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Posts Tagged ‘rabbinical school’

 

Should Leaders be Held to a Higher Ethical Standard?

Posted on: January 15th, 2018 by Hayim Herring No Comments

If individuals lead entities in the for-profit, nonprofit or governmental sectors, should they be held to a higher standard of ethical accountability? This perennial question is worth examining,  especially when they lead powerful or influential entities that can have a direct positive or negative impact on our lives. For me, the answer is a clear, “Yes!” and there are others who have studied dimensions of leadership in some of these sectors who agree.

 

Jim Collins, a highly-respected leadership expert, implies that great leaders have an ethical compass. He explains in his book, Good to Great that a common trait of the rare individual who achieves “Level V Leadership,” is the executive who blends personal humility with extreme professional focus on achieving a corporate vision. A Level V leader shares credit with others, accepts blame and responsibility for mistakes and surrounds himself or herself with people who are equally committed to making whatever they do better. But in that quest, they never lose sight of humility, which is another way of saying that their pursuit of excellence embraces the demand to treat team members with dignity.

 

 

Another leadership framework is “the triple bottom line” (TBL). The TBL, developed by business consultant Andrew W. Savitz, measures three dimensions of performance: people, planet and profits. In other words, unlike traditional reporting frameworks which focus only on profits and shareholder value, the TBL “captures the essence of sustainability by measuring the impact of an organization’s activities on the world… Including both its profitability and shareholder values and its social, human and environmental capital” (Savitz, The Triple Bottom Line). While there is disagreement on how to calculate the TBL, it clearly includes ethical dimensions, because it strives to account for the impact on the environment and on improving people’s lives through measures like job growth, personal income and the cost of underemployment in creating sustainable companies.

 

Leaders in government should also be expected to be ethical individuals. Yes, they must make complex choices in which moral values are sometimes in conflict with one another. For example, taking military action, which will cause the loss of life, but preserves the freedoms that we enjoy, or creating jobs that lift people out of poverty while also considering the potential impact of environmental destruction, can make the needle on one’s inner ethical compass spin around opposite poles. But, but having an ethical compass is a minimal requirement that we have the right to expect from officials whom we elect.

 

Whether in government, the for-profit and nonprofit sectors, and in the spiritual realm, leaders have flaws. They also have and need egos–that is what enables them to pursue greatness. But whether their egos are directed to their own aggrandizement or to grand ideas that benefit others is what distinguishes an unethical leader from an ethical leader. And amoral leaders, those who do not take ethical considerations into account, ultimately become immoral leaders because the benchmark of their success is concluding a deal at any and all costs.

 

Over the past couple of decades, we’ve seen some mutual convergence of ideas around leadership in the for-profit and nonprofit communities. One of those ideas is that morality matters both in the for-profit and nonprofit sectors. For-profit leaders are being held to a higher standard-just look at what is happening with startups like Uber, or established corporations like Wells Fargo, that are now under fire for highly unethical business practices. And it’s no accident that Facebook and other global social media giants and Apple, a company that dominates the smartphone and tablet industry, are facing criticism about their passive, hands-off approach to how people use their products.

 

Religious leaders rightfully come under fire for cloaking themselves with a mantle of morality while engaging in sexual and financial predatory practices. Simply because a person is a religious leader is no longer a guarantee that he or she possesses a moral compass. We feel a special outrage when individuals who are supposed to embody the highest ethical dimensions of human behavior fail themselves and hurt others.

 

And for those who are familiar with the Bible, Moses, one of the great spiritual leaders of all times, learns that there are no privileged moral dispensations—without exception. (Memo to religious leaders: don’t forget daily Bible study, preferably with someone who has internalized relevant ethical teachings.) Despite his bravery in challenging the status quo by confronting Pharaoh, an act that continues to inspire moral leadership today, and Moses’s 40 years of leadership in harsh desert conditions with a generation of unruly people, he is punished for disparagingly referring to them as a group of “rebels” (Numbers 20:10).

 

That punishment seems unduly harsh. Perhaps even more severe, his brother, Aaron, who at that moment is only standing silently by his side, is also disqualified as a leader. Though considered exceptionally humble, Moses’s singularly arrogant rebuke invalidates his leadership and it his successor, Joshua, who will lead the people into the promised land. Here is an exceptionally high standard of morality at work: great leaders cannot ridicule their communities. They may demonstrate contrition and make restitution where possible, but because they are expected to embody high ideals, once they behave unethically in such a public manner, their actions communicate that ethics don’t matter, a message that can potentially normalize unethical behavior throughout a community.

 

When you build yourself up by putting others down, you’ve lost your ability to lead. When you remain silent in the face of leaders who disparage others, you also forfeit the right to lead. And don’t give up in thinking that’s an impossible standard to which to hold leaders in any sector. Perfection from leaders? No– that’s an impossible standard. But we can and should expect them to struggle to be moral, compassionate and respectful of every person. Argue robustly over principles and beliefs, engage in debate about what is most beneficial to community and country, but set a tone that attacks the merits of ideas, and not the quality of the people who espouse different points of view.

 

 

Showing Up (Guest Blog Post by Rabbi Jason Weiner)

Posted on: March 9th, 2015 by Hayim Herring

 

 

“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.

 

Disrupting the Rabbinate (Guest Post: Rabbi Rebecca Sirbu)

Posted on: February 6th, 2015 by Hayim Herring

 

 

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.

 

 

Can Rabbinical Schools Teach Entrepreneurial Leadership?

Posted on: December 8th, 2014 by Hayim Herring

 

 

The purpose of editing my most recent book, Keeping Faith in Rabbis: A Community Conversation on Rabbinical Education, was to spark discussion around significant issues on rabbinical education and leadership. I’d like to thank my colleagues, Rabbi Jason Miller and Rabbi Danny Nevins, Dean, JTS Division of Religious Leadership, for their debate around entrepreneurship and rabbinical education. Thousands of people have viewed this dialogue and I want to encourage them to also share their opinions here.  This is not just an issue that relates to one particular rabbinical program, but to the nature of 21st-century rabbinical education.

 

Now to the question: can rabbinical schools teach entrepreneurship in their curriculum? Rabbinical programs that are structured for 5-6 years are unlikely to be able to produce rabbinical entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship is not the same as innovation. Innovation requires creativity but unlike entrepreneurship does not address issues like tolerance for risk, organizational agility, improvisational ability and speed. In fact, as stewards of a tradition, most rabbis are better wired for adaptation and evolution and not entrepreneurship. Rabbinical schools can teach about entrepreneurship, but not everyone is wired as an entrepreneur, and that’s why it’s simply not a realistic goal to expect that one course, or one fellowship will turn rabbinical students into entrepreneurs. However, is it worthwhile to expose students to these kinds of programs? My answer is a resounding, “Yes!” Even if you’re not wired to be entrepreneurial, and even if schools can’t turn students into entrepreneurs, it’s still a topic that they should know about because it’s a part of our zeitgeist and rabbis will interact with entrepreneurs regularly.

 

Entrepreneurship is a disposition. It’s a way of looking at the world that enables you to see opportunities that don’t exist but can. It involves upsetting the way things are done. There are some principles involved that can help you become better and more successful at it, but there’s nothing better than a good seasoned serial entrepreneur who has failed and succeeded repeatedly to help you determine if you’re really an entrepreneur and support you along the way to becoming one.

 

I applaud those schools that have created fellowships for rabbinical students to be exposed to entrepreneurial thinking and practice. I would also recommend that any school offering or thinking of offering such fellowships use people from the business, arts and entertainment worlds who are empathetic and knowledgeable about Jewish community to serve as mentors, along with veteran rabbis and seasoned Jewish professionals. Continuing rabbinical education is really the arena to focus more on these experiences, after rabbis learn more about themselves and their ability to see the possible and learn about how much risk and tension they are able to tolerate and help their communities hold. I also think that if we drew more heavily upon the talent that we have in our volunteer community, we could increase the number of true rabbinical entrepreneurs. But not everyone has this kind of temperament, and while we need more fearless entrepreneurs, we still need people who will help serve as breaks to accelerators of change that don’t always lead us to places that we intend.

 

I hope these comments will continue to spark some fruitful discussion within the Academy, among providers of continuing rabbinical education, and also in the broader Jewish community. We all have a stake in this discussion.

 

Rabbi Danny Nevins Responds to Rabbi Jason Miller

Posted on: December 5th, 2014 by Hayim Herring

 
 

JTS Leads in Leadership Education

 

Rabbi-Danny-Nevins-JTSRabbi Jason Miller, a 2004 graduate of JTS wrote here that while he had wonderful teachers and courses at JTS, he didn’t receive adequate training in entrepreneurial leadership, finding such opportunities only after ordination. I won’t disagree with his memory of his experience, though there were some such leadership training components available here even back then. What I can say is that this depiction does not capture the current situation at JTS. Leadership education is found in many parts of our curriculum, with a new course on rabbinic leadership and new training programs and opportunities for our students to exercise adaptive leadership during their rabbinical education. One exciting recent development is our Myers Rabbinic Fellowship, which teaches students to design grant proposals, and then offers them up to $15,000 in seed money and sustained mentoring to implement their innovative idea. Our students are emerging with new ideas, and in some cases with new organizations that they founded while still students at JTS.

 

My second point is a different type of response. I am all for innovation, and have found that continuous assessment and “pivoting” to adapt to new realities has been an important part of my rabbinical career, both in the pulpit and in the Seminary. Still, it seems that our culture has become infatuated to a fault with the virtues of change. Stability is an essential component of any system—whether of a family, a religious community, or a country. One thing which many people seek the most in a rabbi is reliability—a person who will convey a consistent message of compassion, integrity, and wisdom. Reliability doesn’t win grants and headlines. There are no awards for the rabbi who “merely” leads a congregation for decades of meaningful prayers, study programs and life cycle events. But that is where the real life of a Jew is lived. Innovative programs are important to expand the circle of involvement, to adapt to changing circumstances, and to keep things exciting. Yet our culture often forgets to pay attention to the structures that sustain identity in a rapidly changing time. Judaism, like God, needs to be “chai v’kayam,” both dynamic and durable.

 

Rabbi Danny Nevins is Dean, JTS Division of Religious Leadership, and
Pearl Resnick Dean of The Rabbinical School

 
 

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.

 

Rabbi Lauren Berkun on Keeping Faith in Rabbis

Posted on: November 11th, 2014 by Hayim Herring

 

 

Dear Readers,

 

Keeping Faith in Rabbis. A Community Conversation about Rabbinical Educationwill be released on December 1, just a few weeks from now. As a part of the community conversation on rabbinical education and leadership, I’m posting a series of online essays (in case you missed two earlier posts, you can read Rabbi Ellen Lewis’s thoughts on Making Emotional Sense of Money and a post on Network Organizing: Rethinking Communal Leadership for Rabbis by Lisa Colton and Lianna Levine Reisner).

 

I recently interviewed Rabbi Lauren Berkun, Director of Rabbinic and Synagogue Programs for the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America on her vision of a rabbi’s role today. You might be intrigued by our exchange about how much formal rabbinical education is enough—so enjoy the interview and share your comments!

 

 

 

Lay People Welcome: Share Your Thoughts on 21st Century Rabbinical Education!

Posted on: March 17th, 2014 by Hayim Herring No Comments

 

 

As my co-editor, Ellie Roscher and I, are receiving essays for our latest research project and book, Keeping the Faith in Rabbinical Education, we’re already beginning to hear an unprecedented, multi-vocal conversation. Our goal is to understand from rabbis in the field and educators of rabbis how rabbinical education needs to grow and shift to be relevant in the 21st century. But – several weeks ago I realized that I only had two of the three sets voices needed for this book project. Your voice – those of you who have ongoing interactions with rabbis, or who had them in the past, need to be represented in this book. Why?

 

Generally, with the exception of much of the Orthodox world, the goal of rabbinical school is not to become a rabbi. Rather, it is to serve Jewish people as a camp or school educator, congregational rabbi, chaplain, Hillel director or in some other way. So, how could I not invite those of you who are not rabbis to add an essay to this volume?! After all, you are the intended beneficiaries of rabbinical education.

 

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Resetting the Rabbinate

Posted on: May 20th, 2013 by Hayim Herring 5 Comments

 

 

In the past few months, I’ve read at least six articles or blogs about rabbis and the contemporary rabbinate. (Just search sites like eJewishPhilanthropy, The Jewish Week, the JTA and the Jewish Daily Forward for a sampling of results.) Any rabbi will tell you that there’s structural change occurring and the media now seems to have picked up this story. Some of the stories suggest new roles that rabbis are fulfilling, others are about gender and the rabbinate, or prognostications about the future of the rabbinate and the rabbinical seminaries’ challenge in keeping up with what they perceive as new skills that rabbis require.

 

(Disclaimer: I’ve written about the rabbinate over the years as well in publications like Tomorrow’s Synagogue Today. Creating Vibrant Centers of Jewish Life and “The Rabbi as Moreh Derekh Chayim: Reconceptualizing Today’s Rabbinate”. But why so many articles in such a short time?

 

Rabbis are experiencing significant role ambiguity and the 20th Century paradigm of what defines a rabbi is clearly inadequate for this century. A few examples will suffice:

Rabbis used to have primary or heavy involvement in the examples above but now, much less so.

 

And it isn’t just that functions are changing. Relationships are changing as well. In speaking with colleagues, they sense that they are increasingly being treated more as employees and less as individuals with a sacred profession. As one colleague wryly commented, he felt that “evaluations” had become “devaluations.”

 

This lack of role clarity is a symptom of a paradigm change. As renowned futurist, Joel Barker, says: “When a paradigm shifts, everyone goes back to zero. Your past success guarantees nothing in your future.” And all of these conversations about rabbis’ roles certainly have the feel of “going back to zero,” that is, accepting that the assumptions that undergird last centuries’ rabbinate will not support today’s rabbinate.

 

I believe that rabbis have significant roles to play. Some will be the same as the last generation of rabbis, and others haven’t even yet been imagined. But I’d like to hear your thoughts about the unique roles that rabbis can play. By unique, I mean what is it by virtue of their training that they alone can do, or that they can do with greater ability than others with Judaic knowledge and experience? All are invited to respectfully weigh in and thanks!

 

 

Revolution in Rabbinical School Training? Not Yet, But

Posted on: December 17th, 2012 by Hayim Herring 3 Comments
Revolution in Rabbinical School Training? Not Yet, But….

photo from: erglantz, flickr.com

On December 3, the Jewish Daily Forward published an article about alternatives to accredited rabbinical ordination. Some alternatives are at best dubious and at worst potentially harmful to communities that these rabbis serve. While accreditation can’t guarantee the religious and ethical qualities of a rabbinical graduate, it does make a powerful statement about the quality and qualifications of rabbis. But are the accredited seminaries putting themselves at risk with their current model of education?

Accredited rabbinical programs typically run between five and six years. That’s already on top of an accredited four-year undergraduate degree, an entrance requirement for rabbinical seminaries. Rabbinical students carry a heavy course load while in school and have a heavy debt load when they graduate, despite working a significant number of hours as students. In a contracting job market, with downward pressure on salaries, high-quality rabbinical schools may be financially freezing excellent future rabbis out of their programs.

This problem is not unique to rabbinical schools, as a recent New York Times story illustrates, although the Forward article doesn’t provide broader context. Developments like the Open Courseware Consortium, Coursera, and the UnCollege Movement foreshadow major changes that are likely to hit higher education as we know it–including accredited rabbinical education. And if future students decide that they want to be rabbis but can’t afford the time and money of rabbinical programs as currently structured that will be a real loss to the American Jewish community.

How do I know? Over the years, I’ve worked with students, graduates and faculty members from all of the accredited seminaries in various programs for rabbis and rabbinical students that I’ve helped to develop. And without exception, I’ve never worried about the quality of their education. Seminary leaders still have time to think about how to maintain the quality of their programs and rethink their structure and required full-time residential requirements. That’s why Hebrew College’s recently announced pilot four-year ordination program for advanced students is welcome news. Hopefully, it will start an overall conversation about rabbinical education in general.


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