Are Shuls Democratic?

A reader recently wrote in inquiring about the norms in regards to Shul elections, and if I had any data/research.

I first told him to take a look at some Shul bylaws:

Here is the most relevant paragraph:

1. Each year, after Pesach but before Shavuos, an election meeting shall be held. At least four weeks prior to the election meeting, the President shall appoint a nominating committee of five members and designate a chairman. The nominating committee shall prepare a slate of officers and directors for recommendation to the membership at the election meeting. The committee shall mail the recommended slate to the membership at least two weeks prior to the election meeting. Additional nominations may be made at the election meeting.

It’s also important to understand the different types of Shuls and where the authority lies in each on of them.

Even in what I called Democratic Shuls in that post, there are still centers of power. In general, these centers are involved in the Shul for the long term, and are usually insuring the ongoing financial viability of the Shul. This was covered in a post called the Kitchen Cabinet.

As for data/research, in our neighborhood there are about 35 Shuls that operate on Shabbos.

Of these 35 Shuls, I would estimate that only about 5 even have a president and an elected board. In the other 30, a Rabbi and a Gabbai (or small group of people) watch over the finances and goings on.

In the Shuls which do have elections, they use a process like that described in the bylaws above, but in reality the Kitchen Cabinet probably has much more influence in selecting the slate.

As a whole, Shuls are not so democratic and are driven by the most involved members.