(Standard synagogue by-laws)
A mentor of mine once told me that a Rabbi’s authority must extend beyond Halachic guidance, to Policy guidance. This seems most logical to me – many communal, synagogue and personal issues are not directly halachic, but would benefit from rabbinic insight.
Communal - Allocation of community tzedakah funds.
Synagogue – Planning of Yom haShoah commemorations.
Personal - Co-ed slumber parties for teens.
There are two problems, though:
1. The Rabbi's influence, if brought to bear too often or without being invited, ceases to be influence at all. It becomes a nuisance, and is eventually ignored entirely.
2. On many of these Policy issues, people are personally invested. Therefore, every rabbinic stance is likely to offend someone. Multiply the issues, multiply the offenses.
So how is a rabbi to influence community, synagogue and individuals, without over-using his influence and without making enemies?
One answer: The Rabbinic Extender.
I've heard that a doctor’s support staff is called a “physician extender.” You know – the technicians who take your blood, the nurses who interview you when you come into the office, the physician’s assistant, etc.
The rabbi needs a “rabbinic extender” – someone who will do the job for him, to save his influence for the case in which it is truly needed.
For communal influence, the Rabbinic Extender may be in the person of insitutional board members he trusts.
For personal influence, there really may be no Rabbinic Extender.
For shul influence, enter the Ritual Committee – Rabbinic Extender extraordinaire.
When I first heard of a Ritual Committee, I thought the person was joking.
First, the term ritual is one I hate to use for davening; it connotes an academic coldness inappropriate for davening.
Second, why should anyone other than the rabbi decide what happens during davening?!
But over the years I have come to know better. As far as the first problem, get over it; people use the term “Ritual” and they like it. As far as the second problem, the good Ritual Committee is guided by the rabbi, but makes its own decisions, under its own name. And so, gone is the problem of the rabbi over-using his authority. And, gone is the problem of offending people with decisions; congregants who protest will be reminded that the congregants, themselves, made this decision, via a Board-appointed committee.
The Ritual Committee can decide whether to create a special minyan for a Sunday morning Bar Mitzvah.
The Ritual Committee can decide to encourage chazanim to sing more, or less, or to try new tunes or stick to the traditional ones.
The Ritual Committee can decide who holds the Sifrei Torah at Kol Nidrei.
Unless the issue is clearly and directly halachic, the rabbi can afford the ‘slight’ of having educated laypeople make the decision, in exchange for the benefits he receives.
And one more crucial benefit to having a good Ritual Committee: More people become invested in the davening and its coordination, so that they, and their circle of friends, feel closer to the shul and its operation.
Mind you, despite all of the benefits I generally remained uncomfortable with handing off this authority to a Ritual Committee, and I could do it only because I trusted my Ritual Chairs completely. But that’s the way of many responsibilities in life: If you want to survive with your health and happiness intact, find someone you can trust and then share the responsibility.