Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
I’ve been the rabbi in my congregation for almost twenty years, both
as junior then senior, proceeded by five years as cantor. The past
junior rabbi has been very good complement to my skills, but he has
just resigned. Before him were a series of disasters, exacerbated by
scandal. So now we’re going to have to go through another search.
I want to retire within the next four years, and would love to go
back to my cantorial duties with light rabbinical commitments. I think I
could be a hybrid of senior rabbi/ cantor if the new hire works out for
the long run, mentoring the right choice into the senior position for
when I eventually want to do nothing. But the congregation is paying
off a large building fund debt and I know there will be issues related to
the renegotiation of any contract. Can a Jewish Fairy Godmother help
a rabbi with cope with the problems of this world?
Dear Still Serviceable:
You’re in great negotiating position. Your congregation must love you
or you wouldn’t have been there such a long time. They may have
cash issues, but affording a complete absence of rabbinical staff is a
much higher price than putting you on a long-term contract. I don’t
mean to exploit their dependency, but now’s the perfect time to talk
about what role they see for you in the long run and what they’ll pay
for the continuity of your presence.
One argument is: Once you know what you’ll be paying me, you’ll
better be able to budget for the new person. And timing is on your
side, because they need stability. I’d ask for a three-tiered renewal
contract. Tier one would be for your remaining years as senior rabbi.
Tier two would be for a reduced FTE, with full cantorial duties and light
rabbinical work (specified down to your role at High Holiday services,
how many Shabbat eve and morning services per month, etc). Tier
three would be for your sunset years, similar to tier two but with less
work, and concomitantly less money. You are best off negotiating both a multi-year contract and one with a buyout clause for each tier. If
they want you, they’ll come to the table in good faith.