Rebbetzin (Rabbi’s Wife): The Ultimate Balancing Act

January 4, 2013 5:13 pm 0 comments

Rebbetzin Adina Shmidman.

Recently, a congregant asked me to speak to her daughter, who was planning to become a  Rebbetzin,  to give her some words of encouragement and advice. I immediately agreed and offered heartfelt congratulations and  sincere wishes for all to go well. But, knowing how difficult the role can be, I had to give some serious thought as to what I would say to the new Rebbetzin.

Being a Rebbetzin can be a great deal of work. Responsibilities often range from hosting meals to visiting sick congregants to supporting families through challenging times and reaching out to the unaffiliated. And there is the added challenge of juggling one’s home, family, and jobs.

The flip-side is the reward – not just the heavenly payback, but the earthly satisfaction. Forging deep, meaningful bonds with your congregation and knowing that you are changing Jewish life in your small corner of the world is incredibly gratifying.

So, when I met with this young woman, my first message to her was to embrace the position. I explained that the scope of the position – including adult and youth programming of all kinds, public and private Torah classes, and hosting guests and congregants – may seem overwhelming at first.

But I reassured her that, just like in a new marriage, there is an adjustment period, and the union of the rabbinic couple and their congregation is a relationship that develops over time. While there are many demands on your time and a seemingly endless list of responsibilities, the most exciting part of the position is the opportunity to experiment with your strengths to get the job done. And your new “spouse,” the synagogue and its members, loves you more with every skillful and creative contribution and idea.

Her first question was about managing her communal responsibilities while holding another job. The role of Rebbetzin is somewhat self-defining. There are some Rebbetzins who play a less visible role, while others take upon a more public one. To some extent, the individual can set those boundaries. On the other hand, the size of the community often dictates each synagogue’s unique demands.

Living in a small community may obligate the Rebbetzin to fill gaps that her counterparts in larger communities may never have to worry about. For example, teaching taharas hamishpacha (family purity) classes, being a mikveh (ritual bath) attendant or joining the chevra kadisha (burial society) may come into play.

Ultimately, however, the extent of a Rebbetzin’s involvement and the parameters of her contribution should be outlined by her and her husband, defined in the context of their specific synagogue and its needs.

“Is there a checklist of things a Rebbetzin must do? How does a Rebbetzin know where to spend her time and what to focus on the most?” I took a moment to formulate my response.

Whether something as simple as the delivery of a home cooked meal or kind words at a momentous life-cycle event, the Rebbetzin’s presence means everything to her congregants. It communicates that she and the rabbi value their congregants and their needs. The sense of accessibility and warmth created by “being there” for the congregants – both physically and emotionally – when needed are more important than any checklist of tasks.

The role, I added, extends beyond the walls of the synagogue, and includes sharing the beauty of Torah Judaism with everyone you meet, in the supermarket, the park, or the public library. By virtue of her leadership role, the Rebbetzin can connect with people in a meaningful way.

Once again I noted that being a Rebbetzin poses some serious challenges. Perhaps the most difficult is sharing your husband with the synagogue while making sure that “the job” doesn’t spill over into the rabbinic home. It can be intense knowing that you are your husband’s partner in this holy mission, that so much rests on your shoulders. But it is also empowering when you realize that it is your devotion to him and the family that keeps your home vibrant and strong.

I suggested that she seek out a mentor and a support group. Every Rebbetzin should have a safe place to voice her concerns and learn from others’ experiences. It will help her solidify her goals, better understand how to set boundaries, and will give her the encouragement and support she needs and deserves. I recommended the Rebbetzin Esther Rosenblatt Yeshiva University Yarchai Kallah for Rebbetzins, an annual gathering that provides a nurturing atmosphere.

As we parted, I reminded her that the Rebbetzin’s ultimate challenge is building and maintaining meaningful relationships with others while nurturing herself and her family. The Rebbetzin is a force that shapes her community and adds dimensions to her husband’s position. The successful Rebbetzin is one who experiences fulfillment through her role and maintains a solid sense of self while working for the greater good.

Adina Shmidman received a PhD in Educational Psychology from City University of New York, a MSEd from Queens College, and a Masters in Jewish Education from Yeshiva University’s Azrieli Graduate School. Following a nine-year stint as the Rebbetzin of Knesseth Israel Congregation in Birmingham, AL, Adina now serves as the Rebbetzin of the Lower Merion Synagogue in Bala Cynwyd, PA. Adina will be attending the YU/CJF Rebbetzin Esther Rosenblatt Yarchei Kallah for Rebbetzins on January 7-8, 2013 at Congregation Keter Torah in Teaneck, NJ.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture US & Canada ‘Jewish Giant’ Headlines New York Jewish Museum Exhibit

    ‘Jewish Giant’ Headlines New York Jewish Museum Exhibit

    Eddie Carmel, dubbed “The Jewish Giant” by American photographer Diane Arbus, is the centerpiece of a new exhibit opening April 11 at The Jewish Museum in New York. Arbus met Carmel, who was billed “The World’s Tallest Man,” at Hubert’s Dime Museum and Flea Circus in 1959 but waited until 1970 to photograph him at his parents’ home in the Bronx, according to the museum. The son of immigrants from Tel Aviv, Carmel posed for Arbus with his head bowed to [...]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Disney Hit ‘Frozen’ Gets Passover Themed Makeover With ‘Chozen’ (VIDEO)

    Disney Hit ‘Frozen’ Gets Passover Themed Makeover With ‘Chozen’ (VIDEO)

    A Passover themed cover of hit songs Let It Go and Do You Want to Build a Snowman? from Disney’s Frozen has attracted tons of media buzz and a cool 65,ooo views on YouTube within days of going online. The work of Jewish a capella group Six13, the track is aptly named Chozen. We are celebrating “our freedom, our favorite festival, our fabulous fans, and aspiring Disney princesses everywhere” the group said. The Chozen music video tells the story of [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity Retreat Gives Young Artists New Platform to Engage With Jewish Ideas

    Retreat Gives Young Artists New Platform to Engage With Jewish Ideas

    JNS.org – Many young Jewish artists struggle to define who they are personally, artistically, and religiously. Against the backdrop of that struggle, the recent Asylum Arts International Jewish Artists Retreat provided a space for some 70 young Jewish artists to explore Jewish ideas, to build community and a culture of reciprocity, and to learn skills to assist their career development. “We are trying to encourage and excite people to engage in Jewish themes,” says Rebecca Guber, director of Asylum Arts. [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Literature Darren Aronofsky Adds Psychological Depth, Little Else to ‘Noah’

    Darren Aronofsky Adds Psychological Depth, Little Else to ‘Noah’

    JNS.org – Has the era of large-scale biblical epics returned? Not since “The Ten Commandments” has there been so much torrential water on the big screen (not counting weather-related disaster films such as “The Impossible”) than in “Noah,” the latest blockbuster from writer and director Darren Aronofsky. “Noah” takes the traditional tale and splices it in an eco-friendly and psychologically driven plot. After Adam and Eve got booted out of the Garden of Eden and after Cain killed Abel, mankind [...]

    Read more →
  • Food Israel Israeli Arab Microbiologist Wins on Israel’s ‘MasterChef’ Reality Show

    Israeli Arab Microbiologist Wins on Israel’s ‘MasterChef’ Reality Show

    JNS.org – An Israeli-Arab microbiologist and mother of three won the fourth season of Israel’s most popular reality TV show, “MasterChef.” Nof Atamna-Ismaeel, 32, who holds a PhD in microbiology and is from the Israeli-Arab town of Baqa al-Gharbiyye, described winning as the “the most exciting moment in her life.” She said she plans to use the prize money to open up an Arab-Jewish cooking school. MasterChef is a popular reality TV show that originated in the U.K. It is [...]

    Read more →
  • Europe Theater Play About Muslim Man Who Discovers His Parents Are Jewish Seeking Funds

    Play About Muslim Man Who Discovers His Parents Are Jewish Seeking Funds

    Jewish comedian and writer David Baddiel is seeking public support to help produce a musical based on his film about a British Muslim man who discovers his parents are Jewish. London’s Theatre Royal Stratford East is in development to premiere The Infidel in October, London’s Evening Standard reported on Wednesday. However, the theater needs another £55,000 on top of around £200,000 already raised in order to produce the show. Baddiel, 49, retained the stage rights to the story when he wrote the [...]

    Read more →
  • Europe Relationships Love Guru Says Kaballah Practitioners Tend to Have ‘Less Satisfactory’ Relationships

    Love Guru Says Kaballah Practitioners Tend to Have ‘Less Satisfactory’ Relationships

    British relationship expert Andrew Wallas said Kaballah practitioners are likely to be less satisfied in their personal relationships than other couples, Britain’s Daily Mail reported Wednesday. “All the research is that individuals who have an interest in psychology or spirituality or who practice something like Kaballah (the branch of Jewish mysticism popularized by Madonna) are less likely to have satisfactory relationships,” he said. “A lifetime spent doing self-improvement workshops can just be a case of someone running away from reality.” [...]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Meet New York’s 6’7″ Jew Who Will Rap for You (VIDEO)

    Meet New York’s 6’7″ Jew Who Will Rap for You (VIDEO)

    He’s a 6’7″ Jewish freestyle rapper who roams the streets of New York delivering his rhymes to unsuspecting passersby. Te’Devan, who calls himself the “6’7″ Jew who will rap for you” was recently profiled by the Gothamist blog. In a video posted Monday on YouTube, as part of the website’s No Your City eight-part series created by Nicolas Heller, Te’Devan is seen rapping about “not trying to conform to the status quo” and his mission to “be what I’m supposed to be.” [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.