“We Follow Our Rabbis Until It’s Inconvenient, Right?”
Boy have I heard that (rhetorical) question a million times. This is usually how it goes.
Person A advocates a lenient position in Halakha, which some or many Rabbis disagree with.
Person B responds by asking a rhetorical question: “We follow our rabbis until it’s inconvenient, right?”.
With this little question, the responder implies that the aforementioned leniency was suggested out of a lack of commitment to Judaism. “Judaism is hard”, Person B tells us, “and you’re not trying hard enough”.
Let’s talk about this question for a moment, and examine whether or not it’s actually a good question that should be taken seriously. We’ll do this by looking at the implications of the statement.
1)“We follow our rabbis”: Now Orthodoxy is predicated on following Jewish law as set down in the Talmud, and interpreted and passed on through the generations. So there are many rabbis from over the generations who will be “our rabbis” to both sides in the aforementioned argument. However, not all rabbis are followed by everyone.
With this in mind, make sure that when a person starts telling you about who your rabbis are that you’re talking about the same people. Otherwise, the statement is already meaningless. For example, if somebody tells a Modern Orthodox person about the Satmar Rebbe’s view’s on Zionism, they are no longer dealing with shared leaders. Another example of this might be when a little girl asked my wife “why are you wearing red if you’re Jewish?”. Presumably, my wife and I do not have the same rabbis as that little girl and her family.
2) “Until it’s inconvenient”: This statement implies that halakha doesn’t take seriously when a person is inconvenienced. While I’m not an expert, I do know enough to say that’s not true. That’s why the Talmud discusses the concept of “istinus” (a particularly sensitive person) numerous times, why we are told God is sensitive to the economic needs of the Jewish people, why Hillel made the Pruzbol, why there is the concept of ‘tirkha d’tzibura’ (inconvenience to the congregation) and many other laws.
This is not to say that “inconvenience” is a valid reason to not follow halakha. But everyone should know that rabbis do care about what’s convenient for their followers, or at least that they should.
3)This statement shifts the conversation away from the actual content being discussed. Instead of saying “your statement is factually incorrect”, or any other statement that actually has substance to it, this statement is a personal attack on the commitment of another person. However, the personal commitment of the person advocating a lenient position is not what is up for discussion, so much as whether or not their statement is correct.
Being that oftentimes (or perhaps usually) the commitment of Person A, who advocates s a lenient position, is no less strong than anyone else’s, this actually turns into an unfair and often vicious accusation, which hurts the reputation of another person or a group of people.
How many halakhot are violated when someone tells you that “We follow our rabbis until it’s inconvenient, right?”?
A whole bunch.
So don’t imply you have the same poskim if you don’t, don’t imply that halakha does not take into account the condition of the Jewish people, and don’t attack people personally in what is at best a distraction.
I admit, you may encounter a person who actually argues that we should not follow halakha when it becomes inconvenient. At that time the statement we have just discussed (hopefully for the last time ever) will become perfectly relevant, if perhaps too sarcastic and rude. In that case, rephrase it as a polite question, and go for it.