At the Jewish Center of Teaneck, the theme of the tikkun leil Shavuot late-night study session will be “Communal Leadership in the 21st Century.” There will be three talks, beginning at 11:15 p.m. and ending at 2 a.m.
Chaya Batya Neugroschl, head of school at Yeshiva University High School for Girls in Queens, will talk about female leadership through the lens of the Book of Ruth. Mechi Jenkelowitz will discuss lay leadership. And Rabbi Daniel Fridman will speak about rabbinic leadership.
In particular, he’ll look at the discussion between Moses and his father-in-law, Yitro, recounted in Exodus shortly before the giving of the Torah.
“Yitro basically asks Moshe what it means to be a rabbi,” Rabbi Fridman said. “I’ll try to interpret that answer through the lens of the Ramban and try to bring it to the current day and age, how I think rabbinic leadership is most effective in the 21st-century landscape. Because rabbinic leadership today is not the same thing as it was in 12th-century Egypt, where the Rambam was, or 13th-century Spain, where the Ramban was, or even in the early 20th-century Europe where my great-great grandfather was a rabbi in a small town.
“There’s a timeless aspect to leadership, and different aspects that are highly contextual and relevant to the needs of the community.”
Yechiel Fridman, Daniel Fridman’s great-great grandfather, was the rabbi in Dankera, a town of a few thousand, a third of them Jewish, in Latvia. He died in 1933. The younger Rabbi Fridman heard the stories from his grandfather. “He brought it to life for me. He had a steel-trap memory.”
The eldest Rabbi Fridman had studied in Volozhin, the Harvard of European yeshivas. And then, when he moved to Dankera, “he learned Torah all day,” Rabbi Fridman said. “Whenever anybody had a question, he and the small group around him tended to what the issue was.
“Even though he was a member of the Aguda” — a leading organization of Orthodox rabbis — “he was very much a Zionist. When people approached him, he would direct them to go to Eretz Yisrael. My grandfather would always tell me this with a smile, since this was not the official position of Aguda. He was highly supportive of general education, what you might today call Torah u’Mada.
“In the early years of his rabbinate, before the Soviet revolution of 1917, he was very involved in helping Jews not get drafted into the czar’s army, which was more or less a death sentence. After the Soviet Union fell, some letters were recovered in which he interceded on behalf of his community.”
So how did the senior Rabbi Fridman’s leadership compare to the leadership of Moses?
“They were very similar,” the younger Rabbi Fridman said.
“The Ramban explains that a rabbi has three jobs that Moses was trying to fill. One is to teach Torah. The second is serving as a judge. The third is pastoral needs. The Ramban says that Yitro told Moshe, ‘No one can teach them Torah for you, no one can handle the pastoral needs. In terms of the judiciary, there you can get some help, and if there’s something really difficult, they can bring it to you.’
“My great-great grandfather taught Torah, and he attended to all the personal and pastoral needs of his community. And very much a propos of the Ramban, he accepted his position on the condition that he wouldn’t have to decide financial disputes. He didn’t want to be involved in conflict.”