Rabbi as Values-Based Jewish Executive

Someone very wise once said that Jews and Christians need not argue about which religion is correct.  We should simply enjoy eachother’s differences and, when the Messiah arrives, politely ask him, “Shall we say, ‘Welcome’ or ‘Welcome back.’”

End of the discussion.

Here’s another argument that can be put to rest: is the senior rabbi of a congregation the CEO, or chief executive officer?  Or is it the president, or the Executive Director?

A few years ago I was privileged to hear Harry Kraemer of the Kellogg School of Management here in Chicago, speak about the business executive as a values-based leader.  He was speaking to about 100 congregational rabbis.  He shared his own personal example of how he makes time to think about his own personal values, and then he brings those values to the corporation that he serves.  When Harry Kraemer was the chief executive of Baxter Corporation (50,000) employees, he led by making sure the values important to him were reflected in the culture of the organization itself.

After hearing his speech, I raised my hand and announced that his words had effectively ended the debate about whether or not the rabbi was the CEO.  Because the title doesn’t matter.  What matters is the process.  And the process is this:

The rabbi, the executive director, the president, the entire staff and lay leadership should create space to study and reflect upon the shared values they hold dear and then make sure that the congregation reflects those values.

I once wrote an article for my fellow rabbis about how the rabbi is a values-based corporate executive.  Some liked what I had to say and some thought that the word corporate did not apply to spiritual endeavors.   I disagree.

A synagogue is in the spiritual realm but also in the business of providing wonderful spiritual experiences.  And the business of experience providing (what we call the experience economy) is found in many corporate cultures, both for-profit and not-for-profit.  Luxury hotels, coffee bars, Federation Israel missions, Whole Foods stores – these are all about experiences.

So is the synagogue.  The leadership of a synagogue is not about the worst of corporate culture but it is about the best of corporate culture: meaning, accountability, work ethic, and the realization that the front-line is the bottom line.  Our first impression matters.

Temple Sholom of Chicago is an outstanding place that can even become better – better in values and better in experience.


I am honored to be part of this team.



Rabbi Edwin Goldberg serves as the senior rabbi of Temple Sholom of Chicago, is the coordinating editor of the forthcoming CCAR Machzor, and is the author of five books including, Saying No and Letting Go: Jewish Wisdom on Making Room for What Matters Most and Love Tales from the Talmud.