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Sunday, December 11, 2005

Is real debate in today's frum world possible?


I had two different debates snuffed out before they began in the previous weak. One was with someone you would characterize as modern and the other would probably categorize themselves as chareidi. Both know a lot of Torah.

The MO person refused to discuss the sources with me. All of his arguments were basically based on what he saw as the modern reality. He felt what I was proposing was simply not practical and that the sources are irrelevant since even if I prove to him that the sources support my position, there are too many other issues at stake to actually make my position a relevant one. He then started explaining to me how I was falling into the chareidi trap of trying to impose an ideal halacha upon an imperfect world and that I have to realize the nuances of modern life.

The chareidi person basically argued to me that a certain godol took a position different than the one I was advocating and therefore what I say is irrelevant. When I pointed out that other gedolim take my position and that I did not just make it up out of thin air, I was accosted with proclamations as to which godol is greater. I tried to veer the conversation away from a futile effort to judge gadlut and asked the person if he thought that when gedolim get together the conversation goes like this:

Gadol A: I say the halacha is A
Gadol B: I disagree, it is B
Gadol A: I am a bigger baki in gemara
Gadol B: Well, I know more rishonim than you
Gadol A: That might be true, but gadol C testified that I am always right
Gadol B: Nobody holds by gadol C

... Ok, this dialog is getting way too painful to write. He then went on to tell me that I was falling into the MO trap of putting more weight on my own learning than that of the gedolim. I was glad to know that I somehow managed to simultaneously fall into both MO and chareidi traps.

In both cases I tried to veer the conversation to a discussion of primary sources and an analysis of how they apply to our world. I both cases, the other side would not let the conversation deal with the actual Torah sources. Why is this so? Before I became religious, I always imagined a Beit Midrash as a place where the Torah is studied and debated. After I became religious, I realized that it is often learned, but positions are rarely debated in any real depth.

Is this a failure of chinuch? Has anyone else had similar experiences? I would love some feedback on this one. I really do not know where these attitudes come from.

[UPDATE - I wanted to avoid writing on specific issues in order to keep the topic on focus. However, due to comments that this post is too vague, I will divulge that the topic discussed was the halachas of Eruvin. The MO person basically took the position that Eruvin were a necessary component of modern religious society so an halachic way must be found. The chareidi position was that since several (Lithuanian) gedolim took a position against a local eruv, it should not be used. Neither was at all concerned with whether the eruv should be valid or not based on rishonim and achronim.]