Following on the heels of last week’s Orthoprax Rabbi discussions, I thought I’d add a more general note on the problem of Emunah in the Rabbinate. Specifically: There are few professions which are worse for one’s belief in Gd and Judaism than the rabbinate.
Certainly, there are reasons why a pulpit rabbi should have greater faith than others do: Training, regular exposure to wonderful people in their congregations, chizuk [reinforcement] from colleagues, the ability to spend much of the day involved in Torah study.
Nonetheless, I reiterate: The pulpit rabbbinate is bad for Emunah.
It’s not [only] because of the practical joke that Gd played on rabbis by creating the month of Tishrei; it’s a deeper, and more serious, issue. Here are the problems I see:
• A rabbi who really engages a community lives his life under theological siege, constantly facing people’s questions and challenges against faith. It’s like water sitting on a roof; eventually, some will seep in;
• A rabbi sees all sorts of tragedy and pain, and no one comes along to reassure him as he reassures others;
• A rabbi has no time for emotional bounceback, let alone philosophical bounceback, from the pain he sees;
• A rabbi lacks the space to step back and work through his theological challenges; he gets no religious Time Out. Whether they are right or wrong, other people can and do drop out of minyan or shiur for a few days, but the rabbi has no such option;
• A rabbi normally devotes little time to read works of hashkafah that might reinforce his belief; all of his time goes into the community. Reading it in order to teach it doesn’t count!;
• A rabbi sees the weak reasons behind some people's belief;
• A rabbi sees how some people turn to Judaism not out of strength, but out of absence of anywhere else to turn;
• A rabbi sees the professed believers who act immorally and corruptly, and knows what others get away with.
[Interesting: I imagine these items apply equally to priests,ministers, imams, etc.]
Clearly, there are ways to deal with this. Many rabbis, like myself, have found ways to manage. A rabbi can and should deal with a lot of these problems by scheduling time to learn mussar and machshavah (ethical instruction and Jewish belief), as well as scheduling vacation. But this definitely requires a certain mindfulness, an awareness of what is happening to him, why it’s happening, and how to address it.
There are a lot of pitfalls in this business.