Wednesday, November 10, 2010

gedarim and bans

There is a predictable reaction every time the idea of banning something, be it cell phones, internet, or whatever, is raised. The argument is that internet, cell phones, etc. are not inherently harmful – it’s the abuse and misuse which are harmful. Instead of attacking the symptom, attack the cause and fix the educational and social problems that lead to misuse and abuse. If this argument is so good, I am just wondering why Chazal didn’t think of it. Just think of how many gedarim, seyagim, chashashos derabbanan we could do away with if instead or prohibiting an action or object, Chazal would have just done a better job of teaching people to behave better. For example, stam yeynam, pas aku”m, and other gezeiros exist to prevent Jewish people from intermingling with non-Jews and intermarrying. Why ban a nice bottle of wine, sharing a drink with a non-Jewish colleague, instead of attacking the root cause and getting people to understand the harm of marrying out? Wine and cell phones don’t kill people (spiritually), it’s bad parenting, bad chinuch, social dysfunction that does it, right? Go fix those problems and all the rest is unnecessary. Yet obviously, Chazal took a different approach.

Ahh, but we’re not Chazal? The Mesilas Yesharim writes that true, the idea of “asu mishmeres l’mishmarti” on a communal level can be enforced only by Chazal, but each individual also has a chiyuv of “asu mishmeres l’mishmarti,” to enact personal safeguards against transgression, and this on top of good chinuch and good parenting, etc. After all, the Mesilas Yesharim was talking to the type person sitting and learning Mesilas Yesharim! : )

At the end of the day there is room for disagreement as to where to draw the lines, but these questions of practical implementation should not obscure the broader point that boundaries and limits, even above and beyond the law, are often necessary.


  1. While your points are all sound, there is the other side of the story:
    If a leader treats his followers like idiots, they will in turn see him as one and not follow him. There is good guidance and then there is condescension. We trust that Chazal never crossed that line but sometimes I wonder about today's leaders.
    Then look at one of your examples, stam yenam. So I can't sit in a bar and share a sauvignon with a non-Jewish friend. Great, I'll have a beer instead! Clearly Chazal were aware that wine isn't the only social drink around, yet they didn't ban social drinking, just wine so there is something deeper than just the "Don't associate with the gentiles" aspect.
    Finally, as another blog one noted, if you make the derech 1 mm wide, don't be surprised when more people lose their balance and fall off.

  2. On your beer example: The Chochmas Adam writes that sitting in a bar and having a beer is in fact prohibited as part of the stam y'yeinam gezeirah (R' Hershel Shachter in YU used to like to point this out.) Social drinking is exactly what is banned.

    You are raising the question of practically where to draw the line, which I addressed in my last paragraph. Since you brought it up -- if you don't like where gedolim, esp. those who identify with the chareidi world, draw the line, but you agree that a line should be drawn somewhere, can you provide some real-world examples of non-condescending gedarim that have been put in place outside the chareidi world? If you live in a community where it is accepted that: TV - mutar; Internet - mutar; Co-ed high schools - mutar; Hanging out Saturday night - mutar; Secular college away from home - mutar; that's not respect for "reasonable" gedarim -- that's having no gedarim at all.

  3. I agree with your last point. My problem isn't with the idea of gedarim, they are certainly necessary otherwise everything becomes hefker. My point, as I noted before, is that there's a fine line between doing it right - keeping the community away from dangers and enhancing their spiritual health - and micromanaging people because you don't trust them to make any decisions on their own.

  4. I might add further: do the bans work? The gedolim banned television but lots of people within the Chareidi community somehow have access to one. They banned the internet but then had to backtrack because so many people use it in business and daily life and weren't going to abise by the prohibition.
    These are two examples of the dangers of too many gedarim. People eventually start to ignore them. Obviously that's dangerous because eventually someone that is dangerous to our neshamos will get banned and that ban will be ignored because, just like the one on denim skirts, it'll be seen as another nuisance.

  5. your analogy is incomplete.
    chazal didn't ban all wine, just the wine of goyim .
    i think the larger problem is that the leadership make pronouncements
    that eventually make them look foolish to the very people that they are supposed to be leading