So, here’s the thing. I don’t know what to do with my life. I know what NOT to do with my life…go to graduate school for Bible. I think I have a good idea of the kind of stuff they teach there. I wonder what they teach in seminary. Probably the Documentary Hypothesis has seeped in there too. You got your wish, Wellhausen.
Presumably I will apply to schools next January, which would be in approximately fifteen months, which is a baby and a half (I measure things this way). So far, I’m thinking I will apply to Pardes, Yeshivat Hadar, and JTS. If they let me I will apply to JTS PhD program and then invade the rabbinical program from within. They will surely like that.
Pardes sounds (or, more technically, the girl I talked to who works for Pardes made it sound) pretty terrific, especially considering the girl on the phone was impressed with my extremely small achievement of being someone who is going to take two years of Hebrew, apparently that’s important for an applicant, and apparently a lot of people come in not knowing Hebrew or something. She kept assuring me that I could probably get in, but then again so did the Yeshiva University admissions guy, but I ended up not getting in anyway, which makes a lot of sense considering I showed him my Honors paper on how women should wear tefillin and stuff.
So those are the three places I would like to go to after graduating. Of course, the Career Center at W&M has no idea how to help me, because I couldn’t even explain to the lady what I wanted to do with my life (“I want to go to yeshiva, it’s like Jewish seminary.” “Now, does that have a degree at the end?”), and that doesn’t help when you go into the Career Center trying to get some career help.
Because I don’t know what to do with my life. I do know where I want to go to school, however. You say “Laura, seriously, why do you want to go to JTS Rabbinical School when you know very well that their women never get any jobs, just go to Riverdale” and to that I say “I don’t care because I don’t want to work in a faceless synagogue monolith anyway, I want to work in a havurah and you all know this.” The problem is that I don’t know how this translates into a career, and furthermore I realize this everytime someone asks me what I want to do with my life after I graduate, including strangers. Then I have to end up explaining what ‘yeshiva’ and ‘havurah’ and ‘minyan’ is, when really it would be a lot easier to say ‘I shall be a rabbi’ because people actually know what that is, that’s all.
However I am quite aware that any prestige that goes with the title of rabbi goes out the window when it is the title of a womyn. For men, it’s like “whoa you’re so serious” but with womyn it’s like “you stupid feminist, you want equal rights but you’ll never get up for minyan when it comes right down to it.”
And that is sort of why I would probably pick JTS over Riverdale or RRC (and never HUC), because I’m into halacha, and I don’t want to be going to a school wondering if they’re going to light their candles three hours after zman because “it’s the spirit that counts.” You just can’t tell. At JTS, they make their women rabbinical students wear tallit and tefillin at shaharit and actually require things of their students:
The Rabbinical School of The Jewish Theological Seminary seeks to be a supportive and nurturing community that is committed to spiritual development.
We celebrate the diverse backgrounds of our students and are committed to be דן לכף זכות (generous in our judgment of one another). Our faith and practice will be challenged over the course of time and through our experiences in the world. Self-reflection in an environment of dignity and compassion is an essential component of rabbinic training.
JTS trains its rabbinical students in the path made famous by Shimon Ha-Tzaddik in Pirkei Avot 1:2: “Three pillars support the world: Torah, Service of God, Acts of Loyalty and Love.”Explicating these obligations is the task of a lifetime. The following list of beliefs and practices is not comprehensive, yet it indicates some of our most prominent ideals as Jews, and the norms of The Rabbinical School:
על שלשה דברים העולם עומד
על התורה Torah
- Belief that Torah—written and oral—is the inspired and authoritative guide to Jewish life
- Commitment to lifelong study of classical and contemporary works of Torah
- Commitment to grant equal opportunity for men and women to study Torah, participate in the mitzvot, and assume leadership positions in the Jewish community
- Commitment to study Halakhah L’ma’aseh, the evolving path of conduct that expresses the values and norms of the covenant between God and Israel
ועל העבודה Service of God
- אהבת ה’ ויראת שמים, Committed, questioning, and loving engagement with God
- Commitment to traditional communal prayer throughout the day, starting with tallit andtefillin at weekday Shaharit
- Commitment to observing kashrut
- Commitment to observing Shabbat and festivals
- Commitment to holiness in relationships, including halakhic and ethical parameters of sexual intimacy
- Commitment to uphold the Rabbinical Assembly’s Standards of Rabbinic Practice
ועל גמילות חסדים Acts of Loyalty and Love
- The practice of honest, ethical, and compassionate behavior towards other people
- Responsibility for the welfare of one’s fellow Jews
- Advocacy for a peaceful future for the State of Israel and its inhabitants
- Stewardship of the environment and vigilant defense of the dignity of all people
In order to deepen their comprehension of these and other beliefs and practices, rabbinical students consult their deans, rabbis, and teachers, and engage one another in respectful dialogue. Religious policies for The Rabbinical School are formulated by the dean, who serves as its מרא דאתרא, the arbiter of Jewish practice.
I know that it’s popular to be like “do whatever you want,” but I really can’t get into HUC’s weird lack of principles for their rabbis. Seriously, I’m thinking they can graduate without being observant at all.
And don’t give me that “well you don’t know how well they do the ETHICAL mitzvot!!” crap, because I know perfectly well that if they don’t read Mishnah in all their pastoral counselling classes they’ll never know what to do with that stray ox, and more importantly you can be a great and ethical person, but still not in the Jewish way. And there is a Jewish way.
And then rabbis can easily come out of HUC (for example) spreading lashon hara, just because they don’t know how lashon hara is defined and they don’t even know what they’re doing, probably.
I like Riverdale and everything, but let’s get real:
Those people kind of look like they were probably in my Reform adult b’nai mitzvah class, you know the one where everyone was complaining about how they’d have to learn one bracha in Hebrew and that is so hard. And what’s with all of them being old?
Well, anyway, it just seems sketchy in general and I don’t know their standards, but at least it’s not Hebrew College. And Judith Hauptman went there, and she’s OK (also teaches at JTS, also I emailed her once but she never wrote back). But Riverdale fancies itself ‘trans-denominational,’ which is good for my goals in life but I fear that they focus more on the pastoral aspect, which is what I’m trying to get away from because I don’t believe in this weird modern Protestant “the rabbi is your psychologist” thing. I’d rather focus on texts. Problem-solving. I can pastorally counsel in my own caustic Laura way, I ain’t need no clazz 4 dat.
But I’m still not solving the problem of what to do with my life.
OK, I’ll tell you the things that I want to do, and you tell me if this can sustain my coffee addiction, at the very least, and maybe if I could pay rent or something too with this career choice.
This is hard, so let’s first look at the mission statements of some of my favorite institutions:
1.) The National Havurah Committee (NHC)
is a network of diverse individuals and communities dedicated to Jewish living and learning, community building, and tikkun olam (repairing the world). Since the 1970s, the NHC Summer Institute has been bringing together Jews from across North America to envision a joyful grassroots Judaism and provide the tools to help them create empowered Jewish lives and communities. The NHC is a nondenominational, multigenerational, egalitarian, and volunteer-run organization.
2.) Limmud NY
We are a conference, a festival, a gathering of hundreds of Jews from all walks of life, all Jewish backgrounds, all lifestyles, and all ages. Limmud is four days of lectures, workshops, text-study sessions, discussions, exhibits, performances and much more—all planned by a community of volunteers.
In Hebrew, Limmud means “learning”—and that’s what it’s about. An opportunity to craft your own Jewish world. Explore your connection to Jewish ideas and tradition. Meet people who share your curiosity and enthusiasm. Relax, reflect, and celebrate.
From early in the morning until late each night, you’ll have an opportunity to choose from an ongoing menu of 8-12 simultaneous sessions on topics ranging from Talmud to psychology, from film to Bible, from drama to Israeli politics. Some sessions will be given by renowned lecturers; others will be discussion groups, artist circles, or workshops. Some will be small; others will be events for the entire Limmud community. There will be time to make new friends, and time to talk with presenters, so that you can truly learn from everyone.
3.) Mechon Hadar
The first full-time egalitarian yeshiva in North America
A corps of motivated, young Jews who feel empowered to create and strengthen dynamic Jewish communities is crucial to the realization of Mechon Hadar’s mission. Unlike any program in the United States, this study program combines the following elements:
- Text study in Bible, Midrash, Talmud, Halakha, liturgy, and theology.
- A commitment to the religious and spiritual growth of the individual participants.
- The creation of a passionate and active Jewish learning community.
- Social justice initiatives that embody the values embedded in the texts.
- Intensive, all-day programming for students in an egalitarian setting.
- Individualized projects students will take home to local communities.
The Minyan Project
Resource, networking and consulting for more than 70 independent minyanim nationwide
In the last decade, thousands of unaffiliated young Jews have sought spiritual expression through new, independent minyanim. The leaders of Mechon Hadar have been at the forefront of working with these communities, including organizing a sold-out national conference in November 2008 for over 90 leaders from 32 independent minyanim, representing over 14,000 minyan participants. In addition to the 3-day leaders conference, Mechon Hadar also held a 1-day public forum on minyanim at Brandeis University. This extraordinary day attracted 120 minyan leaders and representatives from traditional Jewish institutions, and featured 8 panels and a keynote address, with scholars, minyan leaders and Jewish professionals. You can find recordings of these sessions here. Mechon Hadar continues to assist these communities in the following ways:
- Prayer leader empowerment training series.
- Halakhic consulting for pressing communal issues (gender, kashrut, etc).
- Practical guides for running complicated prayer services.
- New melody workshops and resources.
- Networking conference for leaders to connect and share best practices.
- Internet resources and email lists for cross-minyan communication.
(Side note: Also this book.)
So what I want to do is work to get us away from this really inefficient current model of liberal (American?) Jewish life, which basically is have kids in programs until bar mitzvah, throw them out into the world where they move out and do stuff until they’re about 30, which is when inevitably they have to come back to the suburbs to raise children and they need an institution of their Hebrew school needs etc., which no one really thinks is especially efficient but they feel like that’s what they ought to do. And furthermore to support this system we require the ubiquitous donor class, who run things behind the scenes. Pragmatically, some people probably don’t care if the guy who just donated $1,000 now gets all the aliyot and a plaque on the wall and now suddenly they’re letting his son lead Ma’ariv every week—but I do. And I don’t think it’s fair.
So there’s a huge slice of the population who’s not being served here by these so called ‘synagogue community centers’… ‘shuls with pools,’ as one of my books on the subject is titled. Independent minyanim claim to give access to the 20’s and 30’s group, but I would like to improve this model by coming up with ways on how we could improve pluralism (thereby taking us away from need for denominational labels and thus the need to be funded by the corresponding institutions (CCAR, RA, USCJ, etc.), and to find ways that we could do various things as an indepdent community such as Jewish schooling and life-cycle events. Moreover, I would like to see such a model being used not just as a transitory measure for college kids and “young professionals.” This would take quite a radical financial shift, for one thing.
Further, I happen to think this reliance on the synagogue has led us to believe, in liberal Judaism, that we can’t function without having an officiating rabbi, and that is plain false. Even Krazee Eyez himself said you don’t need a rabbi for most things. You don’t need him to lead services. You don’t need him to read the Torah. You don’t need him for your Bar Mitzvah. You don’t need him for your wedding. It’s true! Shifting our responsibilities onto the rabbi is inexcusable today, where we certainly have the education and resources necessary to not have to give up our Jewish autonomy. Therefore education and a shift in congregational structure is necessary. (Lincoln Square, to use one example, has Beginner’s Services so that they can still have the main Orthodox service but still allow newcomers to join in after a bit of incubation time.)
But what do I want to do? I want to overturn our current structure. It leaves people out. It keeps us stagnant and complacent. It’s not working. If liberal Judaism wants to be able to define itself against its own standards and not simply as what’s ‘less observant than Orthodox,’ it has to be able to sustain itself (and Orthodoxy, for what it’s worth, has a better structure in that people are generally educated enough to be observant outside the synagogue etc.) But to combine liberal Judaism with an autonomous ethic (and a commitment to halacha) is something we sorely need.
Halachic think tank.
I don’t know if you can get a career doing this. Hadar is seriously the closest thing I can think of.