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Shul Politics

Rabbi Weiss: We’ve covered al lot
of trouble that you’ve been able to stir
up in shul; talking during davening,
cell phones, walking out on the rabbi’s
sermons, and kiddush clubs. What other
mischief are you up to in shul?
Yeitzer Hara: Rabbi Weiss, if you want
a real juicy thing, it’s what most people
refer to as ‘shul politics.’
Rabbi Weiss: why do you consider that
sinful? A fair shul runs with a Board of
Directors and a constitution, operates as a
democracy and therefore, of course, there
is the normal resulting politics in deciding
who should be the president, treasurer,
gabboim, and other elected officials.
Yeitzer Hara (Who, at this point, rubs
his hands together with glee!): Do you
know how much lashon hara, evil gossip,
and sinas chinam, senseless hatred,
these so-called democracies generate?
Here’s some examples of typical shul
campaigning. ‘You want him as a
president? He doesn’t even come to
shacharis during the week!’ ‘How could
you contemplate him as gabbai? Do you
see how his wife dresses?’ ‘Do you want
to trust him as treasurer? He owes money
all around town!’ The possibilities of evil
gossip and slander are endless!
Rabbi Weiss: It’s sad but true that many
shuls have annual elections in June.
This being the case, the rumors and
mudslinging start to gather right around
the season of sefira which is supposed to
remind us how important it is to honor
one another.
Yeitzer Hara: It’s funny, really. Most of
the time, it’s hard to even get a quorum
at a shul general membership meeting.
But, if there is a good fight between
candidates, you can pack the place to the
Rabbi Weiss: I hope you don’t mind but
I’m going to clue-in the public on one of
your machinations. There is a mysterious
halachah in Masechtas Sanhedrin. A
murder trial in the ancient days was
judged by a Beis Din of twenty-three
judges. The law is that if all twenty-three
dayanim rule that the defendant is guilty,
he is summarily declared innocent. Rabbi
Shlomo Kluger, zt”l, zy”a, explains this
perplexing ruling. Anywhere that truth
can be found, the Yeitzer Hara will try as
hard as possible to confound it. If there is
total unanimity, it’s a sure sign that there
must be something false involved so that
the Yeitzer Hara doesn’t need to meddle
with it. In a similar vein, you will push
people to come to shul meetings when
machlokes and sinah abound.
Yeitzer Hara: Rabbi Weiss, I think
you’re getting to know me too well.
Rabbi Weiss: While we are talking
about shul elections, it’s important for
people to realize the great mitzvah of
getting involved in shul activities.
Yeitzer Hara: Oh, I have an easy time
dissuading people from getting involved.
I just tell them that their plate is already
overflowing from responsibilities at
work and at home. I tell them that
they’d be nuts to get involved in such
extracurricular actively.
Rabbi Weiss: Unfortunately, that’s how
everyone thinks. Let someone else do it.
Many people fail to realize how vital their
shul is in their lives. It forms their social
circle and it is a place where they often go
to connect with Hashem, to pray for their
and their loved one’s lives and wellbeing.
In the Mi She’beirach said by mussaf,
we say, “[Kol]… mi she’m’yachadim
batei ch’neisios lis’filah, umi she’ba-im
b’socham l’hispaleil – All those who put
together places of worship and those who
come into them to daven.” There are two
types of people. The givers, the activists,
the doers who make the shul financially
solvent, ensure that there should be proper
spiritual leader and mentor, and maintain
pleasant and functioning synagogue
environment. Then there are the others
who just come in and daven and benefit
from the entire largess without giving
anything back.
Yeitzer Hara: [chuckling] In truth, it
wouldn’t be so bad if this second group
would just enjoy the benefits quietly but
it is this bunch who usually serve as the
complainers, or are the experts at heaping
up mounds of constructive criticism.
Rabbi Weiss: When I have someone
loudly and irately correct the bal korei,
the one who publicly reads the Torah
for the congregation, I quietly go over
to this critic and say to him, ‘maybe you
should lein next week!” This often is a
quick was to quiet down his vociferous
Yeitzer Hara: The muttering,
complaining, and criticism of parasitic
congregants causes many would-be
idealistic volunteers to shy away from
shul and community involvement. Why
should they willingly subject themselves
to such abuse and gossip? Add to that
the fact that people really do suffer from
poverty of time and the fact that many
wives implore their husbands not to get
involved in such extracurricular activities
for they want
their husbands
home more
often, correctly
wanting from
them more time
for the children.
There is an
actual emergency
situation in many
shuls in procuring
enough people
to take care of the many important shul
Rabbi Weiss: My answer to all of this
– and this is a very important point – is
in the same Mi She’beirach that we say
on Shabbos. It states the reward for those
who give of themselves sincerely for
shul volunteerism. It says, “HaKodosh
Boruch Hu y’shaleim s’chorom, v’yosir
meihem kol machalah, v’yirpo l’chol
gufam, v’yislach l’chol avonam,
v’yishlach brachah v’hatzlachah b’chol
ma-asei y’deihem – Hashem Himself
will repay them for their efforts. He
will remove from them any sickness,
heal their entire physiques and forgive
them of all of their sins, and He will send
blessing and prosperity to all of their
handiwork.” If anyone needs motivation
to run for shul president, treasurer or
gabbai, all you need to do is look at this
triple promise of health, forgiveness, and
a Divine assurance for prosperity and
success. Wives who are naysayers when
their husbands consider more synagogue
involvement should give it a second
thought when hearing and pondering
these blessings.
Yeitzer Hara: Well, maybe not many
people will read this article.
Rabbi Weiss: Bear in mind that if your
shul is a small one, or the community
officials who have been providing service
have done so for many years and are
suffering from burnout, this is a glorious
opportunity for you to step up to the
plate. Remember the Talmudic adage,
“B’makom sh’ein ish, hishtadel lihiyos
ish – Especially in a place where there is
no [appropriate] man, you try to be that
In the merit of rolling up our sleeves and
doing for others, (bear in mind that when
you impact on many, you get a portion
of each and every person’s prayers and
learning that you enhanced or made
possible), may Hashem bless us with
long life, good health, and everything wonderful.