Halachot for Ritual Committees
As prepared for the URJ Biennial, Houston, 2005
1. The Ritual Committee (sometimes called the Worship Committee) has two main jobs:
• Interpret the congregation to the clergy
• Interpret the clergy to the congregation
2. Where should the boundaries of authority be drawn?
• What happens on the bima stays on the bima (liturgy, sermon topics, criteria for bima honors, etc are clergy domain)
• What happens in the sanctuary stays in the sanctuary (service times, ushering, dress codes, etc. are weighted to committee expertise)
• Partnership, compromise and consensus avert the severe decree (keep it about vision, not about turf, and you won’t have to worry about the issues that fall between the cracks)
3. Why the clergy need a Ritual Committee
• As a sounding board to test ideas
• Make sure the vision is a shared vision
• Provide cover
• Provide feedback
• Advocacy to the board and congregation
4. Why the congregation needs a Ritual Committee
• Provide ideas
• Filter clergy ideas
• Report on response to innovation
• Shlichim (messengers) to the clergy
5. Pirkei Hinneni
• Committees come and go; clergy is forever
• The rabbi may not always be right, but s/he’s always the rabbi
• If the senior rabbi doesn’t staff the ritual committee, its work will be in vain
• Smart rabbis listen. But they don’t always say Yes.
• Never vote; forge consensus
• Conflicts arise in congregations over 2 issues: balancing the budget and instituting change. Clergy may be involved in the former but are central to the latter
• When two people always agree, one is superfluous.
• Clergy and ritual committee must work as partners, not as adversaries
• The “turf” of the Ritual Committee often overlaps with that of other committees: Life Cycle, Religious School, etc. Work with them for a broader consensus.
• The role of the committee is NOT to be the referee between the rabbi and cantor
• Vox populi vox dei –the voice of the people is the voice of God. Clergy must be sensitive to where the congregation is willing to be taken.
• The most important question: Is it Jewish? The clergy are most likely to know the answer
Mikol melamdei hiskalti. I have learned from all I have studied with. My thanks to Rabbis Peter Knobel, Steven Stark Lowenstein, and Aaron M. Petuchowski for their assistance. My ideas have been especially forged through the lasting influence of Ben Grossman z”l (Drexel Home); David Weinstein z”l (Spertus College), Arnold Glass, Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, Rabbi Donald B. Rossoff and most notably Rabbi Frederick C. Schwartz, Temple Sholom