The decision to enter the rabbinate is an exciting and complex one. For those committed to the service of God and devoted to the Jewish people, the rabbinate offers the daily combination of challenge and opportunity infused with personal meaning and spiritual fulfillment.
While Judaism stresses the importance for every Jew to strive towards fulfillment of Jewish norms, ideals and values, there have always been those who emerge as leaders to help shape the community’s destiny. The term rabbi literally means “my teacher” or “my master”. For many centuries, individuals and communities have looked to the rabbi for teaching, role modeling and leadership.
For centuries after the development of rabbinic Judaism, ‘rabbi’ was used to designate those who had studied Torah and become scholars and experts in the nuances of the written and oral tradition, and who had been ordained or granted smicha by a rabbinic court to serve as a decision-maker, interpreter, and teacher. Today, a rabbi is still a teacher and is still viewed as the master of the tradition, and is also much more. The rabbi of the twenty-first century is also a spiritual guide, pastoral counselor, confidante, writer, manager, administrator, and public speaker.
Becoming a rabbi is not an entry into priesthood nor does it assume any separate status for an individual. In the modern world, the rabbi does often preside over public mitzvot ceremonies which individual Jews do not, however, this is more a result of knowledge and awareness of the practices and not of any sort of ceremonial eligibility. Any knowledgeable Jew can, in fact, lead congregational worship or officiate at lifecycle events. Moreover, neither the rabbi, nor any other individual, is the intermediary between God and humans. Each Jew has his or her own relationship with God, which he or she is responsible for nurturing and maintaining. The rabbi, through his or her own creativity and understanding, transmits the values and norms of the tradition that can ultimately draw others into their own relationship with God through a life of Torah, mitzvot, and good deeds.