SERVING ON THE SHUL’S BOARD OF DIRECTORS
February 11, 2017
בית משיח in #1056, Halacha 2 Go

Selected Halachos from the “One Minute Halacha” project

By HaRav Yosef Yeshaya Braun, Shlita,
Mara D’asra and member of the Badatz of Crown Heights

MAY I SERVE ON A SHUL BOARD WITH IRRELIGIOUS MEMBERS?

The Rama (16th century primary commentary on the Shulchan Aruch) states that those who are “memunim al hatzibur” (appointed to community leadership) are likened to members of a Beis Din (Rabbinical court). One of the exclusions for such positions is someone who is pasul machmas rish’ah (disqualified due to sinful behaviors); those who are involved in tzorchei tzibbur ([administrative] community concerns) and tzorchei rabbim (the [practical] needs of many people) must therefore be shomrei Torah u’mitzvos (Torah-law observant). This rule includes members of a k’hilla (community) board who deal with communal and financial matters, including shul leadership.

(In addition, there may be a stay on those governing the community and are involved in the distribution of public funds, when they don’t agree with communal religious standards—as an issue of lo sasim damim b’veisecha—do not bring danger into your home—by submitting the entire community to a situation where their spiritual welfare is at risk.)

In a previous time, when the maskilim (18th century Jewish “Enlightenment” movement) were gaining momentum, this was a serious issue addressed by the Rabbanim in Germany. They fought long and hard, often quoting this halacha, to hinder the non-religious activists who wanted to take ownership of the assets of the k’hilla and increase their influence through membership on the communal boards.

There are many cases in current times of shul boards that include irreligious people in seeming conflict with this halacha. This, in turn, creates an issue for shomrei Torah u’mitzvos to join such a board. A person who finds themselves in such a position should consult a rav as to their options.

It should be noted that there are certain leniencies when the board is set up by term elections (in contrast to those that are life appointments), especially b’dieved (post-facto, i.e. the board is a functioning membership and not being elected for the first time.) In such a situation, it must be ensured that community policy and assets are protected in accordance with Torah values.

LIFE INSURANCE: PRUDENT POLICY OR FAILURE OF FAITH?

Seller beware: When the Midrash quotes the pasuk (verse) in T’hillim,Mi ha’ish hechafetz chaim” (who is the person who desires [long] life?) with reference to the man who proclaimed around the marketplace, “Who wants life? Who wants life?” he was obviously talking about the conclusion of the pasuk which warns us to abstain from negative talk. This peddler was not selling life insurance, which is actually a commodity that advocates contemplating the very opposite of life—not what we’d consider positive talk.

(In their defense, owners of life insurance companies want people to live long, which will enable them to keep their money instead of depleting their assets.)

So, should we “buy in” to this marketing strategy; is it halachically okay to purchase a life insurance package?

Consumer: Thanks for reaching out to me today. But I don’t think I’d like to buy a policy. Such action might indicate a serious spiritual deficit—that I am, G-d forbid, mik’tanei amana (among the small believers, i.e., lacking faith) by planning for the future rather than putting my trust in Hashem.

Insurance Agent: A person is obligated by the Torah to do their hishtadlus (personal effort) for parnasa (livelihood). True, there were the great tzaddikim who didn’t leave money in their homes overnight but would dispense everything that was donated to them to tz’daka. However, most people today do have savings accounts, and poskim do not object to putting away money in this manner for a “rainy-day.”

Consumer: I’m still not comfortable talking about end-of-life issues in such a cavalier manner. There’s a concept of al tiftach peh … (don’t open your mouth [to negative forces]); we try to focus on only positive predictions for the future while doing our best to prolong life with focus on Torah and mitzvos. (With the exception, perhaps once in a while, when such thought facilitates t’shuva—regret for wrongdoing.)

Insurance Agent: What about preparing a will or buying a burial plot? These actions are also associated with “life after 120” and are firmly endorsed by halacha.

Consumer: Look, I go to work every day (though I’d rather sit and study Torah!) to support my family. This is a z’chus (point of merit) which keeps me alive; by buying into a life insurance plan that will offer those relying on me an “out” in the event of… I may be losing out on this z’chus.

Insurance Agent: Perhaps buying a policy can be a different type of z’chus, similar to how the other acts we discussed about planning for the future is found in s’farim as a segula (protection) for long life!

Conclusion: There is no clear halachic consensus whether either side of the argument is more “right” than the other, although all these points for or against purchasing a policy appear in the works of contemporary poskim. The proper course of action in such a case would be: puk chazi mai ama d’bar (go see what the people are doing). It has become commonly accepted to buy life insurance among religious Jews. Therefore, if the agent succeeds in convincing his customer to buy a policy, they are acting well within the confines of halacha.

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Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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