Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Rabbi vs. Elders: Question 17

Question: 17

What are the pros/cons about having, as the primary decision-making entity, a single leader (i.e. Rabbi) over an entire congregation vs. having a group of representative elders?  What Scriptural sources can you cite as evidence for your position?


  1. I'll add a few:

    Pros for having a single leader

    * Decision making is fast and easy. No group to convince -- just yourself!
    * There's a single source of truth, if you will. (Want the congregation's stance of X? Talk to the rabbi. Is food X kosher? Consult your rabbi.)
    * A single vision for the congregation, rather than a mashup of sometimes-conflicting goals and visions.

    Cons for having a single leader:

    * Open to abuse. A single pastor or rabbi could go from benevolent dictator to abusive, controlling, resource-hoarding.

    * Easier to sway. That new theology? Political-religious movement picking up steam? The winds of doctrine can sway a man easily, but it's more difficult to sway an entire group of men.

    In many ways, the single leader vs group leadership question is similar to those in politics. And that arena has proven that group leadership tends to function better largely due to the diluted concentration of power making it more difficult for extreme ideas to take hold.

    I'd argue there's zero Scriptural support for a single, King-like religious leader for God's people.

    1. That's a good and fair breakdown. And it seems to match up with Acts 14:23 and Titus 1:5. People could try to argue with your conclusion and cite to Moses or David but (1) Moses' office was phased out and (2) David was counterbalanced by Prophets and Priests. The Jewish norm (until recently) was a body of elders.

    2. And of course, Jews, traditionally, were ruled by beit din and still are.

      Still, there's usually a single most authoritative figure, no matter what the community or movement. In the first Jewish believing (Jerusalem) community, this figure appears to have been James, the brother of Jesus.