Designated Drivers

letter-447577_1280

by Doron Beckerman

Clearly, the J-blogs have arrived. No event of any significance escapes their scrutiny. Public discourse is shaped, often even created, by those possessing a keyboard, internet access, and a way with words. Unpoliced and unrestricted, the information superhighway, shared by the cautious, the reckless, and the intoxicated, is not going away.

A crossroads is rapidly approaching. Perhaps, nay, likely, we are already there. And there are weighty decisions to be made. A wrong turn spells disaster.

To the right lies a path of passivity, where no questioning or criticism is tolerated, no mistakes acknowledged or allowed for, and frustration is kept in check for the sake of maintaining the status quo. One problem with this, is, of course, the hit counter. A more critical problem – it isn’t healthy. Input from the layman is critical to proper decision-making, and sometimes the best ideas come from them.

I ask the indulgence of the J-blogs – Code Violation #11230 ahead. I am, alas, excerpting from an ArtScroll biography. In the book about Rav Pam zt”l, it is recounted that “[w]hen Mr. Drew returned to America, he visited Rav Pam and suggested what was to become known as the “Kesher Tefillin” Project. Whenever an American Yeshiva student becomes Bar Mitzvah, his family has the opportunity to accomplish a very significant Mitzvah in honor of the occasion by purchasing a pair of tefillin for a Shuvu student. Rav Pam was overjoyed by this suggestion.”

Sara Schneirer, founder of Beis Yaakov, was not a Moetzes member either.

Besides, the status quo may need some fixing.

To the left lies a future where the Torah leadership of the Jewish nation has been completely undermined and discredited. Their mistakes held under the microscope, magnified, and determined by the bloggers to be fatal. No longer can they be trusted to lead, and the best course is Ish Hayashar B’einav Yaaseh. Let each man do what is right in his own eyes.

Taking this turn means adhering to, or adopting, a philosophy of Torah leadership having no inherent value. It is only when they are proven correct that we accept their authority (if ever), but when they are not, maybe after some sort of three strikes rule, then, plainly, the very concept of Torah leadership, in any practical form, is to be jettisoned.

I do not believe this to be the will of the Torah. People familiar with some of my posts on my defunct blog will recall the story of Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish in Bava Metzia 84a, where Rabbi Yochanan is completely impervious to pleas from his sister to spare Reish Lakish’s life. Reish Lakish ultimately passes on, and Rabbi Yochanan is inconsolable over the loss of his study partner, due to his inability to properly clarify his learning.

R’ Chaim Shmuelevitz, in an essay titled Kavod Harav, explains that the reason for Rabbi Yochanan’s seeming callousness was due to the severity of Reish Lakish’s apparent undermining of Rabbi Yochanan’s honor. No, not the personal affront. “The severity of impinging on the honor of the Rabbi is not on account of the honor due the Rabbi per se, but is primarily because the negation of the influence of the Rav. When the Jewish people are not careful regarding the honor due their sages and elders, it is as if they have no sages and elders at all.”

R’ Chaim continues by quoting a Medrash (Vayikra Rabbah 11:8) – “Rabbi Akiva said, Israel is compared to a fowl, just as this fowl cannot fly without wings, so Israel can accomplish nothing without their elders.” Therefore, the entire existence of the Jewish nation is imperiled by undermining the Torah leadership.

R’ Chaim concludes with a lament over the situation as it was in 1973, and surely it has not improved since then.

Take the current imbroglio over the Rabbi who allegedly allowed cheating on taxes and gezel Akum. (I strongly emphasize that this is alleged, and those surrounding the Rabbi vehemently deny that these are his positions.) Those who have spoken up about this, say that they consulted with their Roshei Yeshiva who allowed for publicizing this issue. People have commented on various blogs about it, some with their names attached, others anonymously. I respectfully ask here: I don’t understand why it is deemed necessary for people who are not at all considered equals of this Rabbi to act as jury and judge. Torah leadership demands that other Torah leaders take such a stand publicly, not k’tanim. This sort of thing seems to be killing us and may very well destroy us. I realize that Nearim Pnei Zkeinim Yalbeenu is one of the signs of the pre-Messianic era, but that does not mean that we need to institutionalize it. The licenses of those taking this path should be revoked.

Even if we were to disregard the Torah’s outlook on this issue, there is simply no viable alternative to Torah leadership. Who else has any authority to affect any widespread constructive change? No J-blogger, or conglomerate of laypeople, has that kind of clout, even in theory.

Straight ahead lies a path of responsible partnership, where Torah leaders are not undermined by ridicule, open disdain, or even disrespectful disagreement. Correspondence should not be made public without explicit consent, tempting as it may be to get the scoop. Bloggers pining for particular courses of action should certainly state their case, but I believe that actual calls for adherence should be channeled through Torah leaders, whatever camp they may come from. There are lines of communication to all the English-speaking Torah leaders, both in the US and in Eretz Yisrael. I do not think it appropriate for any blogger who is not a Torah authority to be determining practical public policy, whether on Klal issues or how to relate to particular incidents relating to individuals.

People may ask a whopper of a question on this essay. Shouldn’t Gedolim be issuing statements like this? Aren’t you issuing a call for public policy here, in defiance of your own suggested guidelines?

Yes, I am. But only because asking for respect for Torah leadership is, perhaps, the one public policy vehicle the K’tanim should be driving.

[Rabbi Beckerman is a Rebbe at Yeshivat Ohr Yerushalayim]

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Doron Beckerman
6 years 1 month ago

In light of a discussion I have been participating in with a blogger, I want to add the following:

I am not under the impression that the blogosphere is a monolith. In addressing the J-blogosphere as a whole in my essay, the intent was for each blog to make their own Cheshbon Hanefesh as to whether they comport, or want to comport, with the suggested guidelines. I do not think that they all violate these guidelines, which is plainly obvious. I thought this was clear enough by stating that “The licenses of those who take this path” as limiting those who do. But apparently it has been misconstrued by some as an attack on all J-blogs as taking the left turn, where the truth is obviously not so, so I am issuing this clarification.

Shalom Rosenfeld
6 years 1 month ago

My amaaratzus is showing! How embarrasing!

There’s the Sholom Aleichem story of the women who asks her neighbor about the large copper pot she’d borrowed: “first of all it was small, second of all it wasn’t copper it was iron, and third, what do you mean borrowed, it was mine all along!”

The Gemara is Bava Basra 60b, regarding R’ Yishmael ben Elisha (who a few years back had served in the Temple on Yom Kippur and had G-d ask him for a blessing, and a few years later, had his son and daughter taken by the Romans); afraid I can’t cut-paste Hebrew here:

“From the day the evil kingdom [of Rome] has spread, which decrees evil,harsh decrees against us; and eradicates Torah and Mitzvos from us, and won’t let us do circumcision, it would be proper that we decree upon ourselves not to marry or have children, and thus the offspring of Abraham would die out on its own; but leave the Jews alone, better they violate by mistake than on purpose.”

Whoah.

Other thoughts on leadership; again, there are individual poskim vs. a sanhedrin, but these at least inform the issue somewhat:

1.) Shmuel, in Pesachim 30a, declares: “right now the standard practice is to be machmir like X. But if this leads to price-gouging, forget it, I’ll get up and pasken that you can get away with Y instead.” (Similar case in Sukkah, if I recall.)

2.) Rambam Mamrim 2:5 — before an enactment is made, the rabbis must spend serious deliberation on whether people will be able to handle the new rule.

3.) Raban Gamliel had been the Nassi in Jerusalem shortly before the year 70, then suddenly Raban Yochanan ben Zakai appears on the scene. I was taught (from R’ Herschel Welcher shlita, I don’t recall who he was quoting) that Raban Gamliel realized he was not the right person for handling a crisis like the Roman siege, so he handed over the keys to [Raban] Yochanan ben Zakai. (Note that the former had been raised privileged, and the latter had a business background.)

4.) A few years later in Yavneh, when “they” see that Raban Gamliel is overstepping his bounds in humiliating those who disagree with him, “they” have him removed from his position as Nasi. (Again, who is “they”, is an interesting question.)

5.) One more interesting topic — for another time — the role of raish galusa in Talmudic times. Did they always ask a rabbi everything?

Chaim Wolfson
6 years 1 month ago

Reading this post reminds me of a story my brother-in-law once told me. He was learning in an out-of-town community kollel, and one of the people who use to stop by the kollel was an old man who was born in the town of Navardok. He told my brother-in-law that as a young boy he had once heard the Chofetz Chaim speak. It seems that with the deterioration of the communal structure in the aftermath of the first World War, many parents — this man’s included — began sending their children to Polish “gymnasiums” (i.e., public schools). The Chofetz Chaim, who was in his eighties at the time, traveled from town to town exhorting parents to send their children to Talmud Torahs instead, and one of the towns he spoke in was Navardok, where this fellow heard him. When my brother-in-law asked the man if his parents listened to the Chofetz Chaim and switched him to a Talmud Torah, he answered in Yiddish, “Nein. Mein Tatta hat g’halten az er veis nisht vos er redt” [“No. My father held that he (the Chofetz Chaim) does not know what he’s talking about!”] So, there really is nothing new under the sun.

Chaim Fisher
6 years 1 month ago

Rabbi Beckerman,

Of course ideas can be untrue and still attractive.

But how do you block one without blocking the other? Any editor is going to have a huge negia to block ideas that disagree with him because in his opinion they are indeed “untrue.” Well, that’s surely wrong.

Attractive and untrue ideas almost always get pounded down by the end of a blog. And I’m not talking about smearing leaders or other lashon hara, which surely can be stopped by posting rules right at the start.

Don’t forget, the idea that the blogger is criticizing can also be untrue. Blog criticism serves the great purpose of stopping writers from overstepping their bounds…it’s not just a favor to the posters.

By the way, every blog has it’s unwritten rules anyway. This blog is for people who all agree that Torah is from Har Sinai and so on…

Bob Miller
6 years 1 month ago

Regarding the comment by Shalom Rosenfeld — July 6, 2009 @ 11:28 am :

Shalom,

Can you propose a counter-model grounded in “the Talmudic theory on this subject” as you see it that will give practical guidance for effective Jewish leadership today, taking our current resource people (leaders, followers) into account?