The role of the rabbi

Zur Zeit habe ich leider sehr wenig Zeit, um hier länger zu schreiben. Gerne würde ich Euch von den beiden Konferenzen berichten, die ich in der vergangenen Woche in Jerusalem besucht habe, aber, da das Semester in fünf Wochen beendet sein wird, rufen viele Hausarbeiten und Papers, die noch geschrieben werden müssen und diverse Prüfungen, für die ich lernen möchte. Ganz will ich mich aber nicht ausblenden und werde weiterhin das eine oder andere hier posten. Und der Bericht über Jerusalem kommt auch noch.

Die Fragestellung, welche Rolle ein Rabbiner / eine Rabbinerin einnehmen sollte, habe ich schon mehrfach hier im Blog angerissen, Chajm auf Sprachkasse.de ebenfalls und bei Yoav war auch vor kurzem etwas dazu veröffentlicht. Heute gab es zwei Beiträge auf Eilu V’eilu, einem wöchentlichen Online-Unterrichts-Newsletter der Union for Reform Judaism.

Hier Beitrag 1:

What is the role of the rabbi in our congregations today?

Rabbi Cindy G. Enger
The question that the editors of Eilu V’eilu posed to Rabbis Enger and Sagal seems divisible into three:
1. The role of the rabbi
2. In the congregation
3. Today

The inclusion of the word today seems to suggest that it was different yesterday — and I believe that to be the case, although neither respondent addressed it. I remember how angry the president of my congregation was thirty years ago when the new archbishop held a meeting with the Jewish clergy, and the rabbi did not attend because it was his night for teaching in the high school. Thirty years ago, we still wanted our rabbis to be players in the community, and on the national and international stage. Today, there is a sense of entitlement to 100% of the rabbi’s time being devoted to the congregation.

I’d like both rabbis to share with us their perception of how their role has changed in the years since they began their rabbinates, and in the years since their predecessors in their pulpits began their rabbinates, and especially address not only the today compared to yesterday, but the „in the congregation“ as compared to in the community and the larger Jewish world.

Larry Kaufman
Beth Emet – The Free Synagogue
Evanston, IL

In responding to Larry Kaufman’s comment, at the outset, it is important to remember that every congregation represents a unique community with its own particular vision, goals and priorities. History and place, size of the congregation and size of the larger community — Jewish and overall – are among the factors which may contribute to who the congregation is and who the congregation wants its rabbi to be. There is not one monolithic template.

Mr. Kaufman writes, “Thirty years ago, we still wanted our rabbis to be players in the community, and on the national and international stage. Today, there is a sense of entitlement to 100% of the rabbi’s time being devoted to the congregation.” I would like to offer two thoughts in response to this statement.

First, in my experience, some congregations want and expect the rabbi to serve as representative of the Jewish community and to be a visible presence and voice in the larger community. Some congregations recognize and appreciate that, among the many roles and responsibilities of the rabbi, a certain amount of the rabbi’s time and energy spent in connection with the larger community also constitutes time devoted to the congregation.

In addition, fortunately, there are rabbis and congregations who understand the importance of the rabbi committing some time and energy to his or her personal and family life, to self-care, and continued learning and spiritual development. It is the rabbi’s responsibility to claim this as a need and to provide leadership and teaching about the ways in which such self-care and care of the soul also represents an act of love for and commitment to the congregational community.

The role of the rabbi has changed over time. Emancipation, modernity and the birth of the Reform Movement in Judaism all caused significant changes in the role of the rabbi. The role of the rabbi has changed, in part, because the Jewish world has changed. Our congregations today are communities of choice. Our world today is one in which synagogue affiliation is an option. I am not sure we have fully digested the significance of these changes.

Last week I posed the question, “What does it mean to call ourselves a synagogue community?” To me, this question challenges us to consider what obligations and expectations we can and should have of one another within the synagogue community and in connection with the larger world. How we answer these questions helps define and shape the role of the congregational rabbi, as we function and move both in the congregation and in the larger world.
I believe a rabbi must hear, listen and be aware of his congregants. Listening and awareness in order to respond will help to form a more positive attitude for his congregation. People know if you are listening. They need to know that in difficult times, we share their burdens. It becomes a family of togetherness. We are not alone.

Sally Sanders
Congregation B’nai Jeshurun
Short Hills, NJ

Sally Sanders writes of the importance of listening. I am grateful for her comment. To listen well is an important skill and ability. One of the roles of the rabbi in our congregations today is to provide pastoral care, to be a presence and a listening that helps another human being journey towards healing and wholeness.

Another role of the rabbi is to encourage and assist others in developing and deepening a relationship with the Divine Presence. Listening is central to spiritual practice and relationship with God. This is one of the profound teachings of the Sh’ma. Listen, Israel. God is One. And, as Ms. Sanders states, “We are not alone.”

„Ordination assumes not only knowledge and skill but also includes covenantal promises made to God and the Jewish people.“

I have never attended an ordination. I do sit on our congregation’s board. In the sentence above, Rabbi Enger gives us a glimpse of some of the assumptions and covenantal promises achieved through ordination. Could you share with us more of the fullness of what one who is rabbinically ordained includes?

Judith Kleinstein
Congregation Beit Haverim
Lake Oswego, OR

Judith Kleinstein poses the question: what does rabbinical ordination mean to those of us who are ordained to serve and lead as rabbis? Rabbi Gunther Plaut, in The Torah: A Modern Commentary (Revised Edition), notes that the word for rabbinic ordination, s’michah, derives from samach, (“to lay on [hands]” p.568). In the Torah, we read of the ordination of the priests. Through a ritual, which includes the laying on of hands, the priests were rendered holy in order to serve God.

The Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion services of ordination, which take place each year in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles and New York are extraordinarily powerful moments, religious ceremonies and rituals which mark the transformation of an individual from student to rabbi, connecting one generation to all who have come before us, creating another link in the shalshelet kabbalah, the great unbroken, yet ever-evolving chain of Jewish tradition.

For me, standing before the open ark at Plum Street Temple in Cincinnati, with hands laid on me, represented a profound hineini moment. I am here; I am ready to serve. Yes. While that moment of ordination was a moment, it represents as well a change in status, a deep commitment and also a transformation. I am part of a people and a project of profound significance. Scholarship, leadership, service. God, Torah, Israel. Past, present, future. All of these contribute to the fullness of what it means to be a rabbi.

Beitrag 2

Rabbi Douglas Sagal
First of all, to all who took the time to share their thoughtful and insightful responses to the initial Eilu V’eilu column, many thanks. Our Movement is enriched by your contributions.
I believe a rabbi must hear, listen and be aware of his congregants. Listening and awareness in order to respond will help to form a more positive attitude for his congregation. People know if you are listening. They need to know that in difficult times, we share their burdens. It becomes a family of togetherness. We are not alone.

Sally Sanders
Congregation B’nai Jeshurun
Short Hills, NJ

Dear Sally: I am indebted to Rabbi Paul Steinberg of blessed memory, who taught me that a rabbi should be an active and empathic listener. Sally, it is essential that a rabbi possess exceptional listening skills, so that a congregant feels that she or he is genuinely heard. As you state, a rabbi must also authentically demonstrate an understanding of the lives of his or her members. At the same time, as I have stated, there is a difference between actively listening and understanding, and agreeing in every instance. The rabbi must be willing to take a clear stand, even when the going is difficult, and that means sometimes disappointing people.
The question that the editors of Eilu V’eilu posed to Rabbis Enger and Sagal seems divisible into three:
1. The role of the rabbi
2. In the congregation
3. Today

The inclusion of the word today seems to suggest that it was different yesterday — and I believe that to be the case, although neither respondent addressed it. I remember how angry the president of my congregation was thirty years ago when the new archbishop held a meeting with the Jewish clergy, and the rabbi did not attend because it was his night for teaching in the high school. Thirty years ago, we still wanted our rabbis to be players in the community, and on the national and international stage. Today, there is a sense of entitlement to 100% of the rabbi’s time being devoted to the congregation.

I’d like both rabbis to share with us their perception of how their role has changed in the years since they began their rabbinates, and in the years since their predecessors in their pulpits began their rabbinates, and especially address not only the today compared to yesterday, but the „in the congregation“ as compared to in the community and the larger Jewish world.

Larry Kaufman
Beth Emet – The Free Synagogue
Evanston, IL
Dear Larry: The fascinating story you describe about tension between the rabbi and temple president over the rabbi’s priorities (teach high schoolers or meet with the Archbishop) is all too common in congregational life. As I have stated, if the rabbi and president share a commitment to a clearly understood temple vision and mission, and both serve that vision and mission, then such differences in priorities would be far less common.

To answer your question more generally; what has really changed over twenty years is the nature of the congregation. Twenty or thirty years ago congregations often served as the social hub of a Jewish community; friendships, social activities and social networks often intersected in the synagogue. As the Jewish community has expanded in a major way into the upper middle class, Jews now see the synagogue as just one of many opportunities for social networking and building social “capital”. In addition, we Jews have become consumers along with everyone else; faced with myriad choices, if we can obtain our spirituality and/or social networking in a place other than the temple, we might in fact just do so.
As a result, rabbis and lay leaders are confronting the constant need to create ever more compelling reasons for people to make synagogue life a priority. Hence, as Rabbi Enger and I discussed, the need to create synagogues with multiple points of entry.

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