Doing the Right Thing in a Tough Situation

Rabbi Lazer Brody originally posted this good advice here:

Josh from New England sent me the following question via my dear friend A Simple Jew:

I wanted to get your 2 cents on something. It’s my rabbi and my trouble seeing him as “my rabbi”. I am used to warm and caring rabbis, however he is what my wife refers to as “gruff”. His wife, on the other hand, is one of the sweetest rebbetzins you would ever meet.

The rabbi is constantly frazzled and short with me. Often he walks right by me without saying hello. He never engages me in conversation when I come over to wish him a “Good Shabbos”. He is easy to lose his temper, barks out commands to his kids, and often partakes of an inordinate amount of alcohol – and not just at times when it is customary to do so. This last observation has also been made by a number of people at my shul.

If I boil down what I am saying, he is not my ideal for a rabbi and barely meets my qualifications for a decent person. Have any advice for me? Finding another shul is obviously your first answer. However, my kids have lots of friends at this shul and also adore the rebbetzin. What should I do? I would have to move to another town since this is the only shul in walking distance if this is your advice to me.

Regards, Josh

Dear Josh,

First off, I want to warn you about gossip and slander. Even if the facts are true, you and other community members shouldn’t be talking about the rabbi unless you are bona-fide representatives of the community doing so to consider extending his contract or not. In your words, This last observation has also been made by a number of people at my shul – don’t fall into the Yetzer’s gossip trap.

If what you say is true, both anger and alcohol are clear signs of dark-side influence. Such a person cannot be a healthy spiritual guide, for if he is disconnected from holiness, how can he connect you to holiness?

I don’t suggest that you uproot your family because of this guy. Find yourself a rav and spiritual guide outside the community, and pray within the community. With email and cheap long-distance dialing, it’s no problem talking to any rav you like anywhere. Make no expectations from the local rabbi and you won’t be disappointed. Also, be careful not to join on a bandwagon against him. Hashem will take care of this His own way. Blessings and Happy Chanuka, LB

11 comments on “Doing the Right Thing in a Tough Situation

  1. Josh also didn’t say if he lives in a community where there is another shul they could switch to. That would be the best immediate solution. It appears that this Rabbi was never his Rav anyway.

  2. We need a sense of when to mix into other people’s business and when not. I can see the possibility of close relatives or personal friends of this rabbi providing advice he’d respond to, although even that isn’t a given.

    Josh’s immediate need is not to straighten out this rabbi, but to explore his options for growing as a Jew independently of this rabbi.
    As Rabbi Brody suggests, modern communications can compensate to a degree for distance from more inspiring leaders and mentors.

    The other side of this is that the lay leaders of the shul (the board of directors and the officers) act for the membership in making personnel decisions. That’s their duty, and, within the bounds of halacha, they are free to discuss the current situation and what to do about it practically, because they decide in the end. Possibly, it will be resolved at that level, one hopes without a public uproar.

  3. Hi, Ellen…I was not referring to your posting. I’m sure your advice here is much appreciated by the readers of this forum.

  4. Dovid:
    I might be getting prematurely defensive here, but as I scanned the comments already made, it seems that my entry would look a little off most people’s comfort level. So if you are not referring to my entry, please disregard what I’m writing here. But if you are, then I’d be curious to know exactly what it is that I wrote that you found “off-the-derech”. Until you have any familiarity whatsoever with addiction and alcoholism and what’s available for recovery, then you would be presumptuous in assuming that there is anything off the derech in what I wrote. If you are familiar with the very popular, highly uncontroversial Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski, then you would discover that he is a major proponent and advocate of all the 12-Step (AA, NA, Al-Anon, etc.) groups. In fact, when I called him for direction when a close family member of mine was using, Al-Anon is exactly where he directed me, and to NA for my family member. People are reluctant to look at addiction as a Jewish problem. But we are not exempt. I wish I didn’t have to be involved in this parsha. But I’m grateful that Orthodox Jews have a heter to participate in these programs. As they say, denial isn’t just a river in Egypt.

  5. We interupt these comments with a request that Rabbi Brody not only submit articles to Beyond BT, but also to participate in some of the other ongoing blogs. We sure could use his input here…as I believe some of the comments allowed to appear on this sight are quite off the derech and most disturbing.

    Thank you. We now return you to your regularly scheduled program…

  6. It looks as if fellow commenters covered most of the bases. Like SephardiLady says, if this is his own shul, then he isn’t necessarily going anywhere (except down, if he is truly an alcoholic, and based on your description, it sounds like he might be). If uprooting yourself involves too many complications, e.g. new jobs, new schools, etc. then perhaps your best route might be to work with the Rebbetzin. Is anyone in your community familiar with alcoholism? Does the rebbetzin have any close friends in whom she confides? It would be wonderful if someone could get her to Alanon, but she needs to be approached, and then she has to go along with it. Most family members of alcoholics/drug addicts are in deep denial, and have tremendous difficulty working through the shame. A rebbetzin would have that much more difficulty showing up at an Alanon meeting, especially since most meetings are held in churches. It is halachically permissable for a Jew to attend meetings in a church (did anyone guess yet that I’ve been to more than my share of Alanon meetings?), as long as the meeting isn’t in the sanctuary itself, and they seldom are.
    But you, Josh, are also eligible to attend Al-Anon meetings, as are other members of the shul, because Al-Anon is for anyone whose life is being affected by alcohol. Try it out and see what it’s like. Don’t worry that you’re going to have to expose your rabbi, because Alanon, like AA, is anonymous, so you don’t even have to identify yourself. In fact, you don’t even need to speak at all. You can just go and listen, and try to get a feel for what it’s like. If you want, you can then speak with someone privately after the meeting, still keeping yourself anonymous. People are rigorous about anonymity, which, as the Alanon traditions say, is the spiritual foundation of the program. Perhaps, by going, you might be able to get some insights as to how to get the rebbetzin involved. It would be a tremendous chesed to her, her children, and ultimately the rabbi if she would begin to attend meetings.
    You can also go online, there are many online meetings.
    You could also call an organization in New York called JACS, which stands for Jewish Alcoholics, Chemical Dependents, and their Significant Others. They address the issues of Jewish people needing recovery in AA, NA, and Alanon. I have gone to many of their retreats and have met Jews from every walk of life and from all over the country, even outside the U.S. These retreats are attended by Jews with no affiliation to Chassidim, and every stripe of Jew in between. The retreats are literally life-saving, both physically and spiritually. I’m getting carried away here. But you can find JACS at Call them and see if they have a suggestion. If it’s to go to a meeting, then try to do it.
    This situation is not about slander. It’s about pikuach nefesh. The rabbi’s family is paying the ultimate price.

  7. I don’t know if the original letter writer can be contacted to find out if the Rabbi has a contract. I can imagine that the advice might vary if the Rabbi founded his own shul.

  8. If the case is as you described, there is a good chance his contract will not be renewed (I hope). Perhaps you will only have to put up with him for a short while. But I agree with the suggestion to lay low, unless you are on the shul’s committee regarding the rabbi’s contract.

  9. Leaving a community is often a very drastic step that can have monumental consequences. Of course, remaining connected to a Rov that may be an alcoholic is disasterous.

    The question of whether having a Rov that does not live close by and is only in contact via phone and/or e-mail is a good one. Unfortunately, for those living outside of larger frum communities (and even for some living within them) this seems to be a reality if not a necessity.

    Knowing Rabbi Brody, this answer was likely the first answer in a longer dialogue on the issue.

  10. I think having a Rov like that is a valid reason to leave a community. A guy like that is no role model for anyone. Maybe you can email or phone but your kids cant and they have to put up with this clown in shul etc. Having a good spiritual connection in real time is an essential part of one’s spiritual life as a Jew even today. As to the Rebetzin, get her to an al-anon meeting, quick and also to a counsellor who understands the alchoholic family dynamic (not easy to find) Try Toby Rice Drews She’s great. Good luck

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