Posts Tagged ‘rabbinate’

 

Guest Post: Rabbi Jonah Rank

Posted on: January 23rd, 2015 by Hayim Herring

 

 

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

 

 

Seeking 70 Faces In Rabbinic Training

By Jonah Rank

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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.

 

Resetting the Rabbinate

Posted on: May 20th, 2013 by Hayim Herring No 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!

 

 

Retooling Rabbis

Posted on: February 12th, 2009 by Hayim Herring No Comments

For the next several weeks, I’ll be writing about a new topic: rabbis. In keeping with the Tools for Shuls motif, I’m thinking of calling the chapter based on this series of posts Retooling Rabbis. Please read my posts with full awareness that some of my best friends are rabbis, (and that I realized my adolescent dream of becoming one in 1984!)  The tone that I’m striving for in my posts is to be lovingly critical about the rabbinate, for the rabbinate (or ministry for that matter) is one of those vocations where heeding the words of the ancient Jewish sage, Hillel (born before the destruction of the second Temple in 70 C.E.,) is a very wise idea. He said, don’t judge people until you’ve been in their situation (Avot 2:5.) Having been in that situation in different iterations, I hope that I will put enough love in the critique—and enough critique in the love.

Here’s where I really need your input. Imagine that you are the dean of a rabbinical school. You have the opportunity to modify the rabbinical school curriculum. Assuming that the fundamentals of the curriculum are sound and that subjects like Jewish history, Hebrew language and Jewish law will continue to be the foundation of your curriculum. What other topics do you believe are critical for contemporary rabbis to learn today—and think outside of the box (or book!)?

If you are a rabbi, draw upon your current experience and stage: what additional subjects you wish you had been exposed to before you completed school? Where did you feel some of the larger gaps in your curriculum? If you are a member of the synagogue reading this blog, give us your view from the pew, committee or board room. From your vantage point, what do you perceive to be missing from rabbinic education?

This is a discussion which really does require multiple views so I hope that even if you don’t regularly comment, you’ll chime in.

Thanks,

Rabbi Hayim Herring

Photo from flickr.com lev_cap