Questioning the Limits of Rabbinic Authority

One of the most important issues being debated today is the matter of rabbinical authority; nearly every conflict between the Haredi/Hassidic rabbis and the non-Ultra-Orthodox rabbis revolves around one issue: Who has the right to speak for the Jewish people? Historically, every rabbi spoke for his own community;  an attitude of polydoxy prevailed  and each community respected the decisions of the other neighboring city.

Dissent always was and will forever remain an essential feature of rabbinic debate. However, there are rules of etiquette where each opinion must respect but not necessarily agree with the viewpoint of the Other; we must agree to sometimes disagree with one another. Controversies for the sake of Heaven can be passionate, but they must always lead to an attitude of peace among scholars. When debates serve the ego, often the outcome can become ugly and lead to factionalism within the Jewish community. Factionalism is the Original Sin of rabbinical discourse. Creating a consensus is a slow process; no rabbi has the right to rule by fiat alone.

Historically, Jewish law has long recognized the importance for new generations of rabbinical thinkers must occasionally take issue with the decrees established by the earlier rabbinical authorities. This is one of the main reasons why the first generations of Talmudic scholars deliberately left certain critical case studies in the Talmud remain unresolved, so that the future generations might come to their own conclusions. Minority viewpoints are always important because sometimes the circumstances of the future may require that a minority view become the appropriate law for its time. Rabbinical law is not inherently static, it is flexidox and not purely “orthodox.” Continue reading “Questioning the Limits of Rabbinic Authority”