Saturday, November 9, 2013

2 Models for Rabbinic Authority (Avi Sagi)

A long time ago I did a post about Berger's book "Rabbinic Authority".  He described various models of rabbinic authority.  But I think that Avi Sagi in his book "The Open Cannon" has offered a better and more simplified understanding.  Borrowing terminology from Richard T. De George, Avi Sagi explains that the two approaches to Rabbinic Authority fall into two categories:  deontic and epistemic.  That's a fancy way of saying duty-based (deontic) and knowledge-based (epistemic).  Which basically means that someone is an authority because he's an expert (epistemic/knowledge) or because he belongs to an institution which society has imbued with authority (deontic).

I don't mind the model that gives expert authority to the Rabbis.  But I take exception with latter, deontic model which typically justifies Rabbinic Authority on the basis of either the Divine Command Theory (i.e. that HaShem commands unquestioned obedience to the Rabbis) or social contract theory.  There's a host of problems with the Divine Command Theory of Rabbinic Authority.  First, trying to ground such a view in Torah is like trying to suspend a mountain by a thread.  Second, I believe it violates a number of mitzvot De-Oraita (commands from the Written Torah).  

So now here's Avi Sagi on this subject:

pg. 192 "My contention is that Jewish tradition offers two main models of authority that, relying on the terminology coined by Richard T. De George, will be termed epistemic and deontic." 
pg. 192  "The epistemic model argues that authority derives its legitimation from the possession of knowledge in a specific and defined realm, which ensures the person in authority an advantage over all others who do not know.....Since [epistemic] authority rests on knowledge then, at least in principle, it is temporary and removable.  As soon as someone's attainments are on a par with those of persons in authority, the latter lose their power to teach or command.  De George has even argued that epistemic authority is not really authority in the strict sense of the term, since it cannot command performance.  It can suggest, advise, or recommend, but it cannot impose obligations.
     In the terms of this model then, it would be inaccurate to say that a command issued by an authority creates a duty of obedience.  In and of itself, the authority's command is not a sufficient condition for obedience, particularly when it challenges the knowledge shared by all community members."
pg. 200 "The deontic model adopts a different perception of the meaning of halakhic authority in Jewish tradition....The basic assumptions of this model state that an authority can validly order certain acts to be performed and compel community members to obey.  Rather than knowledge, deontic authority rests on the power invested in the person in authority to determine the binding norms.  Conceptually, deontic authority must always be obeyed, even when apparently wrong.  Whereas the epistemic model stresses that all members of the community are bound by knowledge, the deontic model emphasizes the special status of the authorities.....Support for deonitc authority is quite prevalent in the sources, and three basic justifications are usually adduced in hermeneutical and legislative contexts:  (1) God's command; (2) divine inspiration or charisma; (3) public consent."

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