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For synagogues’ cantors, ordination means a lot

For synagogues’ cantors, ordination means a lot

In a move long anticipated, Reform Jews are phasing out “investiture” of cantors and are moving toward ordination, JTA reports.

Six graduates [were] ordained Sunday in ceremonies at Temple Emanu-El in New York.

The change has been several years in the making. Reform movement officials say it both recognizes the elevated role that cantors have in modern times and eliminates some barriers they have faced in their clergy work. For example, one cantor in California could not visit a congregant in prison because prison officials did not recognize her as a bona fide member of the clergy.

“She was unable to fulfill her pastoral duty to her own synagogue member because the prison world didn’t understand the word investiture,” said Jodi Schechtman, a cantor in Framingham, Mass., who as director of organizational partnerships for the American Conference of Cantors played a lead role on the language change.

A committee of officers from HUC, the American Conference of Cantors and the Central Conference of American Rabbis made the decision.

“There’s been a significant shift in the role of the cantor,” [Cantor Bruce] Ruben said. “Rather than just being responsible for the musical elements of the service, they have full clergy status.”

No precise parallel within The Episcopal Church comes immediately to mind to help explain the work of cantors in the Reform tradition. It’s a diverse role with expectations for liturgy, teaching, and pastoral care. Duties are widespread and a person has a function of representing a synagogue in a public way.

Noting the shift for Jewish Journal, Rabbi Dana Evan Kaplan says ultimately it’s just another sign of what is and what will be on the American religious landscape.

As revolutionary changes go, this is relatively minor. It is, however, one more indication that the American Jewish religious marketplace is becoming a more competitive environment. Under such circumstances, neither denominational labels nor professional credentials are going to mean all that much.

From one perspective, this is a long overdue shaking-out of the deadwood. From another viewpoint, we are entering into a Darwinian phase that may see increasing numbers of rabbis — and possibly also cantors — fighting for their professional positions under increasingly adverse conditions.

Does any of this sound familiar? In my ear, it has echoes and equivalents in the “Where have all the Rectors gone?” article from yesterday on the Café.


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