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Has the Synagogue and the Role of the Rabbi Changed

There have been several articles in the NY Times lately about changes in congregations and clergy life.  Read this one entitled Congregations Gone Wild. It is about the changes in congregational life. People come seeking entertainment rather than challenge or learning.

I don’t think I had to read about it there to know.  It is true in 23 years  things have changed dramatically. The synagogue is a radically different place from the role of technology and the effect it has on us to the increase in diversity.   Not all the changes are bad.  Don’t get me wrong!  Many changes are good ones (diversity, the role of women).  But some changes are challenging including the decrease in Jewish knowledge and affinity, the challenges that are presented with interfaith families to help them be authentically Jewish and the decrease in cooperation among the various streams of Judaism.  These make for a radically different experience today.

Do you have thoughts about how the synagogue can be more relevant in the quickly changing times?  How can a congregation help to create meaning and relevance for those who take part? What is membership?  How can an institution fund itself?  And should services be seen as entertainment or sacred drama?

Let’s hear your thoughts.

3 thoughts on “Has the Synagogue and the Role of the Rabbi Changed”

  1. Rabbi, I remember you delivering a sermon over 20 years ago calling for marriage equality. You were the very first voice I ever heard suggesting equality and I recall thinking how odd to even conceive of equality. You have led the fight and been at the forefront of the movement for all this time and today’s successes are in large part attributable to you.

    If that isn’t authentic Judaism of the highest order, I don’t know what is. It’s leaders such as yourself that stand as an example of what we should all aspire to be.

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  3. Rabbi Eger,

    Well said!

    I’m stumped. Most of the changes have been good ones. Some have been great!

    But as to the real issues of Jewish identity, knowledge and affinity; and the issues of getting in and keeping Jews in Shul, those are harder to answer.

    How do we make Judaism relevant in people’s daily lives? How do we make the parhat and drashot about the parsha meaningful in a way that people can use? How do we as Shuls make people feel part of something greater than themselves; as part of a greater Community?!? How do we as Congregations come together with other Congregations, so that we are not feeling like we each belong to ‘this’ Shul or ‘that’ Shul but that OUR Shuls are related to each other, and in community TOGETHER as part of something greater?!!?

    My husband and I are interfaith, Jew and Episcopalian, both from traditional conservative backgrounds, Orthodox and Evangelical. We have learned to celebrate the commonality in both faith traditions, to see each others faith not as something that divides us, but is a mitzvah in our lives.

    We are almost in Elul, the perfect time to reflect on these and related questions. What does it mean – to BE a Jew? What does it mean – to LIVE a Jewish life? What do all these questions mean in our modern secular world where religion, faith, are often seen as … “impediments”?

    You are not my Rabbi and I am not part of your Shul but you and your Shul, I admire. I’m happy to know you all. I read your words and look forward to them. I know your Congregation to be filled with good people! There is more that unites us than divides us, and we all share a vibrant, rich history that has given us, and the world, much.

    Good luck with your questions and thank you for being the pillar of strength you are!

    Eric Kamm

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