Ministerial Relationships

<p style=”text-align: center;”><strong>RELATIONS BETWEEN MINISTERIAL COLLEAGUES </strong></p>
<p style=”text-align: center;”><strong>LECTURE DELIVERED BY </strong>
<strong>RABBI DR. S. GOLDMAN, M.A. </strong>
<strong>19th MAY, 1971</strong></p>

<div>I would like to congratulate whoever prepared the agenda on the wording of the subject. It has been very tactfully worded; ‘Relationships between Ministerial Colleagues within the Synagogue’. Not just relationships between Chazan and Minister, Rabbi and Minister, nothing so bold, nothing so forthright as that, but very carefully wrapped up between ‘Ministerial Colleagues within the Synagogue’.May I say, by way of introduction, that there must very naturally and inevitably be a degree of bias in what I say. I read a book while on holiday, which mentioned a certain legal maxim described as ‘the inarticulate major premise’. This referred to something in law on the other side of the Atlantic. I don’t know if it’s a maxim employed in the legal system in this country, but the maxim meant that no judge could ever be completely impartial; every judge was inevitably affected by his character, by his experience, by his upbringing, by his life. However hard he tried to be impartial, it was an impossibility. Equally, it is an impossibility for any other human being to be completely impartial. So, I will apologise in advance, for any natural bias there might be in what I have to say, and you will have to discount it to a certain degree.A few nights ago, in Israel, where I was fortunate to spend a few weeks, I sat at a cafe table with a Chazan from a provincial Congregation and his wife. And the Chazan recalled that I was to speak at this Convention: he had received an agenda. His wife said “What are you speaking on?”, and I said that it was on the relationship between the Chazan and Minister, and she said one word, “Bad “, and she went on to say “that’s all you need to say”.

Well, I see from that response to that very true anecdote that it is appreciated, that all too often the relationship is a bad one. There are examples of good relationships, but I think I would be right in saying that much more often it is an unhappy one. I will go further, and say that it is sometimes a poisonous one, and by ‘poisonous’, I mean that it poisons both the Chazan and the Minister and the Shul, because wherever there is this unhappy relationship between the two individuals, who have to set the tone to the Service and to the Congregation and the Congregational life, then, it must poison the life of the Community.

When thinking of this subject, my first thought was that possibly the principal cause for this unhappy relationship was the fact that in the United Synagogue, the Chazan and Rabbi are bracketed together as Ministers; you have ‘Minister-Preacher’ and ‘Minister-Reader’ – this giving a certain equality of function to the two officials was the primary cause of the frequent bad relationship. And then, I thought a little further, and I realised that this type of bad relationship exists in the provinces as well, where there is no ‘bracketing’, it exists in America where there is no bracketing of Chazan and Minister – that the Chazan is never called a Minister there, and the Minister is never called a Chazan ! They call them “Rabbi” and “Chazan”, and without this bracketing, there is so frequently that bad relationship between the two. So that, while this equating in the phraseology of the United Synagogue may aggravate the situation, in certain instances, that cannot be the primary cause of the fact that there is so frequently this bad relationship.

So, I had to think a little further. I would say that the very situation of there being two individuals within the Congregation leading the Congregational life, creates an innate difficulty that requires special human qualifications to surmount. It’s like having two captains of a cricket team – you know what would happen to a cricket team if it had two captains ! It is like having two captains to a ship, or joint chairmen, or two managing directors of a company. If one has more pride or more ability than the other, the other feels relegated, reduced to an inferior position, and begins to feel a certain degree of resentment. If the responsibility is divided between two, then you will either find that no responsibility is accepted by either, or you will find, that one individual asserts himself more than the other, and takes upon himself the responsibility.

The very situation of having two people in such a position in itself, is a situation with danger signals, and it has to be appreciated that it is one that can create ‘sparks’ – like having two positives in an electrical current, it can create sparks – and the sparks can create conflagration.

But it is aggravated as well, in the case of people occupying Ministerial Office, because we are, to a degree, public people in the limelight, who give ‘performances’. We may not like the word, but I am using it as a general description, we have to perform before a public, to try to win the acclaim, the approval, the approbation of the public, so, in that sense, we are like actors on a stage. And you know the rivalry and jealousy and the difficulties that can exist between people ‘sharing the bill’ in any public performance.

You have the Rabbi and the Chazan ‘sharing the bill’ in the performance in the Synagogue, and that as well, helps to create still further tension and rivalry and jealousy, and all the bad qualities that can exist between two individuals. You can have the Chazan say, “Look at the work I have to do in the Synagogue. I stand for three or four hours at Musaph, I stand again for another hour and a half at Neila. I’m there giving out all my Koach for five or six hours in the day, and the Minister – he stands up for twenty minutes in the morning, another quarter of an hour in the evening, and that’s his whole day”.

On a Shabbos morning, as the Chief Rabbi already pointed out, the Chazan is there for the major part of the Service, ‘the Minister’ he said, ‘would have half an hour, and if he doesn’t announce the Sedrah and give a notice on the Sedrah and Haphtorah, he is there for a quarter of an hour, and that’s his whole performance’. So the Chazan can’t help feeling that the burden falls on him.

The Minister, on the other hand, the Rabbi, will say to himself that “my quarter of an hour in the pulpit can demand ten times more preparation than the Chazan has to put in his Davening”, because once the Chazan has prepared a Composition and prepared a Davening, it becomes repetitious, it does not need the same preparation. Whereas the Minister may find himself searching for six days in the week to find the theme that he will use on the Shabbos morning. The Minister will point out that if he is giving a Talmud Shiur in the afternoon, then one hour’s Shiur can require ten hours preparation, If he is giving lectures and talks, and we all give so many lectures in different places, they just don’t come out of your head without work and constant effort. And there is all the reading and keeping ahead with one’s studies and keeping afresh with one’s knowledge – keeping ‘up to date’ – so that one’s speaking will not be something outmoded and dead for the Congregation, all that is ‘work’ as well.

So there you have this vying with each other, comparing with each other, in the amount that one puts into the life of the Congregation, and that likewise, helps to create a degree of ‘looking over the shoulder’ at each other.

And then, of course, you’ve got that very big bone of contention: salary differentials. Where the Chazan will say “I also have to keep a family, have to make a living, am a Minister in the Synagogue, why should it be that one is paid more than the other?”. The Minister will answer this by stating: “But I had to go through so many years of preparation for my profession. In all professions, if you have certain qualifications, if you have reached certain degrees, you are paid higher”.

And he will most probably point out, as well, “surely the responsibilities of the Ministerial Office are in many ways greater than those of the Chazan’s Office, and therefore great responsibilities demand greater reward”.

Again, you’ve got here a subject that does create a degree of bad feeling, of ‘looking with narrowed eyes’ at each other. So there are all
these different reasons why there can be a ‘bad relationship’.

What can one do to try to improve matters? The suggestion I was going to make has already been made by the Chief Rabbi, and I am glad to think that our two minds think alike on the subject. The Chief Rabbi already spoke of a ‘recognition of separate and distinct functions within the Synagogue’ – each of importance – let’s even say ‘each of equal importance, but nevertheless distinct – and not overlapping in any way, complementary to each other, and not rivalling each other.

It could be that the Chazan is a bigger Talmid Chochom than the Rav, and I am sure that in places it happens It could be that the Chazan is a better speaker than the Minister, and, again, I’m sure that in places it does occur. Nevertheless, it is the Minister who has been appointed to speak, who has been appointed to give Shiurim, to give Horo’oh rulings for the Congregation. And, therefore, if one wants to maintain a happy relationship, the Chazan should avoid doing those things which the Minister feels to be his prerogative. And I mean by this, that the Chazan should not give Hespeidim, give addresses at tombstone consecrations, or sermons on any occasion. This is overstepping the mark, this is ‘Masig G’vul’, and is bound to create bad feeling and bad blood.

If one is taking a joint-Service, it should be recognised well in advance, what the Chazan will do, and which part the Minister will do. I insisted, when I came to my Shul, that at the Service of tombstone consecration only, I will recite anything in English. I’m told that before it was not the practice, the Chazan, as well, would recite passages in English. Let the people feel that there are distinctions, there are differences – that there is one province for the Rav, the Minister and the Chazan.

Equally, it can happen in a Shul that the Minister is a better Baal Tephilla than the Chazan: I’m told of one Rabbi who has just been appointed, that he has a wonderful voice, and is a ‘wonderful Davener’. And yet, if he is wise, that Rabbi will not show-off in his Davening, will not try to compete with the Chazan. If he takes any part in the Davening of the Service, he will do it in a way that will show that he is not particularly good, because, he should not in any way, infringe on the prerogative of of the Chazan, and the part which the Chazan has to play within the Service.

I think that if one can establish these limits, these dividing lines, and run on parellel lines, and not on converging or clashing courses, that one will be able to create something in the nature of a better relationship between the Chazan and the Minister.

And yet, at the same time, while I have spoken of the Chazan and the Minister being complementary in the Synagogue, one has to recognise that within a Synagogue there must be someone who has ultimate responsibility – somebody who’s ‘going to take the rap’, who will be listened to. And I feel, and hope that it will be agreed that the person with the ‘ultimate responsibility’ has to be the Rav. I feel that the Chazan has to recognise this, not just when there is a delicate, difficult or troublesome situation which has arisen, not when he just wants to ‘pass the buck’, or wants the Minister to ‘hold the can’, and take the blame for something, but to recognise that this ‘ultimate responsibility’ rests with the Rabbi all the time, and leave the final responsibility with the Rabbi. It comes again to the same thing: ‘You cannot have two captains in the ship’. One has to be recognised as ‘Captain’, the other is a colleague who plays just as important a part in the Synagogue life as the ‘Captain’, but, nevertheless, this has to be recognised as the Rabbi’s

<div style=”text-align: center;”>(Taken from Cantors’ Review April/May 1974)</div>