A Glance at the Rabbi / Religious "Leader" of Today
The Rabbi of today can no longer be revered as the healer of the soul, as the doctor was the healer of the body. The new religious leader is expected to be all things to all people. Revered he is not. He is the entertainment of his congregation, the visitor of the hospitalized, the ear of opposing factions, the person who knows his politics and the individual who is assigned to please no matter what the occasion. He needs to be available at any hour regardless of his own needs. He is to be at two funerals at the same time, to know just the right phrases to utter and whose sympathy is “genuine”, whether he knew or barely knew the departed.
His own family is to be flawless, blessed by his presence. They are his supporters, they adore him and his spouse is his helpmate, the proverbial Rebbetzin who is an adjunct to her spouse and caters to the congregation's unmet needs. She is to open her spotless house for those who need spiritual understanding and a hot home made meal.
The Rabbi is to untangle webs that are too difficult to untangle for even the brightest and most gifted. After all, he is the human representation of “Haschem” (of the Almighty.) In the long ago he was the Talmud Chochem. He knew the correct answers to Kasches, whether a pot was kosher or traif if it had been touched by meat and it was a “milchig” (dairy) vessel. He answered these “Scheinles” from his great knowledge and his learning of the food laws. He knew all the customs of marriage, funerals and all of life’s responsibilities. He knew what were Mitzwot (good deeds) and what were Neveres (sins). In short, the Rabbi was the answer man, the Talmud Chochem (the wise man).
The religious leader of today also must be a person of many talents. He can be a she, although the female version of the Rov is in the minority. He must first and foremost understand his politics. He must cater to the wealthy. He must extend himself to them and the board of directors, who can make or break him and dismiss him at random. He must be warm and caring, especially to the women in the congregation, but he mustn’t be “too caring” lest he be considered a molester or sexual predator. He must be able to counsel the sick with sympathy and he must at all times be visible and present when expected. If his wife or children are “different” he must attempt to hide that fact since they are assumed to be outstanding as the result of the Rabbi’s knowledge and influence upon their character. He must be an excellent sermonizer, deliver awe inspiring speeches from the pulpit. He must wholeheartedly accept deviants; must be willing to marry people outside the faith and welcome without prejudice homosexuals into his congregation, at the same time not disagreeing with those who do not accept them. He must be the proverbial “Schnorrer”, the raiser of funds, to preach Tzedakah and the blessings it affords those who are givers and who keep the synagogue afloat.
The Rabbi must be able to accept criticism, turn the other cheek and smile at those who have attempted to destroy him. Is it not a wonder why anyone would want to become a Rabbi? Those who take on these very difficult tasks no doubt do not have the foresight to see to what their hard work will lead! Surely their motivations are many: To be a leader, to teach morality, to be a role model, to have a following, to be revered, to express themselves, to have their words have meaning, to be knowledgeable, to earn a living for themselves and their family and to feel good about themselves and their chosen profession. Rabbis, like all of us, have the same frailties, the same common human needs as do all of humanity. Like us, they learn by their own experience!
Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the co-author, with Dr. Gerhard Falk, of Deviant Nurses & Improper Patient Care (2006).