Sunday, May 01, 2011

Grading Papers vs. Pulpit Rabbinate

I'm in the midst of grading papers as a TA (teaching assistant) and I remarked to my wife that I'm feeling the same tension that I had answering shylas while a pulpit rabbi. Often, knowing the standard halakha wasn't an issue: the tension came in when congregants would present a terrible scenario, where the clear result was forbidden, and I was tasked with finding out how there could be a possible leniency.

Note, this was a different process in NY than New Haven. While in NY, it was often a demand to find a loophole or wiggle room in the law, and I took up the challenge because (a) I was the assistant rabbi and that's my job, and (b) because I found it important to interpret Jewish law with kindness for people who could just run down the block and become Conservative and follow even less halakha. Most of the time I endeavored to explain the wisdom behind prohibitions, but the power-differential made this a loss-leader

In New Haven it was often the opposite - I had people who wanted to have prohibitions and I would seek legitamate leniencies because people were poor and it was my job as posek to help them halakhically and meta-halakhically.

In both cases, I couldn't just unload my halakha guns and say what the clear answer was. Truth, if it could be called that, was tempered with bent-backwards 'shalom.'

This is what I face while grading student papers. I'm an assistant again, so I can't exert my own will (which, for my personality, is a MAJOR struggle)... and I'm spending hours and hours on papers that the students will only react to for 30 seconds (a peek at the grade)... and I need to find some possible way not to give every one of these people a much more lenient result than the clear halakha would allow.


Ed said...

Not all of us wanted chumras!

JC said...

That's what they all say