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 to whom I can ask all my she’eilos, 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 recently niftar, and I went to him for everything. He was a one-stop shop, available at all hours for halachah, hadrachah, hashkafah, lomdus, and bekius, yet he was the least intimidating person I knew. He had everything at his fingertips without having to open a sefer, even if you called him at three in the morning, and he gave you no indication that you woke him up. No, he wasn’t hiding, but he was someone the world didn’t really know about, and who seemed to have all the time in the world for the people who did. Where do I find one of those?
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.
The first time I saw my rav was on a Shabbos morning when I was 12, and he was strolling into shul during Mussaf and casually schmoozing with people on his way to the back of the room. And I was wondering what was going on with this person who seemed to be a rabbi, yet came that late to davening, when I knew there were only two minyanim in reasonable walking distance and they both started around the same time. I later found out that he actually davened k’vasikin in a nursing home halfway across town, then came home and learned (when did he sleep?), and then showed up during Mussaf so he’d be early to the unlisted shiur he gave afterward. That’s what he was.
Is that the kind of rav I want? Then how do I find him? Do I just keep moving my family around and hoping to luck into the same neighborhood as someone like that? Keep an eye out for people who come insanely late to shul and ask them if they answer she’eilos?
There is one posek 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 goy, and apparently also a Shabbos rabbi. Sometimes we ask the Shabbos rabbi about the Shabbos goy. But never the other way around. Both are people we could sell chametz to.)
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, like the president and vice president. But even if that’s the case, I need a new emergency backup posek. Preferably someone closer to my own age, just in case. Younger would be better. Maybe someone who exercises.
For example, there’s someone in town who gives a halachah 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 psak that was 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 OK?
I know; all of these are questions I should probably ask a rav. But WHO?
And if I ask more than one rav this question and they each have a different answer, how do I know who to go by? Should I get a consensus of ten different rabbis and basically put it up to a vote as to what I should be looking for in a new rabbi? And if I do that, why even get a new rabbi? Why not just put all my she’eilos up to a vote and pasken like the majority? Can I do that?
Our survey says, “Probably not.”
It’s not even like I can go to my old roshei yeshiva or something. I spent most of my yeshiva career trying to steer clear of the roshei yeshiva.
Though I do teach in a yeshiva, so maybe that’s a route I can take. Maybe I can start talking to the rosh of that yeshiva.
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 rebbe was, and then work your way back downward, like with dinei yerushah. But I have no idea who his rebbe 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 résumés and ask them fake she’eilos, sprinkled with, “So why do you want to be my rav?”
“I don’t know. I saw the ad.”
Do you just pick a rabbi and start asking him she’eilos, and if at some point you don’t like his answers, you find a new one? It’s not like changing banks where you have to spend an hour signing out. But who are you to judge what you don’t like? You don’t have semichah. Should you just get semichah? From whom?
And one of my issues is that I’m looking for someone with whom I’d be comfortable enough asking my weird she’eilos. I mean, I ask the normal she’eilos that everyone asks, too, like, “I fleished up my pareve pot,” and, “I milched up my pareve pot,” and, “I fleished up my pareve pot again.” But if you think you have weird and embarrassing she’eilos, I write a comic strip for a Brooklyn-based magazine about a diverse shul of animals led by a Bunny Rabbi, and so that I don’t have readers writing in to correct me, I frequently have to ask she’eilos like, “Would an elephant have to wash his trunk before meals?” and “How much does a mouse need to eat in order to bentch?” and “Can an animal that lives on top of a tree daven on top of that tree?” and other questions that would get the rosh of the yeshiva that I teach in to reconsider keeping me around impressionable youngsters.
Then I spoke to a friend of mine who said that where he lives, there’s a halachah 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 she’eilos 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 there answer she’eilos from fathers?”
Also, I’m afraid that if I ask my weird animal she’eilos to an anonymous phone line, they would stop taking my calls.
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 she’eilos.
But my intention, I guess, is that you, the average reader, should be prepared if for some reason your rav can no longer take she’eilos 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 three in the morning, though.
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of six books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.