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Wait . . . Rabbis Are People Too?

I picked up the book Joy Comes in the Morning , written by Jonathan Rosen, for a couple reasons. One, I knew the book had won the 2005 Reform Judaism Prize for Jewish Fiction award. Two, I am always intrigued by the notion of a man writing from the perspective of a female (Wally Lamb’s She Comes Undone is still the best I’ve seen). In this case, Rosen writes from the perspective of Rabbi Deborah Green, an attractive, smoking, complicated Reform rabbi.

Although the book started to lag for me about three-quarters of the way through (I was ready to have everything wrapped up already), what kept me reading was the intriguing idea that Rabbi Green—while extremely connected to Judaism and its beautiful traditions—was not without her religious doubts.

In one powerful passage, she visits an older woman in the hospital who almost died but was “brought back” from beyond. With fear and sadness, the woman tells Rabbi Green that while she was “dead,” she saw nothing, felt nothing—just a big dark void. The conversation devastates Rabbi Green, who suddenly starts wondering if her faith has been for nothing and whether there is a God.

I have never thought about a rabbi having a crisis of faith. Naively, I presumed that the very act of choosing to become a rabbi would somehow safeguard one from the religious mental wrestling so many of us go through at some point in time: Is there a God? If so, does God listen to us? Is there anything after death?

In the end, I think, what gives many of us the deepest connection to our religion is that we keep purposefully finding our way back to it, in spite of our doubts and lingering questions. It is easy to follow religion if we swallow everything as truth and never push back or admit uncertainties. It is more meaningful, I believe, when, like Rabbi Green, we dig deep, ask tough questions, learn what we can, and opt to stay connected even when we don’t have all the answers.

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MC -- your post is most appreciated. As a rabbi who consults to congregations and formerly had a pulpit -- one of the most vexing issues for rabbis is see themselves clearly in light of the intense projections on them. When a congregant is disappointed in the rabbi, the rabbi must make room for the possibility that the disappointment is part of a story that might have been playing 40 years ago. Sometimes congregants celebration of their rabbi is also connected to projection and rabbis need to sort that out too. It's hard. So to the extent that folk can remember that rabbis are people, Mharei zeh meshubach, this is praiseworthy.

I loved When Joy Comes in the Morning. I felt like Rosen was writing about people who I knew personally and that the internal musings and conversations were coming out of my own head. I liked it so much I wrote a review of it on my blog.

>>Naively, I presumed that the very act of choosing to become a rabbi would somehow safeguard one from the religious mental wrestling so many of us go through at some point in time[.]>>

I'm not a rabbi yet, but from where I sit it seems pretty clear that the religious mental wrestling you describe is an important part of the path to the rabbinate. How could we serve our communities, how could we proffer answers or comfort, if we weren't ourselves engaged in this holy wrestle?

My talmud teacher used to have an interesting perspective on this. He said that the 10 commandments were very clear about God's existence, and about not worshipping other gods. But, he said, we aren't commanded to believe, because that would make no sense. All intelligent humans doubt God's existence at least at some points in their lives.

To him, of course, the point was that Judaism defines a way of living, which *is* unquestionable. But that there is no corresponding requirement of faith. People familiar with Maimonides, or the song, "Ani Ma'amin" know that this isn't necessarily true for all Jews. On the other hand, we wouldn't have Maimonides articles of faith, nor would we sing any of them in times of deep trouble if it weren't common for humans to doubt.

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How to cite this page

Cove, Michelle. "Wait . . . Rabbis Are People Too?." 13 June 2006. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on January 20, 2018) <>.


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