Rabbis, Lay Leaders, and Synagogues

Serious problems bedevil most synagogues. How would you judge an NGO that lacks a clear mission and message, most of whose participants and clients lack comprehension of the institution and its purposes? Most of us would recoil from getting involved, certainly heavily, in such a chaotic sort of scene. Yet many synagogues resemble this picture. They lack a leadership, a process, and a culture for taking vision seriously, either on the philosophical or programmatic level. One specific area where synagogues should invest is the rabbi. Rabbis need to learn how to perform many tasks: writing, public speaking, and teaching. Why should we assume they just know how to operate at a high level in any or all of these areas? Lay leaders need to take professional development of rabbis seriously: evaluating them, strategizing with them about putting in place a regimen of mentors and coaches that can achieve positive results. Rabbis, who after years in the pulpit still cannot attract potential congregants or strengthen the commitment of those who are, represent a drag on the ability of congregations to survive and thrive. Rather than gossiping and sniping at their rabbis, lay leaders need to work collaboratively with rabbis to help them grow in their rabbinate. Rabbis need goals for themselves, and the tools to achieve those goals. Everyone will benefit if this kind of culture of accountability and self-improvement becomes a reality.

Founder and Executive Director, Tzion; Teacher and Scholar, Gann Academy

Posted in American Jews, Jewish Law and Practice, Jewish Organizations, Jewishness, Judaism, My View Tagged with: , , , ,
View or download my professional vita.
[David] has a brilliant mind; he is a scholar of great range and depth; he is a deeply devoted father and husband; his outstanding abilities at organization are manifest in the splendid Me'ah Program he created and fostered; he is a forceful and moving orator; he is a man of both compassion and commitment; he is a teacher who fortifies and inspires; he is a natural leader; and his contribution to the Jewish community is legendary.
Sacvan Bercovitch, Powell M. Cabot Research Professor of American Literature, Harvard University

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