I was learning with a prominent Rav the other day when the discussion about how the poor state of dialogue between Chareidim and the Modern Orthodox came up. Amongst other things, he noted that there always seems to be an unfairness between the two groups that always leads to the Modern Orthodox losing the dispute in question. The factor? The role in leadership in the two communities.
It is well understood that modern day Chareidim have, to a large extent, deified their leaders. Under the rubric of Daas Torah, they have imbued their great scholars and religious figures with a semblance of omniscience. The idea that one might suggest that a "gadol" has erred is considered heresy, kofer b'ikkar. A "gadol" must be followed in all his instructions (unless those instructions are to stop rioting and attacking people) and questioning him is like questioning God - you just don't do that.
The Modern Orthodox community, on the other hand, has a much more nebulous sense of leadership. There is, of course, the Rav, zt"l and many prominent names in today's Yeshiva University community but they do not have the presence in the life of the average MO that Chareidi gedolim have in those of their followers. The Modern Orthodox admire the Rav but they don't necessarily see him through a "veil of holiness".
How does this affect the dialogue between the two communities? Well, think about the reaction a member of each group would have to one's questioning the p'sak or credentials of their leaders. In general, Modern Orthodox folks reacts in a much more mild fashion to such an attack than do Chareidim.
For example, it is quite common for Chareidim to be dismissive of the Rav. Whether he is called "pasul", "the guy who went to Yeshiva University" or just "J.B." is irrelevant. He is not accorded the respect a genius and spiritual giant of his stature deserves by many on the other side of the fence yet one does not hear screams of outrage from his supposed followers and students.
Now consider this contrast: the next time someone Chareid intones that MO's are wrong because of an opinion of the Chazon Ish, zt"l, try this line - "Ah, who care about ol' man Karelitz?" Or if they rail against modern innovations by quoting the Chasam Sofer, zt"l, use this one - "Mo' Shreiber? Not interested in his views, thank you." Can you imagine the reaction? The screaming, the spitting, the fire and brimstone that would result is enough to give anyone second thoughts before using the sentences in casual conversation. Yet the same people who would go ballistic if the Michtav M'Eliyahu was dismissed as a reactionary old fuddy-duddy would have no problem saying that Rav Kook was an ignoramus who despoiled the clean waters of Toras Eretz Yisrael!
I think one more point is salient. Another reason that Modern Orthodox leaders would never show disrespect to Chareidi authorities is because those authorities are important to them to. For example, one cannot have an honest discussion on heter mechirah without looking at the opinions of Rav Kook, zt"l. For a Dati Leumi this is obvious. Thus the Chazon Ish's opinion would be invoked and discussed with the respect due a scholar of his calibre. For a Chareidi, dismissing Rav Kook is second nature. Who cares what he thinks!
Does this point to a difference? I think it does. Modern Orthodoxy is, in its purest form, interested in determining the Torah's truth. If the Chazon Ish turns out to be right, so be it. Chareidism nowadays is interested in the Torah's truth from a narrow political viewpoint. The Chazon Ish is pre-determined to be right so there's no real discussion.If you think about, this should be no surprise. As I noted above, the Chareidim have bestowed an incredible amount of respect on their leaders, and their leaders alone. On the other hand, Modern Orthodoxy has not done the same with its leadership. A Chareidi is genuinely insulted when he feels one of his leaders has been treated with less respect than he is due. A Modern Orthodox does not.
As a result, when the two groups trade opinions, there is an inherent unfairness in the debate. While the Chareidi has no hesitation to announce that only his rabbonim are real rabbonim, the Modern Orthodox treads far more carefully in order to avoid showing disrespect to his opponent's icons.
One might therefore look at this almost as a situation involving a bully. Appeasement rarely makes an impact with such a person while standing up to him accomplishes that much more. Until now Modern Orthodoxy has knuckled under to the Chareidim on most important matters affecting the shomer mitzvos community - tznius, Zionism, heter mechirah, and such. The reason has been a desire to minimize internecine fighting and encourage achdus amongst those of us who are yirei Shamayim. Bad enough they're screaming, the thinking goes. What does our shouting back accomplish?
Is it time to ask a different question - what has the Modern Orthodox sensitivity in this matter accomplished for the community? Is it time to start standing up and shouting back?