Rabbis at Risk:  A Panel Discussion

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Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb,
Dr. Michelle Friedman,
Rabbi Daniel Korobkin,
Rabbi Reuven Tradburks

A rabbi today must play the role of politician, fundraiser, teacher, cheerleader, therapist, legal expert, orator, comforter, friend, authority figure, personal spiritual guide, and more. The Internet and social media has massively affected the rabbinate, and opened every rabbi's decisions and behaviors to be dissected, discussed, and opposed far beyond the walls of his own community. And rabbis must do this while also handling the day-to-day demands of congregations, and tend to their own marriages and families. Rabbis and clergy are particularly vulnerable to lack of gratitude from their communities, as the work they do for others is seen as part of their "job description." Research findings have now emerged with regularity documenting the fact that members of the clergy now suffer from hypertension and depression at rates higher than most North Americans. Their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen. Many silently despair of the demands of their job and secretly begin to burn out and worse. And at the darkest end of the spectrum is when a rabbi betrays his community's trust in a variety of damaging and life changing ways, from fraud to abuses of power and sexual misconduct. In this discussion, we look at the most urgent issues facing the rabbinate, and hence Jewish communities, today: What makes for a good rabbi? How should rabbis be trained? What should be a rabbi's chief function? Do we demand too much from them? How and in what ways can we monitor rabbis when they are in danger of "falling", when stress is overwhelming them and they seem to be diverting from appropriate behavior? How can we reach them before it is too late? What kind of protocols can congregations and professional rabbinic organizations implement to track and help the rabbi and also protect lay people? How can we prevent rabbinic burnout and help rejuvenate the lives and careers of rabbis and their spouses?

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