Requirements to be a Rabbi

Commentary by Dr. Ursula A. Falk



The Rabbi as Symbol, Scholar, Therapist, Healer of the Soul, Gateway to G’d and More


The modern Rabbi / religious leader is expected to be a holy man, all things to all of his congregants, to comfort, to heal, to be a Schadchen, a scholar, deliver thought provoking sermons, visit the sick, and comfort the bereaved. He must have no desires of his own, acknowledge only the wishes of the members of his synagogue, and be an example to his flock.  He must be a peacemaker, satisfy the warring folks, make them feel that they are all correct and equally regarded.  He must not behave like an ordinary man, must never “look” longingly at an attractive female unless it be in compassion, have no discernible interest in her female attributes, or venal desires.  In short, he must be a superman.  His adherents pay for his services and expect great and unusual performance from him.  He is expected to be the proverbial answer man, a walking encyclopedia, be a father / mother figure to his constituents,  a psycho-therapeutic rock who follows all of the “Karyagim Mitzwot”,  a man of sterling character who does not deviate an iota from that which is “right and just” and, most of all, he is expected to have no  needs of his own.  He must, in sum, be as close to being a deity as one can imagine. He must be married; his wife must be a wonderful woman, a paragon of virtue who raises his children, takes care of all the mundane tasks of living, attends every service, adulates every word that The Rabbi speaks and knows of no greater joy than to be in the shadow of the great scholar who chose her for her virtues.

Today’s Rabbi cannot meet all that is expected and anticipated.  He has a tremendous responsibility.  His expectations are that he will be respected by the members of his congregation and by the community.  He has spent many years in learning his profession. He has studied the Torah, the Talmud, the “Bible,” Hebrew; a little Yiddish, impeccable English,  psychology, and sociology.  He must have an understanding of world religions; how to construct and deliver meaningful sermons; how to deal with Boards of directors; how to lead and how to follow and much, much more.  He must learn to mediate, to develop programs, to fund raise, to remember the names of all of his membership.  He must be strict with himself, be well dressed to make a good impression, must help build a sukkah, know the meaning of every religious symbol, be a good interpreter, have a selfless spouse who puts in an appearance at the services.  His children must be paragons of virtue and not embarrass him in any way.  He must know his boundaries but be available at “minyans”  and understand all ages and stages of human existence so that he can conduct himself accordingly.  He certainly must have no negative feelings dealing with the sick and dying.  He must understand them all. In short the Rabbi must be a scholar, a deliverer of services, an actor, all things to all people, the adult version of the “Wunderkind”!

Should the Rabbi, the man, the person, fall short of any of the above virtues / considerations, he is ostracized, diminished, criticized, gossiped about and not infrequently rejected.  Especially for the reform and conservative human, the role of Rabbi is one of the most difficult to sustain.  The demands are enormous, the tasks are never ending, the expectations are beyond the strengths of the ordinary mortal.  The Rabbi is expected to be a leader and a follower, all at the same time.  He must often deal with ignorant people and must control his own emotions in order not to point out discrepancies in their thought processes and actions.  He generally has judges over him above and beyond the folks whom he serves.  For example there is the proverbial “Bes Din”, in the form of the Rabbinic Assembly/ University/ Yeshiva/ Seminary in which the Rabbi received his ordination or his “semicha”.  A complainant can report some real or imaginary wrongdoing which possibly can confront the accused (often innocent) Rabbi about the action involved.

If a young enthusiastic student student would know all of the pitfalls of  being a Rabbi would he really dare to step into this role?


Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the co-author, with Dr. Gerhard Falk, of  Deviant Nurses & Improper Patient Care (2006).

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