Friday, March 02, 2007

Abdicating Responsibility

I'm a fairly independent person. Although I generally respect societal structures and communal norms, and show deference to people who have earned the respect of their peers, it's not like I go around asking other people to tell me what to do all the time.

Especially when it comes to Halakha. I hardly ever ask shailas. I prefer to research questions and issues myself, and to make my own decisions based on the sources.

When it comes to this whole aveilut (mourning) thing, though, I can't do it. I didn't have the time I thought I would to research how aveilut works before it pounced on me. And I don't trust myself to navigate its incredibly complicated webs of law and custom. I don't have the skillz. I don't have the resources. And I certainly don't have the objectivity.

I lean leniently on one issue, and I'm in danger of guilty feelings. Am I disrespecting my father by 'trying to get out of it'? Am I trying to bend the system and escape instead of experiencing shiv‘a (first week), sheloshim (first 30 days), and yud-bet hhodesh (first 12 months) as they're meant to be?

On the other hand, leaning strictly has its own dangers — going too far; wallowing in negative emotions; taking that which is permitted and stigmatizing it as forbidden. Ruling leniently could make me feel guilty... but what if feeling guilty is the reason I end up ruling strictly, instead? Making halakhic decisions according to the buffeting winds of emotion doesn't sound like such a safe path to take.

And so I decided that when it comes to this area of life, this realm of Jewish law, custom and tradition, I am abdicating my responsibility for making my own decisions. There's too much room here for irrationality, remorse and second-guessing. Let someone else deal with it. I found a rabbi that I have some manner of connection with, and already when I was an onein during the day-and-a-half before my father's burial started asking him all my aveilut questions.

It's all much easier this way; he just tells me what to do (or more often, not do) and I follow the pesaq. I'm just worried that I'm bothering him with too many questions all at once. I can't imagine what it must be like in communities where they ask their rabbis for "da‘as torah" on every single move they make.


Blogger Michael Koplow said...

I haven't been reading blogs for a while. I'm very sorry about your father.

3/02/2007 11:19 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


3/02/2007 11:22 AM  
Blogger Tzipporah said...

steg - there are times when we can do for ourselves, and times when we need to ask for help and lean on others. It sounds like letting your rabbi help you out by guiding your mourning process is a good way to conserve your resources at a difficult time. Not everyone would have the wisdom to do this. Don't feel guilty asking him a bazillion questions - it's his job, and it's a mitzvah for him to comfort a mourner, in this case by providing guidelines.

3/02/2007 3:45 PM  
Blogger PsychoToddler said...

Aseh Lecha Rav.

3/02/2007 4:06 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


the only problem is that this rabbi is not the rabbi of any of the 3 shuls i am presently a member of; i know him through friends in primarily non-rabbinic contexts (although i was first introduced to him, and have mostly interacted directly with him, in a rabbinic context). so it's not actually his job per se, except in maybe a cosmic sense. i'm sure he has more than enough stuff to do having to do with his own shul and congregants.


...uqenei lekha hhaveir.

3/02/2007 5:15 PM  
Blogger PsychoToddler said...

I can be bought.

3/02/2007 6:21 PM  
Anonymous SeeBee said...

I had also been away from the blogosphere for a while. Though I don't know you, I really like reading your blog and I wanted to drop you a line. I am very sorry that your father died. I wish you a long life.

3/04/2007 8:17 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


thanks. we should all have a long life.

3/04/2007 11:00 AM  
Blogger Ari Kinsberg said...

"the only problem is that this rabbi is not the rabbi of any of the 3 shuls i am presently a member of"

maybe then you will join his shul too, even if just out of respect and appreciation.

(and wow, that's 3 more shuls that most people in brooklyn are actually members of.)

3/04/2007 12:43 PM  
Blogger Drew_Kaplan said...

I feel ya, brother. Sounds like you made/are making a good decision.

3/04/2007 1:00 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

ari kinsberg:

heh, maybe... i was actually at his shul for the first time today. or maybe i'll just send his shul a donation :-) . after he gives me the next big situational pesaq, of course. need to avoid anything that could potentially smell like shohhad.

drew kaplan:


3/04/2007 8:03 PM  
Blogger Lipman said...

Excellent idea. You're using a shul's facilities, and when they seem to approach you for membership fees or donations, you run over to the rav and ask him if all MacDonald's restaurants are kosher.

3/05/2007 9:11 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


i hope he's not reading this :-P
well, he can read the post. just not the comments about bribery ;-)

3/05/2007 11:26 AM  
Blogger Jack's Shack said...

It sounds reasonable to me.

3/05/2007 11:38 AM  
Anonymous jen said...

This is why I think independent minyanim are doomed. Sometimes you just need a rabbi to take over and tell you what to do, and minyanim which say "oh, all our members are Jewishly knowledgeable and our gabbaim can answer any questions" don't have that. Communities need someone whose job it is to take over for you when life is too overwhelming.

Point being: people usually become pulpit rabbis because they don't mind fielding random questions of that nature. And people survive as pulpit rabbis by being able to say "no" when they need to. I'd say do what you need to do, and if he needs you to shove off he'll let you know.

3/05/2007 1:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

steg- now is not the time for clear rational thinking- you're in the midst of a crisis and that's why we have tradition- we can lean on it when we need to.

Just relax- do what you need to do and get as much advice as you want, or not want as the case may be.

Hang in there.

3/05/2007 5:56 PM  
Blogger BZ said...

You're making the wrong comparison. The proper comparison (for assessing independent minyanim) isn't between independent minyanim and synagogues, but between independent minyanim and not belonging to any Jewish community (which was the case for many independent minyan participants before the minyanim existed).

To put it another way, let's say (using totally made-up numbers; the numbers aren't important) that 40% of Jews belong to synagogues, 5% participate in independent minyanim, and 55% participate in neither. In that case, you've pointed out something that 60% of Jews lack, so why label just 5% as "doomed" while ignoring the other 55%?

3/05/2007 7:39 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


thanks. being reasonable is good.


i'm sure there are some independent minyanim that have a poseiq. after all, KOE has their rosh qehila.


thanks. see, the problem with leaning on tradition is that tradition is so darn compliᵐᵃcated :-)


so you're saying that the people who form independent minyanim are not the kind of people who ever "need a rabbi to take over and tell you what to do"? oh and this comment of yours sounds familiar... reminds me of this ;-)

3/05/2007 7:56 PM  
Blogger BZ said...

so you're saying that the people who form independent minyanim are not the kind of people who ever "need a rabbi to take over and tell you what to do"?

No, I'm not saying that at all. I honestly don't know what I would do if I (chu"sh) found myself in your situation and needed guidance. But my friends who don't have independent minyanim in their cities (and also don't belong to synagogues) would be equally screwed in this situation. So I recognize that it's a very real problem, but the independent minyanim can't be blamed for it.

What if synagogues/rabbis, like insurance companies, offered a "catastrophic" option for these situations? And even if I were looking to belong to a synagogue, I'm not sure I could find a rabbi with whom I would be sufficiently on the same wavelength that I'd be willing to defer to him/her in a time of crisis.

(And I'm sorry about your loss, and please let me know if you'd prefer that the usual blog flamewars be kept out of this thread, and I'll stop.)

oh and this comment of yours sounds familiar...

Sorry if I'm repeating myself. :)

3/05/2007 11:41 PM  
Blogger BZ said...

And even if I were looking to belong to a synagogue...

This should probably say: Except that even if I were looking to join a synagogue...

3/05/2007 11:42 PM  
Blogger Halfnutcase said...

About your availus I really don't know what to say, which is why I haven't stopped over at your blog or anything to say something. I'm not one for knowing what to say at such situations because what can someone say? You've just lost your father whom, we all should hope, was a pillar of your life.

I think it's perfectly excusable and healthy for you to ask someone else to take the helm for the moment, and I think it's prefectly understandable.

I just wish I knew what to say, other than giving general good wishes.

3/06/2007 11:49 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


don't worry, it doesn't sound like a flamewar yet :-) .


thanks. don't worry about it, i also have no idea what to say in such situations.

3/06/2007 1:19 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


Okay, so I got my latest big situational psaq. And it was that the thing i wanted to do is mutar as long as certain precautions are taken at certain points.

So now the problem is that if i send in the donation to the rabbi's shul now, it might look like shohhad lemafreia‘, i.e. a reward for giving the desired answer.

I already filled out the check a few days ago, though, including the date, so maybe that'd mitigate the potential bad look.

3/07/2007 9:49 AM  
Blogger ChayaLife18 said...

We all have these moments. Times in our lives when we just want to scream, "Someone just tell me what to do!" And if you can find someone to tell you (most good friends won't) then more power to you. You don't seem like the kind of guy to give over his whole life to the whims of a rebbe, but being self-aware enough to know when you need to give over to another's power, well, that's pretty mature.

3/07/2007 12:29 PM  
Blogger Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

I hear what you're saying. After doing what I believe to be honest research into the Flatbush eruv and concluding that it is kasher, why do I still feel like it would be giving in to tayva to use it?

3/08/2007 10:55 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...




that's just the indoctrination talking ;-)

3/08/2007 1:24 PM  
Blogger Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

LOL I know it is. But I do wonder about the opposite. I'd feel better if I knew I'd be independent le-humra too. But I honestly can't think of an example that seems of the same gravity as carrying on shabboth.

3/08/2007 1:45 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

«forehead palm smack»


there's a much more appropriate ‘asei lekha rav... the one that ends ..vehistaleiq min hasafeiq — *that's* what it's all about.

3/11/2007 10:59 PM  
Blogger Yonah said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3/12/2007 5:05 AM  
Anonymous Jen said...

BZ - My point is not comparing independent minyanim to shuls per se, but to observe that this kind of dedicated leadership serves a specific human need, and if that need is not served the level of human investment in the community can't ever be more than superficial. BigIndependentMinyan does a lovely job in giving non-affiliated Yidden somewhere to daven, but it can't serve them when they have needs like Steg here. Hence it can't ever be a fully functioning community, because when people have deep and fundamental needs they have to go elsewhere. But we can contine this over at hatam_soferet, since it's rather obviously off-topic.

3/12/2007 5:06 AM  
Blogger Tzipporah said...

We all have these moments. Times in our lives when we just want to scream, "Someone just tell me what to do!"

yes - like the first week after having a baby... oh, if only there were shailos for getting them to sleep!

3/12/2007 1:40 PM  
Blogger hadsy-baby said...

I have a Rav. And am independent. That is to say: on the odd occasion where I am overwhelmed by a life crisis I ask him what to do and he tells me. But mostly - and this is why I trust him at all - he is just the person I go to to point me in the direction of the sources I need to consider in order to make my own decision/psak.

I guess I'm just fortunate...

7/30/2009 7:24 AM  

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