The Importance of the Community Rabbi – new review

Midwest Book Review ● The Judaic Studies Shelf

Synopsis: A rabbi is a spiritual leader or religious teacher in Judaism.[1] One becomes a rabbi by being ordained by another rabbi, following a course of study of Jewish texts such as the Talmud. The basic form of the rabbi developed in the Pharisaic and Talmudic era, when learned teachers assembled to codify Judaism’s written and oral laws.



The title “rabbi” was first used in the first century CE. In more recent centuries, the duties of a rabbi became increasingly influenced by the duties of the Protestant Christian minister, hence the title “pulpit rabbis”, and in 19th-century Germany and the United States rabbinic activities including sermons, pastoral counseling, and representing the community to the outside, all increased in importance.

Within the various Jewish denominations there are different requirements for rabbinic ordination, and differences in opinion regarding who is recognized as a rabbi. For example, Orthodox Judaism does not ordain women as rabbis. Non-Orthodox movements have chosen to do so for what they view as halakhic reasons (Conservative Judaism) as well as ethical reasons (Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism). (Wikipedia)

The contemporary rabbi is influenced by the modern rabbinic establishments throughout the world, including the rabbinate in Israel. The rabbinate’s monopoly on opinions and interpretations prevents rabbis from expressing their individual positions out of fear of delegitimization. The current structure gives the public a negative impression of the rabbinic establishment.

“The Importance of the Community Rabbi: Leading with Compassionate Halachah” by Rabbi Daniel Sperber strives to describe and delineate key requirements for a good rabbi, i.e., one who can provide socially acceptable halachic solutions within the parameters of Orthodox thinking. Rabbi Sperber elucidates the halachic techniques and mechanisms that may be used toward this goal. These are further illustrated with stories from rabbinic literature and examples from various responsa.

Critique: Expertly written, organized and presented, “The Importance of the Community Rabbi: Leading with Compassionate Halachah” is enhanced for the reader’s benefit with the inclusion of an informative Foreword by Rabbi Dov Linzer and Chaim Trachtman MD, as well as six appendices, a subject index, a name index, and a source index. “The Importance of the Community Rabbi: Leading with Compassionate Halachah” is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, professional, community, synagogue, college, and university library Judaic Studies collections in general, and Rabbinic Studies supplemental studies reading lists in particular.

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