CCAR Newsletter Nov-Dec 2012 - 1

CENTRAL

CONFERENCE

OF

AMERICAN

RABBIS

‫חשון-כסלו-טבת תשע״ג‬
FROM THE PRESIDENT Jonathan A. Stein

1889

Founded In

NEWS
Publication of the Central Conference of American Rabbis

November/December 9 Volume 56 – Number 2012 | Volume 60 – Issue 2

‫איגוד הרבנים המתקדמים‬

FROM THE DIRECTOR OF RABBINIC PLACEMENT Alan Henkin

Dear Chevrah,
Kavod haRav is an important component of our rabbinic self-image and crucial to our ability to influence Jewish life wherever we may serve the Jewish people. The title “rabbi” still carries with it a promise of Jewish knowledge and the privilege of moral authority. Yet gone are the days when the congregation would stand as the rabbi entered or when the rabbi’s word always carried the day. Many fret that the traditional honor assumed to be due a rabbi has given way to an encroachment on rabbinic status by laypeople and other Jewish professionals. Yet while the luster of kavod haRav may have worn off for some of our colleagues, much of the shine remains, depending, of course, on how we handle ourselves in our rabbinic capacities. A good deal of rabbinic status comes from our s’michah, symbol of our mastery of Jewish scholarship. Our skills with traditional texts, our knowledge of history and theology, our ability to teach in ways that are understandable and inspirational, and our intellectual consistency all play a role in establishing the rabbi as a central figure in the continuity of our heritage. Humility is an integral part of this aspect of our work. We must always be prepared to say, “I don’t know,” and to search out the answer. We dare not pretend to have the answers to life’s mysteries. A rabbi without both learning and humility will often fail to fulfill his or her rabbinic potential. We rabbis earn honor and respect by acting as moral exemplars in both our personal and professional lives. Part of our role is prophetic, pointing out the ethical failures of society, standing for the values that we hold dear, proclaiming our truth even when we know that we will encounter resistance. When we talk about difficult issues, we must do so in a
(Continued on page 11)

T

he world of rabbinic placement is changing fast. An article in the August 24th New York Times on the supposed antitrust nature of rabbinic placement has sent shivers throughout the small chevrah of rabbinic placement directors. The author, Samuel Freedman, based his article on conversations with Barak Richman and his writings. Richman, a professor of law and business at Duke University and a former member of his Conservative synagogue’s search committee, has argued that the Rabbinical Assembly’s placement system violates Sherman antitrust laws and constitutes an illegal cartel. This article provoked a lively exchange on the CCAR’s Facebook page.

Even prior to the article, Steve Fox and I had been in conversations with different experts who have helped us understand this issue as a question of “ministry,” not “antitrust.” Antitrust legislation is meant to regulate commercial activity, but the way in which congregations engage rabbis is anything but a business deal. For one thing, congregations that choose to affiliate with the Reform Movement formally or informally affirm a set of commitments that the Movement has articulated over the years, such as the equality of men and women, the full inclusion of LGBT Jews, the power of prayer in the vernacular, an openness to change and innovation, and so on. The choice to embrace these commitments aligns the congregation with the institutions of the Reform Movement. Also, when a congregation goes into a search, it spends a great deal of time in self-study in order to clarify the kind of community it aspires to become. Through focus groups, congregational meetings, online surveys, informal oneg talks, and other means, a congregation identifies its values, hopes, and dreams as a Reform synagogue. The engaging of a rabbi who shares the congregation’s values, hopes, and dreams, and who possesses the rabbinic qualifications and skills to realize them, is an expression of the Reform Jewish identity of the congregation. Engaging a rabbi is a distinctly religious act; it is not a secular transaction. It is protected by the First Amendment. As one commentator put it, “The fundamental problem with applying antitrust law to the non-commercial activities of churches, synagogues, or other religious organizations is that it forces them to adhere to a set of normative commitments that may not be their own.” Going into placement is not primarily a commercial deal. Yes, we deserve to be compensated, but being compensated is secondary to our rabbinates, which are primarily about teaching Torah, serving the community, and doing justice. Earning a living sufficient to support our families in dignity is important, but it is incidental to our larger purpose: the living out of the covenant between God and Israel. Given our education and skills, we could probably earn more in other fields, but we have chosen to devote our gifts to the Jewish world. At the heart of this issue is a tocheichah for us: when we value our financial package over our rabbinic responsibilities, we transform our rabbinates and, by extension, the rabbinate as a whole into businesses. In fact, the work that we do is sacred; the beliefs that we affirm are holy; and the Torah that we teach is t’mimah. Kol tuv, Alan

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CCAR Newsletter Nov-Dec 2012

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of CCAR Newsletter Nov-Dec 2012

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CCAR Newsletter Nov-Dec 2012 - 2
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