So you are thinking about becoming a rabbi and starting to explore your educational options. Now what?
There are many choices for rabbinical school. To figure out which is the right one for you, there are two fundamental questions you need to answer:
1. What are the approaches to rabbinic education at the schools you are interested in?
2. What are you looking for in your rabbinical school experience and education?
To help you explore and reflect on these questions, here are eight aspects of rabbinic education to apply them to:
Becoming a rabbi means acquiring knowledge of Jewish tradition, history and practice. However, in addition to downloading, you also need to install. You need to develop a nourishing Jewish practice and merge your life with Torah so you can participate in the ongoing emergence of Jewish tradition. Finally, you need to develop the professional skills to survive and thrive in the rabbinate.
- What do you want to come out of rabbinical school having learned?
- How do you want and need to grow as a person and Jew?
- What knowledge do you think will help you be and feel like a rabbi?
- What is emphasized in the curriculum and why?
- What is the place of text study, beit midrash and chevruta learning in the approach to learning?
- How much personal space is there to find your own path in Judaism and to tailor the program to your needs?
2. LEARNING ENVIRONMENT
Rabbinical schools in the United States tend to be accredited institutions of higher learning, granting degrees in addition to ordaining people as rabbis. However, rabbinical school has to be more than graduate school for people to develop the knowledge, skills and habits of a rabbi. A school’s learning environment, which includes the curriculum but also how people are learning and interacting with each other, is a critical element of transforming a graduate school into a rabbinical school.
- What is a typical day and week?
- How are the rhythms of Jewish life a part of the school?
- What is the general tone?
- What sort of environment are you looking for?
- What balance of graduate school and “yeshiva” do you want?
- What do you want the general tone of the school to be?
3. RELIGIOUS APPROACH
Each school has a religious approach to Judaism that impacts many elements of the program and experience. At the core of this issue is if can you find yourself and grow within a school’s version of Judaism.
- What are the religious approach and commitments of the school?
- How does the religious orientation impact the curriculum?
- What religious practices are expected? What is the range of practice of members of the community?
- How significant are your places of connection and disconnection with the religious approach of the school?
- How much space do you want and need to cultivate your own expression of Judaism?
- To what extent do you want to be part of a community with a more consistent versus a more diverse Jewish practice?
Rabbinical schools are generally multi-year, on campus, intensive programs in which you are journeying to ordination with a group of fellow travelers. Moreover, practicing and growing as a Jew is by nature a very communal endeavor.
- What type of community is the school striving to create?
- What structures enable and support the cultivation of the community?
- What role does the communal experience have in the educational model of the school?
- What type of community do you want to be a part of in rabbinical school?
- What sort of communal environment would help you grow?
- How do you hope students and faculty interact in the community?
While finding the right rabbinical school is very important, the purpose of the education is to serve as a rabbi out in the world. As rabbis increasingly work in various settings, including congregations, Hillels, schools, hospitals and communal institutions, the need for a robust and varied program of professional development and attentive, individualized placement support is critical.
- What types of rabbinic work are graduates doing and where are they serving?
- How does the placement process work?
- How successful are graduates at finding rabbinic work?
- What types of rabbinic work are you interested in?
- What sorts of interactions do you hope to have with people as a rabbi?
- When you retire, what do you hope people will say about you?
6. FINANCIAL AID AND INVESTMENT
Rabbinical School is an investment that prepares you for a fulfilling career of service. As a multi-year on campus program, financing your rabbinic education is an important consideration and often involves a combination of financial aid, scholarships, loans and part time work. Can you, and possibly your family, afford to do it? Can you afford not to do it?
- What types of financial support does the school provide?
- What are students doing to earn money during school? How does the school help people find work?
- What is the cost of living in the school’s area?
- What are the loan repayment support options?
- How much financial support do you need to make rabbinical school possible?
- What is your earning potential during school and upon graduation?
- How does considering your neshama (soul) needs in dialogue with your other resource and support needs impact your thinking?
- What personal and financial tradeoffs are you willing to make to become a rabbi?
7. ALUMNI COMMUNITY AND SUPPORT
Most likely, you are going to be a rabbi a lot longer than you are in rabbinical school. Finding colleagues and mentors who can help you professionally and support your ongoing spiritual needs is critical to sustaining yourself in this work. Alumnae networks are a primary place to turn for such support.
- What sort of community and support mechanisms do the alumnae networks have in place?
- What ongoing learning opportunities are provided?
- How does the alumnae community build and maintain community?
- Who do you want to be your colleagues?
- To what extent do you imagine ongoing learning being a part of your rabbinate?
- What other forms of support do you think you might want and need after you are ordained?
8. THE WHOLE PICTURE
Personal decisions, particularly ones as significant as becoming a rabbi, are always communal. As you consider this path and which school is right for you, the impact on family and friends is a very important, and possibly central, consideration.
- How would attending a particular school impact your friends and family? What impact would the religious expectations and commitments a school has for its students on you andyour family and friends? What about the location?
- In what ways are personal and family lives involved and supported?
- What do the people in your life need so they can be supportive participants in this process?
- What compromises are you willing to make for the sake of family and friends?
In a changing Jewish world, The Rabbinical School of Hebrew College prepares spiritual leaders to be authentic inheritors and innovators of Jewish tradition. Come experience our vibrant pluralistic community and learn about our unique approach to preparing rabbis to be the spiritual guides and companions of tomorrow. We offer serious Jewish learning in a beit midrash setting filled with openness and excitement for reimagining Judaism for our times. See if Hebrew College is right for you.
Rabbi Daniel Klein was ordained by Hebrew College in 2010. In addition to being the Associate Dean of Admissions & Student Life for the Hebrew College Rabbinical School, he serves as the Rabbi in Residence of The Boston Synagogue.