Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Do The Gedolim Understand The Nature of Today's Orthodox Jewish Community?

In the aftermath of the BigEvent concert cancellation, BloginDM has an excellent set of questions that need to be answered regarding what transpired. I don't actually expect any of them to be answered anytime soon, but they should still be asked.

In any event, there is one quote that has come out of all this that has troubled me very much. The quote comes from Rabbi Asher Friedman:

"The gedolei yisroel don’t want that issue [to be discussed] on the radio and in newspapers. It doesn’t belong for the public to decide on issues that belong for Da’as Torah.”

In short, this amounts to "shut up, do as we say, and don't ask any questions."

Personally, this attitude troubles me very much. Not so much because it demands unquestioning obedience and unquestioning compliance (which is bad enough) but because it shows a complete ignorance of the reality of the world of today as opposed to the world of a hundred years ago or more.

Specifically, the issue at hand is the assumption that the masses are not only unable to decide these things for themselves, but that they are incapable of even understanding the issues involved. In short, by stating that the issues shouldn't even be discussed in public (let alone decided there), Rabbi Friedman (or maybe even the Gedolim themselves -- I don't know for sure) seem to think that having the public informed of the reasons for the decrees which bind their lives is a Very Bad Thing.TM

The problem with this approach is that while it might have worked a hundred years or so ago, it does not work today. The fact of the matter is that the laity today is far more knowledgeable and far more sophisticated than the laity of a hundred years ago. It is an ever-shrinking portion of our community who is saying that they will blindly and unquestioningly follow "Da'as Torah." The percentage is smaller today than it was a century ago, then it was fifty years ago, and even smaller than it was ten years ago. The Torah knowledge of the average Orthodox Jew today is much greater than it was back then. A century or more ago, a person took the rabbi's decree without question because they had no practical way to look up the issues involved. Today, thanks to better yeshiva educations, new and better translations of classical works, better communications and the proliferation of shiurim (Torah classes) available to the public, the average Orthodox Jew has a much better chance of looking up and understanding the Rishonim and Acharonim on any particular issue. In short, the average Orthodox Jew is far more "Talmudically literate" than he was a century ago. Whereas in the past, you pretty much had to take a gadol's word on the matter, today you can "double check" his answer and ask questions on your own.

It's the failure of Asher Friedman (and maybe the Gedolim -- although I don't see how they could miss this) to recognize this basic fact that is the most troubling of all. It shows that he (they?) doesn't have a grasp of how Jews today think and how to relate to the Orthodox Jewish community as a whole.

In addition, there is another factor that needs to be taken into consideration -- the fact that we live in the United States of America. One of the most basic ideas of Americanism is that the leaders are accountable to the people that elect them. The President, the Governor, the Mayor -- all of them have bosses -- the voters. If they want to implement a particular policy, they have to (at some level) explain it to us, the voters. Failure to do so is usually a good way to ensure that you don't get re-elected (unless you're in the New York State legislature -- but that's a rant for a different day). This idea (whether you like it or not) is creeping into American Jewish communities. While our gedolim are not elected, per se, they still need to be accountable to us. When they ban concerts, they have to explain why they are banning a concert and what the parameters of the ban are. While they can't be voted out of office for this, they face a worse danger -- being rendered irrelevant. If they can't (or won't) give people good reasons to listen to their decrees, they will find that larger and larger segments of the Orthodox Jewish world will simply tune them out and ignore them. And that would be particularly sad; because it will show that while they may have a great amount of Torah knowledge, they lack a very basic skill of leadership -- learning the needs of your followers and how to make them want to follow you. If you can't get people to follow you, then your relevance as a community leader is greatly diminished - no matter how big of a talmud chacham you might be.

The Wolf

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wolf:

TheAnswer speaking here.

I think you hit the nail on the head here. The education of the masses in yeshivos, seminaries and even through Artscroll has given them independence of thought. You don't gain the respect of the educated through edicts and positions; rather through intellectual discourse.

The masses also understand how there is no unified leadership, and without that there really is no leadership.

Bottom line: we need to be responsible for ourselves and our families. Part of this involves consultation with those more knowledgible.

The leadership really should focus on Tzibur issues. As such they need more deliberation and research before coming out with pronouncements. They also need a good PR guy to frame help market and communicate with the masses. People like Avi Shafran may be good talkers, but I find him engaging more in apologetics than acting as a leadership liaison. This not good at all.

Honestly Frum said...

I was talking to a career Kollel guy and he told me that in his opinion (and I assume this is something that many of them believe) the best form of government (as available today) that would fit with torah values is a communist/dictatorial society. Makes sense one person making the rules and free social programs for the masses. In such a society the ruler answers to no one nor does he/(she) need to explain the reasons for their decreed. I will, once again ask the question, Friedman's claim to the rabbonim who signed the ban is that it was done with the wishes of R' Elyashiv, since when do we as Jews have a pope who regulates the religion. This is just another example of a takanah she' ayn hatzibur yachol laamod bah, given the reaction of the masses.

-suitepotato- said...

I think the bigger problem is that the whole mess makes the Torah look bad and to a lesser extent of importance, the Talmud. These men stare into them for DECADES. The result is this cuckoo silliness? Hmmm...

That is basically the subconscious thought process going on in everyone who's weighed in on this, read of it, heard of it. And it is one that is dangerous, one we don't need, and one that would have been entirely prevented had they done as you suggest and explained themselves properly and put the idea for the ban out before the congregations to mull over.

Of course, the entire ban idea would have failed right there on the spot as no matter how little you think of Lipa and company and their music, people don't like being told not to listen to music or watch a given movie or whatever. Nevermind that the reasons for the ban were just plain silly and the only way to get the signatures was to engage in misdirection, misleading gossip, and other shenanigans that usually happen with these situations.

So, people think, "maybe it's a good thing I don't spend all my time reading the Torah. Look what it did to them."

In order to save the village/religion/movement/etc. it became necessary to destroy it and all...

Zach Kessin said...

RE a Jewish Pope,

I expect to see white smoke over B'nei Barak any day now. (Only half kidding)

ProfK said...

Do they understand the nature? Perhaps part of the question should be do they want to understand the nature of the new orthodox world. They seem to be fighting to maintain a status quo that has long since become irrelevant. They got their wish with the establishment of required yeshiva education, and now that those yeshiva educated people are able to ask questions and answer some on their own they would like to put us all back in the box. A case perhaps of be careful of what you wish for--you just might get it.

Sanegor said...

Unfortunately, that's just another nail in the coffin of public respect towards scholars.

Usher Friedman is a simple fraud, holding all these appiels from the kind folks in Kiryas Yoel, Tosh and Skver with stool pigeon Russian kids; who knows where all those millions go, but sure not towards any schar limud ...

SephardiLady said...

These are great questions and they definitely deserve answers. But, I'm not holding my breathe.

SephardiLady said...

Also leaders inspire and change the hearts and minds over time. As Jonathan Rosenbloom wrote, "Bans are Not Chinuch." Unfortunately these bans leave very little room for chinuch amongst those that follow them.

Chareidi said...

As you may have noticed, YW recently put up a post titled "Eye of the Tiger." I posted the following comment to that post. Time will tell if YW actually allows it to pass the YW censorship machine. Here is what I posted:

I understand that the askonim are speaking to rabbonim about issuing a kol korah banning YW. Although the content of this post may be kosher, using the title "Eye of the Tiger" which is the title of a 1980s rock hit song is a great issur. The heilige rabbonim have repeatedly warned us that use of non-jewish niggunim is not appropriate, even if the song happens to have won a Grammy Award, an Academy Award nomination, and was voted "Best New Song" by the People's Choice Awards. Utilizing non-jewish songs causes schok and kalus rosh and one should not allow such websites into his home. May it be the will of hashem that YW follows Lipa's lead in doing tshuvah and cease utilizing goyishe negunim. I strongly recommend that you immediately change the title of this post to something more appropriate. How about Ayin Shel Tigris?

Anonymous said...

My advice to anyone thinking of walking away from Chareidism?

Run!

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

A golden oldie.

( http://onthemainline.blogspot.com/2007/01/semi-talmidei-hakhomim-or-semi-amei-ha.html )

Mike S. said...

Acoountable? The easy way to hold these Rabbonim accountable is to stop listening to them. Much is hidden in the pernicious phrase "The Gedolim." I do not mean to be disrespectful of those who signed the ban; the couple that I have met or read are great scholars. But they are hardly the only great Torah scholars of our time. Anyone who thinks these scholars are out of touch with society should find a Gadol in better touch with society to follow.

Anonymous said...

http://www.thejewishweek.com/viewArticle/c36_a4813/News/New_York.html