About Rabbis’ – a brief history
In the Torah, one of the twelve sons of Jacob and a brother to Joseph was Levi. After Joseph came to be a power in Egypt and a great famine struck the land, his father and brothers came to live there with him. Several hundred years later, their descendants were slaves and treated badly by their Egyptian masters. Well known in the Torah is the story of Moses. Moses was sent by God to lead the Hebrews out of bondage. Aided by his brother, Aaron, Moses did all he was told to do by God and the pharaoh of Egypt finally freed the people. After crossing the Red Sea, they arrived.
At Mount Sinai, where the Commandments were given, as stated in the Torah, the priesthood was established. Aaron was the first High Priest (also known as the Kohanim) and only his descendants from that point on were to be priests. This priesthood lineage continued until after the destruction of the Second Temple, also known as Herod’s Temple, in 70 CE. With the destruction of the temple, sacrifices could no longer be made so there was a shift in the duties of the priesthood. After a revolt, Jews were exiled from Jerusalem in 135 CE. The priesthood basically ended as such at this time and the rabbinate effectively began. For fear that the traditions that had been handed down orally through generations might be forgotten in the Diaspora, the great sage, Akiva, codified the oral traditions into what is known as the Mishnah, which is still used today as a primary guide to understanding the Torah and how to obey the Commands.
As it became difficult to keep leadership in synagogues confined to the line of Levi, as in the Torah, it is not required to be a Levite to be a rabbi. Traditionally, a rabbi was a male observant Jew who kept the Commandments, knew Jewish law and could resolve doctrinal disputes. Now it is also not confined to men, either. Women are being ordained as rabbis, too. Reform Judaism ordained the first woman rabbi in 1972, followed by Reconstructionists in 1977. Conservative Judaism ordained their first woman rabbi in 1983. Though some Orthodox groups have ordained a few women, they do not officially accept women rabbis at this time.
There used to be a time when the pulpit rabbinate was the symbol of the rabbinate. There was an assumption that a rabbi was second-best if a rabbi didn’t have a congregation.
A Different Viewpoint
Though, most congregations are led by rabbis, it is not required. Anyone can lead a congregation or be a prayer leader. But having a rabbi to lead a congregation does help to strengthen the community. A rabbi can give focus to Jews in a community whether they belong to the congregation or not. Teach and give sermons from the portions of the Torah.
The downside of a congregational rabbi is being on-call 24-hours-a-day; seven-days-a-week. Since a rabbi never knows when he or she may be called to give counsel or help someone in some way, there is a sacrifice when signing the contract to be a congregational rabbi.
Newly ordained rabbis are choosing other opportunities outside synagogues and putting family first. The Code of Ethics continues to be honored with or without a congregation. Just like doctors, rabbis can find it difficult to find a balance between rabbinical duties and family life and responsibilities.
Just as a congregation doesn’t have to have a rabbi, a rabbi doesn’t need a congregation to be a good rabbi. Some of the most effective rabbis today do not have congregations. You could say that the world is their congregation and the Torah can travel. Not having a congregation enables them to go where ever they are needed and when they are needed without having as many arrangements to make.
Congregations without Walls
A rabbi who has a presence on the internet is in a unique position to reach out to people who might not have anywhere else to turn. Being able to get advice and guidance from an online rabbi can mean the difference between retaining their Jewish lifestyle and observance and passing it on to their children or forgetting it and being absorbed by the secular community around them. This vital link can bring families into the greater Jewish community that would otherwise have been lost and isolated.
Internet use has increased dramatically in the last few years and more than ever, it is part of our daily lives in practical ways. Whether it is banking, shopping, chatting, researching, music downloading and so much more, it is an activity that does not miss a day of use for one reason or another. Planning a vacation can cause excitement to be expressed when internet access is available for hotel guests. Establishments offering Wi-Fi access, the computer travels with you for a cup of coffee. Even education of all levels is available online now.
If you can be enrolled in college courses online and receive a degree without attending a real classroom, then why not Jewish studies? For many people, online is the only real option due to work, physical limitations and family responsibilities. Now more than ever, it is possible to complete your Jewish studies no matter where in the world you are.
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