As you know if you have read some of my columns, a little over a year ago I was ordained as a rabbinic pastor through the Aleph Ordination Program. There was still too much Covid around so the ordination was done online. Most of the students were upset. To be quite honest I didn’t care. I finished the program. I was going to graduate and get my certificate. I had been ordained. I was now clergy.
Ordination, the granting of Smicha, is a very old, traditional process. Moses is considered the first Rabbi. He is often referred to in Talmud as Moshe Rabbeinu, Moses our Rabbi, Moses, our teacher. The successor to Moses as leader of the Israelites was Joshua. Moses, under God’s direction, “ordained“ Joshua as his successor to lead, and to render judgments about issues of law. This process was completed by the laying of hands upon him. This was how leadership was transmitted, orally and physically. The process was followed from Joshua through successive generations to the Talmudic times of Hillel and Shammai. The tradition says this was an unbroken, formal line of transmission of authority. Each time the next generation was ordained, hands were lain, and it was a direct transmission from Moses himself.
Sometime around 360-450 CE, this line of transmission was broken. But rabbinic ordination has been continued, perhaps in a less formal way. Today, in the US, ordinations are granted by major rabbinical institutions, as well as by other individuals and organizations. Many modern ordinations include a ceremony with the laying of hands. At my seminary, the ordination ceremony is completed with the signing of the Teudah (the certificate that sets forth the terms of the ordination), a verbal recitation, and a laying of hands. This has been the connection to our history and our traditions. To me, this “transmission” was a nice metaphor. I don’t really believe in that kind of magic.
In 2021, covid was spreading, so the ordination ceremony was online. The teudot were signed and mailed and the clergy recited the words in a cacophony of voices. Even if you were fluent in Hebrew, you could not understand the Hebrew. Some of the students were fortunate enough to have a Rabbi or two with them. But for most, the laying of hands was virtual and symbolic. My ordination in 2022 was done that way too. It was still a great day. I had family and friends join from all over the country. I was proud of my accomplishment, and very happy. My friends said they never saw me smile so much.
This year, we finally returned to live gatherings. My ordination class was asked if we wanted to have a “redo,“ with in-person participation. My response was that I had already been ordained and did not want to have another ceremony. My more cynical response was I did not want to have a ceremony that might give the powers that be the opportunity to take back my ordination. I was OK just attending the ceremony for the new class, and being part of their joy.
I did not really understand it, but our faculty appeared to be united in their desire to have an in-person ceremony to make up for the online one. We settled on having a blessing ceremony. The faculty would not re-ordain us, but they would give us their blessings. In my old age, I have decided that I will welcome receiving as many blessings as possible, so I went along.
We gathered together on Sunday afternoon, January 8. It was one day short of the anniversary of our online ordination. We gathered into a tight circle in the center of the room. A large group of our faculty, deans, mentors, and other honored clergy surrounded us. I felt someone’s hands on my shoulders. Maybe it was more than one person. The blessing started, and the leader referred to us as colleagues. It was the first time I had been publicly acknowledged as a colleague by this impressive body of clergy. That alone sent a shiver up my spine.
As they continued our blessing, as I stood there with my eyes closed, something happened. I started to feel this sensation in my body. A jolt. A quiver. An involuntary shiver. A really loud heartbeat. I know my rational friends will say it was a probably just a really big rush of adrenaline. But that wasn’t it, because I have had adrenaline rushes. I’m know how they feel. Please don’t tell my children, but I have felt pharmaceutical induced rushes too. It wasn’t that either. It was a sensation that just went right through me. My whole body felt…something. I started crying. I opened my eyes and saw I was not the only one.
“What was that?” I asked myself. What did I feel? It was too real to just be an overactive imagination. I asked about it. I asked for help to figure out what happened. The Dean of our Cantorial program said it was an electric spark. Where did it come from? He did not know. The Dean Emeritus of our Rabbinic program said it was the transmission. But I don’t believe in that. That’s too bad. ‘Our clergy don’t graduate,” she said. “They receive a transmission.” And it appears, I got it.
I am a very rational, scientific minded person. Weird, mystical things are just not my style. I am fascinated by magic tricks, but I don’t believe they are really magic. People can’t receive communications from Rabbis long gone. But I guess even if you don’t believe in magic, if you open your eyes, and look around, you might see it happening. Or even feel it happening to you.
CARL VINIAR has been a lawyer, mediator, teacher, professor, seminar leader, trainer, service leader, pastoral counselor, son, father, sibling and friend. Now he is now an author, having completed A Guide To Premarital Counseling For Clergy Working With People Remarrying or Marrying Later In Life, which has been posted here on Jewish Sacred Aging.
He can be reached for inquiries about this manual and other related topics at RebCarl2022@gmail.com.