Article by Rabbi Dr Charles Middleburgh,
Director of Jewish Studies, Leo Baeck College
Student rabbis spend five years at Leo Baeck College studying for the rabbinate. To prepare them for the intellectual demands of their future career they receive a thorough grounding in Biblical and Rabbinic Literature, Hebrew and Aramaic, Medieval and Modern Jewish philosophy, including the thought of seminal Reform and Liberal scholars in the UK, Jewish Liturgy and Shoah studies. To prepare them for the pastoral and vocational aspects of their role they undergo an in-depth study of all the relevant areas, spread across the five years of the programme: these include Lifecycle events and Festivals, the Structure of Anglo-Jewry, Death, Dying and Bereavement, Tikkun Olam and community organising, Service Leading Skills, Mental Health, Reflective and Listening Skills, Homiletics, Sermon writing and research skills, culminating in two modules designed to facilitate their transition to the rabbinate.
The third key aspect of rabbinic training unfolds during the course of placements in congregations spread over the five years. These opportunities for on the spot observation and guided experience start with a High Holy day ‘apprenticeship’, when the first year student observes the preparations for the Yamim Noraim of an experienced rabbi and participates to a very small degree in the rabbi’s services; in their second year most students spend the second semester in Israel (of which more later) and may also do an Apprenticeship in a congregation, shadowing an experienced rabbi as s/he goes about their work, attending life cycle events and services, going on home and hospital visits and taking a small part in some of these activities; in their third year students do an extended secondment to Jewish Care and Norwood, giving them a thorough immersion not only in every aspect of the Jewish Social Services but also opportunities to interact with those for whom these two organisations do so much work; their fourth and fifth years offer placements in congregations, sometimes with a rabbi but often without, when they will begin their final preparations for a life-long career.
The second semester of the second year takes students to Haifa where they will spend between 5 and 6 months studying at the International School of Haifa University, engaging with various social action projects, doing assignments with the Leo Baeck Center in the city and participating in a range of outreach and development activities. Our aim is to give them a thorough grounding in 21st century Israel as well as the opportunity to make lasting contacts across the various fields of education, social action, and Progressive Judaism in Israel.
The rabbinic programme at Leo Baeck College is diverse, dynamic and carefully calibrated to give those who aspire to be rabbis the best possible training and preparation for a role that will touch hundreds, even thousands, of lives.