This is perhaps more than a little anti-climactic now, since it says so in more than one place on this blog, but . . . I’ve decided to go to Hebrew College, the transdenominational rabbinical school in Boston (or, more accurately, Newton Centre).
It was in some ways a very simple choice. When I visited the first time in November, there was a moment — that scared me, that I didn’t talk about with anyone at the time — when I just knew: This is right. This is where I want to be. I didn’t want to say it aloud because I knew I wasn’t going to make a decision based just on a feeling. I was also not ready to put that intention out into the universe.
Besides, one of the most important things I took away from my tour of rabbinical schools is how great all of them are. It was amazing to see how each institution is so seriously engaged in thinking about how best to train rabbis to serve the Jewish people. I loved meeting the deans of admissions, faculty, and students at each school: They are all amazing people. I honestly believe I would have been happy at any of the four I applied to. In addition to other factors, it came down to which I thought would be the best fit. (More about that below.)
The decision was also simple in another, more surprising, way. In mid-March, after I’d received my acceptances, I narrowed the choice down to two schools in two cities: Hebrew College, and Reconstructionist Rabbinical School (RRC) in Philadelphia. I’d gotten the idea that my husband was leaning more towards the latter, and since I really wanted the decision to be transparent and mutually agreed upon and beneficial, I began to prepare for a lengthy conversation. I taped a piece of butcher paper on the door into the living room; it was divided into two sections, one for each city. We began to write down the pros and cons of each city and school. (Some of the more amusing cons were “Pats fans” and then “Eagles and Phillies fans.” In retrospect, we clearly should have added “Bruins fans” to that list.)
Shortly afterwards, I was looking at the paper and my husband came up to me and said, “Do we need to do this? I want to go to Boston.” And that was that.
On my conviction that Hebrew College is the best fit for me: During my interview, both Rabbi Art Green (a professor and one of the founders) and Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld (the dean) helped me to clarify my thinking on the issue. As Rabbi Green noted, the emphasis at RRC is on history, as reflected in its curriculum; Reconstructionism views Judaism as an evolving religious civilization, so each year is spent immersed in an historical period (biblical, rabbinic, medieval, modern and contemporary). Rabbi Green knows from what he speaks: He was the dean of RRC for six years.
At Hebrew College, the emphasis is on text, as reflected in its curriculum, in which each year is spent immersed in a book of Torah. Let’s face it: I was a Classics major for a reason. I spent my undergraduate years learning Latin and Greek — and then reading texts in the original. (There was a little culture and history thrown in, but not much.) And then I went on to learn German and Russian for the same reason. More than most things, I love reading and translating text. Grammar, syntax, vocabulary, sentence structure, nuances of meaning — they all thrill me. Simply put, I am a text dork.
But “best fit” also means something else to me. As I realized in my Hebrew College interview, RRC would have been, in some ways, the “safer” choice. The school, its students, and its alums are know for their political engagement (among other things). In that sense, I would fit right in. In contrast, Hebrew College, as a transdenominational school, doesn’t have the same political homogeneity. I anticipate that I will find it quite challenging at times to go to school with people who have different opinions than I do in this area. For one, I don’t have much experience; I tend to surround myself with like-minded people (as do most of us). Relatedly, I don’t have much patience with non-progressives/radicals.
The other aspect of a Hebrew College education that I expect to find challenging is its required beit midrash hours. Beit midrash literally means “house of study” and refers to the places of Torah study that the early rabbis used. In rabbinical schools, the beit midrash is a library that encourages talking, because studying there is done b’chevrutah (with a partner). Part of a transdenominational education is learning from others who may have different (in this case religious) viewpoints. But in general, the school values partnered learning, which means I’ll be required to spend several hours each week studying with someone else. As an introvert who prefers to work alone rather than in a group, I’ll thus have to work hard to make sure I am getting enough recharging time.
I’ve framed these last two factors in a negative way; indeed, it’s the challenge of them that appeals to me. I need to push myself out of my comfort zone. Doing so, I will be a better rabbinical student, and a thus a better rabbi.
Finally — and I can’t emphasize enough how awesome this was — my interview at Hebrew College ended with the room singing a niggun (wordless melody). What’s not to love?