Promoting Judaism by Facilitating Involvement

By Rabbi Steven Bayar

This is the conclusion of the article that appeared in my column in our February Bulletin.  (Read it on page two HERE.)  It was written over 30 years ago for a Rabbinical magazine called “Rayanot (Good Ideas).” In the first installment I wrote about the role of the rabbi and how traditional forms of rabbinic/lay interaction were ineffective for the changing dynamics of the Jewish community.

A new approach is needed.  We must find a way to Judaically affect the maximum number of congregants, knowing that personal contact with everyone and active participation in every event is impossible.  In short, we need to facilitate Judaism.

There is a great difference between facilitating and anything else a rabbi might do. As a facilitator it is necessary to make sure that something is done, rather than doing it ourselves. As a facilitator of Judaism we need to make sure that there is Jewish involvement, or more correctly, that each unit within our congregations is affected Jewishly each day (or week).

Several concrete examples of the rabbi as facilitator might be:

Taking the time it would normally take to plan an adult education course and working with two congregants to each offer a one hour course back to back. That way, instead of people coming to the Rabbi’s course, they come to two courses planned by the rabbi and the rabbi has involved new people in preparing and teaching of courses.

Developing a synagogue “pet project” that dedicated committee workers would help achieve and put into practice.

Find out what individual congregants are involved in outside the congregation and solicit their suggestions as to how they could do the same things for the Jewish community.

Encourage lay Torah reading and davening. This puts as many people on the bimah as possible while teaching them the dynamics of liturgy. It also imparts a sense of excitement at every service when they are called to participate. These are ways in which a rabbi can, instead of doing, facilitate.  People are involved and honored to participate. Oddly enough there is a lot of resistance to the rabbi as facilitator, both from the laity and the clergy. In some cases the laity cannot understand why the rabbi cannot do the job personally: “After all that is what we pay him/her for.” Surprisingly there is also much resistance from the rabbis: “We are paid to do it ourselves. If they find out that they can do things without us how valuable will we be?” There is a lot of ego tied up in the territory of the rabbi: “Can we afford to let the laity into the areas that traditionally have been left to the rabbis?”

If rabbis are in the business of promoting Judaism there should be no hesitation to involve congregants to the maximum extent possible. Rabbis are not the sole sources of good ideas and good leadership. Just as the effective parent must learn the right time to “let go” of a child, so we must learn that our effectiveness can be multiplied many times over once we allow others to take more of the responsibility for our functioning as a Jewish community.