The Role of A Leader, a Judge and a Rabbi

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Halakhic Positions of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik

by R. Aharon Ziegler

In sefer Shemot (18:14) we read-“The father-in-law of Moshe saw everything that he [Moshe} was doing to the people and he said, “What is this thing that you are doing to the people? Why do you sit alone with all the people standing over you from morning until evening?” In this brief sentence the Torah is telling all that Moshe was working 24/7, as a “leader”, a “judge” and as a “rebbi”.

Rav Soloveitchic explained, that in this pasuk, Moshe taught Yitro and all future generations, that the job of a Rav was to be a judge, and a “posek, rendering halachic decisions. Moshe decided matters such as the inheritance of B’not Tzelafchad, or how those who had been ritually impure on Erev Pesach should prepare and eat the Korban Pesach. Similarly, A rabbi is asked endless questions about every conceivable aspect of life. In our electronic age, the questions have become even more complex. Therefore, a rabbi must be a scientist, an engineer, a philosopher and a physician, not in the literal sense but in terms of the requisite knowledge he must bring to bear in a multitude of areas.

A rabbi must possess not only knowledge and compassion but also heroic qualities. Not only must he defend the poor and the forgotten, but he must also be willing to defy public opinion. It once happened that a rav had to render a decision as to whether a cow that was the farmers sole possession was kosher or not. After slaughter, it had been Inspected and found to be not kosher. The decision caused the farmer to incur a huge loss of money, the sum total of all the material goods that he possessed. Yet, he accepted the psak with the same grace as if the cow had been declared kosher. In contrast, this same farmer, a few years later was involved in a dispute with his neighbor involving two dollars. In this case the rabbi decided in favor of the neighbor and against the farmer. The farmer became enraged and became his sworn enemy. The difference being, that in the case of the cow, there was no other person involved; it was only a decision on the cow, but the second case was a dispute between the farmer and a neighbor, here the farmer couldn’t tolerate losing money to a neighbor! So now he hates the rabbi!

Of far greater consequence was the case of a young woman who had converted to Judaism and became fully observant. Later on, she met a young Jewish man who came from a non-observant family. As their relationship grew stronger, the young women strove to bring her boyfriend closer to Judaism. After they became engaged, and a wedding date set, the boy’s father suggested that he go to his grandfather’s grave in order to tell him that he was engaged to be married, for his grandfather loved him very much.

Upon arrival at the cemetery, the young man noticed a strange emblem engraved on the memorial stone; a pair of joined hands. This meant that the young man’s grandfather had been a Kohen. The young man then realized that he too, was a Kohen. The case was brought to the community rabbi, who ruled that the couple could not marry because Jewish law forbade a Kohen to marry a convert. This decision took heroism because it involved enormous pain to both parties. Nevertheless, they accepted the decision and remained friends. Thus, the Torah u teaches us that being a leader, a judge, or a rabbi embodies full time dedication, compassion, strength and gevurah, [heroism].

About Aharon Ziegler

Rabbi Aharon Ziegler is the Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Agudath Achim of Boro Park and the Dean and Rosh Kollel of Kollel Agudath Achim. He is the author of six volumes of Halakhic Positions of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik.

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