Thoughts on Judaism

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Is the Rabbinate Headed for Irrelevance

On the Main Line, linked in the title, has an excellent essay on what the Rabbinate expects from us little people. He is commenting in turn on this guy. A blogger seems to think we should be awed by current RW leaders, that we little peons have no business bashing them, criticizing them, analyzing their priorities and decrees, why, we are not even in the same league with these giants. We should accept their fiats without prejudice and with the humble understanding that we are cannon fodder.

Update: Upon further review of the play, it seems I have misunderstood the original point. Here is a restatement. A blogger seems to think we should be awed by current RW leaders, due to their learning prowess and some perception of his that they have interest in the individuals in the Jewish community. We little peons have no business disrespecting them, though we may analyze their priorities and decrees, even though they seem to be out of touch, at best, why, we are not even in the same league with these giants.

My point is still as ever, that respect as a Talmid Chacham can be earned by learning. Respect as a leader, can only be earned by leading. Respect as someone who take an interest in teg-teglicher Jewish life ... Well, you get the idea. I personally do not see anything that qualifies these "Talmidai Chachamim" to lead the Jewish community or to have their fiats received with fawning reverence, no matter how impractical, obtuse, or out of touch. I can agree that polite discourse can be had, provided that it is polite on both sides, and discourse, meaning two way. I'd even take a representative type discourse over a personal one, as prefereable to what exists today.

This is my response on On the Main Line:
How long has it been since the average person owned books, a couple of hundred years, tops? Then there was a period where "Jewish books" meant Beis Yehuda. Today, the average 12 year old learns Baba Metziah, and everyone has a copy of the text, and they even have learning guides, learning aids and linear translations, aids to learning mefarshim, un azoi veiter. Yesterdays students did not have these resources.

The challenge to the rabbinate is as it has always been, to LEAD. The biggest problem is that the rabbinate wants to lead in the 16th century, not in the 21st. They refuse to acknowledge that the average has changed, that technology has made the average person more learned and that cultures of democracy have made it impossible to lead by fiat, the only method that current RW leadership thinks is appropriate. Until they learn this, until they step up to the challenge, they are lunging headlong toward polite irrelevance.

Since they need to justify leadership by fiat to democracy tainted people, they had no choice but to invent the "mystical approach", a magic world where rabbanic proclamations and decisions make a new physical reality, where they have Torah granted superpowers and where the average highly intelligent layman is to be convinced that he cannot begin to understand their deep wisdom.

If this is their plan to lead Judaism into the future, (and I believe it will be until they are forced to see real reality), then there is likely little need to plan a future for Judaism.

14 Comments:

  • Since they need to justify leadership by fiat to democracy tainted people, they had no choice but to invent the "mystical approach", a magic world where rabbanic proclamations and decisions make a new physical reality, where they have Torah granted superpowers and where the average highly intelligent layman is to be convinced that he cannot begin to understand their deep wisdom.
    It is really unbelievable to what extent people will try and justify and excuse rabbonim just based on their titles. I am always awed.

    I think this partially comes from an attitude of " the members of my fan club are stupid". Meaning that if a person understands something, it becomes less meaningful in his eyes and he is somehow attracted to that which he doesn't fathom. Many people, for this reason, insist on God's wisdom as being unattainable to us mortals. So naturally, it sort of follows that our rabbonim, our Representatives of the Divine Will, must also not make any sense whatsoever.

    By Blogger onionsoupmix, at 9:39 PM  

  • Think what you like, proclaim yourself a rebel if that makes you feel good... but along the way, please give a nod to integrity and try not to misquote people.

    I explicitly wrote that I wasn't discussing disagreement with Torah leadership. My point was about the need to treat them with respect.

    Or does being a self-proclaimed rebel mean that you also hold yourself above basic human courtesy?

    By Blogger rabbi without a cause, at 10:10 PM  

  • And as a separate point:

    Equating a yeshiva high school education with a true Talmid Chacham strikes me as rather foolish.

    Consider this: The Talmid Chacham, in the class of leadership I was discussing, spends 10-14 hours in study, daily, for decades. Don't you think there's a difference between that and a yeshiva high school graduate? It's common sense to see that there is a difference.

    By Blogger rabbi without a cause, at 10:13 PM  

  • No one equated a yeshiva high school graduate with a talmid chochom.

    By Blogger Mississippi Fred MacDowell, at 11:37 AM  

  • RWOAC

    As a matter of fact, I have no respect for the CREDENTIALS of some aloof celebrity. I only care for results. They can study until they burn up all avian life, but until they understand their constituancy and the job of leader, they should take the example of the Kostzker.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 3:10 PM  

  • rebeljew:

    But that's the point - they do that, handling issues with sensitivity and creativity, daily.

    I am starting to think that the problem is one of dealing with tzibbur en masse vs. dealing with people one-on-one. The former is much harder than the latter. I'm not sure it is possible to 'win' when doing the former.

    In the meantime, I don't see a response to the point of your misquote.

    By Blogger rabbi without a cause, at 11:08 PM  

  • Having reread your post a few times, I will allow that I may have over read your point in the first pass. You are telling us that we should respectfully disagree with guys who outlaw denim skirts, dinosaurs and a heliocentric universe, not call them morons, and I agree with that to a point. However, I fail to see sensitivity or personal touch in any of the dealings of today's "leaders".

    If I were to directly but politely confront one of these "gedolim" on denim skirts, for instance, (or better yet, Slifkin), might I expect a polite discussion? A wild eyed tirade? Threats from his followers? Threats to my faimly from his followers? A personal cherem? If the first option, could I expect him to speak to me in less than a condescending manner?

    My experience has been that these "leaders" expect to dictate and you to accept, period. Explain the reaction to Slifkin, if that is not so. (He seems to have gotten the latter treatments , not the polite discourse.) No one can say that Slifkin was not polite. But as long as our "leaders" do not respect us, how can we respect them as leaders? The time for that type of leadership is long past.

    Personally, I have never been able to achieve direct audience with any of these celebrities. In Chabad, during the last 20 years of the Chabad Rebbe, of whom I was a devotee at one time, we were to suffice that his nod and response to "L'Chaim" was a yechidus. Only people who donated 20K a year (ma'asar of $1M in 5 years), and various dignitaries, were eligible for personal audience for a few minutes, at the most. I consider the Chabad Rebbe a visionary, a polite person, and a gadol in Torah by your definition. But this kind of leadership does not inspire any but the devotee. Control is not the same thing as leadership. And people in the modern world respect people who lead, not people who control. People resent people who try to control them.

    Of this sensitivity and individual care that you seem to think the current gedolim exhibit, I have seen none of it.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 8:17 AM  

  • "I am starting to think that the problem is one of dealing with tzibbur en masse vs. dealing with people one-on-one. The former is much harder than the latter. I'm not sure it is possible to 'win' when doing the former."

    Leading a tzibbur is not possible without interaction and personal one on one involvement at some level. The President could not lead the country without some representation from its people. We call them our "congressmen" and when they do nto speak for us, we throw them out and elect new ones. Not a perfect system, but without some representation of the people, the President could not lead. Once, there was a leader who tried to lead the US without such representation of the people. He was called a "king". The people REBELED against this king.

    sic semper tyrannis

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 8:28 AM  

  • rebeljew wrote:
    "Having reread your post a few times, I will allow that I may have over read your point in the first pass. You are telling us that we should respectfully disagree with guys who outlaw denim skirts, dinosaurs and a heliocentric universe, not call them morons, and I agree with that to a point. However, I fail to see sensitivity or personal touch in any of the dealings of today's "leaders"."

    So I expect we'll see an edit of your initial blog comment, to reflect reality?

    rebeljew wrote:
    "If I were to directly but politely confront one of these "gedolim" on denim skirts, for instance, (or better yet, Slifkin), might I expect a polite discussion? A wild eyed tirade? Threats from his followers? Threats to my faimly from his followers? A personal cherem? If the first option, could I expect him to speak to me in less than a condescending manner?"

    From the gedolim themselves, you would likely get a straightforward response. Having questioned roshei yeshiva directly on issues from hats for davening to Gay Pride protests to birth control, I have yet to receive a response that was anything but polite, even in disagreement.

    I can't speak for what goes on in Chabad, but that is my experience from the world of the yeshivos.

    By Blogger rabbi without a cause, at 11:24 AM  

  • I wrote:
    "I am starting to think that the problem is one of dealing with tzibbur en masse vs. dealing with people one-on-one. The former is much harder than the latter. I'm not sure it is possible to 'win' when doing the former."

    rebeljew replied:
    "Leading a tzibbur is not possible without interaction and personal one on one involvement at some level."

    Yes, and they do very well on that level. Again, I can't speak for your Chabad experience, but I've seen plenty of one-on-one involvement elsewhere.

    By Blogger rabbi without a cause, at 11:26 AM  

  • "I have yet to receive a response that was anything but polite."

    Ever heard of Slifkin?

    New post coming soon to right the wrong.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 12:55 PM  

  • The 'cult of the tzadikkim' is not a new issue. It was a point of contention between misnagdim and chasidim in the 1700s and later.

    As I see it, the leaders have very lucrative positions they don't wish to lose, the masses need icons to give them someone to lean on, and they both get what they want from the relationship. Good? Bad? Who knows?

    The gedolim become icons because they represent everything that average people think they cannot become and hope to approach through contact. Some claim there is a spiritual osmosis one gets from being attached to a chasidus or a gadol. Maybe it's merely psychology, transference from self to gadol, gadol to God, or god to gadol.

    The only Rebbes that ever impressed me were the Lelover and the Rimnitzer. HaRav Steinzaltz is perhaps my favorite 'leader' of all.

    By Blogger Shlomo, at 8:23 PM  

  • rebeljew:

    That's exactly my point - the distinction between the public response to R' Slifkin and the responses given in private is huge. I think it's the public issue that is a mess, largely because no leader, however great, can legislate for the least common denominator without nuance. It leads to strife and frustration, it leads to overstatement and overreaching, and it ultimately leads to a desecration of everything the rabbinate is supposed to stand for.

    By Blogger rabbi without a cause, at 1:48 PM  

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