by Rabbi Meir Orlian, Yerushalayim
The invitation to the shul dinner announced in bold letters: “This year’s guest of honor will be our beloved Mara D’asra, Rabbi Shlomo Davis, in celebration of over forty years of dedicated service to the shul.”
Rabbi Davis had come to the community as a young rabbi. After having renewed Rabbi Davis’ contract three times, the shul voted to award him a lifetime contract.
However, the rabbi made a shocking announcement at the dinner: “It has been my privilege to serve the shul for over forty years. Due to a medical condition, I will have to retire at the end of the year.”
The hot topic of discussion in shul immediately became, “Who will be the next rabbi?”
Advertisements were placed in major Jewish newspapers: “Large Orthodox synagogue seeking dynamic full-time rabbi. Please send resumes and references to the search committee at [email protected].”
Among the many candidates was Rabbi Asher Davis, the rabbi’s son. Although not as dynamic or experienced as his father, Rabbi Asher had notable credentials and had sometimes filled in during his father’s absence. Attached to his resume was a letter that read:
“It is superfluous to mention the distinction with which my father served the community for over forty years. His dedicated leadership of the shul earned him a lifetime appointment. As such, I am entitled to succeed my father and inherit his position, in accordance with the ruling of the Rama. This ruling applies even in a case of retirement. Respectfully, Rabbi Asher Davis.”
This letter puzzled the committee chair, Alan Spiegel. He knew of many other cases in which rabbis retired and their sons did not succeed them. Yet, Rabbi Asher claimed that this was a ruling of the Rama!
He asked Rabbi Tzedek if the search committee could meet with him, and then emailed its members: “I received a letter from Rabbi Asher Davis claiming that he is entitled to inherit his father’s position. Meeting tomorrow night 9:00 PM with Rabbi Tzedek to clarify this point.”
Rabbi Tzedek advised them: “There is a major dispute among the poskim as to whether the son of a life-time Rabbi inherits his father’s position. Therefore, you are not obligated to appoint him if you prefer someone else, but you should give him special consideration, even if there are others slightly more qualified.”
Rabbi Tzedek explained, “The Rambam (Hil. Melachim 1:7) rules that for all appointments of authority, if the son is a worthy successor, he inherits his father’s position. The Rama (Y.D. 245:22), citing the Rivash, applies this ruling also to rabbinic positions. And while ‘inheritance’ typically applies only after death, poskim extend the law of succession to situations where the father is no longer capable of serving. Nonetheless, the issue is not clear-cut for three reasons.”
“Why not?” asked Mr. Spiegel.
“First,” said Rabbi Tzedek, “a number of achronim disagree with the Rama and claim that the rabbinate is not a position of authority, but rather one of instructing Torah and mitzvos. Unlike the crown of priesthood and the crown of monarchy that were awarded to specific families, the crown of Torah is available to all. As such, there is no concept of succession in Torah (Maharshdam Y.D #85; Magen Avraham O.C. 53:33). However, many maintain – in support of the Rama – that the rabbinate nowadays entails not only instructing Torah, but also communal authority, and therefore the son is entitled to succeed his father (Chasam Sofer O.C. #13).”
“What is the second reason?” asked another committee member.
“The Rama concludes that in places where the common practice is to appoint the rabbi for a limited time or to choose whomever the community wants, they can do so. Since nowadays almost all positions of authority are time-limited and chosen through a democratic process, it is highly questionable whether Rabbi Asher can demand the right to succeed his father. However, it is still proper to give him special consideration, even if others are slightly more qualified.”
“And the third reason?” asked Mr. Spiegel.
“According to many opinions, the son is entitled to succeed his father only if he is acceptable to the majority of the people (Rashi Kerisus 5b s.v. b’zman; Avnei Nezer Y.D. #312). Therefore, Rabbi Asher’s claim has validity only if he proves to be a serious contender.”
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(YWN Desk – NYC)