Who Speaks For Torah--And How?

When should a rabbi or teacher speak out about non-halakhic issues? How can all Jews, not just rabbis, most effectively influence their brethren towards religious growth? Rabbi Carmy outlines guiding principles that aid our thinking on these questions.

  1. We need to keep in mind the distinction between "direct communication" that simply asserts a truth and "indirect communication" that attempts to lead the listener or student to an inner experience of a truth. The centrality of halakhah in Judaism mandates that we sometimes employ "direct communication" to teach concrete norms. Additionally, dispensing with directness entirely runs the risk of projecting a posture of ironic detachment. On the other hand, "indirect communication" is both a crucial approach to helping others internalize religious inwardness and also proves helpful when trying to inspire others to think for themselves about situations without easy answers.

  2. The sociologist's idea of "role playing" reminds us that societal understanding of a personís role impacts on the effectiveness of various strategies that person might choose. A Rabbi who takes a stand regarding politic issues may be ineffective due to the communal view that he defies their definition of the rabbinate.

We must learn to differentiate between those issues that demand unequivocal "direct communication" and those issues that require the indirect approach, either because the subtler route enhances educational effectiveness or because the issue in question does not lend itself to certain answers.

Click here to read the essay (PDF 1.4MB).

Appeared in: Religious Zionism: After 40 Years of Statehood, ed. Spero and Pessin (1989): 156-72. (© Mesilot / The World Mizrachi-HaPoel HaMizrachi Movement and The Department for Torah Education, WZO / The Department for Jewish Zionist Education, JAFI, with permission.)

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