Religion & Beliefs

The Shuls Are A-Changin’

I want to call everyone’s attention to a recent JTA editorial by Edgar M. Bronfman on the need for changes in the synagogue. When I saw the title, “Synagogues must experiment to remain vital in Jewish life,” I got all … Read More

By / May 14, 2007

I want to call everyone’s attention to a recent JTA editorial by Edgar M. Bronfman on the need for changes in the synagogue. When I saw the title, “Synagogues must experiment to remain vital in Jewish life,” I got all excited because I, like many of us out there, get bored sitting in shul for hours and end up showing up at 10 to cut into the drudgery.

But reading on a little bit, I got confused by some of his suggestions:

In the world of Orthodoxy, why wouldn’t a rabbi experiment with some forms of gender equality? Even within the limitations of Orthodox Jewish law, why wouldn’t a rabbi try to propose that instead of a minyan of 10 men, there should be one of 10 men and 10 women?

 

Um, excuse me? Has he been in any Orthodox shul outside of New York recently?  In my shul, we have a minyan signup sheet because attendance is so low, and still on most days the only names on the sheet are those of the rabbi and the cantor. If we can’t get 10 people to show up, what makes Mr. Bronfman think we can get 20?

He goes on with another suggestion, and here’s where I really get steamed up:

Why wouldn’t a rabbi in a Reform congregation experiment with dispensing of the Torah reading as it is done now, ask the congregants to read the parshah before the service begins, and then have a discussion involving any congregant who wants to be involved? Perhaps the same rabbi would refrain from giving a sermon to allow time to thoroughly discuss the Torah reading.

Come on now. Get rid of Torah reading altogether, but only possibly get rid of the sermon? And, based on his later observations that people don’t want to spend that much time in shul, how many people does he think are actually going to read the parshah at home? A discussion with one congregant isn’t a service, it’s a tutorial.

I agree we need to change, but these types of changes lead to one thing, which even Mr. Bronfman hints at in his editorial.

The Evangelical churches burgeoning across the country prove that if done properly, congregational life can be meaningful and relevant to the lives of people and a source of communal identification. 

I’ve never attended an Evangelical service, but from what I’ve heard, they basically consist of singing some Gospels and listening to the preacher. If we eliminate the davening and torah reading from shul, we’re eliminating some of the very things that separate us from the other religions. If we sell Judaism to young people by saying, ‘our services are just like the Church’s,’ then soon the only reason they’ll have to choose shul over church is a preference for sleeping in on Sundays.