Jewish Community / Jewish Organizations / Synagogues

“At the core of the problem with synagogues is how the life of the synagogue is oriented”

I have witnessed firsthand the benefits and challenges that synagogues face today. I have seen the ability of community to help those who are suffering, and the struggle of even large synagogues to meet the needs of a daily minyan. While I am not a demographic expert, I believe that there is an iceberg dead ahead for synagogues in North America.

At the core of the problem with synagogues is how the life of the synagogue is oriented. Most, if not all, North American synagogues revolve their weeks and calendars around Shabbat services. If you think about the staffing and training of a synagogue, you’ll notice an inherent contradiction in revolving around prayer. While some employ full-time cantors and musical directors, many synagogues operate with a rabbi as their sole clergy. You take a person, provide them with some (if not enough) pastoral training, educate them in Talmud and Torah for five years, and then place them in an institution that operates not as a center for Torah study or counseling, but one built around an entirely different medium; prayer. It would be as if you trained someone to be an ophthalmologist and then asked them to open a practice as a cardiologist; two related, but highly different areas of expertise.

Rabbi Ben Goldstein, “The Future of North American Synagogues”, eJewish Philanthropy (27 April 2018) [https://ejewishphilanthropy.com/the-future-of-north-american-synagogues]