Rabbinic “work demands constant emotional output that leaders cannot provide unless they are in touch with their own feelings”

How do we prepare and support our rabbis to juggle these multiple roles? Some women and men may be instinctively talented as listeners and advisors. Those who are not naturally inclined or trained to attend to pastoral needs are likely to stumble through sensitive situations, sometimes to the detriment of those they are trying to help. Pastoral education, however, goes deeper than learning a set of skills. Rabbis need to identify their own personal issues. As religious leaders who work in the hot zone of spiritual life, conflicted relationships and complex feelings, they must get to know themselves first. Every day, rabbis counsel men and women going through religious transition, couples whose marriages are on the rocks, teens in crisis, and families making end-of-life decisions for their loved ones. This work demands constant emotional output that leaders cannot provide unless they are in touch with their own feelings.

Clergy face challenges from many directions. What happens when the rabbi doesn’t know the answer? When the cantor feels that she has failed a congregant? When the rabbi’s own marriage has hit a low point or his synagogue appears to be failing? What about when the rabbi finds a congregant alluring, boring, or repellent? While most rabbis have an advisor they can consult regarding questions related to Jewish law, it can be harder to find someone to turn to for support when they feel stuck in a personal or pastoral quandary. Has their education taught them that exposing vulnerability and sharing strategies is not only useful but essential? Does the rabbi have a friend from rabbinical school, a mentor, a therapist or a supervisor?

These exhortations in no way excuse clergy violations. Rather, they are a plea for the urgency of putting the psychological health and pastoral competence of the rabbi front and center in the ordination process.

Michelle Friedman, “Who’s Taking Care Of The Rabbi?”, The Jewish Week (31 October 2014), 24.