Judaism is one of the oldest religions still in existence. As such, it has many historical traditions and beliefs about the ways in which their religious leaders, rabbis, become ordained. There are three main denominations in Judaism: Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform. These three movements have different takes on the ordination process.
What is a rabbi?
In Hebrew, the word rabbi means “teacher.” Rabbis are the religious leaders of Judaism who oversee religious rituals, give sermons, and serve as community leaders. Rabbis are ordained when they have a semikhah (meaning “leaning of the hands”), a ceremony generally conducted at a theological institute upon the completion of a long series of religious studies.
The three denominations of Judaism have differing beliefs on what constitutes a “legitimate” rabbi, but in all movements, rabbis play an integral role in Jewish communities. An important principle in Judaism is that ordination was passed down in an unbroken chain from Moses. Some scholars believe this chain is still unbroken.
How do I get ordained as a rabbi?
To get ordained as a rabbi, a person must study Jewish history and theology for years at an academic institute. Rabbis must also learn to speak Hebrew with some degree of fluency.
For aspiring rabbis of the Reform denomination, the Hebrew Union College is the largest seminary and has campuses in Cincinnati, Los Angeles, New York, and Jerusalem. For Conservative Jews, the Jewish Theological Seminary has schools in several major colleges. Orthodox Jews attend seminaries called yeshivot. Training at these seminaries lasts approximately five years. These seminaries would be a good first resource for those wondering, “How do I get ordained?”
After ordination, a rabbi may continue studying how to be an adept religious leader by interning at a temple or under a certain scholar before finding a home temple. Then, an established temple generally offers a rabbi a contract that is renewed on a yearly basis.
Similar to the practices of the Universal Life Church, women can be rabbis within the Reform and Conservative movements, as can people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. Orthodox Judaism does not permit either women or people in the LGBT community to be ordained.
What does a rabbi do?
A rabbi oversees religious services at a temple. This includes leading prayer and delivering sermons. An important aspect of any rabbi’s duty is leading life cycle events. Life cycle events include baptisms, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, weddings, and funerals. A rabbi is a revered figure within their Jewish community, helping to guide members of their temple in their spiritual and religious journeys. Rabbis also schedule events and workshops within the temple and manage day to day operations.
This is the first post in the How Do I Get Ordained series. Hope you enjoyed it! A whole slew of articles on how to become ordained in a variety of religions will be published on this site in the coming months, so stay tuned.