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The Schmooze

Hey, Rabbi: The Catskills Called. They Said They Miss You.

Dear Rabbi: Thanks for the double-bar-mitzvah Saturdays, the two-shift High Holy Day services, the grief counseling, Hebrew school teaching, Torah study leading, hospital visiting, song leading and sermon writing, but seriously now — do us both a favor: Take a vacation.

An article in the New York Times reports that recent research has shown the same thing again and again: Members of the clergy are not doing well. Their rates of obesity, hypertension and depression are above average, and they are using more antidepressants and dying younger than they were 10 years ago. Most discouraging of all, many wish they could leave their roles as spiritual leaders. (But I thought you loved teaching me to chant my Torah portion! Alas.)

While it certainly seems plausible that having an omnipotent boss could create more stress than usual, researchers are not entirely sure why clergy members are suffering so much. But they have a theory: God’s tireless servants don’t take nearly enough time off.

“We had a pastor in our study group who hadn’t taken a vacation in 18 years,” Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell, one of the researchers, told the Times. “These people tend to be driven by a sense of a duty to God to answer every call for help from anybody, and they are virtually called upon all the time, 24/7.”

Much of the research has focused on Christian congregations, but Joel Meyers, a past executive director of the Rabbinical Assembly, told the Times this issue cuts across religious lines. “Rabbis today are expected to be the CEO of the congregation and the spiritual guide, and never be out of town if somebody dies,” he said.

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