Developing Loving Rabbis & Jewish Professionals

By Aryeh Ben David

Today, our rabbis and Jewish professionals are trained to be successful community leaders. They are smart, articulate, learned, motivated, and creative. They are trained in Jewish learning, counseling skills, and organizational proficiency.

But what would happen if a central element of their training was developing, enhancing, and increasing their capacity for loving and compassion?

Rabbi Akiva said that “loving your fellow person” was the central foundation of Torah. We follow the rulings of Hillel and not Shammai – not because Hillel was smarter or more persuasive, but because Hillel was kinder and more humble. We want Jewish law to foster a community of people behaving like Hillel – kind and humble.

Are we there now?

I have 4 questions:

  • Are our rabbis and Jewish professionals the most loving people in our communities?
  • If not – how would our communities be different if they were?
  • What is holding us back from achieving this?
  • What small step can we take to move in this direction?

There are countless rabbis and Jewish professionals today who are wonderful role models of kindness and humility, thank God. But I suspect this is largely owing to their own personalities. I am not sure how many of these role models “learned” the importance of lovingkindness from their professional training.

How can we systemically develop leaders who are our role models in kindness and compassion?

Imagine for a moment our Jewish leaders were taught to be the disciples of Hillel – that their training first and foremost focused on creating kinder, more compassionate, more loving human beings. Imagine this was the primary concern of their degree-conferring programs.

It is not easy to become a more loving person. People often say to themselves – “I am who I am, it’s my personality. I’m not going to become more loving at age 30 or 40 or 60!”

When we say that – we’re way too easy on ourselves. It’s a cop-out. Compassion and loving is a muscle that has endless scope – that we can strengthen at any stage in our lives.

I return to the 4 questions:

  • Are our rabbis and Jewish professionals the most loving people in our communities?
  • If not – how would our communities be different if they were?
  • What is holding us back from achieving this?
  • What small step can we take to move in this direction?

Please share your thoughts. We need to begin the conversation.

Aryeh Ben David is the Founder and Director of Ayeka: Center for Soulful Education.