Recently, I had to help someone to do a project on tznius (modest dress and behaviour). The project involved tracking down what the 'big' rabbis were saying about things like internet, and skirt lengths.
I was given a job to go and trawl through the internet, to find what was out there in English. It was a tough job. Firstly, hardly anything is posted up on the internet by 'big' rabbis firsthand (you can understand why…).
Secondly, what does go up is usually publicised in Hebrew (and I was searching in English.) Thirdly - and this was where I was really starting to feel a bit annoyed - even when there were clear guidelines, available in English, there were a whole bunch of Jewish bloggers pouring scorn on them.
I was disgusted.
I would google 'tznius halacha', or whatever, and nearly every single entry on the first couple of the pages was directing me to someone mocking what our gedolim ('big' rabbis) had said.
I would love to tell you this was just a problem with anti-religious, non-orthodox commentators. But as I trawled through one 'halachic responsa' forum after another, I started to see that for every one person trying to explain what the halacha on tznius was - and quoting the opinions of some incredibly 'big' rabbis - there were three people trying to knock them down.
Come on! That rabbi was writing 300 years ago! Come on! That rabbi was Sephardi (or Ashkenazi, or Litvish or Whatever-I-think-I-don't-have-to-listen-to…) Come on! That rabbi lives in Israel (or in America, or in Timbuctoo).
They're extremist. They're super-strict. They're unrealistic. They are disconnected from the real world. They're far too 'religious' to tell me what to do…
I was trawling through all these comments for around three hours, and I got increasingly disgusted with the people making them.
Not because they were questioning. It's the most Jewish thing in the world to question, and to want to know what the sources are for things, and how we derive the laws we are trying our best to live by.
But these people weren't questioning. They were pouring scorn on our religious leaders, past and present, because they dared to put out guidelines that conflicted with how these people wanted to live.
How dare some old bearded guy tell me that I can't wear a short skirt with a slit or have my elbows showing! What's the big deal?!?!?! How dare some extremist fanatic tell me that I shouldn't be talking to other people's husbands (or wives)! How dare they tell me that I shouldn't have internet in the house, or that I shouldn't be having beach holidays! Who are these people, anyway? Who gave them the last word on what I should be doing?
After all, I went to Jewish day school for 12 years. I learned a lot of halacha. I read a lot of the same books they did, and I know they are just being hardline, religious, or (wait for it…) chareidi fanatics.
So let's talk turkey: who gave these Jewish leaders the last word? G-d gave them the last word.
I'm not talking about local rabbis who may or not have emuna, or who may or may not have a genuine relationship with G-d, or who may or may not have their own problems with recognising that there are Jewish leaders that are on a much higher spiritual level than they are.
I'm talking about our Jewish leaders who are revered and respected by thousands and thousands of people. I'm talking about our Jewish leaders who have ruach hakodesh (the Divine Spirit) - even though so many of them go to great lengths to hide it and play it down, in their great modesty. I'm talking about Jewish leaders who can tell everything about a person just by shaking their hand; or looking at them; or reading a note in the person's handwriting.
Jewish leaders who have selflessly devoted their lives to serving their people (regardless of their affiliation), who live in complete holiness and kedusha, and who have devoted their days to poring over our sources and texts to come up with the answers to all our pressing modern-day dilemmas.
They are spiritual giants; they have only our best interests at heart; they have an incredibly strong connection to G-d, and they have the ability to know and to see things that we can't even imagine.
Those people are the ones handing down the advice and information on how we should be living.
And what do we do? We pour scorn on them. We think they're naïve. We think they're out to spoil our 'fun'. We think they're superstitious. We think they're 'insensitive'. We think they're the Jewish Taliban, G-d forbid.
That's what we say on all those 'frum' internet forums. But do you know what we're really saying? We're really saying: 'no-one is going to tell me what to do!' What we're really saying is: 'I'm just as holy as that old guy with a beard. I know what's best for me much more than he does.'
What we're really saying is: 'I am a law unto myself. I don't give a stuff about Hashem's holy people, His laws and His Torah. I'm far too clever / educated / liberated / modern / opinionated to do what some old guy with a beard tells me."
Even if he's trying to save my marriage; or my kids; or my soul; or my life.
We live in a world of free choice. G-d, in His mercy and kindness, created the gedolim to help guide us through the increasingly dangerous, sinister and evil place that is 'modern life'.
We don't have to listen to them - thousands of 'religious' jews apparently aren't, and are encouraging others to follow their lead.
But unless you know 100% that you also have ruach hakodesh, that you're learning your torah from Elijah the Prophet and that you're in daily direct contact with the Heavenly Court, the chances that your right and they're wrong is a big, fat, ZERO.
And that, really, is the last word.