An editorial appeared today on Matzav.com concerning whether or not it is acceptable to publicly question "da'as torah" or the words of the gedolim. The editorial, written by Shmuel Miskin, is in response to an post that appeared on The Lakewood Scoop.
Beth Medrash Govoha (the big yeshiva in Lakewood) has a policy that prohibits its students from going to Blue Claws games (the Lakewood Blue Claws are Class-A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies). An anonymous author (M.E.) wrote to the Lakewood Scoop wondering if BMG might consider loosening the ban on Blue Claws games in light of the fact that people today need a "kosher" outlet -- more so than the past.
To be fair, I know next to nothing about the Blue Claws, BMG or the restriction -- but then again, that's not really the point here. M.E. may have a point that the restriction should be lifted or he may be utterly and completely wrong. It's all beside the point for the purpose of this discussion.
Shmuel Miskin, in his editorial, takes offense that someone has dared to even ask a question publicly about the ban. M.E., in his post, was not critical or disrespectful of the yeshiva administration. He wasn't even saying that the yeshiva should rescind the ban -- he merely brought up the question. But apparently, even that's unacceptable for Shmuel Miskin -- his view (unless I read the editorial wrong) is that even asking a question in public about policy change is wrong, disrespectful and "nothing less than a Chillul HaShem." Our lot is simply to accept the rules and shut up.*
But what if the rules are wrong? Yes, I know that some people may not be able to accept the fact that gedolim can possibly make an error -- but I'm not addressing people who believe in the Jewish version of papal infallibility. We have, unfortunately, seen time and again that there can be instances when gedolim base their decisions on incorrect information, are harried and/or manipulated into making decisions without properly reviewing all the facts. Sometimes, they can make the right decision and, due to the laws of unintended consequences, still have it turn into a disaster. And sometimes, a gadol may just may be plain wrong. So, if you believe that a decision is wrong for any one of the above reasons (or perhaps for another reason altogether) -- and it's a public policy decision that affects many people -- then why shouldn't it be subject to public debate? If something affects me, should I not have a right to speak my voice on the matter -- even if in the end I am overruled? Or am I a sheep whose job is to simply follow the shepherd without so much as a bleat of independent thought?
I am a firm believer in civil debate. I believe that if you're going to debate someone on an issue, s/he deserves to be addressed civilly and with respect** -- and that certainly goes all the more so for the gedolim. It's unfortunate that some may abuse the idea of respectful debate and start calling the gedolim names and otherwise denigrating them; but I don't believe that because some abuse a system that all have to suffer. If you follow that path, then no one should be allowed to own a knife or a car. But there should be no reason at all to disallow respectful questioning on public policy in public.
In some respects, it may be sad that the world of passive acceptance of the words of the gedolim without question has passed us by -- but it is a product of a bygone world. Sadly, since the gedolim have shown that they can err (and do so very publicly), there has to be a mechanism in place to allow for the respectful questioning (and yes, in public) of those public policy decisions that affect us.
* Yes, he does allow for private questioning, but I think that, at least with some gedolim, my chance of getting an audience is close to nil.
* *Of course, there are those that hold that the very act of disagreeing is disrespectful; but I obviously don't hold of that position.