Wednesday, March 28, 2012

"halakhic consultation subscription service"

Replying to Rabbi Gil Student's (Hirhurim/Torah Musings blog) e-mail re my previous post, I said that "Next time, maybe I should engage brain before putting blog in gear. :) happy" So, in the spirit of engaging the brain, I copied the following from a comment by Rabbi Ethan Tucker, co-founder, rosh yeshiva, and chair in Jewish Law at Mechon Hadar (responding to the linked post):

"I think there is something to be said for some kind of centralized, halakhic consultation subscription service that would enable a knowledgeable, ideologically broad person to help communities like yours and others. The question would be one of economics and time management (i.e. how much time that person needs to earmark to answer how many questions and the amount of money needed to support that person to do an excellent job). Would be interesting to hear your and others' thoughts on this idea and the business plan that might sustain it."

The floor is open.


Blogger Miami Al said...

I think for more individualistic and congregationalist communities in America, this would be a WONDERFUL solution. For those concerned with keeping Halacha and living within a value system they find important, being able to subscribe to such a service seems invaluable.

On the other hand, a running undercurrent in Jewish jurisprudence is the notion of "the Custom of the Place" and the local Beit Din to administer it. In such a system, the role of the community Rabbi is critical to keeping the local community in a general consensus.

In theory, I side with the latter, community unity is major matters of Halacha is more important than "correctness," especially since in America you can move to a new one that is more to your liking. However, the 6%-12% in transaction costs to sell/buy a new home (not to mention the current real estate market trapping people upside down), makes that mobility, at this time more theoretical with serious barriers to exit.

In addition, we've seen in larger areas the "Rosh Yeshiva" supplanting the "Community Rabbi" as the Halachic decider for the "community," and in practice, the school system has more control than the Rav... both by educating the children (plenty of my neighbors consult their Rav in Israel or NY, not the LOR - local Orthodox Rabbi) AND their control over the discretionary income of families... When half the population is on scholarship, half the community is dependent on the goodwill of the school to maintain their lifestyle, that's a tremendous authoritarian power.

So given that the "establishment" has completely abused its economic power to coerce ideology outside their jurisdiction (if I live in Miami Beach but send to a school in North Miami Beach, separate cities and communities, the school in NMB should have zero halachic authority over my home, but they choose to exercise it via policies on children), I am inclined to accept that we are already at "individual Judaism" divorced from local authority (I can live in a "mixed" community and choose a LW, RW, Community, or Charter schooling option), I see no reason not to take it out further in this regard.

Further, since so much of the money in Judaism is tied to education and Kashrut regulation, that has taken the power out of the communities hands and given it to extremists, I am firmly supportive of this idea.

I like the idea of separately purchasing:

1. Shul Membership - provides me communal infrastructure for truly local matters, minyanim and mikvaot

2. School Attendance - where I purchase education for my children, fulfilling my halachic obligation

3. Halachic advising - where I can choose a valid Rabbinic authorities whose values and ideology most closely match my own.

I think it is a tremendous disservice for American Jews to choose their housing not based on income, but based on narrow (by population differential) religious ideology, and it is far better to purchase these Jewish services in a a la carte manner.

I also think that in practice, the issues of community unity is overstated. People know if they are Shomer Shabbat/Shomer Kashrut, and people know if they are semi-observant and cultural Orthodox. The latter generally have an obligation to be careful with social invitations, and the former can know where the lines are drawn.

Thu Mar 29, 10:09:00 AM 2012  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Miami Al, this sounds like a wonderful idea, both for those of us without rabbis or learned community members to consult and for those in more traditional communities (such as yours) who'd like a "second opinion," and/or whose local halachic authority has a different hashkafah/religious perspective than they have. As you said, not everyone can afford to move to a new neighborhood just because the local rabbi's or Rosh Yeshiva's haskafah is not what they'd be comfortable with.

There is, of course, the question of the business plan that might sustain such a subscription service. Marketing specialists and/or others with relevant knowledge and/or experience are cordially invited to chime in.

There's also the interesting challenge of finding a "knowledgeable, ideologically broad person" who would be willing to answer a question from various points of view. I think it's important to know the traditional answers, even if one ultimately chooses not to accept them--even we rebels have to know what we're rebelling against. :) On the other hand, it's equally important for us rebels to understand alternatives for reworking the tradition that aren't so far from the original as to be unrecognizable as Judaism. The halachic consult should be willing and able to assist the less traditional in developing practices that have clearly-Jewish roots.

Thu Mar 29, 02:46:00 PM 2012  
Blogger Gil Student said...

In an article in a shortly forthcoming volume of the Orthodox Forum series, I argue against this concept. Local rabbis who know the people and their specific situations should answer halakhic questions.

But there are already so many options.
Eretz Hemdah
R. Shlomo Aviner and R. Yuval Cherlow have made reputations by answering dozens of such questions a day

And there are many many more options.

Sun Apr 01, 08:54:00 AM 2012  
Blogger Miami Al said...

R' Gil Student,

In concept, you are 100% correct, but you have a situation where people fit in a community socially and/or socio-economically, but not Hashkafically. The dependence on a community Rav encourages people to make housing choices based upon a narrow Hashfakic lens, instead of affordability and a good place to raise their children.

As the difference between LW and RW MO becomes increasingly massive, there is going to be a need for an ability to have a Rav whose views you are comfortable with, even if he doesn't live down the street from you.

There are certainly areas of Halacha where there is no substitute for a Rav with a personal relationship, I would put matters of personal status there (marriage, divorce, child rearing, education, conversion, etc). There are also areas of Halacha where a Rav you are in tune with may be important, particularly in areas of Kashrut and Shabbat observance.

A flamingly liberal fair trade, organic shopper needs a Rav in matters of Kashrut that is sensitive to those needs, helping them balance their values with appropriate levels of Kashrut stringencies. In addition, people that travel extensively for business need a Rav sensitive to the challenges faced for those areas, not a Rav that has never dealt with people leaving NYC except to visit family in Miami Beach.

Instead, you often have people doing what they want without Halachic guidance, since they don't believe that they will get an answer that works for them.

In my case, I am fortunate that I have a local Rav that deals with many people that are connected to the community religiously, but not professionally. I have a Rabbi that will tell me "how" to do something that I need to do without violating Halacha, not what I "ought to do" in their world view. That sense of problem solving when business takes me somewhere inconvenient for a Frum Jew is critical to my observance, and a Rabbi that told me "not to go" would simply not be helpful.

The Rabbi I consult might not be the most learned Rabbi in my area, but he has helped me navigate a few tricky situations, where I have maintained my technical observance when real life takes me out of the ideal. If I couldn't find some locally, I'd need to find someone elsewhere, or alternatively drop out of Orthodoxy for financial reasons.

Mon Apr 02, 11:20:00 AM 2012  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Rabbi Student, I agree with Miami Al's comment that, "As the difference between LW[Left-Wing] and RW [Right-Wing] MO [Modern Orthodox] becomes increasingly massive, there is going to be a need for an ability to have a Rav [Rabbi] whose views you are comfortable with, even if he doesn't live down the street from you."

This is even more true for some of us who, as I say in my banner, "take Judaism seriously, but not necessarily literally."

Mon Apr 02, 03:29:00 PM 2012  
Anonymous Amanda said...

I for one would love to have a halachic subscription service available. I live in a community where there is one synagogue, affiliated with both the reform and conservative movements, and where halachah isn't really a concern. So I find myself using the internet extensively, various ask the rabbi sites and articles, to try to figure out the best or most practical way to try to observe at least some halachah. I'd love to move, but right now since I live on a fixed income that's not possible. So having a service where I could develop a personal relationship with a rav would be awesome.

Mon May 21, 11:06:00 PM 2012  

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