As a person, a Rav must show forbearance and forgiveness when his personal honor is at stake. But when attacks are aimed at the authority of the Rabbinate as a whole — then he must take a firm stand and stop the offenders.

Some communities delegate a committee to choose a Rav and then observe his conduct to see whether he meets their standards. In Crown Heights the Rabbanim were elected by popular ballot and therefore their status is immutable. No individual has the right to oppose their authority.

On Shabbos Mishpatim, the Rebbe Shlita, discussed in great detail the role and responsibility of Rabbis. This essay is excerpted from that discourse.

The Responsibility of the Rav

Every Jewish community, city, or Kehillah, has at its head a Rav (Rabbi) who serves as the Mara D’asra, which means he represents the highest level of authority for the people of that place. This position of authority has two aspects, on the one hand it demands that the members of the community and city must heed and carry out the directives and rulings of the Rav and on the other hand it provides that the Rav must bear the responsibility for everything that happens in his community. This rule is so stringent that in speaking of Jewish dayanim the Torah indicates (Devarim 1:13): “I will make them heads over you (va’asimem berashechem),” on which Rashi comments:

This word (va’asimem) lacks the letter yud,” this teaches that Israel’s transgressions are placed upon the heads of the judges, because it is their duty to prevent Israel from sinning and to direct them into the right path. (Rashi, loc. cit.)

Who may legitimately be called “Rabbi” — he who has been properly ordained. This does not mean just anyone who has a certificate, but that he was truly ordained to decide halachic rulings in “Yoreh Yoreh” and “Yadin Yadin” (all areas of the Code of Jewish Law). Furthermore, the ordination which he received had to be conferred by Rabbis who themselves were ordained by earlier Rabbis; following the process of ordination from teacher to disciple back to Moshe our teacher.

Ordination — Internship

Having met the requirements for ordination and having been duly ordained, the Rabbi must then go through a period of internship under the tutelage of senior Rabbis. This apprenticeship is known as “Shimush — serving” — not to be confused with the service of “...carry his clothes after him into the bath house.” (Eruvin 27b) For we speak here of apprenticeship in making halachic decisions — to stand by a senior, practicing Rav and observe how he actually judges halachic questions and how he applies the laws and the rules of the Torah to real life situations. This process the Talmud describes as follows:

The Halachah may not be derived either from theoretical [conclusion] or from practical [decision] unless one has been told [that] the Halachah [is to be taken as a rule] for practical decisions. (B. Basra 130b)

In the eyes of our sages this procedure of receiving practical training and internship was so important that the Talmud declares:

Even if he learned Scripture and Mishnah (the Written and Oral Torah) but did not attend upon Rabbinical scholars he is an am haaretz. (Sotah 22a)

Thus, attending upon the Rabbinical scholars is not just another step in Rabbinical authorization, similar to the different levels of semichah ordination. Rather, even if one has semichah but does not have the practical training he is still seen as an am haaretz.

Ironically, one might be well-versed in theoretical knowledge, Talmud and commentaries, and yet regarding the ability to discern a halachic rule he is still considered an ignoramus.

And it is self-evident that when such a person, who has not had the proper training, shows the nerve to involve himself in such matters — it is against the principles of Torah and may be seen as a sub-human act.

The Power of Popular Election

In our community of Crown Heights there is an even stronger aspect to the position of Rav. In most Kehillos (communities) the Rabbis are chosen by a committee of representatives of the community. As time goes by and the members of the community are able to observe the Rabbis conduct they can see whether the Rabbi fits the image of what the whole community wants.

In contrast to this system, Crown Heights is one of the unique places where the Rabbanim were chosen by a proper ballot — and everyone was called to vote. The vast majority of residents did cast their votes at the election which was held near the holy synagogue of the Previous Rebbe. Such a democratic choice of the Rabbanim gives more validity and incomparable strength to such appointments.

In such a situation no one individual has the right to say, “I don’t like this particular Rabbi,” or “I don’t consider him to be qualified.” When the vast majority of the community chose him as their Rav, a single voice may not be raised to protest, even if he did not participate in the election (or opposed and tried to undermine the whole process).

He Do We See Our Leaders

It is certainly appropriate to recall the clear sentiment of the Talmud in discussing the attitude one must show to the spiritual leaders of the Jewish people.

..Yerubaal in his generation is like Moshe in his generation...Yiftach in his generation is like Shmuel in his generation... Once he has been appointed a leader (Parnas) of the community he is to be accounted like the mightiest of the must be content to go to the judge who is in your days. (Rosh Hashanah 25b)

How appropriate that in recent months there has been a strong involvement on the part of many people in seeking the guidance of a Rav — teacher. Here we see that the injunction to heed the advice of your Rav must also apply to the communal Rav, and even those who may have opposed the selection must still subjugate themselves to the rulings of the Rabbanim, especially those who were chosen by the community. They are the “mightiest of the mighty,” and having been duly appointed they will continue to serve in the capacity until the righteous redeemer comes!

As to those who may have harbored thoughts contrary to the appointments, or thoughts of trying to use “influence” in electing the Rabbanim; their attitude is indeed strange and troubling. They should be aware that the prohibition of bribery applies to the giver as well as the taker. The Rambam is quite emphatic about this:

The giver of a bribe, as well as the receiver contravenes a negative commandment, as it is said: “Do not put a stumbling block before the blind.” (Vayikra 19:14) (Laws of Sanhedrin 23:2)

Furthermore, our neighborhood is the community of the Previous Rebbe, who as Nasi never neglected his flock. He, in his kindness and mercy, will certainly not allow thoughts of “influence” to besmirch his community.

In this context it appears obvious that any problem in the community should certainly be dealt with properly and firmly by the Rabbanim of the community. This should include a matter which occurred last week and which I speak about so that there should be no misunderstanding or misrepresentation of my position.

I speak of the situation that occurred last week when the portion of Yisro was read and the Aliyah of the Ten Commandments was not given to one of the three Rabbanim of Crown Heights. Although this custom is not necessarily a Chabad custom, and the Previous Rebbe never mentioned the practice, and therefore it is not referred to in HaYom Yom or Sefer HaMinhagim; nevertheless since there are those who harbor doubts about the possibility of exerting influence in the choice of the Rabbinic appointments it should have been obvious that one of the Rabbis of Crown Heights should be given the Ten Commandments Aliyah. This would be similar to the Talmudic rule that when religion itself is persecuted even the most insignificant religious custom or habit must be defended at all costs, having regard for the higher principles at stake. In such a case “even the color of one’s shoe strap is worth sacrificing one’s life for.” (See Sanhedrin 74a)

If there are those who are trying to undermine the power and position of the Rabbis, then the question of calling up one of the Rabbis for the Ten Commandments is no longer a question of a minor minhag, it now becomes a clear obligation by rule of Torah, since we are dealing with the fundamental question of recognition of the position of Rav as delineated by the rule of the Torah.

I was reluctant to voice my dismay and chagrin at the moment, that the aliyah was misappropriated, thinking that perhaps there had been some mistake or that some explanation would be forthcoming. In fact the answers were quick in coming but they only tended to prove that the omission was actually premeditated and calculated to undermine the position of the Rabbis. [At this point each of the three excuses was examined and discarded by the Rebbe.]

How Do The Rabbis See Themselves

Another point bears some clarification:

The Rambam writes:

Although a scholar (chacham) has the right to pronounce the ban to safeguard his honor, it is not creditable for a scholar to accustom himself to this procedure. He should rather close his ears.... Such too, was the way of the ancient saints. They heard themselves reviled and made no reply. Yet more, they forgave the reviler and pardoned him.... This is the way of a scholar, which it is right to follow. (Laws of Torah Study 7:12)

And in the Laws of Fundamental Principles of the Torah we also find:

The practice of the righteous is to suffer contumely and not inflict it; to hear themselves reproached, not retort; to be impelled in what they do by love; and to rejoice in suffering. Of them Scripture says: “And they that love Him are like the going forth of the sun in its strength.” (Laws of Conduct 2:3)

One might therefore suppose that even though the local Rabbis were slighted by not having been called to the Ten Commandments Aliyah, they should follow the example of the “early chassidim” and “Tzaddikim” — and be forgiving and long-suffering since they have the right to forgive for the disregard of their honor. Surely they would like to be seen as the “shining sun”!

It is therefore necessary to emphasize that the point here is not the personal honor, which they may dismiss, it is rather an attack against the position and status of the Rabbis, the Beth Din, and the honor of the entire community which is at stake.

They have no right to dismiss this malfeasance, as the Rambam writes:

This however only applies to cases where one has been reviled in private. But a scholar, who has been treated with contumely or has been reviled in public, may not forgive the wrong done to his honor. If he does so he is punished, for this is contempt of the Torah. We should relentlessly pursue the matter, till the offender begs his pardon, after which he should be forgiven. (Laws of Torah Study 7:12)

When speaking of the respect due the Rabbinate and the honor of Torah — humility must not come into the picture — and forgiveness is not the way. Instead, the Rabbis must investigate the infraction in order to ensure that such an offence will never occur again. No doubt their wisdom and discretion will lead them to do this in a positive and meaningful way so as not to cause further argument, and in a way that no one will be distanced. The problem must be corrected — with the concomitant apology and request for forgiveness by all those involved in the episode — but it must be accomplished in a pleasant and peaceful way, with respect and a good countenance and in all cases of reprimand, with the assurance that this will not happen again.

Again I reiterate, do not introduce your interpretation into my words — and do not encourage or induce fights — the situation is bad enough as is — put out the flames of controversy. Those who inject their own interpretations into my words and invite confrontation are fighting with me! Don’t add kerosene to the fire using the argument that it is water! The Rebbe Maharash used to say:

You certainly don’t fool the Holy One, Blessed be He, you also don’t fool the world, if so, you only fool yourself, is it so great an achievement to fool a fool?!

Those who wish to cause me pleasure should do whatever they can to increase Ahavas Yisrael and Jewish unity, and may it be the will of G‑d that we never have to speak about such topics, rather we should deal with only good and holy things, in the manner of the Previous Rebbe — goodness and mercy. And may we merit to the taking of Terumah and the making of the Sanctuary and thereafter giving the half-shekel we will offer our sacrifices to G‑d — with the complete and true redemption through our righteous Mashiach — speedily and truly in our times, Amen, so may it be.