Passaic and the Rabbi-Centric Nature of Growth Oriented Shuls

I had the pleasure of spending last Shabbos in Passaic. In the past 10 years, Passaic has been one of the fastest growing Orthodox communities in America. The residents love their town and almost everybody we passed on the street said good Shabbos. I davened at two Shuls on different sides of town and talked to a few people there about the state of Passaic Shuls. Although Passaic is known to have a solid Baalei Teshuva base, one friend said that the majority of residents are Bnei Torah from YU and other Yeshivas.

What was apparent is that people take their davening very seriously. The Shuls were quiet and the davening was a moderate pace. There are many opportunities for learning. The Shuls fit the growth culture model.

My discussions highlighted that in growth oriented Shuls, the opportunities to be involved in running the Shul have diminished. The people are looking for a serious place to daven and learn and the Shuls are primarily run by the Rabbi and a very small group of people. It’s similar to a Shtiebel, except the Rabbi has a little less control, because he isn’t assuming the financial responsibility. The financing is a combination of the standard fees and donations.

I think the main factor for the decreased input in these Shuls is that people respect and accept the authority of their Rabbeim. That leads to the Rabbi being asked for input in more day to day decisions. While this structure prevents some of the disagreements present in the more member-run Shuls, it does lead to less involvement and sometimes a degree of disenchantment by people who want to be involved.

There are always trade-offs in Shul structures. It’s great and important to have a respected leader, but perhaps it makes sense to carve out space for the members to be more involved in the Shul’s operations.