The answer to this question will depend upon your current religious status and the school of Judaism you follow. Traditionally, there are four schools: (a) Orthodox; (b) Conservative; (c) Reform; and (d) Re-constructionist. Judaism is a religion which provides not only spiritual guidance, but also provides rules and regulations for day-to-day living (termed as ‘halacha’).
A rabbi is a Jewish priest, learned in the ways of the Torah, origins and philosophies of the Jewish faith. This article provides some basic general guidelines on how you can become a rabbi, with specific references to the four schools as and when applicable.
General guidelines for training
- You must successfully complete an admission test, which will include testing the candidate’s temperament, attitude and knowledge of Jewish scriptures.
- You must have successfully completed a four-year college degree. For many rabbis, being a priest is often a second career, they may already have trained and worked as doctors, teachers, lawyers, business professionals, etc.
- Rabbis-in-training undergo about 5-6 years of intensive study prior to the ordination and are required to spend a minimum of one year living and studying in Israel, learning and mastering Hebrew.
- Some Jewish seminaries, (‘yeshiva’ in Hebrew) require trainee rabbis to complete an internship once the study period is completed.
- Once the training is complete and you are ordained as a rabbi, you can take up a position as a rabbi serving a congregation, depending upon the appointment and size of the congregation.
The following subjects (both theory and practice) are covered in a standard curriculum for rabbis: (a) knowledge of the Bible and the Torah; (b) Hebrew; (c) history of Judaism; (d) theology and education; (e) pastoral psychology; (f) public speaking; and (g) dealing with the community and congregations.
The specific curriculum adopted in each of the four schools is listed below:
- Orthodox School: Study of the Talmud, codified Jewish law pertaining to daily Jewish life – marriage, Sabbath, keeping kosher, laws of purity, etc.
- Conservative School: Study of the Hebrew Bible, Talmud, Midrashic literature, the Mishna, conservative tradition, philosophy and theology, Jewish codes of law and ethics; pastoral care and psychology, history of Judaism and scholarly criticism of scripture.
- Reform&re-constructionist schools: These 2 schools do not lay as much emphasis on learning of the Talmud and legal codes; students will instead concentrate on social issues, congregation management and psychology, modern philosophy and ethics and cultural studies.
As mentioned previously, seminaries or teaching schools follow any one of the four traditional schools of Judaism. The main institutions which regulate rabbinical training for each major sect are as follows:
- Conservative: Jewish Theological Seminary of America
- Orthodox: The Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary & The Beth Medrash Govoha Seminary
- Reform: Hebrew Union College in the Jewish Institute of Religion
- Re-constructionist: Re-constructionist Rabbinical College
This, in essence is the basic and important information you need to know in order to train and become a rabbi.