He’s a Diplomat, Organizational Genius and Jack of All Trades

05 Jan 2006

The synagogue gabbai – the congregant or lay officer who plays a major coordinating role in the running of services – in addition to being thoroughly knowledgeable about the intricacies of shul practice, particularly the Torah service, must also be a diplomat, organizational genius and jack of all trades, with a faultless memory and endless patience and tact.

To assist the gabbai (plural gabbaim) in improving these skills, the Orthodox Union’s Department of Community and Synagogue Services will present a “One Day Conference and Seminar for Gabbaim,” which in addition to being conducted for a live audience at the OU’s New York headquarters for area gabbaim, will be partially webcast on www.ou.org for gabbaim who live too far from New York to attend.

The conference, which is being organized by Rabbi Robert Shur, Program Coordinator in the Department of Community and Synagogue Services, will be held on Sunday, February 5 from 10:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Registration is $15 (including lunch) but is free for gabbaim of OU-member synagogues.

“The gabbai not only has to know the halachic rules concerning who should lead the davening (prayer service) and whom to call up to the Torah for an aliyah and in what order (without hurting feelings or angering those who don’t get an aliyah), but he must also welcome people and involve them in the shul, as well as help maintain proper decorum and assist in handling congregational disputes,” explained Rabbi Moshe Krupka, OU National Executive Director.

“Another major responsibility, often given to the gabbai’s second in command, is to stand alongside the Torah reader (the Ba’al Kri’ah) and know when and when not to correct a mistake. He should also be able to recognize when a Torah scroll is pasul – that is, not fit for use.”

Rabbi Krupka added that the gabbai is not the congregation’s rabbi; rather his role is to assist the rabbi by facilitating or implementing halachic and religious standards as set forth by the rabbi.

“For this conference, we have assembled a team of experts who will share their knowledge with gabbaim who will be present at OU headquarters and, through the OU website, with gabbaim (and rabbis, for that matter) around the world,” said Emanuel Adler, Chair of the OU Community and Synagogue Services Commission. “We believe that the conference will provide a real service to our member synagogues, as well as to many other congregations and their gabbaim.”

The program is as follows:

Keynote: Who Gets an Aliyah? Who Gets the Amud (leading the service)? Understanding the Halachot of Chiyuvim (the laws of priority), with Rabbi Hershel Schachter, Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS), Yeshiva University; Halachic Consultant, Orthodox Union.

Workshop Topics

Handling Decorum in Shul, with Gary Buchwald, Congregation Darchei Noam, Oceanside, NY;

Dealing with Disputes and Hurt Feelings, with Rabbi Yonah Reiss, Administrator, Beth Din of America;

How to Get People More Involved and Make the Shul a Warmer Place, with Alan Sohn, Congregation Keter Torah, Teaneck, NJ;

Technological Resources for the Gabbai, with Moshe Rayman, Congregation Rinat Yisrael, Teaneck, NJ;

Recognizing a Pasul Sefer Torah, with Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Pincus [Sofer (scribe), Tiferes Stam];

When to Correct the Ba’al Kri’ah, with Rabbi Jeremy Weider (Rosh Yeshiva, RIETS).

In addition, there will be a panel discussion, The Role of the Gabbai in the Shul and in the Community, with an introduction by Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, OU Executive Vice President. Panelists include: David Englander, Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, Queens, NY; Jay Lunzer, Congregation Kehillath Jeshurun, New York City; and Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum, Young Israel of Lawrence-Cedarhurst, NY.

To register, or for more information, call Rabbi Shur at 212-613-8329, or email roberts@ou.org, or visit www.ou.org.