Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Good Heavens!

One of the things that I think we really ought to adopt from society around us is the culture of questioning facts. Our system of learning discourages genuine questioning, but facts are not svorres (logical contortions in talmud), they can and must be verified before any judgements can be passed on any issue. This applies just as much to a kosher certification as to a person’s reputation in the face of gossip.

Sex, it is said, is unlike justice in that it does not have to be seen to be done. Puns aside, there is profundity in the implication that unless justice is seen to be done one cannot assume that it has. The issue of accountability is not one that comes up very often where the Beth Din (rabbinical courts) is concerned yet it should. In a court system where there is no right of appeal and no forced accountability it is more than likely that abuses will occur.

Shaitelgate is proof enough that the methods of research leave much to be desired. What bothers me more though is the lack of any sense of obligation by the Rabbinate to justify their decisions, even when they affect the lives and livelihoods of countless people who might not even have accepted their jurisdiction. The Rabbinic courts however are still models of rectitude when compared to some of the Rebbishe houses of today.

The tradition of going to a Rebbe for advice is as old as chassidus itself. In times of trouble a chassid would travel to his Rebbe and spill his troubled heart out. The Rebbe, in his infinite wisdom, would let slip some pearls of wisdom and, if necessary, rearrange the forces in heaven and hey presto all problems were solved. I am in no position to judge whether that still works today but I am sure that many still believe it does and I have no reason to deny those believers the comfort they derive from it.

I personally first became a little sceptical about the supernatural powers of the Rebbes when I went to visit mine many years back and he asked me what Masiach thought.
To say I was surprised puts it mildly. I mumbled a vague answer that I hoped sounded enigmatic enough to sound profound to Tzaddik who was on speaking terms with The Messiah. The moment I left the room I made a beeline to one of those in the know to ask what he could possibly have meant. I was given various interpretations of this mystical message and admit that I did feel honoured and special for while to be singled out by the Rebbe for my insights into the spiritual planes. It was only a couple of years later, when I discovered that in fact he had confused me with somebody else who was still childless then and was being treated by a man named Dr. Mashiach, that it all clicked.

It is possible that my very devout friends are right and it is not what the Rebbe thinks he means that is important but I what I think he means. I will admit that that story did have a profound effect on me and my behaviour at the time and it is possible that God wanted that. I do believe though that God may be used as a guide but not as an excuse. The laws of slander and libel should, nay must, apply to Rebbes, if not equally to mere mortals then more so. It is all very well to listen to a troubled heart and assure him that all will be well but when the actions or behaviour of others are part of the equation it can be the height of irresponsibility to pass any form of judgment without having heard another side to a story.

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