Rationalism and Rabbinic Authority
Many of my posts, especially lately, have been about the state of rabbinic authority today. Some people have requested that I instead write about rationalist Jewish thought. While I will try to get back to that topic, the two topics are, in fact, connected.
Contemporary Charedi rabbinic authority - i.e. "the Gedolim" - banned my books. This was essentially about opposing the rationalist approach.
But more fundamentally, the very concept of contemporary Charedi rabbinic authority stands in opposition to the rationalist approach. The rationalist approach is about how the human brain is, generally speaking, a potentially good tool for attaining knowledge, and it is about how the conclusions reached by the human brain are worthy of consideration. Thus, if we examine the definition of Rationalist Judaism, we see that it is about using the human brain to attain knowledge of God*, the natural world, and the function of mitzvos. (*This is something in which there is a difference between medieval Jewish rationalists and contemporary rationalism.)
This has important ramifications for rabbinic authority. While even with the rationalist approach there can be valid reasons for abiding by the rulings even of those with whom one disagrees, the approach to rabbinic authority is fundamentally different from that which occurs with the non-rationalist approach.
With the rationalist approach, arguments are made from reason rather than from authority or alleged divine inspiration. Expertise and authority is held by those who actually demonstrate knowledge and wisdom in the particular areas under consideration. There is no presumption of infallibility, either theoretical infallibility or practical/effective infallibility.
At the other end of the spectrum, there are those who apparently believe that great knowledge in Shas according to the Brisker derech = great knowledge in all areas of Torah = great knowledge in all areas of knowledge = great righteousness = being correct = being authoritative. (And = a whole lot of other things, too.)
And so, as someone who is fascinated by the rationalist approach to Judaism and the opposition to it, I am also fascinated by contemporary charedi rabbinic authority.
(Incidentally, I just got back home to Israel yesterday, and I hope to now be able to resume posting at a more frequent rate. It was great to meet many of my readers in the US, and I was very moved by those who went out of their way to give me rides - especially those who drove several hours out of their way to do so!)