When I started this site I asked my Rav whether he thought the name “Shul Politics” was too provocative. He said that he liked the word “politics” because it means “the activities associated with the governance of an organization”, and is a healthy and necessary component of a Shul.
Recently I heard the Rav advising someone taking a position out of town, to focus on teaching Torah and to not get involved in the politics, which he clearly viewed as negative. My experience is that most people view the word “politics” as negative. So what gives? Is politics good or bad?
Good politics is when a group makes governance decisions properly. In a Shul where the financial responsibility rests upon the membership, some decisions are made by the Rabbi, the officers, and committees, while significant decisions are decided upon by the Board. In some Shuls and in most Chabads, the Rabbi bears the financial burden, so he makes many of the decisions. When the process is understood and decisions are made fairly according to that process, we call that Good Politics.
Bad Politics is when a person or group of people dominate the decision making process in a way that is contrary to how people think decisions should be made. In some places, the decision process may be dominated by a small vocal and powerful minority and that would be an example of Bad Politics. Bad Politics is best avoided, because success in out-decisioning the powerful minority is difficult to come by. The better method is to do what is right and win the support of a significant number of people. A larger group has a better chance of creating a Good Politics environment.
Many shuls have a mixture of Good Politics and Bad Politics. When there is a fair process, the decision making is Good Politics, if the normal process if side-stepped, the decision would fall under Bad Politics. Sometimes those involved in Bad Politics are truly doing it for the sake of the Shul, but by side-stepping the process, Bad Politics results, and damage is done.
Politics is more than a necessary evil, it creates close bonds between members when a Shul is governed by Good Politics. No Shul is perfect and it is inevitable that a Bad Politics event will occur, however if the Shul is governed by Good Politics at its core, the bad events will be corrected and the people will continue to continue and move on in unity.