Ted Sheskin

Establish a Tenure System for Rabbis

In Oct. 2021, the assistant rabbi of Park East Synagogue in Manhattan was abruptly fired after he had served a decade with the Orthodox congregation. Most American rabbis receive multi-year contracts which specify periodic evaluation of the relationship of the rabbi to the congregation, to communal institutions, and to organizations the rabbi serves. In addition, job performance and professional growth are reviewed in accordance with agreed upon standards. In contrast, Israel has 88 municipal chief rabbis who hold their positions for life.

A rabbi is first of all a teacher who deserves the opportunity to earn tenure.

Rabbis complete a course of post-graduate study lasting four to five years in a Jewish theological seminary. The duration and rigor of their post-graduate study is comparable to that of a university professor. Following the model for American universities, we propose that American synagogues should establish a tenure system for rabbis. A newly hired rabbi would have a 6-year probationary period during which to earn tenure. A rabbi denied tenure would be given a terminal contract for a seventh year during which the rabbi would seek another congregation.

The benefit of tenure to rabbis would be job security. They would have freedom to innovate. Tenured rabbis would establish deep roots in the external community.

Synagogues would benefit from tenure as well. A synagogue offering tenure would have a competitive advantage over rivals without tenure when recruiting rabbinic candidates. Tenure would encourage senior rabbis to mentor junior colleagues without fear of competition for their jobs. Tenure would also strengthen the loyalty of valued rabbis to their synagogues.

Rabbis can negotiate most effectively with synagogues for a tenure system by working together under the leadership of their respective professional societies.

Orthodox rabbis are represented by the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), Conservative rabbis by the Rabbinical Assembly (RA), and Reform rabbis by the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR).

About the Author
Ted Sheskin is a professor emeritus of industrial engineering at Cleveland State University, and the author of a textbook, Markov Chains and Decision Processes for Engineers and Managers. He has published peer-reviewed papers on engineering systems and mathematical algorithms. His letters to editors addressing politics, economic policy, and issues facing Israel and American Jews have appeared in the NY Times, Daily News, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Cleveland Jewish News, Jewish Week, the Forward, and Jewish Voice.
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