Courage in the Rabbinate Today

What does it take to be a courageous rabbi today? Are there issues for which rabbis would risk losing their jobs to take a position? And what are some of those unpopular issues? My own teacher, Rabbi Samuel Sandmel, of blessed memory, told me that I should be willing to risk my job everyday or I wasn’t worth my salt as a rabbi. (Perhaps I took him too seriously and have taken on too many unpopular positions in my career.) Understandably, too often, colleagues are careful to take positions that might put them at odds with those they are charged with leading, but who are also responsible for their well-being. It is an odd paradox—to lead people where they are often unwilling to go.

So what does one make of a successful rabbi in a successful congregation, in a mid-sized active Jewish community who is willing to talk about things that to many appear desperate? As for me, I applaud his courage and his frankness, his desire to be dugri (the Arabic word that has entered Hebrew to mean candid). Rabbi Aaron Bisno of Rodef Shalom Congregation in Pittsburgh wants to have a no holds barred conversation about the future of the North American Jewish community. He wants to talk about what we have to do to secure our future—no matter how unpopular the conversation—and the decisions that emerge from it.

This is the second time Rabbi Bisno has invited folks to the conversation.
I welcome the opportunity to join him in the conversation and would invite others to do so, as JOI did with our recent Judaism2030 Conference. If we don’t help shape the future, then it will shape us.

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