Posts Tagged ‘Keeping the Faith in Rabbinical Education’


What Counts Most in a Rabbinical Search Process

Posted on: January 9th, 2015 by Hayim Herring



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



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



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

Posted on: March 17th, 2014 by Hayim Herring



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.



I Never Knew I Had it Within Me – Do You?

Posted on: February 19th, 2014 by Hayim Herring

I never had aspirations to write an article or book and have it published. I couldn’t even see it on my long-term horizon. But at a rabbis’ retreat in the 1990’s, in a session where we were asked to explore our dreams, I wrote the words, “I want to write a book.”


To this day, it’s still a mystery where this urge emanated from, but subsequently, I slowly began to own the possibility of authoring a book. I guess that was a shorthand way of intuiting that I had something within me to say that I needed to see in writing, although I was skeptical that anyone else would really care. While years passed before I published my first article, that session catapulted my unconscious thoughts into concrete realities.


Today, the tools of publishing have been democratized and are easily accessible to just about anyone who wants to be an author. But making the leap from teacher and preacher, to writer with a permanent record, can still be emotionally daunting. I asked my friend and co-editor of Keeping the Faith in Rabbinical Education, Ellie Roscher, to share her thoughts on making that transition. We’re doing so with the hope that rabbis who have a story to tell about their rabbinical education will feel empowered to finally liberate that story within them for our forthcoming publication or, for that matter, to share their wisdom and spirit with the world in a way that suits them.


And Ellie’s Advice….

“Let me live, love, and say it well in good sentences.” ~ Sylvia Plath

I have always loved writing. I was surprised, then, when it was time to publish my first blog post. My palms got sweaty. My heart started to race. I learned in that moment that writing to publish is vastly different than writing to write. It is shockingly vulnerable to send your work, what feels like your life out into the unknown abyss. There is no controlling who will read it and what they will think. But when my thoughts and stories inspire something completely unexpected in a stranger, something new is born. The text comes alive. And all the work– the notes, the word choice, the deleting, the doubt and research is all worth it. Here are a few simple tips to get you started:


1) Don’t try too hard to create a style. Your style is simply what you notice about the world. Pay attention and then write what you see and think about. Your style will emerge effortlessly from that.


2) Never sit down to a blank screen without an idea. Talk to friends about your idea until you can articulate it verbally with ease. Write sentences in your head while you are driving or walking. People tend to be braver about deleting bad sentences in their head than once they are typed out. If you have a few ideas and sentences in your head when you sit down to type, you may be more playful, and less nervous about writer’s block.


3) When output feels hard, change your input to output ratio. Read great books, listen to stimulating podcasts, take in nature, put on fantastic music, sip your favorite wine. Take in a ton of beauty and then try again.


4) Read your work aloud when you think it is finished. If a sentence sounds forced coming out of your mouth, it may read forced as well. If you can read your writing aloud without strain, that means it is clear, conversational, effective communication that is distinctly “you.” Great way to find typos and listen for rhythm that feels natural.


Writing is hard work, but it’s good work. Write to find out what you really think about something, to deepen your own self-reflection. Be unabashedly selfish in writing for your own self-improvement and for fun. Find the beauty of your story. Send it to one person you trust when you think it is ready. Listen to how the sentences feel in your mouth. Send it out into the world and see where it chooses to live. Let yourself be surprised and deeply proud of your courage.