Truths You Can Use

Truths You Can Use


Why Jews Don’t Have a Pope

jewish pope

Chutzpah is a Yiddish word with no exact English translation. The closest English equivalent would be “audacity” or “boldness.”

But chutzpah also contains an element of passion, social concern and self-confidence. Someone with chutzpah knows what he believes, and knows that he is right.

Chutzpah Makes a Pope Impossible

Perhaps the embrace of chutzpah has doomed any effort to appoint a Pope-type figure  for the Jewish people. There have been periodic attempts throughout history to do so, and even today certain communities have “chief rabbis.”

Yet, the power of any one individual in Judaism is determined by influence, not law or regulation. One can only earn influence, and not simply obtain it by virtue of position.

The nature of Judaism itself also makes the appointment of any “infallible” leader impossible. Here’s why:

1. A group carries more weight than an individual: In Jewish tradition, a majority of scholars determines the law. No one individual–even God–can determine what one must do and believe.

The classic example of this truth comes in a talmudic story in which a group of rabbis determines that a certain ritual item is kosher, even when God says it is not. The rabbis answer God by saying, “You’re in Heaven. We’re on earth. We need to figure this out!”

2. What we do matters more than what we believe: In Judaism doctrine is seconary to behavior, and the proper behavior has already been determined in Biblical and talmudic law. The role of contemporary religious leaders is to interpret those laws, and not to mandate new ones.

3. Disagreement is a religious value: Judaism has always seen debate and discussion as a means to discovering truth. The notion of an infallible leaders does not fit in this worldview.

4. Judaism has no sacraments: Catholicism is built around the belief that priests have certain functions no one else can fill. Only a priest can conduct a mass or perform the last rites. In Judaism, rabbis have no distinct privileges. Any educated layperson can perform a wedding, lead a worship service or teach Jewish law.

5. It wouldn’t work: About 120 years ago, a group of Jews in the New York wanted to appoint a Chief Rabbi for America. They paid a great deal of money to bring over a famous rabbi from Europe. They set him up in a big office with the title “Chief Rabbi.”

He immediately began issuing laws and opinions. People got angry. They challenged his views. They stopped going to his synagogue. They said the only reason he was chief rabbi was that somebody painted those words on his office door.

Within six years, he was out of the job. Since then no one has tried to fill it.

To receive Rabbi Moffic’s weekly digest of Jewish wisdom, click here.



  • tabithakorol

    This was wonderful, insightful information.

Previous Posts

Why We Still Love Fiddler on the Roof After 50 Years
As I child I could not sit through movies or meals. Sitting through a musical was out of the question. Yet, when I was seven, my parents decided to take me to see Fiddler on the Roof. Looking back now as parent of a seven-year-old, I would not have been so bold. Since that first experienc

posted 6:59:14pm Sep. 16, 2014 | read full post »

The Secret to Healing From Pain
I sat with the two children of a mother who had just passed away. They were recounting her life for me in preparation for the funeral. As we spoke, the mother’s long-time caretaker came into the room. She began to speak about their relationship. Though her English was not perfect, the three

posted 12:35:43pm Sep. 10, 2014 | read full post »

Do You Know What Hurts Me? A Story
  A great rabbi went into a bar. He overheard a conversation between patrons.   One said to the other, “Friend, do you love me?” “Of course I do,” the second man replied. “We’ve known each other our whole lives.”   “Then tell me, friend,” said the first man, “

posted 1:01:07pm Sep. 01, 2014 | read full post »

Does Religion Cause War?
Deadly images on television tear at our heart. We wish for the violence in Israel to end. This land, sacred to three global religions, seems endlessly mired in conflict. Does religion just

posted 12:36:26pm Aug. 17, 2014 | read full post »

The Healing Power of Laughter: The Jewish Genius of Robin Williams
In Jewish tradition we have a special greeting for a genius. Upon meeting such a person, we say, Blessed are You, Eternal God, Source of Life, who has given from His wisdom to flesh and blood.  Had I ever met Robin Williams, I would surely have said it. Williams was a singular genius. He brought

posted 2:26:21pm Aug. 12, 2014 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.