Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Friday, 25 July 2008

Abdicating Intelligent Thought

Two of the greatest gifts God ever gave us are freedom of choice and the ability to think intelligently when using it. Given that God Himself exhorts us to make choices for ourselves, it seems that there is at least some obligation on us to live our lives through intelligent choices. We learn the material (Torah) from qualified instructors (rabbonim) and then use that information to live our daily lives in consonance with what we believe God Himself wants from us, as much as humanly possible.
For some people, this can be a daunting task. After all, if the goal of a Torah lifestyle is fulfilling God's will with every action, which perforce means that the wrong action is against His will and therefore a sin, then the level of responsibility in being a Jew is quite high. For many, it might be too much responsibility to handle.
I was thinking of that while reading the latest article on Cross-Currents from Rav Yitzchok Adlerstein. This article addresses the alleged disrespect ba'alei teshuvah face in the Chareidi world. To my surprise, he did not use the approach other authors on that site do, which would be to deny the problem even exists and then attack those who claim is does as misguided. Instead, he noted that there are many ba'alei teshuvah (BT) that feel slighted or rejected by the frum-from-birth (FFB) brethren and explained eloquently why BT's should, in fact, be warmly and enthusiastically welcomed into the Chareidi community. (Presumable someone MO who became Chareidi would also be considered a BT but that's a subject for another post).
So far so good.
It was his reply to the various comments that caught my eye.
As I have written before, I am cheered by the school some of my grandchildren attend in Dallas, which welcomes not-yet-frum kids and does not make their mothers sign a tzniyus agreement - all in consultation with a major American rosh yeshiva.
Never mind the idea that there are tznius arrangements in certain religious schools in the Chareidi community. That idea is already bizarre and strikes me, to be honest, as fascist. It's the final words of the paragraph that caught my eye: "all in consultation with a major American rosh yeshiva."
Now, as readers of my medical model of halachah know, I would agree that there is a strong role to be played by roshei yeshiva and poskim in the daily halachic lives of observant Jewry. However, just as the average person does not need a subspecialized cardiologist to tell him that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is healthy and desirable, so too does the average Jew not need a rosh yeshivah to tell him that ahavas Yisrael and allowing non-frum children to receive a frum education and, by inference, positive influence from the frum peers, is a good idea.
I could ask three questions back of this paragraph: first, why did a major American rosh yeshiva have to be consult? Does the local community not have a Rav? Is he not competent to make decisions on his own? Why would the layfolk go over his head? And if it was with his encouragement, what kind of community leadership is he showing?
Secondly, why did a Rav have to be consulted at all in such a manner? One gets the impression that if the rosh yeshiva, who presumably does not live in the community and probably isn't familiar with it had say "no" then the non-frum would have been deliberately excluded from this school. Yet how sensible a decision is that?
And third, why did the Rosh Yeshiva answer the question at all? He's not the community's Rav. This wasn't a matter of deciding a difficult question in halachah. Why was the answer not: Listen, I don't live there. I don't know your intricate community structure or needs. Ask the local Rav. Are Chareidi layfolk considered children by their leaders that need rabbinical permission for even the simplest initiatives? Are Chareidi layfolk so docile that they can't do anything for themselves unless a prominent Rav says it's okay?
Years ago I had a friend who converted to Judaism and was given a mashpiah by the Beis Din supervising the process. He was encouraged to turn to this person whenever he had a question about something, however trivial. It got to the point where we would joke with him about which brand of toilet paper his mashpiah orders him to buy.
On one hand, for important matters that require guidance, a Rav should certainly be consulted. After all, one must live one's life in accordance with halachah and it is the Rav who has spent time educating himself in that very system. Remember that when one strips away all the liberal roles that Conservatism and Reform have attached to the job description, the Rav is really just a teacher, albeit of the most important subject in the world.
But for some matters, one must also remember that the fifth section of the Shulchan Aruch is Sechel Yashar, Common Sense. Things which increase ahavas Yisrael (especially during this time of year) and create a sense of community amongst all Jews without compromising the integrity and observance of halachah don't need a stamp of approval from some higher authority. They are the purview of all Jews who have made their choice and have chosen to live their lives in accordance with God's Holy Torah.


Nishma said...

See my comment regarding the next post on tzedakah which in a certain way deals with this issue. There are times where the only decision is yours. For example, you can't ask a rav who you should consult as rav for by definition by already asking this rav this question you are effectively answering the question -- you already decided to ask him even if it asking him whom you should now ask further questions. If people recognized that it always begins with the person having to make a decision, there will be more toughtfullness in the process.

Hiving said all this, there is another side to your specific argument. In that there are schools that do not enroll non-dati kids and have tzniut agreements, we can conclude that someone out there is not arriving at the same obvious decision that you came to. Sometimes, you need the specialist to tell the patient to eat properly because there is so much shtus out there that the only person this patient will listne to is the expert. Sometimes a Rosh Yeshiva responds because he knows that only the force of his stature will get people to even do the most logical things. What is he to do -- not respond and have people continue to follow the shtus? Someimes, also, there are cases where what we perceive to be shtus is acually appropriate. Sometimes we don't know when we need the expert. This of course does not mean we should abrogate our own decision making and decision making responsibility and it also doesn't defend the movement away from empowering individuals and communities to assume their proper role in the decision making of the nation, but the answer cannot be to simply say to people to start making decisions because sometimes the reason you want individuals even to ask the simple questions to the gadol is that some are even so foolish that they will make the craziest of decisions. Your faith in the everyman is sometime not justifiable but the solution also cannot be that there is not faith in the everyman and a lack of responsibility within individuals for decision making and the decisions they invariable still do make.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

paul said...

"Are Chareidi layfolk considered children by their leaders that need rabbinical permission for even the simplest initiatives?"

"Are Chareidi layfolk so docile that they can't do anything for themselves unless a prominent Rav says it's okay?"
Any further questions about charedism? No? Class dismissed.
It's a faith pattern for children. Check your brain in at the door, while you're at it. No tough questions, please; we're Charedi.

eric said...

Maybe this "chashuva rosh yeshiva" IS just a local rav, but he's called a "rosh yeshiva" due to titular inflation...