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Authority and Autonomy:An Ethical Perspective
Tully Harcsztar
he question o authority and autonomy has emerged as a key lineo demarcation between those who identiy as liberal Orthodox andthose who identiy as more traditional. he question o rabbinicauthority is central to discussions about independent
minyanim
andritual innovation, new roles or women in Orthodoxy, and other,similar issues. A common strategy or engaging this question is toexplore the halakhic literature regarding authority and that regardingautonomy. he place o autonomy in halakhah raises such questionsas: What is the role o the individual in establishing halakhah? Underwhat circumstances are we permitted to rely on a minority opinion? sa
talmid 
akham
permitted to disagree with someone who came beorehim? How does halakhah change—or does halakhah change at all? nregard to authority, we explore such questions as: oes the power o anauthority derive rom the breadth o his knowledge, rom the ofcialappointment to a position o authority, or rom charisma? o webelieve in
daas Torah
? s it possible or an authority to err, or does his
 
Authority and Autonomy: An Ethical Perspective 
5
position give credence to the opinion rendered regardless o the actthat it seems to be incorrect?hese explorations are crucial to deepening our understandingo these ideas. Much has been written in recent years on authority and autonomy, giving us a wide array o analyses and opinions withwhich we can work.
1
n this paper  would like to explore the issuerom a dierent perspective. etermining the role o autonomy andits relation to authority has an ethical dimension. here are more andless ethical ways to make use o one’s authority. here are positiveethical values at work in the desire or autonomy as well. And the samecan be said or the interplay between them. While the issue must beconsidered rom within a conceptual and legal-halakhic ramework, italso raises important issues regarding sel and other, and regarding thedignity—the
 ẓ
elem elokim
—o those with whom we interact.
REFRAMING THE DILEMMA
o consider the topic in this way, we must begin by reraming the issue.he title o this session immediately limits and guides the discussionalong the lines o a common binary—on the one hand, there isauthority, and on the other, autonomy. Hidden beneath the surace o this binary are judgments that immediately give particular shape to thedilemma that it raises and, in turn, impact on the available options ordealing with the problem. As Orthodox Jews, we intuit that one side inthis binary is more correct than the other. We are
me 
 ẓ
uvvim
—we mustunderstand and accept the idea o commandedness. Expressions o autonomy, by defnition, distance one rom authority and contain theseeds o rebellion. Autonomy, then, becomes a value to be rejected or,at worst, tolerated in some measure. t is a product o modernity, andit is alien to authentic Jewish living. here is a conceptual and logicalrigor to such an orientation that runs as ollows:  we are obligatedto ollow ivine law and there are authorities who interpret the law,then it is also our obligation to ollow the authorities who interpretthe law. And, to wit, an explicit verse,
lo tasur 
, perhaps teaches us thatsuch is the case. Viewing autonomy as a Western intrusion has roots inpolitical philosophy. orah is based on a sense o obligation and ivine
 
6
 
Tully Harcsztark 
command. n this way o thinking, community comes frst. he notiono autonomy is rooted in a rights-based worldview that derives rom aliberal tradition where the individual comes frst.Whether rooted in common or philosophical thinking, thisorientation sets the stage or how we respond to “populist” halakhicinitiatives.  autonomy is suspect and initiative is rooted in anindependent will, then the initiatives themselves become suspect.For example, proposals regarding women and prayer—regardless o the merits o the particular proposal—are invariably greeted withdiagnoses as to the motives o the proposers and the ollowers.  women seek greater involvement in prayer or in leadership capacities,they are doing so in the interest o promoting the eminist agenda.hese charges are leveled reely and oten without basis or frsthandknowledge o the parties involved. And yet it makes good sense todo so.  autonomy and initiative are, a priori, signs o weakness o commitment, then they become obvious targets o criticism.And yet, there is something in this analysis that  want to resist.he desire or independent action on the part o an individual is notrooted solely—or even primarily— in a need to reject authority throughseparation. While some thinkers—the
azon sh, or example—see theobservance o halakhah as rooted in subservience and submissiveness,others, such as Maimonides, see in halakhah the means through whichto create a society within which human beings can reach the highestlevels o intellectual achievement. While Maimonides would notrame it in terms o sel-actualization, his own work is an expressiono radically independent thinking. n the modern era, thinkers such asRav Kook and Rabbi Soloveitchik developed complex understandingso Judaism that center around the unique strengths and the creativespirit o each person. Sel-actualization and sel-ulfllment are notalien to Jewish thought. Over the past century, they have becomeconcepts o signifcant religious and ethical import.As such, to think this issue through in a nuanced and meaningulmanner, we must rame both sides o the dilemma as reectingreligious values that are in tension. On the one side is the responsibility 
 
that we carry to serve God and submit our will to His command.Rabbis, as interpreters o the Law, must be revered in turn. On the

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