Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart
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Monday, 17 August 2009

The Role of the Rav

Western secular liberalism is, at heart, a selfish consumer culture. The individual is raised from early childhood to ask "What's in it for me?" Either overtly or subliminally, John F. Kennedy's famous challenge: "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country" is being answered: "Screw my country. What's in it for me?"
As a result, the traditional role of authority figures in society has change from a paternalistic one into a consumer-related one. The professor teaching the class in university is no different in the eyes of his students than the guy in the blue smock at Wal-mart who knows what aisle the salted peanuts are in.
In concert with this, the role of the rav in the Jewish community has also changed, and not for the better. As this article by Rav Levi Brackman notes, the impact of the evolution of the rav from spiritual leader to synagogue employee is profoundly negative:
In by gone times rabbis used to lead their congregations—they would be involved in every level of communal affairs. Nowadays rabbis act as agents of the communities rather than as leaders of them. Having been a congregational rabbi and also having met with synagogue rabbis to discuss issues affecting the wider Jewish community I can attest to this.
It is rare that a rabbi can make a decision on his own. There is always the caveat that he must first discuss it with the board of management or more accurately with his boss. Often the rabbi’s ideas will then be overruled by the management and nothing will get done. Most seasoned rabbis know not to act on anything of consequence without prior approval of their employers.
On occasion one finds a congregational rabbi who actually takes his own initiative and leads. Unfortunately the fallout can be devastating for the rabbi...

With shackles like these it is impossible for rabbis to actually lead. So indeed there is a crisis of leadership within our Diaspora Jewish communities. This may just explain why Anglo Jewry and congregations in the USA can’t seem to revive their stagnating and dwindling synagogue memberships. Simply put: without real leaders there won’t be any followers.
Now I'm not suggesting that rabbonim attempt to return to the role of benign dictators guiding their flocks without input from the unwashed masses beneath them. However, the current situation prevalent in many shuls, especially Modern Orthodox ones, is not conducive to long-term congregational stability.
Let me illustrate with two personal examples. In the community I grew up in, the shul hired rabbonim to six year contracts, usually a recent musmach from YU. Each rav went through a predictable pattern. In the first two years, we were all told how lucky we were to get this one. In the third and fourth year the shine came off and political lines started to be drawn. In the fifth and sixth year, the rav forgot he was a shul employee and started playing politics in an attempt to increase his influence in the congregation. Unfortunately each would always pick the wrong allies and wind up without a contract extension.
As a result, the shul drifted slowly downwards over time. No long-term planning was done because each rav would come in and try to start things over instead of commiting to anything the last one had attempted to get going. What's more, the rav inevitably figured out that he wasn't going to be spending his life in the community. Why care about the big picture when you're leaving in a few years? As a result, today the shul is stumbling forward with a minyan on Shabbos morning but not much else.
Then there's the community I live in now. The previous rav came to town in 1952 or so. At the time the congregation was envious of the success of the nearby Conservative synagogue and was planning to switch denominations. The idea was for this rav to hang around for a couple of years and then be given a choice: either go Conservative with them or leave. However, the rav had other plans and along with a gift for all matters financial, headed off the defection and effectively took over the shul. Far from going Conservative, the shul stayed properly Orthodox. In addition, since the rav was committed to staying in the community for the long term, he was able to plan and execute the building of the city's first day school. For ten years we even had a yeshivah high school until monetary reality and politics conspired to kill it.
What was the difference in this case? The rav was a leader, not an employee. He was also in the enviable position of being financially independent so that threats of a pay cut or sudden loss of employment from the layfolk meant nothing to him. Finally, as the board faded into irrelevance he established his long term plans and carried them out with a consistent sense of direction.
Today his son is the rav of the shul. How many community shuls can boast a dynasty like that?
Under the influence of secular Western culture, people don't like to follow. They like their autonomy and independence. These are all great things to have but if a community is to thrive, each person must put a certain amount of desire for them aside for the greater good. Otherwise, like herding cats, no one gets nowhere real fast.

14 comments:

Shalmo said...

Organ traffickers are not very good spiritual leaders in my eyes.

Nor are the WW2 rabbis, you know the ones who saved their own hides while the yeshivah students went to the ovens.

Today the frum world is exploding because the rabbis are failing the Jewish people. If anything we need to look at them less as spiritual leaders, and more as fellow human beings who need to be held accountable to certain standards.

If all Orthodox became conservative/reform such accountability would not even be an issue.

SJ said...

Garnel, your post, the Role of the Rav, is terribly biggoted because it diminishes the ethics of ordinary people, just for wanting the best possible product for oneself, which is normal behavior.

People who behave themselves don't need to get called "selfish" by an arrogant rabbi.

The Leader, Garnel Ironheart said...

You guys are really boring, you should know that.

Shalmo said...

The rabbis have betrayed Jews too much Garnel.

Think of the Haredi. Their rabbis are rich, happy and their families are prosperous. Yet the followers are stuck in dirt poor poverty because secular education has been forbidden to them by those same rabbis.

How is that different than WW2 who saved themselves, while their congregations went to the ovens?

You wish to remove accounbility from ravs, and by doing so take Jews back to the dark ages of infallible rabbinical authorities. One look at the haredi is enough for the rest of us to say HELL NO!

Garnel Ironheart said...

{Yawn}

Off the Derech said...

Garnel is nuts.

Shalmo said...

off topic:

Garnel what do you think of this?

Talmudic origin for black people; a midrash that states the black race originated with Ham. The midrash states that Ham had sex with a dog in the ark and thus became Black. Bereshit Rabba, Parasha Noach 36.7 "R Hiyya said: Ham and the dog copu...lated in the Ark, therefore Ham became Black-skinned while the dog publicly exposes its copulation"

Originally I thought this was a joke, but then a little research showed that historically this is exactly what Jews felt was the origin of people from Africa.

JP not only believes in this, but supports it on his blog. I wouldn't even know about unless he showed it to us. And like any Orthodox Jew JP accepts the infallibility of the so-called Oral Torah.

Do you accept this tradition as well?

And if not, then please explain why you dismiss it. And how honest such a methodology of picking and choosing what suits your whims, and discarding what doesn't is.

Shalmo said...

Alright everyone OJ believes black people come from Ham screwing a dog, and since Garnel does not provide an answer, I assume this is because he can't.

So who here still wants to stick with OJ?

The Leader, Garnel Ironheart said...

Well Shalmo I'm sorry I didn't answer your question within 60 minutes of your posting it. It could be something to do with my having a life and other things to do than obsessively check my computer every 5 minutes.
Anyway, there's an old saying I like to hold by: If you don't believe every word in the Midrash, you're a heretic. If you believe every word, you're an idiot.
Copu...late? You mean Ham and the dog did the nasty? Gosh, I hope it wasn't a chihauhau, poor thing. Was it a German sheppard? No, no, I know, it was a BLACK Labrador. Good thing he didn't choose the purple one.
Really Shalmo, you have to think about these things. Chazal are very precise and they were well aware that there were different breeds of dogs in the world. If they use a generic term then they're getting at a deeper meaning. Personally I'm not an expert in midrashic interpretation but cearly one has to look past the literal reading into the true meaning Chazal were trying to give us.
As for beliefs, well until modern science showed us otherwise why wouldn't people accept the literal text as the simple truth? Now that we know more about the origins of the world we must reevaluate our understanding of the Midrash. Cleearly it means more than the superficial reading would suggest.

Garnel Ironheart said...

Oh, oh! What if it was a chocolate labrador? Would that mean we'd call black folks Chocolates? And that would mean us whiteys would be vanillas.
Hang on, does that also mean that at Baskin Robbins I'd be order a sundae with caucasian and negroid ice cream?

Shalmo said...

Since when did it become ok to dismiss anything in the Oral torah bases on emotion?

Are you saying that because science has revealed that all mankind has common origins, that we should dismiss this tradition?

If so you are basically advocating a pick and choose policy, no different than how liberal christians/jews pick and choose what they like in their bible.

And if you can discard one tradition so easily, then please explain why we should take anything in the oral Torah as affirmative at all. Couldn't it all have been forged?

And more importantly, don't traditions like these undermine Chazal in general? If they can say such deranged things, then why should we take anything they say seriously? Rabbinic Judaism is biult on a blind trust on Chazal, you have to believe they were honest and sincere in everything they claimed.

Shalmo said...

Actually this tradition makes sense from a Torah perspective.The torah is larglely an ancient thesis on the origin of races.

With the Ammonites for example, we have an origin story of Lot having sex with his daughters.

Or the Canaanites whom some traditions claim were descended from Cain, hence the similarly in name.

So us having such a tradition for black as well, them coming from Ham screwing a dog, make sense given the other origin stories in the jewish books.

Everybody whom Jewish scribes did not like are given deranged origins.

Interestingly, these narratives only cover the origins of semitic tribes Jewry had contact with, yet remain silent on the natives in North America or the Aztecs in South America, or heck even hindus in South Asia. This is ofcourse because when the Jewish books were being redacted the scribes did not have access for these other races, hence they did not provide narratives for them. Which adds more fruit to the Torah being a very human book than something fashioned by God.

The Leader, Garnel Ironheart said...

Maybe Ham had sex with you in the ark. After all, you yap like a poodle.

Canaanites are connected with Cain? They are spelled completely differently in the original Hebrew and the only connection they have is that Noach's wife, Naamah was descended from Cain which means all humanity is connected to him.

Shalmo, I've come to the conclusion you're a young man who spends far too much time in his parent's basement obsessing over the computer. You need to get out, get a girlfriend and a life.

Shalmo said...

Does somebody have sand in their vagina?

Common Garnel you are not even providing refutations anymore, just ad hominems.

I think you just don't have an answer as usual which is why you are now resorting to such behaviour.

Your god can't blame me for my kefirah when his emissaries fail each time to convince us of the "truth" of Judaism.