Posts Tagged ‘Jewish Daily Forward’


Resetting the Rabbinate

Posted on: May 20th, 2013 by Hayim Herring



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
Revolution in Rabbinical School Training? Not Yet, But….

photo from: erglantz,

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.