Monday, January 22, 2007

Bas Kol, Part Two

Where do we go from here? For nearly 2500 (yes, two thousand five hundred) years, the system has not changed. If anything, it's become worse!

Here is the Bas Kol Story:

The Gemara relates the following episode. There was a dispute between R' Eliezer and the chachamim, regarding taharos (what is considered spiritually pure or impure). R' Eliezer ruled that the matter under discussion was tahor, pure, while the majority opinion was that it was tamei (impure). Even though R' Eliezer brought many proofs that the halacha follows his view, nevertheless the chachamim did not accept them. He then proceeded to alter the course of nature to convince the Sages. He said 'Let this carob tree, water canal and the walls of the Beis Medrash (study hall) prove I am right.' Immediately the carob tree was uprooted one hundred amos (cubits), (some say four hundred cubits). The water began to flow backwards, and the walls of the Beis Medrash began to lean. All this did not faze the Rabbis, and they responded that one cannot prove that he is correct from supernatural phenomena. For since R' Eliezer was a tzaddik, his request would have been fulfilled even if he was wrong. Finally, R' Eliezer said 'Let the Heavens prove that I am right.' A Bas Kol (Heavenly echo) then proclaimed 'Why are you arguing with R' Eliezer? The halacha always follows his opinion.' R' Eliezer had apparently proved his case. Yet, the Chachamim stood their ground. R' Yehoshua declared 'It (the Torah) is not in Heaven (Devarim 30:12). We do not listen to a Bas Kol because at Har Sinai we received the Torah and it is written, "According to the majority the matter shall be decided." (Shemos 23:2). Therefore the Rabbis who were the majority ruled that it is tamei and the halacha follows their opinion.

The Gemara concludes that Eliyahu Hanavi told R' Nassan that when R' Yehoshua ignored the Bas Kol, Hashem laughed and said: "My children were victorious over Me." The Chinuch explains that in truth, R' Eliezer was right, as the Bas Kol had demonstrated. However, since the chachamim were in and the majority and they did not agree with R' Eliezer's reasoning, the Torah's own clause dictated their right to override the truth. Thus the truth was defeated.

When the Gemara tells this story, and when we read it, it glorifies the power of the Jewish people, specifically the Rabbis, the dictate Halacha, while at the same time saying God has no place dictating Halacha. Again - the quote of "Lo Bashamayim He" - It [the Torah] is not in heaven, is taken out of context. As I mentioned in a previous post, when read in context, this possuk means that Torah is accessible to all, not in heaven, not far away. Everyone can learn, to the best of their ability. It has nothing to do with God not being allowed to dictate Halacha! In fact, if God does not dictate Halacha, WHO DOES?!?! Didn't God WRITE the Torah? Is he not the one who said "Anochi Hashem Elokecha," as well as the rest of the 613 Mitzvos? Further, if we all say the Chachamim were Divinely inspired - how much more Divine Inspiration can one ask for than a Bas Kol booming down from Heaven declaring the halacha is like Rabbi Eliezer?!

Karl Marx, in his 1843 book, Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, said a very famous quote, one shunned and ridiculed by many religious people of all walks: "Religion is the opium of the people," though this quote is commonly translated as: "Religion is the opiate of the masses." This has been the excuse in Orthodox Judaism for centuries now! Let the rabbis do the deciding and thinking for us and we will follow like robots. As long as the rabbis say it is correct or incorrect, we just follow instructions and take the thinking entirely out of the process. Don't believe me? Check out this link, where I got an ok translation of the Rabbi Eliezer story mentioned above:

But I don't think the original, earlier Chachamim had this in mind. I really believe that just as they changed the system established by the Nevi'im, a generation far greater their own, we also need to change the system. Orthodox Judaism, Torah Judaism, is not meant, and never was meant to be a burden. It was meant to be a moral way of life that God himself established for us at Har Sinai. And when times changed, the Torah, which is true Emes, should have been able to adapt to new times. I don't mean that the Torah itself should have changed, chas veshalom. I do mean that so much of the oral law needed, and still needs, to change!

In the 18th century, the Jews in Europe were emancipated. They were finally allowed to live and prosper in certain regions in Europe, especially Germany and France. Things were changing. But the Rabbinic leadership steadfastly refused to change anything, to allow people to live in the real world. They insisted people stay in the oppressive ghettos and live as they had always lived. Along came Moses Mendelssohn, a frum Jew from the day he was born to the day he died, and said changes were necessary. He scoffed at, and still is considered today in the Orthodox world to be the father of Reform Judaism. Frankly, I think if Mendelssohn had seen the Reform Movement, he'd have decried it as not Judaism in any way. But he planted the idea for a need for reform. The Rabbinic leadership of the time said absolutely not. Many Orthodox Jews and Rabbis today love to use him as the prime example of why there should be no changes. After all, you can see how wrong he was because he has no Jewish descendants! Of nine grandchildren, according to, eight were baptized as Christians.

"Look!" they love to exclaim. "He was wrong and the proof is that he has no Jewish descendants!"

I say: "Look! He was right! Look what happened when the leadership rigidly and completely refused to adapt the system to new ways of life! He was right and the proof is that he has no Jewish descendants!" And at the end of the day, have we not adapted to living in the culture in which we live? We live in comfortable homes, many in expensive neighborhoods, or at least the more expensive neighborhoods in any given city (which goes back to the needing to be rich to be frum point I made in an earlier post), most have two cars, several children, go to a gym, play sports, go to movies, coffee shops, and ice cream parlors, we have restaurants, many of them, in every major Jewish community, some even rivaling traif restaurants in quality, as told to me by friends who have eaten in fancy traif restaurants. We have pizza shops, candy stores, bagel shops (ok, that's mostly Jewish anyway!:), huge kosher only supermarkets, and great schools with secular education programs that are often at the top of the best of list in many states!

Next: Bas Kol - Conlusion.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Bas Kol - Part One: a Brief History of Ancient Jewish Leadership

A little history lesson:

God gives Torah to Moshe and Bnai Yisrael. During Moshe's lifetime, Jews follow Torah (with a few notable exceptions) - they had strong centralized leadership that kept them on the (pardon the cliché) straight and narrow. The same applied for the lifetime of Yehoshua Bin Nun. Then trouble started to happen. There was about a three and fifty year period during which the Jews kept falling off the bandwagon of Torah observance, falling into the trap of Avodah Zara and various other nasties. Each time they fell, we see there was no real leadership at the time. Then, they would get in trouble, God would send them a leader to bail them out and set them back on the Torah path, and things were good for a while. This happened several times, until Shmuel Hanavi came along, a powerful Shofet who once again set the Jews straight and kept them there. The Jews then asked for centralized leadership again, a king who, if he followed Torah dictates, would not be a sovereign dictator but an example of how a Jew should be and act.

So God, somewhat upset that the Jews can't get their act together without having to resort to needing a king, says "sure, you can have a king," and gives them Shaul, a young, and at the time, pious, humble, and shy man who would lead the Jewish army to what should have been a final, decisive battle against Amalek, where Amalek would be forever wiped out, thus bringing about Yemos Hamashiach and an end to all tribulations. This turned out to be a whopping failure as Shaul left Agag, the Amalekite king, alive, giving him time to sire a son whose descendant would be Haman. Oops. Of course, we did get Purim out of this!:) We also got a Holocaust out of it, too.

King, take two: Dovid Hamelech! This one worked! He conquered the land, fought off the Philistines with absolute finality, and he showed us he was human with human failings. However with all those failings, failings he was able to admit he had within him, he was still able to lead the Jewish people, show us what a great man can do, wrote/compiled Tehillim (he didn't write them all), and even aspired to build the Bais Hamikdash, having chosen the spot where it would eventually stand. His successor, Shlomo, completed the job and brought the Jewish people to an unprecedented era of peace and prosperity.

Next came Rechavam, Shlomo's son, who wouldn't let up on taxes, cheesed off the ten tribes, and drove them away. Yeravam ben Nevat became the first king of the ten tribes, and in a brilliant, though corrupt, political move, set up golden calves and told the ten tribes they no longer had to go up to Yerushalayim, thus spiraling the ten tribes into a downward decline of avodah zara and various other sins, a decline from which they would never recover and which would to the eventual golus and disappearance from history of those ten tribes. As soon as the Jews were told you don't have to do the Torah thing anymore, they went off and did what they wanted, despite so many warnings from so many Nevi'im, the most prominent of them being Eliyahu Hanavi.

The Davidic dynasty did fair better for a while, and there were shining moments of Torah Renaissance (Chizkiyahu and Yoshiyahu specifically). But eventually, this too failed, as the kings did not perform their duties as being shining examples of how a Jew should act. Some were outright idol worshippers who had the nation worshipping idols, while others were Torah observant but completely useless, allowing the two tribes to continue about their merry, idol worshipping ways. Finally, the Bais Hamikdash was destroyed, followed by a seventy-year golus to Bavel (now a lovely garden spot known as Iraq).

There is a Medrash that says when the Jews returned to Eretz Yisrael, the leaders captured the Yetzer Hara and blinded him to prevent him from ever tempting the Jews to commit sins like Avoda Zara. I have no idea what this Medrash means, as the Yetzer Hara, also known as Satan, has still managed to do a pretty good job at temptation. I think what really happened was the Jews grew up and realized how stupid idol worship actually is. This did not stop the Yetzer Hara from tempting Jews with other types of Aveiras, as we will see.

Next, along came the Knesses Hagedola, the Great Assembly, established by the last of the Prophets, Ezra Hasofer and Nechemia, the precursor to the Tanaic period, and began to set up guidelines. These guidelines would be expanded and expounded upon by the Tanaim, the first of whom was the last member of the Knesses Hagedola, Shimon Hatzadik. The Tanaim began the Mishnaic period, when major Halacha would be decided, many would argue with one another, and mostly, if not always, the Halacha would follow the majority. The Anshei Knesses Hagedola and the Tanaim began what we today as Torah She'be'al Peh - the Oral Torah/Tradition - Mesorah - the major reason many today tout as the excuse to do or not to do something, though it is conveniently forgotten when it becomes, well inconvenient (anybody ever wonder why turkey is considered kosher? There is no Mesorah for it whatsoever!). Most of these guidelines, later written down by Rabbi Yehudah Hanassi, the last of the Tanaim, were, as it says in the very first Mishnah in Maseches Brachos, "Kedai Le'harchik es Ha'adam Min Ha'Aveira" - to distance a person from committing a sin or (as is the actual case discussed in that first Mishnah) to make sure a person follows Torah Halacha, like saying Shema at the proper time.

I believe, for the most part, at least at first, Chazal had the right idea - let's prevent the tragedy and travesty of the era of the first Bais Hamikdash from happening again. They came in, saw the system the Nevi'im, people many orders of magnitude greater than the Chachamim (after all, they spoke to God!!), had set up was not working, and set up a new system, a system of oral tradition the core purpose of which was to keep the Jews on a Torah path. Did it work? To some extent, it certainly did. Jews historically have never really been interested in idol worship after the destruction of the first Bais Hamikdash. So, in a sense, I guess the Satan was "blinded" - prevented from causing Jews to worship idols anymore.

But did the new system work? Again, in some aspects, it certainly worked, but not in most. People still went around shucking off Ol Malchus Shamayim when the opportunity came along, as was the case with Hellenism. People began hating others needlessly, without cause or provocation, the classic reason of the why the second Bais Hamikdash was destroyed, as illustrated by the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza. Many groups splintered off from the "rabbinic mainstream," saying the rabbis had no right to dictate halacha not found in the Torah, the most famous of these groups being the Sadducees, Essenes, and the Christians (unfortunately, we all know where that went!). Could these developments have been avoided? Yes. If the rabbis had sat down with these groups instead of dismissing them out of hand, talked through the issues and came to agreements, perhaps many of these developments could have been avoided. Instead of pioneering a new system, as they had done hundreds of years earlier, they decided this was the only system possible and no one could change it. No one.

The lesson we're supposed to take from this: Chachamim decide Halacha. This stems, as I mentioned in an earlier post, from the often misquoted Possuk in Shoftim about following the psak of the shofet, a possuk often used to assert the complete control Gedolim, past and present, have exerted over decreeing what is the halacha, even though that possuk specifically talks about a Din Torah, not a carte blanche to do whatever any self proclaimed "Gadol" wants to do.

Next: Part Two of Bas Kol

Friday, January 05, 2007

"Ki Karov Eilecha Hadavar Meod..." - Why is it so difficult and costly to be a frum Jew?

Devarim 30:11-14: For this commandment which I have commanded you today is not hidden from you and it is not distant. It is not in heaven [for you] to say 'who can ascend to the heavens for us and take it for us so we may listen to it and perform it [the mitzvahs]?' Nor is it on the other side of the sea [for us] to say 'who will cross the sea and so we may listen to it and perform it [the mitzvahs]?' Rather, the matter is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to do it [keep the Torah and Mitzvahs.

Ki Karov Eilecha Hadavar Meod - It is very close to us, easily accessible.

Moshe Rabeinu is leaving us a message: It's easy to keep the Torah and be a Halachah observant Jew. It's not pie in the sky (pardon the rhyming cliche) and it's not impossible to learn and do. It's close, easy, and not a burden. This is not to say some areas aren't more difficult than other. Of course they are! That's why the Torah provided for Shoftim and Batei Dinim.

So what happened?! Who went and took all the joy out of being frum? "What do you mean?", many will ask.

The cost of kosher food is astronomical, especially meat, dairy, and anything produced in or for a "kosher" factory (Liebers, Paskez, etc.). Jews live in the most expensive neighborhoods, forcing even those who can't afford to live in the more affluent neighborhoods to live there if they want to be part of a community, especially on Shabbos and Yom Tov. For Pesach, the price of a five pound bag of Domino sugar at the kosher stores magically costs $4.99 just because it has an OKp on it, though it's interesting to note that the supermarkets sell the same sugar year round, including for Pesach (with and OKp on it all year round), for about $2.75. When I confronted a store owner about prices, his answer to me was "do you want to buy the store?" I haven't been in there since.

Ki Karov Eilecha - It should be accessible, but being frum, unless you have a really good income, puts you in hock! Then there's the expense of giving your children a Torah education! Not only do we have to pay taxes to support the public school system, we also have to pay astronomical tuition to give our kids a good education. And let me tell you, many of the Jewish schools' educations stink. I've been to some of them as a student. They really stink!

Ki Karov Eilecha - I grew up Lubavitch and got turned off to it for many reasons, primary of which was when the Rebbe advocated Ahavas Yisrael, many Lubavitchers took that to mean Ahavas Yisrael only for other Lubavitchers, people they were with whom they were working to get them to be frum, and anyone with lots of money to give away. As the son of neither a rich person, a rabbi, or a shaliach, I was considered persono non grata by my rabbeim and schoolmates, nearly all of whom met at least one of the above criteria. Not so easy!

Ki Karov Eilecha - Why am I paying nearly $1200 in rent every month when the same house in many other neighborhoods in this city, good neighborhoods, would only cost about $400 or $500 per month in rent?

Ki Karov Eilecha - Why do I go out for dinner, why do I pay $25 for about five or six bites (no joke!) of lamb chop? Why does is the price of kosher meat in general at least three times the price of non kosher meat? I can understand a bit more, fifty cents or a dollar, but almost $4.00 a pound for chicken breasts instead of $1.20 for non kosher?!?! That's highway robbery! It does not cost that much more to produce kosher meat and poultry. It just doesn't!!

Ki Karov Eilecha - Why is it that when looking for a job, one must be afraid to mention that one must leave early on Friday afternoons for a three or four month stretch? My wife didn't get hired for a job because of this!

Ki Karov Eilecha - I really don't understand this. Where is the joy of keeping Torah and Mitzvahs properly without having to sell your firstborn to afford to feed him? I mean this seriously. As I mentioned in the previous post, my wife and I are deeply in debt, in large part because of a decision to follow someone's advice who at the end of the day had no place giving such bad advice.

Ki Karov Eilecha - where did it go wrong? When did it become such a burden to be a halacha following Jew? Don't get me wrong: I believe in Torah, in Hashem, in Yiddishkeit. I just don't believe this is what God intended. How could he have? There is a concept in Torah of having accurate weights when selling goods. I believe this also extends to charging fair prices for goods. It really bothers me when I stand in line at the supermarket and the person in front of me is buying groceries similar to mine and paying about a third of the price.

Ki Karov Eilecha - It's supposed to be easy! Not by rote, but also not so difficult that every time you go shopping you have to think to yourself - is this really worth it? This is not the message of Ki Karov Eilecha. I truly believe that if Moshe Rabbeinu showed up in 2007, he would look around at the Jewish communities and say "Hashem! What happened to the Jews? I thought they would survive the generations? Where did they go?!" He would not recognize us because this is not the Jewish nation he envisioned.

Ki Karov Eilecha - Where are the Rabbanim who are supposed to be watching over all this? Many of them are Mashgichim running Kosher Mafias around the country, causing part of the problem of the high prices of food and education. And truthfully, how much does Hashgacha really work? In Monsey, NY, a butcher operating for nine years was caught after who knows how long selling treif meat. At kosher prices, much less!! There's an old saying - Who Guards the Guardians? Well, who Mashgiach's the Mashgichim?

Good Shabbos!

Next up: Bas Kol - the Fracturing of Judaism.

P.S. If there are any typos, please forgive me.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Rabbis Need to Start Advising Responsibly

Here is a big issue: Rabbis who do not advise responsibly. While making the choice to follow a rabbi's advice is solely in the purview of the person seeking that advice, rabbis, knowing many will follow their advice unquestioningly, need to learn to advise responsibly, especially in a "frum" society in which not following your rav's advice is practically considered an aveira, or at the very least, very bad mojo.

There was a time when I, like many, followed a rabbi blindly, unquestioningly, and was considered to be his closest talmid. I told him I wanted to go back to Yeshiva (this was while I was still single). He sent me to his Yeshiva. I spent two years there, learned a lot. Then, at the beginning of the third year, I got married. Before the wedding, my future wife and I went to this rabbi with financial concerns about me being in yeshiva. Where would the income come from when my wife had a baby? How would we be able to afford living on one income? His answer: "Have Emunah and Bitachon. Somehow, my wife and I got by. I don't know how we made it, but we did." Great! We went, despite my wife's reservations. (By the way, the rabbi and his wife got by because both her parents and his mother supported them! He just didn't know it.)

Well, I learned the hard way that Emunah and Bitachon are sometimes just not enough. We didn't have parents who could afford to pay our way. I took a job at a new high school in the same location where I spent my first year in Yeshiva (a branch of the main yeshiva). I was supposed to be paid about $6,000 for the semester. I got paid $3,000. The head of the school never actually paid me the other half of what he owed me. Ever. He found himself a way out of it! Great way for a guy in a black hat and suit to act, huh?

Well, came June of that year. My wife was due in August. I called my rabbi and told him were needed to come back home so I could go to work. He gave me a long argument about he is hesistant to allow me to leave a Makom Torah. I explained to him that once my wife had the baby, I wouldn't be in Yeshiva anyway as I would be working and therefore, it would not really be a Makom Torah for me. We went round and round until he finally had me call the Rosh Kollel, who, after hearing what was going on, basically said "What the heck are you still doing here?!" Look at that, someone in the Yeshiva world with common sense.

A series of events continued to unfold over the next five years that have led us to the present, where we are terribly in debt and in great resentment. It all traces back to the advice this rabbi gave. It was bad advice. Rabbis do not know everything, and this person's ego wouldn't allow him to tell me in the first place to go get a job and be a responsible adult. His ego would have been damamged if his star student dropped out of yeshiva before getting semicha. Guess what? My wife and I believe this person a complete fool. I finally walked out of his shul one shabbos and never came back when he called me a Choteh Plili.

Now, was it my reponsibility when I made the decision to go back? Yes. I accept that responsibility. I'm a thinking human being who decided not to think something through. However, knowing I would follow and advice he gave, this rabbi should have known better, put his ego aside, and give proper advice, not based on his emotions or his ego, but based on facts and concerns of the party to whom he is imparting that advice. Just because something worked for him, doesn't mean it'll work for someone else.

This person's Rosh Yeshiva was once asked why bochurim had to go through so many years of learning to get semicha and go out to be a rabbi of a shul or do kiruv. His answer: "When a person goes through four years of medical school, and assorted years of internship and residency, and then you put a scalpel in his hand, he is called a surgeon. When a person doesn't and you put a scalpel in his hand, he is called a butcher. The same goes for being a rabbi and doing kiruv. You have to know what you are doing, otherwise a person just ends up a butcher of souls." A beautiful saying, except that this yeshiva has ceased teaching its talmidim how to be surgeons and is sending out butchers in droves! of the over 250 people I know there, I only know of one who really took his learning to heart, internalized his Torah, and truly came out a Ben-Torah, Yarei Shamayim, and a surgeon. One person. The rest are butchers. It's unfortunate, but true.


Next up: "Ki Karov Eilecha Hadavar Meod..." - Why is it so difficult and costly t be a frum Jew?

Lo Sasur Yamin O Smol

Well, it's been quite a while since I last posted, and I am sorry for that. It's been a bit busy, especially with my son's school giving way to much vacation (although, I remember when we had vacation and it was NEVER enough!:), and my daughter giving up one of her two naps and causing general mayhem, chaos, and destruction!;)

The Possuk in Yehoshua (1:7) says: "Just be strong and very courageous to observe and do in accordance with all the Torah that Moses my servant has commanded you. Therefore, do not stray right or left in order that you will succeed in wherever you go." God gave this commandment to Yehoshua, a commandment presumably applicable to us all. After all, if Yehoshua, who was but the moon to Moshe's sun, had to be commanded to be careful about not straying one way or another, does this not apply to all the rest of us as well?

We always hear complaints from those further to the right on the religion scale (you know, those more religious that others...) about how awful it is when people go "off the derech" or about people who just aren't "frum" or not "as" frum as they. Many of these people like to think of themselves as Chareidim, or Ultra Orthodox, which apparently makes the rest of us not as frum! Does this mean we don't keep Halacha? Personally, when someone asks me "What are you?", I usually answer "I'm a halacha following Jew." People love to niche, and people who keep more chumras than others think they are more "frum" than others.

However, the possuk doens't just say "do not stray to the left." It says "do not stray right or left," placing right before left, perhaps hinting to us that deviating to the right might even be worse than straying to the left! Unfortunatlely, it's often more difficult to look at someone wearing a black hat and say that person has strayed than it is to look at a Jew who is driving on shabbos and say "that person isn't frum!" But one has to learn to look beneath the top layer and see what is underneath. Does the person wearing the black hat treat his fellow Jew with love and respect? Personally, I've met many more people who wouldn't be considered "frum" who treat others with much greater respect than many black-hat-wearing rabbis who look down from their holier-than-thou pedestals and basically believe "those" people have no part in Olam Haba. Or who look down from their pedestals and decide not to pay their employees on time, if at all (but that's a different story).

In Judaism, we have a concept of not making the permissable, well, not permissable, just as we are not supposed to make that which is not permissable, well, permissable. This is a two way street: Lo Sosur Yamin O Smol - do not stray right or left.

Along these lines, my wife and I have come across a related concept that has been the topic of many discussions:

There is a posuk in the Devarim (4:2) that says: "Do not add to the what I have commanded you and do not detract (or subtract - same thing) from it..." Rashi comment on this possuk and says "for instance [do not] add a fifth species to [the mitzvah of] Lulav or a fifth fringe of Tzitzis, and, as well, do not dectract." In other words - don't add Chumrahs. Don't make the muttar ossur. I heard a joke once:

Dialogue while Moses is at the top of Sinai.

G-d: And remember Moses, in the laws of keeping Kosher, never cook a calf
in its mother's milk. It is cruel.

Moses: Ohhhhhh! So you are saying we should never eat milk and meat

G: No, what I'm saying is, never cook a calf in its mother's milk, its

M: Oh, What you are really saying is we should wait six hours after
eating meat to eat milk so the two are not in our stomachs.

G: No, Moses, what I'm saying is, don't cook a calf in it's mother's
milk, Its cruel!!!

M: Oh, Lord! Please don't strike me down for my stupidity! What you
mean is we should have a separate set of dishes for milk and separate set
for meat and if we make a mistake we have to bury that dish outside....

G: Moses, do whatever the heck you want.......

Obviously, this is an extreme. We all do firmly believe in the reasoning behind the posuk of "Do not cook a kid in its mother's milk" being repeated three times in the Torah - once not to cook them together, once not to eat it, once not to have benefit of any kind from it.

Here's what's interesting: There is another possuk in Devarim (17:11) that says something very similar: "According to the Torah they [the shofet, cohen, wise man] teach you and according to the judgement they tell you, you will do; you will not deviate from the word right or left." Sounds like it says Chachamim have carte blanche to say anything they tell you to do you have to do. This specific possuk is the one always quoted by the right wing, which they use to claim that everything a Gadol says, goes. However, like the right wing, missionary Christians, they quote this possuk out of context. This possuk cannot be read by itself. It must be read with the verses preceding it (17:8-13):

"If a matter arises which is too hard for you to judge, between degrees of guilt for bloodshed, between one judgment or another, or between one punishment or another, matters of controversy within your gates, then you shall arise and go up to the place which the Lord your God chooses. And you shall come to the priests, the Levites, and to the judge there in those days, and inquire of them; they shall pronounce upon you the sentence of judgment. You shall do according to the sentence which they pronounce upon you in that place which the Lord chooses. And you shall be careful to do according to all that they order you. According to the sentence of the law in which they instruct you, according to the judgment which they tell you, you shall do; you shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left from the sentence which they pronounce upon you. Now the man who acts presumptuously and will not heed the priest who stands to minister there before the Lord your God, or the judge, that man shall die. So you shall put away the evil from Israel. And all the people shall hear and fear, and no longer act presumptuously."

This possuk of listening to the Shoftim (judges), when read in context, takes on a completely different meaning! It's talking about going to a Din Torah when you yourself don't know what to do! This does not give anyone carte blanche to decide things. It is very clearly the basis of Hilchos Dayanim (Choshen Mishpat), which very specifically state that a Dayan really needs to know what he's doing when handing down a Psak Din and that a Dayan will judge based on the Torah he teaches - Al Pi HaTorah Asher Yorucha. There need to be logical reasons from the Torah explaining why a Dayan is handing down a specific Psak Din. Unfortunately, the first possuk I quoted above (Devarim 4:2) is never quoted by this party because that might actually say something like: "Hey, you don't have carte blanche to decide halacha anyway you like." Unfortunately, so many "Gedolim," be they of modern times or of old, believe differently because it gives them control and so many people follow them blindly, not taking any responsibility for themselves. It's almost like what Karl Marx said about religion being the opiate of the masses - let someone else think for me and tell me what to do. This is a terrible state of affairs in which so many purportedly "frum" Jews find themselves.

Next Up: Rabbis Need to Start Advising Responsibly, "Ki Karov Eilecha Hadavar Meod...," and Bas Kol...