Thursday, January 19, 2012

Synagogue members: Supporters and Directors

Regarding my "Owning the Rabbi" post, an anonymous commenter wrote:
One also finds the opposite situation: Rabbis "owning" the shul. That is, Board members voting against their true wishes for the shul policy position the Rabbi publicy supports.

I agree that this happens, but I'm not sure it's about rabbinic ownership of the shul. I suspect it's about two different kinds of membership: Supporters and Directors.

As a general rule, both Supporters and Directors want to have:
- a shul with a certain kind of davening and learning, and an approach to halachah that resonates with them;
- a shul community with programs they like and members whose company they enjoy;
- a Rabbi whose Torah and personality and leadership will guide/inspire/support them.

But Supporters and Directors seek to achieve their goals in different ways.

Supporters believe in hiring or appointing good personnel – Rabbi, office manager, president, etc – and empowering them to do their job as they see fit. Supporters help them carry out their initiatives. They take a Platonic, "The Republic" view of government; we elected these people because we believe they know what they are doing. And barring something egregious, the next time the Supporter will weigh in with an imperative is at contract time for paid employees, or election time for shul officers.

Directors, on the other hand, believe in guiding the shul's good personnel in their tasks, to ensure that their day-to-day performance is in-line with Director expectations. Directors weigh initiatives in terms of their own preferences and vision, and assist only if they approve; employees and officers are meant to carry out the Director's will, and imperatives can come at any time.

I'm not contending that either model is 'better' for an organization, just observing that both exist. I believe each has merits.

This dichotomy among members is not just about shuls, of course; this happens in families and schools and businesses, too. It happens in philanthropy; Supporter donors write a check because they believe the organization knows what to do with it, and Director donors write a check and tell the organization what to do with it.

Coming back to that anonymous comment, then: Supporter board members do exactly what the commenter noted, trusting the Rabbi to know what he is doing. Director board members, on the other hand, are more likely to write the letter that triggered my "Owning the Rabbi" post in the first place.


  1. It helps if all involved at any level and with any title or non-title do not assume they are right about everything and that those who disagree are just difficult, ignorant, or misguided.

  2. Absolutely. And even if they are right, that isn't necessarily the point; see my post here.

  3. I think the problem with rubber-stamping what the rabbi wants is that people end up resentful that their shul does not relect what they really want.
    For example where I live we had too recent occurances.
    1: A shul was considering having a kiddush every week. The Rabbi was against this so it was voted down, even though a majority of shul members wanted it.
    2: A local shuls Rabbi wanted to ban alcohol from kiddush and it passed the membership meeting overwhelmingly, but if you ask people, almost no one wants this policy in place and it is resulting in a lot of bad feelings.
    "Trusting" the Rabbi doesn't mean he is always making good policy and/or administrative decisions.
    If the Rabbi of my shul said, "Let's paint the shul pink and have Shabbos morning shacharis at 6:45 am instead of 9am." I would vote no.

  4. Anonymous 12:26 PM-
    I agree that there should be certain red lines, even for "supporter" board members. Where to draw them depends on how far one inclines toward "director" or "supporter", though.

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  6. To Anonymous 8:25 PM-
    Sorry, but your set of "what about"s sounded like a pretty specific list of complaints about your rabbi, and given your anonymity and his non-response to respond I had to remove it.