(October 27, 2019 / JNS)
Becoming a rabbi was always a dream of mine. After all I had two older brothers, a brother-in-law, a mechutan (father of one’s child’s spouse) and a son, Rabbi Binyomin Yehudah, who were rabbis. So it is an honor and a privilege to finally join them in this illustrious society.
So many great and erudite rabbis showed me the way, including Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetzky, Rabbi Pinchas Scheinberg, Rabbi Aron Soloveichik, Rabbi Nisson Alpert, Rabbi Amos Bunim, Rabbi Schulem Rubin, Rabbi Yehudah Bohrer and Rabbi Shlomo Hochberg, to name just a few. All imparted to me a great love of Torah and the Jewish people, and I could never thank them enough.
There is much work to be done. The Jewish people face an inordinate number of problems today. The surrounding culture has deteriorated significantly and is at the lowest point I can remember. Morality and decency are constantly being tested. The family unit is under attack from all directions.
It isn’t just the “opioid crisis.” Singles are having a hard time getting married. Jewish education costs have skyrocketed, hurting Jewish growth. Even more disturbing is that young Orthodox Jewish adults are leaving the fold. Divorce is up, too, and to complicate matters many agunot (“chained” women who according to Jewish law are not free to remarry) remain stuck in a twilight zone.
Immigration 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 (Jewish ethics) lessons to his congregation. Nowadays any rabbi that reprimanded his congregation would be fired. That is totally unacceptable.
Holocaust education is more essential than ever. As the survivors leave us, it crucial that rabbis to step up to the plate.
The central authority of the rabbinate today needs a major boost as well.
There have been many positive developments, too, however. It’s not all doom and gloom. The study of Torah has increased dramatically, for instance. Daf Yomi (a daily regimen of Talmud study) has become the norm rather than the exception. There is a much greater hunger for Torah now than at any time I can remember.
But are we bringing back more than we are losing? I don’t think so. As good as all the kiruv (outreach) programs in the world are, 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 prevailing 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 rabbis must lead, but unfortunately, 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. It is my hope to aid in that vital endeavor, with the Almighty’s assistance.
Dr. Joseph Frager is first vice president of the National Council of Young Israel.