Monday, July 24, 2006

A Challenge to Tzohar

Today, at Machon Lev, the rabbis of Tzohar are holding their annual Yom Iyyun. As befits the most promising, inspiring and courageous group of rabbis in Israel today they are scheduled to confront the most challenging, difficult and nettlesome issues facing the Torah today. Since I am not a practicing Rov (though, one would never know it from the shaylos I receive- or, perhaps, davka one would know), I am not going to attend. However, I feel the need to offer one, pressing observation; another mantra, if you will. [And, BTW, I plan to publish a Hebrew version as well.]

Glaring in its absence from the confrence program is the topic of rabbinic training or qualifications. Now, let me make this perfectly clear. Any person who would presume to function as a Rov must be a Talmid Hakham (and a Yereh Shamayim). Period. He does not need to be a Gadol ba-Torah (though, I assume he would aspire to that.) He must, however, have earned the right to offer an halakhic opinion.

That, however, is insufficient and it is time that our community wake up to this fact (as the Haredi Community in the United States already has. See Adam Ferziger's superb study in Modern Judaism).

A few examples:

1) Rabbis are increasingly required to relate to difficult emotional and familial situations that are quite beyond their capacity (or awareness). They must, therefore, receive training in basic pastoral psychology. In addition, they must be equipped with a list of responsible therapists to whom they may refer those in need of help.

2) Not every person can think on his feet. As Shlomo Avineri once noted, Israel runs like a twenty-four hour a day talk show. Rabbis are often sought out in the media for the reactions who not only do not acquit themselves well, they desecrate God's Name on a regular basis. I know it's tempting, but some sort of winnowing process must be attempted to prevent the rabid from sullying the airwaves. In addition, those who are talented should be taught to appear in the media and to debate. Enough to rabbis indulging in on the air cock fights.

3) Finally, and most important, it is absolutely critical that Tzohar rabbis acquire a much broader education than that which the yeshivot offer. That education must include a wider Torah element AND a general element.

The first will enrich the Rav personally and allow him to responsibly engage the community he seeks to serve. In breve, not every answer to every question is found in the writings either of Rav Kook or (and it pains me to say this) the Rov.

The second is vital on three grounds. 1) Without a wide general education one cannot hope to understand the world in which most people live. 2) Without a wide general education, one cannot hope to respond to the challenges posed to us by the secular elite. 3) Without a wide general education, one cannot hope to communicate Torah to an audience that considers itself sophisticated. I don't care if it's done through self-teaching or by formal means. If the rabbinate does not do it, it's place in Gan Eden will be in doubt (if only for negligence). See Moreh Nebuhim III, 51. This is a Humra, people, not a Kula. It must be done without sacrificing a single paragraph of Shulhan Arukh or a single Gilyon HaShas. Indeed, Talmide Hakhamim who can engage the world will save it from Jewishly unlettered academics and intellectuals (some of them religiously observant) to whom our searching brethren are attracted.


Anonymous said...

Tzohar met today at Gruss in Bayit Vegan.

Menachem Butler said...

Was there any discussion of the ways in which the rabbis of Tzohar will broaden their influence in America, via Yeshiva University?

Anonymous said...

Menachem, for the short time I was in attendance, no.
There were broad references to Israeli and American rabbis getting together, and there was discussion of the giyur kerfuffle, but that's about it.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure that an organization that started out with an agenda of being rabbinical "yefei nefesh" who can do marriages for the (non-religious) masses better than the establishment can, is the correct one to branch off into community rabbinics - which by its very nature will minister to the more committed.

That being said, I'm glad to see that the yefei nefesh are balanced on the program by people such as Rav Lior and Rav Melamed Jr.

Menachem Butler said...

"giyur kerfuffle" ?