Tuesday, May 15, 2012

To Err is Human

One of my favorite Charedim is Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein. I may have mentioned this before. (Although I wonder if he would characterize himself as Charedi. But I digress). 

He is what I would call a moderate Charedi. His views therefore are very similar to what I would call right wing Modern Orthodoxy. They are not identical or course, but similar enough so that our lifestyles and values are virtually indistinguishable. And our Hashkafic differences are respected.

Rabbi Adlerstein has posted an interesting defense of rabbinic leaders in Cross Curents . He did not mention any names, but I surmise that he refers mostly to rabbinic leaders of the Charedi variety found on the Agudah Moetzes or as Roshei Yeshiva, Mashgichim and senior Rebbeim in places like Lakewood. 

His point strangely enough is something I have been saying here for a long time. Without using the word, he has basically said they are fallible and actually make mistakes. But that the fault lies not with their fallibility but with those who consider them virtually infallible. This is how he puts it:

We ask of them, expect of them, more than most mortals can possibly deliver.

We would be naïve if we tried ignoring or denying the murmurings in the tents of many yerei’im u-shleimim in the Orthodox world. Cross-Currents is one of the minority of blogs whose authors remain committed to the ideals of emunas chachamim and taking counsel with gedolei Yisrael. Yet even among our readership, it is clear that many people – if only anonymously – sometimes express disappointment with this or that gadol, or with the general manner of leadership of the Torah community.

There may be room for criticism, but we should ask ourselves many questions before we criticize too publicly or too vocally. One of those questions should be whether we ask the impossible of our Gedolim...

Not only do we expect of them all… but we demand that they provide the right answers without any of the support system.  To the contrary, almost all of them have immediate responsibilities to their talmidim, boards of directors, alumni, members of their immediate communities, etc. These duties alone could take up every waking minute – but we still believe that they should be able to serve up insight and leadership…

I am not arguing that all is perfect, or that it is heretical to look for ways to improve the system. But we ought to be able to cut our gedolim a bit more slack than some of us do.

Yes, these rabbinic leaders are human. And they are often ill-equipped to deal properly with any given issue. One does not have to go back too far to see that mistakes have been made in the past; some rabbinic leaders actually admitting those mistakes.

The problem for many of us outside the sphere of the Charedi influence is not that we do not realize that they are fallible. To most of us, that is a given. But that there seems to be a degree of certitude in the pronouncement on the part of some of them that on occasion borders on arrogance - unintentional though it may be. In framing their responses as Daas Torah it telegraphs an aura of infallibility to the Charedi public they serve. And their public does perceive it that way.

This despite the fact that - as Rabbi Adlerstein points out - there is no support system and they are busy people.  By this he means that they often do not have the resources or time to fully examine the details of things they are asked about. This leaves little room to properly evaluate the issues upon which they make pronouncements.

I do not mean to say that these leaders aren’t trying. They do the best they can given what they are handed. I am convinced that their every action and pronouncement is fully L’Shem Shomayim. But they must know that often they are not fully informed and yet they act on sometimes faulty information or missing pieces of it that would change their view.

Why do they act on incomplete information? They may very well feel that even though they are not fully informed - they must still act because not doing so leaves a void that is even worse than erring in a pronouncement. Kind of a shoot first and ask questions later attitude.

I therefore realize that they can and sometimes do make mistakes and I do cut them some slack. Erring does not lessen my respect for them.But I am not Charedi. For some Charedim it is near sacrilege to even suggest the possibility that a rabbinic pronouncement is wrong. The attitude is: They are Gedolim. They know more Torah than anyone else. Who better to listen too? And what right do we mere mortals have to question God’s spokesmen?

Of course not every Charedi thinks this way. Although the hard core Charedim do, many of the more moderate Charedim realize, as does Rabbi Adlerstein, that even with the best of intentions a pronouncement may be given in error. And we know what road that often takes us down.

Which is why I question the wisdom of the upcoming Asifa. Although it is being promoted full bore by some of the biggest rabbinic leaders of our time, I feel it is ill considered and based on incomplete information about the subject at hand – the internet.

But then again, as I said in yesterday’s post... this event is more about uniting under the Charedi flag than it is about avoiding pornography.  The question is, should we unite around people whose attitude about a medium was formed without fully understanding it? Is that really Daas Torah?