April 17, 2024
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April 17, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

It just recently occurred to me that I have no idea how to find a rav.

It’s not like all the rabbanim are hiding. They’re not getting unlisted numbers. But I do want a rav muvhak—someone I can ask all my shaylos to, who knows my ins and outs and where I’m coming from, and so on. How does one get a new rav muvhak? Is there a history form I can fill out, like with new doctors?

The issue here is that my posek was niftar a few months ago, and I went to him for everything. I never even found him the first time. My whole family’s been going to him since I was 12, and I’ve kept calling him, even after I moved away. It’s not like a pediatrician where you age out.

Most people seem to go with the rav of whatever shul they daven in. Does that mean they’re just choosing whichever rav best fits into their daily route, the same way one would choose a bank? Or did they choose the shul in the first place because they like the rav? What are the chances that the specific rabbi who’s right for you presides over the shul that is closest to your house?

And anyway, my old posek wasn’t actually the rav of any shul, so for me, choosing which shul I’m a member of never had anything to do with liking the rabbi specifically. It had more to do with where I wanted to make bar mitzvahs.

There is one posek that I have my eye on, who happens to be the rav of the shul I make bar mitzvahs in. Until now he was my local emergency Shabbos rabbi. (We have a Shabbos gentile, and apparently also a Shabbos rabbi. Sometimes we ask the Shabbos rabbi about the Shabbos gentile. But never the other way around. Both are people we could sell chametz to.)

In fact, that’s probably a good idea. Maybe everyone should have two poskim—a main posek and an emergency backup posek—in case something happens to one of them. And we should take steps to make sure they never fly together. But even if that’s the case, I need a new emergency backup posek. Preferably someone closer to my own age. Maybe someone who exercises.

For example, there’s someone in town who gives a Halacha shiur that my wife goes to, and he’s my age. I know this because I went to yeshiva with him, and he was a grade ahead of me, and he sat one table over during first seder, and one day my chavrusa pointed him out and said, “That guy’s young for his grade. He’s actually our age.” He didn’t say anything, because, unlike us, he didn’t schmooze during seder.

On the other hand, I’ve seen both of these rabbanim render psakim that were not in line with my old posek. So the question is if this is something I have to be concerned about. On the other hand, no two rabbanim agree on everything, so if this bothers me, I’ll never choose anyone. Or is it like the fewer the differences between him and my old rav, the more reason there is to go with him? How many differences are still okay?

I know, I know. All of these are questions I should probably ask a rav. But who?

Then someone I was speaking to mentioned that maybe the way to find a rav who gives similar psakim to your old rav is to find out who his rebbi was, and then work your way back downward, like with dinei yerusha. But I have no idea who his rebbi was. It just now occurs to me that in all my conversations with him, we mostly just spoke about me.

So how does one narrow down a rabbi? Should I just line up five applicants and interview them? Ask to see their resumes and ask them fake shaylos, sprinkled with, “So why do you want to be my rav?”

“I don’t know. I saw the ad.”

Then I spoke to a friend of mine who said that where he lives there’s a halacha hotline that people can call. And the idea of the hotline is great, because their hours are better than any one rabbi. On the other hand, you’re basically anonymous. And some anonymous shaylos are fine, but I can’t very well ask them, “Where do I send my son for high school next year?”

“I don’t know you, but you should send him to Yeshiva X.”

“Wow, I’ll get right on that… Does the rosh hayeshiva there answer shaylos from fathers?”

It suddenly occurs to me that I might be casting a pretty wide net with this article, and that’s not my intention. I’m not really asking for everyone to write in and go, “Use my rav!” Can you even volunteer your rav’s time? Though maybe there’s an actual rav who’s reading this who will write in, and if there is, he’s probably the right person to answer my insane elephant shaylos.

But my intention, I guess, is that you, the average reader, should be prepared if for some reason your rav can no longer take shaylos one day. Ask him who to go to in such an eventuality. Or make him write some kind of will, bequeathing all his talmidim to another rav. Yes, this is an awkward conversation to have with your rav, but if you’re not willing to have awkward conversations, maybe he’s not really your rav.

Also, maybe ask him about himself once in a while. Not when you’re calling him at 3 in the morning.

Mordechai Schmutter is a freelance writer and a humor columnist for Hamodia and other magazines. He also has seven books out and does stand-up comedy. You can contact him at [email protected].

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