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From the Pulpit

Rachel Bachrach

What are people really looking for in a rabbi?

Monday, April 09, 2018

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W hat are people really looking for in a rabbi?

Authenticity — someone who is genuine, inspiring, accessible, relatable, someone who practices what he preaches and shows up when it matters. A rav’s job is to inspire people to be the best version of themselves, to be ovdei Hashem with yiras Shamayim in their daily lives as spouses, parents, friends, and members of a community. A rav should take his mission seriously, but not himself too seriously.

Rabbi Efrem Goldberg, Boca Raton Synagogue, Boca Raton, FL



The rabbi’s role is to oversee and direct the ruchniyus — and at times the gashmiyus — of the community and its members. That can manifest itself in different ways. I’ve had people move here and say, “This or that is what I need from a rabbi.” That’s great! Some want a rav to pasken a sh’eilah. Some are looking for the pastoral type — he’ll make them feel good, put his arm around them. Some, especially younger ones, are looking for a rabbi who will fill the role a mashgiach would fill in yeshivah — they want to be able to come in, to feel the rav is looking after them, to ask advice, some even want mussar now and then!

Rabbi Yehoshua Wender, Young Israel of Houston, Houston, TX



Three gedolei Yisrael were asked what a rav’s role is. The Aruch Hashulchan said, “To pasken sh’eilos.” Rav Chaim Soloveichik replied, “To do chesed with his kehillah,” and Rav Rephoel Shapiro, Rav Chaim's father-in-law, said, “To learn Torah.” I suggest that today it is all three. A rav must also be the quintessential role model for his tzibbur to emulate and respect. Mispallelim want someone who is looking out for them, who they can comfortably turn to for anything life throws their way — relationships, parnassah, chinuch issues — and who they feel is always available: to pasken most sh’eilos with alacrity, to raise money for needy mispallelim, and to avail himself for any and all matters. Of course, I’ll never forget the conversation I once had with a woman in my shul about a difficult issue. I told her I thought she should see a therapist. She responded that therapists charge hundreds of dollars, and I would probably give her the same advice for free.

Rabbi Henoch Plotnik, Congregation Bais Tefila, Chicago, IL



Individuals look for their rabbi to be personally involved in responding to their needs and emotional situations. I am reminded of the Gemara which says that when Rabban Gamliel appointed two of his disciples as rabbinic leaders, he noted, “Not serara, governing lordship — am I giving you, but avdus, servitude — I am giving you.” To credibly maintain serara, rabbinic and public moral authority — you have to be an eved, servant, to the community and the individuals and their needs.

Rabbi Jonathan Guttentag, Whitefield Hebrew Congregation, Manchester, England 


(Excerpted from Mishpacha’s Sanctuary Theme Section, Pesach Mega-Issue 5778)

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