I would like to cast my vote for the traditional shul. It is a gallant institution which has survived upheavals in culture and politics and continues to reinvent itself and requires no apologies.
Here’s why I like shuls:
It is a place where you learn to get along with people you don’t like. This is true of shulgoers and even more of active volunteers. A rancorous board meeting that begins or ends in prayer or study teaches us that even people who are so wrong that their stupidity borders on the criminal are also created in God’s image.
It is a place where we regularly discuss matters that are obvious. The problem with obvious things is that they are rarely discussed critically. The universality of ethics, the value of piety, the requirement of forbearance, for examples, are regularly explored in sermons, projects, classes, and planning. Where else can we gather as communities and talk about Chesed?
The effects are cumulative, not sudden. Going to shul once or twice does about as much as going to the gym once or twice. There’s a learning curve: like most things, the more you do it the better you get and the more you get out of it.
One size doesn’t fit all. You don’t like your shul? Find another one. People who like large megashuls will not like small ones, and vice versa. With a large enough Jewish population, matching synagogues to members will approach equilibrium and communities will regroup themselves to minimize unhappiness.
They are not just about their own cohort. Synagogues have histories. They have plaques on the wall that speak from beyond the grave, and they have obligations to future generations. They have traditions, peculiarities, and idiosyncrasies that are stable but not immutable. The needs of the current members are important but not dispositive.email print