More on transforming Judaism – minyans and otherwise

JTA has quite a few posts today to continue and add to our recent thread on indie minyans and the failings of synagogues.
On synagogues who have multiple offerings. I will note that this is frequently not an option in small communities. One of the things that those of us who are committed to enlivining traditional Judaism will have to deal with is that in many communities, there simply isn’t any way to have multiple options at once – once you start splittling people up into mini-minyans, you often have barely enough to count a minyan, let alone give it the kind of energy that brings people in.
-In Boston
-In Manhattan
-On writing your own siddurim
What matters?
“Programs come and go. But experts agree that the key intangible that makes synagogue transformation possible is strong rabbinic and lay leadership — the human catalyst that links the pulpit to the congregation. ”
-Does any of this stuff actually work?

6 thoughts on “More on transforming Judaism – minyans and otherwise

  1. If there aren’t enough people to have multiple options at once, an alternative is to have multiple options at different times rather than the same thing all the time. Tikkun Leil Shabbat does this very successfully, alternating two styles of prayer.
    I’d rather have something that pleases all of the people some of the time (even if not all at the same time) than something that tries to please all of the people all of the time and fails.

  2. “It sounds like the content is seen as a means toward getting people into the synagogue. Isn’t that backwards?”
    Maybe. I don’t think in the building for in the building’s sake (or in the building for funding the building ‘s sake) is a positive. BUT, lots of evidence sholws that just getting people in the building can lead to more involvement. If the goal is to get people in volved inthe community, and you’re reaching out to people who hve no involvement elsewhere (I/e/ you’re not trying to steal them from another shul), then that can be a positive.
    OTOH, just getting them in thebuilding is ofcourse, not enough. We’ve got to give them something real once they’ve gotten there, not just a bunch of trendy programs that will fade away when the work gets harder. WE’ve got to give people some real background and understanding – that’s why the whole anti-rabbi attitude of some of the posters on other threads has been so irritating. Not because oyu can’t have good community or teaching without a rabbi – of course, that’s silly- but beause rabbis are trained to help people learn those things that will make them long term consumers, not just trendy I want to have a lot of singing davenners, without actualy knowing the meaning of what they’re singing. Still, if the rbabis are doing a crappy job in shul, then better to have people come to sing, than not at all – butthat doesn’t differentiate shul trendy programs from trendy indie davenning ((Differentiating between these two categories, and shuls that are doing a good educational job and indies that are doing more than just singing). IN other words, YMMV

  3. Not because oyu can’t have good community or teaching without a rabbi – of course, that’s silly- but beause rabbis are trained to help people learn those things that will make them long term consumers, not just trendy I want to have a lot of singing davenners, without actualy knowing the meaning of what they’re singing.
    Ok, so you’re suggesting that the average long-term synagogue member gains more Jewish knowledge over a long period of time than the average independent minyan participant does in, say, 2 years? Can we run a longitudinal study (normalized for initial Jewish knowledge)? I think it would come out differently.

  4. I agree that it would come out differently. However, in terms of serious Jewish knowledge, rabbis have a lot to offer that isn’t being er, consumed – either at shuls or at minyanim. From what I’ve observed, the average indie minyan-goer is more knowledgeable than your average shul-goer, but there’s a lot more to Judaism than good davenning and kashrut and shabbat/chagim. I’m not saying that some or even many have more knowledge than that, but equally so, many do not. Some minyanim have really excellent ed programs. From what I can tell, those are the minyans that are rich in rabbis/rab students as participants. It would be great to see all minyanim have those opportunities.
    I’m not dissing indie minyans – I prefer them, myself. I am saying that dissing rabbis is silly: rabbis have spent at least five years of their lives doing little but studying Jewish texts. The better ones also studied before starting seminary, and continue to study regularly afterwards. Just that by itself should suggest that rabbis are rich veins to be tapped -and that they are a boon to their communities when used well. Of course, there are rabbis who are not knowledgeable – in particular there are a few programs out there that turn out people who aren’t required to study very much, or only what they are interested in – which is depriving them of the broad base of knowledge that a rabbi should have, and which is why rabbinic guilds usually require rabbis to have been ordained by certain programs or demonstate some kind of proficiency in the absence of those programs. Still, even the mainstream programs have certainly turned out rabbis who may be less than inspiring or knowledgeable – but just like people who get a PhD on a topic are likely to be knowledgeable about the subject – perhaps, although not necessarily more so than someone who has just taken a great interest and done the reading on their own. If you want to increase your chances of finding someone who is knowledgeable on a topic – and that you want to increase your chance that they actually know what they’re talking about, then you hire the PhD. Sure, you can often get great information from someone who just loves the topic as an amateur – and sometimes you can get real in-depth knowledge from them, too, but your chances of getting someone who has read a popular book on kabbalah and thinks that they know something are also increased. I want to be clear – I’m not saying getting an amateur (in the sense of non-professional) is bad – to the contrary, I think having a learning chug is a spectacularly important thing to do. But t say that rabbis aren’t necessary – foolish.

  5. the relevant question isn’t “are rabbis relevant?” everyone agrees (i think) that sometimes rabbis are relevant. The real question is “under what circumstances is rabbinic ordination useful?”
    In synagogues with members of limited education a knoledgable person is a quite useful resource. Often those people have gone to Rabbinical schools and also learned pastoral and life-cycle facilitation skills. What’s more they are members of Rabbinical Assoications which, if competent, have professional/ethical protections in place to avoid various sorts of abuse and misconduct.
    We generally agree that many people are not similarly needy of Rabbinic services on an ongoing basis and prefer having a cast of characters who have expertise on a narrower range of issues with the resulting egalitarian structure of learning with and from peers.
    Do rabbis have useful training? yes.
    Ought Rabbis be paid for their professional skills? Of course.
    By Whom? People who need those skills.
    Should Minyanim hire Rabbis full-time? Generally not.
    Are minyanim icky? Mostly not.
    Are synagogues smelly? Not usually.
    Do they have different staffing needs? Of course they do.
    Where is the disagreement?

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