Perceptions and Roles of Conservative Rabbis: Findings and Implications Related to Identity and Education

Sep. 25, 2007

Source: Journal of Jewish Education, Volume 73, Issue 3, pages 191 - 207


Successful career development involves balancing the values and expectations held by oneself and by others regarding one's position and the roles played as part of the position. Due to the nature of their work, rabbis face special challenges with regard to balancing professional roles and expectations. Results from a study of Conservative rabbis are reported here, including the variety of roles played by rabbis, the value and expectations placed by rabbis regarding each of these roles, and his or her perception of the value and expectations placed by lay leaders on these roles. Implications related to rabbinic identity and education are discussed.



The Conservative Rabbinical Leadership Survey (CRLS) paper-and-pencil survey was distributed to members of the Rabbinical Assembly in 2001 and subsequently mailed to all RA members in North America. A major function of the survey was to ask rabbis about the extent of the time and effort they spend in particular roles, how they would ideally like to spend their time and effort, and their perceptions of the importance placed by their lay leaders on these same roles. In order to help better target and understand the survey results, a variety of interviews and observations were conducted.


Among the Findings

The study results point to the importance of perceived consensus in guiding a rabbi's expenditures of time and effort. In all cases, the greatest time and effort is spent in those items which the rabbi values and perceives the lay leaders as valuing. The least time and effort are spent in those activities seen as less important by rabbis and lay leaders (in the eyes of the rabbi).


Also apparent is the strength that the rabbi's ideals play in comparison to the rabbi's perceptions of the laity. In some cases, the rabbi's ideal seems as influential as the perception of consensus.
Overall, rabbis report much overlap in the roles in which they want to and in which they actually do spend time and also much overlap in the roles they value and those they perceive their lay leaders as valuing.


However, there were also found an array of discrepancies between the reports of rabbis about the roles in which they spend their time and those in which they would like, ideally, to spend their time, as well as discrepancies between the rabbis' perceptions of the roles most valued by their lay leaders, and those in which they are actually and ideally involved.
For example, while self-growth is seen by the rabbi as an integral part of the rabbinate, it is not seen by rabbis as an aspect valued by lay leaders .


Some of the Implications for Educating Rabbis

At the most basic level, these data suggest that opportunities be provided for rabbis to expand those roles that they value and that they may not have the desired opportunity to fill. Online courses geared to rabbis, for example, may provide the desired opportunities for text study, as might expanded opportunities for professional networking

Updated: Jun. 11, 2008