What A Judge Can Teach Us About Rabbinic and Executive Searches



How does a former judge create a fair search process for hiring a new rabbi and a new senior federation professional? I had a chance to learn from my father-in-law, Norman Krivosha, the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the State of Nebraska, who chaired a rabbinic search committee for his congregation several years ago, and later, chaired the search process for a new federation executive. We are approaching the time of year when rabbis and congregations begin to think about making placement changes, so I wanted to share one part of the process that I believe is especially valuable. Although this post describes a rabbinic search process, the Judge established the same process for hiring the lead federation professional in his community.


The search process began like most others. The judge invited a diverse cross-section of the congregation to serve on the Search Committee. The committee developed criteria for the ideal candidate, aware that it would need to prioritize them. They prepared a series of questions that members would ask consistently of each candidate, and decided that they would interview six rabbis during a Shabbat weekend in their congregation. They wanted a diversity of rabbinic candidates, so that Search Committee members and congregants would be exposed to a range of rabbinic models and minimize any pre-existing biases about the “right” kind of rabbi for the congregation. And now is where it gets really interesting….


Prior to interviewing candidates, the judge instructed Search Committee members not to have any “off the record” conversations with one another or members of the congregation. As he explained to me, juries are instructed not to discuss a case with one another until they have heard all of the evidence. He added that it is a known fact that once someone has made up his or her mind it is very difficult for a person to un-decide and make a new decision. By establishing this “no discussion” rule, candidates were given an equal opportunity to demonstrate their abilities, without Search Committee members biasing one another’s views through private discussions or conversations with congregants.


Unlike other search processes, where members meet and debrief throughout the interview process, this Search Committee first conducted all of the six interviews and only then met to deliberate. The result? One and done! Search Committee members reached consensus in only one meeting. It became clear which of the rabbis would not be an appropriate match for the congregation, and they were then able to focus on a small number of potential candidates. They did not have to spend time trying to persuade one another of a conscious or unconscious choice that they had already made, as they had no prior discussions with one another. This process occurred over two years ago and the relationship is still going strong!


I am not sure how many other congregations have a process that is designed to respect each rabbi’s unique personalities and talents. But whether you were the first or the last rabbi, you were given the same opportunity to succeed.


So what do you think about a “no discussion rule” and no deliberations until after all candidates have interviewed? Has your congregation tried this before, or do you know of another congregation that has? Are there other helpful aspects to a rabbinic or senior executive search in which you have been involved that you would like to share? The most important choice that a congregation or Jewish nonprofit organization makes is in engaging the best senior professional for its congregation or organization. A search process is a significant investment of resources for congregations and organization, so if you wish to share your insights, please do so on my Facebook page.




Forgiveness and Faith Fuel Entrepreneurship



How can forgiveness and faith fuel leaders to create a culture of entrepreneurship? In the mysterious way that we stumble upon questions to which we don’t automatically have answers, I fell into this one as I was spiritually prepping for Rosh ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur.


Here’s the relationship between forgiveness, faith and entrepreneurship that I’ve come to realize. The upcoming holidays focus us on repentance. The word “repentance” is shorthand for describing the efforts needed to break unproductive and often safe routines that lock us in place—even when it’s a place that we know we don’t want to be! Familiarity often breeds complacency and enables us to rationalize a status quo that we know is deficient—whether in ourselves or in our communities.




If repentance alerts us to the dangers of routine, entrepreneurship evokes uncertainty. Being entrepreneurial requires embracing agility, variation and unfamiliarity; of learning what happens when we “change it up.” When you welcome uncertainty in, even with thoughtful planning, you’re never quite sure where it will lead. That’s precisely why entrepreneurial leaders must also invite forgiveness and faith into their communities as well. (more…)


Rosh Ha-Shana Circa 2015


Imagine that you’re the Biblical Abraham. You and your wife, Sarah, are literally the founders of a start-up nation. To ensure its continuity, you ask, “What is one important thing that I can leave for my descendants that they will need 100 years from now?” Perhaps that question stimulated an ancient rabbinic suggestion about how the Israelites were able to build a wooden ark while traveling in the desert. According to this interpretation, Abraham had planted trees in Beersheva. Before his grandson, Jacob, and his clan leave a famine-stricken Israel for bountiful Egypt, he stopped in Beersheva, harvested these trees and brought them with him. When the Israelites were liberated from Egyptian slavery generations later, they had the basic raw material for the ark—the trees that Abraham had planted and Jacob had harvested.


Abraham and Jacob knew that they could not create a detailed map of a far off future in which they would not be alive. But, as leaders of the tribe, it was up to them to ensure that their descendants would have timeless raw materials to use in constructing their own Jewish future. So what are the raw materials that we want to accumulate now so that our Jewish heirs will be talking about their Jewish future 100 years from now? And according to some researchers, many children born today are likely to live to 100 or even the Biblical 120 years old so this is not a theoretical question!


Recently, my local Jewish newspaper, the American Jewish World, invited me to submit an article on the future of the Jewish community in Minnesota 100 years from now. With Rosh ha-Shanah about a month away, it seemed like a good time to share some broader reflections on the next possible 100 years of American Jewish life. Yes—it’s chutzpadik to do so. At the same time, it can help us consider some essential “materials” that we can be mining and storing for future generations. And the challenge is that I believe that these “materials” are primarily intangibles—they are attitudes and values. (more…)


Why a Dead Iranian Deal is Worse Now Than No Deal



“Iran can keep the deal or Iran can cheat on the deal. Either way it will have the bomb….” That is what Prime Minister Netanyahu said two days ago in a webcast to American Jewish leaders. By his own logic, it therefore makes no sense to lobby Congress against the Iranian accord. The terms of the agreement are vital to the security of Israel and the broader Middle East—in theory. But if you don’t trust the Iranian clerics who run the country, and you believe that they will acquire nuclear weapons at any cost, then a dead deal will likely be worse than no deal for the American-Israeli relationship and for Israel.


Switzerland Nuclear Iran


If you assume, as I do, that Iran’s clerics will “cheat on the deal,” here are four additional reasons why going toe-to-toe with President Obama is a risky gambit:


1. Prime Minister Netanyahu has consistently bet on the strength of support from the Republican Party. He publicly displayed his preference for Republican candidate Mitt Romney over President Obama during the last election, and broke protocol in accepting an invitation from the Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner, to address Congress, who had not consulted the White House. This Republican bet has not exactly created a warm, fuzzy feeling between Jerusalem and Washington, D.C. And the odds of a Republican presidency in the next election are questionable: Republicans have lost five of the six last popular votes for the presidency, and the demographics of the United States voting population present challenges for a Republican presidency.


2. Generally, American support for Israel has been bipartisan. This latest push by Israel into American politics has the potential to significantly intensify the partisan nature of support for Israel. Additionally, while Israel has not enjoyed total support from the American Jewish community in recent years, a majority of American Jews has been able to rally behind Israel in times of need. Overt Israeli lobbying in American foreign politics has driven a wedge internally between American Jews of different political viewpoints. In politics, ill will has a long shelf life. Regardless of who occupies the White House after the next election, why leave it tainted with negative feelings when it comes to support for Israel? And as the BDS movement heats up on college campuses, and European displeasure with Israel is resulting in increasingly tense trade relations and cultural exchanges, can we really afford more internal fractures?


3. “Increase the sanctions, increase the pressure”—another request from Prime Minister Netanyahu. How many deals with some European nations, China and Russia do you think are already under discussion? One can argue about the wisdom of promising to ease economic sanctions already about a year ago, but even our European allies, let alone China and Russia, have abandoned the notion of more economic sanctions.


4. On a related note, let’s also remember that Pime Minister Netanyahu has been rolling back legislation requiring more Charedi (religious right wing) young men to serve in the army. If there is another war, it could require American ground troops. How will the optics look when a historic democratic ally, Israel, exempts a significant number of young men from its own military service, if U.S. troops fight in a war that many will claim Israel is responsible for? (I’ve already heard some people raise this issue.)


At this point in the game, as Prime Minister Netanyahu stated, the reality is that Iran will find a way to develop nuclear arms. Countries like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan and Egypt, that were expected to protest, have accepted this reality. I doubt that they have any more trust in this accord than the Israeli government and public. But their relatively quiet stance indicates that they are thinking further into the future about maintaining good relations with United States in order to combat immediate threats like ISIL and the disintegration of Syria.


Prime Minister Netanyahu was elected several times on his promise to do everything that he could to keep Iran from going nuclear. President Obama, already in his first run at the presidency, set forth a goal of re-integrating Iran into the “family of nations” (and perhaps also recalibrating the balance of power between Sunni and Shia Muslims in the Middle East). Two sovereign nations, located in different parts of the world, one a super power and the other an embattled regional power, are entitled to see the world differently. Despite vigorous efforts, the time when it might have been possible to exercise other options and bring about a different kind of agreement has passed. I believe that it’s strategically smarter to put efforts now into planning for a reality of a stronger, regional and likely nuclear power that Iran will become, and the implications of that reality both for the United Sates and Israel.




Rabbis: Let’s Advocate for Mandatory Professional Therapy



Only a relatively few rabbis exploit emotionally vulnerable people but their impact is devastating: to individual victims, their families and friends, and the Jewish and broader public. Whether employed by congregations, Jewish camps and day schools, youth and college outreach or other organizations, rabbis who have ongoing access to people, funds, or sensitive information about their constituents should have mandatory, regularly scheduled professional therapy.


The Jewish Week, in cooperation with Temple Emanu-El– Skirball Center, recently sponsored a public program titled, “Training Rabbis. Who Will Lead Us Tomorrow?” (It was inspired by Keeping Faith in Rabbis. A Community Conversation on Rabbinical Education, a collection of essays that I co-edited with Ellie Roscher and was published a few months ago.) The forum, which I moderated, included Rabbis David Ellenson, Josh Davidson, Joy Levitt and Dr. Erin Leib Smokler—an exceptionally thoughtful panel. I turned to The Jewish Week first about the possibility of a public program because I trusted that, under its auspices, sensitive issues would not be sensationalized.


One of the questions that panelists debated was, “Who is responsible for putting more safeguards in place to prevent rabbis from engaging in unethical behavior? Can rabbinical organizations be trusted to police their own members?” Panelists offered a range of responses. Some were equivocal, others definitive (soon you’ll be able to watch a video archive of the discussion-information to follow later). In the short time since the program, we’ve read yet more allegations, court cases and convictions around rabbinical behavior. On a corresponding note closer to home, the systematic effort by the Archdiocese of Minneapolis and St. Paul to cover up years of clergy sexual abuse continues to send shockwaves throughout all communities of faith.


In light of these incidents, I now believe that rabbis who work under Jewish auspices need professional therapy. It’s one collective way that we can do teshuvah for the damage to our community and calling that a few members of our rabbinical family have caused.


In an essay from Keeping Faith in Rabbis, Rabbi Ellen Lewis writes, “In my experience as a rabbi and therapist who works with clergy, clergy are no different from other abusers in motive, just in opportunity. … we possess all the same human weaknesses as everyone else.” She offers a minyan of reasons for the value of rabbis having regular therapy. Among these ten reasons, she writes that it’s important for the rabbi “to get the view from the other side of the couch. It makes you more aware of how your congregants or clients experience coming to you for help”. More importantly, she notes that, “We (rabbis) are surrounded everyday by people who love us for no apparent reason and who hate us for no apparent reason.…talking and supervision and therapy makes people less likely to act out” (pp.205-207).


“Awe of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction (Proverbs 1:7).” Almost all of the rabbis that I know strive to stand in awe of God, and carefully and caringly help others. But we should be wise by now to appreciate the value of therapy. And budgetary constraints can’t be an excuse for inaction. Rabbis and their employers should share the financial cost for regularly scheduled therapy. Otherwise, we collectively continue to risk inflicting incalculable emotional pain to others and injecting generalized doubt about whether rabbis can be trusted. Why wait anymore for rabbinical organizations or seminaries to require action when rabbis and Jewish organizations can take the immediate local lead?



Disorderly Democracy or Tyrannical Terror: Thoughts About July 4th



If you’ve ever visited a country with an oppressive government, you know how precious the meaning of July 4th is. Even if you haven’t been in a cruel country, but have watched the news of this past week, you can deeply sense the impact of the absence or presence of freedom.


This week in America, we saw the incredibly positive culmination of spirited debate, years of litigation and uncommon compassion from everyday people: racism, homophobia, and economic inequality reflected in overpriced healthcare were big losers. Admittedly imperfect and slow, significant progress was made on these key issues. Many challenges that still lie ahead, but this upcoming American holiday gives us a timely opportunity to celebrate these achievements.


4th of july jewish


But abroad during this week, in Syria, Somalia, Iraq and France to name only a few places, loathsome terrorists killed hundreds of people by using brute lethal force. These individuals are pretenders. They aren’t brave for they are deathly afraid of powerful ideas about what it means to be human that are contrary to their beliefs.


Events here and there are connected. The same forces in Western democracies that hearten us here frighten fundamentalists of all stripes and in all places.  Battling over ideas and values leaves a much less certain and often-ambiguous outcome then battling with weaponry.


It’s becoming increasingly difficult to maintain moderate political and religious views for a variety of reasons. The value of moderation is that it can bridge views at opposite ends of the spectrum. But, speaking personally, when I watch the utter ugliness of fundamentalists in action, I begin to wonder if moderation is an unintentional friend to extremists. It is incomprehensible to me, as a religious moderate, how “religious ” individuals can torture, brutalize, torment and persecute anyone in the name of religion in this day and age. Sometimes it feels like the numbers are reversed and that we’re living in the 12th Century and not the 21st.


So while July 4th is not a holiday found on the Jewish calendar, it still feels very Jewish and especially universal this year. Maybe it’s time for moderates to advocate more vigorously for the right to hold different viewpoints and remain in caring conversations with one another. Holding on to dissent and empathy isn’t easy, but that’s what people who are truly free can do. For a week like this suggests that we are not debating just one particular issue or idea. Rather, the essential argument is about human freedom and how to best augment it in the face of legitimate differences. And that is an ecumenical issue that I’ll be thinking about this July 4th.


Leadership Succession or Secession?



Less than a week ago, billionaire media mogul Rupert Murdoch announced that he is handing the reins of control to his two sons. Will the transfer of power lead to succession or to secession? Handing over control to a new generation can be messy business, especially when family is involved. Sometimes it goes well, but often it is painful.


Some leaders transfer power in name only, but just can’t let go. As a result, they risk bringing themselves down in disgrace. Other times, the next generation loses patience and repeatedly chips away at a leader’s ability to govern. These repeated challenges to authority eventually create an atmosphere of mistrust, where constituents begin to second-guess a leader’s judgment. When this occurs, a kind of community paralysis sets in and it takes a new leader to catalyze forward momentum.


Leadership Change Rupert Murdoch


The Biblical Book of Numbers is certainly a case study in the complexities of succession. While Moses ultimately passes the torch of leadership to a new generation, there are many acts of attempted secession. First, Moses’s siblings challenge his authority (Numbers 12), then the spies, who are leaders of twelve tribes, seek to undermine his credibility (Numbers 13) and in this week’s Torah reading (Numbers 16), Moses’s cousins mount an insurrection. The first challenge to Moses’s leadership cascades into a chain of additional trials, suggesting that there was general fatigue between the people and their leader. I wonder if either could see the warning signs as they unfolded, or only in retrospect.


So here are a few questions for senior and volunteer leaders to consider as they look to the future:


• If you are senior clergy of a congregation or a CEO of a nonprofit, what is your exit strategy if your constituents pose a serious leadership challenge? Do you have a plan to put into effect if that happens?
• If you have played a senior professional leadership role for a long time, are you working with board members on a succession plan?
• If you are a senior volunteer leader, and you feel it is time for a professional leadership change, do you have a proactive strategy or will it take a disgruntled community to move you to action?
• Finally, for both senior professional and volunteer leaders: how are you cultivating leadership for upcoming generations? And, given the vast numbers of Boomers who might be interested in volunteer roles, do you also have a plan to engage them?


Given the dynamics of any change of leadership, there certainly are no guarantees about how smooth a transition will be. But, there are ways to try and mitigate the risk of clumsy and potentially destructive transitions and limit the likelihood that that succession does not turn into secession.




Rabbinic Education at a Crossroads?



I’m pleased to present another guest blog post as a part of the Keeping Faith in Rabbis: A Community Conversation on Rabbinic Education series. It’s written by Rabbi David Evan Markus, who addresses the increase in part-time, trans-denominational and low-residency Jewish clergy ordination programs. The author advocates acceleration of these trends to diversify the Jewish pulpit and meet the unique pastoral needs of 21st century Jews in the current era of weakening institutional affiliation. He also urges universal adoption of mandatory spiritual direction for all Jewish seminary students and instructors. While this is the last scheduled guest essay, I’ve already written an essay with my initial response to this rich national conversation on rabbinical education and leadership, and several more are in the works—so stay tuned!


Seminary and Soul:  Spiritual Education for the 21st Century


Rabbi David Evan MarkusWhile this guest blog post is the last scheduled in the online dimension of Keeping Faith in Rabbis: A Community Conversation on Rabbinic Education, there’s so much yet to say about how best to uplift Jewish spiritual leaders, starting with the proposition that this conversation must never end.  That is why I am heartened to know that Rabbi Hayim Herring and Ellie Roscher, co-editors of this series, will help ensure that it never does.


This year’s inquiry about rabbinic education has underscored the truth that professional education is organic and thus must continuously evolve.  Experience hones best practices in pedagogy, and the needs of students and professions are in constant flux.  Legal educators learned this lesson the hard way.  The legal education “case method” that Christopher Columbus Langdell developed in late 1800s birthed generations of lawyers able to refine abstruse points of law for adversarial litigations and transactions, making Langdell a towering figure in the history of professional education.  In the 2000s, however, legal educators awoke to discover that many of Langdell’s innovations – once reforms in their day – had become shackles that bind lawyers to formal conflict (and bad lawyer jokes), poorly preparing them for the creative problem-solving and public-service contexts of a 21st century legal profession.  To realign with the new legal profession now emerging, legal education has needed to change accordingly – and this process is now sweeping across the nation’s law schools.


This proposition holds all the more for spiritual leaders: clergy education must serve the evolving needs of the profession that clergy will enter.  As change sweeps across Jewish life, rabbinic education must change with it.  The 2013 Pew Study depicts a Jewish polity becoming more diverse, resisting affiliation labels, and striving for relevance both within and beyond traditional Jewish structures of synagogue and school – and rabbinic education must evolve likewise.  Even more, rabbinic education must leap ahead of the change unfolding across Jewish life, so that new cohorts of Jewish leaders can wisely shape change rather than merely respond or race to catch up after falling behind.  Change in rabbinic education mustn’t be for its own sake, but to prepare each generation of Jewish leaders to heed their moment’s call to spiritual service.



So the question is, what is this moment’s call to spiritual service?  What is the leap that rabbinic education must make?  This year of introspection about rabbinic education has begun to envision a rabbinate called to become more pastoral, entrepreneurial and communitarian.  The implications for forward-thinking rabbinic education are provocative and transformative:


The pastoral rabbinate.  An effective rabbi navigates the heart and soul, journeying with (not above) congregation and community as an authentic seeker, equipped with a range of finely honed pastoral tools suitable for the breadth of Jewish spiritual life.  Pastoral skills are mimetic and experiential: no amount of book learning alone can teach them.  At minimum, they require expert-guided consistent dialogue within a student’s own spiritual life so that the student, in turn, can become a guide for others: after all, where a guide hasn’t gone, the guide can’t lead anyone.  This kind of authentic spiritual formation requires a seminary environment of exquisite trust and safety – where life’s inevitable triumphs and tumbles, intellectual doubts and emotional detritus, all are fodder for spiritual growth – so that clergy can become adept (and unafraid) at traversing these landscapes.  To that end, and to help teach how to discern the flow of holiness through the totality of life, all rabbinical students – and all seminary educators, as models – must be in mandatory, monthly, confidential and expert hashpa’ah (spiritual direction).  Seminaries also must integrate an applied pastoral focus into all other elements of the rabbinic curriculum – from liturgy to codes and everything in between.  Because an effective pastoral rabbinate depends on a wise heart, admissions criteria must privilege experience and capacity for applied spiritual leadership – not just proven love for Jewish tradition, intellectual capacity for scholarship and commitment to service.  If so, then seminaries must better welcome and even preference second-career and part-time students, who bring a wealth of emotional and spiritual intelligence to their studies – as ALEPH and Academy for Jewish Religion have done.  In turn, seminary schedules and teaching styles must better match adult schedules and learning skills, compatibly with the needs of rigorous seminary education, and better integrate online learning while maintaining effective mimetic environments.  In short, a pastoral rabbinate for the 21st century asks us to rethink the seminary itself – educational models, delivery systems, admissions criteria, curricula and all the rest – all to put spiritual transformation first.


The entrepreneurial rabbinate.  An effective rabbi not only surfs the tide but also steers the boat.  Many of this year’s contributors wisely reflected on social networking, collaborative management and disruptive innovation as important tools for the 21st century rabbinate.  What few seminaries do well, however, is teach rabbis how to innovate.  Rabbis who for centuries understood themselves as purveyors and guardians of tradition now also must mindfully cultivate innovation and the fertile conditions for innovation.  Innovation, however, is risky – and few rabbis (especially ones with contracts to keep or renew) were reared with inclination or skill to take effective risks in their spiritual roles.  At the same time, innovation must balance with continuity: change must connect smoothly to what came before, lest innovations be too much more revolution than evolution.  We must learn again to see all of Jewish tradition and halachah as developmental – always changing, backwards compatible with what came before, but leaning into present and future socioeconomic and psycho-spiritual experience.  In turn, seminaries must learn to teach halachah and tradition in ways that inculcate mastery of this evolutionary process, so that rabbis can steer through the tides of change rather than swim behind or get carried away in the current.  It follows that we must teach rabbis not less halachah but more – and more deeply, taught through this evolutionary lens.  Only then can tomorrow’s rabbis have the skill, knowledge and temperament to direct the flow of Jewish life compatibly with our enduring values.



The community rabbinate.  An effective rabbi in the 21st century is not limited to full-time jobs in synagogue, school or seminary.  Today we see rabbis serving in community centers, social justice advocacy, client services and industry – reflecting a yawning need for rabbinic tools in diverse social contexts, and thus a broadening of rabbinic roles to serve those needs.  Some of these roles are full-time with salaries comparable to synagogue compensation, but many are not.  At the same time, the 2013 Pew study shows quickening disaffiliation from Judaism’s non-Orthodox branches but simultaneous deepening of the private market for rabbinical services. These market shifts challenge today’s socioeconomics of becoming and serving as a rabbi.  The economic truth is that an increasing number of rabbis either want to serve part-time or need to serve part-time.  Thus, if rabbinic education is to remain sustainable for this growing cohort of rabbis, we must find ways not to shackle rabbis to educational debts too large to repay on the salaries they will earn.  The rabbinic path of student debt is all seminary and little soul, and is unsustainable for a profession already shifting on its foundations.  In this moment, we’d do well to remember that “rabbi” is first a calling, not a career: only in the 14th century did the rabbinic “career” begin to emerge.  In their day, Hillel was a woodchopper, Yochanan ben Zakkai was a businessman, Huna was a farmer who raised cattle, Chisda and Pappa were brewers, and Rambam was a physician.  When Talmud’s rabbis told us to “go out and see how the people are accustomed to act” (B.T. Berakhot 45a; Eruvin 14b), it was because they immersed themselves in the daily routines of community, having regular jobs and often struggling to make ends meet.  It may be time to go back to the future: we must not only make a fundraising priority of reducing the cost of rabbinic education, but also use technology and build inter-seminary alliances to scale teaching and cut costs.  These steps will not be easy, and they are not without risk, but the market will not allow seminaries to cling to the economic status quo for long.



Rabbinic education has reached a crossroads.  If we’re deeply honest, rabbis and seminarians must admit that we don’t really know where any path will lead.  Our future is so uncertain: Jewish and rabbinic life is changing under our feet.  The question is not whether we’ll do different: of course we will, because ultimately Jews always have.  Rather, the question is how we’ll do different.  We can either do different early, with enthusiasm and experimentation, leaping ahead of today’s shifts to vision tomorrow’s opportunities.  Or, we can do different late, kicking and screaming, dragged by the market and Jews voting with their feet, following rather than leading.  Let’s choose wisely – and soon – lest the choice be made for us.


Rabbi David Evan Markus is co-chair of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, co-rabbi of Temple Beth-El of City Island (New York, New York), and member of the Rabbinics and Spiritual Direction faculties of the ALEPH Ordination Programs.  He is a longtime public servant and serves on the faculties of Fordham and Pace Universities. He presently presides as Judicial Referee in New York Supreme Court, Ninth Judicial District.  He received dual smicha (ordination) as rabbi and mashpia ruchani (spiritual director) from ALEPH, a J.D. from Harvard Law School, an M.P.P. from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, and a B.A. from Williams College.  Contact David at davidevanmarkus@gmail.com.

This post excerpts the author’s longer writing, “Seminary and Soul,” available here.


Doing Justice, Loving Mercy and Walking Humbly



Continuing a series of guest essays related to Keeping Faith in Rabbis. A Community Conversation on Rabbinical Education, this piece by Rabbi Elizabeth Bahar was almost like a meditation that relates beautifully to the upcoming holiday of Shavuot. Her imagery and urgency for forming a loving relationship with God echo some of the themes of Shavuot, which metaphorically represents a loving marriage between God and the Jewish people.


Rabbi Elizabeth BaharBy Rabbi Elizabeth Bahar


My challenge as a rabbi is to keep Jews engaged when they are leaving and going somewhere else to find a connection with the Holy, whether it is to a yoga class, a meditation studio, or a Buddhist retreat.  My other challenge comes from my own congregants who graduated from our religious school and are now sending their children to our religious school out of a sense of obligation, yet wonder if there is something wrong with them because they missed how to connect with God. Somehow institutional Judaism has failed them.  We have failed to transmit the message of love, engagement, faith and community.  I was trained intellectually and what I have learned more than anything else from my congregants, who are my teachers, is that religion is the language of the heart reaching out for the Divine.  They have taught me this lesson repeatedly at their bedsides, meeting with them when faced with hardships, or even celebrating with them the joys in life.  I have thanked them and continue to thank them for sharing and teaching me about the language of the Divine.


My disconnect stems from my training.  I trained at an academic institution, which is very intellectual.  The more intellectual your work, the more respect you received from both the faculty and your fellow students.  Yet what was absent in that environment is both the questions and the answers around how to nourish our souls and listen to the message of love found in our Sacred Texts and emanating from the Holy.  Our seminary’s focus on the intellect, because it is easy to quantify comprehension, yet it is not what is needed at people’s bedsides.  What is needed there is LOVE.  We were not taught how to find God in our own life.


As we struggle with our own connection to God, how are we to lead others to find God in their lives?  It is not enough to find God in our individual lives, the real question is, how are we going to share this knowledge and create a sacred community? How can we build a sacred community when it may be something we never experienced.  When people bring into the board room of our congregations their way of running a business forgetting that running a sacred community is different?   We focus on programing because it is easier to see success or failure from it, than to focus on God and wonder about how to bring God back to the center of what we do. When we have an entire community of people who are religiously illiterate and are unclear about even what it is that is missing in their life.  The problem is twofold 1) we struggle to find God and 2) our communities and therefore our seminaries struggle and are not even sure how to still look for the Holy.


The answer to grow a community is to go deep into the heart of life: To be totally present to the mystery of creation by developing an awareness of the Holy. 


The longer I am out of seminary, the more I realize that our faith journey and belief is paramount to our ability to succeed at our task. Since finding a connection with the Holy, helps solve one of the problems, I would like to make a few suggestions coming from things that have worked for me on my own journey.


We must struggle to live life in the footsteps of God so that we experience the Eternal Truth. 


A truth that Rambam points out to us on the High Holidays:


“Awake, you sleepers, from your sleep! Rouse yourselves, you slumberers, out of your slumber! Examine your deeds, and turn to God in repentance.  Remember your Creator, you who are caught up in your daily routine, losing sights of eternal truth; you who are wasting your years in pointless activities that neither profit nor save…”[1]


We need to wake up to this Eternal TruthThe Eternal Truth is that God is!


As we read in the Book of Exodus when Moses meets God at the burning bush and ask who are you, God responds: “I Am that I Am אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה .”  I came to understand my relationship with God is simply a mirror to my relationship with others in my life.  If I am in a right relationship with others, then I am in a right relationship with God.


I pray every day! We must practice regularly speaking to God.  To have a spiritual life means to have a spiritual practice, which means to set time aside to open one’s heart and mind to God.  I engage in hitbodedut – a practice first defined by the great Rebbe Nachman of Breslov who said that it is going out into nature, forgoing all of this world’s noise and distractions to become one with our Creator.  To speak out to God as our patriarchs and matriarchs did in the Bible.  Rabbi Nachman taught specifically that it is


“inner-directed, unstructured,


active self-expression before G-d—


is the highest path of all.


Take it.” [2]


I strive to have a personal spiritual life.  This is one example of the types of prayer I pray often:


Dear G-d, help me talk to You
About whatever is on my mind,
And especially about my desire to be close to You.


Give me time to be alone,
To speak in my own words and language.


Let me pour out my heart to You
Sincerely and truthfully,
And build up my spiritual strength
Through my great longing for You.[3]


Religion started because someone had an experience with God on a mountain top and came back down the mountain to encourage other people to have a similar experience.  Ritual developed to force us to take a break from the external mindset of everything we have to do and get into the mindset of the Holy without having to trek into the desert and up the mountain to experience God.  Our religious experiences reveal an ultimate eternal truth which we understand deeply: We are enough even in our brokenness.


Instead of seeing what is broken with the Jewish community, our congregations or even ourselves, let’s be grateful for what we have.  Let’s take a moment to say thank you to God.


Remember the story of Gideon and the winepress.  In the time of Gideon, as described in the book of Judges, the Jewish people would have to thrash their wheat on the floor of a cave out of fear that their enemies would overcome them and steal their food.  While in the cave, Gideon encountered an Angel.  The Angel told him that he would go onto lead the Jewish people out from the hands of the Middianites.  Gideon asked God for a sign.  The sign that Gideon had, was fire that ate up the sacrifice that Gideon placed upon the rock.  Gideon then went out to battle knowing God was with him he had faith and then won.  Additionally that faith was what brought the people with him.


Let’s not run into the cave because we are afraid, and cling to our old institutions and isolate ourselves.  We need to have faith in God and trust our communities to share with them our doubts. We need to have an active spiritual life, a life outside the rabbinate, a life with family and friends.


By letting people enter the world of the spirit and sharing with them what it means to be emotionally and spiritually present for someone or a community we can share our burden.  By allowing ourselves to be vulnerable we are exposing ourselves like Gideon did.  Not only do we need to share this world with our congregants, we need to change the business of the rabbinate starting at seminary and in our congregations.


In seminary we need to both write the academic papers and explore the true nature of God in our lives.  True education begins with where the student is, not where the teacher wants them to be. Our congregants don’t want to hear from us what Soloveitchik said on faith unless we can connect it directly back to their lives.  We need to discuss why Judaism is relevant to our lives and be able to make it relevant to the lives of our congregants.  We need to know and love our sacred texts and be able to share that love with our communities. We need to be like Gideon going out and leading the people and not hiding from them.


Rabbi Elizabeth Bahar has served as the congregational rabbi at Temple B’nai Sholom in Huntsville Alabama since being ordained from HUC in 2009. In that time she has received the Rabbi Jeffery L.  Ballon Interfaith Leadership award from Interfaith Mission Service in 2011. And was named by the Forward was one of the most inspiring Rabbis in 2015. She is also on the boards of the South East Region of the CCAR, Interfaith Mission Service and Southeast Clergy Association.


[1] Maimonides, Hilkhot Teshuvah III.4

[2] The Empty Chair, p. 91

[3] Between me and You, p. 342




Educating Rabbis for Jews without Borders



A Generous Community


[What goes into the making of a 21st Century rabbinical leader? In this latest series of essays to be published on eJP, we share thoughts from Rabbi David Teutsch, Ph.D., Rabbi Ellen Lewis, Rabbi Daniel Cotzin Burg and Rabbi Hayim Herring, Ph.D. The first three essays originally appeared in, “Keeping Faith in Rabbis: A Community Conversation on Rabbinical Educartion,” Avenida Books, December 2014. This final essay is newly written for eJP and looks at how we may respond to the paradigm shift currently underway in the North American Jewish Community.]


Writing an essay for a publication is a generous act, so thank you to the thirty-three contributors – rabbis, lay people and educators of rabbis – to the print volume of Keeping Faith in Rabbis: A Community Conversation About Rabbinical Education and the ten essayists whose essays appear online. With all of the changes occurring within the Jewish community, generosity has been a constant.


I had planned to write a chapter for our anthology, but Ellie Roscher, my co-editor, suggested that I wait and follow the conversation before doing so. Indeed, we came to appreciate how much our respective faith communities could benefit from more curiosity and less judgment about the correct “formula” for clergy education, and more shared conversations with those from other faith communities.[1]


Having listened to the conversation for about a year, I now offer what I believe is the most significant observation for rabbinical education: It is urgent to explicitly acknowledge that the paradigm of Jewish community that gave birth to how we educate rabbis has ended and respond accordingly. Several essayists alluded to a paradigm shift, and their actual and proposed curricular changes illustrated their keen awareness that it had already occurred. But the emergence of a new paradigm is not synonymous with an innovative curriculum, a new rabbinical program or a novel continuing education program. Rather, it is a map for reading, interpreting, responding to and shaping the community that we aspire to be.[2]


What is a Paradigm Shift and How Do You Know When a Paradigm Has Shifted?


What is a paradigm and how do you know it has shifted?[3] I think of a paradigm as a set of lenses through which I read my world of experiences. Without these lenses or core assumptions, I would be unable to sort, categorize, analyze and make meaning of my encounters with other individuals and interpret all of the information that I absorb through the media. Absent a paradigm, all actions, changes and behaviors are relatively equal to one another. With a paradigm, I have greater likelihood of living the life that I want and trying to positively shape my future.


Joel Barker, renowned for his work in applying the concept of paradigms to organizations, identifies how to recognize a paradigm shift in his definitive video on the topic, “The New Business of Paradigms” (updated 2013 edition): “No matter how tall your skyscrapers, or how big your market share, or how global your organization, when a paradigm shifts, everyone goes back to zero. Your past success guarantees nothing in your future.” Barker did not have the Jewish community in mind when he stated this, but he just as easily could have.


How Paradigms of Jewish Community Influence Rabbinical Education


The enduring paradigm of the modern Jewish community that gave birth to established and even most new rabbinical programs is disintegrating. It originated in Western Europe in approximately the mid-19th Century, was grafted and took root in the United States toward the end of the 19th Century and reigned through about the last decade of the 20th Century.[4] It rested upon certain givens that included defined boundaries of nations and communities, the subordination of the individual to nation and community, a belief in rational, planned, linear progress, stable bodies of knowledge that needed to be mastered to attain the status of an authority, a dynamic tension between requirements of Judaism and expectations of citizenship, and organizations as self-contained, closed systems.


During the early decades of this paradigm, even if Jews did not practice ritual, they established and joined congregations because it was a way of fitting into Protestant America. The informal names of their congregations (e.g., the “Hungarian shul”) reflected their immigrant roots even as they strove to rapidly acculturate their children to America, a process that accelerated as Jews later migrated to the suburbs. The reality of a modern State of Israel was added to the paradigm of Jewish community in the mid-20th Century, but Israel was a fragile entity that was usually portrayed in mythical terms. It was also dependent upon American Jews’ commitment to its survival, using their significant political and financial capital.[5]


In the recent past, there was a logical division of labor that grew from the paradigm of linear, self-contained, defined organizational boundaries. The Federation system and its “beneficiaries” were responsible for the secular welfare of local and global Jewish communities, and congregations and related denominational structures tended to the religious and educational needs of Jewish communities. The lines between the federation and congregational systems began to blur soon after Israel’s Six Day War, when federations gradually started to support formal and informal Jewish education, and congregations stepped up their public support for Israel.


These are blunt generalizations, as paradigms are more akin to glasses used to perceive the broad contours of the environment. But they also obscure gradual, significant changes that point to a possible paradigm shift. And by the time the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey was released, you could already see fractures in the paradigm of Jewish community: declining levels of Jewish identification, rising rates of intermarriage, disillusionment with the Jewish establishment, and the corresponding rise in “mega” donors and family foundations that challenged existing communal priorities.


In the 21st Century, we can now clearly see a new paradigm of a world characterized by human networks that can swell swiftly to upend governments or fund game-changing products; an unbounded start-it-yourself and share-it-with-others ethos; and, heightened influence of lone individuals, ephemeral crowds, and enduring social networks. Individuals have the ability to span cultures, geography and time, and relatively small groups have the means to violently shift national borders.


The American Jewish community has naturally been affected by this new zeitgeist. For many Jews today, the beliefs, behaviors and values that animated the Jewish community have lost their former power. Beliefs don’t hold people. Rather, people hold beliefs – and may discard them when they no longer “work,” customize “new traditions,” or design Jewish rituals drawn from multiple faith traditions. As a result, we might call the Jewish community of the United States, “Jews Without Borders.” Here are a few examples to illustrate the porous, fluid nature of much of the Jewish community in the United States:


Increasingly, well-established professional pipelines through which senior organizational leaders were hired are being bypassed. In fact, the 92nd St. Y hired a C.E.O. who is not Jewish.
Decades ago, Israel generally tended to galvanize more than polarize; today, it appears that the opposite is increasingly true.


Not long ago, intermarriage was perceived as a taboo; today, outside of the Orthodox community, speaking against intermarriage is often considered a taboo, and rabbinical school faculty and students debate the merits of admitting future students who are married/partnered to those who are not Jewish.


Organizations like federations and Jewish Community Centers may still describe themselves as the “central address” of the Jewish community, but in today’s highly decentralized Jewish community, “boutique” organizations compete with “legacy” institutions.


Eighty-one percent of Jewish Boomers identify as Jewish on the basis of religion, and 19% describe themselves as having no religion; among Millenials, 68% identify as Jewish on the basis of religion, while 32% describe themselves as having no religion and identify as Jewish on the basis of ancestry, ethnicity or culture (Pew Research, “A Portrait of American Jews,” October 2013).


Synagogue budgeting and programming implied that a “normal” Jewish family was a heterosexual married couple with children; today, LGBTQ families, individuals who are living with or married to non-Jews, have asserted an equal place in congregations and broadened the definition of a “Jewish” household.


It’s no longer possible to say, “Not in my lifetime” to prospects of female Orthodox rabbis. By title or by function, they are now a reality. Through the early 1990’s, the major funding stream for Jewish programs and infrastructure was the national federation system. In the early 1990’s, “mega” and family foundations began to provide a massive infusion of funds into new and established organizations that better reflected their interests. Crowd-funding platforms like Kickstarter and more recently, Jewish Giving Circles supported by Amplifier, may soon provide alternatives and challenges to these current primary options.


Money, power, knowledge, organizing, influencing, communications and inverted attitudes on major social and religious issues – these discrete changes have converged into a paradigm shift that has disrupted much of the old order of the Jewish community and ushered us into a new one. This new paradigm is characterized by instability, surprise sometimes bordering on chaos, improvisation, divergent thinking, emergent grassroots mobilization and ownership, irreverence and entrepreneurship. Who gets to decide what is authentically Jewish in this new paradigm? For Gen X’ers, Millenials and increasingly, Boomers, not Jewish authorities, but basically, anyone.[6]


The paradigm of Jewish community that existed until recently generated beliefs about the “right” kind of rabbinical student profile, fixed canons of knowledge that students needed to master (curricula), the structure of relationships between “lay people” and rabbis, the nature of religious authority and decision-making, and rabbinical career choices and trajectories. The in-print and online essayists in Keeping Faith in Rabbis: A Community Conversation About Rabbinical Education have supplied us with ideas, questions and observations about the adequacy of rabbinical education and leadership. They point toward the issue of a paradigm shift that we need to make explicit. Without being explicit, we may convince ourselves that new strategies and tactics for rabbinical education are moving us into the future, while in reality they only affirm the old paradigm of Jewish community.


Those who have dedicated significant years in the Jewish community are entitled to linger and feel sad over what we have lost. By pausing, we may then be better able to perceive new opportunities that were unimaginable and lead with optimism. As we internalize a new paradigm of Jewish community, I conclude with several questions emanating from this new paradigm:


Even if seminaries retain denominational identity, could administrations make it easier for students to cross-register for some courses if they are living in the same city, or take one another’s online courses?


How much seminary real estate is actually necessary for rabbinical education? Do rabbis have to be in residence for a total of five years at two different locations (the States and Israel), amassing significant debt, or could more schools adopt a learner-centered approach, and customize educational requirements and programs around the knowledge and experience of the learner?
What role does Israel play in rabbinical education and expectations of rabbinical leadership? Many American Jews find meaning in Judaism’s call for social justice and perceive Israel to be the powerful Goliath against a pitiful Palestinian David. West Bank Palestinians lack sovereignty – an undignified reality for which Israeli and Palestinian leaders are responsible. What are the implications for the relationship between Jewish communities in Israel and the United States? In Keeping Faith in Rabbis, there was no discussion of Israel – not completely surprising but ominous.[7]


In the 21st Century, what is it that rabbinical education uniquely qualifies rabbis to do? Rabbinical chaplains seem to have a clear answer: provide spiritual care. With that exception, some of these essays reflected realities of role displacement and ambiguity. Are curricular options for rabbis who plan to operate outside of congregations and established organizations sufficient?
Many young Jews are now fourth and even fifth generation Americans and deeply assimilated. As a result, how should rabbis-in-formation think about Jewish peoplehood today?


In past epochs, periods of social and technological turmoil were followed by times of stability: for example, transitioning from agriculture to manufacturing. Today, with powerful technologies that are becoming universally accessible, stability is elusive and disruption is the norm. Can and should rabbis be trained as pioneers into an unknown Jewish future, yet still remain knowledgeable and caring guardians of Tradition?


Should theological education encompass mixed multi-faith clergy ordination programs that allow for shared experience and learning across different faiths for some courses, even as students focus intensively on the fundamentals of their own religious civilizations?


Many Millenials are experiencing downward economic mobility because of forces beyond their control. Combined with some of these other factors, from where will the financial and human capital come to support the array of old and new Jewish organizations that exist today?


The questions that I find the most fruitful don’t have immediate answers, require a collaborative, multi-disciplinary approach to incubating responses, and validation through research and practice. The contributors to Keeping Faith in Rabbis: A Community Conversation on Rabbinical Education are well attuned to the need for change and continue to respond to it. Will we make a wider space for conversation together to explore these and other questions that emerge from a new paradigm of Jewish community?


[1] See Ellie Roscher, Keeping the Faith in Seminary (Minneapolis, MN: Avenida Books, 2012). The series of essays that she edited on Protestant theological education inspired Keeping Faith in Rabbis.
[2] The one program that seems to have acknowledged this is Aleph: Alliance for Jewish Renewal.
[3] Thomas Kuhn in his book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions published in 1962, originated the concept of paradigm in the scientific world. Joel Barker, a preeminent business process futurist, was the first to grasp that despite Kuhn’s claim to the contrary, it applied far beyond the world of science. But the concept of paradigms is not new and features prominently in learning theory and psychology already in the 1920’s, although it is more often labeled “schema,” “scripts” or “mental models.”
[4] See Windmueller, Steven (2007). “The Second American Jewish Revolution,” Journal of Jewish Communal Service, Volume 82 (No. 3), pp. 252-260, for a comprehensive review of the organizational paradigm and its value set from the last century.
[5] See Jonathan Woocher, Sacred Survival: The Civil Religion of American Jews. (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1986
[6] See, for example, Stephanie Grob Plante, “The Challenge of Planning an Interfaith Wedding,” November 13, 2014, http://tabletmag.com/jewish-life-and-religion/186563/challenge-interfaith-wedding
[7] See Steven M. Cohen and Rabbi Jason Gitlin, “Aversion to Expressing Views on Israel Among American Rabbis,” A Report of the Jewish Council of Public Affairs (October 8, 2013), http://www.jewishdatabank.org/studies/downloadFile.cfm?FileID=3075.


Cross-posted to eJewish Philanthropy and the Huffington Post


Rabbi Hayim Herring, Ph.D., is an author, presenter and organizational futurist. He thanks Dr. Steven Windmueller for reviewing an earlier draft of this article.




The Old Jewish Neighborhood – Daniel Cotzin Burg



rabbi-daniel-cotzin-burgBy Rabbi Daniel Cotzin Burg


The Old Jewish Neighborhood


I live in a Jewish neighborhood called Reservoir Hill. It used to be two communities: Eutaw Place, the grand boulevard with its elegant town homes and Lake Drive, which included several blocks east of Eutaw with still beautiful, but more modest row houses. For a number of reasons, Jews moved away from Reservoir Hill toward Baltimore County. By the 1970’s, the neighborhood was now predominantly African American and increasingly poor. By the 80’s, crime had become endemic and sidewalks abutting the former Jewish shops played host to open-air drug markets. By the 90’s, the entire commercial center of the neighborhood was demolished. Reservoir Hill resembled a bagel with a gaping hole in the middle.


The New Jewish Neighborhood


In recent years, Reservoir Hill has enjoyed a general resurgence and modest Jewish renaissance: young Jewish singles, couples and families have begun to move back. Crime is down, and vacant properties are at their lowest numbers in decades. A team of 350 volunteers built a new playground in 2011 – the community’s first clean, safe play space in years. Whitelock boasts an urban farm and farm stand, a community garden and a new park – the community’s core, empty lots now an emerging as green space. The school, remembered fondly by numerous congregants, is again on the upswing and slated for a total redesign next year. Druid Hill Park across the street, Baltimore’s grand Central Park, once filled with shul-goers from dozens of nearby synagogues on Rosh Hashanah afternoon, boasts a refurbished zoo and conservatory, a new playground and swimming pool, a farmers market and weekend festivals from art fairs to dog-walkers and various ethnic celebrations.



Preventing Clergy Sexual Abuse – Rabbi Ellen Lewis


By Rabbi Ellen Lewis


This essay originally appeared in, “Keeping Faith in Rabbis: A Community Conversation on Rabbinical Educartion,” Avenida Books, December 2014.


Rabbi-Ellen-LewisClergy sexual abuse is a problem that will not go away. The news media inform us that Vatican officials failed to report sex abuse charges properly, moving priests rather than disciplining them. A rabbi allegedly took nearly half a million dollars from synagogue funds and congregants to hide an illicit relationship with a teenage boy. Clergy committing sexual abuse crosses denominations, geography and social class. The Rev. Marie Fortune reports:


“Research on sexual involvement between clergy and congregants is sparse, but research and media reports of charges and civil or criminal actions suggest that between 10 and 20 percent of clergy violate sexual boundaries in their professional relationships. Although the vast majority of pastoral offenders in reported cases are heterosexual males and the vast majority of victims are heterosexual females, neither gender nor sexual orientation excludes anyone from the risk of offending (clergy) or from the possibility of being taken advantage of (congregants/clients) in the pastoral or counseling relationship.”[1]


We respond with surprise and revulsion, expressing shock that someone in a position of religious authority can violate the trust we place in him or her. We rightly call for swift exposure, condemnation and punishment, but all after the fact. While there are no quick fixes, there are steps we can take to make clergy safe for those they serve.


What makes clergy unsafe? In my experience as a rabbi and therapist who works with clergy, clergy are no different from other abusers in motive, just in opportunity. Although we might resist admitting it, we possess all the same human weaknesses as everyone else. We are insecure, desirous of being loved, anxious about doing the right thing, depressed about the state of the world, over-worked, confused about power and unclear about personal and professional boundaries. It isn’t that we don’t possess intellectual knowledge of the difference between right and wrong. What we often lack is emotional self-awareness and the usual outlets for talking.


It’s counterintuitive to think of clergy as people with no opportunity to talk. Clergy talk all the time: from the pulpit, in the classroom, on television, in boardrooms and in hospital rooms. We speak as experts in those contexts. People look to us for words of truth and solace. But whom can we trust with our own deepest fears and doubts? We know we need to share our personal stories, but if we confide in a board member, we can’t be sure our intimate details won’t become grist for the congregational mill. And how can we be sure that that very act of confidence does not, in itself, constitute a boundary violation? We face the challenge of where to find friends if not within the community to which we are devoted day and night.




From Generation to Degeneration: Declining American Jewish Kinship with Israel?



Over the past five years, my wife and I have spent about six weeks each year in Israel. We’re clearly not Israeli citizens, but we’re more than occasional visitors. Like many, we have family and close friends in Israel, and are intentionally deepening those relationships and making new ones. Whenever we return from a visit, we’re asked, “What did you see this time?” While we enjoy museums, concerts, new wineries, restaurants and archaeological findings, we most enjoy being with family and friends and, for me, getting my spiritual fix.


With more frequent visits, I’ve become more aware of the differences between the American and Israeli Jewish communities. Yom ha’Atzmaut felt like the right time to share some reflections… and to ask you for your opinions.


The modern state of Israel is only 67 years old. Although Israel is the indisputable historic homeland of the Jewish people, in its current iteration, it is young. In fact, my parents are older than the modern State of Israel. Israel is only about 10 years older than my wife and me, over 40 years older than my children, and well over 60 years older for some of my friends who have grandchildren.





Doing this simple, personal math clearly reminds me that within the American Jewish community, there are two generations that can remember the fragility of the State of Israel, and two generations (going on three) that think that Israel is an outsized global powerhouse. Because of such a significant divide, I wonder to what extent the words “from generation to generation,” that imply continuity of values and kinship, apply to the majority of American Jews who are third generation and beyond. They do not have personal living memories of Israel’s vulnerability but are routinely reminded of Israel’s deficiencies. In daily doses of media images and text, they absorb a one-sided, distorted view of Israel, where Israel almost always does wrong and rarely can do right.




Showing Up (Guest Blog Post by Rabbi Jason Weiner)



“When in doubt, show up.” These simple words are the heart of Rabbi Jason Weiner’s essay, and appear in the online version of Keeping Faith in Rabbis: A Community Conversation on Rabbinical Education. Rabbi Weiner shares his experience of the journey he traveled to defining his rabbinate as spiritual caregiver, illustrates what it means to “show up” in people’s lives, and the impact that act can have. As I reread his essay, I began to think more broadly about the power of his message. Even if we’re not suffering from a medical condition, does the relentless pace of life and its attendant turmoil subtract from our spirituality? And with the right training, can rabbis help people reclaim their spiritual selves? Please share your thoughts at https://www.facebook.com/rabbihayimherring. You’ll also find six additional online essays and archived discussions on everything from “disrupting” the rabbinate to the application of “adaptive leadership” theory  (Heifetz and Linksy) to rabbinic education. And please also share your responses to the book, too!



Showing Up: What I learned but didn’t know during rabbinical school

By Rabbi Jason Weiner, BCC


Rabbi WeinerIn rabbinical school, I learned, “if you visit your congregants when they are sick, they will only remember your best sermon, whereas if you don’t visit them, they will only remember your worst sermon.” A mentor of mine disagreed, stating “If you visit them when they are sick, it won’t matter at all what you say in your sermons!”


Initially, I found this idea very comforting. Simply being there for people seemed far easier than preparing sophisticated, inspiring, original sermons on a weekly basis. On the other hand, since my pastoral counseling classes taught me to refer complicated cases to professionals, I assumed their more sophisticated interventions would profoundly benefit a congregant’s life.  After all, if all I knew how to do was just to “show up,” I couldn’t help feeling sorely inadequate. Furthermore, I didn’t really understand the “just show up” principle – which runs counter to everything I am as a person and as the professional I wanted to be – and I wondered how I could possibly put it into practice when the occasion arose.  It was only when I became a rabbi and began putting this theory into practice that I started to appreciate its profundity.


In one of my first weeks on the job as a congregational assistant rabbi, the senior rabbi was out of town and one of our congregants passed away. I officiated at the funeral in our synagogue, but once it concluded and the family headed to the airport to escort the deceased to Israel for burial, I didn’t know what to do. Was I supposed to drive to the airport to see them off or had I already done my job? I had to make a decision quickly and had no one to ask. I remembered the principle of “when in doubt, show up” and proceeded to the airport. Once I arrived I simply stood with the family until the deceased was taken away, and then wished them a safe flight.  Some weeks later, the family came to me and expressed their deep appreciation and gratitude for my being there in their time of need. Although I thought I had done nothing, I began to more fully appreciate the wisdom of “showing up.”


Similarly, soon after I began working as a hospital chaplain, one of our congregants was admitted as a patient. I made sure to stop by every day. Sometimes we engaged in conversation and even prayer, but the vast majority of days I did nothing more than say hello. A few days later, at our synagogue, I overheard this congregant tell a friend, “That rabbi was wonderful for me in the hospital. He took incredible care of me.” Incredible care?!? Most of our visits lasted less than a minute. Even when the visits lasted longer, I had nothing profound to say. All I did was listen to him talk.  It became clear to me that showing up, listening, and caring, make an enormous difference.  In some cases, it actually makes all the difference.  Especially when you, as clergy, represent holiness, tradition, and God to many people.


This teaching is also well-entrenched in traditional rabbinic sources.  The Torah states that Yitro instructed his son-in-law, Moses, to admonish the people to “make known to them the way they shall go and the deeds they shall do.”[1] The Talmud parses out the teachings embedded in every word of this verse. For example, “make known to them” means that the people must have a livelihood, “the way” refers to doing acts of kindness, and “that they shall go” refers to visiting the sick.[2] The Maharsha, one of the classic Talmudic commentaries, expresses surprise that “they shall go” implies visiting the sick, and explains that this teaches us that to “simply go there, without doing any specific action, fulfills the mitzvah.”[3]


The great Tzaddik of Jerusalem, Rabbi Aryeh Levin, frequently provided assistance to those suffering from mental illness. Specifically to people who needed support beyond what their physicians could offer.  Rabbi Levin’s good friend, Professor Halperin, head of the neurology department at Hadassah Hospital, would frequently refer mentally ill patients to the rabbi, and time after time Reb Aryeh succeeded in helping them.  On one occasion, Professor Halperin asked the rabbi, “Tell me, what is your secret? What do you say to these people with sick minds and emotions whom I send you?”  “I just listen patiently,” replied Reb Aryeh. Professor Halperin noted, “Listening is a wonderful method of healing. This is an important rule in psychiatry.” Reb Aryeh countered, “But I do not stop at listening alone. I also reveal a touch of empathy, of sharing in their troubles, and these sick people sense it and respond.”[4]


As a chaplain, I frequently encounter patients or families who have just suffered a loss, received a devastating diagnosis or experienced a trauma. There is frequently an impulse to reassure them that “everything is going to be okay” and attempt to find a practical way to relieve their pain. However, instead of encouraging false hope or trying to fix things, I have learned that sometimes, people need to grieve, and the best thing I can do is allow them to do so, while offering a non-anxious, compassionate presence. When done sincerely, this approach can communicate the single most important message of caring. Without trite platitudes, we can help people feel that we are with them in their pain, helping them realize that they will ultimately get through it. Although everyone wants to be a hero, “just showing up” and feeling the pain of others takes infinitely more courage and is much more difficult than imposing a “one size fits all” solution on deep wounds that cut directly into peoples’ souls. Giving advice or gifts often provides nothing more than a band aid on something that merits much more meaningful attention.


Learning this lesson has allowed me to develop the strength and courage to truly be there for the people I serve – to be with them, by their side, not imposing my goals or insecurities on them.  Although some may think that sitting with people and feeling their pain is inaction, it is often the most empowering intervention we as rabbis can provide.  By letting people recognize they are not alone in their pain, but they have been heard and valued, they can then be empowered to take whatever action is most meaningful to them. There are, of course, times when a rabbi will have to take the lead and be directive, but this is best accomplished only after truly understanding the needs and values of the congregant.  While this can be accomplished through various tools, such as reflective listening and reframing, the ultimate goal is to simply be the best possible listener we can be.


A most beautiful story about Rabbi Moshe Feinstein has helped me further in internalizing this teaching.  A woman who was sitting shiva was inconsolable. One evening, Reb Moshe showed up to be menachem avel (comfort the mourner). When he arrived, everyone stood up and cleared the room to give him privacy with the distraught woman. A number of minutes later, he exited the room, and all of the visitors returned to find the mourner’s tears dried for the first time during her entire shiva. Everyone was in awe. Did the great sage know the magic words to comfort this woman in desperate need? After a few moments of relief, someone got the nerve to ask the woman what words of wisdom Reb Moshe had shared that brought her such meaningful comfort. The woman looked at the group and explained, “he sat down, didn’t say a word, but tears welled up in his eyes. He continued to sit with me and silently felt my pain.” She went on to explain that Reb Moshe was the first person who didn’t attempt to make her feel better with trite sayings or focus more on his own discomfort than on hers. He then got up and left. Reb Moshe didn’t say a single word to this woman. It was his ability to sit with her and be fully present with her in her pain that brought her the comfort she sought. It can take a lifetime to truly inculcate this lesson, but we are all capable of practicing these behaviors, and our congregants are certainly worthy of this response in their times of need. I learned all about this approach in rabbinical school, but I could only come to know the simple truths, the profundity and transformative capacity of “just showing up,” of presence and of empathic listening, when I had left the classroom and began to experience the profound dramas of our daily lives.


[1] Exodus 18:20.

[2] Talmud Bavli, Bava Kama 99b-100a.

[3] Maharsha, Bava Metzia 30b.

[4] Raz, Simcha.  A Tzaddik in our Time:  The Life of Rabbi Aryeh Levin.  Jerusalem, NY: Feldheim, 1977, p. 138.



Rabbi Jason Weiner is Senior Rabbi and Manager of Spiritual Care Department at Cedars-Sinai medical Center, Los Angeles and a graduate of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, 2006.



The Day After BiBi



Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu spoke in the Halls of Congress yesterday and the world did not end. Full disclosure: I strongly disagree with many of Bibi’s policies, but I think that I understand decision. He made a leadership choice. You can almost reconstruct his internal debate on the wisdom of addressing Congress: “Does my trust in an enduring relationship with the United States override my doubt about breaching diplomatic protocol? Do I risk seriously offending some leaders of my country’s staunchest ally, or am I compelled to use the world’s most far-reaching microphone to broadcast a looming threat to my country and to all Western democracies?”


It’s likely that approaching Israeli political elections played a role in the Prime Minister’s decision to address Congress. But was his choice primarily driven by politics? Not likely, because the cost of alienating Israel’s finest and consistently reliable ally is potentially steep, and it’s not likely that Bibi changed many minds or captured many hearts in the Israeli electorate


What I do know is that when you reach a certain stage in life, you are obligated to tell the truth as you see it, as unpopular as it may be, using whatever means you have at your disposal. Hopefully, you do so unequivocally and respectfully (and on this point, both President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu crossed some fundamental lines of minimal mutual respect). That’s what leaders do. That’s how they get to ultimately sleep at night, knowing that they did everything within their means to highlight a potentially catastrophic error.


I was opposed to Bibi’s speaking to Congress, but I don’t fault him anymore than I would fault President Obama for exercising his right to pursue the truth as he sees it. I also don’t think that either of these two leaders is primarily politically motivated to score points at the other’s expense. They simply have unbridgeable views of the world.




Adding Context to the Diminishing Rabbinical School Enrollment Numbers

By Rabbi Hayim Herring and Rabbi Jason Miller


In Josh Nathan-Kazis’s recent article in the Jewish Daily Forward, “Where Are All the Non-Orthodox Rabbis?”, he presents the current enrollment trends of the non-Orthodox rabbinical schools. These numbers, showing decline in both the incoming and graduating classes appear to be shocking. What Nathan-Kazis is clearly missing is context.


While it is true that Hebrew Union College, the Jewish Theological Seminary and the American Jewish University’s Ziegler School have all noticed declined enrollment in the past decade, much of the reason for this is a more crowded, and therefore competitive, landscape. More options mean aspiring rabbis no longer feel compelled to matriculate in denominational-specific seminaries. The newly created liberal non-denominational rabbinical program at Hebrew College has experienced increased student enrollment in the past few years and that certainly has impacted the enrollment numbers at the more established seminaries. Yeshivat Chovevi Torah, while Orthodox, has also presented competition to JTS since it opened in the late 1990s.


Jewish Theological Seminary

The more crowded landscape, which Nathan-Kazis alludes to doesn’t tell the entire story. One might be led to presume that the declining enrollment numbers at these denominational-specific institutions is analogous to a decline in the enrollment at VCR repair classes at a technology school. VCRs might be obsolete in the 21st century, but liberal Judaism is still alive and well and very much in need of rabbis. So, what’s the rest of the story?


Here are some thoughts that aptly put Nathan-Kazis’s piece in context and provide for what would be a more thoughtful discussion about the future of rabbinical school.




Disrupting the Rabbinate (Guest Post: Rabbi Rebecca Sirbu)



This week’s guest blog post on Keeping Faith in Rabbis: A Community Conversation on Rabbinical Education is about disruption and rabbinical leadership. Some are troubled with the pairing of “disruption” and “rabbis,” but every professional practice is being upended, and the rabbinate is no exception. As our guest, Rabbi Rebecca Sirbu, illustrates, rabbis have the power to disrupt how American Jews experience Jewish life. Disruption is the not the end goal, but the means to blow open accessibility to Jewish life and community, as she illustrates below.


Disrupting the Rabbinate

 Rabbi Rebecca Sirbu


Rabbi_Rebecca_SirbuThe rabbinate is being disrupted. Like many other fields, journalism and healthcare among them, technological and societal changes are disrupting the traditional role of a rabbi. In Hayim Herring’s new book, Keeping Faith in Rabbis: A Community Conversation on Rabbinical Education, Barak Richman and Daniel Libenson compare changes in the healthcare field to changes in the rabbinate. They argue that in both professions there is a mismatch between the education the professionals receive and the real needs of the people they are being trained to serve. Both professions need to reorganize or “disrupt” their delivery methods in order to be accessible and useful to the populations they serve.


“Disruptive innovation” is a term coined by Clay Christensen. According to Wikipedia, “a disruptive innovation is an innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network (over a few years or decades), displacing an earlier technology. The term is used in business and technology literature to describe innovations that improve a product or service in ways that the market does not expect, typically first by designing for a different set of consumers in a new market and later by lowering prices in the existing market.” Wikipedia is itself a disruptive innovation. The creation of a print encyclopedia like The Encyclopedia Britannica is a costly and time consuming endeavor. Thinking that volunteers could create content on the web which can be continually updated for free and available to anyone with an internet hook up at no cost to them disrupted the entire encyclopedia printing industry. Blogs and Twitter feeds are disrupting journalism. WedMD and patient support sites are disrupting the healthcare industry.


The easy accessibility of information on the internet about religion, combined with shifting societal and demographic changes are also disrupting the rabbinate. Fewer people are joining congregations which in turn have less money to spend on a highly educated rabbi. Richman and Libenson argue that that the rabbinic profession should embrace the pursuit of “right skilling,” meaning that rabbis should be used only when their particular expertise is necessary. Rabbinic expertise is necessary in certain situations, but in other situations less expensive Jewish educators or professionals should be used, thus saving the user money. In addition, they advocate that rabbis specialize in certain areas, pastoral care or Jewish education for example, and be used when those specific skills are called for. They float a model where rabbis could join in a group practice where each rabbi has his or her own area of expertise. This practice could then contract with a handful of synagogues providing the right rabbi for the right need at any given time. It is an intriguing idea. Instead of one rabbi trying to serve a variety of needs and while trying to be a jack of all trades, a rabbi who is particularly talented in one area could serve in that area. The right skills could be used at the right time. This model would certainly upend the traditional one rabbi per synagogue model that currently exists.


Many other disruptive ideas are currently being tried out in the Jewish marketplace. Rabbis Without Borders is a network of creative rabbis who are constantly challenging each other to find innovations in the way we serve the Jewish community. Rabbis representing every denomination, including non-denominational rabbis, join a one year fellowship program which pushes them to go beyond the borders of their rabbinates. By creating a space where rabbis representing the cross section of the American rabbinate from different movements, geographic areas and experiences come together to open their minds to new ideas, we are transforming the rabbinate from the inside. Bringing together diverse groups of people and viewpoints causes creativity to flourish. After the fellowship, the rabbis join the ongoing Rabbis Without Borders network where they continue to support each other in their work. Many new innovations are arising. In fact, ten percent of the organizations featured in the Slingshot Guide to America’s most innovative Jewish programs are staffed by Rabbis Without Borders Fellows.


Disruptions are occurring to the delivery system of Jewish experiences, to the content of those experiences, and to the very essence of what it means to be a community. Rabbi Andrew Jacobs has created Chai Tech to revolutionize the Bar and Bat Mitzvah Experience. “With an internet connection and a computer, tablet or smartphone, bar/bat mitzvah students can prepare for their big day wherever they are, whenever they can. No more schlepping to the synagogue or the tutor. Once you go Chai Tech, bar/bat mitzvah preparation works easily into your busy schedule. Everything is online – including a teacher who monitors your child’s progress and keeps you informed using an advanced, online learning management system.” This new model certainly makes bar mitzvah study accessible to everyone.


New Jewish spiritual experiences are being created by Rabbi Shefa Gold who takes phrases from the liturgy and Torah and sets them to music as a chant practice. The texts are not new to Jews, nor is the idea of a chant practice, after all the Torah is chanted. Yet, she creates an innovative spiritual experience that allows the user to enter the tradition in a new way by chanting a single verse over and over.


Even the idea of what makes a synagogue community is being rethought. It used to be that a synagogue community was defined by its number of “membership units” who paid “dues” to the synagogues. Rabbi Elan Babchuck among others is rethinking this model. People now join the synagogue “family” and make a “voluntary financial contribution.” No one is turned away for lack of ability to pay dues. The language encourages a model where people will want to support their family. This is turning the traditional membership and dues structure on its head. Under this new structure this synagogue is thriving and others are adopting similar models.


This is just a small sample of the many ideas are now being experimented with in the Jewish world. Rabbis must innovate to serve the needs of a changing and more diverse population. We have an amazing resource in the deep wisdom and traditions of our religion. Clinging to old ways of doing things will not make this wisdom accessible to the millions of people who are looking for spiritual guidance and fulfillment. Let’s keep experimenting to find what works for the real needs of people today.


Rabbi Rebecca W. Sirbu is the Director of Rabbis Without Borders at CLAL – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.




We Need Green Rabbis



In honor of Tu B’Shevat, I’m pleased to publish a guest blog post on the need for “Green Rabbis,” by David Krantz, president and chairperson of the Aytzim: Ecological Judaism (first posted on aytzim.org). It’s a perfect fit for the online component of Keeping Faith in Rabbis. A Community Conversation about Rabbinical Education. Of the many submissions that I received, this was the only one highlighting the importance of incorporating environmental thought and action into rabbinical education—a case that the author makes convincingly. Do you agree? 


By David Krantz


NEW YORK (Feb. 3, 2015 / erev Tu B’Shvat, 5775) — Meals served on Styrofoam plates with plastic utensils. Trays of leftover food simply thrown away. And the lights left on all night. From synagogues to Jewish student centers, these are very common Shabbat experiences. Clearly there is a gap between modern Jewish practice and environmental values. But there’s also a large gap between modern Jewish practice and the environmental tenets of Judaism.


Judaism is an inherently environmental religion, with so much written about it, by myself[1] and many others — particularly rabbis Ellen Bernstein,[2] Fred Scherlinder Dobb,[3] David Sears,[4] David Seidenberg,[5] Lawrence Troster[6] and Arthur Waskow,[7] and profs. Richard Schwartz,[8] Hava Tirosh-Samuelson[9] and Martin Yaffe[10] — that I don’t need to repeat here the extent of environmental values present in Jewish laws, customs and practice. Still, outside of the nascent Jewish-environmental movement, I rarely meet rabbis who are familiar with Jewish-environmental wisdom. Usually, as a leader of a Jewish-environmental nonprofit, Aytzim: Ecological Judaism, I am asked by rabbis what’s Jewish about environmentalism. It is the extent to which Jewish clergy and, in turn, their communities, are unaware of the environmentalism that flows through Judaism that is troubling. And that lack of knowledge, in part, can be traced to the lack of Jewish-environmental education in rabbinical schools.


Yet two new studies indicate that the Jewish community is increasingly drawn to the Jewish environmental movement. A survey by the Green Hevra, a network of Jewish environmental organizations, found across the United States and Canada more than 120 Jewish-environmental initiatives that combine to reach more than 670,000 people annually.[11] And a second study coordinated by Hazon found that more than 80 percent of those who participate in immersive Jewish outdoor, food and environmental education programs report an increased sense of hope for the Jewish people.”[12]


While Jews are being attracted to Jewish environmentalism in ever-growing numbers, rabbinical schools are largely failing to prepare their students — our future rabbis — to engage environmentally minded communities. And, perhaps worse, Jews who have not come into contact with the Jewish environmental movement continue to see environmentalism as a solely secular, rather than a Jewish, value. Judaism actually speaks to their values, but they don’t know that because their rabbis don’t know it either.


So what can be done? The Jewish social-justice movement provides a good case study.


Jews today certainly know about social justice — what we often call tikkun olam, or literally, “repairing the world.” It seems the phrase is everywhere in Jewish life nowadays. But that wasn’t always the case. Historically, the first Jewish social-service organizations in the United States began in the early 1800s[13] — and it wasn’t until the mid-1800s that Luigi Taparelli D’Azeglio, an Italian Jesuit priest, coined the term “social justice” itself.[14] The modern Jewish social-justice movement, like its secular contemporary, developed in the 1950s and 1960s[15] and today across the country there are hundreds of Jewish social-justice initiatives, including 25 national groups in the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable.[16]


The growth of the Jewish social-justice movement has paralleled the embracement of Jewish social justice by rabbinical schools. Currently, most major American rabbinical schools include Jewish social justice in their curricula and activities, and several join together to run social-justice workshops. The Orthodox movement’s Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in New York regularly sponsors tikkun olam programs. The Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, in suburban Philadelphia, incorporates a social-justice organizing program. The transdenominational Hebrew College, outside Boston, hosts what it calls a “global social justice beit midrash.” And the New York campus of the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College even runs its own soup kitchen for the community.


It’s time for rabbinical schools to embrace Jewish environmentalism in the same way. Every rabbinical school should offer, and ideally require, at least one course in Jewish environmentalism. Rabbinical schools should examine and minimize their own environmental footprints. And rabbinical schools should follow the lead of Hebrew College, which recently teamed with Jewish Farm School to offer a for-credit intensive course on sustainable agriculture.


Which rabbinical school will lead the way by offering an academic focus in Jewish environmentalism? Which will be the first to eliminate landfill trash and recycle and compost all of its waste? And which will be the first to forsake fossil fuels and go carbon neutral?


Jewish clergy should be leading the community with environmental thought and action. That’s why Aytzim has joined forces with GreenFaith to launch Shomrei Breishit: Rabbis and Cantors for the Earth.[17] But that’s not enough. Rabbinical schools need to be more active in Jewish-environmental education. We need Jewish clergy who understand Jewish environmental wisdom as well as they know traditions governing Shabbat. After all, protecting the Earth is one of the first commandments in the Torah.[18] Rabbinical schools would be wise to heed the Torah’s sustainability call. A new generation of green-minded Jews needs the guidance of a new generation of green-minded rabbis.


[1] Krantz, David, ed. Jewish Energy Guide. Green Zionist Alliance (now Aytzim) and the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, 2014.


[2] Author of Ecology and the Jewish Spirit: Where Nature and the Sacred Meet (2000: Jewish Lights); Splendor of Creation: A Biblical Ecology (2005: Pilgrim Press); and, with Dan Fink, Let the Earth Teach You Torah (1992: Shomrei Adamah).


[3] Author of Sustained Sustainability: Eco-Judaism in the Pulpit, Enriched with Interfaith Intersections (2009: Doctoral thesis).


[4] Author of The Vision of Eden: Animal Welfare and Vegetarianism in Jewish Law and Mysticism (2003: Orot).


[5] Author of Ecology and Kabbalah: God’s Image in the More-Than-Human World (Forthcoming 2015: Cambridge University Press).


[6] Author of Mekor Hayyim: A Source Book on Water and Judaism (2012: United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism).


[7] Editor of Torah of the Earth: Exploring 4,000 Years of Ecology in Jewish Thought: Biblical Israel and Rabbinic Judaism (2000: Jewish Lights); and co-editor of Trees, Earth, and Torah: A Tu B’Shvat Anthology (2000: Jewish Publication Society).


[8] Author of Judaism and Vegetarianism (1982: Lantern Books); Judaism and Global Survival (2002: Lantern Books); and, with Yonassan Gershom, Who Stole My Religion? Revitalizing Judaism and Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal Our Imperiled Planet (2012: Lulu).


[9] Editor of Judaism and Ecology: Created World and Revealed Word (2003: Center for the Study of World Religions).


[10] Editor of Judaism and Environmental Ethics (2001: Lexington Books).


[11] Gleanings from Our Field: Green Hevra Report 2014. Green Hevra, 2014.


[12] Seeds of Opportunity: A National Study of Immersive Jewish Outdoor, Food, and Environmental Education (JOFEE). Informing Change, 2014.


[13] Diner, Hasia R. The Jews of the United States, 1654 — 2000. University of California Press, 2006.


[14] Zajda, Joseph I., ed. Globalization, Education and Social Justice, Springer, 2009.


[15] Cohen, Steven M., and Fine, Leonard. American Jews and Their Social Justice Involvement: Evidence from a National Survey. Amos – The National Jewish Partnership for Social Justice, 2001.


[16] Jewish Social Justice Roundtable, members and allies: http://jewishsocialjustice.org/members


[17] Membership for Jewish clergy and rabbinical and cantorial students is free at: http://aytzim.org/rce


[18] See Genesis 2:15, which commands us to serve and guard (often mistranslated as “till and tend”) the Earth.


David Krantz is the president and chairperson of the Aytzim: Ecological Judaism.





Guest Post: Rabbi Jonah Rank



When my co-editor, Ellie Roscher, and I called for essays in our recently published book, Keeping Faith in Rabbis: A Community Conversation on Rabbinical Education, we invited laypeople, rabbis and educators of rabbis to submit essays. We received one submission from a full-time rabbinical student—something that we hadn’t anticipated. However, using some creative Talmudic logic, I suggested to Ellie that he is also a layperson, so why let a technicality prevent a good essay from making it online? This week’s guest post is by Jonah Rank, a layperson who is a fifth year rabbinical student. We invite other rabbinical students to respond to his comments on a desire from a more customized, individualized curriculum designed around students’ needs.



Seeking 70 Faces In Rabbinic Training

By Jonah Rank

It’s tough to say what it is that makes someone a rabbi since almost anything rabbis do is something someone else can do: officiate at any Jewish life cycle event, lead prayer services, study Torah, teach Torah, or even decide matters of Jewish law. It’s not that rabbinic roles have been usurped by educated Jews, but being a rabbi has never been about just one thing. Rabbis have taken on many shapes throughout history: legalists, mystics, preachers, storytellers, sages, pastoral caregivers, kosher slaughterers, synagogue administrators, teachers, and more.


rabbi-jonah-rankWith outstanding scholars founding many of the great rabbinical schools of North America and Western Europe during the past two centuries, the rabbinate has morphed from being less of a personalized response to a spiritual calling and more of a mass-produced, certified, nearly-unionized profession. In an age when professional Jews are accused of stuffiness and being spiritually boring, some might lament that a Jewish community that has grown apathetic has long outgrown the “one-size-fits-all” curricular tendencies of the ivory tower schools built by academics. But, especially in the non-Orthodox Jewish world, it is rare that a brick-and-mortar rabbinical training school can succeed both in providing for the needs of the students and maintaining a stable faculty. If we are therefore to seek models of pedagogy housed in physical buildings that tend to the individualized needs of each student, we must ask ourselves: How could one possibly design an institutionalized rabbinic education that still permits students vast agency in customizing their own trajectory?


In recent years, many rabbinical schools (including the one I attend, the Jewish Theological Seminary) have laudably granted increased freedom of choice to students in determining their course of study. In the abstract, I have nonetheless been curious to work out what would be the maximal amount of independence a student can have in a rabbinical school that still met accreditation standards, still had required courses for all students, and still covered “traditional” material that I (along with a smattering of friends, teachers and colleagues) felt would be vital for a rabbinic education.


Two years ago, I conducted an informal survey via Facebook, phone calls, and face-to-face conversations, where I spoke with approximately 30 prospective, current and former rabbinical students from several rabbinical schools. I asked my colleagues and colleagues-to-be what they deemed essential to a rabbinic education—course-wise and otherwise. Were I to design a rabbinical school based off of the suggestions I received at that time, it would take over 8 years to become a rabbi. In order to permit that students would be able to graduate within 5 years (a long but arguably reasonable amount of time to be in rabbinical school), I would suggest that some of the narrower interests suggested during my surveying can come in the form of electives that surround a common core curriculum of rabbinic education that all rabbinic students share. Surrounding a rabbinical school’s curricular academic core—the lead melody that all students must sing—students and their mentors must work collaboratively and creatively to arrange a suitable orchestration to accompany the song of a rabbinic education.


Certain themes that underlie the resultant curriculum I tried to design for a hypothetical rabbinical school differ significantly from current trends in many rabbinical schools:


  • The creation of a non-professional track for rabbinic studies, still resulting in Semikhah (ordination), alongside a professional track granting a degree alongside Semikhah;
  • The rabbinical school offering a variety of curricular paths (e.g., differing curricula for those seeking to highlight social justice in their rabbinate vs. those seeking to highlight academia in their rabbinate vs. those seeking to highlight synagogue-work in their rabbinate, etc.);
  • A requirement that every rabbinical student has, prior to ordination, learned a Jewish “trade” (e.g., a social “trade” such as counseling, a Jewish art “trade” such as Jewish storytelling, a “hand trade” such as building a mikveh, or a knowledge trade such as becoming a mashgi’ach to supervise the kosher status of food);
  • An intense combination of personal theological reflections; academic studies of history and language; contemplating expanding roles for interfaith collaboration; and increased familiarity with Jewish legal and other rabbinic genres of texts.


These bullet points yield merely an unpolished outline of this imagined rabbinic education I have referred to as “Shiv’im Panim” (the “70 faces” of a multifaceted Torah-education) in an essay now published on my website. I hope that the fantasy rabbinical school curriculum I have designed and now made public might help others in designing new templates and models of rabbinic education that increasingly nourish the souls of those who walk the halls of our academies.


Jonah Rank is a musician, and, as of May 2015, a rabbi ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary, where Jonah is currently studying for an M.A. in Jewish mysticism. Since 2006, Jonah has worked on new liturgical projects for the Rabbinical Assembly, most notably as the secretary to Mahzor Lev Shalem (released in 2010) and Siddur Lev Shalem (forthcoming).




What Counts Most in a Rabbinical Search Process



Rabbis can make or break a congregation. In fact the same rabbi at one stage that helps make a congregation successful can later find himself or herself the source of congregational contention. Dr. Bob Karasov, is a physician with extensive training in adaptive leadership. Bob has spent a lifetime of volunteer service to the Jewish community in Minneapolis and beyond, and is currently a president of a congregation considering a search for a full-time rabbi. As many rabbis are now considering a move to a new congregation, and many congregations are exploring the possibilities of changing rabbis, his insights are especially timely and universally applicable for rabbis, congregational presidents and members of rabbinical search committees. Bob also has an essay in my recently published book, Keeping Faith in Rabbis: A Community Conversation on Rabbinical Education, and you can read his outstanding essay that explores this and other topics in much greater depth.



Reflections by Dr. Bob Karasov, President of Darchei Noam Congregation, Minneapolis, MN


At Darchei Noam Congregation, where I am president, we are trying to decide whether to hire a full time, in town rabbi, or continue with our current model of an out of town rabbi who comes monthly. Members in favor of a full time rabbi are looking for spiritual growth, both as individuals and as a congregation, increased learning opportunities and growth in membership. Members opposed fear losing our lay led feeling, worry that a rabbi could be divisive and worry about hiring someone who is the wrong philosophical fit for our modern Orthodox shul.  We were a breakaway 10 years ago because of rabbinic dissatisfaction at another shul and there is great fear of history repeating itself.


Passions on this issue run high. People fear losing what they love. No one answer will satisfy everyone.


This is an example of an adaptive challenge. Adaptive challenges cannot be fixed by authority figures. If I, as president, ram through what I want, the congregation will become polarized and I will become the focus of anger. People look to leaders for guidance and to fix things, but adaptive problems can’t be fixed by leaders.  The leader can only raise the issues, orchestrate the conflict, force people to face the competing values, which all have merit, and collectively reach a conclusion which usually involves some people giving up some of their cherished ideals. Leaders can also provide vision and make it safe for people to express their views.


Rabbis and congregations face adaptive challenges all the time.  In fact, new rabbis are often hired because there is dissatisfaction with the status quo. Usually, there are factions left over from the prior rabbi.  New rabbis are often ill-equipped to deal with these issues as rabbinic education typically focuses on the technical aspects of being a rabbi. There are many technical problems that require an expert to fix them. Clearly, rabbis need that expertise, becoming the expert in Halacha, TaNaCh and ritual, to name a few.  Rabbis frequently play the role of sage one the stage and trusted advisor.


But in today’s society, people no longer defer to authority the way they once did. For rabbis to be successful, they need training in how to exercise leadership with adaptive problems.  And, the most difficult adaptive challenges leaders must face, are their own internal ones.  Rabbis and all leaders need to develop self-awareness to recognize these internal adaptive challenges and how they contribute to the problem at hand.


How are their actions driven by their need for power, control, or the need to be loved? Most people become rabbis because they want to help people and make the world a better place. When congregants come to rabbis for help or to fix things, rabbis can easily be seduced by these drives and set themselves up for failure. Then the rabbi, and what they did wrong, becomes the focus, rather than the problem he/she was trying to fix.


You have all lead groups through adaptive challenges. Rabbi Jeffrey Brown describes it in his article about intermarriage (in Keeping Faith in Rabbis: A Community Conversation on Rabbinical Education).  It is somewhat intuitive.  But like everything else, some do it better than others.  I teach adaptive leadership in the Physician Leadership College at St Thomas University to Drs. who are already in leadership roles.  Our goals are to create capacity in them to exercise adaptive leadership, to build an educational framework so that they can better observe what is happening, interpret the situation and intervene successfully, and finally to build resilience because leading through adaptive challenges is hard, and the leader is under a lot of pressure to fix things and lower the stress. This model could work well for rabbis as well.


Teaching rabbis to recognize which problems are technical and which are adaptive and learn how to guide their congregations and themselves through adaptive challenges, will lead to happier and more successful rabbis and congregations.