Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Rabbi Hunt

Moonlight. Park. Bench. Third Date.

"So, do you have a Rav? Like, someone to ask?"
(OK, that's the guy asking. Not my style question.)

"Um, well. I ask Y. when I have questions. He's got Semicha. He looks it up for me if he doesn't know." (Nothing like illustrious relatives. The whole learning in Kollel thing comes in useful sometimes.)

"I mean real questions, you know, life questions. Not Halachic questions".

(Long silence.)
"No, not really. I used to ask a couple of Rabbis stuff sometimes, in seminary. But I never get round to phoning them nowadays."

If I like him I may bother trying to explain more. Usually I don't.

I do feel faintly guilty about it. "Not having a Rav", that is. I had to memorize Mesilat Yesharim in High school. That whole paragraph with the Rabbi being up on a hill, able to guide lost and clueless lil' you through the maze of life. So Rabbis are the kind of thing one needs, right?

Yet somehow they never seem to work for me. Take dating episode #1,804,346 (that would be last week's)

I decide I wanna "Hear Daas Torah".
I spent three days trying to get hold of Rabbi X.
I begin to despair of ever talking to Rabbi X, except perhaps if I take up stalking as a hobby.
I ask all and sundry if they know of any other Rabbi with a slightly open mind, plus common sense. Apparently no, they are a rare breed in the Charedi world.
I keep trying. Eventually I get through.

"That's your decision"

"Yeah, but what does the Torah say?"

"Look, no Rabbi is going to tell you what to do."

"I wanted to hear the Torah perspective."

"There isn't one."

"Oh. Well do you have experience with other people going through this?"


"But it's pretty common."

"I tell them all it's their decision."

I give up. Make the same decision I was going to. (Since I'm sitll single, we all know what that was.)

But seriously, I'm puzzled, what's the deal with this talking to Rabbis business?

Is it for reassurance, for a listening ear? Fill-ins for shrinks, who no-one can go to for fear of besmirching their shidduch reputation forever? Is "I need to talk to a Rav" really the codename for Therapy 101?

Or is it for a stamp of approval? The excuse you can present to the outside world?
"I spoke to my Rav and he said.." = "This is what I want to do".

Because next time I want to hear what the Torah has to say, I think I'll stick with pulling out a book from the shelf.


  1. For most people, it is instead of having to think or decide on their own... The chassidish call it a "rebbe" and the litvish call it a "rosh yeshiva" or a "posek."

    Though I have this funny theory that the real way these things should work is when that you come to a rabbi with a question, you know almost as much as they do. You go to them for teaching (the original term is "moreh hora'ah"), so they teach you about the issue at hand, telling you what they know, how they have been taught, and how they would approach the p'sak halacha. You internalize this information, think about it, and come to a conclusion as to what to do.

    Furthermore, a wise rabbi will realize when things are not in his purview, and will state so. I have had my rabbanim tell me quite a few times "The halacha can go either way" or "This is not a halachic issue" or "I can only give you my personal opinion, which is not halachically binding." I have told people who ask me stuff that "You need to speak to a therapist" and the like...

  2. Gavi, I wish more rabbanim would say "I can only give you my personal opinion" and encourage people to decide for themselves - unfortunately the opposite seems to be true - more and more seem to believe they possess infallable "daas torah" and more and more of the people who ask them seem ready to believe it.

  3. I've also been sent to a rabbi for that type of thing, and the rabbi has also sent me away saying he doesn't advise on that type of thing.

    I think the big rabbis know enough to keep out. It's the little ones who like dispensing advice.

    I come from a long line of litvaks. We believe that a person is their own person and should be educated enough to make their own decisions. The whole "speak to a rabbi about everything in your life" is very chassidish.

  4. Chassidish, B4S? Sometimes someone is not learned enough to research it on their own, or sometimes you need a different perspective, usually unbiased. Enter the Rabbi.

  5. Rabbi's are for sure helpful for some people. I think the question is, is it a problem if I almost never ask a rabbi anything?

    Pirkei Avot does say "Aseh lecha Rav", and that's before the Baal Shem Tov came along..

    I'd like to but:
    a. I haven't found one
    b. I'm the independent type, so it kinda goes against my nature
    c. I'm also a litvak though and through, and believe in thinking for myself

    Anyway, latest update: My friend has just called me in a panic after being 3rd Degreed about why I don't 'have a kesher' with any Rabbis from Seminary. Any of you have a Rav to lend me? Maybe I should post on craigslist? ;-)

  6. On the Mishna "Aseh lecha Rav" ALL Rishonim say that it is discussing a safek in Halacha, not "life questions". It also says "knei lecha chaver" - because it is important to consult others. But at the end of the day the person is supposed to make the decision independently, not rely blindly on anyone else (even a great person). This is the idea of bechira chofshis, and it is why we are alive.