The Choice of Reform Rabbinical Studies in Israel and the Rabbinical Mission: Negotiating Tikun Olam and Personal Tikun

Jun. 02, 2013

Source: Journal of Jewish Education, Volume 79, Issue 2 , pages 78-103


The goals of this study are to describe the motivations and aims of young Israelis for choosing Reform rabbinical studies and to explore how the Israeli and Reform contexts are manifested in students’ motivations and aims. This question was examined by a study of the personal background, the decision-making process, and the motivations of 10 students in the Reform rabbinical program at the Jerusalem campus of Hebrew Union College (HUC).Though most of the students’ exposure to Reform Judaism occurred following an encounter with North American Reform Jewry, the choice of rabbinical studies was described by most of the participants as the result of a sense of incongruity between the personal, cultural, and professional dimensions of their lives.



This study describes the motivations and sense of mission of students at the Israeli Reform rabbinical program. The motivations were related to the dichotomy between their personal and the professional worlds, between study and practice, and between the personal values and the values of the surrounding society.


The motives and rabbinical missions described suggest that the Reform rabbinical students intend to address the challenges of the Israeli society as they perceive them. They are motivated by an interest in re-forming Israeli Judaism.


Practical implications can be derived from this research in relation to the rabbinical training process: The character of second-career students needs to be taken into consideration. These influence the way that the program should be planned both in pedagogical terms and in dealing with its mission and calling aspects. Developing a spiritual language that will relate to the Israeli context and enhancing pluralism and humanism in the Jewish Israeli discourse are goals that need to be further explored and incorporated into the curriculum and training of the Israeli rabbinical program.


Models of female and liberal rabbis are not yet represented in the Israeli rabbinical arena. If the liberal movements wish to become more present in Israel's spiritual and religious life, these movements should work toward the public visibility of liberal rabbis. Reform rabbis participating more extensively in the Israeli public agenda may affect the image of the Reform movement in Israel and create an accessible alternative for rabbis’ roles. This could also affect candidates’ decisions to study for the rabbinate within the Israeli Reform program.


Over the coming years, it may be possible to examine the ways in which these rabbis influence the society in which they work; whether they facilitate continuity between their spiritual and professional world, and whether they influence their communities, enhancing religious discourse in Israeli society, and thereby contributing to the tikkun (repair) of the relations between Israeli society in general and Judaism.

Updated: Jun. 25, 2013