On Being a Rabbi


When Isaac Herzog came to the U.S. last week for his inaugural tour as the new chair of the Jewish Agency, he spoke to East Coast Federations about the changing nature of Israeli society.

“All human beings are affected by this machine,” he said, holding up his smartphone while talking in Philadelphia. “It’s inevitable. You no longer see the hegemony of one rabbi.”

Today, Herzog noted, multiple streams of Judaism are viewed favorably by the majority of Israelis. Now, even as Israel’s religious and political landscape continue to be heavily influenced by the Chief Rabbinate, there is a remarkable plurality of rabbinic practice and expression.

Such diversity is also seen here in the U.S., where congregational leadership runs the gamut from a single charismatic rabbi whose identity is inextricably linked to his bricks-and-mortar synagogue to a multifaceted group of lay leaders and part-time professionals who lead a congregation without walls. And beyond the pulpit, the wealth of options abound, as rabbinical school graduates eschew congregational life altogether and choose a less traditional path, as the JT’s Susan C. Ingram reports in this week’s cover story.

“The realm, or the scope in which a rabbi can work now, and a lot of my colleagues are going to, is much broader than it used to be,” said Rabbi Simon Stratford, a Hebrew Union grad. He’s just one of this issue’s innovative, entrepreneurial rabbis, who represent a continuing investigation into what it means to be Jewish, and live Jewishly, today.

Relatedly, on p. 12, we chat with Rory Katz, a fifth-year rabbinical student who works as a rabbi at Baltimore’s Chevrei Tzedek and is the subject of our weekly feature “You Should Know…” Like the spiritual leaders you’ll meet in Susan’s cover story, Katz has reimagined the word “rabbi,” which she had previously envisioned as a bearded man who had all the answers. A semester in Nepal, surprisingly, helped clarify things for Katz, as did a fellowship through the American Jewish World Service.

Also in rabbinic news, we have an update for you on the personnel changes at Temple Oheb Shalom, where Rabbi Steven M. Fink had been suspended with pay pending the outcome of a Central Conference of American Rabbis investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct. The results of the investigation are in, and Fink has now been officially suspended from the rabbinate and is prohibited from serving in any capacity with Temple Oheb Shalom. Obviously, this marks a turning point for the congregation, as Ingram reports on p. 14.

Finally, this week we begin our High Holidays coverage, starting with a few stories about Rosh Hashanah. Given the diversity of the Jewish experience in the Diaspora, Jews in the Baltimore area will be observing the holidays in any number of ways, from outdoor services to fish- focused Tashlich. Stay with us as we bring you the kaleidoscope of Jewish practice and celebration in the next few weeks. We look forward to bringing in the New Year together!

Marc Shapiro is on vacation. He will return to this space next week.


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