Thursday, March 26, 2009

Does He Have A Rav?

One of the most commonly asked non-basic question that we get from people asking about guys for shidduch purposes is "Does he have a Rav?" Every time I get this question, I clarify first, "What do you mean?" Usually the answer is, "Does he have a specific rav he goes to for halachic (Jewish law) questions and for advice?" While I'm often tempted to ask why the assumption is that those two go hand in hand, I typically answer politely that the boy in question has a number of Rabbonim and Rabbeim whom he is prone to speaking to or asking questions of about different subjects. If the guy does have a particular Rav or Rebbe he is close with, I'll mention it, but I'm often struck by the surprise and shock on the other end* to the very idea that a guy will not have a particular Rav that he goes to for everything.

More than one such call has resulted in a discussion on the subject, but I remember in particular a young lady who was extremely troubled by the idea that a guy she had dated for a while and liked very much, and was considering dating again, did not have a single specific Rav. This young lady was extremely bright, well-spoken, and was a serious bas Torah and professional - not by any means a brainwashed flake. Yet she was hung up on the idea that a boy must have a specific Rav that he goes to, or it was problematic. Aseih l'cha Rav - make for yourself a Rav: Isn't that a basic concept? That a person should have a Rav that he essentially submits himself to?

Well, no. It is a nice thing to have if a person can find it, obviously, but especially today, as halacha and life have become more complex and the ability of a person who is becoming a Rav to grasp so many different and growing fields within halacha has become strained, it seems to be an unreasonable expectation to have of a thinking young man. Finally, there is a good, clear explanation of what seemed logical enough on its own, courtesy of Rav Aviner:
Q: Does the concept of "Get Yourself a Rav" (Pirkei Avot 1:6, 16) mean that you must have one Rabbi for everything?

A: "Get Yourself a Rav" is not an obligation. It is not stated in the Rambam or the Shulchan Aruch that one is obligated to have a Rav but it is exalted advice. If a man has a Rabbi, the Rabbi can direct and guide him. He helps to exalt him in a spiritual sense. But it is not an obligation. A person can therefore have more than one Rabbi. He can also have a Rabbi for all questions and issues except for one. For example, the Gemara in Shabbat (22a) writes that Rava followed his Rabbi - who was called "Rav" - in everything except three cases. There is also a concept called "Rabo Muvhak," i.e. a Rabbi from whom one has acquired the majority of his wisdom (see Bava Metzia 33a). Nonetheless, there is a halachah in the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 242:4) that it is forbidden for a person to give a halachic ruling or to establish a yeshiva without permission of "Rabo Muvhak." The exact wording is that one needs permission from one's foremost teachers – "Rabotav Ha-Muvhakim." But how can one have more than one "Rabo Muvhak" - after all a "Rabo Muvhak" is a Rabbi from whom one has acquired the majority of his wisdom?! The Shach explains there (#12) he has "Rabo Muvhak" in Torah, "Rabo Muvhak" in Gemara, "Rabo Muvhak" in Halachah, etc… We see from here that a person can have various Rabbis, each in a different area. The ideal is obviously for a person to have one Rabbi for everything so that he can have a unified system of thought and practice.
* Often by girls or mothers, much less often by fathers, interestingly.