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 women, but it not a common practice.
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 in today times. Anyone can lead a congregation or be a prayer leader. Having a rabbi to lead a congregation helps 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, 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, family life, and responsibilities.
Some of the most effective rabbis today do not have congregations. They are working in organizations and corporate companies. The world is their congregation and the Torah can travel. Not having a congregation enables them to go where they are needed and when they are needed.
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.