Monday, May 09, 2005

There are four sons and there are four rabbis.

R. Dr. Tzevi Hirsch Chajes (1805-1855) wrote of the unqualified rabbinical candidates of Galicia in his day

Even that segment of the youth that prepare to devote themselves to a rabbinical career have not the vaguest notion of the scope of the office.... Of the vast corpus of the laws, of Orach Chayyim they study only the laws of Passover, and even that section not in its entirety...and then Yoreh De'ah, the laws of ritual slaughter, terefot, milk and meat, and forbidden mixtures. This constitutes their entire course of study. If one of them has a smattering of proficiency in these areas, even if he does not know that David reigned after Saul, he will be recommended by the Rabbis as the most qualified rabbinical candidate for even the most prestigious cities.

In his Minhat Kenaot he scathingly critiqued and indicted the Orthodox rabbinate and its failure to respond to the needs of the time, which had resulted in the rise and success of the Reform movement.

R. Chajes identified four types of inadequate rabbis.

1) They have no knowledge of Reform circles in Germany; they have not followed the proceedings of the Reform Rabbinical Conferences as reported in the press and they are ignorant of the extent of the changes that have been instituted in various synagogues.

About them R. Chajes wrote:

With such rabbis I can have no relationship whatsoever since...they do not fulfill the the community. Their standing demands them not to be silent, bovine-like, concerned only with their immediate surroundings, unaware of what transpires among their people. Rather, an obligation devolves upon them to be informed.

However, the vast majority of Orthodox rabbis were aware of the dangers of the innovators but, nevertheless, had been unable to respond adequately. R. Chajes divides those rabbis into three subgroups:

1) Those who were afraid to be in vocal opposition to Reform lest their own response focus even more attention upon Reform deviation and inadvertently enhance its success. Eastern European masses who had hitherto followed tradition unquestioningly might learn of innovations by adherents of Reform and find them to be appealing. Accordingly, those rabbis regarded silence as the better part of valor.

2) A second group consisted of rabbis who were well aware of their own failings and lack of skill in the art of debate. They feared public confrontation lest their lack of expertise bring dishonor to their cause.

3) Finally, a third segment of the rabbinate consisted of talented and learned individuals who enjoyed positions of prestige in the community but considered themselves to be above the fray and believed it to be beneath their dignity to engage in debate with individuals who were not their equals in rabbinic scholarship.

In summary

1) The know-nothings; ignorant of the happening outside their daled-amos.
2) The ostriches; keep everything hush-hush and everything will be alright.
3) The insufficiently prepared and the cowardly.
4) The elitists.

I would hope the above reads like a long buried history.

Drawn from 'Rabbinic Responses to Nonobservance in the Modern Era,' by Judith Bleich in Tradition and the Nontraditional Jew ed. JJ Schacter

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