Saturday, May 15, 2021

Kudos to Ryan Hyman and Richard Langer for their letters in the November 12 edition of your paper (“In Defense of Our Community” and “Don’t Hide Behind Anonymity”); an advertisement in the previous edition could appear to be delegitimizing our rabbis’ decision to close shuls at the height of the coronavirus, or even to be denying that this decision was made on Halachic considerations, and I thank them for pointing out that such accusations against our rabbis are dangerous and should not be considered acceptable. I would likewise like to thank the author of the advertisement for his letter in the same edition (“A Clarification” November 12, 2020), in which he clarifies that such disrespect for our rabbis was by no means intended by the advertisement. I would likewise like to thank Mr. Hyman for pointing out in his letter that there are matters in which some hold of a more stringent view, but legitimate lenient positions exist as well, and in the absence of a single authoritative community rav it is generally not proper to call upon the rabbis to enforce, or even advocate without being asked, any particular one of multiple legitimate Halachic positions.

There do, however, exist many matters in which there is no basis for leniency, and in some such cases there does exist laxity in some parts of the Modern Orthodox community. In such cases it is indeed the role and responsibility of the rabbis to educate the community, and it may very well be that some are averse to do so due to practical concerns regarding the acceptance of their words.

Likewise, there are cases in which one person following a lenient view is effectively imposing that leniency on others and therefore such behavior is problematic even if there is a legitimate basis for the leniency. One obvious case of such a situation is in the kashrut of restaurants, and it is a credit to our community that the RCBC does in fact ensure that all restaurants follow standards of kashrut that allow everyone to partake.

Other cases, which may be less obvious and less fulfilled, arise with regard to shul; for instance, it may occur that someone who is barely able to read Hebrew (if that) wishes to read his bar mitzvah parsha or haftarah, and will inevitably make mistakes that invalidate the leining according to the widely accepted opinion. While a more lenient opinion does exist, it is not fair to the tzibbur to require them to rely on such a minority opinion for their obligations. Likewise, it can sometimes occur that someone who is used to davening at a faster pace gets up to be the shaliach tzibur at a slower minyan; even if he is able to daven at a faster pace without any loss to his pronounciation or kavana, many in the minyan will not have this ability, and therefore will be unable to start the silent Shemoneh Esrei with the tzibbur if he proceeds at his accustomed pace. While there do exist opinions that one can fulfill tefillah b’tzibur even if one starts after the congregation has already started, there are also opinions that maintain that starting at the same time is required, and again, it is not fair to impose the more lenient view on others. With regard to such shul-based issues, it also can occur that rabbis are loath to speak up due to practical considerations, and I have heard from a prominent (non-shul) rabbi the suggestion that they are even restricted by a concern that their employment contract may be cancelled if they speak up to protect the public.

With regard to these sorts of issues, the question asked by “Halacha does matter” is indeed one worthy of attention: Given that our rabbis were able to come together to make the “painful but necessary” (to quote Mr. Hyman’s phrase) decision for the community to sacrifice a Halachic consideration in the interests of a greater consideration, should they not be able to learn from their own example and do the same in these cases, where the calculus is so much more one-sided?

Yitzhak Kornbluth