Sunday, May 1, 2011

Conservative & Reform rabbis' employment in danger in many communities

Jewish Week

One of the little-discussed effects of the economic recession on the Jewish community is that more rabbis in the later stages of their careers are finding themselves out of work.

And that’s causing a good deal of bitterness and concern in the rabbinic community about the dwindling, and changing nature, of the profession.

“We’re seeing the end of the rabbinate as we know it,” a 56-year-old Reform rabbi insisted, noting that congregations today are looking for “comfort,” not challenges. “The intellectual tradition of the pulpit has died,” said the rabbi, who asked not to be named out of concern for the prospects for his next job search.

The data is sketchy and the reasons differ as to just why the rabbinic market is falling. But a number of people close to the situation say that with Conservative and Reform synagogues losing an estimated 20 to 30 percent of their membership, rabbis increasingly are the sacrificial lambs on the altar of congregational cost-saving.


  1. Is it any wonder?
    What exactly is the function of a heterodox (to use Rav Yonasan Rosenblum's term) rabbi?
    To give speeches on Saturday morning about feel-good subjects or rallying cries for supporting Israel.
    Not to answer shailos. People don't even know they're supposed to have questions any more.
    Not to teach. Anyone with a PhD or a strong self-righteous attitude can opine on Jewish subjectes.
    Heck, come to think of it, rabbis aren't so indispensible for the speech thing either.

  2. The 56 yr old reform rabbi is mistaken. He should have realized that what they're losing the need for is Reform altogether, not just its rabbinate. The only groups where synagogue attendance isn't dwindling are the Orthodox and the self-declared Post-Denominational.

    But Garnel, you left out the largest part of the non-O rabbi's role (and many O rabbis too) -- and therapists do a better job than them at that, too.


  3. Garnel IronheartMay 1, 2011 at 7:45 PM

    Both excellent points Reb Micha but Reform isn't dwindling, just expanding their definition to keep their numbers up.

  4. Reform isn't dwindling, just expanding their definition to keep their numbers up.

    Which further demonstrates rather vividly that Reform is not only not a Jewish movement, it is becoming less and less of Jewish adherents and more gentile.

  5. Reform Judaism is actually growing, their temple which were built 30-40 years ago are too small for their current high holidays services and they have to move their services to conference halls, concert halls ands even churches.

    In San Francisco people driving to Yom Kippur services caused traffic jam and now the temple rents a parking lot and have a shuttle from the parking lot to the temple.

  6. CP see this report by the Jm Center for Public Affairs: "Moreover, recent studies of American Jewry show that both movements [C & R] are in trouble, as increasing numbers of American Jews tend to identify with neither."

    Similarly, from summarizing a Union for Reform Judaism two-day meeting: The challenge of demographics - our adult population is aging and the generation under 50 is not necessarily affiliating at the same rate.


  7. Any growth Reform may be experiencing is from their non-Jewish membership.

  8. Interesting the way people love to do reform-bashing.
    Just a generation or 2 ago, it was orthodoxy that was on the decline. Same issues - and many left orthodoxy because they felt it was finished. So orthodoxy is not "immune", and its not wise to get too haughty.

  9. Interesting that you presume that observations about Reform's current state of decline were written with a tone of triumphalism. I think that's unfair to Garnel and myself.

    The vast majority of people leaving R are instead not embracing anything, and their children leaving the community altogether. It's nothing to celebrate.

    Similarly C, which is in a more acute existential crisis, but at least organizational C is aware of it. There are two synagogues in my neighborhood that were formerly C -- one adopted a mechitzah and found a new rabbi who conformed to the neighborhood's current demographics, the other folded and sold the building to an O congregation. Huge buildings, each capable of seating more than 400 people. Perhaps between both congregations, 2 or 3 people now attend O synagogues. And where is everyone else? There is certainly no victory in this.

    I hold out hope for the Post-Denominationalists, Independant Minyanim and Havurot. We're better off with more idealists, even if their ideals do not conform to our own. If current trends hold -- and as Eddie implicitly notes, they rarely do (they didn't when O was in decline) -- I foresee their children being the next major heterodoxy.

  10. Post-Denominationalism, the Havurah world, and the Independent minyans aren't ideologies -- they're attitudes.

    Independent minyans exist that conform to the norms of every denomination on the Jewish spectrum, even if they usually refuse to self-identify with the institutional community they match up with.

    And when it comes to the 'Post-Denominationals', they also match up to any of the institutional denominations -- PD is more of an eschewal of 'labels of alliegance' than a particular path on its own.


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