Rabbis rabbi offers birds-eye view of pastoral counseling

Rabbis are first and foremost teachers, yet most people probably encounter rabbis at lifecycle events such as weddings or funerals, or at religious services. Less frequent encounters occur during pastoral counseling.

Yet today’s rabbi often plays a role as counselor, psychologist or social worker to those needing assistance.

Enter Jack H. Bloom, who wrote in his previous collection of essays, “The Rabbi As a Symbolic Exemplar,” that the substance of rabbinic training has excluded or deemphasized the pastoral counseling aspect of a rabbi’s job.

Bloom has edited and contributed to “Jewish Relational Care A-Z,” an anthology, which, if used for rabbinical training, would help change “excluded” to “included” and remove the “de” from “deemphasized.”

Bloom’s resume makes him seem like the ideal candidate to modify those verbs. He is a former congregational rabbi turned clinical psychologist. He does professional career review for Reform rabbis, mentors Conservative rabbis and has taught at rabbinic training institutes. He calls himself a “rabbi’s rabbi.”

The anthology has 30 contributors besides Bloom, nearly all having Ph.Ds or some other initials after their name. They include rabbis, psychotherapists and psychologists.

Each chapter deals with some aspect of caregiving, including taking care of oneself with proper time management, managing compassion fatigue (burnout) and a series of musings on visiting, silence, listening, music, ritual and prayer. There are also chapters on dealing with challenging lifecycle events, Kabbalah and more. The chapters can be divided into three categories: “how to” discussions with specific tips on how to give relational care; academic discourses with extensive footnotes and case studies.

Some refer to Scripture and Talmud extensively, while others rely on authors’ insights and experiences. The range is from dense prose with jargon to easily understood language.

Any anthology with 35 chapters written by independently thinking experts has the potential to be disjointed. However, Bloom’s editing skills help avoid this problem. The many cross-references among chapters are testimony to this success.

The book’s audience appears to be rabbis and clergy, as evidenced by the frequent use of “we” and the command verb form. Yet there are more than 100 footnotes that translate transliterated Hebrew words, define those words or describe famous Jews. Examples: Abraham Joshua Heschel, Rambam, shalom, kiddush, mitzvah, bar mitzvah and minyan. Any rabbi or cantor would know these people and words, so did the editor intend the book’s audience to be laypersons?

A word of caution: The four-page first chapter, “Guide for the Reader,” is anything but. Half is devoted to how Bloom came to write for and edit this volume, and the other half deals witht transliteration and translation of Hebrew. There is only one paragraph that actually tells the reader what to expect.

Bloom recommends reading the first two chapters, which he wrote before beginning the others. Following this advice will be tough going, unless the reader has psychology background.

“Jewish Relational Care A-Z,” edited by Rabbi Jack H. Bloom. (453 pages, Haworth Press, $39.95 softcover, $69.95 hardcover)