Rabbinic Ordination 2011: The World’s Newest Rabbis

On Thursday afternoon of this week, twenty-six rabbis were ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary in Manhattan.

These young men and women were not the only graduates at JTS on that day. There were undergraduate degree recipients from List College, Masters and Doctoral degrees awarded from the Graduate School and the Davidson School of Education, and new Cantors, graduating from the H. L. Miller Cantorial School, who were invested with the authority to assume their important work.

But I am focusing on the rabbis for two good reasons. First of all, I am one. I know the life, and I am unfailingly moved by seeing new and wonderful people coming into the field with fresh energy and a different lens. With thirty years worth of dealing with the myriad challenges and rewards of the rabbinic life, I have greatest of respect for those who are willing to devote their lives to the spiritual life of the Jewish community in this way.

Second, I was more than a casual observer at that ordination ceremony. Both my son, and my son-in-law, were ordained. And with my son married to a wonderful woman who was ordained two years ago, there are now four rabbis in my immediate family. More about that in a moment…

Speaking on behalf of the Rabbinical Assembly at yesterday’s ceremonies, I acknowledged to these new rabbis that these are not the easiest of times in our movement, as has been amply reported in the media recently. Some would say that going into the rabbinate right now is an act of faith, multiple layers of meaning intended. We are demographically challenged, the job market is tight, and spirits are not at their highest. As Vice-President of the Rabbinical Assembly, I deal with these realities and their implications on a daily basis, and now they will too.

But it is equally true that these new rabbis are totally ready to take their Torah to the people, and they believe that they can and will make a difference. I saw no hesitation in their eyes, only a quiet confidence that they know what it is they want to accomplish, and they are chomping at the bit to have at it.
I had to smile. Though I’m starting my fourth decade in the rabbinate, I can still remember well exactly what it felt like to be them. I can do it better, I know what our movement needs, I know what today’s synagogue needs to be about…. It’s the kind of youthful arrogance that those of us who have been around the rabbinic block sometimes react defensively to. But I had no defenses up yesterday, only love and respect. More power to them! And may my movement, and indeed American Judaism, be blessed because of their efforts.

And speaking of blessing…My wife and I have spent a lot of time these past few days wondering how this happened to us; not how we wound up with so many rabbis in the family, although it does, indeed, amaze us, but simply how our children have grown and gotten to this point. We are but a few months away from sending our youngest child to Israel for the year on a gap-year program, and then off to the University of Michigan. So next year, we will have our rabbi son and his rabbi wife and child in Orlando, Florida; our daughter and rabbi/Lieutenant (jg) son-in-law in the Navy as a chaplain, stationed somewhere as yet unknown; a daughter at Barnard but destined for a spring semester somewhere in Europe, and a son in Israel. God has blessed us beyond what we had ever dared to hope for, and we know it. We are so grateful…

Now all we need is frequent flier miles!

Shabbat Shalom.

About the Author
Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik is the Rabbi Emeritus of the Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens.