Who’s looking after the back office for Judaism?

by Maskil on 22 May 2008

In an earlier post on my blog Cafe Birkenreis, I looked at the topic of Jewish social and religious or community services, mainly in the South African context. I’ve become increasingly aware, however, that the same issues are being encountered elsewhere in the Jewish world. I therefore thought that a précis or point form summary might help to understand the issues and suggest possible solutions.

I’ve defined Jewish community/religious/social services as all services provided by and to the community as a whole rather than a specific congregation. The list could include kosher/eco-kashrut supervision, ritual baths, burial services and charities, along with all other services in some cases supplied by a chevra kadisha or equivalent society.

By tacit agreement, these services have traditionally been looked after by Orthodoxy on behalf of the entire community.

Generally speaking, the arrangements appear to have suited everyone.

Increasingly, however, we are seeing what I can only describe as the Haredisation of these services. By this I mean that the bar of observance is being raised past the “comfort level” of many who utilise the services, while at the same time some who are otherwise considered members of their communities (the secular, members of progressive communities, the inter-married, converted, those with only one Jewish parent, etc.) are being excluded from receiving these services (or are opting out because of the level of discomfort).

The time may be approaching when this sort of status quo will no longer meet the needs of the alternative or progressive streams of Judaism.

It would probably not, however, make financial or logistical sense for each stream of Judaism (e.g. Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Reform) to provide its own services, especially individual denominations do not have critical mass in a community.

The provision of Jewish community/religious/social services should therefore be shared across the whole spectrum of progressive Jewry, with these services being open to all within the family of Judaism.

All services must be provided in a non-denominational, egalitarian and pluralistic manner.

The services may best be run by an independent third party and made available to all the liberal streams of Judaism.

In the meantime, ABO (Anything But Orthodox) congregations should divert all contributions to existing providers of these services to a proxy fund, and pay these over to the existing service providers as a dedicated lump sum. As and when alternative providers come on stream, it would then be a simple matter to switch the dues to the alternative provider.

Pioneering service providers could assist in the process by establishing international best practices, frameworks/organizational makeup, documentation and centres of excellence.

Presumably many of the same people who are providing these services today would continue to do so, but with the pluralistic tone being set by management.

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