Thursday, September 09, 2004

A shteeble is not a great public institution like the Temple in Jerusalem. It isn't owned by the people and managed for the people. It's permitted to show a profit. A shteeble, as I said yesterday, is a pizza store. Instead of pies the Rabbi sells honor, with the best customers getting their names on golden plaques.

Honor in the shteeble is not cheap. The right to read maftir Yona - just once - can, in some wealthy places, go for 5 figures. The right to have your name on the wall in very large letters might cost more than 100,00. Even an aliya commands a price. (In our neighborhood, maftir Yona, the greatest privlage of them all, was auctioned last year for $4600. )

All of this money belongs to the Rabbi. No one disputes this. It is his salary and fee for the use of the building. In our neighborhood, this was never contested. Our trouble began when the Rabbi and his most trusted advisors, the small, informal circle he trusts, asked for more. By fiat. they decided to renovate and enlarge the room we use for services. A meeting was called, and with neither vote nor discussion the project was announced and donations were solicited. The old room was small and the people were crowded so they gave genrously. There were no contracts and no conversations. Just the signing of checks.

The Rabbi imagining the donations were a gift used part of the windfall to improve his own home. The people thought their donations were to be set aside for one thing and one thing only, the improvement of their shul. When they discovered that the house had also been improved they were infuriated. A rumor began. "The Rabbi can't make a living here," the people told themselves, "He wants to raise his children among other chasidim. He's going to move and sell his house and with it, the shul that we built with out own money."

They asked the Rabbi to sign a document promising that he would stay. The Rabbi refused. The tried to assert an ownership claim on the room we use for services. This was rebuffed. Left with no recourse, the people simmered. They complained about the Rabbi, about his customs and his accent and about the foreign elements he introduced to the service. They said things good people should not say.

Nonetheless, the people did not for a moment consider going to another shul. Despite their worries and their grumbling and their growing unhappiness they did not deign to enter the nearby Modern Shul; besides the expanded shteeble has been built with their money. Abandon our donations? Never! Pray with the near-infidels who won't wear hats? Never! Open a new shul? We can't! We've already paid for this one. So, instead they simmered and stewed and the rumors metastasized and spread.

The Rabbi could not leave and he could not stay silent. He answered the grumbles and complaints by establishing a board and putting the shteeble's finances into the hands of the board. Will this work? Of course not. The board are puppets. Quislings. They have no power, and no authority. They speak for no one, and exist only to do the Rabbi's bidding. This is no secret.

But has the Rabbi done anything wrong? As usual, I can argue both sides. I recognize the Rabbi's obligation to the people, but I also recognize his rights of ownership. He can do what he wants. He has his rights. But he also has brains, and smart people don't always exercise their rights.

Can the rabbi’s rights be reconciled with is obligations? Must they be reconciled?

At bottom, I believe problem is cultural, not ethical. The people and the rabbi had different expectations, and because the two sides did not communicate, trouble came to the door.

More tomorrow; and please, some feedback would be welcome. Your questions will be answered-AR


I agree 100% with the last comment.

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You've had this blog running for quite some time.

Well Done.  
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