I am a someone who is interested in Judaism. A question I have is that are there many rabbis which work in a synagogue and if so, what job do they all perform? I know that a rabbi teaches and makes rulings on halakha and supervises, but that is about it. Does each rabbi each have separate specific jobs or do they work together in a similar role? I would like to know their roles specifically in a synagogue and the Jewish community for which the synagogue is.

And also, I have seen that sometimes there is a rabbi and a senior rabbi listed in the staff shown on the websites of different synagogues. So I would like to what is the difference between the two? Is the title of senior rabbi simply honorary or do they have a higher position than the others?

I apologise if my questions may simply be idiotic, but I am genuinely looking for answers. Thank you for your time.

  • 1
    Welcome to Mi Yodeya Jay! There is nothing idiotic about the question, and no reason to apologise.
    – mevaqesh
    Dec 3, 2017 at 6:09
  • There are also many synagogues (especially in Israel) with no rabbi, where different members take turn to lead prayer and teach
    – mbloch
    Dec 3, 2017 at 7:27

2 Answers 2


This answer is based on my experience only, which is primarily with Orthodox synagogues.

Many synagogues have many members who happen to have completed the requisite course of study and become rabbis, but are not employed by the synagogue and work as, for example, accountants or bootblacks. But you don't seem to be asking about such people, so the rest of my answer will be devoted to rabbis employed by the synagogue.

Most synagogues have but one rabbi. He advises the synagogue board, and in many cases makes decisions binding on the synagogue, regarding spiritual matters. He also answers members' (and others') questions about all matters religious or pastoral, officiates at members' (and sometimes others') lifecycle events when asked (though most are not trained to circumcise), gives lectures in the synagogue, and sometimes leads synagogue services.

Many synagogues have two rabbis. The second fulfills the above roles when the first is unable; this is common in large congregations where there may be many such tasks to do. Sometimes the second has a designated role as, for example, youth rabbi, in charge of youth programming and lectures and leading youth-oriented services; or as, for example, programming director. Other times his title is simple "assistant rabbi" or the like. (Many synagogues hire programming directors or the like who are not rabbis, too.)

And some synagogues have more than two, especially if the congregation's size supports and requires it. And some have none at all.

Some synagogues have a rabbi listed as "emeritus" or sometimes as "senior". He does little or no work and is typically the former rabbi of the synagogue, who still draws a stipend for his past work. But "senior rabbi" can also mean the main rabbi of a congregation.

Also, occasionally, a rabbi-in-training serves a temporary stint with a congregation.

  • 2
    In my experience (in the US), a senior rabbi is actively employed by the synagogue and is the final authority if there's dispute on a matter. An emeritus rabbi, on the other hand, is not actively employed in such a role now; the current rabbi(s) might consult him for advice or not, but it's mainly an honorary designation for someone who retired. Dec 3, 2017 at 18:48

Supplemental to @msh210's answer, based on what I have seen in mainly Orthodox as well as a number of Conservative shuls.

The assistant rabbi is a vague definition and has a good bit of variance. As msh210 mentioned, frequently, he substitutes for the rabbi when he is absent. However, in many shuls the assistant rabbi performs behind-the-scenes administrative functions. The main rabbi will give the sermons and you tend to see him at almost every minyan as he "represents" the shul. The assistant takes care of the "halachic paperwork" and scheduling. For example, he may be the one to meet with B;nai / B'not mitzvah for religious advice. He may meet with families to discuss family problems / issues. If there is a wedding, he counsels the couple on halacha matters and perhaps advises on the exact phrasing of the ketubah. The assistant may be the first contact when someone dies. I.e. he' sbehind the scenes assisting the main rabbi in his daily scheduling - part "secretary" part rabbi.

In the past 2 decades, I've noticed many shuls that have a rabbi trainee. I.e., he's a recent rabbinical school grad who acts as an "intern" in the shul for 1 to perhaps 3 years gaining useful career experience. Occasionally, they may have him give sermons and he may do some administrative duties.

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