Are the rabbis less fallible than us? Evidently not if you follow the news. Doubly not if you listen to them bicker and make snide comments as to who is more right than another, or more to the point, as to who is less right and capable than another. The fact that they'd snipe each other in defiance of loshon hara tells you right off that they aren't less fallible than you.
And this leads to a terrible path for the rabbinate. On the one hand they are empower by all those who ask for a psak on which socks to wear on a given day, on the other hand, as Senator Palpatine said, all those who gain power are afraid to lose it. The following of people who rely on a rabbi constitutes a tremendously seductive temptation to make use of that power. It also constitutes an understandable force in their minds leading to disregard, disdain, disapproval, and even outright condescension for those who so blindly follow them. The phrase "useful idiots" wasn't invented for nothing.
Further, while those poor and uneducated Jews of the shtetl of prior centuries were definitely viewed with scant regard by the learned and this was noted by the Baal Shem Tov and his immediate circle with disgust and shame, today we have a system of learning for all. The material wealth of food, energy, and housing has led to the ability for just about any Jew to learn all day long. Many do.
No longer are they uneducated in Torah and Talmud, but can read the works and know them perhaps even better than their own rabbis who might in their age have forgotten something. What does this mean? It means that the human tendency to find mysteries and yearn to solve them comes into play. No longer is it that they don't know and must take the rabbi on his word, but when he says something out of bounds with reality as they've experienced it, they will feel that deviation, and think for themselves. As the explanations and reasoning for obvious contradictions become ever more convoluted, the desire to conform and pretend belief is ever more tested by what they know for themselves.
It isn't for nothing that the skeptidox blogging world is dominated by the formerly deeply religious of the Charedi and Chasidic worlds. The most formidable atheist and agnostic people usually hail from strong religious backgrounds whether early on or late such as for disillusioned Baalei Teshuva or Born Again Christians.
This entire focus on fear is setting us up for disaster. We're creating generations yet to be born who will be trained in the deepest writings of Jewish thought, law, and belief without having a shred of faith in any of it. We're making an army of atheists and agnostics who will walk away turning their back on G-d because those who were charged with keeping Him alive in the hearts of the people themselves feigned faith, and acted falsely, and some were out and out liars.
The very foundation of rabbinical Judaism is being set up for a fall but it is also the responsibility of the faithful to call bullshit when a rabbi errs. Were the average Jew who asks for rulings to only ask for rulings when he truly could not see past his inner doubt and conflict, when he truly could not decide for himself, and all other times have faith in G-d and rely on the conscience and heart He gave them, then he would take from that rabbi the corrupting power a good and decent rabbi has no need of and only give him the truest and most special power of truly being needed and not merely being a default device in the living of his followers' lives.
Why do we rely so heavily on them? Why do we not celebrate those our hears tell us are good but listen to whichever rabbi we do by default? We fear that we do not know enough. We fear that G-d is going to punish us for simple mistakes. We fear that G-d will judge with absolute severity anything less than a truly G-dly effort to avoid error in the first place. WHY?
Primarily, because we fear G-d. We don't love G-d, we fear G-d. We fear that the ultimate power in the universe, our Creator, can override our free will, render us irrelevant in our own lives, and take away from us the power to choose for ourselves, most likely the fun things. However, we judge G-d based on our own example. It is other humans who capriciously and whimsically impose on us and take the fun out of our lives and we go by that. Well, I am here to say G-d does NOT work that way. Your free will is the entire point.
As I read a phrase on the Internet once, "everything not forbidden is not compulsory". That is, just because you can do something doesn't mean you need to do it, or should do it. We fear that we will have G-d take away the very possibility of choosing something which in the end when we are good people, we would not do anyhow. You have free will to do anything you want. You also have a nature, a conscience, circumscribing that will. You can choose anything, but what you choose reflects on how you are. As you were made in His image, then so to as you do, so do you reflect on G-d.
If you live in fear of punishment and only do things or not do things for fear of reprisal, of G-d not liking you, and not because they are right or wrong in and of themselves, then you know nothing of right and wrong. You only know punishment and loss versus not being punished and not having something taken away.
When bad things happen, we always look up and ask, "why me". We assume that G-d who made the entire universe and perhaps an infinite number beyond is going to take time out of His schedule of doing whatever it is that He does, to smack you down for not covering your heard or wearing your tefillin right and that's why your car has a flat tire. He is punishing you for doing something wrong. All mankind assumes this. They assume their various deities, or that G-d, or that nature, or whatever is taking time to mess with them.
Humans take pain personally They then share that pain with others, and by the example they set, they judge G-d, and then it all snowballs from there.
We need to stop fearing G-d. Fear is for those who otherwise can't get into the feeling of love for G-d and would otherwise transgress, but not for those who truly feel His love. If you do, act in accordance with that love for G-d as you would someone in your everyday life. If you would not see a parent in disgrace for misdeeds, then would you see disgrace brought upon G-d by those who abuse kids and do not follow the laws and commit fraud? If they are also made in G-d's image, then that which they do reflects on G-d, and, concomitantly, reflects G-d back into them. If you love G-d, then you must also love the transgressor enough to not see them in disgrace but correct them and clean the stains of their disgrace by helping them to change, or if necessary despite all exhortations to teshuva, justice before the community at the earliest possible chance.
When we love G-d enough to trust G-d, we will only give such power to the rabbinate as those within it deserve, and only the deserving. Those who are not will eventually not be rabbis and in the future, no one will be a rabbi who does not deserve the trust of that position's responsibilities. We will be doing the entire rabbinate a favor in thinking for ourselves for no longer will we seem like ignorant frightened children, but worthy of more of the word of G-d, deeper thoughts and cogitations on the meanings and import, and worthy to bantered back and forth on the issues because we will raise no issues that we all know are nonsense, and only those we believe in our hearts are relevant and good to G-d, and His posterity and integrity and honor out of love.
In short, love G-d, do not fear. Think for yourself, and feel for yourself, and know He has undying compassion and forgiveness for you beyond all mankind, so that your errors are not sins worthy of condemnation when you learn from them and change what it is within you that made you commit them, and so do them no longer, or on the way, not so much. Do not unduly press on your rabbi's shoulders with expectations of guiding every juncture in your life. Offer them instead any service you can to lighten their load and help them with their awesome burdens. Care for your fellow man whether Jew or goy because G-d made them all and all are an aspect of Him and if you love Him then so should you love them. Care for their posterity and honor and do not countenance their own self-created disgrace to continue without intervention to change their path from darkness to light. Do not maintain a tight-lipped silence allowing misdeeds to go unaddressed for not a bit of good do you do by the misbehaving, but only let them heap more shame on themselves.
(Brought about because of a week of posts at Failed Messiah, The Kvetcher, and other places reporting more sad signs of fear-centric religious practice instead of love-centric worship. We worship best when we simply truly allow G-d into our lives. He wants to know us. We need desperately to let Him.)