The Proba

View from the Candidate
Along with semichah, rabbinic hopefuls need stamina. The road to the rabbinate entails interviews—lots of them. If he passes those, he’s on his way to “the proba” (Shabbat tryout), where the finalists among the candidates vying to become a shul’s new rabbi take their turns acting as rabbi of the community over Shabbat.

As one rabbi recalls:

During my first in-person interview with the search committee, a group of twelve people sat around a table asking questions. They weren’t trying to determine my ability to learn; they were trying to gauge my hashkafah, my approach to various practical situations that might arise in the rabbinate. They were seeking a role model.

If the rabbi is out of line with the congregants’ worldviews and philosophical outlooks, that could be hard on the community. Nowadays, congregants are not necessarily looking for a rabbi a little more to the right from where they stand; they are looking for a rabbi who subscribes to their ideals. I found this to be the case in a number of the shuls I was dealing with. People are looking for rabbis who share their hashkafah.

They asked: What does Modern Orthodoxy mean to you? Where do you see it going in the next twenty years? What are the greatest challenges facing our community today?

Other questions were: How would you deal with the problem of talking during tefillah? What was your greatest challenge in your previous rabbinic position, and how did you deal with it? What are your views regarding interaction with non-Orthodox Jews? Who is your posek? They wanted to know my thoughts on women’s roles in the synagogue; if a woman could be a board president. These are very big questions in a lot of shuls.

If I passed the interview, I would be invited back for a proba.

I passed.

During the proba Shabbat, the schedule was packed. My family and I were invited to eat Shabbat meals in various congregants’ homes. Friday night after the meal, the entire congregation went back to the shul and I gave a shiur, which was followed by schmoozing.

The next morning I delivered the Shabbat derashah. There were multiple minyanim, so I delivered the derashah several times. I also gave an afternoon shiur and then held a “Q. and A.” session with the members of the community. After a huge kiddush, we all sat down for a communal day seudah. On Shabbat afternoon, I spoke for twenty minutes and delivered another derashah at seudah shelishit.

On Motzaei Shabbat I had another “Q. and A.” with the community in the social hall. There were about 250 congregants in the audience. Then came the questions: What kind of programming would you run for Yom Ha’atzmaut? What do you think is an appropriate way to celebrate a bat mitzvah? What kind of involvement do you intend to have in the local yeshivah day school? What kind of programming would you run for our youth, our teens and our seniors?

The proba was one of the most intense experiences of my life. When it was over, my wife and I sat in the car staring ahead, our energy depleted. We each said, “You drive.”

It was a few weeks before I heard back from the shul. I got the job.

View from the Search Committee
When you are looking for a rabbi, it’s a sensitive time for a community; emotions run high. We conducted our search with sensitivity. We wanted to make sure the transition would go smoothly and that the outgoing rabbi’s departure would be handled with dignity.

We wanted a rabbi who would be available for the members on a daily basis as well as in times of crisis. He should have strong oratory skills and be able to motivate people to learn. We looked for someone who could engage the congregants on a personal level and appeal to all age groups.

We expected the new rabbi to not only lead us spiritually, but to also take an interest in the vibrancy of the shul. As our CEO, he would have to understand the finances of the shul, attend board meetings and help articulate our vision for the next five years. We saw him developing a strong kesher to the local yeshivah and the vaad hakashrut and arranging for the right guest lecturers to come to our community. He should also be prepared to represent us in the broader Jewish community, i.e., attend AIPAC conferences. 

We received dozens upon dozens of resumes over a period of two months. The search committee, composed of men and women of various ages, representing the diversity of our community, reviewed the resumes and decided which candidates would be granted phone interviews. We held a dozen phone interviews and invited eight of the candidates to meet us in person. Of those, we chose three to come for probas.

Our constitution mandates that the majority of the community has to vote the rabbi in. No real decision could be made until the proba, when you get to sit down to a meal with the candidates and see how they engage your children, how they speak to and connect with the community.

We are a very diverse community, ranging from those with a strong yeshivah background to those with not much of a religious education. Our goal is that, with the new rabbi’s help, we will connect more with one another and bring our shul to greater heights.

Our hope was to vote in the right rabbi to build our community; a rabbi who will get the congregation involved and guide them in times of need. We’re confident that we did.

This article was featured in the Fall 2013 issue of Jewish Action.
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