Monday, August 20, 2012

Of Shuls and Rabbis

Chopping Wood has an interesting article about the quest for a Rabbi at a shul in Yad Binyamin.

Over the past few years our congregation in Modi'in has been going through a similar process. Five years ago when I joined the shul, there was a small group that was actively pushing for a Rav for the shul, and a few individuals who were absolutely against the concept of having a Rav dictate to the shul what it can and cannot do.

To me, having a shul Rabbi is one of the most important aspects of a congregation. Even though the concept fo Shul Rabbi is less common in Israel, and many people have their own rav that they can turn to with personal halachic questions, I think that a part time Rabbi is important to any congregation for a variety of reasons, including the followng:
  • Stops the shul being a "free-for-all", where anyone feels that they can do whatever they want, whether changing the Nussach, changing the acceptable practice, or changing any other acceptable norms.
    Some change is warranted, other change can be harmful or divisive, and some change may not be halachicly acceptable. The job of the Rabbi is to make sure that practice in the shul is acceptable to halacha and appropriate for the membership.
  • A Rav who knows how to assert his authority can help prevent arguments. There are always disagreements in a shul over how things should be done, the role of women, who should get aliyot etc. If the Rav has the authority to stand up and say that this is the way we do things here, that can help prevent arguments, or at the very least rephrase the argument as a discussion with the Rabbi instead of a screaming match between congregants.
  • The Rav helps set the tone of the Tefilla. His presence can help the speed of the tefila and decorum suitable for the congregation.
  • The entire atmosphere in the shul changes when there is a designated Rav present. I know that I behave different when I am next to someone that I respect (A good tip for improving your behaviour, especially in Elul,  is to always imagine that you Rosh Yeshiva is in the room with you)
  • Most importantly, having a Rav present is an important educational tool. Kids can see that decisions in the shul are based on an Halachic authority, and the see how to give Kavod, even with something as small as waiting for the Rav to finish Shema before continuing with the Tefilla.
Some of the issues above can be achieved if there is a recognized Posek for the shul, such as a city Rabbi who is accepted by the congregation and is involved in the running of the shul. However even having a designated Possek is rare in Israel, as far too many congregations let the Gabbai, Ba'al tfilla, or individual members do whatever they want in the running of the shul, or leave halachic decisions up to a vote.

The lack of Rabbi in our shul has been a sore point for me since I joint the congregation when I moved to the neighborhood five years ago, however there is only one shul in the neighborhood that has its own Rabbi, and even though I regularly daven at their Hashkama minyan on Shabbat, I don't see myself as a member of that congregation for a variety of reasons (which are beyond the scope of this post).

I was hopeful that our shul would eventually appoint a Rabbi, and in the mean time the Gabbai'im have taken all halachic questions to Rabbi Lau, Chief Rabbi of Modi'in.
Over the past year the Va'ad has been working on a "Takanon" for the congregation, and I was really hoping that the issue of Rav/Possek would be addressed formerly there. Today they sent out a draft of some of the clauses that have been drafted for the Takonon so that they can be voted on at a meeting next week.
Most of the clauses addressed questions of Nussach that have been controversial over the past few years, but they had the following proposal regarding the question of Rabbi (I deleted the names of the individuals involved):

שאלות הלכתיות
באם תתעורר שאלה הלכתית בהלכות תפילה,  בית כנסת, ס"ת והקריאה בלבד, יפנו הגבאים אל חברי ועדה  הלכתית, שתכריע בנושא. לצורך כך הועד מציע שתוקם ועדה הלכתית בראשות הרב ___es__ והחברים _____ ו_____.
בסמכותה של ועדה זו להכריע הלכתית בנושאים שיועלו בפניה על ידי הגבאים או להביא את השאלה בפני סמכות הלכתית  אחרת בהתאם לשיקול דעתם.

Halachic Questions
As Halachic questions arise with regard to prayer, the Beit Knesset, Sefer Torah, and Leining only, the gabaim will refer to  members of he Halachic committee that are familiar with the issue. For this purpose, a committee will be established under the leadership of Rabbi ____ and members _____ and _____.
This committee will have the authority to establish halachic practice for issues that are brought to them by the Gabbaim, or to take the question to a different recognized halachic authority based on their judgement.
Even though I have utmost respect for the three members proposed to establish the "Halachic committee" and I respect their judgement and knowledge of halacha, if this clause is voted in as it is currently worded, I think that I will not be able to continue as a member of the congregation.

I think that this clause is the opposite of the concept of congregation rabbi for the following reasons:
  • Instead of a Rabbi, this is a committee, there is no one individual who can say "The Buck Stops Here".
  • It limits the issues that the "Halachic Committee" can rule on (prayer, Beit Knesset, Sefer Torah, and Leining only). I don't know what other issues may come up, but I think that there should be a halachic authority over all activities run by the shul, including  social activities, Chessed programs, or children's activities run under the auspices of the congregation.
    (Note - I am not aware of any halachicly questionable activities under the auspices of the shul, but if we have a Rabbi, he should be involved in these committees)
  • The committee will only respond to issues raised by the Gabbaim, they have no formal authority to take an initiative if they feel that they can contribute in other ways, for example they see something in shul instituted by the Gabai'im which is halachicly questionable or have suggestions how thigs could be improved.
    (The present Gaba'im are very careful on halachic matters, and I assume that when they step down the new Gaba'im will be equally careful, but it is still a good idea for someone to have the authority to oversee their decisions).
  • The proposal went out of its way to not designate a Posek for the shul (who until now has been by default Rabbi Lau) rather it is deliberately vague in referring to a "recognized halachic authority".
  • Other proposed clauses for the Takanon dealt with Nussach of Tfilla, If Nussach is not regarded as a Halachic issue that should be referred to a Rabbi, but decided by a majority vote, I'm not sure what type of issues would be considered the responsibility of the "Halachic Committee"
I sincerely hope that there will be significant changes to this clause before it is voted on next week. But should it pass in it's current format, looks like I'll be in the market for a new shul for Yom Tov this year.

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