With all the things that are available
online today, things are becoming far more efficient and accessible. There is
so much Jewish knowledge available out there; many Jewish websites even have an
"ask the rabbi" option. This makes me wonder: is having a personal
rabbi still such a necessary component of Jewish life?
Everyone knows the nuisances of those
voice automated systems: you call the bank with a very specific question, only
to be greeted by that chant "welcome to..." followed by a whole list
of options that concludes with "if there's any other information you
require see our website...". In fact, recently a bank in America came out
with an advertising scheme for their premium members. The gist of their
campaign was that if you are a premium member, you can call the bank and speak
to a real representative straight away. Incredible! In a world where automation
is the call of the hour, premium members are rewarded with avoiding the
automated voice prompted service.
What we so dislike about these systems
is that they rob us of our individuality. We are all presumed to fit into one
of the 11 or 13 options offered by that monotone. Being addressed by a real
person gives us the comfort of being assessed as an individual by a human being
who understands the frustrations of day-to-day living.
Jewish law is on the one hand very
uniform but at the same time very case specific. It is very uniform in that
Halacha always tells us how things should optimally be done. At the same time
there is hardly a case where Jewish law does not consider the individual and
his specific circumstances - providing flexibility based on case specific criterion.
These criteria are not necessarily part of the case itself but are often based
on the individual's history or even his/her temperament. For example: There are
many situations where Jewish Law will allow one to be lenient "but only in
a time of great need". "A time of great need" is a very
subjective thing which needs to take into account the immediate circumstances,
the individual's history, temperament and much more. If it would be left up to
the individual to decide for himself there would typically be many who would
consider any situation to be "a time of great need" whereas others
would not consider it as "a time of great need" even when their lives
are on the line.
Our sages instruct us "make for
yourself a rabbi and acquire for yourself a friend". A rabbi is not just a
knowledge base - the internet provides plenty of that. In order to answer an
individual's practical question accurately, a rabbi has to also be a friend,
one who has a real connection with those people whose answers he addresses. An
individual's situation should not be something that a rabbi has to get a
"feel" for, it should be something that he already knows as a friend.
But there's more than that because the
role of a rabbi is not just to answer questions. The rabbi is there to serve as
"the face" of the religion, the gateway to the community and the
religion as a whole. Developing a personal relationship with a rabbi is thus an
essential part of ones growth as a Jewish person. G-d wants every individual to
become a partner in His "business". The rabbi is there to show one
how to become a partner in the "business". If you wanted to invest
heavily in a company with unlimited potential, you wouldn't call the automated
system; you'd want to get friendly with the directors.
So while the internet is a most
incredible tool to advance one's Jewish knowledge, it in no way can replace the
role of a friendly rabbi. As a premium member in G-d's "business" you
deserve to speak to a person, not to a machine.