Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Wanted: Courage, Heroism and Humility

[The ongoing crisis of the rabbinate has been overshadowed this week by the political crisis surrounding the ongoing exposure of the venality of Ehud Olmert. While the Talansky circus was underway, though, there were two siognificant developments. First, Rav Druckman's termination was suspended, sine die. Second, an appeal on behalf of the woman originally hurt by R. Sherman is finding it difficult to garner support among many of the same elements in the Religious Zionist community who are among R. Druckman's most vocal supporters. Both developments reminded me of a vort that the Rov zatzal presented on a Saturday Night in Boston, and which was the key point of my valedictory at the YU Hag ha-Semikha in March, 1982. It is more relevant today than it was even then.]

The Mishnah in tractate Ta'anit (10a) states that if the 17 day of Marheshvan arrives, and no rain has yet fallen, 'singular individuals' (יחידים) begin to fast. The Talmud (10a-b) then asks who these 'singular individuals' are. Here the Talmud distinguishes between scholars (תלמיד) and these יחידים. [תלמיד means student, but based upon the parallel passages in Shabbat 114a and Qiddushin 49b, it 's clear that here תלמיד is shorthand for 'scholar' (תלמיד חכם).] A scholar is defined as 'who when asked a matter of halachah in any place can answer it, even in the Tractate Kallah.' In other words, one is referring here to a an individual who possesses sovereign mastery of the entire Torah. (Though see, per contra, Tosafot Shabbat ad loc. s.v. ואפילו).

Knowledge, however, does not make one, automatically, a יחיד. The latter is one who 'is worthy of being appointed a leader of the community.' Knowledge, it would appear, is not sufficient for leadership. One needs more. The Rav declared that, first and foremost, one must have fortitude and courage. The theoretician may be a fine teacher. However, if he lacks courage; if he is not sensitive to the needs of the community, then he is not a יחיד. He may not, he must not, be appointed as a leader of the community.

Far too many acknowledged rabbinic scholars lack this crucial characteristic. They are either timid and/or obtusely insensitive. Some of those presently in power in the Israeli rabbinate, lack the latter quality. Far too many of those who would replace them, are woefully deficient in the former trait.

Since I count myself among the latter group seeking a solution. I urge my colleagues to look into their souls to find the courage, the גבורה, to step up to the plate and do the task that God has given them.

Woe to them if they don't. Woe to us if they don't.


Eden said...

"Second, an appeal on behalf of the woman originally hurt by R. Sherman is finding it difficult to garner support among many of the same elements in the Religious Zionist community who are among R. Druckman's most vocal supporters."

What does that mean? I heard nothing about this, and would be quite surprised if it were true. Tzohar, Itim, various women's organizations etc. would be pleased to help this woman appeal.

Ben Bayit said...

I tend to agree with what you say here, but far too many of the latter group are Rabbi Dr. academic intellectual types or Rabbis/Roshei Yeshiva that serve the upper-middle class to wealthy of Modern Orthodox Jewry. They are somewhat disconnected from the reality of day-to-day living that simple amcha face here in Israel. They are basically incapable of doing what you have them do.

SD said...

How do you know that the lack of support is based upon a lack of courage?

Perhaps it's based in real, halachic conviction.

Perhaps it's one thing to protest the politically-charged nature of the anti-RZ process and quite another to give halachic support to Rav Druckman's Beis Din.

Michelle Nevada (Michelle_Nevada@yahoo.com) said...


Courage is sincerely lacking. Mostly because anyone who is not sliding further and further to the right is considered, suddenly, to be something akin to a reform rabbi.

It used to be that the Jewish people looked for ways that our Judaism was right with the world. We recognized that G-d didn't ask us for some strange type of Amish reaction to the world around us. G-d gave us a beautiful world and intended us (within some very practical borders) to enjoy that world.

Now, we are lead by a group of men who dress like priests and act like they have been trained for the inquisitional court.

Rabbi Naftali Brawer, in reference to this situation, quotes from Shabbat page 138 where the Talmud says:

It was taught in the name of Rabbi Yose ben Elisha; if you see a generations with manifold troubles examine the behaviour of its rabbinical judges [for it is they who are responsible for this state].

We are in deep trouble. When one forgets the admonition: "For you were once a stranger," he forgets that we are preserved by our kindness to the stranger.

Anonymous said...

I agree with R. Jeffrey re: the timid and/or insensitive nature of our rabbinical scholars, but I believe the deeper problem underlying all of this is our lack of unity (note how many RZ organizations/institutions are out there, many with hair splitting differences). Everyone wants to be the master of his own mini-kingdom, instead of uniting for the sake of the greater good. Thus, the Mafdal has imploded, the various Roshei Yeshiva don't function under a single umbrella and the Rabbanut is under the thumb of the very community that despises the Rabbanut.

R. Sherlo recently published a piece where he says that the fault for our woes as a community lie with ourselves (in other words, don't blame the so-called charedim). To some extent he is right. But then he failed to offer any practical solutions. Machon Eretz Hemdah runs a network of batei din in the spirit of RZ, but no one has heard of it. Why? Because no one in our fragmented community talks to each other!