the faith of the sages - and twisted it into something they call Daas Torah – the wisdom of the Torah itself. They see Daas Torah as the end product of deliberation of rabbinic leaders. They therefore take every pronouncement made by their leaders on virtually any subject as the closest thing reflecting the will of God.

No amount of thoughtful debate or discourse is even considered. It is seen as Chutzpah to even try. If a commoner sees an error - he is considered simply mistaken about it. The Charedi world has been indoctrinated to completely turn off their minds when it comes to questioning the proclamations of their Gedolim. Those who do are seen as insolent! A recent comment made to me reflects this thinking:

What a matchup. A baal habos vs perhaps the greatest Talmid Chochom in america. The Azus (Chutzpah) here is amazing.

The Azus is amazing?!

What is amazing is that there are still people unwilling to concede even the possibility that a person of lesser stature can recognize an error in a person of greater stature. The indoctrination of the past 7 decades has really taken its toll.

At this point I would reiterate what I have said so many times in the past so as to remain clear about it. Kavod - the respect given to rabbinic leaders. That is something that is due them irrespective of their fallibility. Although they can – and sometimes do – err, I agree that many of these leaders do have the intellect and vast amounts of Torah knowledge attributed to them. The majority of these men are indeed Ehriliche Jews who have dedicated their lives to the Jewish people.

I even agree that their decisions are usually the carefully considered result of deliberation and analysis through the lens of Torah. I have no doubt about that. But it is also plainly obvious that this is not always the case. Nor does it mean that even when decisions are always correct when it is the case! Sometimes they are wrong in spite of their Torah knowledge. Sometimes they err even though they are L’Shma.

That has been clearly demonstrated in the latest ban (of VIN) as noted in the Jewish Star. Perhaps the most openly honest member of the Agudah Moetzes has admitted that he made his decision to sign on to the ban based on the say so of others - without any direct knowledge of it.

Fortunately for the sake of Emes, the internet is changing the way rabbinic leaders operate. The 'top down' structure of the past simply will not work anymore. No longer will a Charedi rabbinic leader take hold of a microphone at an Agudah convention, keep sole possession of it and not allow anyone else a voice. That used to work. But it is not working anymore.

The voice their very own people are listening to has shifted to those of us on the internet. We now have a microphone too. And no matter how much rabbinic leaders try and take it away from us – it isn’t working. Many Charedim are now saying what they only used to think. Forums like Emes Ve-Emunah give them an opportunity to do so. Many more are now hearing things they never used to hear before - and are hearing a perspective that actually resonates with them. They are being educated in ways that were not available to them in the past and getting perspectives that are not only Charedi ones.

There is no more blindness on the part of the HaMon Am - the people. Things can no longer be hidden from the Orthodox Jewish public anymore. Nor can they be silenced anymore either.

This is why all the talk about the evils of college by the extreme right wing is increasingly being ignored. We see places like Touro College exploding with Charedi admissions.

This is why bans against concerts, bans against the internet or Vos Iz Neias, bans on books, have not worked - will never work! Bans usually increase Charedi participation in the banned item or event rather than reduce it. All the screaming and shouting in the world against it is not worth a warm pitcher of spit.

The era of infallible Gedolim is over! Thank God! It was a short era and the damage done by keeping the masses ignorant and in tow is minimal. And hopefully reversible!

The Charedi rabbinic leaders of our time probably already realize this and some have started changing the way they do things. Ultimately the vast mainstream of Orthodox Jews - both modern Orthodox and Charedi Jews will all be on the same page - as will their leaders. Those that don't will vanish into the ash bin of history. The handwriting is on the wall. The internet will assure it. It is God's will.