In his recent Opinion piece, “In the Legacy of the Rav, Allowing Rabbis to Decide” (March 18), Rabbi Avi Weiss sets forth an important lesson that great Torah scholars can learn from the Rav, Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik. Namely, when approached by students who have become community rabbis with questions pertaining to Jewish law, the great Torah scholar should be “persuasive rather than coercive” and “encourage local rabbis to understand that they are the final authorities of psak (legal decisions) in their respective communities,” and therefore they, the community rabbis, should ultimately determine the answer provided that the position they would take had “standing” in Jewish law in the view of the great Torah scholar.
While this is indeed an important lesson, in light of the recent Chag Hasemichah (ordination celebration) of over 230 graduates of Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) I believe that two more important lessons can be learned — not from the practice of Rabbi Soloveitchik, but from that of Rabbi Weiss himself. First, that when a community rabbi is presented with a difficult question of Jewish law, he should, as Rabbi Weiss did, seek the guidance of his teacher, the great Torah scholar.
Second, in the event the great Torah scholar believes that his student’s position with regard to such question does not have “standing” in Jewish law, the student should defer to his teacher.
Chairman Emeritus, RIETS Board of Trustees
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