Monday, January 19, 2009

The Hick Rabbi and the Metrorabbi

I’ve been in Allentown, PA now for almost eight years, and have found my position here incredibly rewarding, as well as incredibly challenging.

But there are times when I meet someone from out of town – like New York, say – and they ask, “Where are you a rav?” And I reply, “Allentown,” and I can see them think to themselves, “Oh. That’s not a real rabbonus.” Or they seem to assume that this means I (a "hick rabbi") am somehow less competent than a metrorav, a rav from a major city.

It’s silly, of course. The rabbi in a non-metropolitan community tends to have more responsibilities than a rabbi in a big city. Kashrus, Eruv, Mikvah, Chevra Kadisha, it’s all in our bailiwick. We teach everything from Daf Yomi to Jewish history, we are counselors, ambassadors, lifecycle officiators, teachers for Bar Mitzvah, teachers for gerus, newspaper columnists, etc.

The Rabbanim I meet tend to understand this, but, as I have said, others do not. I suppose their reaction is just part of the metrocentricity which many people, Jewish and otherwise, feel. It’s the “If I can make it there (New York), I can make it anywhere” approach that implies its opposite, that one who makes it anywhere else could not necessarily make it in New York.

But I never wanted to be a metrorabbi:
I don’t like a lot of the politics I see in larger Jewish communities; better to be in a community where the focus is more on the meat of Judaism.
I also want to be in a place where I feel I make a substantive difference for people's lives, not a city where I am one of an army of rabbis competing to provide the same services.

So I first served a small shul in Rhode Island, and then moved here when I wanted more to do.

In retrospect, I suppose that this wasn’t the greatest “career move,” because of those people who dismiss the hick rabbi. If I were to try to publish a sefer, I'd probably meet some resistance from publishers who would wonder who I am. But I love being here...

Ah, well. All may change eventually. We only have a day school through eighth grade, and my kids are getting older. The oldest is in fourth grade, so I have four years to ponder sending my kids away for school, finding a rabbinate in Israel, or becoming one of those metrorabbanim myself...

[In light of the first comment on this post, I hasten to add: I am not announcing any resignation here! I have four years until High School is a reality.]


  1. did you just announce your resignation?

  2. No, not at all. But reality is that I have a deadline of 4 years from now, when my oldest hits 8th grade.

  3. The sefer you'll publish with the help of your friends.

    Maybe you would consider Chicago? We can get you some skis on the cheap. Blee neder

  4. Chicago? Don't know much about it... but the weather there does seem awful.

  5. the weather's pretty nice out in Oregon, although you'd have the same problem with day-schools except right around Portland.

  6. FWIW, there are a lot of benefits to dorm high schools. I gained a lot from going to one (Skokie Yeshiva in Chicago), much, much more than I would have gained had I stayed in the local high school in Denver, and more even than if my family had lived in Chicago and I went to Skokie. Perhaps there are bad habits that I gained, but I think that at least in my situation, they are outweighed by the benefits that I got.

  7. Tzipporah-
    Is there a Jewish high school in Portland? I never knew that.

    Yes, I've heard that from some people who have dormed and boarded. In some ways it's harder for the parent than the child, frankly.

  8. Unless things have changed radically since I lived there, Oregon doesn't have a high school--nearest one is in Seattle.

    Re the dorm schools, please don't get me started. I did a whole posting on this. Sending a boy to a dorm high school means that the boy's dorm mates are going to finish raising him; a 14 year old is hardly a mature adult. Parents don't like the attitudes that some young men in their 20's have? Go back and look at what they picked up in a dorm situation in their early teens. When a boy is in a dorm then parental influence dwindles to almost nothing. And what examples will that boy see of married couples and of family life? A boy learns to be a husband, or at least learns the basics, by observing his own parents. Just what benefits do dorm living confer when seen against possible negative influences?

  9. There are a lot of nice NJ communities that have a small town feel but are close enough to bigger communities for school purposes...

  10. ProfK-
    This (dorm issues) has the ring of a hot topic, but I really don't know much about it. I had friends who dormed, but I stayed at home through high school.

    True; something to think about, when the time comes.