Forward Rabbi Eli Kavon’s colleagues don’t consider him a rabbi. Ordained in two years via a correspondence course by a virtually unknown rabbinical seminary in Long Island, he’s not a member of any mainstream rabbinical association. Nor is Kavon eligible for membership on the local board of rabbis.
His congregation, a Conservative synagogue in Boca Raton, Fla., couldn’t care less. “I’ve heard lots of [sermons] in my lifetime,” said Irving Pomerantz, a member of the board of directors at Beth Ami Congregation. “He gives the best.” [...]
Conservative and Reform rabbis see the rise of these nontraditional rabbis as a dire threat. “It’s a plague down here,” said Rabbi Gerry Weiss, the JTS graduate who lost his job at Beth Ami to Kavon.
Others argue, however, that the shift answers an economic need, and one that isn’t going away. [...]
Ordination at the JTS’s program for Conservative rabbis and at the HUC-JIR’s program for Reform rabbis takes five years and costs more than $100,000, though many students receive financial aid. [...]
Some institutions now offering accelerated ordinations don’t even require a Talmud exam. At the Jewish Spiritual Leaders Institute, a 2-year-old online seminary, Rabbi Steven Blane will make you a rabbi after a year of once-weekly two-hour online classes and completion of “a 2,000-word research paper in a Jewish area of their choice,” according to the group’s website. Tuition is $8,000. Blane estimated that between the classes and other required sessions, ordination requires about 180 hours of class time. He said he has ordained 35 rabbis so far. [...]
Sarna, the Brandeis historian, agrees that the market is changing. “What you’re really seeing is the breakdown of the denominational control over every aspect of the process,” he said. “The same caveat emptor applies now in the rabbinate in the same way it applies anywhere else.”