by Rabbi Wendy Spears
I love a bargain! Whether it’s for goods or services, I enjoy feeling I’m getting a good value for what I pay.
The main issue for me is quality. I admit that I shop at Target and CostCo. I use coupons. I’m mainly looking for nationally known brands for a lower cost, since I’ve had the experience that most name-brands are of higher quality than store-brands. However, CostCo’s store brand – Kirkland – is often as good in quality as the name-brand. When I asked a customer service representative about this, I was told that as a large retailer, CostCo often has the ability to work with the name-brand manufacturers to offer the same product under the Kirkland label.
While I don’t want to over-pay for goods and services, I’m willing to pay more for quality. In our often discounted marketplace, it’s easy to think that everything should be on sale for less all the time. We are fooled into thinking that high quality can always be available for a discount.
It is more difficult to assess quality when the product for which I pay is a service. It’s often very challenging to determine the credentials and experience of a service provider. The website Angie’s List was created for just this situation. Consumers rate providers on the services they’ve received. I also count on recommendations from family and friends when I’m looking for a plumber, air conditioning technician, or house painter. These are professionals for whom the average person can determine if they’ve received good service; i.e., the paint job looks smooth, the drain is unclogged, the air conditioning feels cold. Professionals like these also need a license from a government agency, so I ask to see proof of their license.
This process becomes more opaque when the professional offers a service that is more difficult to assess. Is the oncologist a good doctor if some of the patients die of cancer? How do you determine the value of dental care? When do you really know if your financial advisor is investing your retirement funds wisely? Most of us have heard of the Bernie Madoff financial scandal; he knew enough about the real deal to deceive his clients and steal their assets.
We all hope to avoid the disaster of a Bernie Madoff. I believe that most people are good people who aren’t out to cheat me. I want to be prudent in searching for a professional I can trust. In these situations, I need to investigate further and more in depth. I look at the quality and reputation of the institution where the professional was educated and, ideally, if the professional was near the top of the graduating class and/or received awards. I also want to know if the service provider is a member in good standing of a recognized professional association which can provide redress of any grievances. Then I rely on a referral from other professionals in the same field. While this process isn’t as easy as perusing Angie’s List, it is important if I want a quality experience with the professional who is providing the service.
This is exactly the same situation in choosing a rabbi or cantor, whether that professional is leading a synagogue or providing spiritual counseling in preparation for or in the aftermath of a wedding, funeral, or other learning situation in the community. A rabbi is more than an electrifying sermonizer or teacher of Jewish texts. A cantor is more than a beautiful voice singing Jewish songs and prayers. It’s about the whole package. There is a difference between teaching about the religion or singing a song and representing Judaism.
Genuine rabbis and cantors offer valuable quality in education and experience while being examples of living Judaism rather than merely selling a ceremony or class. Reform rabbis and cantors attend the nationally accredited Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion for 5 years of graduate study beyond their undergraduate educations. This involves rigorous training in Jewish literature and music, history, philosophy, human relations, and pastoral care with careful mentoring by professors and colleagues in the field. Rabbis are members of the Central Conference of American Rabbis while cantors are members of the American Conference of Cantors, both professional organizations that vet their members to ascertain that they are properly trained and educated as well as providing a forum for ethical behavior and redress of grievances.
There are people out in the community who are impersonating rabbis and cantors, using the titles without any authentic education, credentials, or ethical professionalism. Perhaps they have ‘good prices,’ but their value is questionable. They do not provide the same quality as the real deal; they are not the name-brand, but rather a pale facsimile. Just because someone has a wedding website doesn’t mean they are authentic rabbis or cantors. Quality and authenticity are valuable to me. I pray it is valuable to the Jews and spiritual seekers that I encounter in my life and work.
Rabbi Wendy Spears is a community rabbi in Los Angeles. Find her at http://www.rabbiwendy.com.