Throughout Jewish history one of the communal responsibilities of rabbis and lay leaders was to be a “pursuer of peace” (rodef shalom) or a “mediator of peace” (metavech shalom) between various members of the community. One text that speaks to this role of the rabbi may be found in the responsum of Rabbi Chaim Shabti of 16th-17th century Thessaloniki. The case before him was from a community who had sworn an oath not to appoint a communal rabbi, for fear that it would only lead to disagreements in the community! However when they saw that without a rabbi the community was plagued with even more disagreements and infighting, they wished to nullify their oath in order to hire a communal rabbi who would indeed “mediate peace among them: love and brotherhood, peace and friendship.” The community wrote to Rabbi Shabti to inquire as to whether this was sufficient reason to nullify the communal oath. In his reply he nullifies the oath and provides numerous rationales. Among them is the following:
Any oath that is dependent on a certain situation is nullified once that situation no longer obtains. Since their oath not to take on a rabbi was in order (to avoid) divisiveness, and now that is moot (since the lack of a rabbi has led to constant quarrelling), our eyes can plainly see that, on the contrary, the taking on of a communal rabbi is for the purpose of having one heart and one mind for everyone, to mediate peace between them, and love and brotherhood. So perforce the oath is nullified.
Rather than occupy himself solely with the laws of oaths and vows, Rabbi Shabti includes a striking statement about the role of a communal rabbi, echoing the language that the authors of the inquiry themselves used. He affirms indeed that a communal rabbi’s role is to unite people generally, but more specifically to “mediate peace,” just as they wrote.
Community lay leaders were also charged with this responsibility of being pursuers of peace. Rabbi Isaac bar Sheshet (“Rivash,” 1326–1408, Barcelona/Algeria, Responsa of the Rivash n. 228) in his rabbinic response calls for the berurim, elected communal leaders, to be invested in the pursuit of peace:
That they [the berurim] should be wise and intelligent people, knowledgeable in the matters of the community, in their customs and enactments, lovers of justice, pursuers of peace, that the majority of the community should be reconciled to them.
Here Bar Sheshet delineates the character traits necessary for a person to be elected one of the communal berurim, charged with being responsible for all communal matters. Included in this list is the need for them to be “pursuers of peace.”
For this reason, the Pardes Center for Judaism and Conflict Resolution is excited to launch the new Pardes Rodef Shalom Communities Program, in order to train and support rabbis and lay leaders in cultivating a culture of peace and healthy disagreement within their communities.