So What’s the Whole Story?
Friday August 11th 2006, 8:52 am
Filed under: Slices of Life

Back somewhere around 1996 or ’97 I wrote the story of how I went from being a functional working rabbi to my current “defrocked” state. It was published in The CCAR Journal in 1999. The CCAR is the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the organization of Reform rabbis, of which I am still a member. The following is that article annotated and updated:

Updates and annotations are indented like this

Rabbis Don’t Get Defrocked, but Some are Unsuited

In June, 1999, my ordination class of HUC-JIR ’74 will celebrate its 25 years as rabbis. Many of my classmates will receive honorary degrees in tribute to long illustrious careers. I do not expect to be among them.

I am a rabbinical dropout. I never made a conscious choice to leave the rabbinate. It just sort of happened.

From time to time, The CCAR Journal publishes rabbis’ descriptions of the particular twists and unusual turns in their rabbinical careers: one individual describes how he became a hospice chaplain, another how she inaugurated a successful outreach program to young couples. Through these articles, the rest of us learn from their experience and enrich our own rabbinical careers.

The particular twist of my rabbinical career is that it crashed and burned. It is no more.

Most Jews assume that if a rabbi changes careers, it must be because “he couldn’t hack it; he got fired because he didn’t visit the president of the congregation’s wife when she was in the hospital, she was too liberal, he got in some kind of trouble, he wouldn’t perform intermarriages.” Or sometimes our Jews acknowledge the emotional drains the rabbinate places on its members and admit that not everyone is meant for it. But I’ve never heard anyone suggest an explanation for leaving the rabbinate that feels congruent with mine: It just happened.

I did not plan it that way. I had hacked it reasonably well. I led a congregation for nearly 10 years. Though my congregation and I had growing pains together, we never had a huge fight. We created a few minor scuffles because an unwritten rule in the Jewish world says you’ve got to have them. When the dust settled, we both got over them quickly. I never got so frustrated or furious at my congregation that I got anywhere near quitting the whole rabbinical world. I never got fired. It just happened.

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