Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter

New Answers, Old Questions

Binyamin Rose, Vienna, Austria

Vienna’s new chief rabbi, Rav Arie Folger, challenged by anti-Orthodox forces and gender-equality petitioners, encourages his challengers to embrace responsibilities rather than harping on rights

Wednesday, July 13, 2016


"The Torah says rebuke your friend. Done correctly, it shows you're interested in that person and in his development," Rabbi Eisenberg says.

Judenplatz, once the heart of Jewish Vienna, plays to the beat of a different drummer today. The Holocaust Memorial still dominates the center of the square, bearing the names of places where Nazis murdered and deported Austrian Jews. The Jewish museum at the back of the square contains relics from almost 1,000 years of Austrian Jewry, including a subterranean excavation of a medieval synagogue, with craggy white rocks the only remaining markers as to where the aron kodesh and bimah once stood. 

Yet on this muggy early summer’s day, kippah-clad Jews are enjoying the bright sunshine, sipping soft drinks from bottles at Judenplatz’s outdoor café. In strolls a cadre of costumed Austrian entertainers who reserved a backroom for a rehearsal. 

Never one to miss an opportunity to forge neighborly relations, Rabbi Chaim Eisenberg, who just stepped down after 33 years as Vienna’s chief rabbi, introduces himself to the entertainers and remains long enough to give a brief interview before accepting my invitation to join an interview with his successor, Rabbi Arie Folger. 

The mixture of old and new, sober and playful, makes an ideal setting for this impromptu encounter between the incoming chief rabbi and the outgoing one, whose father, Rabbi Akiba Eisenberg z”l, preceded his son in the position from 1948 to 1983. 

The camaraderie and mutual respect between Rabbi Folger and Rabbi Eisenberg is readily apparent. “My predecessor is a beloved man who has been very warm to his flock,” Rabbi Folger says. “This is an established community but the people have opened their hearts to me already.”

Rabbi Eisenberg has advice for Rabbi Folger. "Be both a friend and a rabbi"

Asked to share words of advice for his replacement, Rabbi Eisenberg paraphrased Pirkei Avos. “Be both a friend and a rabbi,” adding that the two are not mutually exclusive, even when the rabbi must rebuke his flock. 

“The Torah says rebuke your friend. Done correctly, it shows you’re interested in that person and in his development,” Rabbi Eisenberg says.

Halachos Aren’t Hurdles

Taking up the reins of a postwar rabbinic dynasty is both a challenge and an opportunity that Rabbi Folger relishes. Recently reelected to a second one-year term as financial secretary of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), Rabbi Folger also serves as an ambassador between the RCA and the Conference of European Rabbis, where he is a member of the standing committee. 

Rabbi Folger regularly visits US Orthodox congregations as a scholar in residence. Tapping into his diverse Torah and university education, he maintains an online presence in English and German, writing extensively on the new approaches he advocates to more effectively counter the growing Open Orthodox movement, often drawing on the teachings of Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik. 

“I am a very faint projection of some of the ideas I found in his writings,” Rabbi Folger says humbly. “But his commitment was very clear. Halachah is normative and not a set of hurdles to overcome.” 

Admitting that some Jews have simply chosen Open Orthodoxy as their path, he contends many others are drawn to it because of cultural influences, and then are dissatisfied with answers they receive to their questions. 

“Many of their questions are fair and need to be dealt with,” Rabbi Folger says. “It’s in that spirit that we have to respond and say, ‘What do I say as a Torah Jew when confronted with that kind of challenge?’ ”

Related Stories

Why Vietnam’s Two-State Solution Failed

Binyamin Rose

The 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement carved much of the Middle East into future states that are now disint...

Spotlight: Chanan Weissman

Margie Pensak

Five things to know about Chanan Weissman, the White House’s new Jewish liaison and the first Orthod...

Cut and Paste: Priority Passenger

S. T. Agam

“My chavrusa just called. There’s been a mega terror attack in Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport.”

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.

What’s in a Name?
Shoshana Friedman “What does Writer X have to say this week?”
Atonement — Fake and Real
Yonoson Rosenblum White confessionals and faux rituals
Four Walls Coming Full Circle
Eytan Kobre All the while, there’s been a relationship in the offing...
And Yet We Smile
Yisroel Besser We are the nation that toils to be happy at all costs
Out of This World
Rabbi Henoch Plotnick Dirshu Hashem b’himatzo — we are in Hashem’s company now...
Steven and Jonathan Litton
Rachel Bachrach The co-owners of Litton Sukkah, based in Lawrence, NY
Tali Messing
Moe Mernick Tali Messing, engineering manager at Facebook Tel Aviv
Sick Note
Jacob L. Freedman “Of course, Dr. Freedman. Machul, machul, machul”
Avoiding Health Columns Can Be Good for You
Rabbi Emanuel Feldman Only one reliable guide for good health: our Torah
Endnote: Side Notes
Riki Goldstein Most Jewish music industry entertainers have side profes...
Me, Myself, and Why
Faigy Peritzman Where there’s no heart and no love, there’s no point
Can’t Do It Without You
Sarah Chana Radcliffe When you step up to the plate, you build your home team
Eternal Joy
Mrs. Elana Moskowitz The joy of Succos is the fruit of spiritual victory
The Appraiser: Part III
D. Himy, M.S. CCC-SLP and Zivia Reischer Make sure your child knows his strengths
Hidden Special Needs
Rena Shechter You won’t see his special needs, but don’t deny them
Dear Wealthy Friend
Anonymous There’s no need for guilt. I am truly happy for you