Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Limits of Rabbinic Chutzpah

A friend recently emailed me a "Mishpacha Magazine" exclusive about "Pressure at the Pulpit". The article, while minimally informative, contained a few nuggets. My favorite:
A rabbi sitting near me leans over. "I don't get why we have to be available for all their shei'los if they aren't available for all our answers. I'll tell you what I mean. A congregant calls me earlyone morning from a hotel in the Caribbean Islands, he wants to know about using the coffee maker in the room.
I told him, 'Yankel, you didn't ask me if its appropriate to vacation in a place where it's a battle to watch your eyes from forbidden sights. You didn't ask me about traveling to a place with no minyan. Nowyou call me? For this question, I'm not available, sorry.'"
I must admit: there have been times when I've wanted to say this to a congregant, but I then thought better of it. After all, what does a rabbi have to gain from this type of interaction? The next time, the congregant won't call him about the hotel or about the coffeemaker, and will probably make his life miserable going forward. Is it the best time, when he's sitting in his hotel room, to tell him that he really shouldn't be there? And, if a rabbi wants to get the message across, perhaps there's a better way to tell him, gently and softly.
Maybe that's really the point of the story. The pressure really had gotten to the rabbi after all.