Do Rabbis Rule Without Hearing Both Sides?

Gedolims’ Edicts and Mishpachah

A while back, in a post entitled The Gedolim’s Authority is Tested, I wrote about the ban on Mishpacha magazine by various Gedolim. Things have gotten more heated lately, with the Israeli Yated publishing a very sharp letter, signed by Rav Elyashiv, against Mishpacha.

Mishpacha’s response included the following gem:

“While we are not privy to all that’s going on behind the scenes, we highly doubt the authenticity of this letter. Anyone who has ever attended a Yeshiva knows that a posek cannot and does not issue a ruling, much less a ban, unless he is presented with both sides of the story and carefully weighs the evidence before he issues a ruling. We know for a fact that this procedure was not followed in this case, since not one person from Mishpacha’s Hebrew staff was summoned to Maran Rav Elyashiv’s home to explain their side of the story.”

It’s extremely similar to my own response, drafted with the help of an experienced posek, which I sent to the zealots who were threatening to publicize a ban on my books:

“…it is inconceivable that anyone, especially Gedolim, would condemn someone without meeting and talking with them. I am ready to meet with these Gedolim at their convenience and to hear what their objections are, and to discuss the matter fully. I am certainly willing to retract from anything in which I am proven wrong or mistaken, and kal v’chomer if I am proven to have written something that goes against the fundamentals of emunah, chas v’shalom. Surely to condemn someone without meeting them goes against both the spirit and the letter of Torah and Shulchan Aruch, and would be an unbelievable chilul Hashem befarhesya, and will be widely recognized as such…”

Mishpacha goes one step further and says that because it’s so inconceivable that Rav Elyashiv would sign without hearing their side, his signature is suspect.

I have no idea whether the signature is genuine or not. But I assume that Mishpacha is well aware that Rav Elyashiv does indeed frequently sign off on such things without listening to the other side. Yet it is nevertheless true that a posek should never do such a thing. I have heard people claim, in the case of my own books, that there is no reason for a posek/ Gadol to meet with the author, since he can just read the book. But that could only be even suggested if the posek were to entirely initiate proceedings himself after reading the book/ magazine of his own accord. In these cases, he is presented with select parts of the publications, along with the all-important arguments of the zealots as to why the publication is so terrible. Since he is hearing arguments from one side, in person, he must also hear arguments from the person whose publication is being judged, in person.

Unfortunately I have heard an abundance of stories of Rav Elyashiv issuing “Daas Torah” after only hearing one side. Rav Nosson Kamenetzky’s experiences are well-known. And a neighbor of mine told me about how his child was kicked out of school after the menahel consulted Rav Elyashiv. My neighbor went to Rav Elyashiv’s gatekeeper, who did not want to let him in. My neighbor said, “Dinei nefashos b’tzad echad?” The gatekeeper paled and let him in. The child was reinstated to the school.

Mishpacha, I’m sure, knows such stories only too well. When they say that a posek not only cannot issue a ruling without hearing both sides, but does not, this is not the case and they know it. I don’t expect Mishpacha to do an expose on the abuse of rabbinic authority with the Daas Torah system; in fact I am admiring their strategy. They are pointing out that to exercise rabbinic authority in such a way is absolutely wrong, without explicitly castigating those who do so.

It’s amazing that there are still so many people who believe in the Charedi system of rabbinic authority and Daas Torah. But my impression is that the number of such people is steadily shrinking.

From Rationalist Judaism, here.

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