Rab­binic and Lay Com­mu­nal Authority

Suzanne Last Stone
  • Review
By – March 26, 2012
Suzanne Last Stone, pro­fes­sor of law and direc­tor of the pro­gram in Jew­ish Law and Inter­dis­ci­pli­nary Stud­ies at Yeshi­va University’s Ben­jamin N. Car­do­zo School of Law, has edit­ed this vol­ume — a part of The Ortho­dox Forum series — based on papers pre­sent­ed at their 15th con­fer­ence held in March 2003. It is an eas­i­ly read­able and inter­est­ing col­lec­tion of eight essays explor­ing the top­ic of the ten­sions between rab­binic and lay com­mu­nal author­i­ty from Jew­ish reli­gio-legal, his­tor­i­cal, polit­i­cal, and soci­o­log­i­cal per­spec­tives. It is fas­ci­nat­ing to look at the devel­op­ment over time and across reli­gio-legal per­spec­tives of the role of king, rav, rosh yeshi­va, and kahal and to see how con­fronta­tion with moder­ni­ty— and in par­tic­u­lar, the Amer­i­can empha­sis on auton­o­my and choice — impacts on the cur­rent dynam­ic, even in the most extreme­ly con­ser­v­a­tive of Ortho­dox com­mu­ni­ties. Essays by Aharon Licht­en­stein and Steven Bayme — look­ing at very dif­fer­ent aspects of this broad top­ic — were of par­tic­u­lar inter­est to this review­er. And espe­cial­ly note­wor­thy was Nehemia Polen’s insight­ful essay Charis­mat­ic Leader, Charis­mat­ic Book: Rab­bi Schneur Zalman’s Tanya and His Lead­er­ship.” It is a must-read” for any­one who wants to under­stand not only the ori­gins of Chabad-Lubav­itch Has­sidism, but also wants to have a keen sense of how the move­ment has flour­ished in the sec­ond half of the 20th cen­tu­ry and into the 21st cen­tu­ry, and con­tin­ues to do so even after the death of the last Lubav­itch Rebbe. Index, list of con­fer­ence par­tic­i­pants, and references.
William Liss-Levin­son is vice pres­i­dent, chief strat­e­gy & oper­a­tions offi­cer of Cas­tle Con­nol­ly Med­ical Ltd., a con­sumer health research, infor­ma­tion, and pub­lish­ing com­pa­ny. He holds a Ph.D. in edu­ca­tion and is a mem­ber of the board of direc­tors of the Jew­ish Book Council.

Discussion Questions