Monday, August 01, 2011

The Fear Factor

One of the reasons that I have differentiated between this generation of rabbinic leaders such as those on the Agudah Moetzes and the Gedolim of the past is a statement made by one of them that was very revealing. I have referred to it many times because I think it defines this generation of rabbinic leaders – at least those who are on the Agudah Moetzes. It says a lot about their mindset. It is the idea that they fear the reaction by the zealots among them as well as popular opinion. To quote from an article by Jonathan Rosenblum dealing with poverty issues related to the Kollel life:

One of the members of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of the United States told me recently that the gedolim cannot even discuss questions surrounding poverty because if they did the “street” would just label them fake gedolim. (emphasis mine)

The Agudah Moetzes was once the home to the likes of Gedolim like Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky. I cannot imagine that they would have ever made statement like this. Rav Moshe not only stated his views without worrying about being a fake Gadol, when it came to his Teshuvos, he invited serious challenges to them. In this way he felt he could defend and clarify his position or perhaps even be shown to be in error – in which case he would retract. His goal was Emes.

It is obvious to me from this very revealing statement that this is not the case today. I do not mean to say that the members of the Moetzes chase Kavod. I'm sure they don't. But they do worry that they will not be respected as Gedolim. And they act (or fail to act) accordingly.

Contrast that with Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. A recent post by Rabbi Gil Student made the following observation about him:

In 1935, (at age 25) the young R. Auerbach published a book exploring the halakhic implications of electricity. Me’orei Eish boldly disagreed with established scholars based on an intimate understanding of the new technology and a world-class set of Talmudic arguments.

He sought Emes too and when he found it he said so out loud in opposition to older and well established Poskim. He wasn’t worried that being Mekil would make him a fake Gadol. And at his age he could have been hurt ‘professionally’ by disagreeing with the Gedolei HaPoskim of his time. ‘Who does this little 25 year old think he is?!’ could have easily been said about him. But he was only interested in seeking truth. That he spoke it to power didn’t worry him.

In our day - the Agudah Moetzes seems to be ‘ruling’ by constantly looking over their shoulder. ‘What will they say?’ seems to be a phrase that is constantly on their mind. And who is the ‘they’? It is not Gedolei HaPoskim. It is their own constituents and the zealots!

Which is why anything they do say, should be taken with a huge grain of salt even by the most Charedi Jews among us.

Just to be clear, these are great people and I have enormous respect for them. They are respected leaders for a reason. They are mostly older and long established Roshei Yeshiva and Chasidic Rebbes. When they speak we should pay attention. I’m absolutely sure they are L’Shma. They do not simply cater to their Kanoistic zealots. But the truth is that they have admitted factoring them in – as well as public opinion on their status as Gedolim - when making decisions or public pronouncements.

This acknowledged ‘fear factor’ may color everything they say. And as such it should be evaluated in that light. It should ibe seen as valuable advice from wise people. But it should at the same time be considered along with the advice of others who have wisdom of their own to impart.

The Agudah Moetzes is no longer the Moetzes of Rav Moshe and Rav Yaakov whose words had far greater import in my view. So the recent statements like the one about first reporting substantial but inconclusive evidence (Raglayim L’Davar) of sex abuse to rabbis first instead of going directly to the police should therefore be taken as an opinion of great rabbis but based on many factors – possibly including the fear factor. And a rabbinic leader should never rule from fear.