Bakal & Carol Guzman
wear many hats, from teaching to pastoral care to leading worship services. You
may be surprised to learn that rabbis are also responsible for health education:
The two largest American Jewish movements—Reform and Conservative—both encourage
rabbis to share information about Jewish genetics with their congregants.
new study in the Journal of Genetic Counseling investigated how this
works in practice. Researchers surveyed Reform and Conservative rabbis across
the U.S. to learn how education about Jewish genetics takes space in synagogues,
and what rabbis know about these topics.
study found that rabbis commonly discuss Jewish genetic disorders in premarital
counseling sessions, but that community-wide education is not widespread. While
over 90% of rabbis in the study had raised the topic in premarital counseling,
only 28% said that their synagogues provided community programming about Jewish
genetic disorders. 46% of respondents were interested in offering education
sessions about Jewish genetics to congregants, so there is a 20 point gap
between rabbis who are able to offer community-wide education about Jewish
genetics and those who wish to do so.
study also indicated that rabbis who are newer in the profession —those who
have fewer than 20 years of experience —are more knowledgeable about Jewish
genetics than those with 20 or more years’ experience. The study also
found that rabbis who had attended an educational program on Jewish genetics
had more knowledge of the topic. Because genetic screening technologies have changed
immensely over the past 20 years, rabbis who were trained earlier may not have
up-to-date information unless they seek it out.
findings indicate that the Sarnoff Center’s educational supports can meet synagogue
needs, increasing knowledge of Jewish genetic disorders, hereditary cancers and
the importance of carrier screening and genetic counseling among clergy and
the Sarnoff Center, we often hear from rabbis that they know it is
important to educate their congregants about Jewish genetics, but that it is
hard to make this education a priority when they lack time and up-to-date
information on screening resources.
Sarnoff Center is available to offer virtual (and when possible, in-person)
community education for synagogues, as well as education for clergy to brush up
on their knowledge of Jewish genetics. We aim to support clergy, synagogue
staff and lay leadership in sharing this information by providing high-quality programming
and educational resources.
Are you interested in having virtual
Sarnoff Center programming for your community? We offer free programs and
educational supports tailored to various audiences. For more information,
contact Becca Bakal, our Program Manager of Health Education, at RebeccaBakal@juf.org.