Say what you will about the Talmud (Pesachim51a) forbidding a son to see his father naked and by extension joining him in the mikvah, but realize if you will, that if our rabbinic sages were so unsettled by parent-child nudity, how much more so would they have cause for alarm in a situation where clergy invite children of congregants to join them for a game of racquetball to be followed by time in the sauna and a soak in the tub. Such behavior was disclosed this past Sunday in the New York Times. Journalists were having a heyday over reports of a rabbi, who in an attempt to get closer to the youth of his congregation would not only create situations where he was au naturel with male teenagers, but the rabbi would proceed to ogle the naked teenager.
Ten years ago this summer, after sitting through an excruciating seven hour exam in Jerusalem for semicha or rabbinic certification, the entire group travelled north to Tzfat to visit graves of righteous rabbis, preceded by a prerequisite immersion in a mikvah. Upon arrival, the entire group was asked to wait outside the mikvah for ten minutes, to allow the head rabbi to enter, because ess past nisht (it’s not befitting) to see one’s Rabbi without any clothes on. I couldn’t agree more.
When it comes to parity between clergy and laity, I am up in arms over clergy whose aim in life to be friends with their parishioners. Clergy is hired to inspire, to comfort, to be there for the congregations in time of need and to share simchas…and believe it or not, even to attend religious services. Friendliness on the part of clergy ought to be a byproduct of pastoral activity, not a goal! Friendship is important. But if it’s a choice between clergy visiting you at the hospital or joining you out at the basketball court, choose the former. That’s why G-d invented Youth leaders and Youth Rabbis like the ones we continue to be blessed with at our synagogue.
While we are discussing parity between clergy and laity, fie on clergy who come to their office dressed like shleppers. Whatever happened to respect for the position? Clergy are spokesmen of G-d. Why would any clergy walk around like they are dressed to go bowling?
Fie on clergy who insist on being called by their first names. There is a Russian expression: Nash Brat. Loosely translated, it means, “one of the boys”. Unless you perceive your synagogue, church or mosque as being nothing more than one giant Men’s Club or Sisterhood, then it’s time that both clergy as well as congregant rethink the position of the clergy and restore dignity to religious leadership. Hopefully the clergy is deserving of such respect.
Fie on clergy, who without first calling, come by a congregant’s home in the midafternoon during the summer, only to proceed to walk around to the backyard pool after the doorbell goes unanswered, knowing that there is a good chance to “accidentally” come across the woman of the house, either in the water or poolside, clad only in a bikini.
Fie on them!
Last but not least: whenever a male teenager is asked by a rabbi or priest or minister or imam to join him for a game of racquetball, basketball, to be followed by a shower, a sauna, or any activity involving a changing room….whenever a female teenager is invited by a (female) rabbi, nun or (female) minister for a massage or a day at the spa, or any activity involving a changing room, and the parents at the very minimum don’t question the “friendliness” of the clergy, then I can’t help but feel that contacting Child Protective Services is very much in order.