Changing Leadership Patterns in the Modern World
In the peri-modern era, the function of the Shtadlan became typified by philanthropists – a few major figures, such as the family of well-known bankers, the Rothschilds, and Sir Moses Montefiore.
In 1917, Lord Balfour wrote the document that became known as the Balfour Declaration to Lord Rothschild. Two Rothschilds were also respectively presidents in prestigious Jewish communal organizations in France: the Consistoire (the state-recognized rabbinical synagogue council) and the representative council of French Jewry, as well as the Fonds Social (central Jewish educational and welfare agency) plus the French United Jewish Appeal.
Other changes in the pattern of Jewish leadership have taken place in more recent times. Avraham Avi-Hai has identified two major trends in the United States:
The increasing political role being taken by rabbis at the community, national and international levels (since the mid-nineteenth century);
He also notes with interest that some of the new intercessors are political leaders with an organizational base; as examples, he brings industrialist philanthropists Louis Marshall and Jacob Blaustein, who both served as President of the American Jewish Committee. (They were also active in national US politics.)
Another major transformation in the United States, together with other countries in the western world, has been the development of a backbone of voluntary lay leaders who work effectively in the various Jewish social, educational, welfare and cultural frameworks, often within community federations or similar frameworks. Whereas to be a leader once meant being a member of the chosen few, it is now also possible for lay leaders in the Keter Malchut to rise up through the ranks, to be recruited gradually, or to graduate as a professional from a university programme. Until quite recently, however, most of these programmes have been located in academic institutions outside the mainstream of Jewish life.
Nonetheless, in the current pursuit of leadership, wealth is still a great advantage. Not only is money associated or equated with stature and prestige: wealthy people often have the resources and choose to dedicate their time to worthy causes; they also have the influence necessary to recruit or solicit funds.
Looking back over the years, it is clear that the pendulum has swung away from the traditional pattern:
Generally speaking, plutocracy and professionalism (separately and together) have superseded the aristocracy, leading some to say that, nowadays, there are numerous leaders who “plead for causes but do not incarnate them.”
Civil achievement, social status and wealth are often more heralded than Jewish knowledge, love of Judaism, or concern for the creative continuity and growth of the Jewish heritage.
For discussion on the future of Jewish leadership and its implications for the future of the Jewish community:
1. It has been said that Jewish community life has been overly preoccupied with fund-raising:
How do you view the accepted practice for presidents of fund-raising agencies to hold the key positions of leadership in the Jewish community, and at what expense does it come?
2. It is said that in comparison to the efforts dedicated to fund-raising, the defense of Jewish and civil rights, and to the State of Israel, relatively little has been spent on Jewish education.
Jewish Day Schools have come to the fore since the last decades of the twentieth century but, at least in the United States, a formal Jewish education (where available) remains an expensive personal commitment.
Moreover, Jewish education is characterised by diversity, dispersion, and an under-funded curricular and professional infrastructure.
Finally, while there are large Rabbinical schools in all the modern movements of Judaism, professional and lay Jewish training programmes unfortunately reach only the few.
- What does this imply for the Jewish leadership's ability to create, lead and sustain the vibrancy of Jewish communities into the future?
- Are there other factors to consider here?
Please see Internet References on Jewish Leadership.