Former US rabbi warns of burnout

Rabbi David Mason left Muswell Hill synagogue to work at a charity


Rabbi David Mason at Limmud (Photo: Gaby Wine)

v A former rabbi of a United Synagogue congregation has said it is time “to end the concept of the 24/7 rabbi”.

Rabbi David Mason, who left Muswell Hill in May after 15 years, said that had he stayed, he would have burnt out.

Speaking to an audience at Limmud, which included rabbis from across the denominations, he said: “There came a point when I could no longer stay at Muswell Hill, and the mystique of becoming a rabbi at a larger synagogue had gone.”

Since starting his role at the north London community, he said that the demands on rabbis had grown. “It’s an intense job, but was there enough support for me as a person?”

Rabbi Mason said that when he took the occasional weekend off and attended services at a different synagogue, people would come up to him and say: “ ‘Rabbi, they let you out on Shabbos?’ They were partly joking, but it was also partly reality. We need to end the concept of the 24/7 rabbi since this is why someone might not stay in the rabbinate.”

Now the head of HIAS+JCORE, the Jewish charity which supports refugees and asylum seekers, Rabbi Mason said that since leaving his job as a congregational rabbi, he could “turn off my phone and laptop and have a Shabbos”.

He cited the main barrier to job satisfaction as a lack of “empowerment in the employment relationship”, adding: “It can be tricky to manage the relationship between the local leadership, the central body and the rabbi, and the rabbis can end up feeling quite alone and alienated.”

Changes he recommended included giving rabbis more power to negotiate finances and job conditions and different denominations publishing their salary scale.

“Former colleagues said they didn’t negotiate because it was not seen as the rabbinical thing to do.” Last year, he co-founded a GMB Jewish faith workers’ branch.​

He said that many rabbis whose position came with a property could not leave since they could not afford to buy or rent their own home.

Rabbi Mason added that rabbis needed more mental health support. “A rabbi is often looked at as a parent, and a lot of stuff is projected onto a rabbi, which can be really, really hard.”

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