During the 13 years that Rabbi Ronald Schwarzberg has worked in the rabbinic placement office of Yeshiva University, he has fielded frequent calls from congregations interested in hiring a rabbi or negotiating a current rabbi’s future salary.
The question: How much are other synagogues paying these days?
Rabbi Schwarzberg, whose formal title is director of the Morris and Gertrude Bienenfeld Department of Jewish Career Development and Placement of the university’s Center for the Jewish Future (CJF), said he never had a clear answer; all his information was anecdotal, gleaned from conversations with congregational leaders around the country.
Now, Rabbi Schwarzberg can answer the questions, with statistics in hand.
CJF last week released the findings of what it calls the first-ever nationwide survey of the annual salaries of Modern Orthodox rabbis in the United States and Canada. Some 260 rabbis, representing at least half of their colleagues who work in pulpit positions or on campuses, participated in the study, Rabbi Schwarzberg said.
The main findings:
The salaries received by most Modern Orthodox rabbis “are pretty good”; “median 2017 compensation” was $90,000, “putting the rabbis squarely in the middle class.”
But their benefits, not so good. “More than half of the surveyed rabbis do not receive health benefits.”
The CJF survey included rabbis affiliated with YU, the Orthodox Union, the Rabbinical Council of America, the Young Israel movement and Yeshivat Chovevei Torah.
According to the survey, “the majority of Orthodox rabbis” do not receive health, life or disability insurance. Nor do they receive retirement benefits or housing from their synagogues. Many receive health benefits under their wives’ plans, and 60 percent supplement their income with “additional employment,” typically teaching Judaic studies in local day schools.
“We have a lot of work to do on benefits,” Rabbi Schwarzberg said, adding that he will discuss this topic soon with representatives of the OU and RCA. “The thing that worries me the most is … the security of retirement. To encourage the best and the brightest to go into the rabbinate, the emphasis has to be on the benefits.”
“In the rabbinate,” Rabbi Schwartzberg said, there is no such thing as a part-time rabbi, just a part-time salary.”
The Modern Orthodox pulpit rabbi is better paid than members of the charedi rabbinate, he said, but trail colleagues in the Reform and Conservative movements, whose annual salaries, according to recent studies, are in the low-to-medium six-figure range. Rabbinic salaries in big cities like New York City and Los Angeles, Rabbi Schwarzberg said, are usually higher than in smaller cities.
“Contrary to some thought, becoming an Orthodox rabbi doesn’t mean one has to live as frugally as possible,” said Rabbi Schwarzberg, who formerly worked as a pulpit rabbi in Highland Park, N.J. “Rabbinic compensation has improved over the past few years. This is largely due to supply and demand — there is a greater demand but a limited supply of well-trained rabbis.”