Friday, August 31, 2012

Sokol on the Rabbi Cartel

Posted by D. Daniel Sokol

I found the NY Times story profiling Duke antitrust law professor Barak Richman and the Conservative Movement's response interesting. I'll leave comments about the superficial Conservative Movement antitrust analysis to Roger Noll (Stanford) and Peter Carstensen (Wisconsin).  The point I want to raise is that Barak's concern is significant.

Let's be clear what the problem really is. Many smaller Conservative affiliated synagogue communities have trouble attracting Conservative Rabbis. For those of you who live in large metropolitan areas full of choices of conservative synagogues and Jewish institutions and who have never lived in a smaller Jewish community, let me explain the dynamics of a smaller Jewish community as someone who lives in a small (but thriving) one:

  1. not many Jews
  2. lack of significant Jewish social institutions (no JCC, no Federation, etc)
  3. difficult access to kosher food
  4. no Jewish Day schools
  5. often lower pay and perks for Rabbis 

It takes a special kind of Rabbi to want to work in such communities. The Conservative Movement creates various barriers to entry to have Rabbis serve these communities.

One basic issue with any organization that creates a scheme to limit access (think Goldfarb or the NC Dental board litigation that the FTC has been pursuing recently regarding barriers to entry about teeth whitening -- and no, I am not an anti-dentite) is that they mask anti-competitive action through the need for some sort of professional certification. The religious overlay also creates issues regarding antitrust and Rabbis. In some cases the restraints are warranted but in others, less restrictive restraints are possible or the restraints may even be pretextual and the purpose of the restraint hurts consumers. I believe the Rabbi cartel is hurting Conservative Judaism.

It is not as if the Conservative movement has remained static over the years. What is mainstream in conservative Judaism (as well as other branches of Judaism) has gone through significant transformation in the past 40 years. If someone was trained at Hebrew Union, the Reform seminary, or the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (located not too far from the childhood home of Barak), this should not preclude consideration from possible employment in a Conservative synagogue, especially since the Rabbi in question may be closer in theological beliefs at this point in their career to the Conservative movement that the branch in which they were ordained.

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