Friday, January 7, 2011

How Do You Become a (Messianic) Rabbi?

Becoming a rabbi is not the same straightforward process as becoming a minister or a priest. Different sects of Judaism have different requirements to become a rabbi. However, it can be said that most rabbis have earned a college degree, and have participated in post-graduate rabbinical studies through a seminary. In some sects, a rabbi must also spend time in Israel prior to working for a congregation.

From wisegeek.com
How Does Someone Become a Rabbi?

First of all, relax. I don't want the job. I don't even believe a non-Jew can become a Rabbi but having said that, I'm also not sure there can be such a thing as a Messianic Rabbi, even if the person is Jewish.

Let me explain.

When I first came on board with the whole "Messianic movement" thing, the guy leading the congregation called himself a "Pastor". Then he went away to a conference for a week and came back "an ordained Rabbi". No, he wasn't Jewish and, while he had previously taken some classes in a Christian seminary, he didn't hold a degree. He certainly didn't know Hebrew or Talmud (although he tried to learn some Hebrew as time went on).

I discovered that just about any one with a theological axe to grind could put on a kippah and a tallit and call himself a "Messianic Rabbi". It was pretty ridiculous.

Now I'm encountering a number of people associated with organizations such as the Messianic Jewish Theological Institute (MJTI) who call themselves Rabbis. Derek Leman, Joshua Brumbach, and Carl Kinbar are all called Rabbis. I'm pretty sure I inadvertently insulted Carl Kinbar last week when, during an exchange of comments on this blog, I mistakenly referred to him as "Dr. Kinbar". He corrected me, saying he didn't have a doctorate degree and was "Rabbi Kinbar". I gave him a much shorter explanation about my reservations in using the title "Rabbi" to folks associated with Messianism and never heard back from him.

I apologize to Kinbar and anyone else I don't call a Rabbi, but I'm really hesitant with the use of titles.

I've tried to look up the qualifications for becoming a (non-Messianic) Rabbi on the web (and I don't want to do an in-depth study on the matter) and found that the requirements vary somewhat depending on the sect of Judaism involved.

According to Rabbi Barry Dov Lerner, the general requirements go like this:
  1. There is some form of admission process that often includes testing, both psychological and subject competence
  2. One has to complete a minimum of 4 years of college
  3. The major differences between the institutions are the various emphases - Talmud, philosophy, Hebrew, history, Bible, etc. even though there are minimum requirements in each subject area plus a variety of practical Rabbinics, pastoral psychology, etc.
  4. A minimum of 5-6 years and also one year in Israel, especially to develop a relationship with Israel and familiarity with Hebrew as a living language
  5. Graduation or ordination is essentially the same kind of ceremony with various kinds of certification or diplomas. I chose to have all of my teachers sign my diploma, and while it took some time to receive, I am very glad as most are no longer living except in my heart and mind - and I miss them
  6. Some Seminaries or yeshivot also require an internship to gain some practical experience
  7. Some movements require a new graduate to start with a small congregation in order to learn all of the various elements of congregational or institutional life before moving up to a large congregation, UNLESS one takes an assistant position in a larger congregation which is much more narrow in function.
I realize my sources aren't directly from Jewish Yeshivas, but I only need a thumbnail sketch to ask my question:

What is the process for a Jewish person to become a Rabbi in Messianic Judaism as opposed to the other types of Judaism? I know that Joshua Brumbach explained it to me many months ago in the comments in one of his blog posts at Yinon, but I can't locate the conversation now. From what I remember though, it was a very impressive set of requirements that, in all practicality, would take a full ten years to complete, including living and training in Israel.

Only after the fact, did I realize I wanted to ask if the current Rabbis associated with MJTI and other formal MJ organizations have undergone a ten year (or so) educational and training program. If so, even the most freshly minted Messianic Rabbi would have had to start the study process in 2000/2001.

I'm not trying to be insulting or contentious and I apologize if my comments seem to suggest otherwise, but, after my unintended insult of Carl Kinbar, I felt it my duty to investigate this matter further. If I'm being unfair, I want to change that. If people such as Kinbar, Derek, and Joshua can walk into a room full of Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox Rabbis and be recognized as peers among that group, I need to make amends.

While many of the people I interact with in the Messianic blogosphere seem to take it for granted that the people who call themselves Rabbis are Rabbis and make no bones about it, I take the matter very seriously, especially in the Messianic realm, which is struggling to find legitimacy not only in the larger Jewish world, but in the eyes of the Christian church as well.

I don't doubt that there are many "silent readers" of this blog and others who consider themselves Messianic who would also like to know more.

Oh, for the record, I don't have a title of any kind in my congregation. First off, I have no formal training and am not "certified" or "approved" by any official organization to do what I'm doing. I operate under the authority of the board of the congregation but that's as far as it goes. Whenever someone walks into my congregation and tries to pin "Pastor" or "Rabbi" onto my name, I gently but firmly stop them and explain that I'm "just plain Jim".

Disclaimer out of the way. Comments?

Addendum: Another question occurred to me earlier today. Do Messianic Rabbis, like other Rabbis and like Pastors and other clergy, that legal credentials to marry people, visit inmates in prison, provide "pastorial care" to patients in hospitals and the like? I guess this is another way of asking if Rabbi's in the Messianic movement are legally recognized by the state as such.

19 comments:

Gene Shlomovich said...

Rabbi Lerner represents Conservative Judaism, which is modeled after Reform Judaism, which is, historically speaking, is modeled after German Lutheranism (in pastoral educational respects). In the Orthodox Judaism (where my family participates majority of our time), the requirements to be a rabbi are vastly different. In fact, it's just about none of he things the Rabbi Lerner listed. To be called a rabbi in traditional Judaism one doesn't need an pastor-like ordination and a degree from some seminar. Instead, one studies in Yeshiva or even privately with another respected rabbi. A rabbi in Orthodox congregation is not a pastor (although today many have assumed this role as well because so few Jews are religiously literate). Some rabbis posses "smicha" (formal ordination), and some do not. Instead a rabbi is expert in Jewish halachic matters. He guides and gives advice. He teaches. He's Jewish (important qualifier for MM).

So, this is to say - requirements differ. Do most who call themselves "rabbi" in MJ today qualify as such? Some do and most don't (in my opinion).

James said...

I know by even bringing the subject up, I'm stirring the pot and potentially making a lot of people mad at me, but for Messianic Judaism to be taken seriously as a "Jewishness", it probably is going to have to go the extra mile as far as its scrupulousness of scholarship, teaching, ethics and yes, qualifications.

Ovadia said...

James,

The first question I asked Joshua when we met in person was about this very issue.

Here's the thing:
In Orthodox Judaism, semicha is basically a degree that acknowledges a certain (very basic) level of the study of Jewish law, usually earned from a yeshiva, but sometimes from private study. (We actually borrowed this idea from Christian theological degrees.) There are commmunities where pretty much every adult male member has semicha. Having semicha does not mean you're "clergy", per se. (Traditionally, Judaism doesn't really have clergy.)

In Reform Judaism, rabbi is basically the Jewish word for pastor. Rabbis go to seminary and study all kinds of Jewish learning and pastoral care, and graduate competent to lead a
congregation and be "clergy".

In Conservative Judaism, rabbis go to a seminary learn how to be "clergy" AND reach a level of competence in Jewish law to qualify for semicha AND earn a Master's degree in some Jewish field.

Orthodox Judaism does have a lot of "pulpit rabbis", in deference to the established custom of calling a "Jewish pastor" a rabbi. These people train much in the Conservative mold. But there's also a lot of people who have reached the "semicha" level of Jewish text study who are mashgichim (kosher supervisors) or aren't religious professionals at all.

All that said,
I prefer to keep the term "rabbi" to refer to people who have earned traditional semicha. I often fudge it for Reform rabbis, because of their advanced level of Jewish study and role as Jewish communal leaders.

I only refer to Messianic rabbis as "rabbis" when I would be willing to do so if they weren't Messianic. This is very, very infrequent. You're pretty spot on here.

Rabbi Joshua said...

James,

I commend you for raising this issue, as it has not been addressed enough - the frequent use of the term by people who are not.

A few things I would like to comment on:

1) The blog post you reference here and our original conversation can be found here: http://yinonblog.blogspot.com/2010/05/rabbinical-what.html

2) I don't think Rabbi Carl was offended, but rather just clarifying. He is actually completing his doctorate (PhD in Midrash from the University of South Africa). So although he is not "Dr. Kinbar yet," in the near future he will be.

3) Just to clarify, in our original conversation on this particular topic, I did not say 10 years, but a 5-7 year graduate level education (see the link above).

4) To answer your question of whether MJTI rabbis for example, have the same level of education as rabbis in other fields, the answer is yes, and many surpass their counterparts in other denominations.

5) You begin your article stating, "I'm also not sure there can be such a thing as a Messianic Rabbi, even if the person is Jewish."

Although you maintain the right to your own opinion, my question to you is if a person has completed the same level of education and training as other rabbis in similar denominations and received smikha as a rabbi, are they a rabbi?

I'll give you my own situation. I have the same education as other rabbis in other forms of Judaism, and have many friends who are Conservative and Orthodox rabbis. And most of them also view me as a rabbi, as I went to the same yeshiva as some of them, or to the same university. Many of us Messianic rabbis have great relationships with many other rabbis within the wider Jewish community despite often "bad press."

For one example, you can listen to a recent radio interview where Rabbi Dr. Stuart Dauermann (Messianic) interviews Rabbi David Zaslow (Renewal)- http://shalomtalk.com/listennows4.php?pageNum=2 - whose picture you used above for this post. Rabbi Stuart has also had some other great guests on his radio show, including well-known Jewish scholar Mark Nanos.

Lastly, regarding your question whether ordained Messianic rabbis have the same legal credentials to marry people, visit inmates in prison, provide "pastorial care" to patients in hospitals. That answer is yes, including one ordained military chaplain. And many of us regularly do funerals at Jewish cemeteries and funeral homes. We are rabbis.

In closing, the current rabbinical programs of the UMJC and MJTI are the same equivalent of education as Reform and Reconstructionist (and some Conservative and Orthodox) rabbis. Furthermore, there are a handful of people who believe in Yeshua, yet have obtained Orthodox smicha.

It is no longer the case that there are no legitimate rabbis who believe in Yeshua. There are a small number of us who are indeed legitimate rabbis.

Dan Benzvi said...

Is there a difference between a Rabbi and a leader? I think leadership should be given on the basis of personal intergrity and demonstrated wisdom.
"Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, man of trith, those who hate dishonest gain, and you shall place over them, as leaders..." (Ex. 18:21).
Leadership requires humility, spiritual strength, and personal integrity, and these qualities cannot be tested in a day, or a week, or a month. This is why leaders should come from withint the community, not as hired hands outside of it. The qualities necessary for leaders are seen in the way they pesonaly live out what they believe and teach, and this can only be discerned in knowing them in the context of life.
With the spread of western and Helenistic thoughts and ideas, the criteria for selecting leaders changed, and leaders were chosen on the basis of their education. Those with credentials were sought after, regardless of whether they were knowen within the community

Pirkey Avot 1.6 saye: "procure yorself a teacher, acquire unto yourself an associate and judge all men in the scale of merit."

I don't think that Rabbis today (In any denomination, even MJ) are chosen acording to that advice.

James said...

Just to clarify, in our original conversation on this particular topic, I did not say 10 years, but a 5-7 year graduate level education

Sorry about that. I was working from a faulty, middle aged memory.

Although you maintain the right to your own opinion, my question to you is if a person has completed the same level of education and training as other rabbis in similar denominations and received smikha as a rabbi, are they a rabbi?

Since I said "I'm not sure there can be" rather than "there can't be", I was leaving the door open to the possibility, not saying that I thought it was impossible for there to be such a thing as a Messianic Rabbi.

I'll give you my own situation. I have the same education as other rabbis in other forms of Judaism, and have many friends who are Conservative and Orthodox rabbis. And most of them also view me as a rabbi, as I went to the same yeshiva as some of them, or to the same university. Many of us Messianic rabbis have great relationships with many other rabbis within the wider Jewish community despite often "bad press."

I must admit to being very surprised at this. My own experiences with my local Rabbis (and sometimes this information comes through my wife), is that they hold anyone who is Messianic not in high esteem at all, nor do they see any "Messianic Rabbis" as "Rabbis" of any sort. Of course, they may not have met anyone like you or your colleagues, but I would imagine there would be a lot of barriers to overcome with such gentlemen before they'd be able to accept you or anyone with your background as a Rabbi. This would not be due to lack of education, but because of the general belief in most forms of Judaism, that a Jew who worships Jesus is not a Jew, but a Christian.

Lastly, regarding your question whether ordained Messianic rabbis have the same legal credentials to marry people, visit inmates in prison, provide "pastorial care" to patients in hospitals. That answer is yes, including one ordained military chaplain. And many of us regularly do funerals at Jewish cemeteries and funeral homes. We are rabbis.

Again, I am surprised. I'm not arguing against any of this. I just never thought the level of education and training in the Messianic realm had gotten this far.

Dan, I read a story this morning that is somewhat related to this issue and your comments regarding Rabbinic Judges in Israel, which I'm sure is a topic you are more familiar with than I. It does however, highlight the fact that issues of leadership are not limited to Messianics in the world of Judaism.

Rabbi Joshua said...

Shalom Dan,

Regarding your comment:

"Is there a difference between a Rabbi and a leader?"

A rabbi is a leader, but obviously not all leaders are rabbis. However, those serving at any level within spiritual leadership SHOULD definitely be considered in relation that passage from Exodus (as well as other passages).

Rabbi Joshua said...

Shalom James,

I agree that Messianic Rabbis (and Messianic Jews in general) are still not widely accepted. But there is indeed a growing openness within the Jewish community, especially in the last 10 years or so.

There have been a few major books on Messianic Judaism published by non-Messianic Jewish scholars, public dialogs and forums where Messianic leaders have been welcomed, as well as non-Messianic rabbis, leaders, and scholars who have attended and participated in Messianic Jewish events.

We no doubt have a long way to go. However, many of those bridges are slowly being crossed. At the moment it is still more privately than publicly. Even if there are a growing number of rabbis with great relationships with Messianic leaders and rabbis, many of them are not ready to risk their careers and reputations to publicly express their views. And of course, there are still the majority that down-right disdain Messianic Jews whether they are rabbis or not.

But all hope is not lost. And the key is relationships. When someone knows you personally, you are able to breakdown stereotypes and presuppositions, and people begin to see you as equals. This only happens by being a part of the wider Jewish community.

But, agreed, this is still far from being the majority. YES ... there are a select handful of Messianic rabbis and leaders, like myself, who have these kind of relationships within the wider Jewish community, but they are still far from being the majority.

This is why your post ... and the work of groups like the UMJC, MJTI, MJRC etc. are working so hard to raise the standards of what it means to be (and become) a Messianic rabbi. For as you have rightly noted, there have been far too many without any kind of training or formal recognition using the title 'rabbi' within Messianic circles. When this is done, it is an embarrassment to our movement, weakens our credibility, and makes the job of those like myself much more difficult.

aaronosaurus said...

This is probably not the best way to interject oneself into a discussion. I would, however like to weigh in here if I may.
I come from a family of Jews from Russia to Jerusalem (where my grandfather was born to a Rabbincal family in the great Hurva synagog ((then called Palestine))). My mother's brothers are conservative Cantors.
Having said that,while visiting one of them I attended Shabbat services where my Uncle would introduce me as his "Mormon nephew", so as not to be confused as Jewish.
I later became associated with an orthodox Rabbi who, when I visited him asked if I was Jewish. After the true if demeaning introduction by my Uncle, I was hesitant to answer. The Rabbi asked, "Is your Mother Jewish?". "Yes", I replied. He said "Then you're Jewish! Now let's talk....".
I came to know this man was a Rabbi not only in the pastorial sense, but truly a learned and articulate Teacher in the Rabbinical sense.
So, let's talk... And skip to the end of the discussion to work back. When the Mosiach comes, will He be Jewish? Of that there is little to discuss.
Now I ask, if a Rabbi believes Yeshua to be Mosiach, is he not Jewish, AND still a Rabbi?
Here I still believe that a Rabbi is not a Pastor only, or interchangeably. In the traditional and biblical settings a Rabbi is learned in the Torah, and respected as a Teacher. How one quantifies that is the real question. And begs the inguiry of from where, or who, the authority of the "simcha" comes.

James said...

Greetings, aaronosaurus.

Not sure how to respond here. Yes, when the Messiah comes, he will be Jewish. Historically and traditionally, a Rabbi is less of a Pastor and more of a teacher and scholar, however in modern times, the Pastor role has been added, at least to some extent. Yes, if a Jewish person becomes a Rabbi and then comes to faith in Yeshua (Jesus) as the Jewish Messiah, he remains (in my opinion) both Jewish and a Rabbi. The original (non-Messianic) authority that conferred his or her semikha may remove that ordination, but they can't remove the learning that Rabbi has acquired.

Beyond that, the Messianic community seems to be developing their own Yeshivas and educating and conferring semikha's on their own Rabbis. Of course, these Rabbis are not recognized as such in larger Judaism as far as I can tell, but as you say, there may be a larger authority providing the ordination. We'll have to wait until the Messiah comes to have all this straightened out.

aaronosaurus said...

I thank you for your thoughtful response.
As you say, the Pastoral and leadership duties added to a Rabbi seem to be more recent than our scriptorial readings. Thus we may even use the "New Testiment" as a historical document to lend an understanding of the times.

As one studied at the feet of the Learned, Revered, and probably Elder, he may too have been called a Rabbi by those who chose to show him respect for his leaning and wisdom. This historically seems to come not from a school, but from learning, reading, discussion, and experience, used as an acknowlegement or respect for the learned one.
So the title of Rabbi conferred by a school may be stripped from one for various reasons, since the school apparantly assumes it's ability to give the title from someone, somewhere. But we are now speaking of things taken as jewish law from various Rabbis who often dissagreed with one another.
The line of discussion previous seems to indicate a Rabbi may, or may not, be "ordained" or received "smicha" by a school. If the origional term Rabbi was a title of respect from one who is learned or wise in the Word of Hashem and it's application in life, and is called such by hs students or following, how do we draw a line to say he is not a Rabbi? This is the same with various sects of Judaism today. They may, or may not, recognize those who follow different Rabbinical teachings. (Orthodox or Reform for example).
Is it not also the same with one who is called Rabbi (having received "smicha" or not) who believes the Mosiach is once come, and will come again?
There is the same discussion with regard to the Lubavicher Rebbi, and no one is revoking Rabbi titles there.
As you say, when Mosiach comes He will sort it all out.
May He come soom.
Aaron

menashedovid1 said...

It should be noted that study in an academic institution was a measure taken by Rabbi Shimson Raphael Hirsch (Orthodox) to combat the effects of Reformed Judaism and it should never be taken that this is the de-facto yardstick by which one simply becomes a Rabbi. Like as if academic equivalence by Messianics will ever make them to be the same or better than Orthodox Rabbis. That one needs an academic qualification to gain credibility is a false proposition. The point is that Yeshivot of the Orthodox have always had and indeed still have since time immemorial, produced just as good, if not in most cases, better Rabbis without 'academic' qualifications so to speak. This is because Torah wisdom is not contained conveniently within the framework of a book or a collection of ‘academic’ books but rather in the context of a people with an ongoing lively discussion of Torah, something for which Messianics are missing and indeed will probably never have as long as they continue in their path which is at variance with legitimate/ historical Judaism.

menashedovid1 said...

It should be noted that study in an academic institution was a measure taken by Rabbi Shimson Raphael Hirsch (Orthodox) to combat the effects of Reformed Judaism and it should never be taken that this is the de-facto yardstick by which one simply becomes a Rabbi. Like as if academic equivalence by Messianics will ever make them to be the same or better than Orthodox Rabbis. That one needs an academic qualification to gain credibility is a false proposition. The point is that Yeshivot of the Orthodox have always had and indeed still have since time immemorial, produced just as good, if not in most cases, better Rabbis without 'academic' qualifications so to speak. This is because Torah wisdom is not contained conveniently within the framework of a book or a collection of ‘academic’ books but rather in the context of a people with an ongoing lively discussion of Torah, something for which Messianics are missing and indeed will probably never have as long as they continue in their path which is at variance with legitimate/ historical Judaism.

Anonymous said...

Simple answer. Jesus was a Rabbi with no formal training. I wouldnt worry about the title I would worry more about the fact that pose this question to man instead of God. Moses didn't have papers either and yet he delivered the message of life.

Anonymous said...

Well said!

ken said...

Messiah Yeshua was called Rabbi but he told his followers to not be called Rabbi, for He was their Rabbi and they were brethern- He also said dont call anyone father for Our Father is in Heaven. So if we follow Messiah, (If you love me obey my commands) we cannot call ourself Rabbi no matter how much we know or have studied. None of the Disciples called themselves Rabbi, nor Paul who was a student of Gamliel on of the most famous Rabbis in Jewish history. So we have both a prohibition by Messiah himself, and an example by all the his disciples to not be called Rabbi. We have one father in Heaven and one Rabbi -Messiah, who said we are brothers and sent us to proclaim the good news, Messiah came to Redeem us!

ken said...

Messiah was called Rabbi, AND HE WAS RABBI!, but he told his disciples to not be called Rabbi, but that they were brothers. Messiah said we have one father in heaven and one Rabbi Messiah, our redeemer. None of the disciples called themselves Rabbi nor Paul who was a student of Gamliel, a well know Rabbi in Jewish history. So we were commanded to not be called Rabbi and we were given an example of obedience to Messiah our Rabbi by his Disciples. So we all have a Rabbi, Messiah who is on the right hand of THE FATHER in heaven our redeemer we said go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature, baptizing them in the name of the FATHER, THE SON, and THE HOLY SPIRIT, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you- he has commanded us to not be called Rabbi-

aaronosaurus said...

It saddens me greatly to hear a scripture used out of context. Carefully consider the several verses preceeding that statement. Because right after that we are told to call no man your father.
Should my children refuse to call me their father?
Follow the proclamation within the context it is given. Yeshua was teaching about "doing" and not just talking. Does He not instruct to "continue" to listen to the teachings of the leaders (or rabbis), but not "act" like them?
Within context, the whole arguement fails.

James said...

Wow. I have to admit, I'm surprised to find people commenting on a blog post I wrote well over three years ago.

I shut this place down and no longer actively write here. Since the topics I explored continue to be of interest, I keep this blog online, but if you're interested in finding out what I write about today (it's related but not absolutely identical), go here:

http://mymorningmeditations.com/