I came across an online article by R. Shalom Carmy: “Who Speaks for Torah – And How?” (Religious Zionism, 1989). R. Carmy addresses a number of issues in that article, one of which is Rabbinic Authority. In the course of discussing how to determine who is a gadol and if such an evaluation is possible, he makes the following insightful comments:
Now if obtaining a centralized Torah authority is essential and urgent, the rational procedure would be to focus our attention on determining who of the possible candidates for leadership is indeed the most worthy – and may the greatest Gadol win!
This rational approach is not likely to yield decisive results. MoreÂover it is sure to reinforce two of the least attractive vices of contemporary Orthodox discourse:
1) The Loud Mouth: People lauding the superiority of their exemplary Rabbi(s) rarely do so knowledgeably. How many of the gentlemen who belittle, supposedly on grounds of Torah scholarship, the rank accorded, by their followers, to R. Shach or to the Lubavitcher Rebbi, have actually assessed the respective contributions to that scholarship of the Avi Ezri and the Likkute Sihot? Know-ÂNothing disparagement has a deleterious effect on our intellectual and moral lives and should not be encouraged.
2) Idolatry of the Intellect: The attempt to order, “quantitatively,” Rabbinic luminaries, strengthens our inclination to value that which can most readily be inspected from the “outside,” as it were. This enhances the cult of intellectual cleverness and analytic brilliance and the downplaying of wisdom, good judgment and their inevitable corollaries – self-criticism and humility. Our community does not need to breed more of this.
In any event, it is folly to anticipate consensus about Rabbinical authority. To claim that such consensus exists cannot fail to make us, and what we stand for, appear foolish too.
Not entirely related, but too important to be ignored, is the following:
Respect for other Jews’ legitimate Rabbinic authorities does not, of course, impose upon us a belief in the inferiority of our own. Our ideological vitality has already been too much sapped by our addiction to aimless self-doubt. Just as important, we have no right to undermine our institutional legitimacy.