Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Shul-Bashing: The Latest Manifestation

This is an old pet peeve. It goes back years. Those who were floating around the blogosphere back in the days of the Chicago Chevra, as MoC once called it, might remember discussions/debates between Velvel and myself regarding the portrayal of our shul to others. I’m sorry to say that the situation has not improved. If anything, it’s probably worse.

My perspective on this issue is likely to be different from that of other shul members. For one, my general course of action is to sit back and observe before jumping into the fray, so I’m less likely to shoot my mouth off at the slightest provocation. This also means that I observe the behavior and provocation of those who are shooting their mouths off. More importantly, my family has been a member of this particular shul for over 100 years, so I have a strong attachment and desire to defend it. The caveat is that I wish to defend what the shul once was, not what it is now. Overall, I cannot approve of the direction the shul has taken over the past 10 years.

Here’s where the peeve part comes in: not a week goes by that I don’t here someone criticize, slander, or mock some aspect of the shul. Such criticisms and mockeries are rarely based on anything legitimate. Two examples come to mind: the mechitza, and the new program director.

  1. The mechitza: I’ll be the first to admit it. The mechitza is very low. In fact, it is as low as is halachically acceptable. But the important part is that it’s halachically acceptable. Would I like a higher mechitza, so that there are fewer weirdos looking at me while I daven? Sure. Is it worth kvetching about? No. It was built according to halacha, and given the okay by R’ Yosef Soleveichik. If he was okay with it, why does anyone else need to complain? Particularly all of those anyone elses out there who do not have smicha, are not in a position to accurately debate R’ Soleveichik’s poskin, and are wholly ignorant of who even gave the mechitza the okay to begin with. I heard over the weekend that there are people in NY who refer to my shul’s rabbi as “Rabbi Low-Mechitza”. This irks me even more than the people who actually attend this shul and kvetch about it. Where are we taught that it’s permissible to mock like this? If someone can please point to the daf, perek or pasuk that teaches us that such mockery, such ignorant slander, is a good thing, I would much appreciate the lesson.

  2. The new program director: she’s a woman. Gasp! A woman that was hired to coordinate the shul’s programming. Chas v’chalilah! So why the big stir? Because the shul’s rabbi, an unabashed feminist, calls her “rabbanit”. Therefore, people mockingly refer to her as the assistant rabbi.

    She’s not.

    Sorry, folks. Her title is “programming and ritual director” not “assistant rabbi.” True, the staff member who recently left the shul was the assistant rabbi. While one can’t ignore the shul rabbi’s feminist leanings, one also should pay attention to detail: if she was the assistant rabbi, they’d have called her that. There is no reason to tell people who do not attend this shul that it has a female assistant rabbi. There is no excuse, for example, to refer to her husband as “the new rebbetzin”. There’s no excuse to disparage this woman before she’s even held her job for a full month. Yet all of these things have happened. Again, not cool.
    (For the record, I’m currently having my own issues with the new shul staff member. But that’s because I don’t understand why the new shul program director didn’t stick around after maariv last night to attend a shul program.)

I’ll probably expand on both of these at a later date, since I don’t foresee either topic magically vanishing. But they really boil down to the same thing: speaking negatively about a shul and community, without any thought to the image you are helping to create (or perpetuate). And some people wonder why Moshiach hasn’t turned up yet.

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