In Defense of the Synagogue

This century has seen the proliferation of alternatives to the synagogue, mostly spearheaded by younger people eager for new and fresher modes of association. But to David Wolpe, himself a congregational rabbi, these ultimately can’t provide replacements for shuls:

While new models of communal life will arise, such as Moishe House (where Jewish young professionals live together and create programs for their peers) or retreat centers, the question remains: which model will be continuously available throughout the life of a Jew? What happens when you outgrow the organization or the time for the retreat ends? A synagogue is for all ages, at all times. No other institution in Jewish life has that comprehensive commitment.

If other institutions assume the roles of the synagogue, the entire financial model of synagogues becomes imperiled. Synagogues don’t charge people to attend services, except for High Holy Days. Over time we have seen High Holy Day services spring up for people who either go to Shabbat services at synagogues for free or who don’t go at all. So synagogues are increasingly unable to survive financially.

The problem is one of [what is known in Jewish civil law as] hasagat g’vul, transgressing someone else’s boundary. . . . One solution is to fund more partnerships. If other organizations wish to assume functions traditionally done by synagogues, let them do it in some sort of conjunction with local synagogues. This could be a win-win for both parties.

New organizations have their role to play, but the shul is the backbone of Judaism. Once the synagogues are gone, it will not be easy to bring them back.

With that being said, as Wolpe’s coauthor Yaffa Epstein points out, the Talmud does recognize the importance of healthy competition to maintaining quality—even in religious matters.

Read more at Sapir

More about: American Jewry, American Judaism, Synagogue


How to Save the Universities

To Peter Berkowitz, the rot in American institutions of higher learning exposed by Tuesday’s hearings resembles a disease that in its early stages was easy to cure but difficult to diagnose, and now is so advanced that it is easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. Recent analyses of these problems have now at last made it to the pages of the New York Times but are, he writes, “tardy by several decades,” and their suggested remedies woefully inadequate:

They fail to identify the chief problem. They ignore the principal obstacles to reform. They propose reforms that provide the equivalent of band-aids for gaping wounds and shattered limbs. And they overlook the mainstream media’s complicity in largely ignoring, downplaying, or dismissing repeated warnings extending back a quarter century and more—largely, but not exclusively, from conservatives—that our universities undermine the public interest by attacking free speech, eviscerating due process, and hollowing out and politicizing the curriculum.

The remedy, Berkowitz argues, would be turning universities into places that cultivate, encourage, and teach freedom of thought and speech. But doing so seems unlikely:

Having undermined respect for others and the art of listening by presiding over—or silently acquiescing in—the curtailment of dissenting speech for more than a generation, the current crop of administrators and professors seems ill-suited to fashion and implement free-speech training. Moreover, free speech is best learned not by didactic lectures and seminars but by practicing it in the reasoned consideration of competing ideas with those capable of challenging one’s assumptions and arguments. But where are the professors who can lead such conversations? Which faculty members remain capable of understanding their side of the argument because they understand the other side?

Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Academia, Anti-Semitism, Freedom of Speech, Israel on campus