Sunday, February 27, 2011

Witnessing a proba

[This week's Haveil Havalim is here; enjoy!]

Wow, was that weird.

This past Shabbos was the first time I ever witnessed a proba (Shabbos tryout) for a pulpit rabbi from the shul side as an adult and as a rabbi, and it was more than passing strange.

I’ve blogged the Rabbinic Search before, but from the point of view of the rabbi/candidate. (I’ve since pulled some posts regarding the proba shabbos, lest I offend. I may censor them and re-publish them in the future.) Seeing it from the other side, as a congregant, was very different.

It was automatically weird because the candidate was a good friend, with whom I have a long relationship, but among the more professional weirdness:

• Hearing another rabbi give a proba derashah – I never really thought about the different styles one could use as a candidate; I tended to give a derashah about some theme which I thought would resonate with people, but it was really driven by the parshah. Only this Shabbos did I start to think about the other options – Should the derashah be an overt part of the sales pitch, “Hire me and I’ll do X?” Should it speak to the major issues on the shul’s agenda?

• Figuring out my priorities – As a candidate, I naturally looked at the proba from the perspective of demonstrating that I was a good match for the shul’s needs. Certainly, much of the proba was about connecting with people personally, but I took it as a given – subconsciously, really – that the question on people’s minds was, “Is this the best candidate for the shul’s needs?” But sitting in the pews, I felt much more like for me, it was a popularity contest. “Do I like him the most?”

Part of that may have been because it takes some hubris to think I know what the shul needs, and whether this candidate would be able to provide it. It’s much easier to answer the question of “Do I like him the most?”

• Uncomfortable flashes of mind-reading the candidate, as I zapped from contemplating what he must be thinking to what I was thinking and what the people around me were thinking.

• Listening to the answers to the Q&A grilling and wanting to modify the answers to what I would have said. This was sort of like watching a game show, actually. “No! It’s The Titanic! The Titanic!”

And, of course, it brought back all sorts of memories from my various probas.

I have more to say on this; maybe I’ll re-visit it later this week.


  1. Part of that may have been because it takes some hubris to think I know what the shul needs, and whether this candidate would be able to provide it
    unfortunately many shuls do not do the heavy lifting required to know what they want/need (cue the rolling stones)
    Joel Rich

  2. Welcome to the Other Side (Sitra Ahra?)!

    I recall years ago on the East Coast listening to and observing a candidate, and how strange it was (having recently left a pulpit) to be sizing him up, thinking that I knew what some other people were thinking as well. It was pretty weird.

    We were new enough to town ourselves, that we couldn't make the intelligent considerations that Joel Rich mentioned.

    Yaarah and I were all for the guy. Don't know for sure what other people's problems were. To this day we think he was too good for what they thought they wanted.


  3. Joel-
    And that's a whole nother post...

    R' Mordechai-
    Guess they knew better than we did?

  4. We're about to start this search process ourselves, although we may leave town before whomever they choose starts. What I really want is for our current rabbi to stay, but he's found that being a full-time shul rabbi + raising 2 special needs children = 2 bouts of pneumonia, bronchitis, and complete exhaustion.

  5. One thing that impressed me about the specific Probah the Ba'al Hablog is discussing is the selection process the committee is using. It's much more open than any others I've seen, where usually the machers (powers that be) pretty much decide on the candidate and he's brought in for a Shabbat for a final test.

    In this case before accepting applications they circulated a questionnaire to members to help them develop the selection criteria (not only for him but also for the Rebbetzin!). And they've sent all the members a survey to rate the short list applicants under various criteria as they come for the Probahs (probot?)

    I know that in the end it's a decision of the Board, not based on the majority of votes, but knowing the people involved, I think there's a genuine intent to take these opinions into consideration.