Being a Rabbi & Bending the Rules


Dear Rabbi

I would just like your opinion whether Rabbis should occasionally bend the rules and turn a blind eye depending on the circumstances!

I find today the Rabbis are far friendlier and understanding than the old school some of whom who on a lot of occasions were totally unapproachable!

Thirty odd years ago my son had a Bar Mitzvah. His great-grandmother who was about 90 years old at the time and who could hardly walk, decided she would like to be there as it was likely to be her last. She arranged for a car to take her to Shul.

One of the very “pleasant” members of the congregation told the Rabbi who embarrassed us in front of the congregation and castigated our family.

Needless to say we left that Shul and joined another with a much kinder more approachable Rabbi. Surely G-d would be happier for her to be there than not.



Dear Dan

There are two parts to your question with one answer. The first is whether Rabbis should bend the rules. The second is what would G-d want? The answer to both is that G-d would not want Rabbis to bend the rules. That said, G-d would not Rabbis to embarrass their congregants and castigate them in front of the community either.

Here’s the thing: “The end hallows the means” is a pagan concept, not a Jewish one. Robin Hood (who stole from the rich to give to the poor) is not a Jewish role model. So, when people ask the question, “Am I better off driving to shul so that I can be there to pray rather than staying at home,” the answer is unequivocally the latter. G-d accepts prayer everywhere and anywhere and He would rather your prayers without the Halachic compromises. You can argue “but it meant everything to Great Grandma to be there,” as I am sure it did. But religion is about what G-d wants rather than what we want. Sometimes that involves sacrifice, big and small along the way.

That said, I find it wholly absurd that anyone would feel the need to inform the rabbi and more so, that the rabbi would feel the need to make public comments about it. To be frank, the rabbi’s public embarrassment of your family is a sin no less, possibly more, than the Shabbat violation.

It is often said, there are five volumes to the “Code of Jewish Law.” Even as there are in fact only four, the fifth being common sense.

Many, many years ago I gave a sermon in shul about the theme of “ends hallowing means.” It prompted a member to call me after Shabbat: “Rabbi I live 2.5 miles from the synagogue. If I understand you correctly you’re telling me I am better off praying at home rather than driving as I do.” I replied, “Cecil, how you get to synagogue is none of my business. I don’t ask, I don’t second guess and I don’t judge. But if you’re going to ask me point blank which is the better of the two, then I have to tell you that staying and praying at home is the better option.” The following week and every week thereafter since, he left earlier and made the walk.


I Don’t Believe It – Am I Still Religious?


Dear Rabbi

One of the tenets of our Jewish religion is that Earth is only a vestibule. We accept with full belief of the better ‘next world’ Olam Habah and that our Mitzvot on Earth, good deeds, will help there. My problem is, as an orthodox Jew, I do not believe in the “next world” and I fear death.  I believe that G-d put me on Earth as a tenant to do my bit during my lifetime. Nothing more. Can I be regarded a truly religious?



Dear Aubrey

It’s hard to believe in something that remains in the abstract and not the practical. You’ve never been to the world to come so you might struggle with the “blind faith.” That said, to think that it all ends here and when the song is over there’s nothing more, is a very sad thought indeed. In fact, those who believe in a world beyond this one can find solace in knowing their loved ones, when they depart, are somewhere else. Those who think that everything ends here – I cannot understand how they don’t remain eminently inconsolable.

Your very question indicates your belief in G-d and that G-d put you here for a particular purpose. We, as human beings are feeble and inasmuch as we should never do things for the sake of reward, if you don’t believe in another place beyond where we receive ultimate reward, why bother doing anything? Because “G-d said so?” And if you choose not to, then what? There’s nothing beyond here!?!

That said, clearly then you are doing things because G-d said so, and not because you anticipate reward thereafter in another realm. Which makes your deeds all the more commendable, for which you will surely receive ultimate reward (whether you believe that now or not).

Finally, “being religious” is not determined entirely on the extent of your beliefs as much as your actions.

Next week marks the thirtieth yartzeit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Someone once asked him, “Rebbe, I don’t have a long beard, I don’t wear a black hat, I don’t don a long black frock coat. Can I still be a chosid (ardent follower) of yours?” The Rebbe replied: “When someone wakes up in the morning and they ask themselves, ‘how can I make today better than yesterday,’ that is a chosid of mine.”