So You Want To Hire A Rabbi? 5 Tips to Make the Process Go Smoothly

If you have been engaged in this process you know how difficult it can be

Have you ever tried to hire a rabbi for your synagogue or community? If you have been engaged in this process, you know how difficult it can be. Instead of hiring one person to meet the demands of one boss, you are hiring one person to meet the demands of an entire congregation. Finding the right match is not a simple process.

After a year of running, the only open platform for rabbinic job postings, and consulting on a number of rabbinic searches, I have gained insight on the rabbinic search process. Here are five tips to help the process run smoothly:

1. Be Honest and Specific

Be as honest and specific as possible in describing your position, your community, and what you are looking for in a rabbi. This means doing some soul searching before you compose a job description. The search committee should spend some time talking to members of your congregation and truly listen to their needs before drafting a job description. Know what the top priorities are for the candidate you are looking for. Should your rabbi be pastoral, a great teacher, sermonizer, good with kids or seniors? What are your community’s particular needs? What skills does your rabbi need to have?

2. Talk About Your Good Points

Talk about your good points: Remember, you are also selling the job itself. Highlight what makes your job and/or community great. Are you in a fabulous location? Have a strong social justice streak? Are you musical? Have a great public school system? Access to Jewish day schools? Kosher food? Fun entertainment activities? Include all of these points in the description of your description.

3. Be Up-Front About Salary and Benefits

Be up-front about the salary and total package you can offer. Many synagogues want to hide this information until it comes time to negotiate. I have found this to be a bad tactic. By the time negotiations commence, both the community and the rabbi have invested serious time and consideration as to whether they are a good match. To then have the relationship fall apart over money issues is heartbreaking all around. You will both waste each other’s time and energy if you are not clear about your positions from the start. So, be up-front. If you can only offer x dollars, then say so in your job description so that a candidate knows from the outset what the compensation will be. If the compensation level does not match what the rabbi needs, then he or she will look elsewhere. Instead of losing out on a candidate as some might fear, it actually sets you up to find someone who will accept your offer.

4. Remember: Rabbis Are People Too

Remember that rabbis are people too. You want to find the best match. No one will be perfect. You will likely have to compromise on some of your expectations. In your committee meetings get clarity on what your most important priorities are in a candidate. What skills are you looking for? How much experience do you want your rabbi to have? Do you have a good sense of personality type? Some congregations want a creative rabbi; others want one who won’t rock the boat. Some want someone who is humorous; others want someone serious, Know yourself and who you are looking for. Know what you are willing to let go of, and what you are not.

5. Don’t Judge a Rabbi By Age or Gender

Don’t judge a rabbi only by their age or gender. Addressing age and gender discrimination in the rabbinate is a sticky subject. Committees need both to be honest about who they are looking for and open to the possibility that their match may come in an external package that is different from what they envisioned. What do you picture when I say the word “rabbi?”  Many people still picture a 35-year-old bearded male with 2.5 kids. If this is who you are looking for, you may miss out on some wonderful rabbis. Many who are over 50 have great wisdom and experience to share with a congregation. They can be just as talented at bringing in young families, a concern for many communities, as that 35-year-old. A 35-year-old does not necessarily attract other 35-year-olds to a congregation. And as much as I hate that this needs to be said, a female rabbi can be just as talented as a male rabbi. She may challenge your image of a rabbi with a beard. But she has a lot to offer.

For a rabbi, it is what is on the inside that matters. Look at the total person and what they have to offer, not just their exterior markers. A search committee needs to face this honestly and talk about their own biases when embarking on a search so that they can name them and move past them.

Finding a rabbi is not an easy task. Rabbis come with many different backgrounds and talents. Being honest and open about yourself, your community, and what you want in a leader is the best way to find your match. Conducting your search in a forthright manner also sets you up to have a good relationship with your spiritual leader down the road. You start to develop trust in your very first interactions. Enter the process feeling excited about who you will meet, and be open to the individuals who come your way. As with any good relationship, finding the right match may take time, but the process itself is enlightening and important.

Rabbi Rebecca W Sirbu is the Founder of and the Director of Rabbis Without Borders at Clal- The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership

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