The Problem of Shul Beis Medrification

Having organized a nightly community Beis Medrash and having directed the Torah programming in my Shul for the last 18 years, it’s seems strange that I’m actually writing about the problems of Beis Medrification. However it’s a big problem and if we don’t approach it wisely we’ll weaken our communities in the noble pursuit of increasing Torah learning. Let me explain.

We’ve all benefited greatly from the strengthening of our Yeshivos over the past decades. More people are learning more Torah at a higher level than we’ve seen in centuries. We’ve all benefited with stronger teachers, Rabbis and communities. The Roshei Yeshivos have accomplished this by continuously stressing the importance of learning. For those who are in the Yeshiva, this is the message they need to hear.

Beyond the four walls of Yeshiva learning, we face a different set of challenges. We have to make a living, educate our children, care for our elderly parents, and run the communal institutions necessary for healthy communities. For these tasks, the local Rabbi is the one who answers our halachic questions, guides us, inspires us and strengthens us during the inevitable crises we will face. Besides providing the critical functions of prayer and community, Shuls provide the financial and organizational structure that enable Rabbeim to perform their functions most effectively.

When Shuls become Beis-Medrified, their members view them primarily as a place to fulfill the mitzvos of davening and learning. They’re less involved in the organizational, communal and financial aspects of the Shul. As a result, the Shul struggles to provide the Rabbi with the resources to do his job. This is the primary problem of Beis Medrification, it moves our Shuls away from being from effective full functioning, Rabbi supporting structures.

Originally Posted 8/30/2012

6 thoughts on “The Problem of Shul Beis Medrification”

  1. One problem I find with “Beis Medrification” of shuls is that it often causes the style of davening to change. It usually results in a yeshivish style of davening which is often less communal. There is less singing, the chazan is very quiet and/or mumbly. This style works for some people, but not everyone. In some circles, this has become the new normal and many/most shuls in an area will follow this model, even if it doesn’t fit the overal hashkafa of their shul.

  2. Superb post-we need to remember that the three pillars of Jewish life as stated in the Mishnah in Avos are Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim. I would maintain that to the extent that a shul focuses on being purely a place for Limud HaTorah and Tefilah, and downplays its role as a Makom Chesed beyond its immediate communal needs , then it it is not serving as a Makom Chesed to its fullest extent. IMO, programs dealing with supporting Israel , Kiruv and Chizuk and serving as a network for the unemployed, etc , are as important as having learning on an ongoing basis in a shul.

  3. I agree with Steve on all points.

    Finding a balance between a shul being “a shul” and being a beis medrash is not easy. For some shul rabbis it’s easier to tell their members to spend time helping out at a gemach then it is to say, “Come spend one night a week in our beis medrash program”.

  4. I’m not sure I understand the issue.

    Is the problem that the Rabbi lacks visibility in the Beit Midrash activities, so that people are less motivated to give him support? Or is it that the time people spend in Beit Midrash activities diverts their time from shul-support activities?

  5. I think, in some places, a shul that houses a “community” beis medrash or kollel tends to get a different crowd than those who will come to daven in the shul on a regular basis during the week.

  6. David_L,

    The problem is that a Beit Midrash type Shul provides primarily davening and chavrusa learning services.

    People are less involved financially, operationally and commitment-wise in this type of Shul.

    As a result, these types of Shuls rarely have the resources to support an active Rabbi.

    The active Rabbi is a critical component of our communities and if we diminish their viability we are hurting ourselves.

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