Tuesday, December 11, 2012

I spent five years and thousands of dollars becoming a pulpit rabbi. According to the Forward newspaper (12.9.12), synagogues are now hiring rabbis from on–line seminaries who study for just two years. Do they get what they pay for? Sure. And they get exactly what they want: pleasant pastors and entertaining speakers who can also train their kids for bar and bat mitzvah.

When I graduated from Hebrew Union College I was totally over qualified for the job I was expected to do. In fact it wasn’t until I started teaching Judaism at the university level that the knowledge I gained at seminary became useful. So when I read that you can be a rabbi for a few thousand dollars and a few hundred hours of study I wonder how the old seminaries are still in business, and doubt they can remain so much longer.

Let me be clear: I loved my five years at HUC. I am proud of the education I received, and would recommend it to anyone looking for a top–notch Jewish education. But it is overkill for the pulpit job most rabbis will fill.  It doesn't take five years to learn how to say, “Our service continues on page 68” or “Please rise” or “Please be seated.” It doesn't take five years to learn how to teach 12­–year olds stuff they really don’t want to learn. It doesn't take five years to learn enough about Torah and holy days so you can give a ten minute talk on the portion of the week or holy day of the month. It doesn't take five years to learn how to answer questions about Judaism that are just as easily answered on Wikipedia.

My suggestion is this: conventional seminaries should offer two rabbinic tracks: practical and academic. The practical track takes two years and comes with a Masters Degree in Jewish Pastoral Counseling along with rabbinic ordination. The added years of the academic track result in a PHD in Judaic Studies. This way congregations could hire well trained pulpit rabbis who can lead services, teach kids, and answer the questions congregants actually ask, while seminaries could train rabbinic scholars for those six or seven jobs at universities requiring that level of expertise. 

1 comment:

Barry said...

I'm married to a Reform rabbi, and I have to agree with Rabbi Rami. My spouse has more knowledge crammed into his head ( he can read Aramaic!) than he needs for his congregational job.

I did some part-time studying to work as a cantor, instead of attending graduate school for five years. Even that may have been too much. I learned to chant "Geshem" at Musaf on Sh'mini Atzeret. Very useful in today's Reform congregations.