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.



  • http://endtimechaverim.wordpress.com Princess

    A Chief Rabbi, in the US, would be more of a representative and figure-heard than one who issues directives. It seems a small group of people made this decision. Perhaps if the candidates had all been American and an appeal to popular involvement in the decision had been made, things may have worked out differently.

    When someone makes a statement such as, “Jews don’t believe this,” or, “Jews believe this,” that sounds rather, “popish,” to me. Sure, we don’t have a pope. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have some with the chutzpuh to act as wannabees :)

  • tabithakorol

    This was wonderful, insightful information.

Previous Posts

Will God Condemn Brittany Maynard for Choosing to Die?
On the most sacred Jewish holiday of the year--Yom Kippur--we literally imagine our own funeral. Men traditional wear a white sash that will also serve as their burial shroud. The purpose is to picture our own death in a way that helps us live more fully. What if, however, we could not only imagi

posted 10:06:23pm Nov. 02, 2014 | read full post »

The Strange Book of the Bible We Read in Sukkot
Tonight begins the Jewish “Festival of Tabernacles.” Known in Hebrew as Sukkot, we spend time in  temporary outdoor dwellings. They remind us of the fragility of life our ancestors experienced during their journey across the Sinai Desert. Vanity, Vanity, All is Vanity!  The biblical book

posted 3:57:40pm Oct. 08, 2014 | read full post »

When a Rabbi Announces He is Gay
Religious leaders are public figures. We live on display. People look at what we drive, what we eat, what we wear. Unfortunately, sometimes we hide parts of ourse

posted 8:01:44am Oct. 08, 2014 | read full post »

Is 75 the Perfect Age to Die?
Dr. Ezekiel Emauel, the well-known bioethicist and brother of the mayor of my town, argued recently in an essay in the Atlantic Monthly that 75 is the perfect age to die. After that, he said, most people have little to contribute to society and are a burden rather than a benefit. I can think of f

posted 9:02:23pm Oct. 05, 2014 | read full post »

Yom Kippur: The Happiest Day of the Year
Yom Kippur is the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. It is filled with solemn prayer, and most Jews fast. How, then, can it be the happiest day of the year? Allow me to explain... Picture the scene: It is 1944, in Glasgow, Scotland, in the midst of the Second World War. Kol Nidre is about to

posted 1:29:44pm Oct. 03, 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.