Religious Jews find themselves in a very uncomfortable situation. Many of them are living in terror of covid. Their lives revolve around reducing their chances of getting covid at the expense of all else. It's a miserable way to live, and very dubious from a Torah standpoint.
Now they are being pressured from all directions to get injected with something that is being touted as a vaccine. They are being told that it is safe and effective, that they shouldn't believe the "fake news" to the contrary, that the people who suffered horrible "coincidences" and even died shortly after being injected are no cause for concern, covid is far worse anyway, they are endangering others if they don't get injected, and they simply must get injected as soon as possible. The Torah demands it of them.
Their instincts tell them that the government and drug companies do not have their best interests in mind. When has that ever been the case? They know that drug companies wield enormous leverage over politicians and the medical establishment. Corruption is inevitable; only a naive fool would think otherwise. Why would anyone implicitly trust these people with their health and their lives? What have they ever done to earn that trust, and what more could they possibly do to lose it?
But most people are easily manipulated. It takes a person of very strong character and mind to ignore an endless deluge of propaganda and pressure. Most people do not devote themselves to strengthening their character and mind, and even those who do can be worn down. It is a war of attrition. The other side is much better equipped to fight such a war.
Very few people are getting injected with informed consent. Very few people understand the potential benefits and risks, the different options, and have decided that, from a scientific and medical perspective, this is a drug they want in their body. They are counting on people they hope can be trusted to do the dirty work for them and give them good advice.
For most people, this is the medical establishment, the mainstream media, the groupthink of their peer group, and maybe a doctor they personally know. They figure that all these people can't possibly be wrong. Very few of these people are truly informed either, or necessarily trustworthy, which would render their "opinions" worthless. But the notion that the medical establishment has been corrupted, the mainstream media is complicit, their friends are fools, and their doctor has violated his oath is just too much to bear. So most people follow along out of comfort and convenience.
Others remain skeptical until a trusted rabbi, or a cadre of rabbis, reassures them. Surely the rabbis value truth and human life above all else. Surely the rabbis performed due diligence before speaking on the issue. Surely the rabbis are impervious to outside influences and pressures like other mortals. The rabbis work for God and no one else, and God speaks through them. If the rabbis tell them a drug is safe, then safe it must be, and if the rabbis tell people to take it, then take it they must.
The notion that large numbers of rabbis have been manipulated, or corrupted, or lazy, or derelict in their duties, or might steer Jews to harm is just too much to bear. So most religious Jews as well follow along out of comfort and convenience.
This is how an overwhelming number of people have come to ignore their instincts and knowledge of the past. They have come to trust untrustworthy people, because people they trust tell them the pathological liars can be trusted this time. They run to take a drug that they do not understand and do not even want to understand, because it is the comfortable and convenient choice. A year of masks, lockdowns, fear, misery, propaganda, confusion, bullying, and desperation will do that to people. Very few people have a clear head anymore. They just want it to be over with, and they will inject themselves with anything in exchange for a little hope.
Their minds have been damaged and their spirits have been crushed.
The rabbi is the ultimate bulwark for religious Jews. When the truth is unclear, the rabbi is supposed to show us the light. When we are unsure, the rabbi is supposed to give us confidence. Can it be that so many rabbis, including many prominent rabbis, would get it wrong when the stakes are so high? How could such a thing even be possible?
The answer to the first question is, yes, without a doubt. It's happened before, and the results were catastrophic. Here are just a few examples.
The Jews in the desert sent twelve spies to Israel. These were the best of the best: heads of tribes, great rabbis, extremely "religious" Jews. Ten of them became corrupted and told the Jews not to enter the land, while only two remained upright and faithful. It was ten experts against two, ten "leading rabbis" against two. The correct choice was clear: the extreme minority. The Jews followed "the majority of experts" and paid the ultimate price. They were expected to know better, to recognize the truth, and not to be swayed by numbers, credentials, or propaganda.
Korach was a massive talmid chacham, a prince among men. He made brilliant Torah-based arguments against Moshe, and attracted an impressive following. The rest of the nation was unsure of who to follow, even after all Moshe had done for them. How could the average person be expected to decide between these two giants, especially when Korach's movement was sweeping through the masses? The Torah demanded the average person to recognize truth from falsehood, strengthen himself, and separate himself from the trendy new movement. They needed to hear the great rabbis, but then think for themselves and decide for themselves. Those who allowed themselves to get swept up in the hype lost everything.
The vast majority of people who claimed to be prophets were phonies. They misled the Jewish people for hundreds of years, and were one of the main causes of our downfall. These false prophets were not bums on the street. They were knowledgeable, spiritual people who earned a large following and were supported by the establishment. The real prophets struggled mightily to counter their false messages with God's truth. The people were generally swayed by the false prophets – and were held accountable for failing to tell the difference.
In the tragic story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, the great rabbis of the time did everything wrong from start to finish, despite mostly good intentions. The result was the destruction of Jerusalem and the bitter exile in which we still find ourselves.
The vast majority of the "leading rabbis" of Europe urged the Jews to remain there. America was an impure place, Israel was the last place a Jew should go, and everything would be fine if they stayed behind. That didn't turn out too well. These "leading rabbis" led their followers to their doom.
Even one with a basic knowledge of Jewish history will be able to add many more examples. The bottom line is that even "leading rabbis" can be terribly wrong, and the average person is responsible to recognize this, uncomfortable as that may be.
The answer to the second question is that there are many ways rabbis can be wrong.
The Torah warns rabbis not to take bribes of any kind, for it will impair their judgment and corrupt their wisdom. We tend to think of bribes as cash being passed under a table – which happens – but bribery can take many forms. Chazal teach that the spies were corrupted in part because they were afraid of losing their positions when the Jews decentralized in Israel. We must recognize that Diaspora rabbis who discourage aliya have this same conflict of interest, which cannot be underestimated.
Many decades ago my father had a Din Torah. One time as they left the building it was raining, and my father instinctively offered one of the rabbis an umbrella. The rabbi thanked my father and then recused himself from the case.
Rabbis with such integrity are in extremely short supply, and they are not the ones with cushy establishment positions. To believe that rabbis are otherworldly beings who are not susceptible to influences which can corrupt their thinking is a foolish, un-Torah position. The establishment is ruthlessly promoting an experimental vaccine, with unfathomable sums of money at stake, not to mention the sort of power and control we can hardly imagine. How can anyone believe that doctors and rabbis wouldn't be "influenced" in a variety of ways to arrive at a desired conclusion? That is pure madness. This is specifically what the Torah is warning us about.
Even rabbis who do not have an establishment position can be bribed in a variety of ways. They can be promised support for their institutions. They can be promised that the government will give them and their followers special treatment in other areas. They can be threatened as well. The political and medical establishment is not run by God-fearing people. They will do whatever it takes to achieve their goals, and they will get influential rabbis on board however they can.
2. Taking shortcuts
The great Poskim of the previous generation, such as Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, were asked to give rulings on many advances in technology and medicine. These true Gedolim would first become experts on the matter better than the experts. They would examine every angle and know the matter backwards and forwards. They would then apply the appropriate Torah sources (not just pick something out of a hat, as we often see today) and present a clear, logical train of thought to arrive at their conclusion.
Their responsa would become part of the corpus of genuine Torah, which would be studied and analyzed by scholar and layman alike. We would be able to retrace their steps, see how the dots connect, understand their thought process from start to finish, and appreciate the veracity of their conclusion. We would also understand the other sides to the issue and why these poskim decided against other plausible conclusions. When two poskim disagreed we would be able to understand why, and it could be argued in the Beit Midrash in the traditional way. It wasn't dogma; it was real Torah, a living Torah.
Today's "leading rabbis" are providing no such Torah. The typical "analysis" they provide can be distilled to the following:
"Smallpox was very bad and deadly. Smallpox vaccine is very good. Covid is very bad and scary. Therefore covid vaccine is also very good. The only choice is to take the covid vaccine or get covid and die, and kill others as well. Saving lives is good. So take the vaccine, which is also good.
"Let's review: Covid bad. Saving lives good. Listen to doctors. Vaccine good. Everything else bad."
I have written extensively about this in other articles in response to some of their "rulings", which have no value from a Torah or scientific perspective. None of these "rulings" will be seriously studied and debated in the Beit Midrash. They will not become part of the corpus of Torah. They will not age well, and in fact will be a permanent source of shame and infamy for the rabbis who issued these "rulings". Hence, their words carry no weight, and the credibility of these rabbis must be called into question, regardless of their prior credentials.
An expert in any field who makes fundamental errors, or violates the basic principles of his profession, must have his credibility questioned. Rabbis are no different. Even lesser qualified people must recognize these errors and violations, and not be swayed by wayward pronouncements.
Unless someone's list of credentials includes "God Almighty", his words may be challenged, and must stand up to inquiry.
Rabbis often depend on trusted individuals to provide them accurate information on which their rulings will be based. Elderly rabbis in particular tend to rely on a small number of "gatekeepers" to ensure that they are not overwhelmed by the public. Unfortunately, these gatekeepers wield disproportionate control over who is granted access to the rabbis and what information reaches their ears. Needless to say, this power can easily be abused.
We wish to believe that everyone involved has integrity, and that the holiness of the rabbis will prevent any evil from being perpetrated in their name, but that is a fantasy. Videos have shown the handlers of elderly rabbis feeding them entirely one-sided information, asking them leading questions, and prompting the desired "Yes" to their leading question. This is not Torah, yet these videos immediately go viral and are presumed to be unimpeachable.
It is outrageous that this sort of propaganda can be referred to as a Halachic ruling on a life and death matter, which millions of Jews must follow. If rabbis are unable to perform due diligence before issuing a ruling, they should recuse themselves from the matter.
Those who manipulate rabbis in this way are guilty of elder abuse. Most likely someone is greasing their palms as well. Only a fool who doesn't wish to face an ugly reality will deny that this is a real problem.
4. Human nature
Many people tend to forget this, but rabbis are human beings. They are susceptible to the same temptations and shortcomings of everyone else. In fact, Chazal teach us that the greater the man, the greater the temptation. The fact that rabbis have greater knowledge than the average person does not cancel their human nature; it only makes them more dangerous if they fall prey to it.
One of the best historical examples of this is Yochanan Kohen Gadol, who served as the highest spiritual leader of the Jewish people for 80 years before becoming a Sadducee! Surely he took many followers astray with him, who continued to blindly trust him based on his credentials.
This is not an anomaly, but a warning that it can happen to anyone, even the best among us. Yochanan was greater than any man alive today. If he could go bad, it should not surprise us if rabbis today can go bad, too. Knowledge and a past track record guarantee nothing.
5. Following the trend
Just as most people wish to be in the majority and on the "right side" of things, rabbis are susceptible to the same pressure. This is especially true when being on the "wrong side" of public opinion means jeopardizing their position, reputation, livelihood, and more. It is not for nothing that the Torah adjures judges to fear no man, and to recuse themselves from judgment if they are unable to overcome their natural fears.
Cancel culture always existed, but today it is a clear and present danger for all people, every single moment. The overwhelming majority of rabbis who have come out in favor of the "vaccine" have not armed their statements with much substance. They have simply followed the tide and "ruled" that we must do whatever other people tell us. These rabbis have absconded their responsibility to others and used the Torah as a fig leaf, instead of rolling up their sleeves and doing their job.
(On a related note, these cowardly rabbis proclaim that we must "follow the majority of doctors". This is not only incorrect on multiple levels, it is patently absurd. The majority of doctors tell us a man can become a woman any time he feels like it. Must we follow them? If not, why not? They don't tell us.)
They tell us to follow "the majority" of doctors because this is the safest thing for them to say. If they are right, wonderful. If not, the rabbis can later excuse themselves by claiming that they were only following the accepted science of the time. Either way, they're covered.
Why delve into it? Why learn too much and risk having your conscience nag you to take the "wrong" position? Who needs the tzorus? Just trust the doctors. And ignore the fact that most doctors are behaving exactly the same way. They don't need tzorus, either.
6. Erev Rav
This will disturb people more than the previous explanations for why prominent rabbis can mislead the people, but I believe it is very prevalent in our time. Millions of erev rav joined our people when we left Egypt; they significantly outnumbered us, by as many as five to one according to one Midrashic opinion (see Mechilta Chapter 14). These people caused us no shortage of grief, dragging us down from within.
These erev rav procreated as well, and infiltrated our nation. Many of them grew beards and studied Torah, too.
The last Mishna in Sotah teaches that before Moshiach comes, the meeting house of rabbis will become one of prostitution. This is a frequent biblical metaphor for idol worship or otherwise straying from God. There is no doubt that this prediction has come true in our day, as we anticipate the imminent coming of Moshiach.
Therefore, it should not surprise us or even disturb us to see many rabbis, including prominent figures, leading our people astray. It may be due to any of the reasons mentioned previously, and it may well be because the rabbis are actually erev rav. Chazal told us in plain language that this would happen. It is happening now. The level of rabbinic malpractice in our time is so widespread, so extreme, and so clear that this must be it.
We should be grateful to Chazal for warning us about this phenomenon so long ago, allowing us to anticipate it and steel ourselves against it.
May God grant us the wisdom to tell truth from falsehood, and may He destroy the erev rav once and for all.