Monday, February 8, 2010

Rabbinic Search Committees: A Community Dating Service

I have written elsewhere on the topic of Rabbinic Searches, but in a Shabbat conversation the other day an interesting analogy was floated, and I think it bears analysis.

I had commented on the need for a Rabbinic Search Committee to communicate to the candidate that he is wanted, such as by sending him a bottle of wine after his interview. It is important that the candidate rabbi see the committee and community as people, and not a faceless mob interrogating and exhausting him even before he has taken the job.

The rabbi is going to be your leader and friend, your officiant and your counselor! And Rabbi, these people will be your audience as well as your friends, the city that will challenge you to grow and support you when you reach for greatness! Having an emotional connection from the start enables the growth of that bond later.

To which my friend commented that it sounds somewhat like dating.

In truth, I believe it is like dating, and the Search committee is the Shadchan, and the community and the candidate are the ones doing the dating. [Granted, I did not find my wife through a shadchan, but I think I have a clear enough sense of the process to make that analogy.]

This means the following:

1. The Shadchan’s job begins with finding out what the daters want

The Search Committee is not dating; it is arranging. This means that the Search Committee gets a clear directive from the shul and/or its board, as to what they want in a rabbi. Job Description, Prioritization, who do we want?

And the Search Committee should also get a sense from its candidates: Do they have a realistic view of the community and the job? Is this what they want? Are they suited for it, and will they be happy with it?

2. The Shidduch should be managed transparently

The classic parody of the Shadchan is that (s)he tries to inflate appealing characteristics or hide defects; this cannot happen in a search process. Everything from resume to community feedback should be conducted with planned transparency, the better to inspire trust.

The only elements to hide are the specifics of who said what, just as in a shidduch situation we avoid embarrassing either side.

3. The Shadchan should make sure to communicate clearly the feelings of each side toward the other

This is the “bottle of wine” point from above. It is to each side’s advantage to be seen clearly by the other. The candidate should be seen as a human being, as a warm, breathing and feeling person, and not a resume. The shul’s president, board, search committee etc. should likewise be seen as the human beings they are. This means that relationships should not be couched in technical terms and committeespeak. “We liked this.” “We’re hoping for that.” “The rabbi thought this was good/bad/unusual/interesting.” “We think that this aspect is important.” And so on. And, yes, gestures are important to help with this.

4. The Shadchan’s job is not to decide on whether the couple gets married

It’s true that Search Committees frequently make recommendations to boards or the membership, but their recommendation should not be based upon their own assessment of the community’s needs. Rather, it should come from seeing how the traits of the rabbinic candidate match up with the needs expressed by the community, and how the community responds to the candidate.

I’ve got loads more, but that will have to do for now.


  1. No posting should be an orphan, so here goes. The analogy is good as far as it goes but it fails to recognize one truly huge difference between marriage and choosing a rabbi for a community shul.

    The kesuba for a real marriage is a one-time offering; you don't review and renegotiate it every few years. The assumption is that once married, you are married for ever. Have any problems? Work them out--you're in it for the long haul.

    This is NOT the assumption when a congregation hires a rabbi. Yes, it would be nice if a long term relationship could be established. But the reality is that many of these rabbi/shul "marriages" end in divorce, the choice of one or both parties. The "kesuba" is only temporary and can be renegotiated.

    True, most shuls would probably prefer not to have to find a new rabbi every three years, but the possibility exists as part of the relationship. You, yourself, left a congregation you were "happily married to" because you found a different "wife" that fit what you needed now.

  2. Hi ProfK,
    Thanks for taking pity on this post. I 100,000% percent agree with you; the shul-rabbi relationship cannot be a marriage, and for many more reasons relating to the health of expectations on both sides.

  3. still a great post--but a very optimistic one. The rabbinic search comittee in this scenario is both a thankless job and no hopes of renumeration for time and effort. Having said that, the search committee is also different from the shadchan bc the search committee tends to be prominent members of the shul. The shadchan doesnt have to like and live with the 2 people, the
    shadchan just has to make sure they are happy with each other, not true with the search committee, which is why the search committee tends to take their recommendation much more importantly than the shadchan. Brad

  4. A bit of this can be gleaned from your old post:
    and Yid's comments
    (I didn't remember that crazy string of comments at the end)

  5. Brad-
    Good points. I would love to replace the "represent-all" search committee with a committee of HR people, but it would never fly. Moshe had the same problem with the Meraglim; the mefarshim note that Yehoshua's 2 meraglim did much better, because they were a pair picked for the task instead of a set of diplomats meant to represent each faction of the nation.

    The Talmid-
    Thanks; I get nachas when people remember old posts...