Synagogue organization

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Zig Bigfoot

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Can someone help me with how Jewish synagogues are organized, and if this varies depending on whether the congregation is Orthodox or Reformed? Do they have a council of elders and hired rabbis, like many Protestant churches, or some other arrangement?
 

MacAllister

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Where do you live? The thing to do might be to email or call a local synagogue and make an appointment to come and ask your questions in person. Just be friendly and up-front about your research -- maybe offer to buy lunch for your local rabbi. People generally love to talk about the things they care about, though.
 

lbender

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Usually a board, elected by members, runs the congregation and makes decisions. The rabbi, education director (runs the schools), and front office staff are employees hired by the board. The board usually elects a president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, etc., to run day-to-day operations. Some of these offices are combined in one person in smaller organizations. Frequently the rabbi is given a seat on the board.

This is generally how it works in reformed and conservative synagogues. There are probably variations in orthodox, but I don't know what they are. As far as specifics, they vary tremendously.

Edit - I can't compare anything to Protestant churches, as I have no idea how they work.
 
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Zmoosh

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There is always at least one rabbi (mine has two). They, of course, lead the congregation through prayer and are usually the ones who give a sermon and help mediate prayer for the sick. Traditionally, the rabbis are men, though more and more Reform synagogues have a tendency to be more secular, thus encouraging women rabbis.
There is usually a cantor, or Hazzan, as well. He helps lead the congregation through prayer alongside the rabbi, and eloquently sings liturgical music. In my experience (conservative), kids who are training for their B'nei Mitzvah regularly meet with the cantor, and older folks in need of guidance (for whatever it may be) meet with the rabbi.

Hope this helps!
 

melindamusil

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I know that in ultra-orthodox synagogues, there is a separation between genders. Literally - when they're sitting in temple, men sit on one side and women on the other. I would imagine that this is reflected in the organization, meaning you wouldn't find a woman serving as board president, although I don't know this for certain.

(But I'm a Christian/Protestant, so take this with a grain of salt.)
 

Kitty Pryde

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It's not a "Reformed" congregation, it's a Reform congregation. IME, most Reform congregations have 1-3 rabbis (bigger congregations have multiple rabbis), plus a cantor, plus a student rabbi in a sort of intern-like role. It is often run by an elected board and sometimes a director. My smallish congregation also has an office manager and a bookkeeper. A bigger congregation will have multiple paid staff in various support positions related to education, outreach, fundraising, planning, etc.
 

Nekko

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To the best of my knowledge, all synagogues are organized along the same basic lines that IBender laid out, regardless of what 'stream' they are (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform) And as Kitty said it is REFORM, we haven't been reformed.

I was raised Conservative, and now worship at a Reform Temple. We are a small, semi-rural Temple - 40 member families, so we can't afford a full time rabbi, instead we are served by a student rabbi from the Hebrew Union College who comes one weekend a month. Occasionally a lay member of the congregation leads services when the rabbi isn't in town.

It is just as common to find women serving as rabbis and cantors, and board members, as men in Reform synagogues. It took longer for the Conservative stream to get comfortable with this concept, but women are making inroads there too.

To the best of my knowledge, once you get the the Orthodox, you will not find women in any position of leadership outside of the religious school.

I'd like to say that the Rabbi sets religious policy, but in some congregations (Reform and Conservative) the Board may take the Rabbi's requests 'under advisement' and leave the finally policy to the Ritual Affairs committee (which the rabbi would usually be on)
My understanding of Orthodox synagogues is that the Rabbi is the most important person, setting policy not just in the synagogue, but community standards as well. (Google- Williamsburg, NY)

Smaller congregations also don't have the funds for a paid cantor who leads the singing/chanting of prayers, but many have a member who acts as a cantorial soloist who fills this role.

Most average size congregations have 1 rabbi and 1 paid cantor. It really depends on:
1.size of congregation
2. socio-ecomonics of the area the synagogue serves
3. what other services the Temple provides. e.g - do they have a Jewish Community Center? (which can be similar to a YMCA, lots of variety here), Do they operate a Jewish Day School? (Think of it as a Parochial school for Jews) Do they run a soup kitchen? etc. Organizations of this scope would of course involve much more organizational hierarchy, but I don't think this is what you are asking!
 
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lynnswayze

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Your best bet is to find a Rabbi and ask all the questions. I can recommend books if you're still looking (I know, this is an old thread.)

Visit a synagogue. There is nothing that will prepare a non-Jewish person for what a synagogue is really like without going. For example, there is no collection plate in Jewish services (due to money handling/carrying prohibitions). The organization is more board-like and less like what you'd see in a church with formal positions of "deacon" etc. My reform congregation has a female cantor and a rabbi on staff, but that's about it. Everything else is volunteer and it probably took them 3 years to save up the money to hire them.
 

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