New Program Teaches the Profession of a Community Rabbi

The Barkai Center for Practical Rabbinics was founded to give rabbis tools to effectively lead communities and congregations.

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Yoni Kempinski,

Barkai Founders with Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau
Barkai Founders with Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau
Barkai Center

Would anyone think of seeing a doctor who did not undergo any practical training?  Would anyone use a lawyer who had studied in law school but did not receive any applied, hands-on education?  

The obvious answer to these questions is a resounding "No!" This is true because in the State of Israel today, like in all other modern countries, it is impossible to even become certified as a doctor or lawyer, or almost any other profession, without this training.

Yet, the truth is that to serve as a congregational rabbi requires no practical training. Many rabbis who are great scholars and who have studied for many years are serving as rabbis in synagogues in communities across the country, but they are often unprepared for many of the thorny issues that arise in the course of their daily work. Whether it is counseling a couple going through a divorce, consoling a family that has experienced the death of a child or assisting parents to talk with their teenage children about sensitive issues such as drugs and alcohol, the rabbi needs to be equipped with the modern professional tools that will equip him to deal with these challenges and become a capable community spiritual leader.

If it is up to Rabbis David Fine and Shlomo Sobol of Modi'in, this situation will not continue much longer.

The two rabbis - who between them have close to 30 years of practical rabbinic experience -  launched the Barkai Center for Practical Rabbinics in Modi'in recently at a festive ceremony featuring Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi and former Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, who serves as the President of Barkai, as the keynote speaker.

MK Zevulun Orlev,  the Chief Rabbis of Modi'in and  Deputy Modi'in Mayor Michael Harlap also addressed the assemblage. Rabbis Sobol and Fine knew that they were on to something important after they received over 100 applicants to the program within hours of their first advertisements recruiting students earlier this Spring.  

“When we put the ad in to recruit the students, we started getting phone calls from communities asking if we could already send them rabbis” said Rabbi Fine. The Barkai Center has admitted 20 young promising rabbis into their one full day-a-week two-year program that will train them in all areas of the practical rabbinate.

The curriculum was developed by Rabbis Fine and Sobol over the course of an entire year following consultations with senior rabbis, educators, mental health professionals and other experts.  At the conclusion of the program, the graduates will receive a diploma signifying their completion of over 500 academic hours of practical instruction. 

The young rabbis range in age from 27-38 and will come to Modi'in to attend classes weekly from as far as Nahariah in the north and Dimona in the south.  Rabbi Elad Maman, a Sefardic rabbi who serves a congregation in Kiryat Gat, said that he applied to the program because he believed that at Barkai he would receive the necessary tools that a rabbi needs to lead his congregation in today’s complicated environment.  

Rabbi Yaakov Rat, who recently moved to Lod and hopes to build a new congregation there, agreed.  He said that he believes Barkai is being led by people who understand, because of their experience, the complex nature of the rabbinate and therefore what tools need to be taught to help the rabbi succeed.  

The Barkai founders hope that the rabbis who graduate from their center will be able to turn to secular Jews as well and that the synagogue rabbi could potentially become a relevant figure for all who live in a given neighborhood- not just the religious people who come to synagogue.   “We believe that the properly trained rabbi could become a unifying force in Israel society,” said Rabbi Sobol.