Real Rabbi or Phony Rabbi?
Rotten people can study Torah - and dress in rabbinic garb.
In these extraordinary times we are compelled to step out of our comfort zone and rethink many things we always took for granted. Many of the leaders and institutions we always supported, and which we believed were fundamentally on our side, are taking off their masks. It behooves us to see them for what they are, and not serve as their apologists.
Chazal taught us long ago that before the arrival of Moshiach the leaders would be mostly Erev Rav – essentially, moles working to destroy us from within. This teaching should give us strength when so much of the rabbinic establishment has prostituted itself and issued wayward proclamations. This was foretold. We're finally there.
It should also give us the confidence to stand up to shady characters, even if they are impressive scholars with long beards and a regal appearance. Rotten people can study Torah and dress in rabbinic garb, just like anyone else. We must see past the fancy exterior. It's our responsibility to recognize the Erev Rav, expose them, and banish them from our midst.
At the same time, we don't want to be irresponsible. Every Jew deserves the benefit of the doubt, especially Torah scholars, and the consequences of falsely labeling one a traitor are terrifying. We have to do this work, but we have to do it right.
Here are some of the best ways to tell the difference:
1. A real rabbi is a real person. He isn't putting on a show. An Erev Rav is a bureaucrat, an actor playing a part. Some play their parts better than others, but there is nothing sincere about them.
2. A real rabbi is patient in judgment, as per the first Mishna in Avos. He recognizes that every case has individual nuances, and that one must never jump to conclusions. An Erev Rav hardly bothers to pretend he engaged in careful research and deliberation before issuing a pronouncement. The pharmaceutical companies claim they developed their lovely shots in record time without cutting any corners (who needs long-term studies, anyway?), and the Erev Rav did the same with their hurried rulings of support.
3. A real rabbi issues detailed rulings in which everyone can see the sources he relied upon, his total grasp of all sides of the issue, and the thought process behind his conclusions. He bases his rulings only on relevant sources, and makes it clear how he connects the dots when applying seemingly disparate sources to a situation. He makes everyone smarter and more informed.
An Erev Rav just makes pronouncements and backs them up with rhetoric. He throws around sources willy-nilly, attempting to camouflage his non-ruling by confusing people or dazzling them with his scholarship. Just as a dictator rules with force, an Erev Rav rules with intellectual and religious intimidation. His rulings make little sense, but one dare not challenge him.
4. A real rabbi continues to learn as new information comes to light, and he modifies his rulings accordingly. An Erev Rav told everyone to wear masks and take the shots two years ago, and he has nothing more to say on the subject. God has spoken.
5. A real rabbi may have to issue a ruling that negatively impacts some people. If he must, he must, but he feels true empathy for the hardship this causes, and he tries to alleviate it however possible. For example, when King David would rule against a poor person in a monetary dispute, he would pay the judgment in his stead (Sanhedrin 6B).
An Erev Rav closes the shuls and yeshivos without batting an eyelash. He rails that those without health papers should be barred from shul and turned into outcasts. He condemns children to be expelled from yeshiva as if it's nothing. He doesn't have a caring bone in his body. If anything, he relishes it.
6. A real rabbi is unswayed by financial incentives, and in fact is leery of them. He knows how easily money can corrupt a person's judgment and damage his spiritual sensitivity. If his judgment and spiritual sensitivity are corrupted, what good is the money?
An Erev Rav is money-centric, like a moth drawn to light. He is always chasing a more prestigious position, an award, a grant, a donation. He is not so much a spiritual leader as a seller of religion-oriented goods and services. Politicians do pay for play; he does pay for pray.
7. On that note, a real rabbi chooses his inner circle very carefully, based on spiritual considerations. In essence, though, his main consideration is shepherding the people.
An Erev Rav hobnobs with the rich and famous. His inner circle is based strictly on materialistic considerations. He can never take enough photos with influential heathens to showcase his importance. His main consideration is shepherding himself.
8. A real rabbi spends the bulk of his time learning, teaching, and otherwise serving Hashem. An Erev Rav wastes his time running around to ceremonies, dinners, and exclusive events. When does he actually learn? Who knows?
9. A real rabbi may be overwhelmed with responsibilities, but he feels that everyone is precious, and he tries to make time for them. An Erev Rav is inaccessible – unless you know someone who knows someone. He is always too busy for everyone else.
10. A real rabbi is patient with those who ask sincere questions. He is especially empathetic when people ask questions from a place of distress. An Erev Rav is dismissive, arrogant, and condescending. When someone dares question his demand that everyone take a shot, he insults them, humiliates them in public, and throws them out. The one thing he will never do is actually address the question.
11. A real rabbi is devoted to bringing Jews closer to one another and to Hashem. An Erev Rav is devoted to turning them against one another and driving them away from Hashem. All in the name of the Torah, of course.
12. A real rabbi works for Hashem. An Erev Rav works for the government.
13. A real rabbi is not elected, but discovered. His authority comes from the willing consent of those who discover him and recognize his greatness. He flees from honor, expects no special treatment, and accepts honor only to the extent that it honors the Torah he represents. An Erev Rav demands respect and chases honor. He rests on his laurels, forgetting that respect must be earned, not demanded – and can also be forfeited.
14. A real rabbi is not afraid to rebuke the rich and powerful. An Erev Rav kisses up to them, and looks away even when they do heinous things. Once again, for the sake of Torah, of course.
15. A real rabbi will take a controversial stand for the sake of Torah. If necessary, he will take a hit to sanctify God's name. The Netziv would sooner close his Yeshiva in Volozhin than allow secular authorities to corrupt it. An Erev Rav sees which way the winds are blowing, and then decides where to stand. Their preferred position on controversial issues is to be quiet and neutral like Switzerland.
16. A real rabbi will valiantly oppose the death shots, masks, and anti-God tyrants. An Erev Rav supports them and instructs people to take the shots.
Sorry, but we're two years into this. No more excuses.
Rabbi Chananya Weissman is the author of hundreds of articles and seven books on a wide range of subjects. He is also the director and producer of a documentary, Single Jewish Male, and a series of short films. His work can be found at chananyaweissman.com and rumble.com/c/c-782463. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.