On October 13, I attended a conference on continuing rabbinic education, sponsored by The Alliance for Continuing Rabbinic Education. I was also a presenter on a panel, where I spoke about an inherent tension in the role of a congregational rabbi which often prevents an effective exercising of rabbinic leadership. Based on some feedback from the presentation, I decided to blog about the presentation, and my post can also be found on the website of the Alliance, along with video excerpts from the other panelists, Dr. Jonathan Woocher and Rabbi Marc Margolius.
I hope that this post will foster some open conversation!
Thank you, Rabbi Herring
In 1893, Ahad Ha’Am, a proponent of cultural Zionism, wrote an essay entitled, “Priest and Prophet.” The gist of this article was that Moses, the Prophet, was an idealist. Therefore, he was uncompromising in his expectations about God’s demands the Jewish people. On the other hand, Aaron the Priest, the older brother of Moses, was a popular leader. He worked in the messy, real realm of people and was a pragmatist. Aaron was beloved, while Moshe was respected and feared. It took an idealist and a pragmatist, leaders with two distinct roles, to lead the people from Egypt to Israel.
And that’s one of the reasons that rabbinic leadership is complicated today. Idealist and pragmatist have been fused into one role for rabbis. Their training makes them idealists, but living in community of real people, they have to be caring, kind, compassionate, forgiving pragmatists. Jewish communities need both leadership qualities to have a dynamic community.
If it took a Moses and an Aaron to forge a community, why do we expect that one person can embody both religious personalities in today’s Jewish communities? There are others in Jewish communities who have the training or could acquire the training to provide the pastoral, the organizational and even spiritual dimensions of Jewish community life. They can be the primary pragmatists. But only rabbis have the breadth of Jewish learning to provide authentic leadership at the current turning-point in history. (By “authentic,” I mean ideals, ideas and insights that reflect an understanding of an almost 4,000 year-old multi-layered historical, textual, spiritual and intellectual journey).
I think that rabbis and volunteer leaders have some soul-searching to do. Volunteer leaders often express concern about a lack of rabbinic leadership, when at the same time they can be punitive when rabbis actually lead with their ideals. Rabbis seem to be more concerned at times with making sure that people feel comfortable, instead of challenged. This dynamic creates equilibrium at a time when the Jewish community would benefit from a little imbalance created by an injection of fresh thinking and reinterpretation of classical Jewish ideals.
Rabbi Hayim Herring, Ph.D.
President, C.E.O., Herring Consulting Network
“Preparing Today’s Leaders for Tomorrow’s Organizations™”