Monday, July 1, 2013

Rabbi, be nice!

A few weeks ago, I received an email from a shul rabbi, asking for advice on dealing with a particular type of congregant. The characterics of such a congregant are that (s)he is: influential in the community, known to be a baal chesed (generous person), and eager to spread complaints and gossip about the rabbi behind his back. The congregant doesn't complain to the rabbi, such that the rabbi could address the issues directly. So what can/should the rabbi do?

My advice was for the rabbi to ignore the gossip and be nice to such a congregant, for the following reasons:

1) You won't win a mudslinging fight, both because you know better and because you will be seen as defensive;

2) Trying to hunt down the mudslinging will be frustrating and ineffective, and make you look unhealthily weak and insecure even if that is not reality;

3) People who see that you are good to him may come to recognize that his comments are unfounded;

4) You see yourself as a baal chesed - it's one of the reasons you entered the rabbinate. Pursuing this with hostility will only make it hard for you to look at yourself in the mirror;

5)  In time, being nice to this person will help you come to see him in a positive light, and his comments will bother you less.

I don't know that this is the best advice available, but it's what I can come up with. What would you advise?


  1. I would find out why the congregant is acting in this manner. I know that in my community (and a couple of shuls I've previously gone to) the Rav had a definite agenda of how he wanted the place run and had no interest in anything other than "yes men" to agree with his decisions. Any legitimate suggestions or criticism were either ignored or given a cursory "We'll consider it" and then ignored. So is it possible that the congregant feels that talking to the Rav would be a waste of time and is frustrated?

  2. Unless we know a lot about the congregant, the rabbi, and the overall situation there, we're not really in a position to advise.

  3. Garnel-
    Anything is possible, certainly. It's a good thought.

    Agreed, but I do think general advice - a derech - is possible.

  4. Garnel's illustration is true to life for many of us, but I don't see how griping behind the scenes will amount to more than venting, unless support is created for a worthwhile action plan.

    If the rabbi often expresses that he is put upon and that only a bad congregant complains, I don't imagine that many will bring him complaints.

  5. Anon1-
    Griping behind the scenes is not particularly productive, but people do it for many reasons. One is that they feel the complaints won't be heard, as you noted. Another is that they know there is reasonable opposition to their position, but they don't want to debate. Another is that they prefer passive-aggressive approaches. There are all sorts of reasons for that sort of conduct, I think.

  6. One more reason for being nice that I learned from a rebitzen who had a particularly obstreperous congregant's wife to deal with. Eventually, the woman died and the rebitzen said: "We were enemies for so long, we might as well have been friends." So be nice; it saves energy.