Top of the evening everyone...
Several months ago, Jennifer and I thought it would be interesting to write on the exact same topic. We also decided that it would post at the exact same time. So when you get this entry, go immediately to Jen's entry on the same topic and read hers also.
I have been asked many times over the course of my rabbinate when and how I chose to be a rabbi. I always give the same answer: "I do not know." I suppose that I started making the decision in high school, but remain unable to pinpoint the exact time that my decision was made.
During seminary, my concentration was Talmud. I actively avoided philosophy classes, and took only the history courses I had to take. One course, Intellectual History, I failed. I turned in the final paper several times, and apparently kept missing something. The dean decided to let it go. I think it is because he was a Navy chaplain when he finished school, and knew that was where I was headed initially.
Since finishing, I have barely cracked open a volume of Talmud. It is rather upsetting. On the positive side, I found that I truly enjoy medieval exegesis. The intelligence, subtlty, and passion of some of the medievals is often quite stunning. I miss Talmud, usually. This was the beginning of my rabbinate choosing me.
Since then, other things have come up on my radar, 'forcing' to the surface the concerns of this rabbi. At my first pulpit, I had a person with a significant alcohol problem. This was a person with a PhD, whom I could not ask to lead a responsive reading. I did not know what to do. Looking back on it, I also believe that this person was an abused spouse, possibly physically, certainly emotionally. I have learned much about alcohol and about spouse abuse since then.
One result of this is that I never drink at public synagogue events. Another result of this is that I think synagogues should be dry.
Anyway, several women have confided such secrets of abuse to me during my rabbinate. As such, this is now one of my concerns. It chose me. I did not choose it.
The Navy has made me travel a fair amount. Jennifer thinks I am crazy. I only take one room key at hotels. She always knows the name of the hotel, my room number, and the phone number immediately. I avoid even the appearance of indiscretion. Such indiscretion is very much a type of abuse.
And I am firmly of the belief that myths should be destroyed. God does not have a finger hovering over the divine 'smite' button just because I might say Kaddish while my parents are still alive. There are other customs that have such silliness as their basis. While I do not necessarily believe in tossing such customs, your Judaism should be intellectually healthy as well as spiritually healthy. It is not enough to keep a tradition. Tradition is wonderful, but Tevye, the quintessential traditionalist from "Fiddler," cites the Good Book incorrectly every time. Be Tevye in your attachment to tradition. But do not at all be Tevye in your understanding of it.
Another matter that has become prominent in my rabbinic thought is that of the cost of Jewish living. This is particularly the most pronounced and annoying in the area of kashrut. I get that kosher food is more expensive, especially when dealing with meat. That is okay, I suppose. Still, I do not support dramatically increasing costs for unnecessary and irrelevant stringencies, either on a personal level, or especially on a communal level. If you have the financial wherewithal to spend more money on a stringency, stop and ask yourself instead whether a charity might be able to use that extra money. If you have the financial wherewithal to spend more money on a stringency and you do not wish to give the extra to a charity, fine. Just keep it a personal stringency. Your stringency should not bankrupt others. On a greater note, many people will use piety (knowingly or unknowingly) as a means of masking other psychological concerns, such as OCD. Piety is wonderful. Make sure it is piety and not pathology.
These have been my concerns over the years: abuse, alcohol, intellectual maturity, and the cost of Jewish living. There are others. My colleagues have their concerns. I suspect though that their concerns are not so much matters that these rabbis chose. Rather, like mine, they are matters that chose the rabbi.
Have a good evening everyone.