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How Little Must One Know to Be Fired from a Reform Temple?

She became a rabbinic associate in 2008 at the temple, then agreed to enroll in a distance learning-program, but didn't.

Rescinded Reform Rabbi Keren Alpert (L), and Reform Rabbi Daniel Sime (R) on Rosh Hashana. She was too busy to take the distance-learning course and they ordained her anyway, and then, what a shanda.

Rescinded Reform Rabbi Keren Alpert (L), and Reform Rabbi Daniel Sime (R) on Rosh Hashana. She was too busy to take the distance-learning course and they ordained her anyway, and then, what a shanda.
Photo Credit: Temple Beth El

Keren Alpert, a Reform rabbi at Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Hills, Detroit, was forced to resigned after temple officials said she admitted to deceiving them about her rabbinical credentials, the Detroit News reported.

Alpert’s resignation was “sadly accepted,” board president Raymond Rosenfeld the congregation in a letter.

“In recent days, Keren admitted that over the past five years she was not truthful with the clergy, leadership and congregation,” Rosenfeld wrote last Thursday. “Specifically, she did not initiate or complete a rabbinic training program, and did not disclose this fact. Accordingly both her ordination and her position at Temple Beth El were accepted under false pretenses.”

Temple Beth El was founded in 1850 in the city of Detroit, and is the oldest Jewish congregation in Michigan. It currently has a membership of almost 1200 families and is led by reform Rabbi Daniel B. Syme.

Rosenfeld said Alpert became a rabbinic associate in 2008 at the temple, then agreed to enroll in a distance learning-program afterward and celebrated her ordination in 2012.

But, according to Rosenfeld, Alpert never enrolled in that distance learning. He said Alpert told him that she was planning to complete the program but became too busy.

OK. Lets figure this out. The requirement of a reform Rabbi in terms of knowledge of Jewish stuff goes as follows (cited from CCAR.net):

The Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) Admissions Guidelines … specify that all applicants for membership to our Conference must have earned the degree of Bachelor of Arts (or its equivalent) from a recognized institution of higher learning, and the Master’s degree in Jewish Studies (or its equivalent).

Rabbinic graduates of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and of the Leo Baeck College of London are eligible for CCAR membership without interview or examination, provided that they apply within four years after ordination. Rabbinic graduates of other “approved seminaries” may be admitted to the CCAR following a process of interview or examination (which may include academic examination).

Graduates of seminaries and yeshivot not on the “approved” list can be admitted following an investigation of the quality of those schools and of their courses of study. This is a crucial point: we do not claim that only the graduates of “approved seminaries” are worthy of admission to the Conference. Others may join as well, provided they can prove that their rabbinical education meets standards of excellence similar to those of the recognized schools.

On the other hand, a private ordination will not be accepted, for the ordination of students by individual rabbis whose programs of study are not supervised by any responsible authority endangers the maintenance of any and all standards of educational excellence. The rabbis of your community can certainly develop some admissions criteria of their own, patterned after those of the CCAR and the other rabbinical associations. These associations will certainly assist you as you seek information concerning the programs of study at rabbinical schools with which you are not familiar.

So it’s not clear, really, if the CCAR recognized rabbis must be able to read a page of gemorah (the vast majority just can’t, go ahead, test them) – but it’s clear that even the CCAR standards are above admitting someone with an online education. And yet Reform Rabbi Keren Alpert, apparently, didn’t even get that much Jewish education.

Rosenfeld called her departure a “tremendous loss” and said he expects a replacement will be hired by next summer. She’s probably a nice lady and was very useful to her employers.

That’s precisely the point: I am sometimes taken aback by wonderful acts and events carried out by the Reform. Food drives and concerts, afternoon programs, summer camps, picnics. Why must they insist, though, on calling themselves Rabbi?

Of course, since the termination of the ordination in Eretz Israel, roughly 1,500 years ago, no one can call themselves “rabbi” in the traditional sense of the title, meaning someone whose ordination can be traced back to Moses—so argues the CCAR website. But why would a movement who made departure from adherence to halachic law its banner, insist on using this title?

It’s true that because of the weakening of the Jewish center in Eretz Israel our rabbis are no longer connected to that chain – but they adhere to the values and they study the same oral tradition as did the men who were legitimately called Rabbis. Why would someone who disregards—as matter of policy—the teachings of the Rabbis insist on calling herself Rabbi?

About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.


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