Recently, an app came out for Taharas Hamispacha (Family Purity) that has proved to be really controversial in Orthodox circles. The app aims to reduce the discomfort of women who need Rabbinical opinions regarding these laws by allowing them to submit photos for a Rabbi to look at and give an opinion rather than having to take something to their local Rabbi. There are various opinions as to whether this is a good thing, a bad thing, a halakhic thing, or not.
For me, though, the discussion I saw highlighted something else entirely. I saw many women talking mostly about the complicated relationships they have with their Rabbis. Some women simply said they rule more stringently in this area just to avoid having to ask their Rabbi a question. Others described how working through finally asking their Rabbi actually helped them trust their Rabbi more in other areas and seek his advice or halakhic rulings more often. Still others pointed to the problem not being the Rabbi himself, but the fact that they didn’t want to have to ask for rulings on intimate matters from a man.
I will admit, there are certain things I ask a Rebbetzin (Rabbi’s wife) about first. In some areas, she might actually have more practical experience applying laws, like kosher laws in the kitchen. Other times, it might be that I’m concerned about bothering the Rabbi unnecessarily. I value that most Rebbetzin’s will let me know if I should instead ask their husband since what I really need is a halakhic ruling.
That being said, there are times when I just have to ask the Rabbi.
I don’t believe that Rabbi’s can’t be sensitive or kind or understanding when it comes to women’s issues. I think most are good men who aspire to be just that. When I look back at my experiences with Rabbis, the vast majority have been overwhelmingly positive. It’s just difficult because the few negative experiences I have had…hurt very deeply. Even there, I still believe there were good intentions and the hurt was caused by a mix of inexperience and/or communication issues. I don’t believe any Rabbi has intentionally made me cry, but I have cried leaving a Rabbi’s office a time or two, years ago.
If you look at most relationships, though, we do get hurt. All of us can remember friends hurting us, loved ones, coworkers. As human beings, we’re all imperfect and sometimes our imperfections bump up against each other. Rabbis and conversion candidates are all human, too. I’ve also heard of conversion candidates who lied to their Rabbis or who converted only to leave observance soon after, breaking the trust they were given. It’s easy to see why most of us walk through the world with armor on, afraid of getting hurt by those around us.
Every relationship, though, if it’s going to work, requires some kind of leap of faith. At some point, we have to choose to trust each other. It happens in business, in friendships, in love, and it also has to happen between a Rabbi and his congregation, both as a group and as individuals.
I realized, reading through these stories of women wrestling with whether or not to trust their Rabbi’s that I’ve been wrestling with the same. The Rabbis of our congregation are good and kind, but I’ve been afraid to fully trust, mostly because of my own stories, my own fears. I also haven’t wanted to be a burden or take up too much time. So, I’ve stayed more off to the side in our community. I pitch in to help out as needed, but I don’t ask many questions. I don’t want to be “too needy.”
But relationships aren’t built that way. I’ve learned that asking a friend for help is often what helps cement a friendship. We feel more bonded to those with whom we share interdependence. Similarly, by asking more questions and seeking more direction, I might be able to finally get past my own fears and walls when it comes to Rabbi’s.
Will I get hurt again? Maybe. It’s possible that one day, a Rabbi will again make me cry, somewhere. Still, when I hear about the closeness some people have with their Rabbi’s, I think to myself that it’s something I’d like to have. I’d like to have someone I could ask for advice when it comes to the big, murky decisions in life, where I’m not sure which direction I should go or what I should do or what the “right” thing is. I think maybe that starts first with, “Is this dairy spoon I did x to in a meat bowl completely treifed?” Trust begins with smaller things.
This year, while I have been doing much better with letting go and trusting G-d, I have still been kind of moving ahead with the plans my husband and I think are right for us. Maybe it’s time to begin to let go a little more and trust a Rabbi to guide us more at least within this process? G-d has us planted here for a reason, at least for now.