The Match Game
The hunt for a new rabbi is long and
ardous for both parties.
If CC 44LI. PArPtAtt,
Rabbi Judah Dardik, right, leads a Cali rnia congregation. He interviewed with
For Conservative and Reform, strict rules
govern the hiring of rabbis.
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
hen it comes to hiring
rabbis, the Conservative
and Reform movements
are pretty religious.
The movements employ stricter rules
of engagement than do either modern
Orthodoxy or the Reconstructionist
At the Conservative movement's
Jewish Theological Seminary, a joint
rabbinical placement commission of JTS
and the Rabbinical Assembly — the
movement's professional association of
rabbis — oversees hiring rules.
New graduates are allowed to step
into a solo pulpit only in a congregation
of up to 250 families. They are encour-
aged instead to become assistant or asso-
ciate rabbis, usually in larger synagogues
with bigger staffs.
The rules are designed in part to
encourage rookie Conservative rabbis to
gain experience and seasoning before
jumping into a solo pulpit. After three
years, the new rabbis can move up to a
500-family congregation; after seven
years they can lead a synagogue with up
to 750 families; and after a decade a
rabbi can step into a major pulpit in
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
rian Schuldenfrei was wander-
ing around midtown
anhattan one gray March
day, clutching his cellphone,
when the realization struck.
The 28-year-old rabbinic student had
recently emerged from the grueling
"interview week" at the Jewish
Theological Seminary, where
Conservative synagogues meet pulpit
candidates for the first time in a kind of
rabbinical job fair capping the five-year
program. He realized that he was so
wrapped up in the job search that he'd
forgotten to attend an important theolo-
Now Schuldenfrei was nervously
awaiting call-backs. The call he particu-
larly wanted was from the 1,600-family
Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, one of the
Conservative movement's most presti-
gious congregations, where an assistant
rabbi position was available.
"I wouldn't put my phone in my
pocket becauk I was afraid I would miss
that call," Schuldenfrei says. "I've never
experienced more stress."
Like other professionals, rabbis must
endure the rigors of job hunting —
competing for jobs, campaigning to con-
vince prospective employers to hire them
synagogues with more than 750 fami-
Yet some say that it's not congregation
size or length of tenure that determines
how hard a rabbi works. "I worked as
hard when I had a congregation of 60
families as when I had 1,250 families,"
says Rabbi William Lebeau, dean of
JTS' rabbinical school. "But I learned
over the years how to balance time bet-
ter, to be an administrator and pastor,
and to protect my own family life."
At JTS, congregational representatives
gather for an "interview week" each
spring to meet prospective rabbis, then
select the ones they want to meet again.
Interested students decide whether to
meet congregations who call.
Many newly ordained JTS rabbis say
they interview with six congregations or
more in person, and speak by phone
with others, before fielding offers.
While Conservative rabbinical job-
hunting may seem rigid and intense, the
rules evolved by the late 1980s in
response to criticism that the process
relied too much on insider ties, back-
and haggling over contract terms. While
each religious denomination follows its
own set of rules and traditions that
shape the rabbinic placement process,
the goal is the same across the religious
"It's really about making the best
match," says Rabbi Joel Alpert, place-
ment director for the Reconstructionist
While some of the movements almost
have turned the process into a science,
the crucial ingredient is the chemistry
between rabbi and congregation. "Like
falling in love, the subjective is the most
important factor in the end," says Rabbi
William Lebeau, dean of the rabbinical
school at JTS.
After what seemed to Schuldenfrei an
eternity, Sinai Temple's senior rabbi,
David Wolpe, a rising leader in the
movement, invited him for an interview.
Schuldenfrei hopped on a flight to Los
Angeles, arriving in time to attend
Friday night services, eat dinner with
Rabbi Wolpe and congregation lay lead-
ers and polish up a Shabbat sermon.
The next day, he delivered the sermon
to 1,000 congregants, led a luncheon
class for about 100 people, including
board members, then spent the after-
noon with the synagogue president,
Rabbi Wolpe and Sinai Temple's other
assistant rabbi, Sherre Hirsch.
On Sunday, Schuldenfrei returned to
the synagogue for still more meetings.
room deals and RA discretion.
Rabbi Hayim Herring, executive
director of Star — an acronym for
Synagogues: Transformation and
Renewal — was ordained in 1984 and
took his first assistantship at Beth El
Synagogue in Minneapolis in 1985.
"The placement system was really dif-
ferent back then," Rabbi Herring says.
"There was more of an informal, old-
Med School Model
The Reform movement, meanwhile, has
turned rabbinic selection into a science.
A joint placement commission of the
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute
of Religion, the Union of American
Hebrew Congregations' synagogue
umbrella organization and the Central
Conference of American Rabbis rabbini-
cal group runs the Reform rabbi market.
Rabbis enter the market when Reform
temples gather for a few days at HUC's
Cincinnati campus each spring to meet
Congregations and students follow a