When I was doing my CPE training, one of the most fascinating questions posed was, when did you get called. In many religious traditions, clergy often are those who claim to have a had a calling from G-d. This tends to be some form of event or conversation that triggers one to change one’s life and devote it to spreading the religion of which they are a part of. When I would try to explain that in the Orthodox Jewish world, the idea of calling is not something prevelant, the non-Jewish clergy would struggle to fully grasp that concept. Yet, I also go on to explain how I sense that my career in hospice chaplaincy was like a calling in the sense that all other avenues I thought of trying were turned off from me.
I recently found a quote which to me sums up my response to the question:
When Christian ministers aske me at what age or on what occasion I received my calling as a rabbi, I often find myself hesitating over how to respond. If I answer that it began when I entered yeshivah at age five to study Bible and Talmud, they might believe that I am likening myself to Jeremiah, who received his prophetic calling as a child. If I tell them that I have never received a calling but was ordained after my teachers concluded that I was intellectually capable of rendering competent decisions regarding what is prohibited and permitted by Jewish law, they might be shocked at meeting a modern version of a Pharisee. They could perhaps find confirmation for the allegation that legalism had replaced the living guidance of God. How could I, they might wonder preach the word of the Torah without first experiencing God’s direct active guidance in my life? How dare I assume responsiblity to mediate the living word of the God of Israel without being assured that I was called upon by God to undertake this sacred mission? Yet, as a traditional halakhic Jew, I know that a rabbi is a teacher whose spiritual role is premised on possession of an intelligent understanding of the Jewish tradition and a commitment to the Jewish people. A direct call from God is not required to legitmize activity as a rabbi in Israel. (David Hartman, A Living Covenant p. 5)