Time to Bring Back the “Respect”

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By: Sholom Kesselman

Respect is an integral ingredient in the success of any institution or community. Without it there can be no harmony, direction or leadership.  If students do not respect teachers and laymen do not respect Rabbonim, the institution or community will quickly devolve into a chaotic splintered mess.

“Respect” has a complicated history and place in the Chabad community. Chassidus is largely about Bittul and our legendary Chassidim excelled in this regard. It is unheard of for a Chossid to demand “Kovod” and any Chossid of note would be uncomfortable with being given too much respect.

The culture among Chassidim has always been one of brotherhood and closeness and even great Chassidim were referred to by their first names only. After all we are all “children” of the Rebbe and in his eyes – all are indeed equal.

Additionally, the Rebbe ingrained in us a positive “Chutzpa.” Going out on Mivtzoim requires a certain boldness and we train our young to not feel shy or intimidated by anyone no matter how “important” they seem.

All of this can be positive, beautiful and true, yet there is always the danger that these attitudes and cultures can be corrupted and misused.

If a Rov of a community is not given due respect and can be easily ignored, that is a problem.

If a Mashpia can be interrupted or disrespectfully “called out” by a Bochur or Yungerman in middle of a Farbrengen, that is a problem.

If our schools and children have a reputation for not being respectful to their teachers and adults, that is indeed a problem.

If a Rosh Yeshiva can be disrespectfully challenged in middle of a Shiur, that is indeed a problem.

If a Beis Din can be easily ignored and disregarded, that is indeed a major problem.

It is my contention that we, as a community, suffer from an inherent lack of respect for our Rabonim, Mashpiim and leaders and it may be time for a communal Cheshbon Hanefesh regarding where we stand on this important matter.

Context plays a huge role in everything and here too it is possible that times have changed.

In days bygone perhaps respect was a given. The community intuitively understood the need for respect and it served as the foundation for communal life. In such an environment the brotherhood and closeness of Chassidim was not only okay, it was beautiful. It was fine to “let the guard down” by a Farbrengen because “respect” was naturally in place and referring to Mashpiim by their first names, only served to enhance the relationship between mentor and student.

But now the context has changed. Respect is no longer a given and we lack the fundamental principles of Derech Eretz and Kovod Harabonim. In such a climate perhaps it is time to rethink the place of “respect” and change the way we talk and behave towards our Rabonim and Mashpiim.

We would be doing our communities and our children a huge service if we placed more emphasis on Derech Eretz and respect, and started holding our leaders in the high esteem they deserve to be held.

We should not tolerate any kind of disrespect, not even in the name of Chassidishkeit.

A Rov, Mashpia, teacher, Beis Din or any body of authority / leadership, must be held in the highest regard and respectfully listened to.

“Chutzpa” has its place when on Mivtziom and on the street, but it doesn’t belong in the Shul, beis Midrash, school or in our home.

Perhaps it is time for a culture of Derech Eretz to prevail (once again) in our community.

34 responses

  1. After the Frierdiker Rebbe left Russia, he first settled in Riga, Latvia and some years later resettled in Poland. The following happened when he was in Latvia.

    Two chassidim from the same town were able to travel to visit him in Latvia. When the first one was in his room for a yechidus. After answering the persons questions and giving him a brocha for success,the Rebbe began questioning about the .level of Jewish observance.

    the person answered, Boruch Hashem, we have a minyan, which is well attended and there is a shiur chassidus in the morning before davennin. the majority of the Jews in the city are not chassidim, however, they are eager to hear a thought of Chassidus. There is alot of work to be done, but we are making progress.

    hearing this, the frierdiker Rebbe, took a few rubles and gave it to the chossid and asked him to let him be part oh this wonderful work.

    When he came out of the Yechidus room, he met his friend and related that he received a few dollars because of what he said to the Rebbe. the friend replied, You whitewashed the truth, if you would have said the truth, the Rebbe would have given you much more.

    sure enough, the same thing repeated when he entered the Rebbe’s room for his yechidus. After answering his questions, the Rebbe asked him about what is happening in their city.

    The person relied, Our city is not similar to the chassidishe towns in Russa, in fact the people that want to run away from that lifestyle, are the individuals that settle in our city and environs. We have museums, and operas and bars etc. it is not a good place.to raise a chassidishe child. Yes there is a minyan, but it is visited by only a small part of the community.

    The Rebbe thanked him for his report, however, for whatever reason didn’t give the second person any thing. No money, no nothing!

    The person was surprised and verbalized his astonishment to the Rebbe. He said, “How come when my friend painted a rosy picture, the Rebbe gave him money. But when I told the Rebbe the truth, the Rebbe didn’t give me anything?”

    The Frierdiker Rebbe replied, Do you think i needed you to inform me about what is happening in your city? I know exactly what is happening in your city as well as the many other cities in Russia. However i want to know where are you? To which part of the city are you part of?
    In velche oddesa lebst du?

    Saying this the shliach paused for a moment to let the message seep in.

    Yes, there maybe some things that can have improvement, but there are tremendous positive things are happening in Lubavitch.The question is Where is your focus and to which part of Lubavitch are you connected to?

  2. Finally. This is how it should be done.
    You bring up a real issue and present your case with class and respect.
    You don’t put down or attack, just humbly draw attention to what is a clear challenge for us etc.
    You want change but respect the system and infrastructure in place.
    I hope people listen to what you are saying here. It can make a big difference.

    Kudos to you.

  3. Are you saying respect unequivocally?

    The respect was lost by THEIR failures. Respect is earned, not just given because of set proclaimed titles. That rabbinics is important, not bestowed father to son.

  4. Rabbi Kesselman you write … “We would be doing our communities and our children a huge service if we placed more emphasis on Derech Eretz and respect, and started holding our leaders in the high esteem they deserve to be held.”

    With sincere respect I say to you and suggest it should say …. “We would be doing our communities and our children a huge service if as A Rov, Mashpia, teacher, Beis Din or any body of authority / leadership would begin to start acting with truth, Derech Eretz, respect, emese chasidishkeit and hiskashrus in all of our dealings both known and unknown and started holding our community and our children in the high esteem they deserve to be held”

    This is a mission statement that real leadership that is worth respecting should start to take on board.

  5. Your article deals mostly with disrespect that results from Darkei Hachasidus.
    Halevay that was our issue. Today unfortunately we have groups out there smearing Rabonim in the name of their “worthy” causes and they have a strong following.
    There are also groups that disrespect rabonim for telling them to behave or for calling them out on their inappropriate behaviors.
    These are the challenges that need to be overcome.

  6. Your article lays the blame for the common disregard of authority at the feet of the masses, assuming – incorrectly imho – that it is their inability to clearly differentiate between the need to be outspoken in matters of holiness (e.g. Mivtzoim), and subjecting oneself to rabbinic and communal authority on the other hand.

    I submit you are way off. It is highly possible that Rabbinic incompetence itself is what has severely damaged it’s authority. In the 21st century it has morphed into a body of nepotism and ineptitude. Especially in our circles.

    Gone are the days when the Rabbinete had the wherewithal to speak out on behalf of little David in face of the mighty Goliath.

    Witness the devastating tuition costs and the defeaning silence in its wake. Leadership? They’re busy hounding these same courageous parents – who give up everything so their kids can attend these very schools – that their socks are too revealing!

    Witness the international fiasco that was the systemic abuse of children in our schools and the resounding silence of our leadership both local and at international headquarters. Nary a word on the topic.

    Witness the ever increasing concentration of power in the hands of the leading Chabad fundraisers and “head Shluchim” and their can-do-no-wrong attitude, even as they carelessly throw innocent families to the wayside in pursuit of perserving their own immunity. Have we seen any Rabbinic leadership in challenging this criminal behavior?

    If you seek to restore respect for authority a good place to start is with authority itself. People are desperate for leadership. Meaningful, inspirational, and genuine leadership.

    Let’s advocate for that, and the rest will fall into place.

    Thankfully there are many Rabbonim and Mashpiim who are widely and genuinely respected by the youth your deride and devoid of any such thing. It’s just that they choose to respect those who have earned it versus those who demand it.

  7. The quote marks in your statement (After all we [Chassidim] are all “children” of the Rebbe and in his eyes – all are indeed equal.) do little to deflect the implications of this statement, and how wrong it is on so many levels, bain adam lemakom, and bein adam lechaveiro:

    To name two:
    The passuk is “Banim atem leHASHEM elokeichem”.
    All yidden are siblings, not just chabadnicks.

    • Ever heard of vshinantom lbonecho – eilu hatalmidim.
      Lol hamelamed Ben chaviro kilo yoldo.
      Of course talmidim / chasidim of any rav or Rebbe are his children and that’s no stira at all to the quotes that you mention or to the achva of klal Yisroel

      • Take a step back, read the statement again.

        You can deny what it says or implies all you want., but your kids “get” the implied truths there quite well, the subtext, the message.

        They’re mekabel cause that’s what kids do….. till they’re about 17,18,19…. thinking, examining,interacting with other yidden/goyim, learning other things.

        Here’s an excersize, find a 12 year old chabad boy in cheder in brooklyn and ask him to read it and what it means. Watch his face. It’s clear to him as it is to his Mechanchim.

        Then ask a 25 year old chabad father to read it and watch his face for the disconnect this website seeks to address.

        The 25 year old doesn’t need to know the Rebbe better to regain the truth he has lost.

        He learnt it all.

        He realizes what it means….

  8. Dvorim Hayitzeim nin Halev Nichnosim el Halev.
    In Crown Heights many Class Shulls open since Gimel Tammuz.
    B”H all have Respected Rabonim and Mashpiim. Stop by on shabbes and hear the Rabbi Talk
    Join A farbrengen and see for yourself.
    Time To forget about “Central” Party Leaders.
    Respect is never by Explanation. If you have to Explain why Rabbi Yankel or Shmerl should be Respected you are far from reality.
    Zoken Ze Shekono Chochmo.
    i read story last Week from the Beloved Mashpia Reb Mendel a”h.
    a chosid complaint to his Rebbe that Yankle called him a schvantz with talis un tefilin.
    and what his Rebbe Answered ? Un Zein a Schvantz With Talis un Tefilin Meg Men ???
    Follow the Real Chasidim dont look at the Fake.

    • Well said. There are quite a few articles in this forum that profess to offer solutions to problems the writers take for granted all are in agreement on.

      It gladdens me to see that the dissenters are many.

      Thank Gd there are many Mashpiim and Rabbonim who are respected. Thank Gd there are also those who can smell a rotten fish, and know how to dicesrn when being labeled a cynic isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

  9. Used to be, we would criticize the leadership, but also respect the office and titles they held. And direct change the right way. By voting in the rabbonim we thought would do better, or putting pressure on the leaders to do better etc. Or start the change ourselves, and force our leaders hands.

    Nowadays all I see is unabashed disregard for the rabbonim and open disregard for the rules and boundaries that make us chabad chassidim. And then then feel entitled in calling themselves chabad chassidim. That it’s no big deal.

    I’m not perfect. I use a city eruv, I’ve eaten DE, but I will never say that that the rebbe is OK with that, and I will never disrespect the very institution that anchors us to the rebbe and hashem. That doesn’t mean I agree with everything, it just means I will approach it with the respect g-d gives to those in that position.

  10. there are 2 points the Rebbe Never Mention in Public and some make it a Yehoreg Veal Yaavor.
    the Yechi Movement and the Eruv Controversy.

  11. About Time to start with What I should do and not what we Should do
    as we say OSHAM-NU and not OSHAM-HU.
    we have to Understand as the Rebbe said: Do What YOU Have to DO.
    WE don’t have time to Fix the Klal but we do have time and Power to fix the prat.
    so lest start NOW do what you can do.
    When we Finish Fixing the Prat i am sure The Klal will fix itself.

  12. What horrific catastrophe is this article responding to? What Rabbis are being so disrespected that it’s necessary to defend them?

    • From the author:
      No particular “horrific catastrophe.”
      In the spirit of constantly growing and improving, I am simply calling attention to a general area where I detect there has been some deterioration and calling on the community to examine how we can become even better.

      • I’m not aware of any issues where community leaders have been challenged in quite the strident manner you describe other than in the case of how they’ve dealt with child sexual assault. Surely, you would agree that holding leaders responsible for failing to protect children is the right approach, no?

      • I was hopeful that this site would begin addressing issues of substance, and likewise controversies of substance.

        Unfortunately quite a few articles lay claim to various ailments afflicting our community without substantiating these claims in the slightest (this article, the one lamenting of the perversion of limud hachasidus, or the one decrying the state of our children’s education, are all good examples). At the same time these authors assume all their readers agree with their assessments and diagnosis.

        Would it hurt to actually articulate these claims a bit more in detail? For example, when the author chastises us “as a community [who] suffer from an inherent lack of respect for our Rabonim, Mashpiim and leaders”, yet fails to give any examples of how this lack of respect manifests and expresses itself. While it is entirely possible that the author genuinely feels that this is a problem, it is not possible to have an intellectually honest discussion about any proposed solutions without analyzing the details. How else can we asses the merits of any proposals?

        I think Jonathan has a very valid point! It goes beyond the scope of this particular article and subject matter, and directly challenges the very premise of some of the other articles as well.

        If this forum is meant to facilitate genuine discussion it must demand properly thought out material from its contributors, and not merely a regurgitation of cliches that are older than the writers themselves.

        • How about submitting one such article yourself.
          Send us something about a real issue that is close to you, written in the manner that you describe and we’ll put it up.

      • But the community doesnt become better by simple blind following of titles. In our community, those titles are rarely deserved, usually bestowed by nepotism or opportunity. So why should any yungerlight respect those people?

  13. While I appreciate the challenge, at this point I will only add the following to this discussion:

    During the famous Purim Farbrengen of Tof Shin Chai the Rebbe seemed to have broached this very topic. At least it seems so to this humble writer.

    The Rebbe was explaining the concept of Mitzvos that can only be accomplished b’hesech hada’as (for example Shikcha, which can only be fulfilled when one genuinely leaves a sheave behind) and as another example also referred to the Rabbinic dictate that “mi sheboreach min hakavod, hakavod boreach acharov”.

    If my memory doesn’t fail me the Rebbe then veered slightly off topic and elaborated on this a bit further by introducing the ma’amer chazal that states that in ikvisa dimishicha it will be “pnei hador kipnei hakelev”.

    “Vos epes pnei hakelev?” the Rebbe asked, and continued to explain that just as a dog wishes to show independence from its owner by always walking ahead of him, yet out of fear, after every few steps will look back to see whether the owner is still trailing behind, so too in the generation of ikvisa dimeshicha.

    There will be leaders of that generation that are aware of the Rabbinic dictate that “mi sheboreach min hakavod, hakavod boreach acharov”, and like dogs these (pseudo) leaders will refrain from openly pursuing any form of honor. Instead even as they selflessly charge ahead, every once in a while they will look back, just to be certain the Kavod they so desperately crave is following steadily behind.

    The lesson here, and its relevance to this conversation, and in particular to the blanket (and as I argued earlier also baseless) accusations against an entire “community”, is simple.

    Ad Kan.

  14. I think a distinction can be made between the people and the institution. Maybe not every Rov and Mashpia is personally deserving of respect but the office they hold must always be held in the highest of esteem. I think the author is describing a lack of respect for the office and institution of the Rabbinate and in this I’m afraid he’s 100% right.
    And people that actually respect the institution of the Rabbinate usually respect the actual rabonim as well and vice versa.
    Thank you for speaking out on this issue,

    • Why would people not respect the institution? Im sure everyone respects quality leadership, learning and comprehension ability, leadership abilities, etc. Everyone I know respects the office. What we don’t respect is rabbis that use their position tyrannically and wrongly. Rabbis that lie, cheat, steal, coverup, abuse and more. That is what isnt respected. Sadly, the state of the rabbis are empty of quality leaders.

  15. Great article.
    It brings to mind the moshol of rabbi Akiva about the fish in the water.
    Rabonim and mashpiim may make mistakes and they may sometimes let us down, but without them we are fish out of the water and there can be no infrastructure of Yiddishkeit.
    better a community with imperfect leaders than a reckless community with none.

  16. I think another reason for the lack of respect for Rabbonim is that as chasidim we all get smicha. We are all Rabbis. Why should one hold one in such high esteem (which is many times wrongly demanded). Not to say that it is correct but I think that’s the way it is.

    Also, I come from a community outside crown heights where BH many lubavitchers are moving. Most of which do not care to go to shul (forget daven with a minyan) during the week. What’s up with that ? A Yid must daven with a minyan!

    I think the answer to that is the older generation who were shayach to daven baarichus (not to say no one now is) taught the younger to do the same bit didn’t instill the Ikar. The Ikar is to daven with a minyan. Later one can move up to daven baarichus. I think the mashpiim may have some confusion as what is Ikar and what is tafel

    • Mulle wrote:
      “I think another reason for the lack of respect for Rabbonim is that as chasidim we all get smicha. We are all Rabbis. Why should one hold one in such high esteem (which is many times wrongly demanded). Not to say that it is correct but I think that’s the way it is”.

      It never ceases to amaze me how people actually take this “smicha” seriously. Yes, the Rebbe encouraged us to learn these Halachos so that we all have a basic concept of how to run a kosher home, and yes the certificate comes in handy when we would like to go on shlichus and go by the tittle “Rabbi”, and those are both wonderful things. But that still doesn’t mean that once should fool himself and actually think that the smicha he got is for real. It amazes me to what extreme people are not מכיר את מקומם.
      About 70% of those who receive “smicha” from the chabad smicha programs, are not only not on the caliber of a “Rov” but are actually complete עמי הארץ.
      How could a yungerman that got “smicha” from a “smicha program”, but is not capable of learning a Ktzos and a shtikel R’ Akiva Eiger without help, actually think that he is even remotely on the level of a first class Talmid Chochom? This amazes me.

  17. I’ve been following this discussion in the comments and on Facebook and I’m shocked!
    The author simply calls for more respect for Rabbis and leaders and people have an issue with it.
    If there was ever a topic that shouldn’t be controversial and that everyone should easily agree on, it should be this one – respect for our spiritual leaders, yet there are still some of you that object. Incredible!
    What has the world come to if even respect is no longer respected.
    In any other community and religion, this is an absolute given, you by us its debatable?
    I simply don’t see how you can love Yidishkeit and want our community to flourish and succeed without the respect this article speaks of.
    Unless of course you have an issue deep down with Yidishkeit itself and then it’s no wonder you want no part of respecting our spiritual leaders.

  18. Very well written. As a matter of fact I’ve in my own way and in my own little corner been saying the very same thing for a very long time. So it is no wonder I read this particular article with interest. Finally! Someone saying something I’ve always instinctively felt and believed.

    When I’d see the Litvishe and Yeshivish people doing something as simple as rising when one of their rabbis, roshei yeshivah or scholars rising to recite a beracha under the chupa it always surprised me because it was not something I grew up with. Other than the Rebbe, who else did we rise for? I’d even laugh and ridicule it.

    But over time and the more I saw it I quietly gained a respect for it and realized the positive it yielded and the the negative results that would ensue when it was not done.

    Problem is the writer really doesn’t explain the underlying problem. Why is it we don’t instinctively rise? Why is it not openly talked about and expected? Why, other than the “bitul” we have for the Rebbe can we not seem to find a way to instill some kind of respect and honor for our elders and leaders? Especially in this day and age when it is an imperative if we’re to last into the future and have our children be there when Mashiach comes.

    There is something missing and it is for this reason it’ll never happen until this fundamental problem is rectified. The Wises of all Men said: “KaMayim ha’panim el panim kehn lev ha’adam el ha’adam!” These words encapsulate the whole solution!

    You want respect?! Then our leaders must ENGENDER this respect! They must cease the infighting! They must cease the self-aggrandizement! They must cease the self-interest! And they must eviscerate the narcissism! Only then will the followers follow with respect!

    I believe the Rebbe spoke more than once about today’s youth. Rightly or wrongly they are more inquisitive and less willing to accept things simply because they’re told so. While the “kabolas ohl” may be lacking it can be brought back, it must just be brought in through a backdoor a roundabout way. Their question cannot be ignored or swept under the rug. They must be confronted and answered and in a way they understand and can accept. In their language. “Chanoch l’na’ar al pi DARKO…” Not your way!

    Part of that is by example and perhaps even most of it. By being living examples. Leaders have to show THEIR bitul! Humility! Love of one another! Love and beneficence to their adherents and congregants! To their flocks. To their pupils. To their “mushpa’im”. Only then will they receive the concomitant respect and honor they deserve. It’ll never work by enforcement and shouting from the hilltops and ivory towers. It must begin from themselves and only then will we see a transformation from below, their followers.

    You want to avert chaos? Write an article to the rabbonim, head-shluchim, leaders of Merkos and menahalim and mashpi’im. A real transformation must begin. Till then you’re dirge and moan is like whistling Dixie in the wind.

    • Rabbi Korf,

      Thankfully today’s youth and yungelite have Rabbonim and Mashpi’im that they look up to and respect — I would even venture to say that it is to the same extent, or greater, than that of the “Litvishe and Yeshivishe people” you’ve come admire.

      To the detriment of many “rabbonim head-shluchim, leaders of Merkos and menahalim and mashpi’im” they aren’t necessarily included on a de-facto basis. Unfortunately, as their nepotism and abuse of those who threaten their respective institutions (tarti mashma) are exposed, their loss of authority becomes ever more inevitable.

      The explosion of independent shuls in crown heights who elect leaders who sometimes openly mock and on occasion even oppose the local established authority, newly elected or veteran Crown Heights rabbonim, is just one example.

      The growing number of mainstream Shluchim who have been sidelined by Merkos and the infallible head-shliach phenomenon now operate as independent “mushrooms” is another example.

      JCW.

      The eruv.

      Call of the Shofar.

      Landmark.

      Each of these have the support of dynamic Rabbonim and Mashpi’im, who speak their mind and lend their support, al apom ve’al chamoson of the Va’ad Hakohol, Crown Heights Bais Din, Va’ad Rabbonei Lubavitch, Merkos, etc. These are fiercely independent einey ho’eido who imho will continue to become ever more present and influential in the lives of the next generation. I think this is a good and welcome development.

      Those who are being left behind need to learn how to talk “truth to power” by learning how to (figuratively) pasken “kosher”, and not always choose the easy way out.

      For the sake of our children let’s stop lecturing them about how things *used* to be, and let’s get a little more pragmatic about figuring how things *can* be.

  19. I hesitate to respond to someone whose conviction goes as far as their anonymity. Nevertheless I’m not sure what you’re fighting about. I think we sort of agree in general that we have a problem with our Chabad leadership. It has therefore brought to the situation you document so well.

    Perhaps we differ as to who the leaders are and who the rightful arbiters are to interpret the Rebbe’s directives. I agree in principle with a lot of what you’re saying de-facto. My issue however is what should be de-Jure.

    I’m not interested in you’re rebellion or rebellion attitude. I’m interested in fixing and allowing the chosen leaders of Chabad to do what is right do Teshuvah and lead us back to the “promised land.”

    I’m only saying it has to be them to do it or as you rightly point out they will continue to lose their constituency. It’s up to them. To excoriate the proletariat however is not the way to go and it’s not their fault. Something has to give.

    As to your first remark. You can be as glib or as disingenuous as you want the facts however are what they are. I’m no “admirer” of the litvishe and you can “mach ohp” with a “letzanos” a legitimate point all you want. We’re lacking in this area and could take a page from their playbook if necessary. Even from an enemy one can learn. Let alone from other Jews.

    For whatever reason -and I ascribe it to a narcissistic self-interested purpose- they’ve mastered the “kavod” and “derech-Eretz” game while we haven’t. And it has pervaded every nook of our community, young to old. The reason? Because we have the “emes” who can we pay homage to if not just the Rebbe.

    Maybe it’s time to use our very emes and redirect it altruistically toward respecting and honoring our scholars and rabbis.

    But that would depend mainly on them as I’ve already mentioned. So it’s a catch 22. Go figure.

  20. “Rabonim today are more reactive that proactive. Something goes wrong and then they wake up to respond usually by condemning whatever new initiative is bring undertaken.
    It’s time for the leadership to begin acting as leaders and become proactive. Instead of waiting around they should be taking the initiative and make programs, shiurim, events, bring speakers, be in touch with what the common folk is struggling with and really look for solutions etc.

  21. Reading this article I thought it made a very good and practical point, that is before I got to the comments. But reading those I realised that a lot of people just missed the point and the boat. On the words of the Gemara before the Geulo Vehaemes ne’ederes (truth will disappear) the Maharal writes in his Chidushei Agodos that it doesn’t mean everybody will become liers but it means the whole concept of truth that there’s such a concept called truth people just won’t know of such a thing it’ll just be beyond them. Vedal

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