Sandy Zisser, Patrick Beaulier: Judaism Unbound Episode 175 - Becoming a Rabbi on The Web


Sandy Zisser and Patrick Beaulier, of the Pluralistic Rabbinical Seminary, join Dan and Lex for a conversation about digital rabbinic ordination. [1]

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(0:01 - 12:30): To begin the episode, Dan asks the two guests to make the case for why we need a new rabbinical seminary. Zisser and Beaulier explore why their organization is filling an important gap in the communal landscape, as an ordination program that is accessible to people from around the world, all of whom are able to learn together without needing to move to one of the cities where the brick-and-mortar seminaries are located. Reflecting on their own journeys, Zisser looks back at how his entire career shifted as a result of a digital advertisement, and Beaulier speaks to the ways in which distance learning allowed him to avoid what a choice between two options that shouldn’t be mutually exclusive: becoming a rabbi, on the one hand, and being there for his family, on the other.

(12:31 - 29:16): Beaulier and Lex explore the role that class, and economic realities, help create a need for a rabbinic program like the Pluralistic Rabbinical Seminary. Dan follows up, as he and Zisser take a look at ways that PRS challenges norms related to the age of rabbis as well. They next take a look at the differences between forms of rabbinical education that are geared towards creating “generalists” and those that yield “specialists.” Analogizing this to the difference between a traditional doctor and the minute-clinic, Beaulier argues that not every rabbi needs to serve a role resembling a generalist. [3]

(29:17 - 42:25): Zisser gives an overview of the process, from application to ordination, by which one becomes a rabbi through PRS. In doing so, he emphasizes the P — Pluralism — aspect of the seminary, naming the denominational diversity of the organization’s faculty members and (once it launches) of its students. To close the episode, Lex asks about criticism of digital ordination, and Beaulier and Zisser both express that they have been pleasantly surprised at the almost-entirely positive reception that they have received. They comment that this may reflect the growing normalcy of online education, in many realms including and transcending the rabbinic realm. [4]

[1] Learn more about Zisser and Beaulier by checking out their bios, available here.

[2] For more information about the Pluralistic Rabbinical Seminary, head to JewishPluralism.org. If you are a prospective student, and would like more information regarding the admission requirements, and application process, for PRS, check out the following pages: Admission Requirements, Register for an Application

[3] Dan discusses the issue of specialists vs. generalists by looking at — of all things — hernia repair! Check out the 1998 New Yorker article that he alludes to here.

[4] For another Judaism Unbound episode looking at rabbinic education, see Episode 68: Rabbis Without Borders - Rebecca Sirbu. And if you were thinking this episode’s title sounds familiar, you’re right! It parallels another Judaism Unbound, which looked at conversion to Judaism, a realm that the digital world is influencing deeply. Listen to Episode 57: Becoming Jewish on the Web - Juan Mejia for more on that topic.