2004 Response to article
Chananya Weissman
Five Towns Jewish Times

I'm disappointed, though hardly surprised, that several readers reacted to my recent article with instinctive cries of "emunas chachamim!", "respect for Rabbanim!", and "respect for Chazal!". The only surprise is that "Da'as Torah!" for once went unmentioned.

The Torah demands that we follow our religious leaders even if their rulings appear to us illogical or are otherwise difficult to follow. Yet the same Torah demands that we recognize error even in those greater than us and not to be misled. What an awesome, terrifying responsibility! What high stakes are involved! But that is God's law, to find a proper balance between the chaos of every person doing as he pleases and an abrogation of our responsibility to think for ourselves and recognize right from wrong even where those greater than us have failed.

Many thousands of well-meaning Jews and many dozens of well-meaning Rabbonim infatuate themselves with technical halachic details - which I do not mean to minimize - but overlook social ramifications and general guiding principles which impact halacha very significantly, especially in cases of doubt. With all the questions asked regarding whether certain wigs should or should not be worn, should or should not be burned, how many people asked whether it would be bal tashchis to burn a wig of questionable status? How many people concerned themselves with the laughingstock that we have become in the eyes of non-Jews and our secular brethren, and not entirely for bad reason? How many people asked a shayla about the shalom bayis ramifications of burning an expensive shaitel for questionable reasons? God Himself demands that we erase His name for shalom bayis, yet we don't think twice before burning a prized possession of our women to supposedly sanctify that same name.

I have emuna in Chazal, who were deeply concerned with financial burdens being placed on the community. Yet today we pay for multiple kashrus certifications, even unnecessary kashrus certifications. We pay for certification on products that if ingested would put our lives in danger. And we pay not only in money but in divisiveness that is rooted as much in politics as in interpretation of halacha. I have emuna that Chazal would not allow the price of any product to be raised a single penny without clear and definite halachic justification. I have emuna that Chazal would not require letters of approbation attesting to the trustworthiness of your fully observant neighbor who sells shaitels. Chazal granted your fully observant neighbor a Chezkas Kashrus, which you, certain Rabbonim, and certain enterprising businessmen would call into question without due cause. Who shall I follow? Who must I follow? If I am forced to choose between emuna in Chazal and emuna in contemporary Jewish practice, I will choose the former every time, even if it is an unpopular choice.

My article may disturb and offend you, but I did little more than present the facts as they are. If "emunas chachamim" to you means that someone else will decide for you whether the brim of your hat is up or down, you are no more qualified to defend Rabbonim than I am to question them. You may challenge my opinions, but not my right, nay, obligation, to form and express them. For, most of all, I have emuna that Chazal welcomed and encouraged insights from even the lowliest of men. They more than anyone would shudder at the monolithic Judaism of today, which destroys individuality and punishes those who fail to conform to the minutest of social expectations.

May God save us from ourselves.

Chananya Weissman