R. Jonathan Rosenblum has a column on Cross Currents dealing with the issue of whether or not the current kollel situation is sustainable in light of the crushing poverty that it brings to the chareidi Israeli community. In it, he argues that the "everyone in kollel" was meant to rebuild the Jewish community that was destroyed by the Holocaust and that, at this point, that task is complete. Perhaps the time has come, he argues, to tell people to go to work and that only the best and the brightest, the ones who are willing to dedicate themselves to serving the community and who have the potential to be the next generation of leaders be allowed to continue in kollel indefinitely.
One reader took him to task on this asking if his position is backed up by any of the current gedolim. R. Rosenblum noted that there was no such proclamation from the gedolim and he provided two reasons for that. The second reason is as follows:
There is another reason that there will be no such public statements. Any such statement would be met with vicious attacks by the “kenaim,” who would say about the gadol in question precisely what KollelGuy asks me: Who are you? The Chazon Ish did not say what you are saying; Rav Shach did not say it.” Perhaps KollelGuy remembers the attacks on one of the Sages he mentions for his tacit support of Nahal Chareidi. (Even Rav Shach used to say that he was afraid of the stone-throwers.) 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.
I find this rather frightening. I thought central idea of chareidi life was that they are supposed to listen to the words of the gedolim. If the gedolim are afraid to express their opinions about the right and wrong derech, then of what value are they? We might as well just have mob rule (or is that, in effect, what we have already?).
Now, this may sound a bit strange coming from me. After all, a while ago, I suggested that the gedolim need to be accountable to their constituents. But I think that there is a qualitative difference between what I called for and what is going on (according to R. Rosenblum) in chareidi society.
I don't necessarily have a problem with a gadol saying that X is forbidden or that Y is bad -- provided that he can explain to us why it is so. In short, the days of a gadol saying "X is assur" and leaving it at that are done and gone. Today's public needs to be informed as to the reasons behind the decrees of the gedolim if they are going to listen to them. But in the end, I expect a gadol to speak up if he feels something needs to be said for the good of the community -- whether popular or unpopular. If he feels that everyone needs to be in kollel, then he has to say so -- and articulate why. If he feels that the kollel system we have now is crushing the populace and unsustainable, then he needs to say so -- regardless of the consequences -- and, again, articulate why that's the case. But a gadol who is afraid to speak for fear of losing his position and is willing to allow countless people to continue suffering from crushing poverty for the sake of not being labeled a "fake gadol" is already a fake gadol.