WHO IS A RABBI ?

     In the Fall 1997 issue of “Reform Judaism” there was an article by Rabbi Richard Levy in which he recommended a re-formed Judaism, with more Jewish traditions and mitzvot in our daily lives.  In an insert to his article Rabbi Levy provides a perspective with historical background:  "In 1885 ... nineteen rabbis ... rejected all the mitzvot that once differentiated us from our neighbors ... The rabbis argued that these mitzvot were given for use at Sinai and the immediate wilderness wanderings that followed and were rendered obsolete by modern culture".  Rabbis gathering in Pittsburgh to declare that the Torah came with an expiration date and pronounce Torah and mitzvot obsolete!??

     I could have presented here some quotations from the Torah about its generational validity, starting from what G-d said to Abraham long before Sinai (for example: "And I will establish my covenant between you and me and your seed after you in their generations for an eternal covenant ..." [see Genesis 17:7-13]), but how convincing would it be to quote from an obsolete document about itself ? ...

     This historical anecdote raises some interesting questions, such as: is there Judaism without the Torah?  However, the most disturbing questions relate to the role of a rabbi and to the title "rabbi".  A rabbi is a teacher and interpreter of Jewish law.  Can a rabbi declare the Jewish law obsolete?  Can a rabbi invent new laws and declare them Jewish?  Can a rabbi adopt the prevailing local religion (for example, Christianity) on the grounds that it is better for the Jewish people not to differentiate themselves from their neighbors?  "And you shall be holy to me, for I am holy.  And I have separated you from the peoples to be mine" (Leviticus 20:26).  Shall we trust and follow rabbis who claim that only the generation of the desert wanderings had to be holy to G-d?  It is interesting that those nineteen rabbis did not declare Judaism obsolete.  I guess they either thought that Judaism may exist without Torah and mitzvot or understood that without Judaism there would be no rabbis.

     The good news is that those rabbis are now obsolete.  Judaism has survived (though with many painful losses) those who announced its death.  Still, it will be a good idea for the Central Conference of American Rabbis to declare that the title "rabbi" carries an expiration date: "Not to be used after faith in Judaism is lost".

-- Judah Ari-Gur

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