Exploring this Job

Those interested in becoming a rabbi should talk with his or her own rabbi and others involved in the work of the synagogue or temple to get a clearer idea of the rewards and responsibilities of this profession. Choosing a career as a rabbi requires a good deal of levelheaded self-assessment of your suitability for the rabbinate. Prospective rabbis should also spend time in prayer to determine whether they are called to this ministry.

Aspiring rabbis may volunteer at a temple or synagogue in order to get better acquainted with the work of rabbis. Most Jewish seminaries are also eager to speak and work with young people to help them learn about the rabbinate before making a firm decision about it.

The Job

Regardless of their congregational affiliation, all rabbis have similar responsibilities. Their primary duty is conducting religious services on the Sabbath and on holy days. They also officiate at weddings, funerals, and other rites of passage in the Jewish tradition. Rabbis further serve their congregations by counseling members and visiting the sick, as well as supervising and even teaching some religious education courses.

Within Judaism, the rabbi has an elevated status in spiritual matters, but most Jewish synagogues and temples have a relatively democratic form of decision making in which all members participate. Rabbis of large congregations spend much of their time working with their staffs and various committees. They often receive assistance from an associate or assistant rabbi.

Naturally, the Jewish traditions differ among themselves in their view of God and of history. These differences also extend to such variations in worship as the wearing of head coverings, the extent to which Hebrew is used during prayer, the use of music, the level of congregational participation, and the status of women. Whatever their particular point of view might be, all rabbis help their congregations learn and understand Jewish traditions and the role of faith in everyday life.

Many rabbis take on additional responsibilities in the community at large. They may become involved with such social concerns as poverty and drug abuse, or they may take part in interfaith activities with ministers of other religions.

A small but significant number of rabbis do not serve as congregational leaders. They instead serve as educators at colleges, universities, and Jewish schools and seminaries, as writers and scholars, or as chaplains at hospitals or in the armed forces.