Posts Tagged ‘training’


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).



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.


Is Your Rabbi an Excellent Teacher?

Posted on: March 16th, 2009 by Hayim Herring

Did you know that most rabbis have little formal training in education?  One of the most pervasive aspects of the rabbi’s job is teaching, but aside from a required course in education, most rabbis learn how to teach on-the-job. Imagine teaching a group of preschoolers in the morning, seniors at lunchtime and middle-school aged children in the late afternoon and teens in the evening. That’s not an unusual schedule for a congregational rabbi.

I’ve personally witnessed rabbis inflict painful learning experiences on congregants (and I admit, I did in my younger days!)  One morning, I watched a rabbi interact with preschool age children using words and concepts that were appropriate for older teens. Later that evening, I heard another rabbi speak to adults as if they were children.

In a book of Jewish ethics (Pirkei Avot 1:4), rabbinical students are instructed to sit at the feet of their teachers and “drink their words” up. The image is hierarchical, with students sitting on the ground and their teachers sitting or standing above them, in a privileged position because of their learning. And after 5-6 years of most rabbinical schools experience, I wonder if that’s the image that some rabbis carry around in their heads when they are teaching: I (rabbi) am up over you because I’ve got the knowledge; you (congregant) are beneath me because you don’t.

Some rabbis intuitively begin to understand that different strategies and approaches are needed depending upon the developmental stages of their audience. But, even when rabbis become good educators, many have the potential to become outstanding ones with just a little training and mentoring.

Rabbis: what “aha” moments made you realize that there were better ways to teach and what did you do about them? Others who aren’t rabbis—what suggestions do you have to help rabbis become more impactful teachers?

Thanks in advance for your responses!

Rabbi Hayim Herring

Image from Flickr: .:Axle:.