I’ve been thinking about the issue of rabbinic turnover, and the effect it has on a community.
Certainly, there are many reasons why communities and rabbis prefer long-term relationships, among them:
• From the rabbi’s perspective, it’s satisfying and fulfilling to see the results of his labors. It’s incomparably wonderful to see a family evolve, a child grow up, a learning process bear fruit.
• From the rabbi’s perspective, as well, job security is important. Starting in a new community, with all of the potential mistrust and misunderstandings, is very difficult; working with people you know, people who know you, is far less stressful.
• Again from the rabbi’s perspective, making friends and becoming close with people is hard to do if your horizon is short-term.
• From the rabbi’s perspective as well as the community’s perspective: Seniority helps the rabbi deal with communal issues; no one can say to him, “We used to do it this way,” “We always did it that way.” And people feel less like, “Rabbis come and rabbis go, let’s do what we want.”
• From the community’s perspective, it’s important to retain institutional memory. Generally, the rabbi, who knows every congregant and is involved in many of the events and stories of shul administration, is the repository of that memory.
• Also from the community’s perspective, it’s better to have a rabbi who stays for many years, to enable long-term communal planning and development, as well as long-term relationships.
• From everyone’s point of view: In dealing with community-wide institutions, it’s good to have a rabbi who has seniority and can speak to history, as well as the present, from a position of knowledge and wisdom.
• And further for the community: If the rabbi is good at what he does, who would want to change that?
But I’ve been thinking lately about the advantages of rabbinic rotation. I’m not advocating term limits, but I do see benefits for a community when the rabbi is not there forever:
• Most rabbis have a certain style, whether in teaching or programming or speaking or running the davening, and after a while people can become numb to it;
• Every rabbi has certain flaws and faults, things he doesn’t notice or areas in which he does not function that well. Bringing in a new rabbi can compensate, as these new areas may be addressed;
• Rabbis, themselves, can stagnate when they do the same job for too long, once they have gotten everything under control and they are set in a routine;
• Most perilously, rabbis who are in place for a long time may end up running certain areas of communal life to such an extent that his ultimate departure leaves too great a vacuum.
Overall, in my mind, the balance is still in favor of long-term rabbinates, but it’s just something to think about.