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How to Become A Rabbi

This article provides an overview of Rabbinical careers and the requirements to become a Rabbi. This article will outline a Rabbi's job duties, salary levels, and employment prospects, as well as discuss the career's necessary skills, training, educational requirements, and certification requirements.

Rabbi Job Duties

Rabbis are the head of their congregations and preserve the substance of Jewish religious worship. Rabbis serve Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, and unaffiliated Jewish congregations. Their duties vary depending on their particular branch of Judaism, and even between congregations of the same branch, but can include:

  • Leading their congregation in worship
  • Officiating at bar and bat mitzvahs
  • Officiating at weddings
  • Officiating at funerals
  • Performing administrative duties of the congregation
  • Performing community relations
  • Acting as a point of contact for interfaith relations and activities
  • Some Rabbis may write for religious and lay publications
  • Some Rabbis may teach in theological seminars, colleges or universities

Rabbis have greater independence in religious expression than do other clergy because of the absence of a formal hierarchy. Rabbis are responsible to the board of trustees of their congregation.

Rabbi Job Skills

Rabbis act as an intermediary between their congregation and the divine. As such, they must possess many unique skills, including:

  • A strong sense of "calling" to the ministry of God
  • A strong sense of morality
  • Caring and empathy for their fellow man
  • Excellent listening skills
  • Excellent communication skills
  • An ability to relate theological concepts to the lives of their parishioners
  • Personal strength to help parishioners through difficult times, such as the loss of a loved one

Rabbi Income

Incomes for Rabbis can vary greatly. They typically receive an annual salary, and in addition may receive housing, health insurance, and a retirement plan. A Rabbi may earn additional income officiating at ceremonies such as weddings, and bar and bat mitzvahs. In 2003, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the average salary for all clergy including Rabbis to be in the $36,000 range. Rabbi income is often quoted in the press to be in the range of $50,000 to $150,000. Variation depends on geographic location, and the size and wealth of a congregation.

Training and Education Required to Become a Rabbi

The training required to become a Rabbi is rigorous. To become eligible for ordination as a Rabbi, an individual must complete a course of study in a Jewish seminary. Most seminaries require students to be college graduates. Jewish seminaries typically take five years to complete, but can last from four to six years. Graduates are awarded the title Rabbi and earn a Master of Arts in Hebrew Letters.

Click here to review a list of Theology Schoolsand the programs that they offer.

Rabbi Employment

In 1998, The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that there were 5,000 Rabbis supporting congregations in the United States. This number did not include the number of ordained Rabbis serving in other occupations.

Newly ordained Rabbis usually begin employment in small congregations, as assistants to experienced Rabbis in larger congregations, as directors of Hillel Foundations on college campuses, as teachers in educational institutions, or as chaplains in the U.S. Armed forces.

Rabbi Job Outlook

Job opportunities for Rabbis are expected in all major branches of Judaism through the most of the next decade. Rabbis willing to work in small, under-served communities will have the best prospects for employment.

There are other related occupations for ordained Rabbis, including: teaching Jewish studies at colleges and universities, serving as chaplains in the Armed Forces, serving as hospital chaplains, serving as university chaplains, serving as a chaplain in a correctional institution, and positions in social service or Jewish community agencies.