Wednesday, February 13, 2013

When It's Time To Step Down

One should not have a Torah leader who is too old. He's not going to have the necessary sensitivity for the job.

Such is the position of Rambam, in Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Sanhedrin 2:3:

 אין מעמידין בכל סנהדרין לא זקן מופלג בשנים ולא סריס, מפני שיש בהן אכזרייות.

Other reasons for this halachah can be added. As I once wrote in a post entitled Strength in Leadership, leaders must have a certain degree of vigor, in order to be able to be in control, and to be perceived that way. In the post, I speculated that the current problems of weakness in charedi leadership are a result of modern medicine prolonging the lives of people who lack the strength to lead.

It turns out that in the wake of the Pope's resignation, others are making the same point:
Joseph Curran, professor of religious studies at Misericordia University in Dallas, Pennsylvania, said the modern medicine prolonging the life of people had posed difficulties for institutions whose leaders usually rule for life.
"His resignation is a tremendous act of humility and generosity," he said. "A man who lives up a position of authority because he can no longer adequately exercise that authority, and does so for the good of the Church, is setting a wonderful example," he said.
It's good that the pope recognizes this. Apparently, papal infallibility helps him realize that he is all too fallible.

This in turn reminds me of an interesting observation that someone once made. Charedi Judaism does not claim infallibility for its leaders, but in practice never admits to their being wrong. The church, on the other hand, does claim infallibility for its leaders, but in practice they have shown themselves ready to admit being wrong!

(Hat tip: Michapeset)

22 comments:

  1. Papal infallibility is only when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church--check out wikipedia.

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  2. You are correct to focus on the decline of strength with aging. But probably more important is that virtually all individuals over 80, especially, over 90 suffer some sorts of mental declines. Not necessarily global but of some sort.

    I know the Tchebiner Rav refused to pasken after age 70. He continued to teach but not to pasken.

    I am told but am unable to confirm that the chasam sofer did the same.

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  3. Sorry to toot my own horn here, but when the Lubavitcher Rebbe reached age 70, someone suggested that the Rebbe start relinquishing some of his responsibilities, just as people retire after a certain age. The Rebbe responded, "I have things planned for the next 10 years, the next 20 years, and even after that!"

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  4. Is it only top haredi leaders whose followers never admit they could have been wrong?

    Is that something one sees, for instance, amongst disciples of the Rav (other than those who, like Dovid Hartman, had beforehand placed themselves outside the camp)?

    (For that matter, have any of Hartman's close disciples, in the wake of his passing, said that he - Hartman -- had been mistaken in some respects?)

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  5. Yehuda P., right and everything worke dout great with Chabad.

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  6. Rav Yakov Kamenetsky stopped paskening shailos in his early eighties because he felt his memory wasn't what it used to be.

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  7. The Catholic Encyclopedia -- published a century ago when the Church was much less tolerant of dissent than it is today -- contains many articles critical of past popes. For example, Pope John VIII (11th century) "was a disgrace to the Chair of Peter." Pope Alexander VI (a.k.a. Rodrigo Borgia, Pope from 1492 to 1503) "continued as Pope the manner of life that had disgraced his cardinalate". Pope John XII (10th century) was " a coarse, immoral man, whose life was such that the Lateran was spoken of as a brothel, and the moral corruption in Rome became the subject of general odium".

    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/

    P.S. Great to have seen you at the Bridge Shul last Sunday!

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  8. Rambam's statement only applies to judges who have Tora authority (as opposed to governmental/royal power) to impose corporal and capital punishment. In such cases there are many procedural rules to protect innocent defendants.Moreover, Rambam does not give a specific age limit, only that he may not be "extremely old".
    There are no restrictions on the age of religious leaders and many continued to serve until well beyond the life expectancy of even our time (e.g. see Moed Katan 28a that Rav Hisda lived until92 and presumably was still teaching).

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  9. "Is it only top haredi leaders whose followers never admit they could have been wrong?

    Is that something one sees, for instance, amongst disciples of the Rav (other than those who, like Dovid Hartman, had beforehand placed themselves outside the camp)?

    (For that matter, have any of Hartman's close disciples, in the wake of his passing, said that he - Hartman -- had been mistaken in some respects?)"

    More so for those who have already passed a long time ago.

    You will find people who won't say that Rashi or Rambam was ever wrong on a topic. Or even Einstein and Newton.

    It's human nature to not claim that others who are looked up to on authority are not wrong about anything. And in general, it's probably the correct thing to do in regards to derech eretz. You don't claim that So and so is wrong, instead you claim that the other guy is correct.

    Leave it certain Jews to try to teach things from the Pope...

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  10. Or even Einstein and Newton.

    I've never heard of anyone refusing to say that they were wrong on certain things.

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  11. Re: "Leave it to certain Jews to try to teach things from the Pope..."

    איזה הוא חכם--הלמד מכל אדם

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  12. Can I suggest in the spirit of v'nahafuch hu that you write one post that only has positive things regarding others (= chareidim). It's depressing to me that it seems you can only focus on the negative.
    Thanks

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  13. BSD wrote, "right and everything worked out great with Chabad."

    Well, I can attest that the chaos in Chabad started only after the Rebbe's first stroke, in 5752. The Rebbe was 70 in 5732--the Rebbe accomplished quite a bit in those last 20 years that he was healthy, and it would have been a shame if he would have "retired" as suggested.

    The Rebbe's secretary, Leibl Groner, related that the Rebbe wanted to tell him what to do "after 120". (I don't know how old the Rebbe was at the time.) Rabbi Groner said he didn't want the Rebbe to speak of it, because speaking about it might somehow make it come to pass. The Rebbe responded, "If you don't want me to tell you, I won't force you to hear it."

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  14. Speeaking here as someone who is known as being a student of the Rav, I would like to say that my articles about him, while generally appreciative, have never hesirated to be repectfully critical where I thoghut it was warranted. More toi the point, many imes on the blogs, I have sharply criticized his famous attack in 1975 on Rabbi Rackman, arguing that he, the Rav, improperly stretched the meaning of the phrase "machish magiddeha" in the Rambam.

    Lawrence Kaplan

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  15. Papal infallibility is a new doctrine, dating only to the end of the 19th century. Before that, the Pope was the actual ruler of Rome and the surrounding territories. With the Risorgimento and the establishment of the nation-state of Italy, Papal temporal authority was confined to the Vatican. The doctrine of infallibility was a reaction to the Pope's loss of power.

    It seems to me that a similar phenomenon has happened in the Haredi world. In the autonomous (or semi-autonomous) k'hillot of pre-enlightenment Europe, the community rav actually had a lot of power, as posek and judge. Once the k'hillot were dissolved and all temporal power devolved to the state, rabbis faced a similar (in kind if not degree) loss of power. In Modern Orthodoxy, Conservative and Reform, rabbis redefined themselves as preachers and teachers, much like the role of Christian clergy. In the Haredi world, the rav/rebbe became like the modern Pope-someone whose word on spiritual matters (which could be very broadly defined) is not to be questioned.

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  16. Don't let Shimon Peres see this post. He might think you're referring to him.

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  17. Quality post. One can see this problem in federal judges who are appointed for life. (A bi-partisan reality.)

    Of course, you cannot ask charedi Gedoilim to step down, because most of them have never actually been appointed to anything. You can't step down from nothing. As for organizations like the Agudah or Badatz, I'm not sure their adherents see the same flaws in their own elderly leaders that you do.

    As for the claim that it is not just charedim who never admit error - there is some degree of truth to that, HOWEVER. In no other groups are leaders claimed to have the exagerated, all-knowing knowledge and abilities in all walks of life as Charedi leaders are said to possess. It is not surprising, therefore, that some people (and it is only some) refuse to acknowledge mistakes in their specialized niches where they claim expertise. Moreover, non charedi rabbis never claim and are never claimed to be infallible, so they dont really have to admit errors of judgment.

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  18. The problem with some poskim of recent or not so recent vintage is not so much old age, but a disposition to treat halachic questions as a book, i.e., academic exercise. I refer to the clear lack of empathy shown, or any observed interest in finding a leniency. Such a personality can be anticipated to only become more rigid with age. What are needed are leading poskim of the caliber of Rav Moshe Feinstein or Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. Unfortunately such personalities combining outstanding scholarship and personality traits are hard to find.

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  19. Pliny said,"Don't let Shimon Peres see this post. He might think you're referring to him."

    That's funny--I just saw a cartoon in which Shimon Peres is reading the headline about the Pope's resignation. He then says, "Maybe I can try for that position in Rome, once I finish my term." (or something to that effect)

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  20. Continuing DF's point, the criticism should probably directed at the Charedi community (beginning with the 2nd tier of leadership, such as the average Rosh Yeshiva of a decent-sized yeshiva) rather than at the octogenarian+ leaders themselves.

    it's hard to step down from something you were never formally appointed to. The community just needs to grow up and realize that Moshe Rabeinu was the exception - לא כהתה עינו.... - and to stop looking to 95-year olds for leadership and pretending, when they pass to the Olam Ha'Emes, that they were irreplaceable (as actual leaders) until the moment they died.

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  21. I wholeheartedly agree that Chareidi leaders (or their handlers, unfortunately) too often are given massive power when they are too old to use it. However, I strongly disagree with your last statement about the Catholic Church's ability to admit its own mistakes. I have done significant research in this area, and I can assure you that with exceedingly rare exceptions, the Church is almost never able to admit mistakes. In fact, Catholic doctrine itself corners them into this position: the "Church as such" can never err, only its "children". What the difference is between those two things is one of the big issues facing Catholicism today. At Vatican II, the Church was defined as its members; reactionaries have been trying to dial that back ever since. And since the pope is the leader of the Church as such, admitting he made a mistake in any real way has become, over the past two centuries, almost unthinkable. Hence, the inexplicable desire to name Pius XII a saint, despite his horrific record during the Holocaust.

    Even a "frum" Catholic like Garry Wills has written a book entitled Papal Sin, in which he bemoans the Catholic hierarchy's inability to tell the truth about itself. Criticism of popes has been relegated to long-dead popes; anyone in recent memory must be considered almost perfect. (Papal infallibility only refers to faith and morals, when the pope speaks ex cathedra - as the teacher of all Christians. Nevertheless, there are discussions of "creeping infallibility" where other things are thrown into the mix, and the general recognition that while official infallibility refers only to the above context, it is popularly understood as the pope never making a mistake.)

    John Paul II's response to the Holocaust was a perfect example of an apparent apology which was in fact an exoneration - a topic about which there is plenty more to add.

    Just thought I'd throw that at you. I resent the current Chareidi attempt at claiming a type of infallibility for its leaders, but the Catholic Church is in no way better. It is actually far worse, because the things it refuses to admit include crimes of exceedingly great magnitude, such as genocide.

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  22. אין מעמידין בכל סנהדרין לא זקן מופלג בשנים ולא סריס, מפני שיש בהן אכזרייות.
    Can somebody accurately translate this, it appears The Rabbi slifkin cannot.
    מעמידין
    does not imply to remove an existing Dayan
    senhedrin is a not the local rabbi or even posek.
    and finally when deposing a rabbi who will clearly define מופלג

    There is an "agenda" going on here.......

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