The Synagogue as Alternative Status System
National Opinion Research Council repeatedly asks a random sample of Americans
to judge the prestige of American occupations. This is based on the evidence
that occupation is the most important factor in assigning social prestige in the
many years, physician has been the occupation to which Americans attribute more
social honor than any other profession. The second occupation in this array is
professor, tied with lawyer. In declining order are occupations which require a
college education, and ending with shoe shiner on the bottom.
prestige is evidently assigned because of all the years of study needed to enter
the profession, as well as the freedom from supervision associated with
different kinds of work. Hence, doctors, professors, and lawyers who seem to
work independently and have much schooling behind them are given high prestige
it is evident that the vast majority of Americans are neither professors nor
lawyers nor doctors. It is for this reason that there are numerous voluntary
organizations which may be viewed as alternative status systems, in that they
provide opportunity to hold an office within the organization, such as
president, chairman, trustee, and others. This makes such voluntary
organizations substitutes for relative occupational deprivation. This means that
some people are anxious to become officers in voluntary organizations so as to
compensate for relative deprivation concerning their occupations.
a result, many voluntary organizations become a self-perpetuating oligarchy. The
word oligarchy is Greek and means “rule of the few.” Therefore, many of our
synagogues are used by a few members who seize control of the congregation so
that they can be officers, committee chairmen, and members of the board. Such
offices allow the few self-appointed elitists opportunity to look down upon all
the other members, who are not included except to furnish money.
our synagogues, over 90% of the congregations do not attend weekly services but
appear only three days a year on the high holy days and are therefore not
interested in the daily activities of the congregation.
are, however, some members of our Jewish congregations who attend weekly
synagogue services because they seek to perpetuate the religion and because they
feel impelled to be present at religious services at least once a week. These
weekly attendees therefore become the outgroup within the congregation. The
elitists view the weekly attendees with contempt. The elites don’t speak to
such rabble nor do they include those who come because they truly believe in the
announced purposes of the congregation and are not there to hold an office.
feature of this arrangement is that those who seldom attend even one religious
service in the year are nevertheless members of the board, so that they can make
all the decisions that pleases them without reference to either the
non-attendant 90% or the weekly attendees who seek a religious experience.
consequences of this tripartite arrangement are that only one half of all Jews
are members of any synagogue in this country, and that the vast majority of
those who are members do not attend. Another consequence of this common
arrangement is that Judaism is discarded in favor of gaining advantages over
other members and priding oneself on being important “in shul.” It is of
course understandable that prestige hunting defeats the purpose of maintaining a
my own congregation, to which I have belonged for 60 years, these arrangements
have led to the expulsion of numerous members during the past eight years.
Included among those expelled is a former rabbi who, for reasons never revealed,
was suddenly relieved of his position some nine years ago. Thereafter several
rabbis came and went until one rabbi remained for eight years, only to leave for
Israel a few days ago without intention of returning.
to all of this are the Torah true or Chasidic Jews, whose congregations have no
officers and who devote their time to the practice of Judaism, disregarding
occupational prestige, wealth, or political acumen. Followers of Rabbi Menachem
Schneerson may well be the few who will keep Judaism alive in America, even as
the majority abandon all that Judaism teaches in favor of marrying non-Jews,
relinquishing all Jewish teachings, and raising the children to abandon the
heritage of their ancestors.