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Summer 2013: Questions

For the foreword to this issue, click here.

ASK MOST KNOWLEDGEABLE JEWS about successful models of structured Jewish self-government, and they will point to the Vaad Arba Aratzos of 16th to 18th century Poland. At its best, the Vaad’s operations included many lay people working in concert with the most respected Torah figures of the generation. In some areas, the labor was divided: lay people took more responsibility in some, and rabbonim in others. Decisions were often signed by both. For the most part, the Vaad got things done.

So much has changed since the heyday of the Vaad. No one would argue that the Vaad model is practical for the American Orthodox community today. We do not have anything resembling a unified approach to issues affecting the community as a whole, nor are people of one mind as to whether we would want one, even if it could be constructed. We have important community institutions that were assembled over decades through the mesiras nefesh of many people to whom we are beholden. Each addresses a different slice of the pie of communal issues.

Yet, we are aware that much has changed even since the founding of those institutions. There are new challenges, owing to a much-expanded community, and very new social and economic challenges. How well are we prepared for the future? We asked a group of people with years of experience tending to local and national leadership groups to help the rest of us think through the best ways to address the present and plan for the future. We asked them to consider these questions:

1. Which issues should be dealt with by local institutions and which by national ones? How can national institutions achieve the mandate they need to work effectively? How can/should local institutions react when national policies seem at odds with their more localized needs?

2. In the times of the Vaad, each kahal was defined by the existence of a local authority that dealt with issues of halacha, as well as vital community needs such as tzedaka. Very few of those kehilos exist today. What defines a community unit in today’s calculus?

3. Are there effective ways for lay people today to interact with rabbinic leadership? What should be the role of lay people?

4. What are the strengths and weaknesses of existing community organizations? Should we strengthen those already in place, or phase in new ones as needed? Are there others that should be phased out, or re-imagined?

5. What advice would you offer the younger generation about how to become effective leaders within the current environment? What are some of the obstacles they can expect to face and how might they overcome them?

To view the Responses, click here.