Education and Training Requirements

High School

Many aspiring rabbis informally begin their training early in life in Jewish grade schools and high schools. Aspiring rabbis should take all religious and Hebrew language courses available to them. It is also important to study English and communications to become an effective leader. Business and mathematics courses are a good foundation for administrative work as the leader of a congregation.

Postsecondary Training

Completion of a course of study in a seminary is a prerequisite for ordination as a rabbi. Entrance requirements, curriculum, and length of the seminary program vary depending on the particular branch of Judaism. Prospective rabbis normally need to complete a bachelor's degree before entering the seminary. Degrees in Jewish studies, philosophy, and even English and history can fulfill seminary entrance requirements. It is advisable to study Hebrew at the undergraduate level if at all possible. Seminarians without a solid background in Jewish studies and the Hebrew language may have to take remedial courses.

While seminary studies differ between the four movements of Judaism, there are many similarities between them. Most seminary programs lead to the master of arts in Hebrew letters degree and ordination as a rabbi. With more advanced study, some students earn the doctor of Hebrew letters degree. Most master's programs last about five years, and many of them include a period of study in Jerusalem. It is becoming more common for seminarians to complete internships—usually as assistants to experienced rabbis in the area—as part of their educational requirements.

The general curriculum of ordination for all branches of Judaism includes courses in the Torah, the Talmud (post-biblical writings), rabbinic literature, Hebrew philosophy, Jewish history, and theology. Students should expect to study Hebrew for both verbal and written skills. Courses are also offered in education, public speaking, and pastoral psychology. Practical courses in conducting religious services are usually required. Training for leadership in community service and religious education may be available to those who wish to serve outside the traditional synagogue situation.

Other Education or Training

Rabbis never stop learning during their careers, and some rabbinical organizatuions offer continuing education classes, webinars, and workshops to help them stay up to date. For example, the Central Conference of American Rabbis offers seminars such as "Developing Jewish Young Adults: From High School to College and Beyond," "The First 100 Days For Every Rabbi in Job Transition," and "Building Skills for Community-Based and Small Congregational Rabbinic Work." It also offers educational opportunities at its annual conference. Contact the conference for more information. 

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

There are no certification requirements for rabbis. All states require rabbis to be licensed (ordained) to perform marriage ceremonies.

Other Requirements

Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist seminaries accept women and allow them to be ordained as rabbis. The Orthodox congregation does not officially recognize women as rabbis and only men are allowed to attend Orthodox seminaries. 

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Rabbis obtain experience by taking classes and participating in an internship in the seminary. Most importantly, rabbis must feel a calling to religious life. They must believe that they have received a call from God to serve others. 

In addition to the ordination requirements, a primary consideration in choosing a career in the clergy is a strong religious faith coupled with the desire to help others. Rabbis should be able to communicate effectively and supervise others. They must have self-confidence, initiative, and the ability to deal with pressure. They need to be impartial and attentive when listening to the troubles and worries of congregants. They must be tactful and compassionate in order to deal with people of many backgrounds. They must set a high moral and ethical standard for the members of their congregation. Orthodox seminaries accept only men, but all other denominations accept men and women into the rabbinate.