The Rabbinate 101

Mahara”t Sara Hurwitz

I recently got a taste of what it would be like to have my own pulpit, to be the rabbi of my own shul.  My esteemed colleagues Rabbis Avi Weiss and Steven Exler were on vacation, which left me in charge.  Alone.  In a 850-family shul.   

Of course, as soon as everyone left, there was suddenly a funeral to officiate, a shiva to run, a bris to lead, and Shabbat services to orchestrate.  I did it all, and the craziest thing is that no one batted an eyelid.  It just seemed natural. 

From this whirlwind experience I gained an even fuller appreciation of the deep and far-reaching modes of activity that constitute the rabbinate.  And if I could distill the one common ingredient in these tasks it would be presence.  Showing up.  Reaching out and making personal connections with individuals. 

This point was driven home to me in two distinct ways.  When an adult son of one of our members died, they called the shul asking to speak to one of the rabbis. So I dropped everything and went to sit with them, navigating the family through the complicated hospital bureaucracy and funeral arrangements. Towards the end of the day, as I broached the topic of who would be officiating at the funeral, explaining that I could find a male, more traditional looking rabbi, she looked at me as if I was crazy.  Of course you should do it, she said.  By the end of the week, she was telling anyone who would listen (between her moments of grief) that I was a rabbi.

And on the other end of the life cycle, I was asked to advise on and coordinate a bris. I showed up at the couples’ home, explained the bris ceremony, and envisioned with them how the service would be run. By the end of the conversation, it was hard to imagine the day without my participation.

You see, until recently, I assumed that lifecycle events were closed off to me as a woman in a rabbinic position.  People associate these events with male rabbis.  But as I officiate at more and more of these ceremonies — in sadness and gladness — I realize that gender is less important to members of my community than simply being present, engaged and  building a relationship.

That is what being a rabbis is about.  That is the rabbinate 101.

(Since I wrote this post, two additional members of our community have passed on.  It’s been a busy couple of days).

5 Responses to The Rabbinate 101

  1. ilanadavita says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience. It is comforting to read that you have found a place where you are accepted.

  2. Roland says:

    I’m confused. I was led to believe that Avi made up the title Maharat so as distinguish a woman Jewish leader from members of the rabbinate. Yet in the article you refer to yourself as rabbi at least six times. What gives? Can women have smicha and be rabbis in the orthodox tradition? Is that halachic? has he pulled the wool over his congregants’ eyes?

  3. ABS says:

    Ot vey ! All those people dying while you run the show!

    Could thi sbe a message to you and the community about female ‘rabbi-ettes’?

  4. Reuven Ben-Avi says:

    Although I consider myself religiously progressive, I find there to be something disingenuous about a woman leading a bris. To me it seems as appropriate as replacing the mikveh lady with Jackie Mason. I’m all for an increased role of women in Jewish life, but there just seems to be some gender confusion in this example, in my own humble opinion.

  5. Shira says:

    Focusing on relationship is what it’s all about whether we are talking person to person or person to G-d. You’ve got it right. Ignore all the nay sayers.

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