From the Rabbi - April 2012 Print

Dear Friends:
I recently read an interesting passage in a book entitled Jews in the Early Modern World.  I share it with you in its entirety here.

“According to the Statutes of the Scola dei Tedeschi [German synagogue] in Rome from 1541,…by which the parnassim gave the rabbi full authority to make takkanot (ordinances), the members of the community were obligated as follows:  all members had to pray in the evening, morning and afternoon in the synagogue (They could do so in other places only with special permission.); absence for three consecutive days resulted in a monetary fine; a fee was involved for quitting the synagogue; and no business could be transacted before the shacharit (morning) prayers.  The statutes also indicated that all members must pay assessed synagogue taxes and pay all donations immediately; all needs of the synagogue were to be determined by majority vote; two parnassim and three counselors were to be appointed, who must take an oath of office; and no one was to speak during prayers without permission from the parnassim.  Disputes between members had to be brought before the congregation; no member was to strike another or speak badly of him; reconciliation at the Torah must be accepted; and, in the same spirit of community, all members were to share the expenses of the communal lulav and etrog used during the holiday of Sukkot.

In the last 471 years, a great deal has obviously changed.  And yet the basic question remains: What does a member owe to his or her synagogue?  What expectations ought a congregation have of those who say that they are part of it?

The By-laws of most congregations, including ours,  are conspicuously silent on this matter, except to indicate that every member must assume a fair proportion of the cost of the congregation and stay current in those financial obligations.  The virtually mandatory provisions applicable to the Jews in the ghetto of Rome five centuries ago clearly do not reflect our times, although our endowment funds would be overflowing if we fined everyone for habitual absence.  But, at the same time, is there more than a financial contribution that a modern synagogue ought to expect from its members?  We certainly cannot (and do not) expect anyone to attend worship services morning, noon and night, but is it unreasonable to think that everyone might come “once in a while,” perhaps once a month?   It might seem excessive, but another modest expectation is that each member would try to grow in Jewish knowledge on a regular basis.  There are so many Jewish books, on the best seller lists in every category, that it cannot be an oppressive thought that each of us would find time to read something of Jewish enrichment from time to time.  And then there is the matter of mitzvah.  I have a suspicion that almost every member of CBI does a social mitzvah on a daily basis.  We have a good record of helping others, of reaching out to those in need, to supporting the fallen and caring for the sick and depressed and desperate.  If you have done your mitzvah for today, you might remember that there are still 612 more in the Torah; there’s much more work to be done.  I think a Jewish congregation might reasonably hope that its members would try to add one additional mitzvah every so often to those that they already perform.

The Board of CBI tries to manage the congregation’s affairs with wisdom and transparency.  We try to be financially responsible and prudent.  But there is one thing we cannot do for you, and that is to appear at a congregational meeting and vote.  No one can do this except each individual member.  We have such a meeting on April 1 at 7:00 PM to consider an important change in our by-laws.  It is described elsewhere in this newsletter.  We’ve tried to make this brief meeting appealing and enjoyable by pairing it with the appearance of Rabbi Bob Alper and his stand-up comedy routine, but you’ve got to come.  This is an obligation that you have to the synagogue and, most especially, to the other members who are counting on you to make a legal quorum.  Do not think that others will fulfill your obligation for you; this one is strictly up to you.
    Sincerely yours,
    Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi