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What They Do

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Rabbis observe the ritual and ethical dimensions of Jewish life, and devote themselves to a lifetime of service to the Jewish people.

They serve in either an Orthodox, Conservative, Reform or Reconstructionist Jewish congregation, depending on their beliefs and training. Regardless of their particular beliefs or religious viewpoint, they all share the common task of preserving Jewish religious worship.

Jean Rosensaft, the national director of public affairs at Hebrew Union College in New York, says the future is bright for those considering this calling.

"The rabbinate is a growing profession in America. As career opportunities for rabbis have expanded and the ordination of women in the Reform and Conservative movements has increased over the years, interest in becoming a rabbi has increased and opportunities for placement have expanded widely."

Traditionally, only men could become rabbis. But in recent decades, Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist seminaries have begun to ordain significant numbers of women.

Congregations differ in the extent to which they follow traditional forms of worship -- the wearing of head coverings, the use of Hebrew in prayer, or the use of instrumental music or a choir. The format of the worship service may vary even among congregations belonging to the same branch of Judaism.

Rabbis may:

  • Perform birth ceremonials, confirmations, marriages and funerals
  • Interpret the tenets of Judaism
  • Teach and oversee religious instruction in synagogues or temple schools
  • Preach sermons
  • Offer comfort and consolation, visit hospitals
  • Counsel and advise members of the congregation
  • Represent the Jewish community to the public
  • Write for religious and lay publications

Rabbis are only responsible to the board of trustees of the congregation they serve. Those serving large congregations may spend considerable time in administrative duties, working with staff and committees. Large congregations frequently have associate or assistant rabbis, who often serve as educational directors.

At a Glance

Guide people in the Jewish life

  • Being a rabbi brings great personal rewards
  • Rabbis contract with individual congregations
  • Rabbinical studies can take five or six years