[This week’s Haveil Havalim is here]
It’s been alleged that rabbinical bodies are guilty of impropriety for the way they control search processes. That's an interesting point, but I'd like to talk about a question of practice on the hiring side.
Off and on over the years, I’ve heard it claimed that congregations are “age-ist” in hiring rabbis, because they seek rabbis who are south of middle age. (And, of course, I wrote about my own aging process and concerns a couple of years ago, in Young and Dynamic and 124/78.)
My sense is that shuls are entitled to look for rabbis of a particular age or stage of life. This is not a case of age discrimination. Beyond prejudicial concerns for the appearance of vitality in the shul, and the question of how long the rabbinic candidate intends to stay or how much energy he intends to invest, I think there is a substantive issue of how well the older rabbi will relate to younger congregants.
Parents of young children tend to associate most with other parents of young children – people who are dealing with the same challenges, who meet at school events and birthday parties, whose children play together in homes and sports leagues. So it’s logical that a shul trying to attract those young families would seek a rabbi who would have those natural connections to that group.
Of course, that young rabbi may also have difficulty identifying with older congregants, and counseling people with mid-life crises, or people who are losing their ability to drive, their ability to hear, or their independence. But: Shuls are often more forgiving of youth than they are of seniority, possibly because the former tends to be cured by time, while the latter is rather difficult to reverse. And, I think shuls – rightly or wrongly – assume that older congregants are more likely to remain with the congregation despite having a junior rabbi, while younger congregants are more likely to jump ship in search of the young and dynaimic.
What do you think?