web analytics
April 16, 2014 / 16 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
Spa 1.2 Combining Modern Living in Traditional Jerusalem

A unique and prestigious residential project in now being built in Mekor Haim Street in Jerusalem.



Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

An Affront To Rabbinic Autonomy

Seplowitz-072012

Share Button

Many years ago when I was helping my congregation write a new constitution, I submitted a first draft to an expert who had been involved in setting up new shuls.

One paragraph read, “All matters of halacha (Jewish law) will be determined by the congregational rabbi.” Pretty straightforward, I thought.

“Not good enough,” said the expert. “What will you do when the board of the shul decides that a particular matter is not a halachic issue and tries to force your hand?”

So we added the phrase “…including the determination of what constitutes a matter of halacha.”

The role of the rabbi is to serve as a teacher and posek for his congregation. He sets the halachic tone; his congregation is supposed to follow it. His word, as the rabbi of his congregation, is the final one. Opinions of outside rabbis should be irrelevant, unless the congregational rabbi seeks their advice.

It has now become popular to seek to undermine this concept.

The call has now come, from various fronts, to insist that rabbis may not officiate at weddings without a prenuptial agreement (PNA). One organization has already established this policy, and Rabbi Michael Broyde, a member of the RCA’s Beth Din of America, has joined the call. Under the proposal, rabbis who choose not to utilize PNAs could face expulsion from their rabbinical organization.

Let me be clear. My purpose here is not to argue against the use of prenuptial agreements. Greater and more learned rabbis than I strongly advocate their use. However, there are also greater and more learned rabbis than I who oppose their use.

I do not use a prenuptial agreement, but I do not stand in the way of a couple arranging it through someone else. No, I am not insensitive to the plight of agunahs. Rather, I am following the guidance of my teacher, who objects to its use.

This call for organizational pressure is an affront to rabbinic autonomy.

I can’t speak about other organizations but I can tell you as a member of the Rabbinical Council of America that I feel it would be a mistake for our organization to follow this path.

When members of the RCA have taken public positions that were, if you’ll pardon the expression, unorthodox, the organization has, for the most part, not pressured them to relent. RCA members have written radical views on leftist blogs, pushing the envelope of halachic and hashkafic propriety, much to the silent acquiescence of our organization.

(For years, RCA members served congregations with mixed seating and microphones, though thankfully that is much less common today.)

On all of these issues, and more, I don’t hear calls for expulsion of the “perpetrators.” The argument I have often heard is that the RCA should not be dictating to individual rabbis as to how they should conduct their individual pulpits. Our organization is a “wide tent” with room for many opinions within the spectrum of (supposed) Orthodoxy.

Yet while the RCA tent is wide enough for those who advocate far left positions, a rabbi who, for halachic or other reasons, chooses not to do a PNA risks finding himself on the outside of that tent looking in.

Consider the RCA’s monumental GPS (Geirus Policies and Standards), which has standardized Orthodox conversion to a level acceptable to the Israeli rabbinate. This was a major accomplishment by the RCA. It has brought standards to an American rabbinate that sorely needed them. Yet the RCA doesn’t force its members to follow those standards. I know of RCA rabbis who perform conversions that do not conform to GPS. Should we expel those rabbis from the RCA? (Now that’s a policy I could see myself supporting.)

The cause of those who wish to encourage fellow rabbis to use prenups would be better served by engaging those rabbis in learned debate as to their advantages and disadvantages. But the suggestion that we engage in strong-arm tactics to force members to do it our way would demean our organization and the rabbinate.

However, that is not what bothers me the most about this discussion.

To further buttress this policy, members of shuls are being asked to press their rabbis to stop doing weddings without prenups and to mandate that no such weddings take place on the synagogue grounds.

This, I believe, totally undermines the relationship of a rav to his congregation.

The role of the rabbi is to be a leader. The congregation turns to him for guidance and inspiration, not to tell him how to run his pulpit. Should synagogue policy be determined based on what concessions members can squeeze out of the rabbi? (Can you envision the scene? “Sorry, Moses, 80 percent of the Jewish population has decided that we want to stay in Egypt. Drop your 10-Plague Plan or we’re dropping your contract!”)

The notion that people should be instructed to force their rabbi to ignore his own or his teachers’ halachic opinion boggles the mind; it certainly doesn’t sound like Orthodox Judaism.

Your rabbi is your teacher, your spiritual mentor. Please don’t insist that he do that which he feels is wrong.

If you don’t trust his judgment, you shouldn’t have hired him in the first place.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz, a member of the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America, is a mohel (BrisRabbi.com) and chaplain in Monsey, New York. His blog on the weekly parshah can be read at TorahTalk.org.

Share Button

About the Author: Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz, a mohel (BrisRabbi.com) and chaplain in Monsey, NewYork, is a member of the executive committee of the Rabbinical Council of America. His blog on the weekly Torah portion can be read at TorahTalk.org.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

No Responses to “An Affront To Rabbinic Autonomy”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Blue Valley High School, Overland Park, Kansas, the school attended by 14-year-old shooting victim Reat Griffin Underwood.
Kansas Shooting Suspect a White Supremacist, Indicted for Murder
Latest Indepth Stories
Lebovic-041814

How much is the human mind able to grasp of the Divine?

Benveniste-041814

Jews have brought the baggage of the galut (exile) mentality to the modern state of Israel.

Dann-041814

The Haggadah is an instruction manual on how to survive as strangers in strange lands.

It’s finally happened. New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan reported on her blog that “many readers…wrote to object to an [April 2] article…on the breakdown in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians,” claiming “[they] found the headline misleading and the article itself lacking in context.” Ms. Sullivan provided one such letter, quoted the […]

Nor did it seem relevant that according to widely circulated media reports, Rev. Sharpton was caught on an FBI surveillance video discussing possible drug sales with an FBI agent.

Jewish soldiers in the Polish forces often encountered anti-Semitic prejudice.

When the state was established, gedolim went to Ben-Gurion and asked him not to draft women and, later, yeshiva bachrim.

Perhaps worse than all the above is the acute lack of unity among Jews

At our seder we emulate the way it was celebrated in Temple times, as if the Temple still stood.

Not one world leader holds Abbas accountable for his part in the breakdown of negotiations.

The 1948 re-establishment of Jewish sovereignty was a modern day Exodus and Parting of the Sea.

Spies who caused American deaths and worked for enemy states received lighter sentences than Pollard.

Christie’s “good friend” is an Imam who supports murderers of Jews and defames Israel and Christians.

One grey night it happened, Bibi caved no more
& Poof that Foggy Bottomer, he vanished from our sight

More Articles from Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz
Israel's Chief Rabbinate

Everyone who knows Rabbi Weiss can attest that he is a man of honesty and integrity.

jewish family

Mrs. Cohen displayed that simple, unquestioning, adamant adherence to Torah-true Judaism that typifies many of our German-Jewish brethren.

Is it appropriate for players like Tim Tebow to make grand gestures of prayer to a Master of the World Who has His Hands full dealing with much more important things?

Many years ago when I was helping my congregation write a new constitution, I submitted a first draft to an expert who had been involved in setting up new shuls.

One paragraph read, “All matters of halacha (Jewish law) will be determined by the congregational rabbi.” Pretty straightforward, I thought.

The election season is upon us. Once again, we are being called on to select the next leader of the free world.

The pope has generated a bit of controversy.

First, he permitted congregations to go back to the old custom of praying in Latin. (More about that later.) Then he announced that only the Catholic Church qualifies as a real church. Protestants, as far as the pope is concerned, simply don’t make the grade!

    Latest Poll

    Now that Kerry's "Peace Talks" are apparently over, are you...?







    View Results

    Loading ... Loading ...

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/an-affront-to-rabbinic-autonomy/2012/07/18/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: