Do You Have a Rav?

We all know how important it is to have a Rav for halacha (Jewish Law questions) and hadracha (general life direction questions). The question is how many of us have a Rav? Here are some of the issues we face:

1) BTs usually don’t have a family Rav from their parents.

2) Good Rebbeim who know BT issues are busy

3) We often feel uncomfortable introducing ourselves and asking them our basic questions.

4) It’s hard to cultivate that personal relationship, and for women it’s extremely difficult since they don’t have the repeated contact at davening.

What other problems have you faced?
How did you overcome the obstacles to find your Rav?

39 comments on “Do You Have a Rav?

  1. Actually, I think the Torah is consistent with an American optimistic view of life. It gives every person a path and prescription to find fulfillment in the physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual dimensions. It gives us a way to understand and navigate the difficult times with a constant look ahead at Moshiach in this world and eternal spiritual joy in the world to come.

    It’s unfortunate that some reject the Torah’s message and continue to focus on the negative.

  2. Yisrael said:

    “One of the hardest things to break from in the frum world is a fairy tale vision of life. It’s hard because it’s so prevalent, you start to think it’s Torah, when really it’s America.”

    Incisive comment of the year…


  3. Finding a rav is not an exercise in using a cookie cutter. It means someone who is available in halachic and hashkafic matters and is someone that when you don’t have access to, that you can ask yourself-what would my rav think or say in the circumstances that you are confronted with at any given moment?

  4. Yisrael, I think we’re in agreement at some level. Tell me which of these statements you disagree with.
    1) Ideally it’s best to have a competent Rav for spiritual guidance, when necessary, as the Mishna in Avos states.
    2) It’s sometimes, perhaps often, difficult for a person to find a competent Rav for his particular situation.
    3) When a person doesn’t have a competent Rav, Torah and spiritual growth is still accessible through self-directed learning and practice through appropriate sefarim.

  5. Mark, what I am trying to explain, although perhaps not very well, is that putting forth the idea that everyone must have a rav for life counsel is too simplistic and not helpful. Some people find one. Some people need one. Some people get by with books, which isn’t much different than a rav because most give canned answers to life questions anyway. We have to get away from this rigid picture of Judaism. We have a halacha. That is more fixed, but not perfectly so. Much of what goes around halacha is more variable.

    And then there are the people who thinking they must have a rav attach themselves to people who do them great harm.

    One of the hardest things to break from in the frum world is a fairy tale vision of life. It’s hard because it’s so prevalent, you start to think it’s Torah, when really it’s America.

  6. Yisrael, my experience has shown that each person has an unbelievable depth and complexity making the idea of cookie cutter a non-starter. The Torah does has a set of universally applicable mitzvos at some level, but just open up Mesillas Yesharim, and you’ll see the unbelievable variation there is in observance of every mitzvah.

    It’s not easy finding a Rav, the demand exceeds the supply, but spiritual guidance is an important component of spiritual growth.

    As for your interpretation of the Mishna, yes ultimately have to decide for yourself what to do, but the Rav mentioned here is the outside spiritual counsel that we need for growth.

  7. If you are willing to practice cookie cutter Judaism, it’s much easier to find a Rav. But if you are unwilling or deem it unwise to chop yourself into pieces, it’s much harder. Most of the mistakes I have made in my years in the frum world came from listening to rabbis whose advice generally consisted of the mantra ‘learn more gemara.’

    The Mishnah’s wording is interesting ‘make for yourself a rav’ Can that be read ‘make yourself into your own rav?’ Sometimes that’s what you have to do.

  8. One must work and search and find a rav who is available and sensitive to your halachic and hashkafic queries, and who appreciates the contributions and heroic acts of BTs. I would add that you have to find mentors ( preferably friends and chavrusos) who can give counsel and help you deal with R Berel Wein’s maxim that while Torah observant Judaism is the best way for a Jew to live, not all Torah observant Jews epitomize the best elements of human behavior.

  9. Yisrael, thanks for commenting and sharing your experience.

    Of course life should go on if you don’t have a Rav, but I think it makes sense for Torah oriented Jews to follow the advice in Pirkei Avos and try to find one.

    My experience has been that there are many knowledgeable and giving people, who do give of themselves by providing counsel to others.

    That being said, of course every person is responsible for the choices they make.

  10. To a large extent I find it a fairy tale concept. Firstly, most rabbis have little time and make little for people. Secondly, most of the ones that I have met have met don’t understand BTs very well and don’t even understand the world very well. Don’t fail bad if you don’t have a rav. You are not a child. You can lead your own life. True we all can benefit from mentors and the counsel of others. See what you can find. But life goes on without having a rav.

  11. I don’t really have a Rav because as a female, I feel it is very hard to be close to a rabbi… females just don’t have the same relationship a male can. I have rabbis from sem I can talk to but there’s noone out there I’m really close with who I’d ask my hadracha questions to. And it is a problem, because we all need guidance! So what’s a woman ‘spose to do?!

  12. Tevye

    Doesn’t HaRav Moshe Meir Weiss live on staten island.
    My experience with him has been positive.


  13. I cannot stress enough the importance of having a rav, even for halacha not just hadracha, that understands where you are coming from. Years ago while living in Israel, I was referred to “an up-and-coming gadol” (or so I was told) who is reputed to be an expert in medical halacha. In the course of speaking to me, the matter touched on the issue of birth control. He then used this opportunity to berate me for being “a makel American following shitos that 99% of Israeli rabbis hold are assur” and he then refused to posken the medical shaila for me. Oh, and I’m a medical professional – he nearly exploded when I asked (in a very respectful way, promise) to “clarify” something that was a gross error in basic anatomy and physiology, and I think this was the real source of the “rebuff”. But this man never established 1) how many children I had (4); 2) why I was given the heter (I had post-partum depression); or 3) who had given it to me (a *true* gadol b’yisrael) much less “where I was coming from” in any other sense either. He literally screamed at me that if I was going to use a diaphragm, he didn’t care if I could never be with my husband again and wouldn’t lose a wink of sleep over it (that’s a quote).

    So – hideous story. If anything in my over 20 year of being frum has almost pushed me off the derech, that was it. It really disgusts me to this day when I hear people refer to the rav as a “gadol”. I have tried to dan lekaf zechus and remind myself rebbeim are human (maybe his wife burned his dinner?), but I’ve been told by others that my experience is not unique. I’ll admit, this one leaves me scratching my head about what the “velt” deems “gadlus” in this day and age. The only lesson I took away from it is that I only ask shailas of rebbeim I have a real kesher to.

  14. shalom tevya,
    in a story of rabbi nachman the message is “never give up”. i think this is a message everyone of us needs again and again in his oder her life. i think you feel that people here are listening and yes, caring for you. i am sure that there is someone out there in the “real world” to care for your searching. it is only a matter of time. so don’t give up – hashem shomer.

    git shabbes, shosha

  15. Don’t kid yourselves, this is not strictly a BT issue, it exists for FFB’s as well.

    A Rav is not always around, unless you chain him to yourself. Qualified Rabbonim are often very busy.

    One should try to educate themselves as much as possible from seforim and chavrusos, to be able to handle as much as possible themselves without needing a Rav.

    Also, you can sometimes get good advice from an older person or talmid chochom at large. Not everything must be from an official Rav, Rosh Yeshiva, or Kiruv worker. The easier questions can often be handled on your own or by knowledgable Jews, even if they are not full-fledged Rabbonim.

  16. Bob,

    Hi there. I am holding myself back due to previous rejections I ahve had with people on SI and elsewhere throughout the NYC/NJ area. And I also feel I have exhausted my options because I feel there is no hope in this matter. And I cannot go the extra mile asking for help because of all the rejection I have been through. Thanks for listening.

    Hi there. I feel no one listens. It goes in one ear and out the ear with the frum community and it hurts and I feel so alone and lonely. Thanks for listening Shosha.

  17. shalom tevya,
    there is always at least one person who is listening. i can’t imagine that there is no person on SI whith whom you couldn’t talk. and yes, sometimes we have to go the extra mile …may hashem give you some extra coiches and emunah.
    git shabbes, shosha

  18. On a connected note, maybe we should also have a thread “Do You Have A Family?”

    As important as a rav is, a family to spend time with, be influenced by in subtle ways may be as important by filling in where the relationship with the rav often doesn’t go. It is with the ‘family’ that we see and learn how the direction from the ‘rav’ gets put into practice in real-world, everyday circumstances. Also, the family is often more available for emotional support and insight than the rav.

  19. Shalom Zach!

    You’re in a holy yishuv in Israel, and no access to a rav? The irony must make it even more frustrating! :-)

    Seriously, I don’t know specifically where you are; but many of the yishuvim have knowledgeable people who are quite learned. If you are hooked up with a particular family (what we used to call a ‘mishpaha m’ametzet’ or ‘adopting family’) they may be a good resource for general guidance. They may also be a liason/translators for you with their rav.

    If you think about it, a person’s first contacts with a rav in ‘normal’ circumstances are the rav of their family or community. Not only is that natural, it helps the individual to fit into the community. I’ll assume for the moment that you chose to be in this yishuv, in which case the local rav is not a bad place to start.

    BTW, assuming this is a ‘religious zionist’ community and you like it there, you may want to check out Machon Meir in Yerushalayim. In my time, it was an excellent place for a hozer b’tshuvah to learn, and they have had for quite a few years an English speaking group at the yeshivah. Also see if it is convenient for you to speak with Rav Yosef Benarroch who teaches at Bat Ayin (his wife Ilana is an administrator there) and lives in Efrat. The Benarroches are native English speakers, and very warm people. You can find Machon Meir and Midreshet Bat Ayin (women’s school, but contact for the Benarroches) on the web.


  20. Tevya,

    With all due respect, have you exhausted your options or have you held back from approaching other rabbis or people on SI because of previous rejections? Sometimes, we have to go the extra mile when it really matters.

  21. Shosha,

    Thanks for your kind words. I nunderstane that you say you keep Shabbos for Hashem’s sake and not for the kehilla. But I live with my parents and I am surrounded by non-frum people. Torah should be kept with a kehilla not by yourself. For example, men daven with a minyan, paired Torah study and Shabbos with family and friens. This cannot be done by yourself. The rabbis here in Staten Island and NYC are not understanding of non-frum Jews. I have spoken to rabbis with deaf ears. And I cannot find a support group with BT and FFBs because they have their friends. They are not welcoming towards outsiders. And I am about to give up even though I want my children to be raised in a frum home. I see no hope in this matter. I feel I have to separate myself completely from the frum world in order to get rid of this pain. I feel so alone and lonely it hurts. Thanks for writing Shosha!:)

  22. ps
    i consult the rabbi of our women’s shiur. and my husband is consulting the rabbi of our community. not in all questions but there are some, where it is really necessary to have a rabbi to ask.

  23. shalom tevya, it made me sad to read what you wrote.
    i think it is not for the kehillah that one wants to keep shabbos or mitzves. it is for hashem and for yourself. it is sad to hear that the people around you seem to be not very wellcoming. my experience is that when people are coming for a while and are making some kind of connections they are also invited by the “oldies”. in my community there are also people who invite any people (we also do it) – not depending on if we know them or not. but i am living to far away from you to welcome you into our home..
    chuz mi’se: maybe it helps to talk to a rabbi directly about that problem. or to try to find other bt’s in your region to found a kind of support group, to exchange and maybe also to invite each other for example.
    i hope you find solutions to find your way back. don’t give up. and really, the most important: try to communicate.
    kol tuv, shosha

  24. Zachary Kessin: You didn’t say if it was a Chabad on campus Rav that you were connected to—I know a lot of college kids form strong relationships with those Chabad Rabbis. But Chabad is in nearly every town, so if you don’t have anyone locally, you can still go to & plug in your current location to find a Chabad rabbi nearby. Community shiurim are helpful to connect with a Rav, but if your community doesn’t have them, there are also ways to connect via telephone or online.

    It was not a chabad rav. Although Brandeis has one (and I very much like him).

    The problem is that I am on a Yishuv in Israel. So while there are shiurim here they are in hebrew (which I don’t speak) and at a more advanced level.

    As for Chabad I try to avoid them, at least in Israel I feel that far to much of Chabad has taken Rebbe worship into the area that is borderline Avoda Zara.

  25. ChanaLeah,

    Hi there. I live in Staten Island, NY which is one of the 5 boroughs of NYC. I do not have a rav or frum friends because I do not live in a frum area on SI. Also I have tried to become more observant in the past and I find that the frum community does not care about their non-observant brethren and it hurts. I am very burned from this and I do not know what to do. I have been on this path since 1999 with no luck. And I am in pain from all the rejection. I do not want to go to a rabbi or frum people and say to them I am new to this because I will be judged negatively. It also hurts when I am around them I feel that I am less than them and I will never be up to their level. I also do not want to go to a shul on Shabbos and then the frum community goes home to a nice meals and I am left out in the cold. It hurts deeply when you are left out. I am in the medical field where you have to work on Shabbos and I am thinking of working on Shabbos because right now I am not shomer shabbos and I will not keep Shabbos by myself when the rest of the frum community is with their family and friends and I am left out in the cold. And I feel that by working on Shabbos will take away that pain even though I desperatly want to be a part of the frum kehilla even though I think it is impossible. So with these issues I feel lost and feel there is no hope and I am about to give up even though I do no want to give up. I feel I have no choice in this matter. Thanks for listening.

  26. I think that I posted on this issue last summmer after the first BT Shabbaton. All I will add is that even after one feels that he or she has acquired a rav, the next step is to realize that in many instances, you then ask “what would my rav say” about a particular issue in many instance. IOW, in some cases, but not in all, consultation is necessary.

  27. Tevye: Do you not have a rav or frum friends because there are none where you live? As for taking work on Shabbos, can you find a job that doesn’t require it? You may be in a low spot now, but later you will be up again and it may mean more to you to stay connected to Shabbos. Better to go with a job that gives flexibility there, if possible.Just MHO.

  28. Aliza,

    Hi there. I know how you feel. I do not have a rav or BT or FFB friends which means no support whatsoever. I am falling very quickly from Torah due to a lack of support. I am at a point where if I am offered a full-time job and they need me on Shabbos I will probably say yes because I find it to be a losing battle with the frum community. I wish you the best.

  29. Generally speaking, any “hadracha rav” worth his weight in natural pink diamonds is probally not that easily accessible if at all, has his own immediate community people hadracha concerns or is no longer with us, only on judaica book shelves.

    Also picking a “hadracha rav” is hard or impossible.

    Religion is like the weather, global warming included. So Julys “hadracha rav” óf the month may no longer be compatible with Octobers lifestyle.
    Attending “monochromatic” colored academies with ravs for all kinds óf minds in Israel or other enlclaves boasting spiritual largesse is hardly ever an option mostly for derech defining.

    So hadracha ravs will probally go the way of derechs.
    Many will find their rav and have their way too. In addition to insisting that they found. the smartest one.
    These “hadracha rav” junkies will crave the ravs approval and won’t even purchase a metro card ünless the rav approves óf the direction and subway line of choice. I’m sure some of the makeshift rabbis with shifty eyed perspectives will connect the color of the subway line to his holy decision for the color therapy effect.
    They usually provide a complimentary cone of cotton candy for the sugar sugar effect.

    Many others will keep switching hadracha ravs until they don’t know the difference between skeptic/sincere, bitter bitten /experienced learned. Ego centric mind control person/selfless guidance adviser. Chips on shoulder /yoke of torah and science. (neuroscience can get pretty heavy nowadays).

    And others sometimes just look for approval and direction from persons they want to be like or just trust for objective opinions. I’m not sure that “rav” is a prerequisite for the hadracha junkies looking for a life director.
    I’m not even sure most ravs are qualified nowadays to dish out hadracha directives.

    So do you need a derech before you find the “hadracha rav” or does that come later in unhealthy doses due to emotional dependency.

  30. From the female perspective:

    I don’t have a Rav, and I’m still pretty much scared to even approach a Rabbi other than my seminary principal. It’s intimidating, really.

    My teachers and people I meet keep telling me I have to find a Rav, but seriously, do I realllllyyyy need one?

  31. Zachary Kessin: You didn’t say if it was a Chabad on campus Rav that you were connected to—I know a lot of college kids form strong relationships with those Chabad Rabbis. But Chabad is in nearly every town, so if you don’t have anyone locally, you can still go to & plug in your current location to find a Chabad rabbi nearby. Community shiurim are helpful to connect with a Rav, but if your community doesn’t have them, there are also ways to connect via telephone or online.
    Mark: I agree, it’s easy to find someone to answer shailos. If hadracha questions are framed like shailos, you can get an answer, but usually it doesn’t begin to address the deeper questions and issues. There is a very strong protective and defensive instinct among the klal, and when certain issues cross lines of comfort it is difficult to get help.

  32. I think the hadracha Rav is more important than the halacha Rav, because you can usually find somebody to answer your shailos.

    But it’s probably true that most BTs (and probably most frum people) don’t have a Rav to whom they regularly ask hadracha questions.

    When you’re young the issue is mostly whether you’re reaching your potential and do you have a good plan to move in a good direction.

    When you get older questions of children’s schools, children’s careers, shadchanus, parenting and elder care become big issues and a hadracha Rav is very helpful to avoid making big mistakes.

  33. It’s also a question of stage of life – although I’ve lived frum from a relatively early age, I relocated to Israel as a working family man. I am now living in a suburban neighborhood and simply do not have the time to (a) seek a rav outside my immediate sphere, and (b) forge a relationship with that rav. My beit medrash days are over.

    I think this probably parallels the experience of many adult BTs.

    I’ve relied on tapes, CDs, and MP3s to bring me in contact with a broader range of rabbanim – especially those who speak in English.

  34. I had a Rav, but I sort of lost contact with him over years since I left college. At this point I am kind of stuck. I don’t have someone locally, and I don’t really have a connection with a yeshiva or the like so I’m kind of at loose ends, that seems to describe my life in general these days.

  35. I have found that, for me, different kinds of halachic or hashkafic questions can require consultation with different rabbonim.

    In the various places I’ve lived over the years, I’ve met rabbis (shul or otherwise) I still talk or write to about matters in their areas of expertise.

    I once asked a well-known rav (an educator and former shul rabbi now in kiruv) if one’s halachic questions should always go first to one’s mara d’asra (shul rabbi), and he said there is no such requirement.

    Had I had an intensive yeshiva education, I might have developed the kind of relationship with a rebbe there that would have fostered something closer to lifelong “one-stop shopping” in this regard. Our younger son, who now studies at BMG in Lakewood, often consults with his former Rosh Yeshiva in Metro Detroit.

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