Jewish Action Magazine On The Rabbinic Model

Rabbi Gil Student writes:

The latest issue of Jewish Action has a fascinating interview with seven veteran Orthodox rabbis on a variety of interesting topics. One issue discussed was the shtiebelization of Orthodoxy, i.e. the breaking up into small, relatively homogeneous congregations. R. Ralph Pelcovitz had the following to say about the phenomenon, including a surprising but sensible recommendation (p. 36):
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We should ask, Is there a role for the cathedral synagogue in the present Jewish society, as there might have been thirty or forty years ago? The answer is, We always serve the needs of the populace.

Synagogue Jews always associated the synagogue with the big shul in town. And they were the only ones who could afford to have a rav… and to offer different kinds of activities. [These synagogues] were the address of every Jewish need, be it here or in Eretz Yisrael.

This generation no longer really needs the cathedral synagogue. If your customers no longer need your product, they’re going to go elsewhere. That’s why, when [new synagogues are built], physicaly, they… [are] smaller.

Then, of course, there is always the ego involved. There are people who need to be the rosh [head] and not the zanav [tail]. You can’t have that many heads, you can’t have that many zanavim. But, in the final analysis, people who need to feel important get lost in the bigger shuls.

[Since] the trend is going to be smaller rather than bigger shuls, the question is, Will there… be a rav in the community or not? Many of these smaller shuls have rabbanim, but… in order to make parnassah, [they] end up teaching part time in an educational institution. As a result, they are not able to fully serve as the rav of a shul or of a community. I suggest that these smaller shuls, which serve a purpose and fulfill the needs of the congregants, should not necessarily all have a rav. There should be a re-institution of the rav of a kehillah. (emphasis added)

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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