Retirement Policy for Gedolim

President Shimon Peres is an exceptional man.

It is clear from Shimon Peres' 90th Birthday celebration that, despite his age, Israel's president still has his faculties.

Look around the Western world, and you will see that Peres is the only statesman of his age who still holds public position.

According to the Economist there is a consistent trend in Western democracies electing younger leaders.
The average age for Prime Ministers is now around 51.

Even Pope Benedict broke with centuries of tradition, and at age 86 became the first pope to resign before he died  - because he believed that his advanced age was no longer compatible with the requirements of his demanding position as leader of 1.2 Billion members of the Catholic Church.

It seems to be universally recognised that in a fast-moving 21st Century world, our leaders require agility and youthfulness to keep up with the times and take quality leadership decisons.

In the chareidi world, however, there is no retirement option for "Gedolim" (rabbinical community leaders).

The previous leader of the Litvish yeshivish community, Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, remained in the (informal) top leadership post until his passing at 102 years old July last year.

At the helm now are Rav Aaron Leib Shteinman (100) and Rav Chaim Kanievsky (85).

The Chasidish Rebbes are also retained in their positions until their passing. The leadership is then generally inherited by a close relative, rather like monarchies.

The Sephardi Gadol Hador, Rav Ovadia Yosef is now 93.

Judging by Rav Yosef's recent outrageous statements about Rav Stav ("Rasha" and "Ignoramous") who he has apparently never met, and about the National Religious ("non-Jews") - Rav Yosef appears to be succumbing to the natural process of aging.

I have had the priveledge of meeting with Rav Shteinman twice - and it was, frankly, hard to make out more than word or two of what he was saying (even with the assistance of people who know him well). It is hard to imagine him issuing clear directives about important and often urgent issues of the day.

These are not solely ceremonial or honorary positions, such as the President of Israel, or the Queen of England.

Rather the philosophy of chareidi society demands that gedolim have absolute power over their communities. The Gadol's word is considered sacred ("daas torah"), and that they are viewed as having "ruach hakodesh" - divine inspiration.

The lack of an exit strategy for Gedolim can lead to leadership vacuums - where unelected and unaccountable "askanim" fill in the gap.

Therefore directives which are issued, in the name of an eminent Gadol, are often forgeries, or the result of machinations and even of bribery (I was told I can get a letter of approbation from almost any Gadol for $1000).

Perhaps the times has come to bring the chareidi system of rabbinical leadership into the 21st Century?

A retirement policy (or at least an option) would be a good start.


  1. David,

    You have accurately portrayed a serious problem for the community and even for the aged rabbis whose last years are bedeviled by misrepresentation of their earlier work.

    But you are guilty of the great sin of attacking the central core of daas torah, askanim. Never before in Jewish history have they had it so good. In their perfect world, their controlled gadol would live forever and give them full power of attorney.

    I would also add on that the potential (and often feuding) yorshim are also busy manipulating the utterances and statements to favor one yoreish over the other.

    1. How on earth can you compare or even try to equate our Gedolei Hador with other 21st leaders
      You've really gone overboard on this one David
      Shame on you and your blog!!

    2. Hi David (not M)

      I equate our gedolei hador to other 21st C leaders in respect of their vulnerability to the natural processes of aging.

      Anyone who holds that leaders who are talmidei Chachamim are somehow imune to these processes would have to endow them not just with torah greatness, ruach hakodesh, but also some kind of miraculous anti-aging elixir.

      Now THAT would be 'overboard'.


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