Here are four new Reform rabbis nebech, posing for a picture during an ordination ceremony of the Hebrew Union College Institute in Jerusalem.
So, what do you need to know to become a Reform rabbi nebech?
HUC-JIR’s Rabbinic School has a five-year program of full-time graduate study leading to the degree of Master of Arts in Hebrew Letters (MAHL) and ordination. The sequence is as follows:
Have an accredited bachelor’s degree from a quality school, with a B to B+ average and high GRE scores. Apply to HUC-JIR; 34 to 45 students over all 3 US campuses are admitted annually. The admissions process also includes interviews and psychological evaluation. All candidates seeking admission to the College-Institute’s Rabbinic School, School of Sacred Music and Rhea Hirsch School of Education, will be expected to have successfully completed a minimum of one academic year of college-level Hebrew or its equivalent.
If accepted at HUC-JIR, the path to ordination is as follows:
One year in Israel in which one attends the Jerusalem campus. Study includes Biblical Hebrew, Modern Hebrew, archeology, and immersion in Israeli culture. [This year is occasionally waived for those who can demonstrate fluency in the language and texts.]
Four years at one of the USA campuses in NYC, LA, or Cincinnati. Note: LA does not ordain. Those attending the LA campus must transfer after two years either to NYC or Cincinnati. [Occasionally, the 4 years can be compressed to 3 years if the person can exempt enough courses.] This course of study includes Bible, Midrash, Talmud, Codes, Homiletics, History, Education, Liturgy, Philosophy, Human Relations, Hebrew, and Aramaic.
Internship: Serve a congregation (usually small solo pulpits that can’t afford full-time rabbis) for at least one year.
Degree awarded: Master of Hebrew Letters (usually after the 4th year) and ordination after the 5th year.
In Orthodox Judaism, one does not need a bachelor’s degree to enter most Orthodox rabbinical seminaries. Orthodox rabbinical students work to gain knowledge in Talmud, Rishonim and Acharonim (early and late medieval commentators) and Jewish law. They study sections of Shulkhan Arukh and its main commentaries that pertain to daily-life questions (such as on Kashrut and family purity).
And that’s the difference. The Reform nebech can’t fight their way out of a paper bag made out of gemora pages, and the Orthodox are directly connected to the source of Jewish tradition and law. Either kind could be saints or shmegegis, but even an Orthodox shmegegi can learn.