Rabbis are teachers of the Jewish law – not of the faith


Finally, I have understood why the rabbis are hesitant, or sometimes even afraid, to discuss how individual Jews may feel or sense their own Jewish faith. That is so because the rabbis are teachers of the Jewish law (including traditions and rituals) – not of the faith.

The faith is a strong belief or trust in someone or something, most importantly in the existence of God and His morality guidance on how to create a better world for everybody. The Jewish “tribe” has its own understanding of God-guided morality – the other “tribes” have their own understanding. The belief or trust in someone or something cannot be learnt – it is inherent at a sort of genetic level. If somebody in the tribe does not have the common faith of the tribe, no teacher is able to install it in this person. It looks like we are born with our faith. The Jewish faith-morality is presented in the Torah even for those who do not know of its existence (and never talked to a rabbi).

With the Jewish law (including rituals and tradition) everything is different. The Jewish law is a human codification of the Torah guidance on morality done mostly by the rabbis. Our rabbis have created the Jewish law, and the Jewish law continues to be developed. Since the Jewish law is of human development, it is a subject of human – in the Jewish case the rabbinical – competitiveness. That is why we have many competitive variations of the Jewish laws created by different rabbis at different times.

Below are the thoughts of two respectable rabbis in support of the above stated.

Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs was a Masorti rabbi, the first leader of Masorti Judaism in the United Kingdom, and a leading writer and thinker on Judaism.

A rabbi is a teacher of Judaism qualified to render decisions in Jewish law. The term is derived from rav, meaning “great man” or “teacher;” Moses is called Moshe Rabbenu. (“Moses our teacher”).

In post-Talmudic times, the conventional title among Sephardi Jews was Hakham, “sage,” and this title is still used by the Sephardim. The Ashkenazim preferred the term “Rabbi” and developed a new form of ordination, in which a prominent scholar subjected a candidate for the rabbinate to an examination in order to determine his proficiency in Jewish law.

The professional rabbi was unknown before the fourteenth century. Scholars capable of rendering decisions in Jewish law performed this function without receiving any salary, following the Talmudic injunction against obtaining financial gain from the Torah, except that scholars were exempted from communal taxation and had the right to be served first when buying in the market-place, so as to enable them to devote more time to their studies.

Once the rabbinate became a profession, proper contracts of service were drawn up and these are discussed in the later [law] codes under the heading of general financial undertakings. This pattern was preserved among the Ashkenazim in Eastern European communities, as was the institution of the Hakham among the Sephardi and Oriental communities, and it is still the norm in the State of Israel and in the Diaspora communities of the older Orthodox type.

Thus, the rabbinate is a profession, and as any other professions rabbis have to compete with others in the field.

Rabbi Gordimer is a member of the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America, and a member of the New York Bar. His writings on Jewish topics are published widely.

It is sometimes hard to believe what we are reading, as things are turned upside down in an effort to be politically correct and gain popular appeal. Orthodox Judaism has never sought to be politically correct – on the contrary, it has stood its guns no matter what direction the winds are blowing. Unfortunately, with the case of Modern Orthodox rabbis who have crossed the line into Open Orthodoxy, it has become almost commonplace to read the unbelievable, things that would never have been expressed were Rabbi Soloveitchik zt”l, the Torah luminary of American Modern Orthodoxy, still with us. Sometimes, shocking ideas are articulated in direct contravention of his views, with the excuse that “times have changed.” Since when has that wellworn excuse been used in Orthodoxy? This, much as it hurts to write it, seems to be the case when it comes to rabbinic superstar, Rabbi Dr. Shlomo Riskin, who seems to be on a much publicized collision course with tradition.

Theologically, the Reform and Conservative (as well as the Reconstructionist) movements reject the Singular Divine Authorship of the Torah and the other Cardinal Principles of Faith, and they have disavowed the binding nature of halakha.

I am not a rabbi but feel strongly that this rabbi is wrong: the other rabbis, whom this rabbi maligns, do not reject “the Singular Divine Authorship of the Torah and the other Cardinal Principles of Faith”. The other rabbis are tailoring and applying “the Singular Divine Authorship of the Torah and the other Cardinal Principles of Faith” to different human life conditions that rabbi Gordimer has not met yet.

About Vladimir Minkov

Vladimir Minkov Ph.D. is a nuclear scientist, published author and writer. He is the co-author of "Nuclear Shadow Boxing", a scientific history of the nuclear confrontation between the Soviet Union and USA during the cold war and is the author of "The Jews and Their Role in Our World", which explores his personal journey to discovering Jewish identity. Having lost much of his family in the Holocaust and finding his search for spiritual development stifled in the Soviet Union, Vladimir migrated to the United States in the late 1970s.

Posted on June 16, 2016, in English-language posts and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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