Posts Tagged ‘rabbi’

 

What Happens When Leaders Disconnect Goals from Values?

Posted on: May 4th, 2017 by Hayim Herring No Comments

Disclaimer: Like many of my blog posts, this blog is about leadership and Jewish values. Examples that refer to President Trump are to illustrate enduring points about leadership.)

About nine months prior to the 2016 presidential election, I dramatically cut back on my news consumption. Many respected journalists and political experts refused to accept that candidate Trump was going to totally disrupt presidential campaigns and continued to seek “evidence” Trump eventually would behave more like a “normal leader.” Often, their analyses masqueraded as speculation and gossip. Post-election, some of the better journalists across the political spectrum have regained their footing and are working their investigative and analytical skills more critically about the nature of President Trump’s leadership. My interest in raising the question, “What kind of leader is Donald Trump?” comes trying to understand what Jewish wisdom has to say about a leader who consistently says and does one thing and then within a short time frame, does the opposite.

Not too long ago, we used to call this lying and, in my mind, it still is. Donald Trump redefined campaigning, just as he is redefining the office of the presidency, and it’s possible that more people like him will now consider running for public office. Politicians will devise their own strategies for dealing with someone like Donald Trump. But how can clergy use their public voice to express dismay over any leader who lies regularly about significant issues by asserting one position, only to withdraw it soon after?

Hayim Herring Consultant

Here’s a very relevant insight from an ancient sage, Rabban Gamliel, who lived in the first Century C.E. – a very politically active time in Israel. He said, “Not all who engage in much business become wise” (Avot 2:6, Sefaria translation). Though ancient, this rabbi’s insight sounds fresh. He warned against equating business acumen with overall wisdom. True, an experienced business person may have abundant talent in one specific area, but that experience does not automatically confer any virtues upon that individual. It’s the same as anyone who shows a level of athletic prowess or artistic brilliance. At a minimum, it means that they have a deep unique talent in at least one area of life. But excellence in one area of life does not automatically make someone wise or virtuous in other areas of life.

People like Donald Trump have built their reputations around being “winners.” Winning is a goal whose means are amoral, meaning that morality or other virtues, if they are at all considerations, are secondary to “winning.” Whether an amoral leader seals a “deal with the devil” or seals a “deal with the deity” (our better angels) is irrelevant. That doesn’t mean that values are unimportant, but such considerations are utilitarian means to the end of “winning.” If they help, fine. If not, that’s also fine. It’s winning that counts, not so much how you get there.

The drive to be a success in business is a goal, and goals lack inherent moral values. Some successful business people become truly wise and realize that success is a privilege to use in service of others. Some experienced business people never become wise enough to realize that winning for its own sake turns them into amoral leaders. And amoral leaders are likely to make a higher percentage of immoral choices. Why? Because whichever partner offers the better odds of achieving the goal of winning-regardless of beliefs they hold or reprehensible actions they’ve taken-is the best partner.

For my clergy friends: if you want to try to anticipate Trump’s next move, then try and think like a person for whom winning overrides moral considerations. Then, acting morally, have several scenarios that anticipate possible next moves and mobilize accordingly. As we might see more individuals with strong business backgrounds who believe that goals override values, seeking to unsettle the political establishment in future elections, remembering that, “Not all who engage in much business become wise” (Avot 2:6, Sefaria translation) is good advice to guide us in preparing for rocky political roads ahead.

Educating Rabbis for Jews without Borders

Posted on: May 11th, 2015 by Hayim Herring

 

 

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 Entrepreneurship Education Missing from Seminary Training

Posted on: December 3rd, 2014 by Hayim Herring

 

Keeping Faith in Rabbis: A Community Conversation on Rabbinical Education, has just been published. Thanks to our essayists, it’s “#1 new release in Jewish life on Amazon!” I asked Rabbi Jason Miller to share his thoughts on the “entrepreneurial rabbinate.” Some rabbis who work in congregations and other Jewish organizations are clearly innovators, while others have stepped outside of the Jewish organizational world to innovate. Jason’s work keeps one of his feet firmly planted in Jewish world, and the other in the entrepreneurial world. Having a rabbi with a multifaceted rabbinate is a model that is worth exploring as a part of the ongoing conversation on 21st Century rabbinical education and leadership that I hope Keeping Faith in Rabbis will engender.

 

The Entrepreneurship Education Missing from Seminary Training

Rabbi Jason Miller


Rabbi Jason Miller of Detroit, MichiganWhen my teacher and friend Rabbi Hayim Herring asked me to write about how well I think rabbinical programs prepare us rabbis for the rabbinate, I was both honored and flustered. Although I write blog posts and articles frequently with no hesitation, I put this task off for several months. Was it writer’s block? No. So why then have I struggled to flesh out my thoughts on what is missing from today’s seminary training of rabbinical students?

 

Throughout my ten years in the rabbinate I have seen myself as an entrepreneur and marketed myself as such (social media marketing is my niche). It is my strong belief that a successful rabbi (feel free to substitute rabbi with any other faith leader) in the 21st century is as much an entrepreneur as she is an educator, counselor or conduit to God. Today’s seminaries do not adequately train rabbis for a career of entrepreneurship. That’s my simple answer to Rabbi Herring’s question. Why then did I hesitate to simply sit down and articulate that thesis? My hesitation comes from the love and appreciation I have for my rabbinical training.

 

I recall being sent to a large Conservative synagogue during my first year in the rabbinical school of the Jewish Theological Seminary to speak about the Seminary on behalf of the development department. I delivered a sermon on Shabbat morning extolling the Seminary and its many contributions to Jewish scholarship. I spoke about how the Seminary was training me well to be a successful 21st century rabbi (we were on the eve of the new century at the time). Walking back to the rabbi’s home following Shabbat services, the rabbi suddenly stopped walking and looked me in the eyes. He asked me if I really believed what I said about the Seminary preparing my colleagues and me for the future or if it was just some bullshit that the Seminary told me to say. When I explained that it was from the heart, he told me about his experience at the same institution some twenty years prior. He told me that he and his classmates called the institution “the Cemetery” because it was a spiritually dead place to be everyday. The rabbi told me that despite — not because of — his Seminary experience, he loves being a rabbi today.

 

That rabbi’s experience was certainly not shared by me. I am grateful for my Seminary education and the enjoyable experience I had at the Seminary (1998-2004). I learned a great deal from a talented cadre of professors who influenced me in very positive ways. I also met some wonderful people who have become lifelong friends. In short, I appreciated my rabbinical training while I was a Seminary student and I look back on those years with admiration and appreciation. That being said, it doesn’t mean that the Seminary taught its students everything it should have during my time as a student there.

 

A couple years ago the Jewish Daily Forward published an editorial demonstrating how much the American rabbinate has changed in the 21st century because the economy has made it difficult for many rabbis to find good jobs. The editorial argued that because of the economic downturn at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, rabbis — both young and old — were having to become entrepreneurial in their rabbinate. I would assert that rabbis have always had to be entrepreneurial. Even before the Digital Age when a rabbi can launch a blog and teach Torah to millions around the world, rabbis had to find new and innovative ways to engage. Today, the rabbi has to be even more entrepreneurial and it’s up to the seminaries to shift academic focus and teach more practical business courses.

 

Prof. Jonathan Sarna of Brandeis University predicted that rabbis in the 21st century would have to become more entrepreneurial based on shifting demographics and the needs of the community. I don’t see this as a crisis in American Jewry, but rather the perfect opportunity for rabbis to become more entrepreneurial– both as a way to be relevant and to make a significant contribution to our people. Rabbis who see this as a chance to reinvent their rabbinate will ultimately be the most successful in the new era of Jewish life and rabbis who come out of their seminary training thinking like entrepreneurs will be ahead of the game. And that holds true not only for American rabbis, but for rabbis throughout the Jewish world who have the entrepreneurial spirit and the business world training.

 

rabbi-jason-miller-social-media

 

There are several programs that work with ordained rabbis to give them practical business skills, but these are all offered several years following the formal training. If the curriculum of these programs (i.e., Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Business, the American Jewish University, Clal’s Rabbis Without Borders, the former STAR Foundation’s PEER fellowship, etc.) were being taught during the early years of rabbinic training, these rabbis would not have to apply for these continuing educational programs once they were already in the field. They are essentially playing “catch up” in competency areas that are necessary from the first day on the job.

 

Talented rabbis are freelancing their skills more often today and founding new institutions and programs. As the number of Jewish families and singles unaffiliated with a congregation rises, there is an increased need for rabbis to perform life-cycle leadership roles. With the growth of the internet it has become easy for people to identify rabbis to officiate at a baby naming ceremony, wedding, funeral or unveiling. These rabbis must possess the entrepreneurial skills to run their own business. They cannot rely on a support staff at an institution to handle the daily operations. They are the CEO, CFO and COO of “Rabbi, Inc.” and if they cannot run their professional services operation like a business, they will sink despite their best efforts.

 

There is such a need for personal connections in the rabbinate and technology has made it easier for rabbis to extend their reach and influence to spiritual seekers and people in need no matter where they live. Today’s rabbi is more “project oriented” than “job based.” This means that rather than relying on the traditional synagogue job as her only source of income and responsibility, the 21st century rabbi has several projects.

 

Today’s rabbi, like any successful business leader, must be organizing, operating and assuming of the risk of his venture. It is not only young rabbis leading a startup initiative who must take a playbook out of the MBA training manual. All rabbis should feel a sense of the entrepreneurial spirit and have the tutelage to build their enterprise successfully. From the financial responsibilities to the marketing and communication, today’s rabbi must be trained in the critical skills of the successful entrepreneur.

 

Rav Kook famously wrote that we must “make the old new and the new holy.” In order for rabbis to put those wise words into action we must fuel the entrepreneurial fires of our holy projects. The curriculum of our rabbinical training institutions must evolve to include workshops, seminars and retreats focused on entrepreneurship. Business leaders must be retained to teach future rabbis about the essentials of building institutions — from startup synagogues and schools to community centers and camps — and running them successfully. Technology and digital communication must become a focus of rabbinic training. If rabbis only begin to explore the power of 21st century technology after ordination, it is far too late.

 

I am grateful for the education I received in rabbinical school, but that does not mean I can’t look back reflectively and point to certain aspects missing from that training. Today I’m proud to call myself an entrepreneurial rabbi. I also acknowledge that my entrepreneurial skills were developed and honed “post-production.” I know that the rabbinical schools today are in capable hands and being headed by forward thinking leaders who will ensure that entrepreneurship is part of the training.

 

Rabbi Jason Miller is an entrepreneur, educator and writer. He first met Rabbi Hayim Herring through the STAR Foundation’s Synaplex program and was then mentored by Rabbi Herring as a participant in the STAR PEER fellowship. A social media expert, Rabbi Miller is a popular speaker and writer on technology and its effect on the Jewish world. He writes for Time Magazine, the Huffington Post and the monthly “Jews in the Digital Age” column for the Detroit Jewish News. He is the founder of TorahDaily.com, PopJewish.com, JewishTechs.com and CelebrateJewish.com. Rabbi Miller is the president of Access Computer Technology, a computer tech support, web design and social media marketing company in Michigan. He won the 2012 Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award from the West Bloomfield Chamber of Commerce and is a winner of the Jewish Influencer Award from the National Jewish Outreach Program.

 

Update: Keeping Faith in Rabbis: A Community Conversation About Rabbinical Education

Posted on: August 29th, 2014 by Hayim Herring

 
 
This past January, with my co-editor, Ellie Roscher, we put out a call for submissions to a book tentatively titled, Keeping the Faith in Rabbinical Education. Our call was inspired by Ellie’s prior collection of edited essays on Protestant Seminary education, Keeping the Faith in Seminary. In our new volume, we wanted to explore the question, “How well does rabbinical school prepare rabbis for an ever-changing Jewish religious landscape?” We also hoped to share insights about seminary education from our respective religious communities. Ten months later, because of incredibly caring and dedicated contributors, we’re thrilled to let you know that we have:

 

 

The change in title reflects the number of responses that we received: we realized that we had triggered not just a book, but also an opportunity for a high-quality, constructive conversation.

 

Here’s a small sample of only a few themes from the book:

 

hayim-herring-rabbis-bookIn addition to essays that we selected for the project, we’ll soon be opening the invitation to anyone who wishes to share beneficial ideas on the Keeping Faith in Rabbis web page (to be announced soon!), and we’ll be adding video interviews, online hangouts and additional blog posts for about a year.

 

We’re also taking this conversation to the streets. Our inaugural book launch event will take place in the Minneapolis Metro area on the evening of December 2nd at Bet Shalom Congregation (more details to follow), and we’re planning events for New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, the Miami Metro area and a few other selected cities. As Ellie has experience in Protestant theological education and its challenges, some of these events will include experts from the Church world. What also excites us is that we’ll be able to feature some of the essayists who contributed to this book as presenters, and other professionals in the field of rabbinical education and higher education in general. If you’re interested in having a community conversation about this topic, please contact me at hayim@hayimherring.com.

 

The “High Holidays” (Rosh ha-Shanah, Yom Kippur) are just a few weeks away, and we’re approaching the one-year anniversary of the release of the Pew Research Center’s Portrait of Jewish Americans. It’s timely to think about the kind of spiritual tomorrows we want to have, and the role that rabbis, rabbinical educators and lay leaders can play in achieving it. We encourage you to pre-order the book now at http://ktfrabbi.avenidabooks.com. And, given how high the stakes are, we hope that you’ll join the ongoing conversation.

 

 

Rabbi’s Role: Speaking Out Or Maintaining Community?

Posted on: March 10th, 2014 by Hayim Herring No Comments

 
Frequently, I hear congregants complain that their rabbis are not inspiring or that they never take clear stands on issues of importance. That’s why the ongoing discussion about rabbinic independence that has erupted again at B’nai Jeshurun, covered very fairly by The Jewish Week (“B’nai Jeshurun Defections Fuel Debate,” Feb. 28), transcends any single congregation and any one subject. It is a contemporary case study about two issues facing the congregational world:

 

 

 

That is why respectful coverage of issues like these are important and healthy, because they test the ability of congregations to not become monolithic echo chambers, where two factions shout at one another and victory goes to the most shrill side. We can’t let synagogues go down that path.

 

A primary role of the rabbi is to build community infused with purpose. If a rabbi’s goal is only to create relationships and build community, I actually don’t understand what that means: relationships and community toward what end? Yes—we desperately need places like congregations that can be microcosms of kindness, civility, decency and meaningful, multi-generational interaction. But even more, we need communities to help us be and do more than we can alone. Purposeful, intentional communities that transform the lives of individuals and positively impact the broader community develop over time with the help of rabbis who are possessed with a vision of a grander tomorrow. If good and warm and nice are your essential goals, then you can expect rabbis who will be sweet but relatively bland, lest they offend someone. Congregations will have spiritual caretakers but not spiritual leaders. Rabbi Israel Salanter, founder of the Musar Movement, expressed this idea best when he said, “A rabbi whose community does not disagree with him is no rabbi. A rabbi who fears his community is no man.”

 

However, rabbi and senior volunteer leaders need to reach agreement first about the vision they strive to fulfill together. The operative word in this sentence is “together. ” Neither rabbi nor congregational leaders unilaterally declare the vision. Rather, rabbis and senior volunteer leaders develop a shared vision. In that process, a rabbi has considerable opportunity to bring an integrated understanding and approach of the “what” and “why” of being Jewish. Then, over a period of years, rabbi and senior volunteers work together on achieving just a little bit more perfection in their corner of the world—their congregational community. This is not a linear process and it’s messy and open at times. But when rabbis and volunteers learn how to keep their eyes on the ball over a long time horizon, they create a kind of alchemy that can turn moral blight into moral majesty.

 

Rabbis can’t be expected to separate their “political beliefs” from their Jewish values either. The idea of partitioning personal beliefs from public persona is authentically Protestant but antithetically Jewish. Politics are intertwined with policy and the allocation of resources that touch deeply on Jewish values, so rabbis are authentic when they refract these issues through their reading of the Jewish tradition. But a rabbi must also be sensitive to where the congregation is at a given moment in time, assess how far he or she can try to move it and also know when the congregation must pause to gain strength for the next step, be it inward or outward. Especially in our trigger-finger social-media environment, rabbis owe their leaders advanced notice of how they intend to address controversial issues, but should not be censured for doing so.

 

Ultimately, when rabbis and volunteer leaders can’t agree upon a shared vision, it’s time to examine the sustainability of the relationship. But remember: when rabbis and volunteers have worked hard together over a long period, the option for parting ways should be treated like radical surgery—the only possible last resort that might save a life. And even if that life is saved, it is never the same again. That’s why where there is a commitment to a shared vision and transparent communications, and a rabbi speaks from the heart about that vision but congregational leaders buckle under pressure, they have failed their rabbi and their community. That results not just in the loss of good rabbis but also in the loss of communities of purpose—communities that have the ability to change lives and change worlds.

 

And now to the current challenge. In full disclosure, Rabbi Matalon and I were close classmates in rabbinical school. I’m grateful that we’ve maintained our friendship over the years and, not surprisingly, the last time we met together in person was at a café in Yerushalayim. My respect for him and for his colleagues has grown over the years and his love for Israel doesn’t need my verbal defense. His work on Israel advocacy within his congregation and beyond speaks for itself. But I am compelled to speak out for two reasons. First, I believe that it’s still possible for individuals with shared values but disparate strategies to remain friends and be in dialogue. Second, because as I wrote earlier, the Jewish community deserves rabbis who speak about issues that are not theoretical, but ultimate and real.

 

The hatred toward Israel in parts of Europe has been gathering steam for years and similar feelings have already seeped into influential institutions here. The policies of the current Israeli government often offend my Jewish sense of justice, just as my colleagues on the right do when they seek to justify that which is plainly and morally wrong. But, given a globally networked effort to undermine the legal legitimacy of a Jewish state (forces which the current Israeli government often feeds), I won’t be silent when my rabbinic colleagues publicly blast Jewish organizations that advocate for Israel, even when I don’t agree with all of their tactics. Why? Because I know from personal experience that my words will be used as precious gifts to organizations and individuals who have dedicated their lives to the denial of Israel’s existence.

 

While I am appalled by right-wing national and religious extremism, I will find other ways than expressing my views in public pronouncements that have the potential to strengthen those who are irreconcilably hostile to the existence of a Jewish state. While I respect those who disagree with me, I’m casting my choice with the first century Jewish sage, Shimon ben Shetach, who said: “be deliberate in your choice of words, lest others abuse them to testify falsely (Pirkei Avot 1:9).”

 

 

Be Entrepreneurial, Not Innovative

Posted on: January 16th, 2014 by Hayim Herring No Comments

 

“Drop the quest for innovation and adopt the mentality of entrepreneurship.” That was my essential message to of a wonderful group of rabbis from the Philadelphia Metro Area a few days ago. With the support of the Philadelphia Board of Rabbis, I had the pleasure of facilitating a highly interactive workshop with about 40 colleagues on Rabbinic entrepreneurship. What’s the difference between being innovative and being entrepreneurial? In my workbook (click, complete form and download) on Tomorrow’s Synagogue Today. Creating Vibrant Centers of Jewish Life, I wrote,

 

“Innovation” is a catchphrase everywhere we look, and it is often used as a substitute for entrepreneurship, but there is a difference between them:

 

The rabbis completed a diagnostic assessment of readiness for moving to an entrepreneurial culture (p.19 in the workbook). Then, they divided into small groups to explore how to apply ten entrepreneurial practices to an idea about which they were passionate and bring to life in their communities. This group of rabbis was very diverse. But their passion for wanting to adopt a more entrepreneurial mindset was a feeling they shared—and they inspired me.

 

Rabbis are too often an unfair and handy target for undeserved criticism about the state of Jewish affairs. No doubt, we’ve earned some of the criticism. On the other hand, it’s also clear to me that many rabbis are ready to turn the dial on maintenance down and turn up the dial on entrepreneurship. The dynamic of public punishment of rabbis who take risks, and their reactive tendency to then play it safe, is one that each side should acknowledge and change. And when that happens, congregants, rabbis and the broader Jewish community will begin to enjoy both the rootedness of a community and the excitement of an incubator for fresh Jewish life.

 

If you’re interested in learning more about how your leadership can become more entrepreneurial, please contact me and let’s start the discussion! I’ve heard many of your ideas and it’s time for you to turn them into realities.

 

 

You Can’t be Someone Else, You Can Only be More Fully Yourself

Posted on: November 19th, 2010 by Hayim Herring 2 Comments

When I first began working as a congregational rabbi, I used to ask my wife to comment on my sermons. One day she said to me, “your sermon was good, but do you have to sound so preachy?” I thought that was a funny question to ask a “preacher.” But I’ve learned over the years that the most effective preaching doesn’t sound preachy. Years later, in the work that I did when I was executive director of STAR, I was introduced to Eda Roth, who is a communications specialist and this week’s guest blogger. Eda explains how rabbis and all people involved in public communications benefit when they step out of their role and step back into their authentic selves.  Hayim Herring

Rabbi Hayim Herring has quoted me as saying “You cannot be someone else. You can only be more fully yourself.” What does that mean? Most people express a narrow range of themselves. We all develop habits and stay within a certain range of expression. Professionalism adds even more constrictions. Whether business, healthcare, non-profits or the Rabbinate, there seems to be an agreed upon, accepted set of limitations called “what is appropriate” or “professional”.

Recently when working with rabbinical students, I heard a generic commonality in what and how they were expressing, rather than the vibrant individuality and uniqueness of who they really were, with their insights, passion and genuine desire to reach people. Granted, as students they were beginning to learn effective modes of constructing sermons and messages, but the danger was that some of those early habits would become entrenched and limit them and their capacity to genuinely inspire others; that they would stay within a rather safe, comfortable, borrowed and habituated range.

There is an unmistakable ring of truth when we touch genuine chords of who we are – our individuality, passion understanding, insight – and allow those to be heard and felt. That’s the power of words made manifest. If our expression is timid, or limited, if we are afraid to be loud enough to be heard, or so bombastic that we are not making our own genuine connections with the text and allow that to be heard, then our communication is not genuine.

Years ago a rabbi came to me for voice coaching. He felt his voice was constricted and reported that he would run out of breath. As we worked, we addressed not only on the dynamics of the voice, but his connection to what he was saying in his sermons. Were his messages coming across as compellingly as he desired? Was he really reaching people? We continued to explore the message itself, his real connection to what he was saying, the fullness and freedom of how he was saying it, and whether and when he was genuinely connecting with those to whom he was speaking (whether a Bar Mitzvah or a congregation).

In connecting with text or Torah, it comes most alive when we bring our insights, understanding and passion to the text, and allow those to express THROUGH the text. It’s then that truth and meaning become immediate real and alive, not just historical cultural memory and wisdom revisited. Say, for example, we are quoting from Proverbs, “Trust in God with all your heart and lean not upon your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge God and God will direct your paths.” We first, of course, begin with the text itself. What is it saying? How is meaning conveyed through the construct of language itself? What is the architecture of the language, the arc of the phrasing? Then we address how we enter and fulfill that text. If we bring what we know, understand, have lived of those words to our expression of the text, then it becomes present and alive with meaning. Our understanding, our individuality, what we know and have lived of that text enables us to become a transparency for the truth of the text and IS what reveals meaning. It is not reducing the text to us, but allowing who we are to come through the text. We then become a link in the chain of generations through which the word is not only passed down, but is alive, real and immediate. That is then the power of the word, expressed and felt.

How honest, how daring, how real are we willing to be? More than a repeating or rehearsed expression, do we express ourselves genuinely, authentically? That can only happen if the fullness of who we really are is opened and available. We bring our intellectual understanding, our passion, compassion, the fullness of our voices available to reveal that expression, and most of all; great love of truth and of all to whom we communicate. We do not constrict or circumscribe expression, but ultimately allow and reveal.

It is a noble goal – to inspire – to breathe divine life into – others; to allow that divine life to breathe into us.

Eda Roth
Eda Roth & Associates
Real Presence and Communication

Eda Roth is a communications consultant who uses her acting and directing skills to enable people be more value-based, genuine, strategic and clear. You can reach her at edaroth@aol.com.

A Passion to Serve

Posted on: June 25th, 2010 by Hayim Herring 7 Comments

This post is personal because it concerns my family – not my genetic family, but my spiritual family.  I’m referring to congregational rabbis (although I also feel that anyone who serves the Jewish community in a professional capacity is a part of my family). While some colleagues remain secure in their jobs, many are feeling anxiety about their future. They watch others who have had their positions eliminated or reduced.  And a good number of rabbis, from what I’m hearing, are unsure about what to do to create a more secure congregation, or to prepare for a future in which there might not be one available for them. People who study for congregational life feel called by God. If they can’t serve a congregation, how can they fulfill a calling which possesses them?

I empathize with my colleagues because I have been through a number of professional transitions. In some of them I have felt a greater sense of calling, in others less so. I understand the feeling and perception that only a congregational setting allows for that kind of ongoing intensity of Divine purpose. In addition, schools and other Jewish institutions where rabbis have traditionally found employment are experiencing similar downsizing, leaving congregational rabbis with even fewer options.

I’ll be participating soon in a program where this issue will be explored. Clearly, congregations are not going to disappear. But the congregational rabbinate is experiencing the same kind of structural change that most industries and professions are feeling. So I am turning to you for ideas about how rabbinic colleagues can prepare for a future which may hold part-time congregational work, rabbinic work outside of the congregation, or a job in the for-profit or general non-profit sector.

Rabbinical training is a precious experience, taking between five and six years. While rabbis don’t seek congregations for financial reasons, they still have financial obligations which they must meet: repayment of academic loans, the cost of day schools and Jewish camps, giving tzedakah… and the list goes on. Rabbinical education is a tremendous resource for the Jewish community as no other kind of education offers similar depth and breath. In this time of tectonic shifts in the Jewish world, we have to make sure we have enough rabbis to provide guidance and leadership based on the legacy of our tradition, but they also have to know that they have a reasonable chance to find employment.

So what advice can you offer rabbis who dreamed of serving in the congregational world for their entire lives, but now find themselves in a profession which is undergoing a profound transition?  Do you have personal experience to share?  This is definitely a question that requires our collective wisdom!

Thank you for your help.

Rabbi Hayim Herring

image: flickr.com articulatematter

A Serious Man: An Ad for Rabbinical School?

Posted on: November 2nd, 2009 by Hayim Herring 11 Comments

My wife and I finally had a chance to see the Coen brothers’ new movie, A Serious Man. In addition to enjoying the Coen brothers’ movies, we had to see it because it’s set in our neighborhood, St. Louis Park, MN. Some scenes were shot in a local synagogue and the old Talmud Torah building in which the Coen boys studied (affectionately called, “Talmud Torture”). And several of those who had minor parts are friends or acquaintances.

Enough people have reviewed the film so all that I’ll say generally is it is indeed like a modern day take-off on the Biblical book of Job, with a lot more irony and less resolution. What I want to explore in greater depth, though, is the treatment of the three rabbis.

The old European rabbi (Marshak) is barely accessible to the public and one approaches him with foreboding. But, Marshak expresses a deep humanity to the fully-acculturated and Americanized bar mitzvah boy. When the modern-day Job, Larry Gopnik, tells his tale of personal and professional disintegration, the Junior Rabbi (Scott) responds with a sunny theory about life’s meaning. When Gopnik finally meets with the Senior Rabbi (Nachtner), he offers Gopnik what we learn is a canned story that is either utter nonsense or a deep parable for theological counsel, further exasperating Gopnik. And Marshak—he closes his door to Gopnik, as if to say that Gopnik will have to accept whatever questionable wisdom there is from the present generations of rabbis and not look wistfully toward some nostalgic age when rabbis allegedly knew the true meaning of life’s pains.

In short, you’re served rabbis who are detached (Marshak), demented (Nachtner), or deluded (Scott)–not exactly an advertisement for rabbinical school. Yet, their words of “wisdom” reappear in various scenes in the film, in the mouths of Gopnik and other characters. Now remember—this is a Coen brothers movie, so you have to be prepared for their ability to play with our minds, and leave us guessing whether a scene is meaningful, meaningless or just plain paradoxical. But is there some truth to their portrayal of rabbis? Do rabbis appear that detached and inaccessible from others? Does trying to live life on a different spiritual plane (which anyone can attempt) make those who do the envy of others because it looks like they’ve “figured things out”? If you were writing the script, how would you portray the rabbis?

At the end of the movie credits, there’s an advisory which reads, “No Jews were harmed in the making of this film.” But, did the Coen brothers help or harm the image of the rabbi and American-style liberal Judaism? What do you think?

Thanks,

Rabbi Hayim Herring

Bringing the Torah to Life: A Tale of Technology

Posted on: September 15th, 2009 by Hayim Herring 1 Comment

I recently learned from Elaine Kleinmann, a former STAR consultant, about how her rabbi is using technology in a very simple way to help his congregants prepare for Rosh ha-Shanah.  While this was done for Elul, it could be adapted to work with any holiday.  With thanks to both of them, I’m sharing it with you.

– Rabbi Hayim Herring

Elaine writes:

Rabbi Neil Kurshan of the Huntington Jewish Center in Huntington, Long Island, NY, started a lead up to Shabbat called “Torah Teasers”.  These are emails based on the parasha of the week, and raise questions which elicit responses that do not require additional knowledge of the Torah to answer.  The emails are sent to all those who had requested to be on his listserve, and it is a way to engage people and tie the Torah into personal experience.  Participants can then respond to the entire network. On Shabbat morning, in lieu of a sermon, Rabbi Kurshan gives some background of the parasha, raises the questions again with the congregation, asks for responses, and shares some responses from the listserve.  Following the give and take, he uses that opportunity to share his learning and perspective.

He sent a new request this summer to all those who are on his Torah Teaser listserve. He asked to “be able to share with all of you during the month of Elul some of the experiences that make Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur meaningful for all of us… just a paragraph about a High Holiday experience that was particularly meaningful for you.  It can be an experience from your childhood or from more recent years.  It can be an experience at services, within your family, in your home or from anything else connected with the holidays.  I just want you to describe in some detail the experience–what happened and what it meant to you.  I would then like to share these experiences during the days of Elul with the online community in our shul that makes up our Torah Teasers network.”

As a member of this network, I have been receiving these responses since Elul began.  One is about blowing the shofar, one from someone who underwent a health crisis in the past year, one was about childhood memories of Rosh HaShanah dinner, and one from someone who had moved (with her nuclear family but away from her birth family), and had her first encounter  at our synagogue on the high holidays. Rabbi Kurshan’s request  inspired and motivated me to write about my Russian born father, his ambivalence about Judaism in general and Yom Kippur specifically, and the irony of his death occurring a few hours before Kol Nidre 18 years ago.

Image from Flickr, Alexander Smolianitski