I received some news last week* which prompted me to think about these three roles and what they uniquely offer to both the synagogue and greater Jewish community. There are many similarities, differences, and overlaps that I find it worth a moment of exploration.
Rabbis are the age old teachers in Judaism. Rav, the Hebrew word for Rabbi even translates to master or teacher, and many modern Rabbis are referred to as Rav. There are numerous Rabbinical schools, each with their own agenda and emphasis in learning (the details of which are not the point of this post). All of these programs give “smicha” (ordination) at the end of the road, which essentially certifies these individuals to be Rabbis. In the modern era Rabbis can be found in synagogues as leaders and educators, on college campuses, Jewish camps and youth programs, hospitals and a wide variety of community organizations. Rabbis bring forth a wealth of knowledge on laws and practice.
I once heard the daughter of a Cantor liken her father’s job to that of “a singing priest.” While we all thought this was a laughable comment, there is some truth to it. A Cantor (aka – Chazan) has traditionally been a person with a good voice who could lead their community in prayer and read Torah, while providing an additional teacher to the community. Like Rabbis, there are schools across the country which train Cantors and offer them ordination, and they will most likely find work in a synagogue setting. Cantors have a passion for communal prayer like no one else.
As for lay leaders –some have degrees in Jewish Education, Jewish Communal Services, Non-Profit Management, or one of the many other related disciplines – many do not have advanced education in Jewish leadership. These individuals keep synagogues, federations, and community service organizations running daily. Lay leaders have a diverse background, which enriches their leadership.
Rabbis, Cantors and lay leaders all keep the Jewish community vibrant in these unique methods; however they all work to engage, support, and encourage their fellow Jew. These leadership roles have been developed over the years to allow people to find a meaningful way to engage in their Judaism, and to use their engagement to help others find their own meaningful Judaism. Maybe we all need to take a step back and rethink our paths to Judaism and the variety of people who have influenced us before we critique the validity of any of these roles. Imagine your path lacking one inspirational person – are you still the person you are today?
Every Jewish leader is valuable and we should all unite together to empower them to become the best leader they can – in a way which is meaningful for them. Together, we can keep growing our leadership rather than watch it dwindle. If you want to find a way to help and don’t know what to do, feel free to leave a comment here, or email me directly: Melissa@redefiningrebbetzin.com
*When I began this post, I had intended to link to this news, however I since learned it was not yet public knowledge. I will share the information which triggered this in a follow up post as soon as I am able to do so. However, I did still want to get us thinking about our leadership.