Bais HaVaad Parsha Perspectives: Merit vs. Inherit: Deciding Who Will Be the Next Rabbi


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Bais HaVaad Parsha Perspectives

Parshas Pinchas:  

Merit vs. Inherit: Deciding Who Will Be the Next Rabbi  

By: Rabbi Baruch Meir Levin 

One could make the argument that in the history of Klal Yisroel there has not been an issue that has caused more contention or has been more divisive than the handling of succession of office. One shudders when one contemplates the truly horrific nature of the controversies that have occurred in the past and that continue to arise regarding who should take over when the existing Rosh Yeshiva, or Rebbe, orRav (Rabbi) can no longer serve. Often, the argument boils down to merit vs. inherit. One side feels very strongly that the position should go to the man best qualified for the job, while the other side feels just as strongly that the position should be handed down to the next generation as an inheritance. Whose view does Halacha support?

At first glance there would not seem to be any basis for the view that succession of office should be handled using the laws of inheritance. After all, the positions of Rosh YeshivaRebbe, and the like are not monetary assets belonging to the father, but rather they’re just contractual agreements made specifically with him.[1] Certainly, if an office manger were to pass away, even in the middle of his contract term, his children would not inherit the right to his job. Why then should these kinds of positions be any different? 

However, the Rambam (hilchos melachim 1:7) rules: Once a king is anointed, this privilege stays with him and his sons forever and ever, for the monarchy is inherited as it says (Devarim 17:20), “… so that he will prolong days on his kingdom, him and his sons amid Yisroel.” …And not only with regard to the kingdom, but rather all positions of leadership and appointments in Yisroel are inherited…. This is provided that the son can fill the place of his father in wisdom and in fear of Hashem. 

Thus we see that two important conditions of employment are placed on positions of Jewish leadership. Firstly, the appointee retains his position permanently. Secondly, the person who was appointed to the position is succeeded by his children if they are worthy. Based on this statement of the Rambam, the Rema (Yoreh Dayah 245) rules that someone who was established as the Ravof a community may not be removed from this position as long as he is fulfilling his duties. This is true even if he ascended to that position without explicit consent from the community. The Remaalso states that the community must offer the position to the leader’s sons upon his passing. 

However, this ruling of the Rema is hardly the last word on the issue. The Chasam Sofer in a famous responsa to the community of Moravia in the year 1830 adds a whole new dimension to the issue. In the question asked to the Chasam Sofer, we find that the Chief Rabbi of Moravia had passed away, and the members of the community wanted to know if they were required to fill the position with the Rav’s son, or were they able to choose someone else whom they felt was more worthy. 

In his response, the Chasam Sofer references to one of his earlier responsa in which he recounts the moving episode in this week’s Parsha (Bamidbar 27:12-23) when Moshe Rebbeinu stands atop a mountain and views the entire Eretz Yisroel (Land of Israel). There Hashem informs Moshe that his fate will be to die in the desert. He will not lead Klal Yisroel into the land. Moshe Rebbeinu then requests from Hashem, “Let Hashem… appoint a man upon the nation… that will take them and bring them, so that Hashem’s nation will not be like sheep without a shepherd.” Hashem answersMoshe by telling him that Yehoshua bin NunMoshe’s primary disciple, will be the next leader of His people.  

Rashi (ibid.) explains that what Moshe Rebbeinu was really asking from Hashem was to appoint his son as the next leader of Klal YisroelRashi points out that immediately prior to this episode we find a discussion between Moshe and Hashem regarding the inheritance of the daughters ofTzelafchadMoshe sensed that now would be an opportune time to ask for his own sons to inherit him. And, of course, what was Moshe Rebbeinu’s most valuable ‘possession’… the opportunity he had to serve Hashem as the leader of His people. It was this position that he wished to pass on to his children. However, it was not to be. Hashem chooses YehoshuaRashi comments thatMoshe’s son was passed over because Yehoshua had more merit, ‘never leaving the tent,’ faithfully serving his master Moshe.  

Regarding Rashi’s explanation of this episode, the Chasam Sofer asks the following question. Certainly if Moshe Rebbeinu proposed his son to be the next leader of Klal Yisroel, he must have felt that he was a worthy candidate. Why then did Hashem deny his request? Doesn’t this go against all that we have seen concerning the inheritance of positions of leadership? Furthermore, we see that Aharon Hakohen’s position indeed was passed down to his children. 

The Chasam Sofer answers that when it comes to teaching Torah there is no considerations of inheritance, but rather the most worthy is given the position. He proves from various sources in the Talmud and the Rishonim (earlier authorities) that only positions such as that of king, a court sheriff, or a gabbai tzedakkah (administrator of a charity) are heritable. However, the Torah (and by extension, the right to teach it) is considered by our sages to be hefker – ownerless – and everyone has an equal chance to come and claim it. Therefore, since Moshe Rebbeinu’ssuccessor would be responsible to teach the Torah to the nation, there was no special consideration given to Moshe’s sons when deciding who would fill the office. 

The differentiation that the Chasam Sofer makes between teaching Torah and other leadership positions is a reasonable one. However, the ruling of the Rema quoted above seems not to support this distinction. The Rema was discussing the position of Rav of a town which ostensibly involves the teaching of Torah to the community, and yet, the Rema rules that the office of Rav should be passed down to the Rav’s son. The Chasam Sofer’s acknowledges this difficulty and proposes that the Rema was referring to a Rav of a small community whose primary role was to attend to the day-to-day spiritual needs of the community, such as coordinating marriages, funerals, and kosher supervision. These tasks are not directly related to the teaching of Torah and thus the position qualifies as being heritable. However, the position of Chief Rabbi of Moravia about which theChasam Sofer was asked primarily involved ruling on the various halachic issues that arose throughout the entire province. That kind of position should be given to the person with the greatest qualifications. It cannot be inherited. 

Thus, we can say that the positions of Rosh YeshivaRavMagid Shiur, or Mashgiach Ruchani, which are primarily involved in giving shiurim (Torah lectures) or answering halachic inquiries and have little to do with other needs of the community, would not be heritable positions according toHalacha. However, when these positions primarily involve other responsibilities, such as counseling, spiritual supervision, fund raising, etc., then they would be subject to rules of inheritance, provided that the candidate was worthy of the appointment.[2] 

A final important point must be made regarding this topic. As previously mentioned, the rationale for conferring the right of inheritance on a communal leadership position rests in the fact that these offices are similar in nature to that of a ruler or king. However, in our day and age the position ofRav or Rosh Yeshiva often does not carry with it any real power or influence. Rather, all matters of importance are in the hands of a board or committee. In a case such as this, the leader would be considered to be a standard employee and his position would not carry with it the right of inheritance.  

When all is said and done, it is worthy to take note of what Harav Moshe Shternbuch, shlit”a, says on this issue. He writes that even when Halacha dictates that the community is not required to offer the Rav’s son his father’s position, they should still make a great effort to do so. In RavShternbach’s words, “Hakodosh Baruch Hu (The Holy One, Blessed Be He) will give the son extrasiyata d’shmaya (heavenly assistance) to carry on his father’s work.” Of course this has to be weighed among all other factors, as we see in our Parshah that Hashem did not, in fact, selectMoshe Rebbeinu’s son to fill his position, but rather chose Yehoshua

Despite the fact that the Torah does lay down some basic guidelines regarding the merit vs. inherit debate, it is unlikely that Klal Yisroel will ever rid itself of these kinds of controversies; passions flare, the stakes are high, and the worthiness of any particular  candidate too subjective. Given this fact, what’s the best thing you can do when you hear about a succession controversy that’s raging in your community? Regarding getting involved in other people’s arguments, our sages tell us (Bamidbar Rabbah 18:3), “Hashem destroys any remembrance of someone who fosters amachlokes (argument).” So, if you want to be remembered, the best thing you can do is to stay out of it. And don’t worry; the machlokes will do just fine without you.


[1] It should be noted that this article is dealing specifically with the inheritance of a job or position only, which are not considered monetary assets. However, many times a position in an institution may come along with certain ownerships, such as real estate, the name of the institution and its logo, or a database of supporters. These may possibly be considered monetary assets, subject to the standard laws of inheritance.

[2] In this responsa (#13), the Chasam Sofer clearly rules that even when the position of Ravincludes a Torah element, it would still treated as a heritable office since it includes other responsibilities as well. However, regarding Moshe Rebbeinu’s position as the leader of Klal Yisroel(in responsa #12), the Chasam Sofer considers the position to be one of Torah and thus not subject to inheritance, though it clearly involved many other responsibilities as well (leading wars, etc.,). One possible explanation for this seeming contradiction is that it depends on what the position’s primary role is. Moshe Rebbeinu’s primary role was that of transmitter of the Torah, whereas the primary role of the Rav to which the Rema was referring was that of community leader. Alternatively, it is possible that in responsa #13 the Chasam Sofer changed his view on this point in order to conform to the Rema’s ruling.

This article has been written by The Bais HaVaad L’Inyonei Mishpat and is meant for awareness purposes only. A slight variation of the facts can significantly change the Halacha. For Choshen Mishpat related questions or services please contact The Bais HaVaad office located on 32 Fifth St. in Lakewood N.J. or call 1.888.485.VAAD(8223) or email [email protected] For articles and for other forms of Choshen Mishpat content please visit