I went through such a deep crisis of faith as a result of my associations with these ‘rockstar’ type rabbis (and let me add in here that rockstar rabbanits are also becoming an increasingly big problem), that I’m now on a mission to do whatever I can to help my fellow Jew spot these people a mile off, and give them a wide berth.
The main problem is that especially for people who grew up in the West, the very title ‘rabbi’ carries an aura of holiness, wisdom and knowledge with it. It’s like the word ‘doctor’ in the secular world. People only have to add that in front of their name and they get instant ‘rockstar’ status. Well he’s a doctor! He’s a rabbi! She’s a rabbanit! They must know what they’re talking about!!!!
But sadly, that’s just not true.
My husband, God bless him, is about to sit his exam that will officially make him a ‘rabbi’ if he passes it. For the past couple of years, he’s been learning all about what makes a chicken liver kosher, what to do if the hotdog lands in a pint of milk, what happens if you have a non-Jewish worker who accidentally has a fatal heart-attack in your soda factory, and falls into a big vat of coke for more than 24 hours. Does that make the coke traif, or not?
The reason my husband is becoming a rabbi is very simple: I forced him to do it. I was so sick of all the fake ‘rabbis’ out there blinding everyone to their very warped, anti-God opinions and ideas with their ‘rabbinic’ credentials that I told my husband there has to be at least one rabbi out there who isn’t just doing it as a career move.
My husband was not keen at first. He also hates all the honor-driven ‘I’m a RABBI you know’ stuff. But I told him straight: You’ve been learning Torah lishma, for its own sake for 11 years now. You do an hour of hitbodedut (talking to God) every day. You ask God to help you guard your eyes, to treat your wife and family nicely, and to have emuna. You have so much humility - and every time you think you know something, I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong!!
You simply can’t say that about most of the other people out there who are ‘rabbis’ - well-known or otherwise - especially in the English-speaking world. So, after a lot of soul-searching (and nagging from me…) he took the plunge.
Here’s the strange thing we’ve both discovered: To officially become a rabbi, all you do is learn the Torah laws relating to keeping kosher. There are other areas you can learn too, but the basic ‘rabbi’ curriculum is all that stuff about hotdogs-in-milk and pickled non-Jews traifing up your coke.
There is no ‘family counselling’ stuff. No ‘secrets of the Torah that means you always know what you’re talking about’ stuff. No magic formula that takes the rabbinic student and turns them into a fount of knowledge and wisdom.
Here’s the even stranger thing we’ve both discovered: The laws of kashrut are so darned complicated, in so many ways, with so many conflicting opinions abounding, that even to get to the right answer about the hotdog-in-the-milk, a rabbi still has to ask God to give him a lot of siyatta deshmaya.
If a rabbi has to be constantly asking God for the right inspiration just to answer the kashrut questions properly, can we even begin to fathom the spiritual level they have to be on be doling out life advice about how to raise your children and relate to your spouses? Or where to buy a new home? Or what medical treatment to take, or to avoid?
And here, dear reader, is where we get to the crux of the problem, because when a person is full of themselves and their ‘rabbinic’ credentials, they are generally completely empty of God. Hashem says: “Me and the arrogant person, we can’t dwell together!”
When a person is arrogant - when they are holding themselves out as a fount of wisdom and advice, and when they’re off touting for people to come and ask them serious life questions, or forcing their opinions on other people as the only way, and God’s own truth - the sad fact is that they, and the advice they are so freely proffering, is completely disconnected from the Creator.
Again, I’ve unfortunately learnt this the hard way.
If the red flags had gone up the first time me and my husband were told things like:
“Well, if you’d bothered to ask me, I would have told you the exact opposite…”
Or when things were phrased as barked commands, or when I saw one person after another get burned by really bad advice, and then get blamed and instantly dropped by the ‘rabbi’ responsible for getting them into the mess in the first place - things would look so different now.
But that’s where my emuna, or belief in God, kicks in. Because God only used these horrible rockstar rabbis as sticks to teach me and my husband some invaluable things. Man o man, were they hard lessons to learn.
Things like the importance of valuing our own judgement, and respecting ourselves, and loving ourselves, each other and our kids unconditionally. God doesn’t act, think or behave like a warped ‘rockstar rabbi’, playing on other people’s insecurities and fears to keep them feeling small, worthless and dumb.
God loves us. All of us. Unconditionally. He for sure wants us to keep mitzvot, but He also wants us to be nice to other people and to love ourselves, and to give people a break as much as possible.
I will come back to this subject again, because most of the people out there today who are encouraging you to trust them, to believe in them, and to follow them blindly, are not what they appear to be. Thank God, there ARE some real rabbis out there still, and three I can personally vouch for are Rav Berland, Rav Ofer Erez and Rav Shalom Arush. (Again, REAL rabbis are usually very, very reticent to give advice, and any advice they give you is usually couched in very gentle terms, in order to maintain your free choice.)
But in the English-speaking world, rockstar rabbis of all stripes unfortunately prevail, and you need to be very, very careful.
Let’s end with this one piece of advice, that you can take or leave as you see fit: The more you work on your own middot, and your own connection to God, the easier it will get to spot all the religious phoneys out there. Once you no longer tolerate anger, contempt, evil speech, harsh judgment, spiritual superficiality and competition in your own life, spotting the fakers will get SO easy.
Of course, working on all these things takes a huge amount of effort, patience and spiritual investment. That’s why the rockstar rabbis (and rabbanits) much prefer to keep trying to fix other people, than to try and fix themselves.