Why You Need Shul Bylaws

Do You Have Bylaws
You can hear the sound of a collective eye roll when you mention Shul bylaws. They’re usually found only in democratic shuls or independent minyanim. Like legal contracts, they can be boring to the non-lawyers among us, but they’re very important for a Shul’s functioning, especially when critical issues come to the forefront. If you don’t have bylaws, it might be a good idea to create them now.

Primary Purpose
This Bylaws for Dummies article explains, “Bylaws basically establish a contract between members and define their rights, duties, and mutual obligations… The bylaws detail the extent to which the management of the organization’s business is handled by the membership, a subordinate board, or an executive committee.”

The Blue Avocado site has a good bylaws checklist and says (with some shul specific modifications) that
a) You should not put too much in the bylaws so you don’t come to regularly violate them.
b) If trouble erupts — such as internal conflict or attacks from others — the bylaws will become very important. So make sure they are reviewed approximately every three years.
c) Attach (and distribute) any changes made to the bylaws and make sure the president has a current copy. Too often everyone forgets about changes.

Crisis
This Synagogue bylaws article by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York (JCRC-NY) says, “Most calls for assistance happen when there is a synagogue crisis, which can be either good or bad. Examples of “good” crises are when the synagogue is in a growth spurt and needs to strategize to keep its new members involved or is considering the purchase of a new building with a new mortgage. Bad crises can occur when a congregation is declining and is concerned that it will not have a minyan soon, or there is no more money and they must refinance or sell the building.”

We’ll Help You Get Started
The Orthodox Union (OU) has a comprehensive Shul Bylaws template, they call it a Model Constitution here and you can download it in a word document here. It might violate the “too much in there” rule, but it’s a great source of reference.

A NY Shul’s Bylaws

There is a Shul in NY, which has bylaws that have worked pretty well the last 25 years so we’ve gotten permission to include them as a public service for those who want to work on their bylaws.

So get to work on your bylaws if you don’t have them, it’s worth the effort.

Congregation Your Name of Your Town, Inc.

By-Laws

Article I — Name

1. This congregation shall be known as Congregation Your Name of Your Town, Inc. – a non-profit religious corporation in the State of Your State, County of Your County, whose offices are located in Your City.

2. This congregation shall not be dissolved as long as ten members who have been in good standing for at least five years are willing to continue it.

3. In the event of dissolution, the disposition of its assets shall either be in accordance with the donor’s request at the time of donation of a specific asset or under the trusteeship of Your Synagogue Umbrella Organization for the benefit of new Orthodox congregations.

4. This congregation shall be a member of the Your Synagogue Umbrella Organization

Article II – Membership, Dues, and Assessments


1. Any Jew, as defined by Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch), may be eligible for membership at the age of eighteen years.

2. Membership shall be by family unit. Unmarried individuals shall be considered a family unit for the purpose of membership.

3. Dues and assessments shall be fixed and approved by the membership. Membership dues are to be paid upon the receipt of written statements.

4. Voting shall be limited to members in good standing and to one vote per family.

5. A member in good standing is a member who has no amount of dues or assessments outstanding for a period of more than one year.

Article III – Membership Meetings

1. The congregation shall meet a minimum of three times per year. The membership shall be notified of the date and time of the meeting at least two weeks prior to the date of the meeting.

2. A quorum shall consist of 20% of the membership but not less than ten members.

A membership meeting shall be called upon a written petition signed by 50% of the membership.

Article IV – Officers and Board of Directors

1. The officers of the congregation shall consist of a President, Vice President, Treasurer, Secretary, and two Gabbaim.

2. The Board of Directors of the congregation shall consist of the immediate past President, the President, Vice President, Treasurer, Secretary, the Women’s League designate, and seven members at large. A quorum of the Board shall be 60% of the directors.

3. A board meeting shall be called upon a written petition signed by 50% of the board.

Article V — Elections and Vacancies

1. Each year, after Pesach but before Shavuos, an election meeting shall be held. At least four weeks prior to the election meeting, the President shall appoint a nominating committee of five members and designate a chairman. The nominating committee shall prepare a slate of officers and directors for recommendation to the membership at the election meeting. The committee shall mail the recommended slate to the membership at least two weeks prior to the election meeting. Additional nominations may be made at the election meeting.

2. All officers and directors shall be elected for a term of one year.

3. The President may not serve more than two consecutive terms of office as President.

4. No candidate absent from the election meeting shall be elected to any position unless he notifies the nominating committee in advance of the election meeting in writing of his willingness to accept the position if elected.

5. All ballots for contested elections shall be by closed ballot.

6. Elected officers and directors shall take office on Shavuos.

7. In the event of vacancy for any reason, the Congregation shall elect another member for the remainder of the officer’s or director’s term.

Article VI – Responsibility and Authority

1. The membership reserves onto itself all responsibilities of the congregation.

2. The membership delegates its responsibilities to the Board of Directors subject to these bylaws. The membership reserves the right to overrule or modify any vote of the Board of Directors.

3. The Board of Directors authorizes the officers to discharge its responsibilities subject to these bylaws. The Board of Directors reserves the right to overrule or modify any vote of the officers.

4. No decision whose fiscal impact (positive or negative) is greater than ten thousand dollars shall be acted on without the approval of the membership.

5. No decision whose fiscal impact (positive or negative) is greater than one thousand dollars shall be acted on without the approval of the Board of Directors.

6. A majority vote of those present at a duly convened meeting of the membership or the board shall be required for passage of any motion unless otherwise provided by these by¬laws.

Article VII — Duties of Officers

A — President

1. The President shall act as the managing head of the congregation and shall preside at all meetings.

2. The President shall put to vote all proper motions but he shall not make or second any motion.

3. The President may vote for elections of officers and directors. He shall not vote on any other motion unless there is a tie vote.

4. The president shall serve as Chairman of the Board of Directors.

B — Vice President

1. The Vice-President shall be present at all meetings and assist the President in the discharge of his duties. In the absence of the President, the Vice-President shall assume the powers vested in the President.

C – Treasurer

1. The Treasurer shall receive all monies for the use of the congregation and shall have powers to maintain the bank accounts and records of the congregation.

2. All checks shall be signed by two officers, one of whom must be the President or the Treasurer.

D – Secretary

1. The secretary shall keep an accurate record of the proceedings of the congregation and serve notices to attend meetings.

2. The secretary shall maintain the membership list of the congregation.

E – Gabbaim

1. The Gabbaim shall determine recipients of aliyos, designate ba’alei tefillah, and be responsible for the decorum during davening.

2. Both Gabbaim shall be present as often as possible to supervise the religious services in all aspects.

Article VIII – The Rav

1. The Rabbi shall
a) be the halachic authority of the congregation
b) deliver sermons
c) supervise the educational programs
d) officiate at ritual events

Article IX – Committees

1. Annually, the president shall appoint the following standing committees and designate their chairmen:

a) Building and Development
b) Dinner
c) Chesed and Bikur Cholim
d) Adult Education
e) Youth
f) House
g) Event Planning
h) Shalosh Suedot

2. The president shall have the power to appoint special committees and designate their chairmen.

Article X – Adoption and Amendment

1. These by-laws shall be adopted by a vote of at least two thirds of the members present at a meeting called for that purpose on at least two weeks written notice.

2. After adoption, these by-laws may be amended by a vote of at least two thirds of the members present at a meeting called for that purpose on at least two weeks written notice. Such notice shall include a general description of the subject matter of any proposed amendment.

4 thoughts on “Why You Need Shul Bylaws

    1. Mark Post author

      Bob, not sure what percentage of Shuls don’t have bylaws, but we wanted to prod and provide assistance to those who don’t and provide ideas and suggestions to those who do.

      Even though my Shul does have bylaws, I found the “review every three years” and “keep them short” rules important when researching this article.

      There is a lot of other valuable information in the links which is worth looking at if you want to make your Shul function better.

      Reply
      1. Bob Miller

        The big practical problem once bylaws are established is getting officers and members to really know the bylaws and want to abide by them (or to amend them as needed). Organizations are often run day-to-day based on “I’ll push until someone pushes back”.

        Reply
        1. Mark Post author

          I’ve found that keeping them short, understandable and workable has been helpful in compliance. As a result, our shul and its board complies with the bylaws.

          Reply

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