Become a Rabbi or Cantor

Judaist clergy members are considered the leaders, coordinators, or directors of a synagogue.

Rabbi's Assist in Leading the Congregation

They are responsible for the spiritual health and growth of the synagogue’s members. They prepare and lead worship services, singing, teaching, and oversee all aspects of the synagogue and its role in the community. Clergy members are also expected to advise and council congregants. Some may be licensed social workers. However, those who do not have the additional education in counseling are trained to know when to refer congregants to counseling professionals. Clergy also visit ill congregants who are in the hospital, and perform basic Judaist religious rites such as marriages and funerals. A big part of a clergy member’s job is to organize and lead the synagogue’s B’nei Mitzvah program, a program for children that prepares them to lead a service when they are 13.

There are two types of clergy members in the Judaist faith, rabbis and cantors. A rabbi functions primarily as a teacher, and leads the worship service. A cantor’s focus may be more on singing and prayer. In some synagogues the cantor runs the B’nei Mitzvah program. Not all synagogues employ both rabbis and cantors, depending on the size and needs of the congregants. Some synagogues have only a rabbi, while some have only a cantor, although a rabbi is usually hired before a cantor. At some synagogues where there are both rabbis and cantors, the rabbi is considered the cantor’s boss, while at other synagogues, the two work together as a team and are considered equals. Again, the organizational model depends on the synagogue and the needs of the congregants. Rabbis tend to do more counseling than cantor’s, but there are many cantors that do counsel congregants. Rabbis and cantors are called to respond to congregants in crises. If you are interested in helping others become closer to God and reaching out to others in need, then becoming a member of the Judaist clergy may be the right career for you.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in a report on employment from 1998 to 2008, there were more than 5,000 rabbi positions in the United States. No number was available for cantors. The Bureau predicts faster than average growth when it comes to the number of rabbis needed, however, to meet current unmet needs for rabbis in underserved locations and to replace those who are nearing retirement.

Rabbi and Cantor Training

Rabbis and cantors must attend a seminary where they receive education and training. There are several seminaries in the United States. Like the Christian faith, some sects have established their own seminaries, while others train rabbis and cantors of all four movements. Rabbis and cantors must first receive bachelor degrees from an accredited university before applying at seminaries. Judaist seminary programs can be four or five year programs, depending on the school. Most seminaries also require the student to spend at least one year in Israel to develop a relationship to the country and learn to speak Hebrew fluently. Some school may require the student to complete an internship so the student gains practical experience.

Coursework chosen may depend on the student’s chosen specialty area, if there is one. For example a student specializing in education could work toward a master’s degree in education, or clinical pastoral education. While other students focus their coursework on Judaic studies, music, or Hebrew.

Required Rabbi & Cantor Job Skills

Rabbis and cantors will need to have in-depth knowledge of the Hebrew Bible and texts as well as the Hebrew language. In-depth knowledge of Jewish history and culture is also expected of these professionals.

Rabbis and cantors will also have thorough knowledge of their movement’s worship methodology. In addition, since clergy members are leaders and typically have people working for them, even if it is on a volunteer basis, clergy members need to have knowledge of leadership, management, and administrative practices. Customer service techniques are also valuable for clergy to know, since they provide many services to their congregants. Lastly, since clergy members counsel and advise their congregation, they should have a basic understanding of counseling techniques and know when to refer someone to a professional, licensed counselor.

Being a clergy member is a people-intensive job, which means having excellent communication skills is a must. Clergy must be able to listen to their congregants, understand their needs, and respond to them in a meaningful way. Additionally, clergy members need to have strong organizational and time management skills. Rabbis and cantors have many demands on their time and having good organizational and time management skills can go a long way toward keeping them on task and in good standing. As a leader, clergy members are also often the ones that are looked upon to make a final decision. A clergy member must have excellent decision making skills. Congregations also expect their clergy members to be excellent speakers, teachers, and writers. Most of these abilities can be improved with practice and through attending workshops and continuing education classes. Clergy members should enjoy working with people.

But the most important characteristics rabbis and cantors should have are compassionate characters and an ability to bring God’s presence to their teaching. Rabbis and cantors need to remember that they are not simply lecturing at a university when they are teaching in a synagogue. There needs to be a strong spiritual component.

Average Salary Information

While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics did not provide average salary information specifically for Jewish clergy, it did provide information on directors of religious activities and education, which can be used as a general guideline. This category of workers earned an average annual salary of $46,269.

Remember, salaries can fluctuate widely between movements and synagogues. Often the larger the synagogue and clergy responsibility, the higher the salary will be, although that is not always the case.

Potential career path

Members of the Judaic clergy can advance their careers by obtaining positions at larger synagogues, or becoming educators.

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