5 Tamuz 5774
So “rabbi” means “teacher.” But “teacher” has a lot of meanings.
I don’t think the rabbi I talked to is going to be the right rabbi for me after all. There are two reasons for this. First, even though the temple seems to be a very liberal temple, the rabbi seems to be more conservative than the temple. I feel like I make him uncomfortable when I ask him questions, and that’s not going to be helpful in my conversion process. Mainly, those questions are about the queer aspects of my conversion; I recently asked him if he’d followed up on something that is important to me about halacha, and he said “Oh. Nope!” in a very lighthearted manner. I felt like I had been given the brush-off. Second, I got to witness his ability to teach things that are not Torah the other night. Specifically, I went to what I thought was a beginning-Hebrew class he was giving at the temple the other night.
Although I was impressed with his Torah teachings back on Shavuot, and I’ve seen him lead temple services and he’s quite good at that, I have to admit that for this topic, he’s not a very good teacher. It was actually a very advanced class, but it wasn’t described that way in the temple newsletter. The six or seven people who were there, who apparently had taken the first half of the class sometime in the spring, were all frustrated with how fast he wanted to go (and as a teacher myself, I could see that his lesson plan was expecting quite a lot from these students, who are regular people who have full-time jobs and families). I could see, very quickly, that he covers impatience with laughter and tries to pretend it’s not that bad, but even after he was asked to slow down, he couldn’t seem to do so. This seemed to stem from two problems: first, he kept referring to when he was a rabbinical student and how they studied then, and second, he kept making references to a lot of Jewish-culture things that I (at least) could not be expected to know.
Okay, the problem is: none of us are rabbinical students. Expecting people to have that kind of focused time available to study is really kind of unrealistic. The other problem is: he hasn’t just done this in this class. There have been other times where he has said a word or a phrase in Hebrew and assumed that everyone knew what he was talking about. And there have been other times where he’s gone so fast in worship services that I have completely lost my place in the siddur.
This feels like a minefield, and I’ve been carrying it around with me for a while now, but this class this week just crystallized it for me. He may be a very good rabbi at leading worship, and he may be a wonderful Torah scholar. But he doesn’t seem very patient, and I don’t feel like I’m taken seriously sometimes, which to me is a problem. So I don’t feel like he’s the right guide for me for my conversion.
This has upset me, as I’m sure folks can understand. I wanted this to go smoothly. But I don’t think I should ignore this kind of mismatch. I think I figure that you should feel comfortable with your rabbi, and I do not feel comfortable with this rabbi. It’s not that he’s a bad guy; it’s just that on a fundamental level, we don’t click the way I thought we would. That’s nobody’s fault; it’s just the way that it is.
My best friend heard about all this from me last night, and called her rabbi (who lives in another city) to ask him for recommendations for rabbis local to me. So we’ll see where that goes.
I have to remember that you do not have to convert where you attend. I can continue attending shul at the temple down the street from me, and study with a different rabbi. That is a possibility. And I may find that I need to go to a more liberal temple with a more liberal rabbi, anyway.