Rabbinic Pastor Program

The ALEPH Rabbinic Pastor Program is a response to the needs of Jewish communities for gifted pastoral counselors, chaplains and ritualists, as well as a response to the many extraordinary individuals who have a calling to serve the Jewish people.

When Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, the founder of the ALEPH Seminary and inspirational guide of Jewish Renewal, spoke publicly of his vision for renewal through the cultivation, nurturing, and training of those whose souls rise to the calling of God in service, he said, “Some, will learn and train in the path of leadership that we call rabbi. But remember,” he said... “Rabbi is not the only way.”


Reb Zalman’s Vision of the Program

Reb Zalman reminded us that in the hierarchy of the shtetl, there were significant differences in the ordinations that were given — between those who were empowered as teachers in one part of the law (yoreh yoreh) and those of another part of the law (yadin yadin).

“There was the Av Bet Din and the lesser dayanim,” said Reb Zalman. “Others served as maggidim or had certification as Torah scribes, mohalim, supervisors of kashrut, spiritual directors, and teachers.

“In England, in addition to rabbis, there were Jewish ‘ministers’ ordained as reverends who served smaller communities with their religious needs. This custom was transported to America, where reverends served Yiddish-speaking Jews in newly transplanted immigrant communities.

“In our contemporary context, America has flattened out all these distinctions. Rabbi has come to mean the entire gamut of Jewish clerics, from those with basic ordination to gaonic scholars and great rebbes. This flattening out of the hierarchy of competence has been to our detriment. We need different titles for different functions.”

Over the last two decades, ALEPH evolved as an extraordinary vehicle to train and nurture Jewish clergy. At first conveying only rabbinic ordinations, ALEPH and Reb Zalman began non-rabbinic ordinations for gifted souls called to serve the Jewish people in unique ways.

The Rabbinic Pastor Program offers one of these paths of service, begun in 2001 when Reb Zalman and Rabbi Marcia Prager asked Rabbinic Pastor Shulamit Fagan to cultivate prospective clergy drawn to spiritual service primarily through pastoral care, ritual craft and holy accompaniment through life changes. 

Are you called to become a Rabbinic Pastor?

  • The Rabbinic Pastor Program is for adults who recognize or rediscover a calling to serve God and who long to serve the Jewish people.

  • The Rabbinic Pastor Program reaches out to those whose spiritual longings and gifts draw them to serve in fields that are often associated with rabbinic work, such as chaplaincy, pastoral counseling, storytelling, songs and niggunim, and artistic venues that direct people towards deeper understanding with their souls connection with the Divine.

  • The Rabbinic Pastor Program is for those who have a sincere willingness to serve the Jewish people in spiritual leadership, yet their life circumstances will not allow for the caliber of text competence and depth of traditional learning to be called rabbis. 

What do Rabbinic Pastors Do?

ALEPH Rabbinic Pastors are ordained clergy who fill needed roles in our communities while working with and alongside rabbis.

  • Serve as health care chaplains, consultants on Jewish issues in health care, and supervisors who train chaplains
  • Advise on issues of ethics and facilitate ethical discernment
  • Serve the pastoral needs of congregations and communities
  • Officiate at life cycle events: (e.g., weddings, funerals, baby namings, shiva minyanim, and unveilings)
  • Comfort the bereaved, visit the sick and those in need
  • Offer spiritual direction and counseling
  • Lead weekday and Shabbat services
  • Perform research in the field of professional spiritual care
  • Develop and lead innovative liturgies
  • Reach out to the unaffiliated and the disenfranchised
  • Serve people living with mental illness, hunger or poverty
  • Promote deep ecumenism 

The program stresses rigorous mentorship with rabbinic supervision and a curriculum that includes sophisticated pastoral and liturgical skills, including:

  • Clinical Pastoral Education
  • Life Cycle Officiation
  • Deep Ecumenism
  • Jewish Literacy
  • Jewish Bio-ethics
  • Personal Spiritual & Emotional Development
  • Spiritual Direction
  • Aging to Sage-ing
  • Theology, Theodicy, and Jewish History
  • Prayerbook and Torah Hebrew
  • Kabbalah and Hasidut

We Offer

  • The convenience of long-distance learning
  • Dynamic live intensives
  • Small classes with excellent educators
  • Specialization with several educational tracts
  • Ordination in the lineage of Reb Zalman 

For more information contact the ALEPH Ordination Program Administrator at ordination@aleph.org

Applying to the ALEPH Rabbinic Pastor Program

  • If you are not yet active in a community or havurah involved with Jewish Renewal, you will want to find out if there is one near you. There are about 50 such groups, many also affiliated with one of the denominations of American Judaism.
  • If there is no Renewal-oriented community near you, we invite your participation in other ways. You can get involved in an ALEPH project and you can participate in retreats, workshops, and classes offered by ALEPH, such as the Kallah and Ruach HaAretz, and by other centers such as Elat Chayyim. Attendance at special events sponsored by ALEPH, as well as other Renewal-oriented, rabbis and teachers is also encouraged.
  • All applicants to the ALEPH Rabbinic Program are Chai-level members of ALEPH. A Chai member makes at least an $18/month commitment totaling $216/year. This Chai commitment is undertaken as a permanent commitment on the part of each student and musmach. To become a Chai member visit our donation page.

Application Procedure

The application process for the ALEPH program is unlike the application process common in most academic institutions.

The formal written application procedure includes submitting documentation of prior learning and degrees, letters of recommendation, a spiritual autobiography, a Hebrew diagnostic, and a proposed first-year learning plan. However, central to our application process is a period of mutual discernment in which our VAAD, teachers, and students come to know you. At the same time, this period of discernment enables you to consider whether this hevra, this process, and our Renewal-style Jewish community is right for you. By studying together and davvenen’ together, by being with you on retreats, in classes, in shul, in hevruta, and by conversing and counseling with you over the course of your preparation, we come to a generally mutual decision that you and this program are a good fit, and that you indeed have the skills and resources necessary to succeed.

Because of the decentralized nature of this program, in which students and mentors may live on different continents, we promote a protracted admission process that enables our core faculty and VAAD members to meet with you in different contexts and environments over the course of your preparation. An applicant who is accepted is often already well-integrated into the program at the time his or her acceptance is made formal.

A packet with application materials, as well as detailed information about the program, may be obtained after an initial email exchange with the Director of the Rabbinic Pastor Program, Rabbinic Pastor Shulamit Fagan. If you're interested in obtaining this packet, please contact the ALEPH Ordination Program Administrator at (215) 247-9700 x21, ordination@aleph.org.  There is a $25 application fee payable before receiving the info/application packet.