Becoming a rabbi was always a dream of mine. I had two older brothers, a brother-in-law, a mechutan, and a son — R’ Binyomin Yehudah — who were rabbis. It is an honor and a privilege to join them in this illustrious society. I have had so many great and erudite rabbis who have shown me the way, including Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetzky, shlita, Rabbi Pinchas Scheinberg, z’l, Rabbi Aron Soloveichik, z’l, Rabbi Nisson Alpert, z’l, Rabbi Amos Bunim, z’l, Rabbi Schulem Rubin, z’l, Rabbi Yehudah Bohrer, z’l, and Rabbi Shlomo Hochberg, shlita, to name just a few. All imparted and continue to imbue great love of Torah and the Jewish people. I could never thank them enough.
There is much work to be done. The Jewish people face an inordinate number and set of problems today. The surrounding culture (really counter-culture) has deteriorated significantly. It seems to me to be the worst I have seen in my lifetime. Morality and decency are constantly being tested. The family unit is under attack in all directions. It is not just the “opioid crisis.” Singles are having a hard time getting married. Jewish education costs have skyrocketed. They have gone through the roof and are hurting Jewish growth. Even more disturbing is young Orthodox adults are leaving the fold. Divorce is up, which is bad, and to complicate matters, many agunot are stuck in a twilight zone.
Aliyah to Israel used to be a much higher priority when I was growing up. I cannot remember a rabbi’s sermon not mentioning aliyah back then. Today I rarely hear it. In my day it was not unusual for a rabbi to give mussar to his congregation. Nowadays a rabbi will be fired if he tries to reprimand his congregation. That is totally unacceptable.
Holocaust education is essential. As the survivors leave us, it is more crucial than ever for rabbis to step up to the plate.
The central authority of the rabbinate today needs a major boost.
There have been many positive developments too. It is not all doom and gloom. The study of Torah has increased dramatically. Daf yomi has become the norm rather than the exception. There is a much greater hunger for Torah than I can ever remember in my life.
Are we bringing back more than we are losing? I don’t think so. As good as all the kiruv (outreach) programs are in the world, we are losing far too many souls and not bringing enough back. I believe this is a desperate situation that has to be dealt with immediately. The counter-culture is so powerful that it is very difficult to fight against. We all must do our part.
One thing I know for sure is that the rabbis must lead. Unfortunately, I don’t think that this is the case any longer. I see way too many rabbis following their congregations rather than leading them. This is unacceptable. If we are to survive and succeed as a people, the rabbis must unite and confront all the issues that I have raised. I hope to help with the Almighty’s assistance in that vital and necessary endeavor.
Rabbi Dr. Joseph Frager, a recent recipient of Smicha and a New York gastroenterologist, is active in pro-Israel causes and is vice president of the National Council of Young Israel.