Tag Archives: rabbi

The Simple Neglected Solution to Preventing Rabbinic Scandals

After yet another Rabbinic colleague’s unrabbinic behavior makes headline news, the Jewish web once again finds itself flooded with indignation, recriminations, and general critiques of Orthodox Judaism – if not thinly veiled dissertations on the evils of religion and power. If the predictable pattern continues, in due time we will inevitably be about systemic changes which need to be made to revamp the entire religious society. This sound and fury of righteous indignation will produce little more than perpetuating already deeply held resentments, produce even less by way of substantive change, while mostly benefiting the loudest remaining survivors on the battle of the moral high ground.

I cannot speak for my Rabbinic colleagues, but each scandal (and subsequent backlash) is something I cannot help but take personally. I do not mean that I am in any way a victim, nor am I pleading for sympathy or understanding. It’s personal for me in the sense that I have spent much thought, time, energy, and effort into perfecting the craft of being a pulpit Rabbi. This comes from years of growing up in a Rabbinic household as well as a brief but intense tenure at The Stanton St. Shul. To this day I still engage with colleagues and mentors about issues and strategies, not because I have immediate expectations to return to the Rabbinate, but because I take personal pride in the professional pulpit.

With this in mind, my interest today is not to defend the Rabbinate, but to improve it. To do so I would like to revisit one of my greatest grievances of the professional Rabbiante, about which I even devoted a class years ago. Specifically, in my opinion one of the most unconscionable oversights in Rabbinic education is the complete lack of attention and concern for the halakhic ethics of Religious leadership.
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Daf Yomi Tweets – Masechet Berachot

When the Daf Yomi cycle restarted this past summer, I and many others started learning one page of Talmud every day. Keeping up this pace we will complete learning the entire Talmud in roughly 7.5 years which is certainly a daunting commitment, especially considering how difficult certain parts of the Talmud can get. In fact, some critics of daf yomi object to the accelerated pace as being a fairly superficial approach to Talmud study. Speaking only for myself, I have found daf yomi to be incredibly useful. Not only has it forced me to review and reevaluate passages I had seen before, but as I learn additional passages of Talmud (or gain new perspectives) I can immediate integrate them into sermons and classes, not to mention updating and correcting previous talks I have given.

It has also given me the opportunity to spread my thoughts via Twitter and engaging in fascinating discussions using the #DafYomi and #DafChat hashtags, though it took me a while to get into a Tweeting groove. With this in mind let me present my collection of observations and witticisms from learning, and now completing, Tractate Berachot through Daf Yomi.1

  1. I’d like to thank the people responsible for the Koren English Talmud, which made this much easier and to all readers, friends, and followers who have “enjoyed” the tweets.
Posted in Daf Yomi Tweets, Jewish Law / Halakha, Jewish Thought, Theology, and Machshava. Tagged with , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Who’s Who in the Talmud: R. Yochanan Part 1

Rabbi Yuter’s Who’s Who in the Talmud series shifts to the Amoraic period, beginning with the great Eretz Yisrael Amora R. Yochanan.

Who’s Who in the Talmud – R. Yochanan Part 1 Sources (PDF)

Who’s Who in the Talmud – R. Yochanan Part 1

Posted in Jewish History, Jewish Law / Halakha, Podcasts, Sermons, Lectures, and Divrei Torah, Who's Who in the Talmud. Tagged with , , .

Episode 31 – Politics of Exclusion: R. Moshe Feinstein vs. Conservative and Reform Weddings

Rabbi Josh Yuter’s Politics of Exclusion class continues with a discussion of R. Moshe Feinstein’s opinions regarding the halakhic status of weddings and marriages of Reform and Conservative Rabbis.

R. Moshe Feinstein vs Conservative and Reform Weddings Sources (PDF)

Politics of Exclusion – R. Moshe Feinstein vs Conservative and Reform Weddings

Posted in Jewish Law / Halakha, Jewish Thought, Theology, and Machshava, Podcasts, Politics of Exclusion in Judaism, Sermons, Lectures, and Divrei Torah. Tagged with , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Episode 29 – Masorah 2.0: Risks, Rewards, and Recommendations for Using the Web to Teach Torah

On May 17th 2011 I delivered the following presentation to the Rabbinical Council of America’s annual convention titled “Masorah 2.0: Risks, Rewards, and Recommendations for Using the Web to Teach Torah and Build Community.” Below is the audio and Powerpoint slides in PDF.

Masorah 2.0 RCA Presentation Slides (PDF)

Masorah 2.0 RCA Convention 2011

Posted in Podcasts, Science and Technology, Sermons, Lectures, and Divrei Torah. Tagged with , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Religion, Romance, and Rebbitzens

In my recent post “Defending the Rebbitzens” I discussed some ways in which the rabbi’s wife may be taken for granted by a congregation in terms of her communal contributions. Beyond those examples cited, there are many areas in which a rabbinic couple faces unfair if not unrealistic expectations, not the least of which is their marital relationship. Like other public figures or celebrities, the rabbinic couple is the de facto familial role model for the community, and subsequently held to a higher standard than “normal” couples. For better or worse, a community may look towards the rabbinic example with the intent to mimic their matrimonial model.1

This expectation no doubt can put a tremendous strain on a marriage, which some rabbinical schools attempt to address as part of the training process. Most of my colleagues in Yeshiva University’s rabbinical school were already married, but I do remember being told that those who were still single should not only look for a wife, but also a rebbitzen. Perhaps more helpfully, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah includes spouses in the rabbinic training program itself:

…we have instituted a monthly support group for spouses. YCT realizes that the role of rebbetzin is a complex one. Women come from varied personal and professional backgrounds and anticipate different degrees of engagement in their husbands’ professional lives. The support group, facilitated by a rebbetzin who is also a social worker, allows exploration of these issues and provides opportunities for students’ wives to talk with other rebbetzins who come to New York specifically for group meetings.2

It is clear that in addition to normal marital difficulties, rabbinic couples often must face additional if not magnified tensions. One such overlooked area of potential discord is, ironically, the matter of familial religious practice itself.

Conventional wisdom dictates that a healthy marriage is based on mutual trust, understanding, and a sense of equality and partnership. But while both the rabbi and rebbitzen may be equally passionate about their observance, the husband – by virtue of his rabbinic education – will be more knowledgeable than his wife in matters of religious observance. Thus, any religious dialogue will necessarily be unbalanced.

In order to convey this point, I will give a few general examples from my own experience in dating. In once particular instance I once found myself arguing over the proper use of a microwave in terms of kashrut. I was arguing my position based on my understanding of Yoreh Deah and she steadfastly held by whatever her rabbi said, regardless of whatever source I would happen to quote.3

In another relationship I found myself unable to even engage in the text themselves with my significant other. If I assumed a role of superiority I would come across as patronizing and condescending. On the other hand, if we exchanged as equals she would not be able to engage with sufficient textual and contextual background.

To be sure these exchanges may have been unique to my relationships, and I should remind the reader that I am still single after all. However I suspect these sorts of exchanges are not uncommon among other married rabbinic couples in some form or another.

Consider first that successful rabbis must already compromise on religious observance for their communities i.e. they know which stringencies and which leniencies are appropriate for their congregations. But at home one would suspect the rabbi would have some control over his own observance, if nothing else as a spiritually stabilizing element in his life.

Secondly, for a rabbi halakhic observance is not subject to negotiation like dishes, driving, or diapers. It is a way of life determined by ones understanding of technical legal sources imbued with religious significance, not to be traded for taking out the garbage.

Finally, even mature compromises will not prevent every possible conflict. For example, assume a rabbinic couple takes a position of respectful autonomy – where the husband and wife agree to follow their own understanding of Jewish law. This arrangement will only sustain until such time as one requires the other to compromise on their own expectation of religious independence.

Like any relationship dispute, the greater point of contention or seriousness of the dispute, the greater the tension. And just like “normal” marriages, rabbinic marriages sometimes do end in divorce. But given that rabbis and rebbitzens often live long and happy lives together, it is clear that none of these issues of religious tensions are necessarily insurmountable and that healthy couples can live together even with persistent religious disagreements.

I suppose the rabbinic couples may be considered role models after all.

1. In one extreme Talmudic example, R. Kahana spied (poorly) on his teacher Rav’s marital life on the grounds that even intimacy is a matter of Torah and must be learned by a teacher (B. Berachot 62a).
2. Friedman, Michelle. “Pastoral Counseling at YCT Rabbinical School.” Milin Chavivin vol. 1. (2005) p. 82-83. Despite this effort from the rabbinical school, there have still been multiple divorces and broken engagement, though it is difficult to tell if such rates are higher than those for other rabbinical students or the population at large.
3. There’s an often repeated story that R. Yosef Soloveitchik was once told by his wife, “you and your Shulhan Aruch are treifing up my kitchen.”
Posted in Jewish Dating. Tagged with , , , , .

Defending the Rebbitzens

The recent controversy surrounding orthodox women rabbis has reignited the general debates of gender discrimination in Orthodox Judaism. Jewish law precludes women from participating in many communal functions such as counting in a minyan or serving as witnesses. Since no such law or statute prohibits women from being ordained as rabbis or rabbinic figures – either in the classical or modern sense of the term – it is understandable if some women view their exclusion from leadership positions as a form of institutional misogyny.

However Jewish society has discriminated against both men and women in leadership positions for generations, often with the communal complicity of self-identified feminists. I am referring here to the expectations and demands of the Rabbi’s wife, better known as The Rebbitzen.
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