RIETS Launches Intensive Mental Health Curriculum

Personal Development Program Stresses Self-Awareness, Professional Training as Keys to Capable Rabbinic Leadership

Yeshiva University-affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) has launched a new, intensive mental health curriculum at the Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik Semikha Program in an effort to equip rabbinic students with the technical tools, introspective skills and coping strategies necessary to effectively navigate the substantial challenges of the communal rabbinate.

This new initiative will enhance the RIETS “Issues in the Orthodox Community Rabbinate” course by adding group processing sessions and monthly instruction by mental health professionals. Additionally, students looking to careers in the community rabbinate will participate in weekly group processing sessions that will focus on the challenges of the modern rabbinate and the inner life of both the rabbi and the rabbinic family. Finally, all students will meet privately with mental health professionals to take a deeper look into issues raised during previous group sessions and explore any related personal concerns.

Murray (left) and Basheva Goldberg with their son, Rabbi Efrem Golderg, senior rabbi of Boca Raton Synagogue. Their generous support has led to the creation of a new rabbinic personal development at RIETS that will provide future rabbis with new mental health tools to care for their congregants and themselves.

“Our students have always received extensive training to help them understand others, but they’ve had few opportunities to understand themselves. This new initiative will ensure that rabbinical students are equipped not just for leadership roles and for pastoral counseling but to deal with the many stresses and personal challenges that shul rabbis face,” said Rabbi Menachem Penner, the Max and Marion Grill Dean of RIETS.

“By better equipping our pulpit rabbis with the emotional intelligence and inner resources to successfully meet the challenges that face them in their 21st Century roles, we will enhance the effectiveness of the semicha curriculum, producing more capable rabbinic leadership, and profoundly change the face of the American rabbinate.”

Rabbi Neal Turk, coordinator of the Mental Health Programs at RIETS, explains that the new curriculum will also teach rabbinical students to read complex situations through the eyes of mental health professionals, so that they can help their future congregants find the professional help they require.

“People approach their pulpit rabbi with all kinds of problems, and many of them are well beyond his purview. Even if consultation with the rabbi is not the longterm solution, he needs to know what to look for and when to refer his congregants to mental health professionals,” added Rabbi Turk.

“Additionally, a rabbi will only be successful in the field if he has been trained appropriately and is insightful enough to know how specific issues will impact him personally so that he can adjust his response and tactics accordingly. The bottom line is that the most effective rabbi is one who is skilled, savvy, compassionate and truly self-aware, so our intensive coursework focuses on each of these areas simultaneously.”

Through the rabbinic personal development program, which was made possible by the generous support of Murray and Basheva Goldberg, RIETS has also established an advisory committee of mental health professionals, rabbinic leadership and academicians to oversee and guide the development of their mental health programming for rabbinical students, all with the goal of maximizing iterative learning and associated teaching opportunities.

The Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik Semikha Program offers a four-year program of study leading to Semikha Yoreh Yoreh. Throughout the program, students are involved in formal coursework in pastoral psychology, counseling, homiletics and current issues facing the Jewish community. RIETS students gain proficiency in the laws of kashrut, niddah, aveilut, eruvin, bishul b’Shabbat, gerut and milah, ishut and other contemporary halachic topics, while continuing to hone their Talmudic and professional skills.