Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Tzibburology 101

I expect to start teaching a new class next Wednesday night, a 7-part series I call "Tzibburology." We'll be looking at the intersection of Halachah and Social Science: Breakaway minyanim; Social eating, seudot mitzvah and sumptuary laws; Maris Ayin (concern for the appearance of impropriety) and more.

The first class, Gd-willing, will be on the issue of Breakaway Minyanim: Halachic issues, How they are good and/or bad for a community, and What a community can do about them.

Of course, from a halachic perspective there is a great deal of literature on the topic, dating back many centuries. Some relevant in-favor issues include the positive value of building a shul, and the need for kavvanah in prayer as well as for a comfortable social network. On the other hand, there is a concern about multiplying institutions which then detract from each other (קפסקת לחיותאי), as well as an element of avoiding schism (לא תתגודדו), and of pursuing prayer in large communal gatherings (ברב עם).

The sociology standpoint is equally fascinating, I am finding. I've been doing some research into Dunbar's Number and the idea that social networks can only grow to a certain size (Malcolm Gladwell famously developed this theme in The Tipping Point), and therefore the possibility that shuls truly should remain at a capped size, in order to preserve unity and religious growth. I'm also looking into ways communities can mitigate the disaffectedness that comes with growth, to enable shuls to serve larger populations.

Churches, of course, have been dealing with this issue for a long time, and have a lot of material out on the matter. Here are some of the articles and sites I've been perusing to prepare for the Social Science aspect of this shiur:

I'm really looking forward to this.


  1. In a Reconstructionist congregation some people I know were in, the congregation was divided into "villages," in which members of each village are expected to hold certain events - maybe even some of the major minyanim - together. I see a certain attraction in that idea, especially for large congregations in which people can get lost if they're not part of a smaller group.

    Similarly, when I see overworked rabbis at the helm of large congregations, I recall Yitro's advice to Moshe Rabbeinu and wonder why some of these congregations don't set up Sarei Mei-ot, Sarei 'Asarot, or something in between to handle some of the primary care rabbinics.

  2. you'll post source sheet and the class? would love to use it. BRad

  3. Churches, of course, have been dealing with this issue for a long time, and have a lot of material out on the matter.

    Why the of course for them and not us?
    Joel Rich

  4. Isaac-
    Indeed, that's part of what I have planned for the "Suggestion" part of my shiur...

    Gd-willing, yes. On if not the blog.

    Yes, for three reasons: (1) Christians tend to be more sophisticated about their community organizations, and (2) Christians have a larger pool, and deal more frequently with the issue of maintaining large institutions, and (3) there are more of them.

  5. The YI in our area is successful in accomodating a huge and diverse membership because they put community needs first. On a regular Shabbos the shul has 6 minyanim; Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur there are nine regular minyanim. There's something for everyone, no breakaway minyanim needed. We're the only YI in the country with a nusach sfard minyan. They are also very sensitive to the varying needs for activities for all age groups within the shul community. There is a main rabbi and an assistant rabbi but all traditional "rabbinic" jobs don't fall only on them. While they do rotate in giving a Shabbos drasha to each minyan, there are others who are capable of doing so and who do so as well. All the various minyanim may see themselves as individual "siblings" but each minyan also sees itself as part of the family, and is treated as such. One observation for why this works? The shul is very tolerant, recognizing difference as just as important as similarity can be.

  6. (1) Christians tend to be more sophisticated about their community organizations
    baruch shekivanti-this says a lot imho about focus/priorities.
    Joel Rich