Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Who Runs Klal?

As part of my business writing courses I introduce the idea of using visuals as part of the writing process. One of the types of visuals we look at in class is the flow chart/organizational chart. Done correctly, such a chart shows clearly 1)the lines of authority--who reports to whom, who is higher/lower in the hierarchy of authority--and, 2)what are the steps of a sequence for completion of a project.

Just for fun I tried completing such a flow chart for Klal. My conclusion? It can't really be done. While the theory suggests that such a flow chart is pyramidal, going from the highest authority and spreading outward as the authority goes downward, it doesn't seem to want to work that way in this situation.

The first problem is that "Klal" is too amorphous. The terms used to define Klal are constantly changing, depending on whom you speak to and what "horse" they are backing in the race. Orthodox is not favored by some, so let's try the word "frum" instead. Well, right off the bat we are excluding some members of Klal Yisroel if we define Klal as frum. But let's accept that for the moment and try and do an authority chart for frum Klal.

Foiled again. In discussing this with a few people whose Jewish learning is far above mine, they pointed out that I would have to divide Klal again. They pointed out that Sefardim and Ashkenazim are usually going to have a different authority figure at the top of the pyramid, if and when there is only one authority figure at the top. I countered that we talk about a "gadol ha'doar." Is that gadol only a gadol for one group or for both? Does being a gadol transcend being Ashkenazic or Sefardic? They sighed. I got the picture.

So I tried to draw that chart for Ashkenazic frum Jewry. Still no luck. While there were a number of names that were thrown out by various people, what soon became clear was that no single name is agreed upon as "the" authority figure, no single name was even mentioned by all whom I asked. Granted, there were a few names that came up frequently and I asked if those names could be considered as the ones who are running Klal or ran Klal. Blank stares ensued. The basic answer was that these people did not run Klal, although a few people pointed out that they might be considered to be running their little corner of Klal.

So I decided to try this a different way. What if instead of particular people I tried instead to list the type of authority that should go on top and throughout the pyramid. No luck again. A few people mentioned that Rabbanim should be at the top. Okay, I thought, but asked which Rabbanim, since obviously merely having smicha would turn the pyramid on its head, with the broad base at the top, given the number of Rabbanim. Again, no one could agree on who gets to go on top.

So I tried subdividing frum Ashkenazic Klal even further. And I ran into dozens and dozens of groups. I tried Yeshivish as a subdivision but it was pointed out to me that there will be no unified concensus as to who to put at the top of the pyramid. There isn't one Rosh HaYeshiva from one particular yeshiva that all other yeshivas would consider as "the" head of the Yeshivish pyramid. I tried it for Chasidism and no luck there either. I tried it for what is loosely called Modern Orthodoxy and was told I'd have to define that a whole lot differently and I still wouldn't get to the top of the pyramid.

Okay, getting nowhere in starting at the top of the pyramid, I tried to reverse the order. I'd start at the bottom and work my way up. Who are the people lowest on the authority totem pole. Grrrrr. The basic definition from what people were describing is that all of us are on the bottom, except for the ones who are higher up. So I asked, do we on the bottom have no authority at all? Well, they conceded, we sort of have authority within our own little family units, except when we exceed that authority and should be going to someone higher for instructions."How do we define when we have exceeded our authority?" I asked. And the answer was that those above us in authority will tell us when we have gone beyond our authority.

To sum up my frustration, what I discovered was that it was impossible to draw an organizational chart for frum Klal as a whole. I discovered that we aren't a grand multi-national "firm" on the idea of an Exxon or a Siemens. There is no real "corporate" structure to Klal. We are like a whole bunch of mom and pop businesses, some tiny, some larger, all pretty much functioning according to all kinds of different authority structures. Even if it would be more efficient, these smaller structures aren't looking to merge together, because whoever is at the top of the little pyramids isn't going to give up that position to become just another cog in the wheel. I discovered that we have a whole bunch of people/organizations that we can go to for an answer to a question, but the answers won't always be the same, depending on who we go to, and lots of people are going to disagree with the answer, and maybe even the question.

Basically, no one speaks for Klal--no one can. Klal is a theoretical idea--one unified Jewish people. Now before someone yells "apikoris" let me add that obviously at the tippy top of the Pyramid is Hashem and the Torah. It's after that that things begin to get murky.

And then I asked my final question: What if c"v some real immediate danger threatened Klal? What if c"v a threat like the Nazi threat of WWII arose? How would we be able to respond to that threat when Klal is so many disjointed groups? How would we organize ourselves to respond to such a threat? Surely, despite political/philosophical/practical differences among all the various groups, there has to be in place a scenario for if things go wrong? I mean, every school and business building is required to have a fire evacuation plan in place, one that is practiced on a regular basis. Who is Klal's disaster management team? Do they meet regularly to discuss what would need to be done and how to get the news out? One of the people I was talking to verbally patted me on the head and said: "Don't worry. Should something c"v be a danger to Klal, we'd all be together to face it in a jiffy."

Yeah, I'd like to believe that, but I'd feel a whole lot better about that answer if I could fill in all the boxes on my flow chart and actually see some black and white proof that Klal has got an underlying structure, one that everyone would agree on.


Anonymous said...

It'll never happen. Besides having a single CEO/Grand Poobah/Gadol or whatever you would call this leader in the top box on the flow chart would not necessarily make the Klal any safer. Plenty of CEO's make bad decisions. Yes, a country needs a CEO, but a "Klal" dispersed in other countries doesn't have the power to do what a president or even the CEO of GM can do.

Diversity and dispersed power here is a good thing because in the U.S., responding to a disaster will require enlisting non-jews. The more jews (including reform and conservative) in different communities and with different contacts and skills may be a good thing. Sure, they might not be able to speak with a single voice which could be problematic (i.e. let's have a two state solution vs. don't give away an inch of the territory gained in '67), but that's not going to happen anyhow without a dictatorship.

Lion of Zion said...

"Just for fun I tried completing such a flow chart for Klal. My conclusion? It can't really be done."

of course it can't be done. we're not roman catholics.
you're trying to squeeze the jewish "community" into a paradigm that has not existed since very early antiquity (if it even existed then). try to draw up a flow chart for any century of the past two millenia. good luck.

"I countered that we talk about a "gadol ha'doar.""

again, we're not roman catholics. we don't have a pope. (even the pope's dicata are not necessarily the final word, as iirc his infallibility is limited to proclamations on church doctrine ex cathedra). this whole concept of a single gadol hador as popularly understood today is a modern construction.

"What if c"v a threat like the Nazi threat of WWII arose? How would we be able to respond to that threat when Klal is so many disjointed groups?"

iirc, jacob katz (one of the leading jewish historians of the previous generation) saw the disappearance of the traditional kehillah as a major reason that jews were unable to oppose the nascent nazi threat.

Anonymous said...

Leadership isn't always perfect. I don't know if it's true or not, but there certainly are lots of stories of leaders advising their flocks not to leave Europe for the safety of the U.S.

Anonymous said...

Lion: Do you really think that if there was leadership and cohesion, the jews of Germany could have stopped the nascent Nazi threat while it was still nascant? Sadly we will never know, but I would love to hear more about what that scenario would have entailed.

Anonymous said...

There are now groups (at least in the U.S.) that monitors for and fights nascent threats including the ADL and the ACLU and well as various interfaith groups and others, but because the are consider too liberal and don't have a lot of frummies, many in the "Klal" as defined in your post do not participate in or support these groups, and sometimes actively put them down.

Rae said...

Interesting point about the ADL Anonymous. You have to ask why Bnai Brith who sponsors the ADL seems to be the only Jewish group worried about and publicly advocating against anti-semitism. Can't think of one group from the frum side of the Klal ledger that does so.

Is it that those in the various frum communities are too splintered into small interest groups? Is there a worry about anti-semitism in the frum portion of Klal? If not, why?

Re whether an organized kehilla could have stopped the nascent nazi threat while it was still nascent, wasn't one of the problems during that time that the Jews of Germany believed themselves to be both full citizens of Germany as well as Jews? They believed that the country would do the right thing and protect them as equal citizens. By the time they woke up to what was really happening there wasn't anything they could have done to stop the juggernaut, not by themselves.

And if they would have gotten the news out to every other Jew in Europe would things have been any different? There were Jews in other countries who did get the news and weren't any more proactive than the German Jews were. Many of them believed that it was just going to remain a German problem and stay within Germany's borders. A whole lot of people had the attitude that "it won't happen to us."

Anonymous said...

Rae: This comment I just read is one reason why different jewish groups can't work together on issues concerning antisemitism and racism:

In other words, certain sectors don't want to work with groups who believe that homosexuals or certain other minorities have rights.

Sadly there are other comments on VIN from time to time that show that while combatting anti-semitism might be valued, for some, placing anti-semitism in the larger context of other types of racism and bigotry may be problematic.

Joey said...

What you seem to be looking for is a final authority. Maybe if there was a Bes Din you might approach that. I agree with Lion's statement that the Jewish paradigm doesn't mesh with a flow chart. Klal is just not organized that way.

But your point about how we would all come together if there were a threat is an interesting one. Our communication today is instantaneous but it's not learning about a threat that would make a difference but how we would ACT if faced with a threat.

Lon said...