This week's Letters To The Editors in The Jewish Press is devoted entirely to the issue of the Lipa concert ban. Of the six letters published, five express concern and/or dismay at the ban and/or the way it was handled. The sixth letter, however, is from Dr. Yaakov Stern (I seem to recall hearing that name before on this blog). After telling over a story about a chassid and his rebbe, he continues:
This story illustrates the faith we must have in our religious leaders. Sadly, we see how far we are from this ideal in light of the reaction to the banning of the Lipa concert. I hate to use clichés, but in the matter of following Gedolei Yisrael, “Ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do or…” You can fill in the blanks, and they should be taken literally because not only we are dealing with a lav of the Torah (Lo Tosur), but to malign our religious leaders is to undermine the foundation of Yiddishkeit.
It seems that Dr. Stern's position is that when a Gadol says something, we are to immediately turn off our brains and simply do what we are told to do. I suppose that's one way to conduct one's life... but I highly doubt that many of us would really do so. I'm wonder; if a Gadol told Dr. Stern to do something truly drastic in his life (give up his house, divorce his wife, kill his neighbor, etc.) would he actually do it without a second thought? I don't know Dr. Stern, so I can't rightfully answer that question - but I will say that if the answer is "yes," then it is downright scary the amount of control over his life that he's willing to cede to others; and if the answer is no, then he's simply being hypocritical -- after all, I don't think that in his Torah the lav (negative commandment) of Lo Tosur doesn't have any exemptions.
Rashi, on the verse of Lo Tosur, quotes the Sifri, which states that you have to listen to the sages even "if they tell you that right is left and that left is right." Well, that is one way of looking at it. Then, there is also the Yerushalmi's way of looking at it. The Yerushalmi in Horiyos (1:1) seems to state just the opposite. It states:
יכול אם יאמרו לך על ימין שהיא שמאל ועל שמאל שהיא ימין תשמע להם ת"ל ללכת ימין ושמאל שיאמרו לך על ימין שהוא ימין ועל שמאל שהוא שמאל. (I might think that if they [the Rabbis] tell you that right is left and that left is right that you should listen to them, the verse, "to go right or left) comes to tell you that [you should listen to them only] when they tell you right that is [really] right and left that is [really] left.
In other words, one is only required to listen to the Sages when, in fact, you know that the ruling is based on solid fact. If they make a ruling that is mistaken (telling you that right is left, for example), then you aren't under any obligation to follow them. I often find it interesting how whenever anyone brings up the topic of listening to the Gedolim, the Sifri is always mentioned, but the Yerushalmi is usually ignored.
But hey, we can say eilu v'eilu, right? He can follow his way if he likes and we can follow our way, right? Alas not. He continues...
Alas, I fear this exhortation will be lost due to the modern day Korachs who appeal to the masses to reject the edicts of those who seek only our best long-term interests.
Alas, it seems that someone who disagrees with anything a gadol says is a "Korach," no matter how sincere or well-intentioned he is in his belief that the Gadol may have made his ruling on facts in error. I find it interesting that Dr. Stern chose to use Korach to describe anyone to disagrees with him, since the dispute of Korach is given in the Mishna in Avos as the archetype of a dispute that is not l'shem shamayim (for the sake of heaven). If I read enough into his statement, I suppose I can say that he is implying that if you disagree with a Gadol, your opinion can never be truly l'shem shamayim, since you are just like Korach.
If that's the case, it's sad. Sad that some feel we've come to the point where differing opinions are bad and that one must shut off one's brain in order to be a good Jew. It's also sad to see that some people have to resort to ad hominem attacks (calling people with differing opinions "Korachs" to make their point.
(Just as a final point, there is one point in his letter that I agree with Dr. Stern on. If one disagrees with a Gadol and thinks his ruling is based on facts that aren't true, that's one thing. But it's no license to "malign our religious leaders." Disagreement with anyone, whether it be a Gadol or a layperson, should be done with respect.