PLATTSBURGH — July 1, Rabbi Emma Gottlieb will take the pulpit at Temple Beth Israel.
Rabbi Andrew Goodman, meanwhile, will be taking a leap of faith, in a sense like the Jews leaving Egypt.
It hasn't been slavery by any means, to pastor the Beth Israel congregation.
"But I'm leaving a known quantity and going into the wilderness."
Goodman, who came to Plattsburgh about two years ago to serve his first congregation, departs for the world of academia. It's not that he hasn't been there before.
"But in terms of rigorous psychological academic study, I haven't done it since undergrad."
And so he'll take the next several months to prove himself to the school of his choosing, Virginia Commonwealth University.
He'll take the college-entrance GREs again, beef up his scores. Perhaps he'll take a research methods course. Also, with an eye toward publication, the rabbi will pare down the thesis that capped his rabbinic studies.
And he hopes to win a research assistanceship under a faculty member whose specialty pretty much fits hand and glove with the doctoral work Goodman wants to do.
That professor and another at Virginia Commonwealth research forgiveness. Goodman's topic is repentance — from both the psychological and religious angles and how the two overlap.
"Usually, they are kept separate," he said. "I'm definitely not a pioneer, but it hasn't been researched nearly enough, from my perspective. I'm excited to add my voice to the little that's out there."
It seems a given — that a person's spiritual beliefs have a role in how he or she thinks. Goodman saw that for himself when he worked with home-bound elders whose issues often centered around loss, as a chaplain for sailors in the midst of the Iraq war.
"I don't think you can adequately help a person unless you establish what the person's belief systems are.
In the field of medicine, the clinical approach has become more holistic, Goodman pointed out. The whole person — physical, emotional, spiritual — is considered far more than in the past.
"That change in culture is very important," the rabbi said. "When you prove that these phenomena really intercept and are important, one can inform the other."
A logical next step, though it appears slow in coming, Goodman said, is for the psychological and spiritual to be assessed together. He sees his role as research, not clinical application. That, he said, must come first.
"Only when the two can show significant interplay can the big shift happen."
His focus — how religion mediates repentance — is one part of the whole and what he tackled with his thesis a few years back. A foundation for his theory is found in the 12th-century Laws of Repentance written by Rabbi Moses Maimonides, a medieval philosopher and physician who did not leave out the psychological when he created that codification of Jewish law.
Its precepts, Goodman said, are very much like the 12-step program used by Alcoholics Anonymous.
Maimonides believed the fundamental components of atoning for sin lay in admitting guilt, acknowledging that another has been hurt and that change must happen.
"Until you make internal peace, you can't externalize (make amends)," Goodman said, "at least not sincerely."
Reparation is a part of psychological literature, he continued.
"But it doesn't outline that process in the same way. And it doesn't talk about the spiritual affect."
SENSE OF LOSS
Goodman's own religious underpinnings stand him in good stead as he takes his leap of faith.
"It's scary," he said.
But he carries with him the lessons of his pastorate, which gave him practical application of things he'd only studied — working with a congregation, interfaith experience in the larger Plattsburgh community. The welcoming, supportive environment "gave me a real life lab on which to grow as a rabbi, to grow as a person."
Though it also brought to him the realization that the congregational realm was not the best fit for him, "there's a real sense of loss.
"This community has such wonderful people," he said of the temple. "They don't take their Judaism for granted."
There's impermanence in this life, Goodman told his congregation at a family service before a farewell reception last week. But the people one meets along the way "leave a lasting impression."
His final service, his last sermon here, will be June 18. The temple signed on Rabbi Gottlieb during a recent visit.
"We got to work together for three days," Goodman said. "I know I'm leaving (the congregation) in good hands.
Temple Beth Israel will be Gottlieb's first pulpit, too, as her rabbinic ordination took place in May. She studied at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York City, one of three Reform Jewish seminaries in the country.
"Rabbi Gottlieb brings great enthusiasm, a terrific singing voice and a strong desire to build on Rabbi Goodman's solid work in the congregation," said congregation President Andrew Kaplan.
The question asked most often of Goodman now is whether he will remain a rabbi. His response is as much a given as that connection he knows exists between how the brain works and a person's religious beliefs.
"A rabbi traditionally is a teacher; this is how I'm feeling fulfilled in my rabinic," he said. "I'm always a rabbi."
E-mail Suzanne Moore at: firstname.lastname@example.org