Yitz Greenberg: The 10 Percent Solution
03/15/2010 - 12:15
James Besser

How far and fast a rabbi can impose change by executive fiat, as if some sort of Zeus? How far can a rabbi get in front of (or behind) his shul to the point where there are far less people supporting him than he supposes? if a shul is Orthodox, how far can a rabbi go beyond the bounds of what would be commonly accepted as Orthodox?

In Rav Avi’s Shabbos talk and (sort-of) apology to the congregation last week, he quoted the great Rav Yitz Greenberg: “If you are 15% ahead of your people, you are a visionary; if you are 25% ahead of them, you’re a kook.” For a brief moment, Rabbi Weiss seemed to be counting himself among the latter.

Rabbi Greenberg explained to us via e-mail: “I explained in my original version, which was not a sound bite, that the ideal effective rabbi/leader should probably be 5-10% ahead of his people. They will not hear all; they will discount some; they will not try hard enough to live up to all. But you will move them to 2-5% in the end - which is a huge difference…

“If the rabbi/leader pushes 10% to 15% ahead of people - and is a good leader - some will follow. Most will not go that far. Some will break away and say that you are not their leader anymore - too far out. Some will say: he is a visionary - not so realistic but I support/follow him even though I don’t go along.

“If the rabbi/leader pushes beyond 15%, most people say he is so far from me that he is not my leader. He is off the wall. He is out of control. He is mistaken. Most reject him. As he gets close to 25%, they dismiss him as a kook. In short, he fails (or is fired).

“Now I add: there are occasionally issues so fundamental and the people are so far off the mark that the rabbi/leader has no moral choice but to stand up for the principle and be a ‘failure.’

“However, such issues are rare; this tactic should always be a last resort. In essence, you are giving up being a leader of an actual successful cause/community and instead become a prophet - ahead of your generation and are basically betting on the next generation. It is painful and isolated and a major sacrifice and few issues justify/demand such a drastic step. But there are such issues!”

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