Missiles, Measles, and Missives
At this time, the Jewish People are being bombarded with three very different, yet perhaps related, things. Hundreds of missiles have been fired from Gaza on towns throughout the southern region of Israel. An outbreak of measles in Israel and New York has already claimed the life of a baby and threatens many more. And there are missives throughout Jerusalem relating to the municipal elections today, with Daas Torah telling everyone who to vote for.
The common factor with all these three phenomena is that they relate to, and give rise to questions about, the role of experts and authority.
Let's begin with measles. The overwhelming consensus of expert medical opinion is that vaccination should be done and would have prevented the current tragic situation. Unfortunately, there is a significant body of people who are skeptical of "expert consensuses" (for reasons discussed in my post on the Lakewood Suicide Squad). They aren't evil, even though their actions have terrible consequences. They sincerely believe that the so-called experts cannot be trusted and are wrong, and they will give you all kinds of reasons for this.
Now let's turn to the missile barrage from Gaza. According to a large body of military experts who spoke up in favor of the Disengagement in 2004 (see the list of experts in the advertisement pictured here, as well as the citations at this link), this wasn't going to happen. The Disengagement was going to enhance the security situation. General and Prime Minister Sharon claimed that disengaging would give the IDF a free hand to respond with full military force if Gaza attacked us. Ha! (It reminded me of the Oslo days, when Peres insisted that giving guns to the PA was safe, because the first time that one of those guns would be used against an Israeli, Israel would swoop down in force and end everything.) To many of us ordinary folks, on the other hand, it was obvious that the Gazans would attack Israel, and Israel would not have a free hand to respond, because of international condemnation. Clearly, these experts were all wrong.
Then you have today's municipal elections in Jerusalem, where the alleged experts are completely divided, yet utterly sure of themselves. The Lithuanian and Sefardic Gedolim insist that Daas Torah mandates that one must vote for Moshe Leon. The Chassidic Gedolim and the Peleg faction, on the other hand, state that Daas Torah requires one not to vote for him. (I'm not sure if the Religious Zionist community has voiced Daas Torah on this topic.) So what actually is Daas Torah on this topic? And if there isn't any, why are these Gedolim all so sure that there is?
These three situations present us with the following question: When do you trust the experts, and when do you not trust the experts?
The answer is that things are complex, and it depends on the situation.
In matters relating to hard science, expertise is of great significance. Yes, it's always possible that there is some kind of fundamental epistemological error, or some kind of bias. However, given the huge amount of hard data available with regard to vaccinations, and the broad spectrum of people who possess expertise in this topic and all share the same conclusion, it is reasonable to be sure that the experts know what they are talking about.
Matters relating to war, peace and politics are more complicated. Yes, military expertise certainly helps. And it's frustrating to see the well-meaning but not well-thought-out armchair generals on Facebook talking about how the IDF should carpet-bomb Gaza, without thinking through the moral, tactical or political implications of such an act. Still, the fact is that projections as to what will bring security are heavily shaded by one's political outlook, as well as a host of psychological and sociological factors. For example, secular Israelis tend to be more desperate for acceptance by other countries and thus inclined to believe that this can be achieved, whereas religious Israelis tend to be more resigned to being globally despised.
As for the expertise of Daas Torah regarding who to vote for, it's simply a myth. Torah does not give any special insight into which mayor to vote for. Torah is an immensely rich body of wisdom accumulated over a long period in many places by many people, and it certainly does not have a single viewpoint that can be mapped on to the simultaneously immensely complicated question of how to govern a city. Furthermore, there's no reason to think that great Talmudists, or descendants of Chassidic Rebbes, possess any particular wisdom - in fact, Chazal state explicitly that there is the possibility of a Talmid Chacham completely lacking wisdom. Thus, there is no reason to think that the Lithuanian, Sefardic, Peleg or Chassidic voices of Daas Torah have any particular insight as to which mayoral candidate to vote for.
As to why they seem to think otherwise - well, that's because they have a different, non-rationalist view of the nature of Torah, according to which it grants supernatural forms of insight. But this has no basis in classical Judaism.