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Thursday, January 07, 2010

On Rabbinic Authority


On Rabbinic Authority


Before I begin today’s Drasha, I would like to give instructions that you must follow TO THE LETTER – guidance on an important Mitzvah that I consider to be a Dioraisa, a Biblical requirement. This Moitzee-Shabbos-Koidesh at the start of the second watch (about 2:00 am) you are instructed to awaken from your slumber and Daven Tikkun Chatzois, which is meant to align Klal Yisroel and the Shchinah, the Reboinoisheloilum’s earthly presence, which is itself linked to the other nine Sefirois and the Ain Soif, the unknowable source of ALL. Following Tikkun Chatzois, you should go outside to gaze at the Levanah, to align your Kavvanois with the natural world and hasten the arrival of world peace. Then, in order to ensure Klal Yisroel’s dominance over all earthly creatures as promised in Parshas Beraishis, you should sneak into your neighbor’s house and be Mezaneh with his cocker spaniel.

I do not make this pronouncement based on my own Halachic authority, Chass V’Sholom. As we all know, there is of course no individual mandate for Halachic innovation. All Toirah is MiSinai, passed down through a chain from Rebbe to Talmid. Indeed, a true Talmid Chacham must be an Unuv, a modest person, who is a link in that chain. And any pronouncements made by a Rabbinic Authority about Halachic, personal, or political issues can only be authentic and binding when delivered to an ignoramus like you by a brilliant person such as myself.

In Pirkei Avois we read, “Yehoishua Ben Perachyah Oimer: Asey Lecha Rav, Ukney Lecha Chaver”, “Rabbi Yehoishua Ben Perachyah said: Assign for yourself a Rav (Master) and purchase for yourself a friend” (Pirkei Avois, 1, 6). Reb Saadya Goyn interprets this as guidance to ensure that your needs for a leader are addressed by a respected Rabbinic figure, and that your needs for companionship are addressed by a local prostitute (though there is a Machloikess between the RASHBAM and the ROISH on whether Reb Saadya was referring to a male or a female prostitute).

Reb Hai Goyn disagrees. He holds that, indeed, “Asey Lecha Rav” refers to identifying a trusted Rabbinic figure to serve as a leader and mentor, but he notes that “Kney Lecha Chaver” cannot refer to a prostitute, since that would require “Schirah”, rental, versus “Kniyuh”, which clearly refers to a purchase. Rather, Reb Hai suggests that “Kney Lecha Chaver” must refer to either a slave, or a large dog.

The RIF, however, holds that “Kney Lecha Chaver” actually refers to a human being who is an actual friend, and that the use of the word “Kney”, “purchase”, implores you to acquire gifts for your friends to secure their loyalty, such as a pair of Tzitzis for Shabbos, an engaging Sefer before a voyage (such as my book Igrois Pinky), or a nice honey glazed ham for Yuntif.

But while the proper understanding of “Kney Lecha Chaver” remains a bit obscure, Koolay Alma Loi Pligee, everyone agrees, that it is manifestly important that one designate a Rabbi to serve as a spiritual guide.

But this leaves open two obvious questions that you may ask:

1) In a world view that conveys authority to individual human beings – Rabbis – what is to serve as a check against potential abuses of that authority?

2) In the post modern age of rationalism and pluralism, of information transparency and media ubiquity, how are we to understand the pronouncements and actions of Rabbis, some of whom are authority figures, especially when they contrast with our own sensibilities?

Well, you Minuval, if you are asking such questions, then it reveals what a Mechutziff Apikoiress you actually are! For one thing, you are a self-hating Soinay Yisrael who is unfit to sit at the same table as Woody Allen, Noam Chomsky, or the Niturei Karta. For another, you are a complete ignoramus. For the very same Pirkei Avois also warns us, “Shmayah Oimer: Ehav Ess HaMelachah, Oo’Snah Ess HaRabanuss, V’al Tissvadah LaRashuss”, “Shmayah said: Embrace work, hate the (Rabbinic) leadership, and do not get engaged with the government” (Pirkei Avois, 1, 9).

Clearly CHAZAL anticipated the potential ills that can come from concentrating power within a narrow authority. For that reason, since the time of the Tanaim, Klal Yisroel has had a culture of debate, with members of CHAZAL empowered – encouraged – to disagree with each other, without reliance upon or surrender to a single, central authority. Our ONLY central authority is Hakadoshboruchhu, the Melech-Malchei-HaMelachim, and, of course, His pet miniature pig, Vanilla.

So, as we gaze at some of the extreme abuses and outlandish pronouncements emanating from Rabbinic circles in our current generation, we should not be hesitant to respond to them or to question our own right to challenge Rabbinic Authority. Rabbinic Authority is designed around an almost organic system of checks and balances: Bais Hillel versus Bais Shammai; Rav versus Shmuel; Abaya versus Rava; RASHI versus all of his miserable, good-for-nothing grandsons; the Baal Shem Toiv versus the Vilna Goyn; Moe versus Larry, Curly, Shemp, and the others that no one ever remembers.

Such excesses in the modern day that MUST be addressed include:

-- Rabbi Leib Tropper, a man who, while publically promoting strict rules of conversion to Judaism, allegedly* abused his role to extort sexual favors

-- Rabbi Yehuda Kolko, a man who allegedly* molested children in his school for over thirty years; as in many such cases, the accusations were abundant, but the surrounding community never wanted to raise questions about Rabbi Kolko’s authority, or its own

-- Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, who as head of the Har Bracha Hesder Yeshiva, called upon soldiers to disobey direct orders should they be asked to evacuate Jewish settlements. The Hesder community has grudgingly acted to disavow his position. Whatever side one is on regarding the future borders of the State of Israel, a call for direct insubordination is a call to undermine the army of the State of Israel. And without an army there can be no State of Israel

-- Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who recently published “The Michael Jackson Tapes: A Tragic Icon Reveals His Soul in Intimate Conversation”. Need I say more?

In Rabbinic tradition, there are only three ways to address such abuses of authority:

1) Handling the matter completely internally, through public statements, disavoals, and Cherem (censure and/or excommunication)

2) Cooperating with the local and national authorities, especially on criminal matters

3) Handing the abusers over to the Romans for crucifixion.

While I personally prefer the latter option, the first two are probably most relevant in the present day, especially since crucifixion is probably too good for Rabbi Shmuley.

I am reminded of a famous story. A wealthy man was once participating in a large gathering of Jews from around the world. He had a million dollars that he wanted to donate to one good cause, so he went from person to person seeking advice for where to give the money. He first went to the Israeli author A.B. Yehoshua, who suggested he donate the money to the poor. He went to the author H.A. Rey, who suggested donating the money to children. And he went to the Rabbi S.A. Halevy, who suggested that the man donate the money to him, because he is the Reboinoisheloilum’s personal representative on earth. When asked for proof, Halevy pointed to his own synagogue membership, saying, “Hey, do you think those schmucks would have kept me as their rabbi all these years without divine intervention?”

Rabboisai, when the Aimishteh created human beings on the sixth day of creation, evolving them from apes right after His lunch break, He gave us consciousness, reason, and free will. Surrendering these innate gifts, gifts that distinguish us from the animal kingdom, is an affront to Hakadoshboruchhu. Ours is not a faith that ascribes infallibility to its leadership. That is a core philosophical difference between Yiddishkeit on the one hand, and Catholicism and Lubavitch on the other. But if you insist on blind followership, you can always follow Rabbi Shmuley. We have the Mesoirah from Sinai, but he has been endorsed by Oprah!

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval

* NOTE: I use the term “allegedly” at the advice of my attorney. For more information on these cases, go to:


s(b.) said...

yk. :)

Anonymous said...

"That is a core philosophical difference between Yiddishkeit on the one hand, and Catholicism and Lubavitch on the other."

Good one.