Events in the last twenty-four hours have caused my inherent uncertainties about life in Israel to resurface. This afternoon I attended the mass demonstration [peaceful and orderly, thank God] in support of the parents from Emanuel who were sentenced to jail terms for contempt of court in refusing to re-enroll their daughters in the local Beis Yaakov as per the decision of the Israeli Supreme Court. My conflicts began as I made my way toward Rechov Yirmiyahu where the rally was to take place. I passed a young man wearing a knitted kippah, holding a placard that read “sinat chinam” (needless hatred). I asked him to whom he was referring and he answered, “the demonstrators.” The early afternoon sun was brutally hot, so it was critical that I try hard not to loose my cool. I calmly asked him, “Do you really feel qualified to make that kind of accusation against Rav Elyashiv and Rav Aron Leib Shteinman?” Noticing his perplexed demeanor, I walked away, wondering why he did not understand what I wanted from him.So according to Rabbi Landesman, if you thought, or your Rabbi thought that this Immanuel issue highlighted the issue of discrimination, which Rabbi Landesman admits is rampant throughout the Charaidi world, you are going against Rav Elyashiv and Rav Shteinman and how is that possible?!?! Apparently, Rav Elyashiv and Rav Shteinman do not just know Torah better than anyone else, but they understands discrimination better than anyone else.
However, that is not what makes this comment so absurd in my mind. Yes, people can argue that Rav Elyashiv and Rav Shteinman are the final authority on anything that come out of their mouths. This is, in fact, why the whole Rabbi Slifkin controversy took place. However, ignoring that and even admitting that the Gedolim are infallible, Rabbi Landesman has a problem. He asks this "young man" are you qualified to say the opinion of Rav Elyashiv and Rav Shteinman is Sinaat Chinam. However, Rav Landesman says in the very next paragraph,
"Permit me to share my feelings and fears with you. As a caveat, I am convinced by evidence that I have personally witnessed through the years that there is a great deal of prejudice within the Ashkenazi Torah world against Sefaradim."This itself goes against Rav Elyashiv, as conveyed by his Gabbai:
"After that Rav Elyashiv's gabbai spoke, followed by Rav David Batzri, a sephardi mekubel. In his speech he said that there has never been any discrimination against Sephardim amongst Torah Observant Jews. All Torah Observant Jews learn the Rambam together with Tosfos, the Beis Yosef with the Rema, the Arizal with Baal HaTanya, and the Mishnah Brurah together with the Ben Ish Chai. He said that discrimination against Sephardim was introduced by the Secular Zionists when they took the yaldei teheran and cut off their peyot and forced upon them the gods of secularism." (Found here)
However, maybe there is an excuse for Rabbi Landesman, he just didn't know Rav Elyashiv held this way and would be willing to change his mind and admit Sephardim have never been discriminated against had he only known this was the opinion of Rav Elyashiv. That is a possibility.
Getting back to the deeper point, the belief that a Rav understands matters that have nothing to do with Gemorah knowledge better than anyone else. I was not raised to think that a Rav's word is similar to the word of G-D. I have been raised to follow the traditions of Judaism. Regular Jews should not be making up halacha, but following the traditions that have withstood the ages. I am a big believer in this idea that, although everyone should be involved with asking questions, learning Torah and coming up with ideas, before coming to any conclusions a Rav should be consulted. For example, a regular Jew that decides to research the Aniskakis worm controversy should do so. This person should come up with their own insights and ideas. However, the psak halacha should always be consulted with that person's Rabbi. Does he need to just ask and receive an answer? No. However, he should enter into a conversation with the Rabbi and express his views and ask the Rabbi if they are valid or not and the Rabbi should be able to answer the questions. Ultimately, the Rabbi decides the halacha within the parameters of the tradition.
However, in matters of science, where the Rabbi knows much less than some others, why would anyone consult the Rabbi? For example, I want to understand how gravity works, should I consult my Rabbi? Doesn't that idea sound ridiculous? So, the Rabbi is the last word on halacha, but what about other things? Should a person having psychological issues go to his or her Rabbi for help or should they go to a psychologist who is trained to help people with these disorders? Here, in the case of Emanuel, who is equipped to understand the situation best? Is it Rav Elyashiv and Rav Shteinman? It could be that a Charaidi person better understands the situation best merely for the fact that there are more Charaidim living in Emanuel than anyone else. Maybe this young man came from Eilat and just heard the Charaidim are protesting and he decided to counter protest. However, it is possible that this young man research the case and its intricacies much more than anyone else and came to the conclusion that this is based on the discrimination that Rabbi Landesman ADMITS TO EXISTING in the Charaidi world. Therefore, by Rabbi Landesman's own admission, this young man "is qualified" to disagree with Rav Elyashiv and Rav Shteinman.
Also, I would not say that Rav Elyashiv and Rav Shteinman are showing Sinaat Chinam (baseless hatred) here. I believe that Rav Elyashiv and Rav Shteinamn were not basing their views on the discrimination. I in no way think Rav Elyashiv and Rav Shteinman are pro the discrimination that exists throughout Israel against Sephardim. However, I think they were told the situation by someone who wanted them to be pro the rally. In order to do that it was probably presented as religious Jews being persecuted by the non-religious state. Therefore, I think the question of Rabbi Landesman, that the young man was calling Rav Elyashiv and Rav Shteinman haters, does not make sense.
However, let's just say Rav Elyashiv and Rav Shteinman, ch'v, were pro the discrimination against Sephardim. Is there any precedence for Rabbi's to err and make the wrong choices? Does anyone recall the burning of the Rambam's books? There were several great Rabbonim that took place in this horrific act. They were great scholars, but erred in how to deal with that situation. This is not my opinion, but many great Rabbis of that generation and subsequent generations admit to this mistake.
Nevertheless, I think that, as a religious Jew, it is an unfortunate thing that Israel is not governed by religious law. Do I think if the government was run by the Charaidim it would be better? No. I wish we had a righteous king that did not have any bias against fellow Jews and could govern, using the Torah, justly and fairly. Hopefully, the Moshiach will come soon and put an end to all this bickering.