[I first published the following post more than five years ago; I still believe it.]
I disagree with pretty much every other shul rabbi I have ever met. I don't think that competition is a dirty word.
don’t believe that properly-run Chabad centers, Kollelim or Batei
Medrash will ever take a dime away from other properly-run Torah
institutions. (I say "properly-run" as opposed to those which thrive on lashon hara, dishonesty or other unacceptable approaches.)
have been a rabbi in a community with far more synagogues than we
needed, and I have been a rabbi in a community in which Chabad entered a
vacuum of institutions. I know what serious budget deficits are. To me, those deficits, and the consequent damage to a Jewish
community, are not a result of competition.
I say this for three reasons:
1. The Free Market is good for a community
In the absence of competition, synagogues and schools and communities and, yes, rabbis, become comfortable. We become lazy. The same pattern of events year after year, the same classes, and innovation dies a silent death.
new institutions, and suddenly there is incentive - whether pride or
finance or otherwise - for thinking up new ways to serve the community.
2. Ask more, and you’ll get more
Many boards are afraid to ask people for money. They think
that repeated requests will seem like “nickel and diming” people. They
think that people will give less, not more, if solicited more
But many people would give more, if they were on the right giving schedule.
people are used to an annual fundraiser and a Kol Nidrei appeal, then
that’s when they will give. If I am asked only twice per year, and each
time the “norm” is $250-$500, then I’ll give the norm and get away with
$500-$1000 per year, an absurdly small amount of tzedakah.
But if I am asked for
meaningful tzedakah on a monthly basis, each time for a well-explained,
well-founded cause, then I will become used to giving on that monthly
basis. And I’ll end up giving much more.
So if a Chabad comes to
town and hits people up for Gan Israel, a Sefer Torah, a new building, a
pre-school, whatever, that will accustom people to reaching into their
pockets more often. And that’s something I can use to my institution’s
advantage, too, by getting into that schedule of giving.
3. The true “good of the community”Finally, I don’t think that the good of my institution is necessarily the same as the good of the community.
say we have an existing school, and it serves the community moderately
well. Then a new school opens and it siphons off students, endangering
the existing school.
My gut instinct is to be critical, but - might
the new school be better for the community? Perhaps children might
receive a better education there?
Let’s say my shul is the only
bastion of Orthodoxy in my town. And let’s say a kollel opens up and
draws my serious congregants into their sphere, and ultimately into
their minyan. And let’s say that weakens my shul, to the point that my
shul becomes a shadow of its former self. Who am I to say that this
isn’t better for those who join that kollel?
Of course, you could easily argue the reverse.
could easily argue that we need to stick together, and not build
institutions to meet everyone's personal preference. I have certainly
argued this point of view, in many different contexts.
easily argue that the associated strife in a case of school or synagogue
competition will outweigh any spiritual gain. We may have
better-educated children, but what will they be learning about Jewish
You could easily argue that drawing more observant
families away from a school or synagogue will weaken the chance of
exposure to observant Judaism for the remaining families. What happens
to a minyan when all the people who like to discuss divrei torah leave
for a different shul?
I won’t argue against any of those
important points. But still, I wonder - how much of our fear of
competition is fear for ourselves - our comfortable rabbinate, our
supply of tzedakah, our own institution's good - instead of fear for the
good of our communities?