Politics, Religion

Become a Rabbi? Not with that attitude.

Crossposted to The Reform Shuckle.
New Voices, which bills itself as the “National Jewish Student Magazine,” is pretty hit-or-miss for me. Mostly, it’s miss. To be clear, for those unfamiliar with me, I’m a college student, so it’s not unfair for me to be critical of their writers, who are also college students. (Why, by the way, would a magazine targeted at college students even bother having a print presence at all in this day and age?)
This recent post, Become a Rabbi?, left me feeling a little put off, but also a little sad for the author. As someone who is a whopping one year older than the author, but has given significant thought to the issues she raises in the post, I’ve decided to annotate the post.

Have you ever considered what it would be like to be a rabbi?


Depending on your religiosity, there are different rules for who can be a rabbi and what that process entails. The first female rabbi ordained in America was not until 1972. Since then, nearly 400 women have been ordained in the United States. It is possible for women to be ordained as a Rabbi in the Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist movements. Becoming a rabbi is one of the many professions I have considered.

Depending on your religiosity? Or depending on your denominational preference? I would go with the latter. It’s insulting and sad for me, a Reform Jew, to hear this author, also a Reform Jew, buying into the notion that she has less religiosity than her Orthodox counterparts. As a mere point of interest, Sally Priesand was not ordained until 1972, but the Reform rabbinate have a responsa dating back to 1922, which states “that women cannot justly be denied the privilege of ordination.” Further, women can also be ordained in the Jewish Renewal ALEPH Ordination Program and at non-denomination schools like the Academy for Jewish Religion and Hebrew College. Not to mention the emerging field of Orthodox ordination for women, which stops just short of calling their female rabbis “Rabbi.”

Later today I am going to a presentation and dinner given by the Director of Admissions of the Jewish Theological Seminary at my Hillel. This school is where students go to become a Conservative rabbi; while I am Reform, I still think this will be an informative session.

Some Conservative Jews also go to the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University in LA, which is unaffiliated, but definitely Conservative, if that makes sense. Unfortunately, the author is operating under a notion of a highly segmented Jewish community. Conservative Jews go here. Reform Jews go there. But if I’m any kind of example, Reform Jews don’t have to be Reform Jews under the auspices of the official Reform Jews. For more on that, see this post, in which I declare my continued existence as a Reform Jew, while declaring independence from the URJ. There is a valid precedent for ascribing to a denomination or an ideology, but going elsewhere to study.

As I still am rather young, I know I do not have to decide what I want to do with my life right away. However, the profession of a rabbi seems to really have its benefits. Besides being able to embrace Judaism and to practice and to teach its principles for a living, there seems to be much more to being a rabbi.

Because it would be impossible “to embrace Judaism” in any other professional context?

Just on the outset, one of the most notable benefits seems to be the flexibility. As a rabbi, it seems you always get to interact with different people in different settings. Whether you are officiating a wedding or a funeral, it seems like you are always helping someone. Being able to teach and to give sermons also makes the profession look intriguing.

Ah, yes. The flexibility. The enormous debt in student loans. The wonderful job market. The well over 40-hour work weeks under a four-year contract at some suburban synagogue. Not that that’s the only thing to do as a Rabbi, but, let’s face it, the majority of rabbis have pulpits.

[…] Clearly, all rabbis are respected and admired by their congregants. Therefore, it only makes sense that the application and selection process is so selective.

Yes, all rabbis are indeed respected and admired by their congregants. I had a relative (z”l) who used to assert loudly and frequently that all rabbis are ganifs. (Thieves, in Yiddish.) And, yes, HUC is so selective these days. They can’t get men to apply to their rabbinic or cantorial programs to save their lives! They’ll take anyone with a circumcision between their legs that they can get their hands on!

[…] Additionally, it is unfortunate to mention, but with the poor economy and lack of jobs, I am even more concerned about my future after college. So, a bit of advice—don’t hesitate to be open to attending similar meetings that your campus offers, you may just stumble upon an unknown appealing career!

Again, I’ll refer you to this article at Tablet, which points out that the security if the rabbinic job market is just as screwed up right now as everything else.

12 thoughts on “Become a Rabbi? Not with that attitude.

  1. As a former director of New Voices, I’ll explain the print publication: New Voices is the most recognizable coffee table rag of every Hillel and bayit across the nation. Local reps sign up their friends and distribute mags also. Young Jews don’t seek out Jewish content, which means it must be put in front of them. Mainstream Jewish publications certainly aren’t designed with the aim to reach college-aged sensibilities, which is why the print edition still exists.
    That said, the print edication was scaled down to 3-4 times a year from 8 times a year, and the web/email publication ramped up from print reposts to online-only content every week. I’m very impressed.
    It’s also the only publication run by Jewish students, for Jewish students. The staff must be recently graduated and can work only two years. And it’s been that way for 37 years. I was very lucky to be a part of it.

  2. the sad fact is that people looking to have a jewishly engorged life have very few mechanisms through which to do so in the non-orthodox world. there is a dearth of resources and social support for lay non-orthodox jews who want to maintain that level of commitment and practice and yet not be rabbis.
    i say this as someone who himself decided not to go to rabbinical school.

  3. It seems weird to be attracted to the rabbinate because of its job flexibility or for that matter, to view it simply as a profession. Not to mention, this person never seemed to say she likes to learn Torah. It sounds like she wants to effect the world (give sermons, officiate weddings, funerals…) and do this within a Jewish context, more than having a love of the tradition and Jewish people.

  4. Justin, good to know.
    KFJ, that makes sense about the reasons for print. As someone who has never spent considerable time in a hillel that has a building–let alone coffee tables–I’ve never seen it.
    invisible_hand, I say all of this as someone who hasn’t decided one way or the other yet.
    jladi, interesting points.

  5. Not to mention, this person never seemed to say she likes to learn Torah.
    Rabbis don’t learn Torah as a profession – they work with people and congregarions. But yes, it is very very sad that people who want to learn end up becoming rabbis b/c there is no other way for them to do it.

  6. By the way, anyone who thinks about going into the rabbinate because it’s flexible, should probably consider a different profession. “over 40 hour” workweeks, doesn’t even touch it. Try over 60, some weeks. Or more.
    As for being respecte by everyone? Well, it’s a nice dream.

  7. Which is not to say that it doesn’t have its benefits – if you love Torah and yahadut, if you love working with people in all kinds of circumstances… but not for flexibility and kavod. Just don’t go there.

  8. I did some editing for New Voices and to be honest with you, as someone with a journalism degree and background at two major newspapers in the US, it was one of the least responsible rags I’ve ever worked with. They don’t take editing notes very well, and thus the stuff they end up printing isn’t so hot.
    As for being a rabbi? In the U.S. you’re more political manager than you are rabbi. Then again, it depends on your denomination 🙂

  9. I commented on David’s piece at his blog, so I won’t say more here. Attitude is certainly key.
    I’m glad however to read what @KFJ and particularly @Chaviva write here about New Voices – the author’s voice in the article is very “young” – the whole thing about “career” shows that she doesn’t really differentiate between “job” “career” and “calling”.
    I hope that most Rabbis are in the business not for the “job” nor for the “career” but for the “calling”.

  10. Did not read the original piece, but your dissection was hysterically funny. She sounds naive and like she never met a real Cons. or Reform rabbi. If you want a job that is greatly satisfying, but takes you away from your family and personal life almost 24/7 – be a congregational rabbi. The joys are great, but headaches and heartaches are there too. Some are respected, some are not — just like the rest of life!

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