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What is a Jewish Seminary?

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  • Written By: J.S. Metzker Erdemir
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 19 November 2016
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A Jewish seminary is a type of school that offers education in Jewish studies. The education is religious in nature, and graduates of Jewish seminaries often go on to become rabbis, cantors, or other types of professional religious leaders. Jewish seminaries are graduate programs, and their curricula cover a range of topics in Jewish history, art, literature, and theology.

Around the world, there are Jewish seminaries for each of the four branches of Judaism: Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist. Since traditions and forms of worship vary between branches, students generally choose their seminaries based on their own backgrounds as well as the type of rabbinical work they hope to do. In order to enter Jewish seminary, students usually must be college graduates although some schools may accept students with significant backgrounds in Jewish leadership. Undergraduate degrees in Jewish studies from either religious or secular institutions are preferred but not required.

Most seminary programs take four to six years to complete. Students who don’t have any background in Jewish studies may be required to complete a preparatory year before beginning their degree programs. Seminary programs often lead to master's of arts degrees. Students may also opt to pursue doctorate degrees in Hebrew letters, or other specializations like Semitic languages or Jewish medieval studies. Since many students entering seminary programs are pursuing second careers or career changes, Jewish seminaries often offer part-time and distance-learning options.

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Upon graduation from a Jewish seminary, students are eligible for ordination as rabbis or cantors. Rabbis and cantors may become congregation leaders, but there are also careers available as chaplains in hospital, university, or military settings. Some Jewish seminary graduates may become community leaders or social service workers for Jewish community agencies. Other seminary students might choose to pursue careers in education and academia.

Education in a Jewish seminary can be quite rigorous. Most seminaries require their students to complete internships and fieldwork, and a few schools require students to spend time studying in Jerusalem. Jewish seminary core programs generally include in-depth study of the Bible and the Torah, rabbinical literature, Jewish history, and theology. Study in Semitic languages is also usually required. Most programs also include practical rabbinical training with coursework in counseling, pastoral psychology, public speaking, and community leadership. Students are taught to lead congregations as well as traditional Jewish ceremonies such as marriages and bar mitzvahs, and they receive instruction about prayer and prayer leadership.

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