The Sceptic Blog

Random thoughts of a random chappy

Rabbis Gone Wrong – Tisha B’Av 2009

with one comment

1.  Let’s prepare for the worst – that not every one of the rabbis arrested by the FBI yesterday turns out to be a maligned innocent, but that rabbis turn out to have knowingly been involved in money laundering.

2.  If that is the case, then here is this year’s Kamtza and Bar Kamtza challenge for the rabbinical world and the whole Jewish community, just in time for this year’s Tisha B’av.

3.  If I call myself a Jew and I behave badly, God’s name is besmirched.  If I call myself a rabbi and behave badly, the Torah is discredited: thousands of neshomohs may be turned away from Jewish values and practice because the Judaism that a “rabbi” represents appears spiritually bankrupt.

4.  One of the many faults of this generation’s Jewish community is that we have allowed people too easily to assume the title Rabbi.  On the one hand, semichah has become a kind of routine examination whereby people can obtain official ordination after just a few years’ study and without any serious kind of estimation of their moral character or leadership qualities.  On the other hand, even without semichah of any formal kind people are allowed to assume the title, or are accorded it as an honorific, without any serious justification or need.  (The Chazon Ish did not have semichah, because he never needed it.)

5.  To reverse this process would be enormously difficult.  But not impossible, if the will from the rabbis and the people were there.  The essence of the Kamtza and Bar Kamtzah story is that the rabbis sat and did nothing.  The rabbis, with our encouragement and support, need to restore the lustre to their holy office.  They need publicly to expel those who degrade it, by public proclamations of who is no longer fitting to act in reliance on a semichah; and they need to take serious steps to ensure that woldwide the title is reserved for those who have shown more than a few years attendance at a talmudic sausage factory to deserve it.

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Written by Daniel Greenberg

July 24, 2009 at 7:46 am

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Israel is unfortunately where this started, and where it must stop first, but the pressure for reform should be from the state as well as ‘from below’ because it is the state that has fostered the decay. Much of the arguable degredation in moral qualities is not ‘from within’ – e.g. the greater ease with which semicha can now be gained – but is also due to the changing nature and status of rabbis in the Jewish state. To push the metaphor, Israel is the main culprit not only for keeping the sausage factory model, but for doing so when what is needed more than elsewhere is a gourmet deli stocking prime steak, joints of lamb, etc. Israel has facilitated the expansion of what is demanded from the rabbinate while not ensuring that the rabbinical ‘brand’ is maintained. Without suggesting a diminution of rabbinical authority over kashrut, Jewish status, marriages and so on, it is hard to be encouraged by the current situation. Some Israeli rabbis – of all stripes – are perfect examples of what is described above: insufficiently prepared by traditional semicha for the great worldly responsibility which comes with their expanded remit. Yet they are often on a par with municipal or higher politicians in terms of power and sadly, as is often the case with Israeli politicians, one does not need to scour the press for examples of distinctly undesirable behaviour which in so many cases, are quite peurile abuses of this power. For as long as some Israeli rabbis of high standing (and to be fair, many other Israelis) act on narrow constituency bases, behaving with the mindset of village-headmen, they will not shame or inspire anyone there or elsewhere into expecting more of our leaders. He who pays the piper should call the tune and the Israeli government should specify more rigorously what they want in terms of quality (but not halachic flexibility) for their money from the yeshivot and kollelim they fund.

    Benjamin Vos

    August 7, 2009 at 3:41 pm


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