Q. In many other religious denominations it is headquarters which allocates a minister to a local congregation, sometimes without consulting the congregation and even against their will. What is the situation with the appointment of rabbis?
A. Rabbis cannot be foisted upon congregations. Advice can be given that a particular rabbi might or would be right for a given congregation, but the actual choice is exercised and the appointment made by the congregation. They sometimes make a mistake and would have done better to accept the advice they were given, but the general principle is that of local autonomy. This is possibly derived from the statement of Rabbi Joshua ben P’rachyah (Avot 1:6), “Make yourself a rabbi”, i.e. seek and accept upon yourself a rabbi who fits your particular circumstances.
Once the rabbi is appointed, his authority must be recognised, whether or not he gives the same rulings as another rabbi. There is often sufficient flexibility in halachah to allow a rabbi to opt for an approach that suits his community but may not suit another. However, the rabbi must be judicious in the way in which he makes his rulings and explains them.
Professor Pinhas Peli points out that in Parashat T’tzavveh the Torah uses several verbs in relation to Moses, the first rabbi: first V’attah t’tzavveh, “You shall command” (Ex. 27:20), but also V’attah hakrev (Ex. 28:1), “You shall bring near”, and V’attah t’dabber, “You shall speak” (Ex. 28:3).