Rabbinic Dignity – A Contemporary Lesson

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14 Responses

  1. mycroft says:

    “or engaging in very casual contact sports with congregants, even if there is no appearance of impropriety, compromises the image and position of the rabbi.”

    I tend to agree and knew one Rabbi who even advised younger Rabbonim not to play golf with their congregants. OTOH it is certainly well known that many RY played basketball or touch football with their talmidim. At a recent shloshim for RAL ZT”L many talmidim talked positively about how RAL played the games seriously.

  2. Shades of Gray says:

    One of my memories from high school summer camp is going hiking and playing paddle ball with a leading American Rosh Yeshiva(he was hard to beat). This was discussed in Cross currents “The Mistake of One-Stop Torah Shopping”(March 08):

    “When R. Ahron Leib Shteinman shlit”a visited the US a few years ago, he met with educators and fielded questions. One of them asked him whether it was appropriate for a rebbe to play ball with his students. R. Ahron Leib, of course, replied that it wasn’t. This created enormous tension for the scores of rabbeim, especially outside of NY, who understand how getting closer to students on their turf increases their respect for Torah, and not the opposite as it might in the more ethereal provinces of Bnei Brak. What was tragic is that the person who asked the question didn’t realize that he should have taken such a question to R. Shmuel Kamenetsky, shlit”a or R. Aharon Shechter, shlit”a – and have taken them privately, off-mike – who have far more experience with the parameters of American chinuch.”

  3. Avrohom Gordimer says:

    I think that it very much depends on the circumstances. When a rebbe joins a game of talmidim, it is pretty clear that it is something special that the rebbe does to make his talmidim happy and make them feel that the rebbe wants to be with them. It does not change the rebbe-talmid relationship. However, when a rabbi on his own wants to play sports, and he invites laity or mentees to be his sports partners, the relationship is different.

    The issue is quite nuanced, but once the casual context changes the relationship, based on the circumstances, it needs to be carefully considered.

  4. Tuvia Berman says:

    “I think that it very much depends on the circumstances.” Ta’am Ve’Reach — are you just creating your own version of Yoreh De’ah? Maybe I think that writing constant attacks on other Rabbanim takes away from “dignified rabbinic comportment”.

  5. Mordechai Y. Scher says:

    A key thing is the honor/kavod the rav must show for the people with whom he interacts. Including youngsters. In my limited experience with the rabbinate, education, and medical professions I’ve concluded that it is always better to err on the side of giving others too much kavod, rather than too little. How I address them, how I dress, the activities I share with them all give a message of how much or little I respect them. A certain familiarity or casualness is a good thing in many cases, but only after the foundation of respect is clearly and firmly established. And that respect should be reestablished or reinforced from time to time; while the familiarity should never be forced or fake.

    It is true that Rav Aharon LIchtenstein played basketball occasionally with his students. But that was a small and natural part of the overall relationship, as I understand it. Ask those students what the single outstanding thing in their memories is, characterizing Rav Aharon z”l – it likely won’t be basketball. It might be dignity, lamdanut, hesed. The basketball part will be mentioned, but probably be a part of the bigger picture of his humility. No one thought it was a gimmick.

  6. Shades of Gray says:

    Regarding the electronic realm, the RCA wrote in a statement titled “2013 Resolution: Opportunities and Challenges of the Internet”:

    “Of particular relevance to pulpit rabbis, educators, and parents is the need to avoid an inappropriate degree of familiarity which may affect their authoritative stature. Care must be taken by such individuals when utilizing social networks and similar venues to maintain efficacy in these roles.”

    This part of R. Aharon Lichtenstein’s sicha on “On Raising Children” could be somewhat relevant to his own rabbinic ball playing:

    “Recently, a student quoted me as saying that a father should be ready both to learn with his children and play ball with them. He said I then added that if you want the child to want to learn with you, you have to play ball with him. I am not sure you have to; but despite not remembering making this particular statement, it is the sort of thing I would have said.

    Still, there is one clarification I want to make. I did not play ball with my children as a trick, as a tactic. I did not think, “Today I’ll play basketball with him, and in a year we will learn Minchat Chinukh.” I don’t think one should approach it that way. There is joy, there is wonder, in the ability to play with one’s children; it is not simply a tool, not just instrumental. It is a joy in its own right, and one of the joys which I think God fully permits us and wants us to participate in. I don’t harbor any guilt about playing ball with my children, nor do I regard it as a wasted day. It is part of what being a family is all about.”

  7. Dovid Kornreich says:

    I see Rabbi Gordimer making many pronouncements which assert a close connection between what he considers kevod harav and what he considers effective spiritual leadership.
    But who says this rabbi was less-than-effective in terms of positive, lasting impact on HIS congregants because of his intimate approach? How can we gauge a rabbi’s effectiveness? I ask these questions because the articles written about the rabbi being alluded to in this post are unanimous in praise for his superlative mentoring abilities by HIS constituency — despite the apparent lack of dignity inherent in his approach.
    I see the case in question as a “ma’aseh listor” to Rabbi Gordimer’s making a link between rabbinic dignity and rabbinic effectiveness.

  8. mycroft says:

    “Dovid Kornreich
    June 7, 2015 at 3:53 pm

    I see Rabbi Gordimer making many pronouncements which assert a close connection between what he considers kevod harav and what he considers effective spiritual leadership.
    But who says this rabbi was less-than-effective in terms of positive, lasting impact on HIS congregants because of his intimate approach? How can we gauge a rabbi’s effectiveness? I ask these questions because the articles written about the rabbi being alluded to in this post are unanimous in praise for his superlative mentoring abilities by HIS constituency — despite the apparent lack of dignity inherent in his approach.
    I see the case in question as a “ma’aseh listor” to Rabbi Gordimer’s making a link between rabbinic dignity and rabbinic effectiveness”
    I don’t live in the community in question-but I know people who do. It is certain if you had asked me a question who is the most effective pastoral Orthodox Rabbi in America a month ago I would have answered the Rabbi in question. I have heard some of his lectures online-including question and answering questions with teenagers at an Israeli Yeshiva and IMO I couldn’t think of a more effective person in that role. I am aware for decades he was considered a model by other Rabbis as to how to be effective in his pastoral duties-so the issue is not Rabbinic dignity vs Rabbinic effectiveness the issue here is what activities if any he did which should automatically disqualify one from Rabbanus.
    An observation that I heard from a Rav who was not a buddy buddy type-one has to worry about kavod hatorah but be careful that you are not using that as a cover for personal kavod. Kavod hatorah does not necessarily equal kavod for any specific Rav. The Rav has a greater duty than the layman to ensure that the kahal believes by his actions that he is interested in spreading Torah and helping people rather than maximizing his own kavod or profit.

  9. Chaim Gottesman says:

    I have two observations about my friend Rabbi Gordimer’s recent post, both from my experience at the Kollel at Camp Morasha. First, Rav Mordechai Willig, shlit”a, played basketball and tennis with the talmidim on a regular basis. (For those of you keeping score, RMW was consistently accurate from the outside – if RMW is still playing basketball, do NOT leave him open from the outside within 15 feet of the basket – he will may you pay for that mistake again and again.) Second, one summer I learned with Rabbi Yitzchok Cohen, shlit”a, after maariv, and I distinctly remember the way RYC one time excitedly (and with admiration and reverence) recalled the intensity of RAL’s play on the court – the clear message to all the players was if you weren’t playing hard, then get off the court. I took that as a lesson how a ben Torah should approach everything – with full commitment (similar to the phrase attributed to one of the Chabad rebbes – “a pnimi, vi er iz, er iz darten in gantzen”). And I also had rebbes in high school that played ball with us (some of them quite well.) So I suppose I am not yet convinced that a rebbe shouldn’t play ball with his talmidim. I have a hard time reconciling that concept with my own chinuch.

    • Avrohom Gordimer says:

      Thank you, Reb Chaim. Great to hear from you.

      I am not against a rebbe playing ball with talmidim. Please see my comment above (#3, I believe).

      Very best regards,
      Avrohom

  10. Steve Brizel says:

    When R Willig was a rebbe in JSS, he both played basketball with his talmidim outside, and also in the old YU gym, where he had an amazing line drive jump shot that was extremely acccurate.

  11. Bob Miller says:

    Different strokes…

  12. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    The one-stop approach to asking shailos, the one-size-fits-all approach to what a rav or ram should be, the current tempest in a teapot over Rabbi Riskin, all contribute to a monolithic direction in the Torah world today which is diametrically opposed to shivim panim la-Torah. What that adds up to is a “my way or the highway” attitude among parents and educators. If a rav plays ball with talmidim or congregants, he is suspect. The Jewish world-view shrinks to three blocks of Bnai Brak. Then cry about kids going off the derech. If you suspect that tension in your yeshivishe kid’s life, send him to Bnai Akiva and don’t look back. In a few years maybe you can get him into the Gush and a good army unit. Nobody will listen, though.

  13. Raymond says:

    At least to my way of thinking, there is all the difference in the world between a Rabbi playing basketball with his students, and a Rabbi disrobing in front of his students in a bathhouse. In the first case, the spiritual side of him remains relatively intact, while in the latter case, not so much.

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