A Radically Reformed Model of Leadership

Was war, was ist, und was soll der Rabbiner?

This is the question in a prize essay contest in Berlin over two hundred years ago, and remains a prize question today.

What was the role of the Rabbi?

A Rabbi was, and is, in traditional circles, a Jewish lawyer. A Master Teacher of Jewish law, a rabbi was (is) also the embodiment of Torah. The authority of the Rabbi was divinely inspired, and every opinion footnoted from Torah, as it is written:” Consider what you do, for you judge not for man, but for God, and he is with you in your decision.” (Second Chronicles 19:16)

The title “Rabbi” today indicates a Jewish lawyer’s right to judge cases involving fines. This is the equivalent of a lawyer who may become a small claims court judge. In the past a Rabbi was eligible for appointment to the ancient supreme court if, and only if, they had expertise in areas outside of traditional legal training, including expertise in other religions.

Official Ordination was prohibited (by non- Jewish authorities) in the year 358 C.E. Today, among the traditional, “ordination” (Smicha) is a certification that a Rabbi is an expert in one area of Torah law. The certificate grants the Rabbi permission to teach, and in rare cases, permission to judge. Ordination is like a letter of recommendation, and is only granted to those who have an orthodox worldview and lifestyle at the time of ordination.

What is the role of the Rabbi today?

Every denomination of modern Judaism will have a different answer, since technically ordination does not exist. In modern times, rabbis most often receive certificates of graduation, traditional degrees. As explained orthodox rabbis are expected to master the Law, so they receive a type of J.D., or juris(t) doctor. In the beginning, the Reconstructionist Movement required a PhD to get ordained. The Conservative movement produces Master teachers with a Masters of Hebrew Letters. The Reform Movement, with more of a focus on the pastoral dimensions of the rabbinate, trains Rabbi M.S.W.’s. The New Seminary has a type of two-year associates degree with very limited Hebrew required and graduates Rabbi’s. Outside the fold, Messianic’s sometimes call their leaders Rabbi, even as they teach the trinity and virgin birth. Rabbis in modern times are many things to many different people.

What should be the role if the Rabbi today?

Our Rabbis teach that the wise person learns from everyone, and from the past. They conserve those traditions of the past that are essential and reform or transform those traditions that need reconstructing. A thousand years before “the Rabbis” parents were given a model of leadership in the book of Deuteronomy (6:7), where parents are commanded to diligently teach their children. There the Home is the sanctuary and the parent the master teacher. Later on in history the Rabbis understood this to include an obligation to educate our grandchildren, and in fact, to educate all children. Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon explains in The Laws of Studying and Teaching Torah that we are to think of students as our children. This vision created a community of Israel that is an extended family of knowledgeable disciples. In fact, one of our greatest founding Rabbis had a vision that every Jew would be a Rabbi.

The key Mishna that defines leadership is found in Pirkay Avot (Principle Teachings) Chapter one, sixteen: (in the Hebrew)

Rabban Gamaliel omare:” Ahsay lecha Rav”

This is often translated: Rabban Gamaliel says: “Provide yourself a Rabbi”, but may also be understood to mean; “Make yourself into a Rabbi”. Rabban is an exalted title given to Gamaliel, who was Hillel’s grandson and the Chief Rabbi of his time. Every citizen is commanded to study and teach, so ideally we all become master teachers called Rabbi’s.

This fits in with the prophetic vision of Isaiah that all Israel has a portion in paradise (Olam Haba) recited before the study of each chapter of Avot (Isaiah 60:21):

“Your people shall all be righteous (Zaddikim) they shall inherit the land forever…”

Is it possible that every citizen will be righteous? In our time, in the Chassidic movement the term “Zaddik” has come to mean more than a righteous person. The saintly leader is called a Zaddik. In fact, Rabbi Samuel H. Dressner in his study on the Zaddik suggests that the mystic saints that led the various Chassidic dynasties may be a viable model of leadership in our times, when we are experiencing a “crisis of leadership”

The Chassidic community calls their saintly leader a Rebbe. This is wonderful in light of the fact that teachers of elementary school children are called Rebbe and people greet one another as “Reb”. The Rebbe of the Chassidic dynasty, however, was the cornerstone of their world, and a restructured Judaism. They inspired a renewal between 1750 and 1800 that has reverberations into our time. Professor Gershom Scholem explains that the innovation of the Zaddik was essentially a rebellion against petrified religion.

The next step is to fulfill Isaiah’s vision, to create a world where we all are Zaddikim The founder of the Jewish renewal movement, (which has many Neo- Chassidic dimensions) Rabbi Zalman Schecter-Shalomi, goes beyond Rabbi Dressner in rethinking leadership in our time. The crisis that precipitated the Chassidic movement, the belief by the majority of Jewry in the false Messiah Shabbatai Zvi inspired a new understanding of the Messiah. The idea that Messiah would be a King over all of Jewry was set aside. The Zaddik was a type of local governor or mayor of his community, but not the king of all of Jewry. In addition, disciples were encouraged to find the sparks of “the Messiah within” with the expectation that the Zaddik could ignite the spark. Rabbi Zalman wrote his doctoral dissertation on the relationship between the Zaddik and his disciple. Rabbi Zalman envisions a paradigm shift in that everyone is called to find the “Rebbe” within. Read “Make yourself into a Rebbe.”

Am A Ha Aretz: The People of the Earth will Inherit.

Is it possible that every member of the community of Israel be a saint? Is the expectation that we all be scholars overly idealistic? Should the role of the Rabbi be the teaching and ordination of every Jew so they also may become a Rabbi? In theory, yes, since we are all obligated to study and teach Torah. If an ignorant person cannot be pious, they certainly cannot be righteous, so being a Rabbi is the stepping-stone to being a Rebbe. Of course, the original Chassidic movement proved that sometimes an ignorant person is pious and righteous.

In modern Judaism, we encounter many unschooled and righteous community members. The question remains if they are good Jews. (Rabbi) Hillel used to say that a layperson could not be pious nor anyone engrossed in a trade become a scholar. On the other hand, Rabban Gamaliel teaches that it is good to combine study with a worldly occupation. In this and other teachings, our Rabbis warn us against a professional Rabbinate.

The path to righteousness begins through study. In our time knowledge is so vast no one person can master all material. Being on the path of study, knowledge becomes wisdom and understanding, and opens the road to righteousness. Allowing a Professional Rabbinate the role of being Jewish for the community has proven to be a dead end. We can never be messiahs of the lives of others. The model of making ourselves into Rabbis is the alternative.

How do we implement this? Lay people started the first Jewish “Reformation”. People demanded change. Do not expect denominations that train Jewish Professionals to support a New Reformation. A radically reformed model of leadership transcends modern denominational definitions. To conserve, reform and reconstruct the Rabbinate we embrace the orthodoxy that every community member be learned. Beyond the Chassidic revolution every Rabbi is also a Rebbe.

Every Chassid a Zaddik is certainly idealistic. This idealism is the perfect counterbalance to what modern Rabbis often become; High Priests who do the worship and services of others. The traditional recitation of Isaiah’s vision before studying Pirkay Avot (Principle Teachings) remains instructive. “Your people shall all be righteous”

This returns us to our original principle teaching that every community member is obligated to become a Rabbi and then a Rebbe. Women Rabbinic leaders are a step in this direction helping to breathe new life into stuffy patriarchal boards of Rabbis. People’s fascination with Kabballah may be channeled into a renaissance of rabbinic studies. We move beyond past demands that only male Rabbis over forty study the texts that reveal the deep truths of Torah.

Returning once again to a study of our sources, we find a mission statement for a renewed community of Rabbis in the Shema. (Deut. 6: 4-9) Listen. Take this to heart. You love God by diligently teaching your children, and disciples. Then they will follow the path of righteousness and their eyes will open to wisdom. Homes will become Sanctuaries and your cities will announce that peace on earth begins with peace in the heart, the home, and then the community. No wonder we are commanded to recite the Shema every evening and morning.

The role of the rabbi is to mentor each and every person so they also become master teachers. The future is now. Find yourself a Rabbi so you yourself may become one.

This is the first pitch of Rabbi Am Ha Aretz in the big inning. Two and three, IRIS and Gems follow:

Independent Rabbinic Integrated Studies (IRIS)

The mission of IRIS is to ordain rabbinic leaders for Am Yisrael. The program is not for those seeking a career as Congregational Rabbi; the various denominations have Seminary’s for those candidates. Our studies are for professionals who want to integrate Rabbinic’s into their personal lives and practices.

No Rabbinic student will ever master all of rabbinic knowledge. One scholarly program lists Aramaic, Coptic, Greek, Hebrew, and Syriac as language requirements. Texts studied include Apocrypha, Bible, Church fathers, Dead Sea scrolls, Mishna, New Testament, Talmud, and Pseudeopigripha.

A Rabbi does need research tools. Mastering the use of these tools is the major component of our studies. . In addition, and by definition, we require integration. For example a Rabbi-MBA models business administrated with integrity. The Talmud teaches (TB Shabbat 31A) that the first question we are asked by the heavenly tribunal is “Nasat vinata b’emunah? ”Did you administrate honestly? The text may also be translated “Did you deal in good faith?” One who Masters business administration and Rabbinic’s will lead the community back to having faith in free and honest trade and commerce.

In a very different field of concentration Rabbi-Physicists integrate science with the intuitive metaphysical insights of Rabbinics.Rabbi- Kabballahists imagined The Big Bang in the 12th century or earlier. Also, Science requires religion to help define the ethical use of technology.

In a field of practical scientific application, The Rabbi-Physician heals Body, Mind, and Spirit. In remission RabbiDr. and cancer patient offer prayers of thanksgiving. If the battle is lost, the Rabbi-Physician officiates at the funeral.

In another area of integration, Rabbi-Judges are a first step towards fulfilling the traditional requirements for ordination. At one time Rabbis adjudicated cases involving fines. Rabbinic law defines “love your neighbor as yourself” as treating your neighbors possessions as dear to you as your own. When we do not, we are fined. Furthermore, a righteous person is defined by the Rabbis as one who fulfills the juridical principles of the Mishna (Avot) by not harming others and directing all prayer to this end. The American legal system needs Rabbi-Lawyers who integrate the wisdom of Rabbinic ethics into their practices.

Rabbi and psychologist is a natural for integration. Again, this does not mean mastering all the pathologies from Agoraphobia to Xenophobia. My Mentor and Master here is Rabbi Edwin H. Friedman who inspired the ideas for IRIS. He explains that we learn from the “Higher Criticism” of the Bible not to confuse complexity with profundity.

A profound link is made when a Psychiatrist Psychologist or Therapist integrates the soul of Rabbinic’s into the body of their practice.

We also have a profound need for Rabbis who are Professors. Rabbi-Historians, for example, are needed to reeducate moderns who confuse myth and history. We have no vision of our future when we hold on too literally to an idealized past.

The re-vision and renewal of worship is accomplished by Rabbi-Musicians. Rabbi-Cantors are the composers of 21st Century liturgy. Services range from folk music to a full orchestra concert with electronic instrumentation on Shabbat and Holydays.

Finally, one more interdisciplinary study, the Rabbi-Kabballahist. They receive and transmit Torah integrated with the wisdom of other scriptures and traditions, This enlightened approach rediscovers a Kabballah hidden by dark Fundamentalists. True Kabballah teaches fundamentals, basics and not secrets.(YeSod from Sod). The “hidden” dimensions of tradition, such as the inner workings of the Ten Sephirot are clearly and freely understood by studying The Ten Principle teachings (Commandments).

IRIS is focused on a vision of a new cadre of rabbinic leaders. Our Rabbis will reshape the future rather than enshrine the past. This vision is based on the traditional democratic requirement of rabbinic law that all are obligated to study and to teach.

Only a Rabbi Am Ha Aretz could have envisioned all of this. Strike two?

Next pitch:


Generic Ecumenical Ministerial Studies

In the Final age “Minister” is redefined. Each and Every person of the Am A Ha Aretz has a Ministry. The first is to the Self. The Greatest Commandment is to love God, and your neighbor, as you love yourself. Defining everyone as a neighbor your Ministry becomes generic and ecumenical. Mother Teresa explains “The problem with the world is that we draw the circle of our family too small.” Also, in our global village all people are neighbors.

Charity, honoring parents and Elders, dedicated study, hospitality, visiting the sick, supporting weddings, attending funerals, and working for Peace in the Home and Peace on Earth are all elements of our ministry to one another. Study is basic to this ministry, an obligation, before and after ordination. One must choose this ministry, but all are called.

A Christian Minister is authorized by ordination to preach, conduct worship, and administer the sacraments. Priests are professional clergy who represent the Church on the front line. After Vatican Two the Catholic Church expects all baptized members to think of themselves as members of the Ministry. This is another essential reconcetptualization. With God’s help some day women will be accepted as Priests.

Remarkably, Modern Rabbis tend to follow Christian models of leadership and organization in their ministry, in that Rabbis are ordained by the faculty of a theological school to lead prayers, officiate life cycle events like bar/bat Mitzvah, weddings and funerals. In the past leadership was administrated by any knowledgeable community member.

At first glance the Priesthood in Judaism today is different, determined by tribal genetics. The Priests (Cohanim) have a religious obligation to bless the people with Aaron’s threefold blessing (Numbers 22-27). Only a Rabbi who is also a Priest has the hereditary privilege of blessing the people. Many modern Rabbis, however, use the Priestly benediction even though they are not Priests. This is understandable since they say the Kaddish for others, and are the officiate for services, weddings, and funerals.


How do you train to become an Ecumenical Minister? Become a student and teacher. You will never master all the information, so you will always be a student. We learn in the Teachings of the Sages (1:16) from the renowned Rabban Gamaliel “Find yourself a teacher and avoid doubtful teachings.”

This may also be read as “Make yourself into a teacher and you will avoid doubt.” Again, your ministry begins with yourself.

I will guide you on how to acquire skills and leadership tools. Just as the essence of the calling of a physician is to minister to the body and eradicate disease; the generic Minister seeks to eradicate ignorance and heal the soul.

As A Mentor I teach the way of integration and reverence. Physicians who become generic ministers heal body and soul. Psychologists and Family therapists who are generic ministers officiate their client’s weddings. Attorneys who are trained in the ministry focus on the social justice dimensions of the law, in the tradition of the prophets. Every profession does well with a ministry. Those seeking benefit of clergy should have the opportunity to work with generic ecumenical ministers.

Becoming a leader you serve with reverence; and are ordained a Minister.