The Midwife: Portrait of a Congregational Rabbi as a Teacher of Adults

Mar. 26, 2013

Source: Journal of Jewish Education, 79:1, 24-48


Almost no literature in the academic field of Jewish education exists that studies congregational rabbis as teachers of adults. This article seeks to contribute to filling the gap in the extant literature base. Using portraiture, the study describes and analyzes the aims of rabbinic teaching of adults in a synagogue setting. The findings suggest that regularly facilitating learners' intellectual and religious development, democratically guiding their communities' evolution through an emphasis on learning, and collaboratively joining their congregants in shaping the construction of personal and communal Jewish narratives are central aims of congregational rabbinic teaching of adults.


Congregational rabbis function as important members of the cadre of teachers who work with adults in synagogues. In the post-World War Two era, adult Jewish education has been one of the regular activities sponsored by American synagogues. Since the 1990s, researchers and practitioners in the field of Jewish education have given renewed attention to adult learning in the American Jewish community. Yet despite an emerging body of scholarship in the field of adult Jewish education, almost no literature about the congregational rabbi as a teacher of adults in liberal synagogues exists, and in particular very little research appears that explores the aims of adult Jewish teaching or learning (Schuster & Grant, 2005, p. 194). This article examines the teaching aims of one rabbi, Rabbi Rina Lewin (a pseudonym), with a reputation as an excellent teacher of adults in a Reform synagogue. The research seeks to further our understanding of the purpose of rabbinic teaching of adults in liberal congregational settings.

Updated: Apr. 29, 2013