Thursday, August 11, 2011

Dr. Schnall from YU in the New York Times

A Guest Post By E. Fink

Original post on my home blog:

Today's New York Times presents a fascinating argument made by Dr. Schnall from YU.

Schnall argues that the ancient Jewish Sanhedrin built into its system a foil to the fatal flaws of "groupthink". Groupthink explains how otherwise very intelligent people can make terrible decisions as a group. Often, members of a group defer to others and they lose their voice even when they might disagree with the majority or group leaders. Without voices of dissent, even groups can make disastrous decisions.

The Sanhedrin had rules that forced the group out of groupthink.
First and foremost, any unanimous decision regarding a capital case was discarded. Other minor rules also did their part. For example, junior members spoke first so that they opinions would not be influenced by the elders. Dr. Schnall cites many other examples from the Sanhedrin's rules that he claims are helpful in avoiding groupthink.

On the Times website they leave this question hanging for their readers:

What do you think? Is a unanimous decision a sign of a slam dunk or overwhelming groupthink?

While I find that question interesting, I am more interested in whether our current Daas Torah style of rabbinic leadership might be suffering from some sort of groupthink?  (Yes, this might offensive to people who believe that rabbis are not human and do not ever make mistakes but per my tradition from my rabbis and teachers this is a perfectly acceptable position, thankyouverymuch.) I wonder, is there dissent in the Moetzes? Do the rabbis disagree with one another? Or do they all defer to the leadership? Much in the same way that those who live and breathe by every word uttered from their mouths? Is it possible that they disagree in private and present a united front in their public statements? Yes. But wouldn't we all feel more confident if we knew that for certain?

I know it is a cop out to ask open-ended questions on a blog and not answer them (ahem, NY Times Arts Beat). But in this case, I just don't know. I have my suspicions but I have no way to confirm them. It is, however, worthwhile food for thought.

Link: NY Times
HT: You Know Who You Are

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