Shul Choice

In a previous post we discussed the unbundling of Shuls and I said that it was unfortunate that so many people were choosing their Shul services a la carte and not davening and supporting a fuller service Shul. In the comments, a reader wrote:

“I understand that there is a benefit to having a one-stop-shop, and knowing that all your needs can be adequately met in one place. But there is also a benefit to being able to go to multiple places and have each individual need being met in an above-adequate manner.”

I think this comment highlights one problem with increased Shul choice, and that is the decision becomes focused primarily on what’s best for the individual. Beyond the financial considerations, Shuls need people to meet the chesed needs of the community. Shuls need people to be a positive influence on others. Shuls need people for friendship and a sense of comradeship.

Perhaps if in addition to the question of “What Shul(s) are best for my needs?”, we asked “In what Shul can I be of most service?”. Where can I help people? Where can I inspire others to grow? Where can I be of service to my community? Maybe there is a downside to Shul choice after all?

11 thoughts on “Shul Choice”

  1. “Shuls need people for friendship and a sense of comradeship” is also true in the reverse. We need community, without which our religious adherence wanes.

    1. Micha, agreed and davening only entities don’t build communities. Shuls require putting some skin in the game and skin in the game builds community.

      1. One local rabbi, from a long line of chassidishe rabbeim, believes that this lack of communal membership is a major factor toward why so many of our children leave Torah observance. They don’t grow up with a “my rabbi”, “the shul I grew up in”, or the social ties one will fall back on during moments of spiritual doubt. And so, those moments grow into weeks and years r”l….

        I would add
        5- A center for organizing chessed
        6- A place that provides programming, not “just” classes, promoting personal growth

  2. Ask not what your countryshul can do for you, but what you can do for your countryshul! ~JFK

    Maybe there is a downside to Shul choice after all?
    And this is why many orthodox Jews enjoy living in places where there is but a single orthodox synagogue. #achdus

    1. AMG, I was going to use that line in this post!

      The out of town experience is amazing for community and achdus. I happen to love Queens and have found both achdus and community in my Shul, but most non-natives can’t wait to move to some place smaller.

  3. Hello. It’s me again. I saw your latest post in response to my comment, and you are right. We need to focus on what we can do for our communities, and not on what we can do for ourselves – that is the avoda of tikkun hamidos.

    However, despite all this, I do not feel there is a down side to Shul choice. Tikkum Hamidos is an individual avoda – when it comes to the community, we should aspire to provide for everyone’s needs, regardless of where they are on the spectrum of middos. Some people like the one-stop-shop, while others aspire to the best in each area. Some people are comfortable in a larger setting, while others are socially uncomfortable in such a place. Some people are able to put up with talkers in order to be a positive influence while others have a temperament such that it would not be a good idea. Some people find an inspiring drasha to be more important than a kavodik davening, while others feel the opposite. Some want more singing, while others would prefer more time for shmone esrai. There are personal, political, social, chinuch, and halachic considerations to the decision of which shul is best. Some people want a community chesed organization, while others prefer it to be done through the shul. Kinas sofrim is a good thing – competition is encouraged in dvarim she’b’kdusha, as it inspires all to improve.

    B’EH we will use the increased shul choices in the right way, as an inspiration for ourselves, our shuls, and our communities to improve, and not, chas v’shalom, as a way to bash those who, for whatever reason, are happier in a non-traditional setting.

    Have a great shabbos.

    1. Michael, I understand your desire for the Shul that fits your specific needs, but I will strongly stand by my contention that this attitude is harmful for Shuls, many are already struggling, and therefore harmful to the Jewish community at large.

  4. Dear R’ Mark,

    I just want to add that despite my feeling expressed in favor of “shul choice”, there are nuances to every issue.

    As the writer of the “shul politics” blog, and someone who is so dedicated to his shul, you are coming from a certain viewpoint, and you are not wrong. Of course “decimation” of a shul is not a good thing. However, I cannot say that shul proliferation is a bad thing.

    Clearly, they go together, and one causes the other. Everything we do has good and bad, and with every decision we make (as individuals and as communities), weigh the loss and the gain and make the appropriate decision.

    There are clearly good and bad on both sides, but only time will tell the real impact on our overall communities – overall better or overall worse. I only wrote to present another side.

    With much brachos for hatzlacha in all endeavors.


    1. Michael, for the record, my Shul is in good shape because we are of moderate size, are comfortably full on Shabbos, are financially in the black, and have not raised our dues in 15 years.

      However, many other Shuls are in trouble and because of the low budget financial structures of the new davening-only Shuls, the Rabbinate will also be negatively affected, because it will be such a low paying job.

      Most people who have been involved with community matters for 15+ years, says the future of Shuls and the rabbinate is not bright and many communities in America will suffer because of that. It’s not really a both sides type of issue.

  5. I think I saw an article not too long ago about the changing rabbinate – maybe it was in the Jewish Action magazine from the O-U? But change doesn’t necessarily mean bad.

    I will admit that my experience is colored by the community in which I live; things are probably vastly different depending on where you are. But where I live, the rabbis in most shuls have another position elsewhere, whether in a kollel, in a school as a rebbe, in kashrus, or something else. There are very few “full-time” rabbis, i.e. rabbis whose only position is with their shul. Is that good or bad? I won’t say – obviously it means that the rabbis is not as available to his congregation, but it also means that it is less of a financial pressure on the shul. Obviously, if one is in a smaller out-of-town community, this model may not work as well, but I would also assume that in a smaller community, the demand or traction of the smaller shuls would be less.

    What about the future of shuls? Well, perhaps the model of large shuls in large edifices is going away. Of course it is tragic when huge sanctuaries are mostly empty, and a shul can’t afford utilities and maintenance. But smaller shuls in rented storefronts have lower expenses, and davening-only shuls don’t mean that learning, chesed, and social opportunities go away – we just find them in other places. Maybe that model isn’t so terrible.

    I can only speak to what I see – I will admit that my circle of contacts and experience is most-likely smaller than yours, and I cannot necessarily speak about “many communities in America”. It seems that the models of our communities are changing, and that change is difficult on all, especially in the short term. And with every change, there will be those that benefit and those that suffer. But I am not (or not yet) convinced that the overall future is not bright.

    We will have to agree to disagree, and maybe check how things are looking in five, ten, or twenty years.

    Kol Tuv.

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