Thursday, April 29, 2010

Rabbi PhD

Every once in a while I get the urge to go back to school, generally either for a law degree or a doctorate in history, philosophy, English literature, that sort of field.

I generally sit quietly until the silly ambition goes away.

I have a few reasons for my occasional desire to go in these directions:
• Solid advice from Rabbi Dr. Twerski many years back, that rabbis should find a hobby or another pursuit in which they can find satisfaction. He especially recommended that the pursuit have some potential financial remuneration, so that the rabbi not feel trapped in his job for lack of other options;

• The knowledge that I have other talents that I’m not using, which could help round me out;

• Envy of my colleagues who have gone this route, and seem to be enjoying it;

• The desire to spend some of my time in a completely different environment.

No, it’s not about the title of “Rabbi Dr.” I could never see using that, even if I had it. It’s more about the pursuit, the experience, than anything else.

But it’s not going to happen. The realities of how I parcel out my time, and the pressures I create upon myself and my family every time I add another duty, keep me from going that route. My job has so many open-ended elements that I could easily spend every waking moment on it and still feel like it’s un-done; add in another academic career, and I’ll be קרח מכאן ומכאן (“bald from both directions,” a talmudic description of a man who has a young wife who plucks his white hairs and an older wife who plucks his black hairs).

Of course, if I stopped blogging that would free up a solid 20 minutes each day… not enough for a PhD, though.


  1. Just keep the dream alive Rabbi. Nothing that says you can't be older and going for that PhD. Hubby and I are looking forward to our retirement so that we can sit down in the classroom again and learn to our hearts' content.

  2. My mother entered a PhD program (and got her second Master's out of it) 20 years ago. (She was in her late 50's then.) She has not stopped learning and is now auditing classes at Rutgers. What was really cool for me though was that she got her 1st Master's a few weeks after I got my Bachelor's degree. What a role model!

    I also thought that one day I'd go for an advanced degree, but it hasn't happened yet -- and I don't know if it will. I agree with ProfK; there's nothing wrong with dreaming.

    I admire you for having such a love of learning -- and for broadening your horizons in so many ways...

  3. I know a rabbi in my program who was a former shul rabbi and is now going for his Ph.D. Similarly, another rabbi I know re-negotiated his responsibilities with his employers and is currently pursuing a doctorate while working. It all depends on what you want to prioritize. לא עליך המלאכה לגמור
    - of course you can't finish everything for the community. So why not take some of that time for yourself and delegate some responsibilities to others?

  4. ProfK, Fruma-
    Thanks for the encouragement!

    Largely because the definition of "for myself" is fluid, in my experience.

  5. I truly sympathize. I've been talking about grad school the past few months.

    I want to learn. But when it comes down to it, I'd rather put that effort into learning Torah. Then again, I still have the broader interest and possible professional benefit from grad school. Then again, a good grad school (I've looked at programs) is horribly expensive. That money could go to many other things we need - including the two kids we have in grad school.

    Ambivalence reigns on this one, for now.