Are Minimally Involved Shul Members “Parasites”?

The passion around the “Sharing the Burden” issue in Eretz Yisroel has been inflamed to the point that this week’s Hamodia asks the question on its front cover “Are Charedim Parasites?”. Of course Hamodia is asking the question rhetorically, but unfortunately many Torah Observant voices on the Internet and in our communities feel the answer is yes. Let’s look at this from a Shul perspective and see if there are any insights to be gained.

In a growth oriented Shul, an annual or biennial ritual involves finding/electing new officers and Gabbaim. In established Shuls, where many members have already filled those roles, it is sometimes difficult finding members to fill one of these positions of greater responsibility. It can sometimes be frustrating, and it would great if some more people would step up, but if we look closer at the spiritual mission of the Shul, we might conclude that it’s fine that some people don’t participate at all in the operation of the Shul.

As discussed previously, Shuls are a place for us to grow spiritually through prayer, learning Torah and acts of Chesed. Shul members are very happy when the Shul is being used to capacity as intended. To operate and serve its spiritual purpose, Shuls need people to perform the necessary roles. As long as the roles are adequately filled by willing participants, it’s absolutely fine that other members don’t participate in the operation. Sometimes new participants are needed to become officers, to daven, to teach, or to clean up after Shalosh Seudos, but as long as the Shul is operating properly, it’s fine that many members are just davening or learning or participating socially.

Perhaps we can look at the “Share the Burden” issue in this light. From a Torah perspective, countries, like everything in this world exist to support our spiritual growth. Major components of this supportive function is protecting and helping with the physical needs of the citizens. Depending on the countries resources, political structure and ingenuity, different levels of citizen participation are needed. If a country was satisfactorily providing these services with minimal willing citizen participation, due to ingenuity, resources or some other means, it would (or should) be happy to support most of its citizens in their spiritual and physical pursuits.

So perhaps the issue in both Shuls and countries is not so much to “Share the Burden”, but rather to insure the necessary participation, so that the Shul or country can fulfill its purpose. If the necessary functions are being fulfilled, there’s no problem with as many members or citizens benefiting physically and more importantly spiritually. “Share the Burden” implies everybody must participate, while I think that adequate participation is what’s necessary. How that translates into policy as to what is needed to insure adequate participation is a separate question.