The best argument for priestly celibacy

Enjoyed this interesting first-person essay in the Atlantic about how tough it is to be a good rabbi for your congregation and still be a good husband/father for your family:

I am a rabbi with a wife and a toddler. Not only am I in the office typically from nine to five, four out of every five weekdays, but since I have a pulpit position I also work every Friday evening and Saturday morning. I also work often on Saturday afternoons, maybe even evenings. Also Sunday mornings and sometimes afternoons as well. That’s a prime time for families to meet for bar mitzvah lessons, Hebrew school programs, and youth group activities. And that doesn’t include all the times when I’m on-call for a death or emergency in the congregation, which could happen at any time. I recall one moment when I was called away from a Friday night Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner with friends and family to visit someone dying in the hospital. I recall a similar story of a friend whose father is also a rabbi, who got called away from most of Thanksgiving activities with his family to care for a family that had just experienced a suicide. And I speak regularly with a friend and colleague in a small congregation who is frequently stressed out, exhausted and neglectful of his own personal life because his solo pulpit demands so much of his time. (By the way, none of these stories are new for pulpit rabbis.)…

Yet given the responsibilities of the modern pulpit rabbinate there is not so much that allows for focused time with the family. In school I heard two difficult statements made by different teachers. One claimed that the pulpit was “toxic” to family life. Another said, “You can be a great father and husband, or you can be a great rabbi, but you can’t be both.” I’m trying to challenge both those assumptions but I’m finding it very tough.

If I don’t stay long enough after services to meet and greet congregants, I’m not seen as friendly or outgoing. And if I don’t make it to a bedside or funeral I’m seen as not caring for my congregants. Forget about the fact that some of those times are moments I could be spending with my own family. Assistant rabbis usually have additional clergy with whom they share responsibilities. Can you imagine what this is like for a solo rabbi who doesn’t have anyone to share their responsibilities with?

I find the idea that a priest should remain celibate because this represents a higher / more pure moral existence to be pretty absurd.  What does make sense to me, though, is that a priest without a family can wholeheartedly devote himself to his congregation.  Reading the above, you can certainly see the logic in that.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

One Response to The best argument for priestly celibacy

  1. Mike from Canada says:

    One could say the same about a business owner, a house or senate elected representative and doctors, or being poor and having to work two or three jobs. I’m pretty sure people could come up with more examples.

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