Justice, Politics, Religion

Power to the Pulpit!

This doesn’t actually appear to be new news, but Arieh Lebowitz of the JLC sent it along, and it is rather interesting. The Jewish Chronicle (which describes itself as ” The world’s oldest and most influential Jewish newspaper, the London-based Jewish Chronicle…”) ran a story last summer about the Rabbinical Council of the Provinces encouraging its members to consider joining a union – apparently an interfaith clergy union.
Some of the benefits?

Some regional rabbis, he said, “have been taken aback by some of the things that have happened to rabbis in London, including losing their jobs”.
But he stressed that the appeal of a union lay mainly in the “wide range of services it can provide, which include looking at contracts of employment, updates on employment law, as well as benefits such as cheaper insurance.
“There is also the facility of accredited representatives who, in the case of a dispute, will be there to assist and advise. Some rabbis will be trained as accredited representatives, which will mean not only helping colleagues but also members of other faiths. So a rabbi may help a priest or imam, and vice versa.”
…Unite could help with training, for example in health-and-safety issues, as well as give guidance on terms of employment. Looking forward to welcoming more rabbis, he said: “It was quite clear [from the conference] that many had problems with their synagogues at different times, which could have been more easily resolved had we been there. We could stop a lot of the bickering and bullying.”

Apparently, “‘A number of rabbis already belong to Unite,’ said Rabbi Daniel Levy, of the United Hebrew Congregation, Leeds, and RCP chairman. ‘And a considerable number have expressed interest in joining.’”
I think that this is a fabulous idea. Now I know most of you are thinking, “What? Doesn’t my rabbi already belong to that.. whatever it is? Union thingy?”
And, yes, in the USA, and some other places, too, rabbis in reputable movements do actually have organizations to which they belong. But the truth of the matter is that these organizations are pretty darn weak, and generally don’t give much help to lots of situations that a strong union in trades would help with.
For example, the Conservative movement’s model contract asks for two months maternity leave (which for lots of good reasons that I won’t go into here, I believe should be parental leave). Yet we know from the study that came out not too long ago that most rabbis do not get this in their contract. In fact, I have heard of numerous occasions where the congregation has offered -to this, and to other kinds of what is, in fact, a matter of remuneration at the bottom line- “oh, the model contract is just for situations where there’s not a good relationship.” Well, guess what, that’s ridiculous. That’s an attempt to turn a matter of compensation into a personal matter.*
Super-typical for things pertaining to women, but it does happen to men, too. This is clearly something that a strong union could help with. There’s lots of other examples. I’m sure that your rabbi could come up with a few if you ask him or her – if they dare, since they know perfectly well if they complain, whatever they say could come up against them during the next contract negotiation.
Okay, some I’m pretty interested in this interfaith union thing. We have all the stuff in place – lots of interfaith clergy organizations and boards in place, each one composed of members who themselves have their “unions” and assemblies. Let’s get some teeth into those puppies…. And think how much it would do for interfaith relations if the imams and priests went on strike with the rabbis for the ministers.
I know the USA is so anti-union you couldn’t get half the rabbis in this country to agree to it -more’s the fool they- but I can dream can’t I?
*NO, let’s be accurate, you just don’t want to set up a system in which parenthood is treated as important as opposed to optional personal entertainment or something – even though the Jews are always moaning about how we aren’t reproducing enough, we still can’t get congregations to treat even their clergy in a way which will allow them to realistically reproduce at even a replacement rate, let alone more.

13 thoughts on “Power to the Pulpit!

  1. I’d be more supportive of the idea of a clerical union if not for the utter invalidity of making money from ministring. “Rabbi” should be a calling, not a career option. And that’s why Judaism is so corrupt and self absorbed.

  2. Yosef:
    Great idea.
    I just wonder how those folks who are called, not career’ed, actually pay for the food they need to eat and still be available as rabbis when folks want a rabbi, which even the “unaffiliated” often do.

  3. David how do you see the differences in the services provided by and responsibilities by “professional organizations” and “unions”. From where i am sitting professional organizations look a lot like ineffective unions.

  4. Are the rabbinical groups — the conferences and assemblies of rabbis — not like unions, or are they rather like corrupt unions, who use their power of controlling hiring to reward friends and cronies? My sense is that there is a lot of power that goes on… but that it might not be working on behalf of a 30 year old rabbi.
    Anyone out there with actual experience with these groups who can comment?

  5. I think this is a fabulous idea. Professional associations are traditionally very weak and ineffective at setting standards in industries and are more like social clubs more than anything else. There and a shitload of foreseeable problems I can think of are the issues that will come from the corner of the unaffiliated and smaller congregations.
    With unionization their tends to be a forcing of support in the corner of the bigger companies. In this sense it would be the Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist movements.
    What would it mean to a small shul that has has a non-union rabbi because they can’t afford the standards across the rest of the industry? Even if the rabbi volunteers and is unpaid, it would weaken the bargaining power of those belonging to the union and create division and animosity towards unaffiliated congregations.
    On the other hand, Rambam prohibited profiting from Torah study but what is considered “profiting?” Would it mean being able to send your kids to a private Jewish school and if you were Orthodox have a half-dozen of the little buggers to send? Would it mean making the average income (with comprable benefits) to the congregation you serve?
    I don’t even want to begin thinking about what this means for religions in which being a member of the clergy is accepting a life of poverty.
    My head hurts now.

  6. Howdy All,
    I am a rabbi who works full time with queer and homeless youth at a non-profit organization and rabbis for a community part time. For 3 years I rabbied for the community full time, but there was nothing putting food on the table. By qualifications in these comments I am “called,” a status I feel. I love my paying job. My professional presentation and default self are as close as they get in professional America. However, I and my community would love it if I could rabbi full time, but it’s not financially possible for me to do my part supporting my family rabbi-ing full time. I would love to be available as Rabbi on a full time basis (what full time means for rabbis is a whole other ball of wax and I have a lot to say about the expectations put on rabbis from the communities and the rabbis themselves. Many of us are revisiting this and it needs to continue.) and be able to eat as a result. Do rabbis need a union? The way things are–quite likely. Ideally–no.
    shalom v’ahava,

  7. The CCAR and the like are NOT unions. They don’t claim to be and they don’t provide those sorts of services.
    Actually they do. It’s my understanding that the main services they provide (from the members’ perspective, anyway) are 1) a retirement fund, 2) job placement, and 3) support in cases of dispute between rabbis and their congregations (e.g., salary negotiations, legal charges). In fact, one of the– fairly few– things that can get someone kicked out of the Rabbinical Assembly is to violate the RA’s job placement process. It sounds union-ish to me.

  8. In fact, one of the– fairly few– things that can get someone kicked out of the Rabbinical Assembly is to violate the RA’s job placement process. It sounds union-ish to me.
    Well, to be fair one can get kicked out for ethical violations too (Someone was quite recently, in fact). HOwever, I also note that one of the ways that the RA is not like a union is that while Rabbis can get kicked out for violating job placement rules, synagogues almost never do, and as a result, do so all the time. I cross- denomination, indeed, inter-faith union might help with that.

  9. Menachem (with love);
    That’s great! What a good thing you’re doing, and what a great role model for Rabbis everywhere.
    Can you imagine, if every Rabbi, instead of just being a proffesional Rabbi, did community labor with people too? I think alot do. Thanks for serving!

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