Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Rabbonim vs. Roshei Yeshiva

I noticed over Yom Tov this piece in the Jewish Action discussing with seven older, former rabbonim some of the issues facing Orthodox Jewry today and the transitions within the community over the past half-century. I still haven't read through the whole piece, but this section caught my eye:
Mr. Savitsky: Many people today are claiming that the community rabbi is being replaced by the rosh yeshivah, since more and more she’eilos, questions, are being asked to the rosh yeshivah, and not the rabbi. What do you see as the role of the community rabbi in the years ahead?
The answers varied, with different Rabbis taking different positions on the subjects. It was the final comment that struck me in particular:
Rabbi Schonfeld: Rav Joseph Ber Soloveitchik told us thirty years ago that the tekufah of the rav is [over and that a new] tekufah of the rosh yeshivah was beginning. We didn’t quite understand what he was trying to say [at the time], but we can see it today.

The function of a rosh yeshivah is to teach Torah, to be a model to the community, more than the rabbi is. Oftentimes, a rosh yeshivah is brought in from Israel to be a mesader kiddushin, at an expense to the [parents]. By the following year, the rosh yeshivah forgets the talmid’s name! There are great roshei yeshivah who remain part of the talmid’s life, and those are outstanding people. But the rabbi who lives day and night with the family should not be excluded when it comes to times of joy. It’s not a question of kavod. It’s a question of the function of the rabbi as a servant of the community—an eved Hashem and an eved of Klal Yisrael. Very often, [they are] pushed aside.

The function of a rosh yeshivah is not to get involved in paskening [rendering a rabbinic decision] the she’eilah, unless you ask him. That’s the function of the rabbanim, who know Yoreh Deah. Not that the roshei yeshivah don’t know [it], but their function is to set the mode of life to the talmid. The rabbi’s function is to be involved in the life of the congregation. The daily life; the day-to-day problems. We have to find a modus vivendi of not overlapping each other.
It's worthwhile to read the comments of all of them on the subject (and on breakaway minyanim and on kiruv, which I may write about later), but this last one in particular was interesting. Firstly, do people agree with the split R' Schonfeld has stated? One of the other Rabbonim seemed to disagree somewhat. Second, if you do agree with R' Schonfeld, where does the problem lie in order to fix it - is it the people who seek out the Roshei Yeshiva over the Rabbonim who are not understanding what the functions of each of them are, or should the Roshei Yeshiva be instructing these students to seek out the advice and psak from their Rabbonim instead of from them? Whatever one feels, what can and should be done about this - or should nothing be done?