Which of the Five Shul Types is Best for a BT?

The second post has gone up at ShulPolitics.Com titled Who’s The Boss? – Shul Types and Authority. It discusses the five shul types:
1) Yeshiva Minyanim
2) Shtiebels and Rabbi-centric Shuls
3) Chabad Shuls
4) Beis Medrash/Independent Minyans
5) Democratic Shuls

Go give it a read and correct any misconceptions in the comments there.

You’re back; good.

Which Shul types make sense for BTs as they go through the BT life-cycle
1) Stage one – years 1-7 – getting your feet wet
2) Stage two – years 8-15 – understanding more and getting involved
3) Stage three – years 16- 40+ – almost indistinguishable from an FFB

27 comments on “Which of the Five Shul Types is Best for a BT?

  1. In a Shul there are “battles” at many different levels. Granted there are battles which we would probably agree should be avoided, but often battles form after we’ve joined and leaving the Shul is not always (usually) the correct option. Conflicts are a part of life, the major one’s being body and soul and good and evil, that’s how G-d created the world. Our job is to resolve them and bring Moshiach.

  2. Bob, people have different characters at any given point of time and the goal is for *all* of us to improve our character. Dealing properly with conflicts arising from people with differing character flaws (and we all have character flaws) is a tremendous growth experience.

    Put another way, real growth comes from the resolution of conflicts and conflicts are a part of life. The first step is to be aware of the conflicts in a given situation. One of the inherent conflicts in a Shul or any organization is the authority structure and to be successful in Shul personal and collective growth it’s important to understand the authority and the other conflicts in play.

  3. While the organizational structure of a shul or community is important, the most important thing is the character of the people in it at all levels.

    Here’s an oldie from Roosevelt Grier (former NFL star) recorded after the assassination of RFK: “People Make the World”

  4. Well, anyway, that’s my view of it. I didn’t quite catch on that this was a project of BBT. I don’t think anything Mark and David have said really allays my concerns, except that I give them both every benefit of the doubt.

    (David — other possible names?: “Shul Dynamics”? Maybe “Free to Be Shul and Me”?)

  5. People should express themselves in a respectful way but there will be complaints about what goes on in a Shul. In a collective enterprise the nature of the beast is that not everybody will see things the same way, nor will everybody be accommodated to their satisfaction all the time. The goal of shulpolitics.com is to try to show the tensions in play in a Shul so that people can better understand why things happen and deal with the disappointments more constructively.

  6. And hopefully you won’t see nameless things like, “My rav can’t even…” or “my gabbai doesn’t realize…” because people shouldn’t even be expressing these things, even if no one has a clue whom they mean.

  7. Ross, many well intentioned people have tried to shut down Beyond BT over the years with the similar concerns as yours and Rons. Luckily our Rabbinic advisers see the benefit BBT has provided and know that the toeles involved allows for any general properly worded criticisms.

    My Rav is confident, as am I, that shulpolitics.com will yield positive fruit. Just like we stay away from specific names on Beyond BT we will stay away from specific names on shulpolitics.com, so you won’t see a post that Yaakov the Gabbai at Congregation Ahavas Kesef is a very bad person because he didn’t give Shmuel an Aliyah on Shabbos.

  8. In Shulchan Aruch (153 sif 7), it says that in order to build a shul, one needs the approval of the 7 Tuvei Ha’Ir, the communal leaders. In the biur halacha, it mentions that any decision concerning this which is made needs to be unanimous.

    The halacha is clear, but the M’B also brings the Chasam Sofer who says that this is impossible…if it was always necessary to get 7 Jews to agree on something, no shul would ever be built! So it became the custom to follow the majority, even though it’s not supposed to be this way.

    This isn’t a chiddush…when dealing with shul politics, even getting three Jews to agree is difficult. So I agree with Ron, and feel that by making such a blog, it’s coming awful close to being over the line, and invites language that may be difficult to handle. I wish you luck, and may somehow only positive come out of it.

  9. It is funny that the word politics has come to carry such negative overtones. Mark and i had actually discussed this but couldn’t think of a different word that carried the same meaning.

  10. Ron, the categories are meant to highlight the authority structures which are a major factor in how decisions are made.

    I originally had three categories, Yeshivos, Rabbi-centric and democratic. By I think the authority structure of the Rabbi-centric Chabad is different enough to warrant it’s own category. And the independent minyans (the name Beis Medrash might be misleading) are democratic but not in the same way as the more formal by-law oriented democratic shuls.

    As far as the Loshon Hora, there won’t be any. I’m running it with the permission of my Rav who also backs this blog and it’s useful discussion.

    I was talking about it to him this Shabbos and he is a proponent of the democratic model. He even liked the provocative title because he thinks politics is a necessary and useful thing in the sense of a group of people making hard decisions for the collective benefit of the congregation.

  11. Mark, I have resisted both getting into the categories and commenting in general about this shul politics blog that seems to have captured your imagination, but it seems I am not going to get away with that, so…

    I like categories. They can be a very useful analytic tool. In this case, however, I think they are not useful. The generalizations on which the proffered categories are premised are simply too broad, in my experience. You can have shuls that look and feel just like “rabbi-centric shuls” but are in fact Chabad shuls (such as Bnei Reuven in Chicago). I have trouble with the distinction between a “beis medrash” and a “shtiebl” — they are not always distinguishable at all (as I remember, for example, “Flaum’s” on Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn). And so on. So much depends on the place, the dominant personalities, the flavor of frumkeit. My main shul has evolved from a democratic shul to a rabbi-centric shul but by virtue of that rabbi looks more than ever like a bais medrash…

    I don’t think the categories are that useful, or that any could be. It’s just too idiosyncratic out there.

    As far as that blog goes, it strikes me as nothing but a magnet for lashon hora, no matter how interesting or even, in the abstract, useful discussions about these issues may be. I won’t touch it.

  12. Judy, both your current and Rabbi Miller’s shul seem to have an authority structure more like a Yeshiva.

    That works for some, but as was noted in the shulpolitics.com post it can be a stretch to call a Yeshiva structured minyan a shul. Shuls are more focused on the members and their collective needs which means that truths sometimes have to be presented in ways that the members can hear.

  13. Administrator said:
    1) Stage one – years 1-7 – getting your feet wet
    2) Stage two – years 8-15 – understanding more and getting involved
    3) Stage three – years 16- 40+ – 1) Stage one – years 1-7 – getting your feet wet

    I might be wrong about this, but it seems that something is very wrong when it takes up to 7 years just to “get your feet wet” and at least 16 years to become “almost indistinguishable from an FFB.”

    Any thought about how to fix these problems?

  14. I can’t resist telling over a famous story about Rabbi Avigdor Miller, of blessed memory. It was repeated often by members of his shul in Brooklyn, and even by the rabbi himself. Rabbi Miller once had a successful membership drive. He succeeded in driving the members out.

    We now live in a different community and daven by the Bais Medrash of Rabbi XYZ, who like Rabbi Avigdor Miller zatzal is not afraid to speak his mind even if it offends some people. One week the rabbi made a very controversial remark and as a consequence many people left his shul. My husband and I sighed and said to each other, “Looks like Rabbi XYZ is having a membership drive.”

  15. If by indistinguishable from a FFB one means that the BT knows is knowledgable in Torah and has a “Torah consciousness” developed over time, etc. (which I thought was what was meant when I originally read the post), then becoming indistinguishable is presumably common. On the other hand, if being indistinguishable is as EPA 18 describes it, why would anyone want or try to be literally indistinguishable from an FFB (maybe out of an abundance of modesty?)?

  16. There’a a big mistake here, with regard to “Stage 3.” It says, “Stage three – years 16- 40+ – almost indistinguishable from an FFB.” This is FALSE. While there are some BTs who may become indistinguishable, there are MANY BTs who are never really like an FFB. I say this as someone who has been frum for 27 years. Some BTs retain a social network of other BTs because it makes them feel more comfortable. Others superficially may become indistinguishable, but they “think” like a BT; they never really make a full adjustment to the mainstream. I believe I have significant credibility, on a social level, with FFBs – but I did things to become that way. I think much of this stems from 2 diametrically opposed ways of thinking. One way is to be proud of being a BT. After all, a significant life-altering decision was made. Those who take pride in being a BT often retain a social network of mostly other BTs. The other way of thinking, far less frequent, I believe, is to truly be embarassed about being a BT, and having an irreligious past. I ascribe to the latter mindset. I like to say, jokingly of course, that Hashem made a “mistake” when he made me a BT, because I should never have been born to an irreligious family in the first instance. This latter mindset promotes ultimately being “indistinguishable” from an FFB.

  17. Judy, conflicts between leaders and the people is as old as the Torah itself and Hashem wants us to work on resolving those conflicts.

    Resolution of conflict is an important part of Torah life and that’s why I think Shul Politics when understood properly can help us grow in our Adam L’Chavero.

    I think most Shuls treat the Rabbi with much more respect then as an employee to be hired and fired, and the Rebbeim in those Shuls are extremely sensitive to the needs of their congregation.

    Rabbi-centric shuls are also great for both the Rebbi and his chasidim and have their own wonderful dynamic.

  18. I’ve always been drawn to Rabbi-centric shuls, where the Mora D’Asra is not an employee to be hired and fired, but the heart and soul of the shul.

  19. Mark-I would add that some democractic shuls via their rabbonm and membership may very well have alumni from tpes 1, 2 and 4, who may have the skill set necessary to aid in a BT;s integration into community. I would also add that eventually a BT should realize that an adult he or she will develope a relationship with a rav, but there comes a timke when he or she will not have to consult a rav on every issue and be able to figuratively look in the mirror and ask himself or herself what would my rav or rebbe say to me on such an issue.

  20. I think the most important thing for a BT is to find a Rav who can Posken their questions and give them guidance.

    If you can find a good Rav in a type 2, 3 or 4 shul, go with that otherwise go with a democratic shul.

    Although democratic shuls often have the best Rebbeim, there is a lot of demand on their time and it’s more difficult to develop the relationship that a BT needs.

  21. Wherever they feel most comfortable with the rav, and willing to discuss issues with him.

    Big shuls with big simchas…mazel tov on the double bar-mitzvah, RC.

  22. Ron, I think the Shul types basically cover the major categories and distinguish who holds the authority, but I do anxiously await your comments supporting your disagreement.

  23. “It depends.” For one thing, if you have someone who will “hold your hand” in the early stages, any kind of shul will do. If you are on your own, you need more of what they call in that post “democratic shuls,” both because there is more guidance and explanation in the environment and they are, as posited, less clubby.

    Oh, it depends on so many other things.

    The blog post is not very clear; the distinctions are somewhat artificial and overlapping; other types of shuls could be suggested, too.

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