Jewish Journal


November 3, 2010

Modern Orthodoxy and Rabbinic Authority – Rabbi Barry Gelman


Rabbi Benny Lau has written an impassioned plea for education towards independent thought within the Religious Zionist / Modern Orthodox community. He criticizes blind obedience to Torah sages. Such obedience e, Rabbi Lau argues, leads to a “culture of dependency and submission.” This, in turn, represses independent thought and personal freedom.

I agree with Rabbi Lau’s overall contentions. I offer three points in response.

There is no denying that Orthodox Judaism does call for a degree of surrendering personal autonomy. We mustn’t leave our children with the impression that “anything goes” as long as they arrive at their conclusions with clear thinking.
The arguments made by Rabbi Lau supporting a culture of argumentation both in the times of our early sages and in contemporary times, are related to arguments by Rabbis who were well versed in Torah. We must be careful that Rabbi Lau’s call for independent thinking not degenerate into a situation where Torah scholarship is not recognized as the key factor in halachik argumentation. I seems like an obvious point but, often in the Modern Orthodox community,  Torah scholarship and the Halachik process are not valued as much as they should be.  While scholars should not be deified, as pointed out by Rabbi Lau, our community must find a happy medium between appreciation of learning and scholarship on the one hand and deification of Rabbis on the other hand.
The Religious Zionist / Modern Orthodox Community must work on developing top flight poskim who have the scholarship needed to be widely accepted (no one gets universal acceptance) and an appreciation of the importance of fostering independent thinking. I have wondered about a mode of Psak wherein Poskim offeria range of acceptable options to any given question along with the reasoning to allow for the questioner to feel more empowered in the process.
All in all, I agree wholeheartedly with Rabbi Lau’s sentiments, however, the community he is speaking to both in America and Israel, need to be cautious about these points.

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