Abraham Lincoln said “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” A recent series of articles and reports in a variety of media outlets suggests that some of the people are beginning to no longer accept what is being fed to them as penultimate truth. Here are just two examples.
MK Dov Lipman, writing here, in the Times of Israel responded to the Haredi columnist Jonathan Rosenblum by accusing Mr. Rosenblum of telling “fifteen falsehoods” about the MK, his religious position, legal and political activities, even his personal beliefs. I read Rabbi Lipman’s response not so much as an indictment of the Rosenblum allegations as being simple fabrications but more as a defense against a rigid worldview that could allow such an intense diatribe, without, according to Rabbi Lippman, any evidence, or worse, evidence to the contrary. An attempt at the public spiritual hanging of the MK was thwarted his very public response.
Similarly, in the Five Towns Jewish Times Barry Jacobson responded to a group of American Rabbis who held a public meeting to discuss the Haredi IDF conscription issue. In this article entitled The Mesorah of Chesed (http://5tjt.com/the-mesorah-of-chesed-2/#comment-55384) Jacobson politely but firmly calls the Rabbis to task for their blanket negativity and misrepresentation toward the idea of a Haredi tailored conscription or national service program as well as the Rabbis lack of compassion toward what the State of Israel has accomplished, continues to accomplish and does for all Jews, regardless of their particular level of spirituality or belief; Again an honest public discussion of a difficult issue.
It is refreshing to see Haredi trained individuals take issue openly on such important points. It is, after all, the rabbinic tradition to debate. Virtually every single Halacha/Law has at least one footnote, a point of disagreement between the parties as to how the law should be interpreted or practiced. The disputes are always “For the Sake of Heaven” but still they are very public and openly discussed and most of all, highly respected.
I admit my historical knowledge may be limited but I believe that this concept of Debate for the Sake of Heaven has come seriously undone only in the last few decades. Of course, there have been strident positions taken and rigid reactions to groups that practice differently for the millennium. But in reading history and also discussing much of what occurred in Europe before the war with the people who lived and survived, there was never the idea that it was appropriate to excoriate individuals. Jews always protected Jews. Even in the U.S. about 40 years ago when a reporter from the New York Times asked the Satmar Rebbe why there was conflict between Satmar and Chabad/Lubavitch the Rebbe responded that it is an argument in the family, and family arguments are not discussed in public. There were always individuals who acted in a disgraceful fashion but that was not the major trend. The harshness of debate was set aside for private discussion while a respectful deliberation occurred in public; all that seems to have changed.
Some may think that my understanding of this complex situation is naive, and it just might be, but as someone who also attended a Hareidi yeshiva after high school, and had debates about similar issues in the Beis Midrash I feel comfortable saying – we are the ones at fault. We have allowed our leaders both religious and spiritual to take on a much broader cast than they deserve. They are no longer just the cream of the religious crop; we have allowed them to become our saviors. In a chapter taken from the psychological concept of pluralistic ignorance where individually we know that something is very wrong but publicly we just follow what appears to be the direction of the crowd, very few individuals have stepped up to question some of these self appointed leaders. To the contrary, if they look the part we give them authority without questioning their knowledge, training or background. We have been lying to ourselves and by virtue of doing nothing have given these leaders the power to lie to us.
I have seen and been involved in situations where self appointed religious leaders have been consulted regarding psychological or medical treatment and they have given the wrong advice. Of course this is not new but I do believe it has become much more commonplace in the last two to three decades. Prior to that, when an individual consulted a rabbinic leader on these types of issues the rabbi would typically contact the specialist. This is currently a rarity. We are still reading about far too many cases in which untrained rabbis, even now and in spite of all we know, want to make the decision about whether or not a person can or should report a child molester to the proper authorities. Some of us are even giving a very public forum to American based rabbis to pressure the Government of Israel on issues that they have no expertise about.
I do not know Dov Lipman or Barry Jacobson but I do admire their willingness to not be misdirected, lied about or lied to, along with their push for honest debate and openness. It is something we should all aspire to.