Monday, October 21, 2013


Making Authority

Rabbi Josh Yuter in The Jewish Press:
I first heard the term “gadolatry” attributed to the late professor Arthur Hertzberg. A portmanteau of “gadol” and “idolatry,” the word “gadolatry” refers to a perceived phenomenon in Orthodox Judaism where select rabbinic leaders are treated with a degree of deference or reverence, bordering on worshipping the person of the rabbi himself. That Dr. Hertzberg would coin such an inflammatory term is not surprising given his personality, such that reactions offense or outrage are as intentional as they are predictable. However, it has been my experience that those strong passions on either side have turned the reasonable question of the role of the gadol in Judaism into the single greatest impediment to intelligent religious discourse in the Orthodox Jewish community.

While I have no expectations of resolving this divisive issue, I do hope to explicate the rationales implied when one invokes a gadol, and why others may find such an argument unconvincing.

In order to participate in an intelligible or meaningful debate, opposing sides must accept certain mutually agreed upon assumptions or premises relevant to the discussion at hand. This prerequisite can be particularly challenging in religious debates where the logical foundations are not based in empirical fact as much as one’s subjective faith, though such statements of faith are often presented as fact. Thus if only one side assumes an idea as a religious truism, the conversation will quickly deteriorate into personal attacks on the other’s religious integrity.
In non-Yiddish terms, we might call this the "cult of personality." We do not decide what's right or true, but rather who. In doing so we fail to realize that all of us are, at some point fallible. It is also a form of intellectual and spiritual laziness, we do not have to worry about being right, we just outsource it.

I seem to be witnessing this more and more these days. And it is frightening. What was it Paul said?
1 Cor 1:11-16 - For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe's people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, "I am of Paul," and "I of Apollos," and "I of Cephas," and "I of Christ." Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one would say you were baptized in my name.
But this is deeper than just division. When we choose who is "best" in this fashion we ignore the fact that Christ came to make us best. We ignore the fact that WE, each of us individual;ly, is calld to be true and right and made blameless by Christ.

I wonder if you are really willing to step up to the plate?


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