"[Jesus taught that the rabbis] are to be obeyed...to the extent that what they teach is not inconsistent with the true meaning of righteousness...[and]...to the extent that their teaching is in accord with the true intention of the Mosaic Law," [from the Jewish Reclamation of Jesus by Hagner]
When a teacher's teachings are challengeable then it is correct to identify the teacher's level of authority as "epistemic" or "expert":
"Epistemic authority [i.e. expert authority], however, involves the constant possibility of revision of conclusions, which does not accord well with the [idea] of Rabbinic authority as essentially unchallengeable," pg. 81 of Rabbinic Authority by Berger.
So what else may we deduce from Yeshua's assertion that the rabbis possessed expert authority? Well, as it happens, I took Evidence, Basic Trial Advocacy, and Advanced Trial Advocacy in Law School. So I'd like to now talk about what Law School has taught me regarding the expert authority of the rabbis. While a lot of this deals specifically with American law, it's all based in logic and so it's easily applicable to an examination of rabbinic authority.
WHO IS AN EXPERT?
Under American law, we tend to define "expert" liberally (for the most part):
"Under Rule 702, the expert can acquire the [expert] knowledge or skill by education, experience, or a combination...The expert's background usually includes theoretical education and practical experience.
In the past, the courts have been fairly liberal in assessing the qualifications of proposed experts. That liberality is understandable, since the test stated in Rule 702 is whether the witness possesses more knowledge or skill than the trier of fact, not whether the witness is a full-fledged specialist on the issue before the court," pg. 383 of Evidentiary Foundations by Imwinkelried.
WHEN MAY AN EXPERT TESTIFY?
The federal rules of evidence answer this question as follows:
"[The expert may testify if] (1) the testimony is based upon sufficient facts or data, (2) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods, and (3) the witness has applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case," (FRE 702).
HOW DOES ONE DETERMINE THE RELIABILITY OF THE EXPERT'S METHODS AND PRINCIPLES?
"...[Experts] must do more than simply tell the jury, in essence, 'trust me,'" pg. 375 of The Art & Science of Trial Advocacy by Perrin, Caldwell, and Chase.
Thus, we must use the following factors to determine whether the principles and methods are reliable:
(1) Can it be reliably tested?
(2) Has it been subjected to peer review and/or publication?
(3) Does it have a reasonably low error rate?
(4) Is it subject to professional standards?
(5) Is it generally accepted in the field?
HOW MAY ONE UNDERMINE THE AUTHORITY OF THE EXPERT TESTIMONY?
There are three primary ways: (1) attacking the expert's qualifications; (2) attacking his motivation (i.e. uncovering biases or prejudices); (3) attacking the expert's basis (The Art & Science of Trial Advocacy).
I'd like to focus on the third aspect: the basis of the expert's opinion:
"Once advocates demonstrate that experts have inadequate or unreliable bases for their opinions, the jurors are almost certain to discount the opinions as well. Potential attacks on the basis include unsupported assumptions, inadequate or faulty preparation or investigation, lack of personal knowledge, and errors made by the expert in preparing his opinions," (ibid).
Of these potential weaknesses, I'd like to focus your attention on "unsupported assumptions":
"All experts make assumptions when they form opinions....But they are assumptions nonetheless, unproven facts, and they are critical to the validity of the opinions of most experts...In preparing to cross-examine an expert, the advocate should identify the assumptions that the expert has relied on in forming her opinion....Retain a consultant with a similar expertise who can help identify the assumptions relied upon by the opposing expert. Then test the assumptions....Do they make unsupported leaps of logic?" (ibid).
I think Yeshua wants us to both (1) challenge and (2) respect the teachings of the rabbis.
How do we challenge? One such way is to examine the basis for the rabbinic opinion. Does it conflict with the intention of Scripture? Does it make any unwarranted assumptions?
How do we respect? We treat the rabbis as presumptive authorities within their area of expertise; We do not give them final authority--we do not say their decisions are unchallengeable.