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.