Sunday, January 23, 2005

More on Trusting Gedolim

One of the common refrains of the Chareidi world, and one which is being repeatedly mentioned now due to the Slifkin controversy is "The gedolim have spoken, and the gedolim are to be trusted." I've written a bit about why I myself don't personally trust the gedolim. But I really need to ask these people who are calling for that trust, "Why do you trust the gedolim?"

In Stephen Covey's bestseller, "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People", the author writes about the concept of an "Emotional Bank Account" (pg 188). I'm going to paraphrase a bit:

We all know what a financial bank account is. We make deposits into it and build up a reserve from which we can make withdrawals when we need to. An Emotional Bank Account is a metaphor that describes the amount of trust that's been built up in a relationship.
If I make deposits into an Emotional Bank Account with you through courtesy, kindness, honesty, keeping my commitments to you, and other trust-building behaviors, I build up a reserve. Your trust toward me becomes higher, and I can call upon that trust many times if I need to. I can even make mistakes, and that trust level, that emotional reserve, will compensate for it. When the account balance is high, there is confidence in each other, reliance, and most obviously trust.
But if I have a habit of showing discourtesy, disrespect, overreacting, ignoring your concerns, becoming arbitrary, betraying your trust, threatening you, or playing little tin god in your life, eventually my Emotional Bank Account is overdrawn. The account is depleted. The trust level gets very low.
If a large reserve of trust is not sustained by continuous deposits, a relationship will eventually deteriorate. Previously high amounts of trust can not be relied on for new withdrawals. And if the trust isn't there now, does it make sense to act as if it is?
I understand that you trust the gedolim. I once did too. I too was told how truly great and wise they are. I believed it all. I trusted them. Just like you do. I was taught that everything they do is for our best. That nothing they do is for their own interests. That all their decisions are fair, honest, proper, kind, just, and most of all, according to the Torah. Comparing it to the analogy of the bank account, I had a tremendous reserve of trust for the gedolim.

On a rare occasion, I would notice something that didn't seem right to me. Sometimes I heard about an incident which didn't seem so fair or honest. But confident that the gedolim wouldn't ever do anything unfair or less than honest, I brushed it aside and kept my faith strong. To return to the metaphor, a small withdrawal of trust was made, but it was more than amply covered by my reserve.

However, I started learning of other things regarding our gedolim which continued to make larger and larger demands on my trust. Apparently, sometimes they do overlook things when it suits their purposes. It seems they don't have solutions for many of the problems in their society. Rumor has it that some of them made some really dumb mistakes over the years. Many bits and pieces of information passed my way that cast doubt on the towering greatness of these figures. As I encountered these challenges, for the most part they were met with strong skepticism. After all, I was taught well: "The gedolim are to be trusted, and it's not our place to question them." That huge reserve of trust was pushed forward and presented to cover all these slight depletions.

But the demands kept piling up. I found myself deducting from that trust more and more and instead of concrete deposits of trust, all I was given in exchange by those representatives of the gedolim were hollow promises of, "They're the gedolim. They'll pay you back. Just trust them. You'll see." And I continued to do so. I continued to give them my trust. Long after the account was empty, I still managed to scrounge around, sell off parts of my good sense to raise the capital, and again rely on what they told me. But eventually, I realized that I could keep up the sham no longer. I had nothing left to give them. Pretending to give them trust that I no longer had was just idiotic.

Ok, enough with the bank account metaphor. I think I got a bit carried away there. But I really need to ask you, all of you who continue to trust the gedolim, Why? Why do you continue to have confidence in them? It doesn't make any sense. You're not blind to all their indiscretions, are you? How can you disregard it all? How can you continuously respond to any insinuation against their integrity with an equanimous, "They are the gedolim. It's not our place to question them." You continue to ignore all the mounting evidence that your confidence is misplaced. Why?

You say you trust them, but this is not real trust. Real trust is earned. It needs to be maintained, nurtured, and cultivated. When a person is loyal to some ideal, even when there is no rational basis for it, I believe a more fitting term for that behavior is blind faith. Is that what is expected of a frum Jew? To have blind faith in these leaders? To check in one's own good sense at the front door, and just follow along because that's what "trusting the gedolim" means?

From what I am constantly hearing, I can only assume that you all believe that is so. That despite all evidence to the contrary, the gedolim must always continue to be trusted. They must not be challenged, questioned, or held accountable. And of course, they must never be defied. We must continue to place our confidence in their decisions, no matter how wrong they seem to us. Well, if this is what you believe, all I can say is, Enjoy your Judaism. I want no part in this mindless cult. If I'm wrong though, then please explain to me what the hell is going on. Because I just don't get it.


Anonymous said...

I think there are two points to be raised.

1) (not really germane directly to the post) Who are 'The Gedolim'. 20-30 rabbonim, hardly all of the rabbonim in the world, "signed" (or are said to) the ban. But why are they the only gedolim, what about everyone else?

2) This is the more important split:
Politics are involved. I believe that a lot of what is said "in the name of" a 70-80 year old gadol is not really what he says or thinks. It is well known that R. Goldvicht of YU does not allow people to record Q&A sessions precisely because words can be taken out of context. Suddenly he'll have said something he never said.

I think the discussion should be (and perhaps an investigation of the phenomena) a) who are the mouthpieces of these gedolim b) what do these rabbonim really hold (ie tape it and let's listen to it).


Anonymous said...

Mr. Hedyot (by the way, permit me to mention an interesting linguistic aside - don't take it personally - namely, do know that the word hediyot is linguistically related to the word idiot ?) -

You make some good points in your posting.

However, most of what you say applies mostly or exclusively to some of the extreme right wing and less educated and intelligent types (and not even all of them) - who are basically the types involved in this ban. Not all right wing orthodox (Rabbis and laity) are like that.

Also, not all 'gedolim' are equal.

To use a baseball metaphor, perhaps all the signatories of the ban are major leaguers. But there are major leaguers who bat .260, there are stars that bat .325, and there are superstars who bat .390.

Also, someone may be a great pitcher but a very poor batter. So one godol could be an expert in gemara, but poor in halocho, Jewish thought/philosophy, Jewish history and reconciling Torah and science. If he is very weak in science and doesn't know English, we could say that he is perhaps not a godol for a situation like R. Slifkin's books. Just like Willie Mays wasn't a hall of fame pitcher and Cy Young wasn't a champion hitter.

So the point is, that if they are out of their specialty, they may sometimes be in 'over their head'and off the mark. But that doesn't mean that they are always wrong. As long as they stick to their areas of expertise, we have to treat what they say with some deference - though we are allowed to ask legitimate and reasonable questions if we have Torah sources backing us up.

Let's not throw out the baby with the bath water, just because some may have erred at times.

Someone who bats .400 in baseball is a great hitter - even though he gets hits less than half of the time.

Must all gedolim have a batting average of 1.000 always for you to respect their opinions ?

Let's have some middle ground here.

Michael Feldstein said...

That's exactly part of the problem...most people feel that the gedolim they trust are infallible, and are batting 1.000. (I think Rav Moshe holds the record for most shailos answered in a single season. As Rav Casey Stengel once said, "You can look it up!")

The Hedyot said...

It is well known that R. Goldvicht of YU does not allow people to record Q&A sessions precisely because words can be taken out of context. Suddenly he'll have said something he never said.This doesn't seem to make sense. If he had a recording of what was said than he would be able to counter any false claims that may arise. It's only when there is no clear record of a speech that rumors of who said what can occur. How can something be taken out of context when the full context can be presented?

The Hedyot said...

Most of what you say applies mostly or exclusively to some of the extreme right wing and less educated and intelligent types...Not all right wing orthodox (Rabbis and laity) are like that.Unfortunately, these types are taking over Orthodox Judaism. They are convincing the religious world that thinking like this is required. Not subscribing to these views is heresy. You're right that not all rabbis are like that. But those who aren't are an increasingly shrinking minority.

I agree with the rest of your points too, that if they have an area of expertise we can respect their opinion in that realm without it neccessarily having to do with other areas. But this is not how these gedolim (or their supporters) view it. According to them, we have to buy into the whole package, because they always know what's best, in all areas, in all situations, and for all people. That's what having Da'as Torah means. Trusting the gedolim means full and total trust, according to them.

The Hedyot said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I have had my fair share of letzonus ( so now I will say something in their defence.

I think the real situation here is that the Gedolim are totally sheltered from reality. They are surrounded by handlers / bodyguards / shamoshim whatever you want to call them. You can't just pick up a phone and give them a call, or drop them an email. Slifkin tried to get to speak to them but hew was unable to. Their view of things is as presented to them by their handlers (or other gedolim). I don't think they are bad people, maybe they are a bit naive though. The real problem is their handlers.

Michael Feldstein said...

Their view of things is as presented to them by their handlers (or other gedolim). I don't think they are bad people, maybe they are a bit naive though. The real problem is their handlers.

Sorry, but that's not a good excuse. If a gadol is willing to put his name to a ban on a book, he must take responsibility for the consequences and stand by his words, regardless of whether he was pushed into this decision by his handlers. And we have every right to hold these gedolim accountable for their actions.

Anonymous said...

What do you mean "totally sheltered from reality"? Assuming they are so great this is a contradiction in terms.

Anonymous said...

What do you mean "totally sheltered from reality"? Assuming they are so great this is a contradiction in terms.

The Hedyot said...

Yes, it's a contradiction to use both those terms, but any person using either one of them isn't abiding by both concepts. That is to say, the person who feels they're so great obviously doesn't agree that they're sheltered from reality, and those who think they are, don't think that the gedolim are so great.

Mis-nagid said...

You're making a critical error. They're not asking you to trust the gedolim, they're asking you to have faith in the gedolim.

faith: Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.

It doesn't matter how much evidence you collect that contradicts the infallibility hypothesis, and more than it would matter if you collect evidence against the Sinai legend. They have faith in their leadership, and nothing will change their minds. Trust can be revoked on the ground of new evidence; faith is not rational to begin with, and is thus impervious to your protests.

Anonymous said...

"infallibility hypothesis" - you've missed something, Mis-nagid. It's a certainty, not a hypothesis. Just like the Pope, the Gedolim are infallible, and just like Jesus, Schneerson rose from the dead.


I think this crowd needs to see

The Hedyot said...

Mis-Nagid -

I think you're making a worthy point. But let's step back a moment: Why does someone initially choose to put blind faith in someone (or some ideal)? Isn't there a beginning point of trust? At that formative point, when the person chose to blindly have faith in that enterprise, wasn't it due to their feeling they can trust this idea, or person, or whatever, enough to have blind faith in them? Doesn't it all start with trust?

PS - I'm going to post this also over by your blog, so keep the replies there.

And if you think not, then what is it? What makes a person place their full and total confidence in someone if not trust?

Anonymous said...

Who is a Gadol in the first place?
People say all these Gedolim say stuff, but most of the time they aren't gedolim at all. A Gadol is not the head of a community or a yeshiva. A Gadol is someone who has earned the trust of the majority of the Jewish people, either through their extensive knowledge or for their FAIR interpretations. That is a gadol.

Anonymous said...

For a more sane approach to Emunas Chachamim, check out this article:

by Rav Nachum Eliezer Rabinovitch, Rosh Yeshiva of the hesder yeshiva in Ma'aleh Adumim.


sambor_un-rebbi said...

The concept of what a "Gadol" is, and the overall view of "daas torah" as opposed to what I believe is the more traditional concept of a true community and the rav/rebbi/posek for that community is what is fundamental to the discussion here. In the context of a true community, there is constant interaction between the rav/rebbi/posek and the members of the community. In the sense of Trust and trust/faith that Hedyot started the discussion on, this interaction serves to replenish the account, in his model. If a authority figure has an issue with the actions / opinions etc of a member of the community, you have the catalyst of their proximity to try and resolve it.

I think we have a major issue today, fueled by the very technological advancements that many of the Chareidi world are unsure how to come to terms with, that an individual who is not directly connected to any community, or only a small self-contained community, can be making decisions and setting directions that many in the Chareidi world feel is binding on them, and therefore on all of "torah-true" judaism. And any who disagree, by the very definition of the terms, are not "torah-true" and have no "emunas chachomim".

Avrum said...

Regarding J I's comment, rabbi Nachum Rabinowitz is one of the Gedolim who have issued the death sentence aginst Yitzhak Rabin. Learning anything from this criminal could be a wrong move.

Isaac, Translate This! said...

Hedyot, the flaw I find in your post is that you don't enumerate the "withdrawals" that the Gedolim have made from the "EBA" they have with you. Could another way of looking at this be that the Gedolim have not made sufficient "deposits" to that EBA for you to trust them?

The Hedyot said...

Isaac -

Of course I enumerated the withdrawls that I've felt the gedolim took out of my "account of trust". I even mentioned in the beginning of this post that I've written about it in the past. Please see my post of "Trusting Those I don't Trust" ( for details about my own feeling of why I don't trust the so-called gedolim.

Shlomo said...

I remember sitting at a particular Rebbe's tisch when I was 13. This Rebbe (who shall remain anonymous) recited a little dvar torah regarding ahavas yisroel and then proceeded shake hands with everyone around the tisch. Not a problem, except that his hand was wrapped in a handkerchief. Apparently, the Yidden he loves so deeply still aren't kosher enough to touch.

Another time, I attended a mussar shmooze delivered by a well-known Litvisher Rov. He began and ended his little tirade with "Shver Tzu zeyn a Yid." I immediately wondered to myself how it possible that he should know this, considering that he never held a real job, earned enormous sums of money, and had a krias yam suf performed for him everywhere he went.

I have never wondered what people think of the Gedolim, but I have learned over time to know what the Gedolim think of us.

Yehoshua said...

I've seen a strong letter that was sent to the gedolim, and posted at

Anonymous said...

Avrum said...
Regarding J I's comment, rabbi Nachum Rabinowitz is one of the Gedolim who have issued the death sentence aginst Yitzhak Rabin. Learning anything from this criminal could be a wrong move.

1:05 PM, February 02, 2005

Sorry to post so late after the fact (anybody out there still?) but this is terrible lashon hara. R' Rabinovitch is not a criminal but a highly regarded rabbi in Israel - for example, he was on the Neeman committee ergarding conversions - and of course was not convicted or even put on trial for any crime. Perhaps, since he is so sane, political enemies like to spread lies and LR about him...