The Power of the Gabbai

Despite the fact that the Gabbai wields power, it’s still one of the hardest jobs to fill in a Shul. Your davening is distracted every Shabbos as you try to get Baalei Tefillah, maintain the decorum, prevent service shlepping syndrome, check the Yahrzeit lists and make sure that the Aliyos and other Kibbudim are distributed appropriately. And invariably you will get some flack for not given an Aliyah to the guy who’s distant relative has a Yahrzeit.

Perhaps more importantly, the Gabbai is charged with implementing how the davening is run with direction from the Rabbi. Most wise Rebbeim understand the difficulty of that position and give the Gabbai some leeway in the davening implementation. The guidelines are specified by the Rabbi and perhaps a Ritual Committee, but the whos, whats, whens and hows are in the hands of the Gabbai.

An example will illustrate. In last week’s Growth Through Continuous Improvement post, I related that in the Rav’s drasha, he said that while talking between aliyos is a leniency we allow in the Shul, we should limit it to Torah topics and minimize it to the degree possible. Last Shabbos before leining, my friend said that it would be good if someone made an announcement referencing the Rav’s directive from the previous week. I suggested he tell the Gabbai and he did.

The Gabbai made a public announcement that the Rav had said that it would be best if we would refrain from talking during the leining, which was not exactly what the Rav said. However the Shul was extremely quiet during the entire leining. Whether our Shul, which has a good social component, is ready to take it to this level without another social outlet like a weekly kiddush, is a good question. The point is that the Gabbai implemented the drasha directive according to his understanding, which was a little more restrictive than the Rav.

Some people might see the Gabbai’s power in this area as a problem. They’re willing to follow the lead of the Rav, but not the Gabbai, especially when it is more stringent then their personal leanings. Others understand that the Gabbai must have some discretion and they’ll go to the Rav if they think the Gabbai is out stepping the bounds of where the congregation is holding. Awareness of this issue is probably more prevalent in growth culture shuls, but it illustrates the challenges of collective spiritual service and growth.