What Makes Someone a “Real” Rabbi?

November, 15 2012

In our November/December issue, we ask our rabbis what makes someone a “real” rabbi. Here’s what Rabbi Gershon Winkler of the Walking Stick Foundation in California had to say:

“It is the community more than anything else that makes someone a rabbi. If the community finds a person’s teachings and leadership inspiring and enriching, if that person enhances their spiritual development and their immersion in Jewish life, this qualifies a person as a rabbi more than someone who went to a rabbinical seminary but lacks these qualities. In the old days, you studied not to become a rabbi but simply for the love of Torah; your teacher would determine behind your back whether you were rabbi material or not. When I attended yeshiva in Jerusalem in the late 1960s, the head of the yeshiva kept nudging me to receive smicha [ordination], and I kept refusing because I didn’t want to become a rabbi; I had other plans. Years later, I ended up teaching here and there at others’ requests, and their feedback made me realize that the old man with the long white beard was right. And so in the summer of 1978, I returned to Jerusalem to retrieve my ordination from layaway. I have been rabbi-ing since, and for the life of me I cannot recall what it was like not being a rabbi.”

To find out how our other rabbis responded, click here.


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