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Throughout the ages, Jewish leadership has almost always been defined in terms of knowledge, intelligence, vision and personal integrity. The paradigm of Jewish leadership was established by our first national leader, Moshe, and traces its line through the other biblical leaders and later through the great men of the Mishna and the Talmud. Through the long night of the Jewish exile, the leaders of Israel came mostly, though not exclusively, from the ranks of its rabbis and scholars. Though this did not guarantee infallibility of judgment, it did, in the main, produce wise and skillful leadership from people of high moral character and honestly held convictions. Since this type of leadership did not need to engage in never-ending electioneering, it proved to be worthy of the respect and loyalty of the people. The advent of political parties, of a new secular leadership for the Jewish people and of the ideas of representative elected government, which rose to the fore in the eighteenth century in Europe and America, changed the form of Jewish leadership as well. The traditional leader drawn from rabbinic ranks was no longer the sought-after authority and father figure for many Jews. In the Chasidic world, the rebbe became the leader and in the yeshiva world, the rosh yeshiva assumed that role. As more of the Jewish world turned secular in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, secular leaders, Jewish and non-Jewish, often times more demagogic than wise, assumed the mantle of Jewish leadership. This created a state of chaos and near anarchy in the Jewish world, a situation that persists till our very day.

In the book of Shoftim (Judges) we are told that there was no central figure of leadership present so thus everyone was free to do their own thing. This eventually led to a society of lawlessness and idolatry, civil war and a loss of national vision and common goals. In our present world, political leadership is a necessary reality but one should not look to it for long-term vision or moral guidance. The secularist camp in Israel, by aping the ideas and schemes of the West and the Left, finds itself with an "empty wagon," Jewishly speaking. The religious Jewish world in Israel has installed its own halachic authorities, mainly by political party and/or geographic designation - Rav Ovadya Yosef for Shas; Rav Elyashiv for Degel HaTorah; Rav Chaim Kanievsky for Bnei Brak; the rebbe of Gur for Agudat Yisrael; Rav Eliyahu and Rav Shapira for Mafdal; and the various Chasidic rebbeim and roshei yeshiva for their own groupings - all great and worthy scholars. But, there are no overriding figures of leadership and vision who are above politics and who could therefore serve to unite and guide religious Jewry. The situation in the secular camp is far worse. There the bitterness and backbiting between the parties, the personal insults and corruption of the leaders and those that aspire to be leaders, induce a feeling of disgust and disrespect. It is not a pretty picture.

It may very well be that under our current political and societal systems there is little possibility that apolitical moral leadership will arise in Israel and the Jewish world. It is clear though that such moral leadership is vitally necessary to allow us to confront the problems that face Jewish society. The mussar movement that emphasized ethics and sensitive interpersonal relationships did not survive the Holocaust and its aftermath. A shame, for perhaps it could have provided us with such apolitical, moral leaders. But we should not give up in our search for such leadership. We must look beyond the narrow band of leadership that currently rules our society for learned, holy, incorruptible people to guide and advise us. Jewish history has shown us that such people can be found to meet the needs of the generation. But the generation must demand that such a leadership cadre come to the fore. It has often been said regarding societies that people get the leadership that they deserve. In our perilous times, I would hope and pray that we would deserve raised standards, a breadth of vision and a strengthening of integrity in our leadership ranks.

Shabat shalom.
Berel Wein

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