This is the first in a series of articles I will offer, as the new Spiritual Leader at Beth Samuel Jewish Center. From time to time I will write about Jewish traditions, issues, practices, and other timely topics. I will also include some of my own experiences which have led me to this position, and I must say at the outset that I am very proud and honored to be here. You are a wonderfully warm, and interesting community, with a rich history. I look forward to helping you continue to be an important Jewish presence here in Ambridge and the surrounding area.
Since I am a Cantor and you have had Rabbis heretofore, I was invited to explain a bit about the differences and similarities between these two roles. It seems like a very good place to begin. The short answer is that a Rabbi is a teacher and spiritual leader, and a Cantor is a trained musician who leads the services and who is also knowledgeable in Jewish law and practice. Both professionals study at seminary and must be ordained or invested, with a certificate to attest to that. Both provide leadership that reflects Jewish values which are being taught to the congregation.
Some congregations employ both a Rabbi and a Cantor, and some small synagogues hire only one professional. The seminary from which I was ordained (and later taught at) trained Rabbis and Cantors for many different situations, including the one in which there is only one professional leading a congregation. This position is called Kol Bo in Hebrew, and it literally means “everything within,” or “the one who does everything.” That sounds like a tall order, but there are many, many places who have a Kol Bo, as we now do. At school I had to take courses with Rabbis on halacha, or Jewish law and customs, and the Rabbis had to learn how to lead services and chant, so either person can be the sole spiritual leader.
Over the years I have led hundreds of funerals and unveilings, many weddings, baby naming ceremonies, too many b’nai mitzvahs to count, and services in both Reform and Conservative settings. I have also been trained in Pastoral care and have done a great deal of this work in my previous congregation. Incidentally, another forte of mine is Interfaith initiatives, which I have already been doing in the greater Ambridge area, representing Beth Samuel.
Until next time – l’hitra’ot !