Why Be Jewish?: A Testament
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A Rabbi’s Changing Role
Mon, 01/16/2012 - 19:00

The job of rabbi has clearly evolved over the centuries, the idea of a “pulpit rabbi” being a thoroughly modern invention. There were no rabbis, as we think of them, in Judaism’s formative biblical times, and the earliest rabbis were teachers and masters of jurisprudence, not clergymen. To this day, it is still not universally accepted in the synagogue world that a rabbi must deliver a weekly sermon, as would a Christian preacher.

With each landmark advance, from the printing press to the telephone to the Internet, halachic rulings and erudite teachings became accessible to Jews beyond the confines of geography. From the earliest beginnings of the rabbinate, visiting the sick and comforting those who are in mourning and grieving was always part of the equation, to some extent. But the revolution of chasidim and the rebbe-chasid relationship increasingly shifted the dynamic to the interpersonal. And the job of rabbi continues to evolve, with the modern synagogue expecting that a rabbi be a pastor, social worker or counselor, as much as anything else, and often on weekdays and on late nights, rather than on Shabbat mornings alone.

The problem, such as it is, concerns how rabbis are trained to reflect the new demands and circumstances. As vast are the Talmud’s gleanings regarding pastoral care, the task of preparing new rabbis for the field is increasingly understood as demanding a pastoral professionalism far beyond what can be expected from those whose expertise is primarily in Jewish law and liturgy. Last week’s Pastoral Education Conference, hosted by UJA-Federation of New York, underlined a heightened sophistication and respect for such professional expertise, an expertise that was rare to find in some rabbinic circles as recently as two decades ago.

Today, there is not a mainstream denomination whose rabbinical schools aren’t placing pastoral care in the realm of the requisite, rather than the elective.

Additionally, as we report this week, rabbinical schools are increasingly making clinical pastoral education (CPE) mandatory, an approach with its own accreditation, curriculum and professional practitioners, while putting apprentice rabbis, under supervision, into face-to-face interaction with those who are looking for solace.

This is not just a welcome development but a holy one, reminding us that rabbis are not just on the front lines of scholarship but on the front lines of caring for souls.

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Are we so sure that this paradigm shift is for the best?

Thank you for a great piece on the changing roles of the rabbi vis-a-vis pastoral counseling.

Today's rabbis need a radically different set of skills than those of the past. Where in generations past, the rabbi's role was that of religious authority, today s/he is much more the guide or coach for the Jewish spiritual journey of Jewish individuals. Our mindset increasingly is one in which we are partners in shaping communities, while at the same time exercising leadership. The institutions and congregations in which we work are (and should be) places of participatory democracy.

Some of our rabbinical training institutions have responded to the challenge of developing tomorrow's rabbis with those roles in mind. For all of us in the field, we need to continually keep and eye to the future of the emerging Jewish community and its members, and keep growing as professionals to meet new needs and also to shape the future of the rabbinate.

Rabbi Arnold D. Samlan
Jewish Connectivity

it is about time that rabbis. got jobs and not be the social organizers for the community.

by working on a job not connected with his pastoral job they would be in touch with life that we all live and in line with the talmudic rabbis.

a rabbi should only be compensated for leaving his work to be a rabbi


Actually I just realized that as teachers and social workers they really are doing full time jobs and sometimes working 80-90 hours a week rather than the average 40 hrs a week. oops please forgive my last comment.