Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Behaviour Unbecoming

Imagine you were at a medical conference and a speaker got up to present a controversial view of an important topic.  Perhaps it's on something most doctors only have a superficial understanding of the subject in question and have always assumed that the accepted treatment is a certain drug while this doctor feels that a different drug has enough evidence behind it to be included in the guidelines.
He spends the next hour or two painstakingly reviewing the literature up to now, the results of his own research and his conclusions based on both.  Then, at the end of the talk someone in the back of the audience stands up as if to ask a question.  He's quickly recognized as the dean of a prominent medical school who has been published more times than anyone can count and is regarded as a superior authority amongst doctors.
But instead of asking a question he says "Doctor, if I have to call you that, your presentation sucked eggs and you're a poopy head for even thinking that this treatment should be included in the guidelines."  Then, before he can be confronted on his statement, he walks out of the hall with a "I told 'im good!" look on his face.
Given who the antagonist is, it's doubtful anyone would call him on his behaviour.  After all, despite his rudeness he is still one of the most accomplished (if not the most) doctors in the room.  In addition, there are always political considerations.  You don't go calling the dean of a medical school out in public over perceived bad behaviour.  However, there is no question that his words would be seen as a diatribe, not a valid objection to the presentation.  Until someone gets up and addresses all of the first presentation's issues on an proper academic basis, the first presenter's position is effectively unchallenged.
In summary: you don't object to another person's learned position by heaving insults.  That's childish and unacceptable in such a forum.
Which makes me wonder: if in the secular halls of academia and science such behaviour is unacceptable, why is it consider de rigeur by some in the Torah world?
A year or two ago Rav Michael Broyde, the head of the Beis Din of America and an important Modern Orthodox posek and talmid chacham published a lengthy article on the issue of married women covering their hair.  His objective, for those who actually read the piece, was not to pasken a lenient position or to simply say "Hey, it's okay for married women not to cover their hair".  He noted that there have always been Jewish women who were yirei shamayim and scrupulous in their performance of the mitzvos, although they didn't cover their hair.  The purpose of the article was to explore those legal opinions that might have been the basis for their lack of observance of this important rule.
Was the article flawless?  Of course not, and while I would not dare to criticize Rav Broyde, others in the Modern Orthodox world did, writing rebuttals to point out what they thought were incorrect assertions or weak points in his article.  That's fine, of course.  The proper evolution of halacha is built around scholarly discourse between talmidei chachamim who are together interested in reaching God's truth.  I would even hazard a guess that Rav Broyde was happy that his article generated discussion.
And then there was a response from the Chareidi community of Toronto from Rav Shlomo Miller, the Gadol HaIr if that benighted city could claim to have one.  Rav Miller is well-reknowned for his greater in Torah and his high level of piety.  He commands the respect of much of the Torah-observant community of Toronto.  And he essentially called Rav Broyde a poopy head.
Look at the text of his position.  No "and here's where I disagree" or "clearly Rav Broyde is a learned individual".  Just insult after insult, followed by a "and you're too stupid I'm not going to even bother arguing with you about this" at the end.  This is an appropriate response to Rav Broyde's piece?  This is how a person soaked in piety and middos speaks about a fellow observant Jew?  This is how one responds to a person's attempt to melamed zechus on a portion of the population that might be missing out on an important mitzvah?
But just like the dean of the medical school in my fictional account, there will be no calling him out on this for a few reasons.  One is that Rav Miller is unlikely to spend time talking respectfully with those who are ideologically different that him.  The "yes men" that surround him will only work to reinforce the correctness of his action.  Further, when one's world opinion is based on the underlying assumption that "if you disagree with me you're wrong and I don't have to discuss why", there is little chance for a meeting of minds to occur.
All this has done for me is make me wonder, yet again, where it's written in the Shulchan Aruch (or maybe the Zohar) that wearing a black hat gives one a valid excuse for having no manners or civility.


Michael Sedley said...

There are a number of issues that it seems that the Beit Din in Toronto has gone off the deep end.

Besides this issues, there is Rav Miller's letter on the Slifikin Ban, the appalling manner in which they treat Agunot or work against Women's interests in Gittin, extreme standards of Kashrut, well above what was acceptable in recent years in Toronto.

The problem is that there is only one Beit Din, and no one in the Rabbinic world in Toronto has the authority to stand up to them.

Bartley Kulp said...

Your analogy of the medical forum reminded me of a quote. I have to apologize because I do not remember who said it. "The advancement of science is achieved through funerals". Meaning that a great scientist might hinder new perspectives from younger scientists and the weight of his reputation might shoot down new potentially important ideas.

Garnel Ironheart said...

That was once the model in medicine, Bartley, but over the last 25-30 years the concept of "evidence based medicine" has taken over.
EBM, in its most radical form, postulates that there is no difference between a 1st year resident and a 50th year staff physician. Both have access to the same literature and, theoretically, the same analysis skills so therefore both are equal when it comes to practising medicine.
Of course, there is a value to experience, the "Daas Torah" of the field as it were, which is why EBM is not accepted as the end all and be all of medical approaches but it has changed the whole "You can't say that because Dr X didn't hold that way" attitude.

Dr Mike said...

How do we know that Rabbi Miller even saw Rabbi Broyde's entire piece? Maybe an askan came up to him, showed him a few incriminating selections and said "There's this modernisher rabbi in America who says married women don't have to cover their hair." If that's all Rabbi Miller knew about the situation, might that better explain his reaction?

Bartley Kulp said...

May be not in medicine per say but it might be true in theoretical sciences. Even in the medical field at least in the beginning of the R&D stage. I mean who decides what where money will be spent on potentially valuable research?

Bartley Kulp said...

I thibk the answers to my question would be usually professors in medicine, cytology, organic chemistry, etc... That is where seniority is key and there will be a potential battle of ego don't you think?

Garnel Ironheart said...

> I mean who decides what where money will be spent on potentially valuable research?

The guy that has the money to fund the project of course.

And yes, I do agree that ego is a huge part of science today. Look at how the research around global warming got turned into a quasi-religious struggle with people's work not getting published because it contradicted the pre-ordained dogma. Yes, you're right about that sadly.

Bartley Kulp said...

You can also look at it like this. Albert Einstein who was arguably the most brilliant scientist in history could not stand quantum mechanics because it went against his Spinoza inspired idea of an elegant universe. Quantum mechanics was put forth by by a young team of Danish Scientists. Indeed without using quantum mechanics nuclear fission is impossible. Albert Einstein indeed preached that it was impossible for years.

String theory which is the rage today although it still needs to be proven was rejected by the majority of physicists for decades, because of this business of the universe consisting of 10 dimensions. It was too science fiction for them. String theory was co authored by two young physicists. Of course the theory of relativity itself was initially received with ridicule by older scientists. Besides debunking Sir Isaac Newton this business of space time fabric and the relativity of the space time continuum seemed nothing more than brilliant science fiction. Einstein was only 26 years old when he proposed that one.

My uncle of blessed memory had a degree in mathematical physics from MIT. He worked with computers in the early 50's before there was such a thing as computer science courses. He also did important work for the Boston eye and Ear clinic and was employed by Rathyon for many years. He also invented his own computer language. In the late 90's he admitted to me that he could not wrap his mind around Java. He said that as an old dog he could not be taught new tricks.

Heliocentricity in its time shocking to many. Besides for theological reasons. I wonder how people thought about that proposition. I mean all you have to do is go outside and you can see that we are absolutely still and it is the sun that is moving. Or that the earth being round for that matter. I anywhere you go on earth it seems pretty flat (save the hills and mountains) no?

It's funny people like Dawkins laugh at religious myths because they seem far fetched like the tooth fairy g-d that he likes to ramble about. In his world where we have compressed and expanded time space continuums, 10 dimensions and black holes in the center of galaxies that crush stars to the size of peas and no light can escape, in which you could theoretically see the past and future and there is no time, Indeed it seems that reality is stranger than fiction or myth.

Avraham Avinu was but a wee lad when he came up with his own unified field theorem. It was simple and elegant without all of the science fiction mumbo jumbo. Dawkins is of retirement age and he is still rambling about his theory that the idea of G-d is akin to the tooth fairy. Any rate I am already rambling too much. Cheers!

Rye said...

Thank you so much for this and all the other posts. I wonder if you comprehend how useful your work is, and how much it helps people understand the scope of religious debate. Even if they don't comment!

c said...

Intresting how you subscribe to double standards.Just recently a mo rabbi is blasting away,and he's being cheered by the same crowd who wails when a chareid does the same thing.