Thursday, September 24, 2009

Creating a Friendly Kollel

One of the policies we established at the outset of our Toronto project is that we are not rabbis creating a shul.

• No one in our group, including me, is permitted to answer a halachic question;
• We do not have our own minyan;
• We will do nothing, programmatically or otherwise, to undermine any shul rabbi.

Part of this is personal; after a dozen years in the shul rabbinate, I would never do anything that would take anything away from a sitting shul rabbi. I respect and love shul rabbis, I know what it means to be in their shoes, and this is a matter of highest importance to me. I would not have signed on, were this not our policy.

Part of this is halachic; as the gemara makes clear, every location has its own halachic authority. Classic סמיכה (ordination) was like filling a seat on a judicial bench; your license was for a specific location, where there was a need. That’s why major talmidei chachamim didn’t receive סמיכה; there was no court vacancy.

And part of it is communal; having multiple rabbis offering psak is bad for communal unity, and even if those rabbonim actually agree. I’ve seen it in my professional life, repeatedly. Competition is good in many areas, but when it comes to leadership, to quote Sanhedrin 8a, דבר אחד לדור ואין שני דברים לדור, there is one leader for a generation, not two leaders for a generation.

The one catch: In theory, all of this is clear. In practice, it becomes complicated.

• I can be standing in a minyan and someone can turn to me to ask whether he needs to repeat the amidah for missing המלך המשפט; it’s a ביעתא בכותחא question, not something requiring analysis. I get a call from someone who has a halachic problem an hour before Shabbos, and he doesn’t want to bother the rabbi. Someone asks me to discuss a halachic issue with him, but he doesn’t ask me for a final decision, a psak.

• The same gray areas develop regarding our minyan rule; what if a group comes to a late shiur, and they want to daven maariv afterward?

• And regarding avoiding undermining a shul rabbi – is it undermining if we schedule shiurim and a rabbi’s congregants attend, resulting on a drain in his own audience?

So the implementation isn’t straightforward, but I believe we must take this tack – for the sake of community, for the sake of halachah, and for the sake of my personal comfort. We are not separatists; we are here only to help, להגדיל תורה ולהאדירה.


  1. It's always seems to be a challenge. One group might take away from another without meaning to. In my city there are more shuls who seem to be "fighting" for members. Then there are out reaches organizations who have their own events.

    It sounds like you have a good policy going, hopefully things will go *mostly* smoothly.

    Gmar Chatimah Tova!

  2. A group davening does not a shul make --- there are a number of "mincha minayim" in office buildings downtown and other places where there are no shuls handy for those who need to say kaddish so a single instance of davening after a shiur will hardly undermine the shuls.

    If someone goes to your shiur and not to Rav X or Rabbi Y it is only because you may have something new to say or because they are bored of what they already have.

    Many shul buildings (the BAYT north and Beth Tzedec south) have more then one kind of service or even more then one congregation in the building on Shabbat and Yom Tov. We have breakaways from breakaways. Variety in places to daven and to learn is a wonderful thing.

    And you can always answer the questions you feel comfortable asking and refer the rest. I have asked my congregation Rabbi questions to which the answer is " I am not an expert in such and so. I need to research/ask a Rabbi with more expertise/refer you to someone else".

  3. I get this all the time. If the rabbi is around, I always tell people to ask him. If not and it is urgent, I'll answer and then later tell the rabbi about the conversation so he is aware and I know for the future whether he agrees with what I said or he has/follows a different view. If no one asks, I keep my mouth shut. We once had an issue with the timer in shul when the rabbi was away, and I thought it was clear that we could ask a non-Jew to turn the light on. But no one asked me so the gabbai made his own decision and we davened in the dark.

  4. Excellent thoughts.

    When we were out East (where you once interviewed) I saw it as my responsibility to strengthen both the local rav and the notion of the rabbinate. It helped that I taught in another city.

    I consistently answered any but the most immediate questions with 'you should ask Rabbi Ploni, that's how it should be.' The only regular exceptions were when he was out of town and it was an Erev Shabbat kashrut kind of question, or a woman with a question about mikvah. Everything else could wait until the appointed rav was back and available.

    Strengthening people's use of the rav appropriately, and understanding the roles and responsibilities is part of the education woefully lacking today.

    Hazak v'ematz!

  5. Shorty-
    Gd-willing, yes.

    Anonymous 10:12 PM-
    I agree that variety can be a good thing - but as I noted, I don't believe in it for leadership.

    R' Gil, R' Mordechai-