How to Become a Rabbi

by eHow Culture & Society Editor

You wear many hats as a rabbi. You have the prestige and responsibility of being a spiritual and civic leader, as well as a scholar and a therapist. You lead religious services; perform bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings and other ceremonies; counsel members of the congregation; and work on projects to better the community at large.

Be Jewish or convert to Judaism. Conversion is a multistep process with different requirements for the different branches of Judaism.

Be a good speaker and a good listener. Your success as a rabbi hinges on interacting well with people to gain their confidence.

Decide which branch of Judaism you want to serve: Orthodox, Conservative, Reform or Reconstructionist. (Orthodox Judaism ordains only male rabbis.) They feature very different forms of worship and lifestyle, from traditional to quite modern. Format and rituals can even vary within one branch.

Get a college degree. Most Jewish seminary programs require it. Your major isn't crucial. Seminaries look for qualities that will make you a successful spiritual leader. They weigh your academic success, volunteer work, psychological makeup and more.

Gain substantial life experience. Many lawyers, doctors and business people become rabbis as a second career. They view their religious calling as a way to give back to the community.

Complete a four- or five-year seminary program. Each branch of Judaism has its own requirements, but you can usually expect an academic program plus internships and field training. The religious curriculum includes the Torah, Jewish history and Hebrew, and you'll also study psychology, education, public speaking and community problem solving.

Graduate as a rabbi with a master's degree in Hebrew letters. Or study longer and earn a doctorate in Hebrew letters.

Get hired by a congregation and receive direction from your congregation's board of trustees. Judaism doesn't have a religious hierarchy, so rabbis don't report to a superior such as a bishop or a pope.

Expect to start small in your first job. Competition is stiff for large congregations. You can become an assistant rabbi, a leader of a small congregation, a chaplain in the military or the director of a college Hillel center. You can also teach at a college or seminary or work for a Jewish social-service agency.

Tips

  • Brush up on your Hebrew and Jewish studies before you enter a seminary, or you might spend an extra year there preparing for the regular course of study.
  • If you need financial aid, seminaries often have loan and scholarship programs. (See 234 Organize Your Financial-Aid Package.)
  • See 346 Plan a Bar or Bat Mitzvah.
  • Rabbis' earnings vary greatly, according to the part of the country, the branch of Judaism and the size and finances of the congregation.
  • Large cruise ships such as the Queen Mary employ rabbis.

Photo Credits

  • synagogue image by Stanisa Martinovic from Fotolia.com