Rabbinic Careers

CCAR Interim Rabbis: Helping Jewish Communities Navigate and Maintain Strength During Transition

One of the many rabbinic roles that the CCAR helps Reform congregrations fill is that of the interim rabbi. Congregations searching for interim rabbis may need additional time to hire the right rabbi: a long-term rabbi may have retired or left, or there may have been a crisis in the synagogue community, and the synagogue is in need of revitalization. Interim rabbis fill a crucial need in synagogues, partnering with lay leaders and staff to prepare a congregation for the arrival and success of a long-term rabbi, helping bridge important gaps in Reform communities, and ensuring that these communities receive the care, attention, and strong Jewish leadership they so deserve.

For most congregations, rabbinic transitions function best when an interim rabbi steps in to help maintain continuity, drive necessary change, and help ensure and grow vitality.

The work of an interim rabbi can be extraordinarily meaningful as much of the focus of this work is on strengthening Jewish communities in ways that will help the congregation’s next settled rabbi succeed. All kinds of rabbis—included retired or active—should think about doing interim work.

What makes a good interim rabbi? Rabbis interested in helping communities navigate and maintain strength during a year of transition, or active rabbis who are looking for a change or a new challenge.

The CCAR offers annual training for rabbis interested in the interim rabbinate and provides ongoing learning opportunities for members currently serving in an interim capacity. 

Below are some voices of current interim rabbis who share the many reasons why this role is so meaningful.

We encourage CCAR members to consider becoming an interim rabbi.

If you’re interested in learning more about interim rabbis, visit CCAR Rabbinic Search Services. CCAR members can sign up for December 2024 Interim Rabbi Training here.


Serving a congregation that has acknowledged their transition is fulfilling. My very presence opens a space for them to expand their thinking about who they are and who their next rabbi might be. Sharing best practices with the staff and leadership offers new possibilities that they may never have considered or thought too difficult to enact.

Seeing the institution as a whole, including systems and things that have receded to the background, because that is the way that it has always been done, allows them to reflect on what is working for them. Listening to a broad swath of the constituent communities of their congregation uncovers strengths and challenges that might not have been considered.

No matter what else, the congregations and institutions that we serve are not static, they change. That change might be long-planned or sought. That change might be abrupt or tragic. All institutions change and all institutions go through transition. Interim training is key for those of us who are serving as interim rabbis or are interested in serving as interim rabbis, but it is helpful for rabbis serving congregations in general because it helps us to understand how to support congregations in transition, and all congregations are in transition. The skills learned in interim training will be useful in your rabbinate.


As an interim rabbi, I’m often asked if it’s hard to leave each year. It is. We go through intense times together, on a personal level and as a congregation. It is hard to leave. But it is also my privilege to serve the Jewish people this way.  An interim rabbi serves, as well, albeit one congregation at a time. We sustain and build communities, address congregational needs, and enhance the leadership capacity of staff and leaders. Everything we do helps prepare the congregation for the next rabbi, who benefits from a smoother transition, stronger start and, hopefully, a longer and a more fulfilling tenure.

I’m going into my sixth interim position, and it continues to be my “privilege” to:

  • Support a staff member in finding a less confrontational way to express their upset in challenging situations.
  • Ensure that the synagogue governance structure is working effectively and efficiently
  • Take initial steps to rebuild or recreate a teen engagement program.
  • Bring reassurance, hope and focus following a congregational trauma.
  • Uplift the legacy of an emeritus/emerita when years of service are taken for granted.

… And more.

It is only recently that our movement has begun to embrace the idea of interim service. For many years, a congregational rabbi would retire or take another position, a new “settled” rabbi would arrive, and the congregation would move forward in a positive direction, and this still happens in many situations. Yet, our congregations and entering rabbis find they are in a much better place when an Intentional Interim Rabbi serves the Jewish people by serving them.

Congregational leaders and staff enjoy a morale boost when an interim highlights the community’s strengths that were “hiding in plain sight” until the interim speaks about them. The community benefits when longstanding and beloved practices are identified, sustained, and strengthened. Everyone is better when unaddressed program needs are met, and the capacity of staff and leaders is enhanced.


I have served 18 congregations as an interim rabbi over the last 20 years. I have learned that without a doubt that interim rabbis do important and meaningful work: An interim year is a critical time in the life of a congregation. A colleague may retire, move to another position, become ill, or there may have been conflict related to the colleague’s departure. Congregants are concerned about the present and future of the temple. Interim rabbis learn about the dynamics of transition. Interim rabbis can be an experienced leader who is a non-anxious presence.

There is also the rich opportunity to learn from congregations: As each person has a unique mitzvah that they bring to a congregation, so does each congregation have unique gifts. It may be a dynamic musical tradition, inspiring tefillot, social justice, new ways to engage people, commitment to youth, or Jewish learning. There is incredible creativity in the Jewish world today.

Overall, interim rabbis get to become part of the great story of Judaism in North America. Many of the congregations I have served are part of the extraordinary history of Jewish life in the United States. From Congregation Mikve Israel, the third-oldest synagogue in the United States, to founding congregation of the Reform movement, to temples that represent the growth of suburban Judaism, to synagogues that are embracing the future and shaping Judaism for today and tomorrow, as an interim rabbi you are part of the story and a messenger of the dynamism of Judaism.

News Rabbis Reform Judaism

Ode to the Congregational Rabbinate: A Response to the Pew Study

In recent days there has been a disturbing trend in Jewish communal life.   The synagogue is both charged with the future of Judaism and blamed for its decline.  Even in these tempestuous times, I believe, the synagogue is where we continue to nurture and sustain Jewish life.

I recently celebrated ten years in the pulpit and I can tell you that my triumphant moments have not come in single instances of programmatic creativity or sermonic brilliance.  Lasting relationships forged over a decade of shared joy and sorrow are the foundation of my service to the congregation and to the Jewish people.

Rabbi William Braude, the former senior rabbi of Temple Beth-El of blessed memory was a great mind in our tradition.  He marched for civil rights and was a brilliant scholar–you probably have a Midrash collection translated by him on your shelf.  With all of his accomplishments, he never forgot what was most important. Rabbi Braude would often say that, as rabbis, our job is to keep a small flame flickering.

RabbiMack-withTorahWe keep the flame alive when we stand grave side with a widow in a snowstorm with barely a minyan.  Or when we shed a tear at the graduation for a student we have known since consecration.  Or when we rejoice in the new baby of a couple we married.  It is the quiet moments when we connect with our people that actually keep the Jewish people alive. We can call it “engagement” or “relational Judaism,” but the simple (or not so simple) reality of caring for our flocks on a daily basis is what builds meaningful community.

While marching at the statehouse, posting on facebook, or writing books can be nourishing for us–I am not convinced that these activities alone sustain the Jewish people. It is note writing, phone call returning, and  bar and bat mitzvah student meetings that really make a difference.  It may seem mundane in the moment and it certainly isn’t sexy, but it is essential.

A recent article about “boring” High Holy day services caught my attention because it railed against congregational rabbis in our most grueling season.   Amazingly, no one seemed to leap to our defense (probably because rabbis themselves were all too busy writing boring sermons.)

The Pew Study and its aftermath and the New York Times article on the B’nai Mitzvah Revolution simply seem to fuel the fire against congregational rabbis who dutifully serve our people.

There are organizations and newspapers that spill much digital ink ranking the most prominent Rabbis in various lists throughout the year. While this may garner Facebook posts and Tweets galore in the moment, I don’t believe that it does much for the future of the Jewish people in the long run.

Instead, I would like to give a shout out to my unnamed colleagues, classmates and friends.  Let us recognize the committed congregational rabbis who serve our people in the trenches with love and faith.  The rabbis who are there for our people, day in and day out.  The rabbis who are on the bima Shabbat after Shabbat and who still happily greet their community at the oneg.  The rabbis who will answer the call in the hour of need–be it in the hospital, the synagogue or the grocery store.  The rabbis who know your name and that your husband just lost his job or your son was accepted to Yale or your mother was just diagnosed with cancer–and care deeply about you and your loved one.

Those are the rabbis who keep that small flame flickering for the next generation.  Kol hakavod.  I am proud to serve with you.

 Rabbi Sarah Mack serves Temple Beth-El in Providence, Rhode Island.