Personalized Psak and Guidance – The Rabbi Relationship Requirement

On my recent stays in the Old City and Ramat Beit Shemesh, I discovered that many of my friends living there don’t have a close relationship with a Rabbi. This is a trend in the United States as well, due in part to the Shteibilzation of Shuls, the multi-minyan big Shul structures, and the fact that a single Rabbi is hard pressed to serve more that 200-250 learned members who ask a significant amount of questions and requests for advice.

In a recent shiur for Kollel students on Taharas HaMishpacha, my Rav mentioned that some people like to ask their questions in this area anonymously. He respects their desire for privacy, but at the same time he pointed out that an anonymous questioner can only get a textbook response. The halacha runs the gamut from pressing situations, leniencies, normative halacha and various degrees of stringencies, and often a one-size-fits all psak is not optimal.

Beyond Psak, a Rabbi who knows and cares about a family, can give advice and guidance on the many difficult issues that arise regarding health care, senior care, schooling, chinuch, shidduchim and parnassah, to name a few. A Rav once mentioned that he felt that providing guidance and advice was a more important part of the Rabbinate then providing Psak.

My friends in Eretz Yisroel and here, without a close Rabbi relationship, feel handicapped by it. I think we need to provide new structures to enable relationships between Rabbis and lay people. The current Shul structures are not serving many people’s needs.

Let me throw out the idea of a family paying about $360 to a virtual Shul which allows him to get email responses to quick questions and phone or in-person meetings for guidance, advice and questions when needed. Can this work? Will people pay? Can we match up people with appropriate Rebbeim?

7 thoughts on “Personalized Psak and Guidance – The Rabbi Relationship Requirement”

  1. $360 per year or per month?
    It’s a great idea in theory, but will likely be as problematic as those frum life insurance workarounds – ultimately only those who use it heavily will pay in and the system won’t pay for itself.

    1. I’m thinking $360 per year. Perhaps $500.

      We have a form of it in our Shul, where Kollel couples can pay $180 for full-member-level access to the Rav. They don’t have any Shul voting or seating rights. We have many members of this category.

      If a Rav can get 100 members that’s $36,000 – $50,000 in income per year.
      Perhaps there are extra payments for participating in lifestyle events.

  2. bs”d
    I am glad this issue has been raised. Several friends of mine as well as myself face this dilemma and we are hard pressed as to how to remedy it. Regarding payment, I almost always send money to any Rav who has been kind enough to take the time to speak with me… and I try to send money to them in addition for Yom Tovim to express my ha karat ha tov. Rav Avigdor Miller commented on this “policy,” saying that if we went to a “therapist” or other professional, we would surely be charged and pay them, and so to, we are obligated to pay a Rabbi ( or Rebbetzin) for his time. ( The amounts I give are, $36 or $50.. sometimes more depending on how much time the Rabbi has spent with me)

    The real problem is finding a rav who knows enough about my personal situation and who has more time than 6 minutes for me on a phone call. I don’t know the answer to this serious problem, and what’s worse, is feeling that I attend shiurim of Rabbeim who are not available at all! Being a BT I do feel out of the ‘inner circle ” that I see in close knit communities. I became frum in a very loving and small environment with lots of TLC… that’s gone now and I feel adrift.

    Would like to hear suggestions from the Rebbeim themselves as to what they think the solution(s) could be. Thanks for posting this!!

  3. Mark, your closing suggestion/question is almost incongruous with the rest of the post. Not a bad idea per se, but I didn’t see it coming. I don’t see it as a serious relationship builder.

    In Israel a relationship with a rav is more likely to happen in smaller neighborhood batei knesset where the rav is really one of the community members. In the large, ‘official’ neighborhood synagogues the rav is usually a posek and officiant, but not so much a member of the community in a real sense. There are even some rabbanim who don’t live in their ‘communities’ where they are the authority, which I personally think a bit ridiculous. But it is revealing about how the job of the rav is seen.

    The relationship is built by living a life of Torah *together*, not just in proximity to each other. That’s why the people who have a relationship with their rav are yeshiva students, or families in small communities or small synagogues, or people who otherwise interact with the rav regularly in some activity that has them working together (learning, community welfare, etc.) The official rav in a really large neighborhood may never get to know many of his ‘congregants’; whereas the rav of a moshav or kibbutz may just as many responsibilities, but know and relate to everyone in the community.

    1. Moredechai, You’re right and some of my friends in Shul called me to task on that same point. I guess I’m trying to find a solution for people like Ilana who haven’t been successful in finding a Rav in their geographic sphere.

  4. Rav Zev Leff has a popular (overloaded) site to ask questions. I’ve gotten great answers. I wonder if he ever thinks, ‘Wow…thousands of people ask me their questions every month…why don’t they have a rav on their side of the ocean?”

  5. Interesting post… I am a rav of a “traditional” European Orthodox congregation and enjoy a personal relationship and advice giving with most of my members who are predominantly traditional but not frum, yet they expect and cherish that pastoral relationship.

    I often bemoan the fact that my frum family members in NYC, E.Y. and other big frum communities do not have this relationship which is ironic given the “aseh lecha rav” concept. They have different shuls they daven in; their kids schools or yeshivas; a shiur here or there but both the concept of a “shul” as a focal point and having “their rabbi” are lacking as is the sense of community. There is a price to pay in terms of people slipping through the cracks. I know of one rav who set up a very successful community in a Brooklyn chassidic neighborhood which is designed as an “out-of-town” community type experience e.g. yahrzeits and simchas are announced, members are invited to the rabbi for shabbos meals, there are social and educational events based around “the shul” etc.

    With all the off-the-derech issues this is a big factor – making sure people have a manhig and a personal mashpia to help them in life and not just a “dial a rabbi”.

    It needs addressing!

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