Who Will Follow The Pope's Lead?
02/12/2013 - 17:52
Gary Rosenblatt


“Pope Gives God Two Weeks’ Notice.”

Leave it to the New York tabloids, in this case the New York Post, to sum up the stunning news from the Vatican in a few words.

While the Catholic Church scrambles to elect a new pontiff by Easter, some aging leaders of the Jewish community might consider the precedent set by Benedict XVI in stepping down at the age of 85, citing deteriorating health.

It seems quite logical to retire from such a 24/7 and remarkably busy life at that age, but how many people are willing to give up the reins of guiding the spiritual lives of a billion followers?

The issue of leadership transition is on the minds of many in the Jewish community who note that some of the best-known and most influential heads of major organizations are pushing 70, or are already over. A major Jewish think-tank is working on a report on the subject, seeking to assess whether there is a sufficient supply of qualified successors in place in Jewish life, waiting to be tapped. Or will the next crop of leaders come from outside the Jewish professional world, and is that a good thing?

Certainly there are too many examples of Torah sages, here and in Israel, who are over 90 and no longer at their full mental capacity, yet maintaining their positions, sometimes manipulated by younger aides whose advice is more political than spiritual.

I wish shalom to Benedict, and gently suggest that some of our own communal veterans take note of his gracious exit. 

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As described in this week's parsha, the Leviim stepped-down from their positions at age 50. But Moshe Rabbeinu had negotiated a retirement package for them that beat the NYC Teachers famed "Tier 1" plan.

Age is not always the best indicator, or even an indicator at all, of whether our Jewish communal leaders have the physical and mental energy to lead our organizations forward. Some of our strongest Jewish professionals are well along into their 70s and 80s while there are at least as many in their 60s who have long passed their prime and should no longer be leading major national Jewish institutions. When long serving leaders, particularly in large national organizations begin to believe that they are the organization, rather than humble servants of their constituency or the broader Jewish community, that's when it is time to go. That is rarely a function of age, but more of the mindset of the individual and the organization's lay leadership. My suggestion is that we look at the Pontif's decision as a courageous one that puts the interests and needs of his flock before his own ego and narcissistic needs. Kudos to him...shame on those in leadership positions in our own Jewish community who fail to do the same. Regardless of their age.