Religion & Beliefs

When Do You Go To Your Rabbi?

I grew up going to a minyan that didn’t have a rabbi running the show. While we had several rabbis who were/are members, there wasn’t one person setting standards or making speeches. Since then I’ve been to a number of … Read More

By / April 18, 2007

I grew up going to a minyan that didn’t have a rabbi running the show. While we had several rabbis who were/are members, there wasn’t one person setting standards or making speeches. Since then I’ve been to a number of other shuls and minyans that operate without a rabbi at the top of the letterhead. I’ve also, of course, been to plenty of shuls with rabbis, and I currently attend an Orthodox synagogue with an awesome rabbi. But because when I was growing up I didn’t have a particular rabbi who I went to for pastoral care or answers to halachic questions I rarely think to myself, “Oh, I need to go ask my rabbi about that.” Who IS my rabbi, anyway? How do you choose a rabbi? For some people their rabbi is simply the rabbi of the synagogue they attend. But what if you like your shul, but the rabbi’s a bore? Or an idiot? Or just kind of lame? Would you still go to him (or her) if you were having problems in your marriage? Would you want that person to marry you, or tutor your kid for her bat mitzvah? In most Orthodox communities you can ask someone who their rabbi is and they’ll answer right away. They have their guy they go to with any and every question. Once, when I was in Iowa, I was helping to cater for a shabbaton and the rabbi keeping things kosher in the kitchen called his rabbi in New York in the middle of our prep to ask if something might be a problem. And a woman I learned with in Israel told me that her rabbi (who lived in England) had advised her and husband what to name their son (Shammai) but had also told them that wasn’t an appropriate name for them to call him, so he gave them an entirely different name that they use when talking to him. I have to admit that I thought it was ridiculous that she let someone else name her baby, but to this woman the rabbi’s word was law. And she made it clear that if she needed any kind of counseling her first stop would be the rabbi’s office, not a therpist’s. There’s something comforting about having a person who you can always go to for an answer, but it’s a little scary, too. That’s a lot of trust to put in a person. And going to a rabbi for issues that may be better suited for a mental health professional also worries me. It’s hard not to think that a social worker or psychiatrist is better equipped to deal with your depression or infidelity than a rabbi. Yesterday the Jewish Ledger published a piece about a new book that deals with a lot of these issues. It’s called Jewish Relational Care A-Z edited by Jack H Bloom, and here’s what the Ledger had to say about it:

The book launched Haworth's Jewish practices press, and is among a smattering of books aimed at the Jewish caregiver in a Jewish context. It is a uniquely blended approach of Jewish tradition, Hebrew text, and Self-Relations, psychotherapy that helps the individual create a relationship among one's many “selves.” Chapters cover the life cycle, and address many types of situations and suffering. A section of “blessings” — songs, readings, and Bloom's own poems offers the caregiver additional creative tools.
“Jewish Relational Care” attempts a new way to understand Jewish tradition and text. If there's a theme that runs through the book, “it's to give blessing,” Bloom says. “That's what it means to be a rabbi or a Jewish caregiver: to give validation and to bless the painful, hurting parts of people, to bless people where they are, while knowing it's true that they could be more.”

The book sounds great, but I still feel weird about even going to a rabbi with some of this stuff. So how do you guys choose a rabbi? And when do you set up an appointment to see him or her? When do you feel like you really need a rabbi?