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October 13, 2015 | 30th Tishrei 5776
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Ritual/ Worship/ Religious Practices Committee
(Make-up of the committee, meetings, mission statements, resources)

  1. Our Ritual Committee is always a very balanced mix of congregants. People may ask the President to be appointed (technically that is who appoints members to all committees), but before an appointment is made, a careful look at the balance of the current committee membership is done.
    750 Households

  2. Our Ritual Committee meets once a month in the Temple library. We begin with a study session, these days one from the UAHC. Usually it is presented by the Rabbi, but it has been presented by the Executive Director or the Cantor as well. Our committee works closely with our Rabbis, our Cantor and our Executive Director. Changes in ritual policy are discussed in the Committee and a decision made, usually by consensus.

    Things that we have done that we are most proud of: a Ritual Compendium which collected all of our Committee decisions in an organized fashion, a ritual called Countdown to Torah to be used during the period of counting the omer. (We begin all Friday night services with this which includes congregants carrying plants to the bimah after recitation of the b'rachah for counting the omer, and we created a booklet to explain and describe the artwork in our sanctuary and our chapel, which we call, the Bet Am.

    This year, additionally, we have a subcommittee that is discussing how to get a better attendance at our festival services. Other things that we have tried are: study groups, kallot, participation services, sending letters to those observing yarzheit, discussions, and lunches. We have been inviting our post-b'nei mitzvah students to come and read or chant Torah on the anniversary of their portion. This sometimes brings some additional folks to the service.


  3. The Ritual Committee, at our synagogue, was chosen very carefully. I, as Chair of the Committee, sat with the President of the congregation, and chose a committee where each member represented a different "faction" of the congregation. Age, worship styles, worship preferences, etc. ? all were represented.

    I try and make most of the meeting well structured. The Rabbi and I meet before each committee meeting to discuss the agenda and, together, we try to plan the way discussions should go. We are always sure to leave time for miscellaneous topics that arise during discussions. Ritual Committee discussions will be wonderful if 1) you first have a good mission statement and 2) the members understand that they are working as a team with the clergy, and 3) they understand that the decisions they make will be implemented by the staff and not ignored.


  4. As a new chair, I have instituted a practice which I've successfully used in other committees before. Our 90 - 120 minute meeting is divided into two parts: strategic discussion and operational issues. For strategic discussions, we talk about "big picture" stuff -- we'll review the music after the High Holidays, for example, or talk about changing service times.

    As a very small temple (less than 100 families) our operational issues, the second part of the discussion, are many -- especially this time of year as we plan for High Holy Days: getting chairs for our various events, making sure the silver is cleaned -- such is the joy of a small congregation!


  5. Our Mission Statement: The Ritual Committee shall be chaired by a voting member of the Congregation and shall report to the V.P. Ritual. In co-operation with the rabbi, the Ritual Committee shall be responsible for all aspects of the Congregation's communal religious services and life cycle religious services. The Committee shall serve in an advisory capacity to the rabbi and to the Board of Directors to formulate ritual policy and to promote compliance with this policy. In the absence of the rabbi, the Ritual Committee shall have responsibility for all aspects of the Congregation's communal religious services and life-cycle religious services.

    Essentially, this committee is responsible for organizing Oneg Shabbat, Shabbat greeters, and service leaders when I'm away in addition to helping me administer the conversion and b'nei mitzvah programs (they support me in my administration of these programs) and plan special holiday festival services. They are also the ones who do the lions share of lining up readers, ushers, honorees etc., for High Holy Days.


  6. Our ritual committee is called Religious Practices and consists of the Rabbis, a chair from the board of trustees, and an assortment of interested congregants. This may include choir members and regular (or semi regular) service attendees.

    Our mission is to provide a sounding board for the congregation and the rabbis, to explore issues surrounding the religious life of our congregation. We make suggestions for change or no change in concurrence with the rabbis and, where appropriate, we present such recommendations to the board for ratification.

    We are scheduled to meet monthly. Regular committee responsibilities include developing the list for aliyot on the High Holidays and organizing the Yom Kippur Study afternoon study session. We also contact the individuals selected and have captains at the services to help smooth the way.

    Other issues we have addressed are: kashrut in the Reform tradition, noisy children in services, the presence of recording equipment (cameras, video, etc) during services, preparation of materials for congregational use, a weekly tri-fold to avoid the ever growing list of announcements, a brochure on death and mourning practices distributed to the entire congregation, and, currently in process, "Everything You Want to Know about the High Holidays at (our synagogue), but Didn't Know Who to Ask."

    1300 Family Units

  7. Here is the Mission Statement of our Shabbat Committee. A little history first. We were two years ahead of the curve thanks to our Rabbi. We broke the Ritual committee into the Shabbat and High Holy Day committees two years before Rabbi Yoffie presented it at Biennial. Breakdown is simple. Shabbat Committee handles almost everything except High Holy Days and High Holy Day Committee handles as its name says the High Holy Days.

    The Mission Statement of the Shabbat Committee was put together in April '99 to focus on what we wanted our service to accomplish:

    1. Participation
    2. Familiar music and familiar melodies
    3. Inclusive environment
    4. Holiness
    5. Meditation into Shabbat (I believe Rabbi called this step meditation, talking us through the days of the week to The Sabbath)
    6. Use elements of teaching service in text
    7. Possibly change order slightly and have the Kaddish, Adoration and then concluding song to end on a "Higher" emotional level.
    8. We want to evoke a feeling of Shabbat within each person.
    9. Transliteration of major Hebrew prayers
    10. Notes on how and why of bending and bowing
    11. Silent meditation and sufficient time for each person to go through it.
    As of our last meeting the committee consist of about 14 people including the Rabbi. We can usually get 10 to a meeting. We discuss any subjects that come up that the Rabbi wants to bounce off a high context group. At our last meeting (and we hold them monthly) we discussed the addition of a Kabbalat Shabbat Service at 6 PM in addition to our regular Service at 8 PM. We would try it this year and if we felt successful would continue on a monthly or twice a month basis next year. We then discussed where we are on writing our own prayer book with the working title "Gates of Me". This is an ongoing project that we have been working on for two years and we are up to the Sh?ma and it Blessings. We have gotten some beautiful prayers out of it. Its a long slow process, but very worthwhile.

    One of the qualifications for the Shabbat committee is frequent attendance at Friday night Services.

    726 Families

  8. Our Ritual Committee, when it was re-organized a couple of years ago, spent the first few meetings developing a "mission statement...It reads: The Ritual Committee, under the spiritual leadership of the Senior Rabbi and in conjunction with other members of the clergy, will encourage worship (experience and environment), musical and liturgical expression and ritual practices that are ever responsive to and consistent with the dynamic needs of our diverse congregation.

    We attempted to create a committee whose members represent many of the different age groups, etc. of the congregation. We work as a team with the members of the clergy to make all of the ritual decisions in the synagogue.

    1200 Families

  9. The following is the draft mission statement for our temple's Worship Committee:

    The Ritual/Worship Committee is a standing committee that will collaborate with the rabbis in the evolution of ritual and worship practices that will encourage participation and spiritual growth for the individual and the congregation. Toward this end, the committee will:

    * Recognize, reflect, and sustain the diversity of [our Temple] * Engage in relevant study and worship activities * Engage the temple community in discussions about worship and ritual * Recognize that change is difficult and prepare and educate the community accordingly * Review and evaluate changes in worship and ritual * Develop a congregational vision that defines the congregation's purposes and goals for worship and ritual.

  10. I am currently chair of our Religious Practices Committee and have been involved for quite some time. Our mission (more responsibilities) is outlined in our bylaws, and we make decisions in conjunction with the rabbi, who is on the committee. There are some decisions that need to go to the board as a recommendation before it is adopted. Many ideas and suggestions have been discussed with the rabbi over the years, and we have tried many of them...I would suggest that whatever comes up, your group "study" to see why or why not something is done.
    220 families

  11. [Our] religious practices are reviewed and recommended to the Board by the Worship and Music Committee. The rabbi is the staff liaison to the committee, although our sh'liach tzibur (not-invested cantor) often attends these meetings. In the last several months, this committee has discussed whether we should have one or more shofar blowers, changing the recent practice of the congregation from a "choir" of shofarot to a single horn; recommended that we have a violinist play at Kol Nidrei and making contact with a musician; recommended participants for High Holiday Honors; reviewed how we conduct Tashlich and made changes to the service location and logistics so more could participate; coordinated summer lay-led services.

    They spent a large portion of last year discussing and recommending whether American and Israeli flags should be displayed on our bimah(s). They reviewed the issue, talked with interested members and recommended a policy to the Board and then the congregation.

    The list above includes a mix of tasks the committee executes as well as policies the committee advises upon. When an issue arises, either the rabbi or president will refer to the question to the committee.


  12. Apr 2006 Digest 061

                During my days of active participation in the Worship Committee, our guiding principle was that we advised the rabbi on most issues regarding what happened on the bimah--but he decided. On most issues regarding what happened in the sanctuary, lay leadership had somewhat

    more authority. (One exception:  Strictures on photography and videotaping, where the committee would probably have been more lenient than the rabbi.)


    1000 units
  13. Apr 2006 Digest 061

                …an issue that, as I have begun to learn, is often a sticky and awkward one:  That of the role and responsibility of a lay-populated Worship or Ritual Committee, the role and responsibilities of the professional clergy staff (rabbi(s) and cantor), where the line is drawn between them, and how the two interact.

                Within the past year, my congregation has installed an active Ritual Committee after many, many years without, and we constantly struggle with these issues. In theory, matters of Halachah are the province of the rabbinic staff, while the Ritual Committee advises the professional clergy on matters of congregational personality, history, and identity and serves as a conduit for communication regarding ritual practice between the congregation and the rabbis and cantorial soloist. In practice, the process is evolving, the relationship between a new senior rabbi and the congregation developing, and the confusion over many of these issues is unfolding…


  14. Apr 2006 Digest 061

                In my experience as past chairman of Religious Practices Committee and current long time member; the rabbi has the final say on what is done in the sanctuary and on the bimah. The committee can be used as a sounding board by the rabbi for changes s/he is considering. The committee can make proposals to the rabbi to consider for adoption in the service. Issues on which the rabbi is undecided or has no firm opinion (?) may be decided by the committee.

                I think that all of this is saying that there needs to be a collaborative relationship between the rabbi and the committee. Each needs to understand the position of the other and respect the other's needs. Nonetheless the rabbi's role is teacher and leader and ought to be respected as such.

  15. Jun 2006 Digest 101

                Our Worship Committee seems to be lacking a direction lately as direction of worship services comes almost exclusively from the rabbis and we get feedback from them that our function is primarily to let them know how services look from the seats. Is this a common situation? What mission statements are out there, and what goals do other committees have?

  16. Jun 2006 Digest 101

                Our standing Ritual Committee is in the process of being morphed into our ad hoc Worship Committee. The Ritual Committee ceased to exist in anything but name only, because it became a venue for personal ideas on how things should be done, which we believe to be the rabbi’s and cantor's jobs.

                The ad hoc Worship Committee began as a Task Force charged to:

                "Develop and initiate implementation of an initiative to enhance worship at [our congregation], with a measurable end result of materially increased participation and member satisfaction."

                The proposed new standing committee mission reads:

                "This committee, in cooperation with and subject to the approval of the Rabbi, ...shall be formed for the study of and education of congregants about ritual and worship and shall carry out programs and activities aimed at enhancing the worship experience at [our congregation]."

  17. Jun 2006 Digest 101

                Here's the Worship Committee description on our website:

                “Assists, under the direction of the Rabbi, Associate or Assistant Rabbi, in preparation for and conduct of religious services. Also cares for sacred and religious properties of the Temple.”

                Members of the committee, working with the rabbis, do offer suggestions and bring about changes in services--for instance, encouraging our senior rabbi to institute second-day Rosh Hashana services for the first time this coming fall. We also call congregants to invite them to do honors such as aliyot and candle and wine blessings, coordinate readers for High Holiday services and people to teach classes on Yom Kippur afternoon, run services if neither rabbi is available, and often discuss how to get more people involved in services and in the Temple, including especially Shabbat dinners for new members. We don't actually measure the results in terms of attendance--it's more a feel for how things are going.


    860 member units
  18. Jun 2006 Digest 101

                There was a panel discussion at the Houston Biennial on the role of Worship/Ritual committees…I was one of the panelists (along with a rabbi and a cantor)…the short version of what I said…is that it's the committee's job to explain the congregation to the rabbi and to explain the rabbi to the congregation--rabbi in this context meaning worship decisions.

  19. Jun 2006 Digest 101

                The mission statement for [our congregation’s] Ritual Committee is as follows:

                “The Ritual Committee is a standing committee that will collaborate with the clergy with regard to ritual and worship practices that encourage participation and spiritual growth for the individual and the congregation.”

                I cannot say that it is a statement that will invigorate or energize the work of a committee. I would recommend a URJ resource called Iv'du B'simchah--Worship with Joy [available from the Worship Department and online at]. It is designed to guide ritual committees in their work--to help them understand their role, then to systematically explore the ideas of worship and engage the broader congregation in what meaning-filled worship could and should be in your synagogue.


    585 member units
  20. Jun 2006 Digest 102

                The following is in our temple bylaws, and I put it at the top of our Rituals Committee agenda each month (followed by the bracha about working on the needs of the community):

                “It shall be the duty of the Rituals Committee, in cooperation with and approval of the Rabbi(s), to implement the rituals and observances of the synagogue and to promote such practices in the home as will enhance the value of Jewish living.”

  21. Oct 2006 Digest 153

    …how [do we] recruit more people to [our Religious Observance Committee] and invigorate "new blood" and new energy...Currently I have a committee of about ten, of which many have been members for ten years or more. Most have grown children, and we often spend time dealing with current problems by talking about the historical past and not looking to the inevitable future. I feel we are making decisions for a demographic of the synagogue that doesn't have representation or input on the committee. I am as guilty as the rest in not being as in touch with the "younger" members as I should. Many of them I don't even recognize by sight. So I find myself in an uncomfortable position of knowing the problem but not having a clear vision of finding a good solution.


    394 family member units
  22. April 2007 Digest 053

                Here is a statement about our Ritual Committee from our website:

                “The Ritual Committee ensures that Shabbat and Holiday worship services, music and religious practices conform to the principles of Reform Judaism as outlined by the Union for Reform Judaism. The Committee favors service formats that encourage participation by congregants of all ages.

                Recommendations for changes in practice or procedure are made to the Board of Trustees. Many Ritual Committee members serve as lay leaders.”

                However, the real story is that about 80% of the Ritual Committee's effort takes place in the two months prior to and during High Holidays. The RC is responsible for assigning all aliyot and other honors, making sure Torah covers are clean, [and that] our auditorium is set up for our secondary service (the sanctuary is not big enough for everyone).

  23. April 2007 Digest 053

                …From my point of view, the prime purpose of the Ritual or Worship Committee is to interpret the congregation to the rabbi and interpret the rabbi to the congregation. That's based on my firm belief that the rabbi is the only one who decides what happens on her bimah.

                The committee may be responsible for non-religious issues--ushering, bimah honors, even the time of the services. Our committee recently met to discuss whether to adopt Mishkan T’filah when it eventually gets published--but we all knew that regardless what we thought, that was a clergy decision. (Also to some extent a budget decision.)

                There is one thing the Ritual Committee must not do: try to be the referee between the rabbi and the cantor!

  24. April 2007 Digest 054

                I am a firm believer in an active and participatory Worship Committee. Congregants, in this role, can learn about their liturgy and are more inclined to read Torah, come to services and overall be more involved in a Worship Service. There is plenty a Worship Committee can do and do quite well without the clergy. For example, prepare and lead the Second Night Seder, Shavuot Services, Chanukah Services. And, the Purim Spiel should be for any member of the congregation who wants to join in--not just a show put on by the clergy…

                …clergy often complain that they don't get enough time off--well, let the Worship Committee lead services. You would be surprised at how meaningful those services can be. Recently our rabbi was away and we had several lay leaders take charge of Shabbat morning and, while we love and miss our rabbi, we had wonderful services. [At one] of those services we used an early proof edition of Mishkan T’filah and experimented by singing the entire service.

                …Today, congregants are better educated--thanks to many of the URJ programs--and can easily make decisions, or at the very least partner with the rabbi, to decide on critical issues including which prayer book to use.

                I vote against the tyranny of the clergy, especially when it comes to a prayer book. It's my service too--not just the clergy's.


  25. April 2007 Digest 054

                …even within the same congregation the role [of the Ritual Committee] changes over time with the change in lay leadership and rabbinic leadership.

                In our congregation the "Religious Practices Committee" has many functions, particularly supporting the major holiday worship events.

                When at its best, the Committee serves as a forum for dialogue with the clergy over ritual. While it is true the clergy have the "final say", as in any environment, it would be foolish for clergy to be high handed about these matters, particularly items invoking strong opinions.

                Among the items our Committee has dealt with include the number and types of services; feedback on…type of music; the number [of] d’var Torah vs. "sermon"; etc., etc.


  26. April 2007 Digest 055

                It is valuable and helpful when a Ritual Committee can be credited with setting policies not popular with all congregants, for example: Havdalah Bar Mitzvah…

                …the development of a more thorough service for that moment, might best be wrestled within a Ritual Committee, not between family and rabbi. When the policy is ultimately made (upsetting to some congregants), the rabbi can point to a congregant committee as the final arbiter of that decision. Important decisions such as these would follow many meetings, readings, trainings between rabbi and committee…

                Partnership is the name of the game. I think it's good discipline to learn to express these ideas in ways that support clergy. I don't envy their toughest leadership responsibilities (which are not services, by the way).


    496 families
  27. April 2007 Digest 056

                I would offer for your consideration the 'mission statement' of our Ritual Committee.  True that the relationships between rabbi and cantor are complex, as are the roles of the clergy and the Committee. If you can define them in writing and achieve assent from all stakeholders, that is a great place to be. But here is what we came up with for our purposes and goals. I am very comfortable with these.


    Mission Statement

    Religious Practices Committee


    Providing for and sustaining communal worship is at the core of the mission of the [temple name] Religious Practices Committee. Our purpose is to offer meaningful, contemplative, empathetic, joyous, evocative, and supportive worship at all appropriate opportunities. Our hope is that, through our efforts, congregants will feel a vitality of spirit, a connection to God and to this community, and a love of Torah.


    The Committee accomplishes its mission by providing counsel, assistance, and feedback to the clergy and lay leadership on Shabbat and holiday prayer; helping to establish rituals that continually strengthen communal worship; and preserving the dignity of the sanctuary for worship and celebration.

    We achieve our mission through education about traditional and innovative modes of Reform Jewish worship and regular communication on current and future worship practices. Each aspect of our efforts will reflect a respect of past traditions while exploring new rituals to meet the constantly evolving needs of the community we represent.

  28. April 2007 Digest 057

                Concerning…Ritual Committees and their functions, I refer you to two publications of the URJ Dept. of Synagogue Management. The first, For the Sake of Heaven--Committees in Congregational Life, gives (page 21) a brief description of the role and function of the Worship/Ritual Committee, along with a "how-to" for receiving additional information. The second, Hearken to the Statutes--Synagogue Articles of Incorporation, Bylaws, and Policy Manuals, gives (page 29) a recommended description of the duties and responsibilities of this committee, as written in the temple by-laws. Both of these publications are available online; or, you can obtain them by contacting [the Dept. of Synagogue Management or] your Regional Office.

  29. Sept 2007 Digest 177

                [RE requirements:]…We maintain a committee of about fifteen, including our professional staff, and ask that minimally, members be Jewish, act as bimah ushers over the High Holy Days (guiding readers/honorees to the bimah), attend some services, and set up and host two "Early Onegs" each year, or brief social/snacks before a 6 pm Erev Shabbat service.


    650 families
  30. Sept 2007 Digest 179

                When years ago we split the Ritual Committee into Shabbat and HHD Committees, we set up several requirements for the Shabbat Committee.

                Since we were going to be dealing with services in conjunction with our rabbi we felt that the first qualification of a committee member is that they attend services on a somewhat frequent basis. As a rule of thumb I would say no less than once a month. Most are there much more than that. They must be members of the congregation. They also must commit to attend meetings. At one point several members of the committee were board members. Clergy also attends board meeting so we scheduled Shabbat Committee meetings on the same night as board meeting [and] just started early and ended in time to attend the board meeting.

                One of our primary functions was to write alternate services. We were blessed with several people who did an excellent job for us with prayers. Our service, which at the time had the working title of "Gates of Us," never got completed. Now we are looking at Mishkan T’filah and hope to buy it electronically.

                The first Friday of the month is our Children's Service. This is a wonderful event that fills the sanctuary with families. It may not work well for those that need to come for a Yizkor. We experimented with an alternate lay led adult service which committee members led. I for one was delighted and surprised [by the] number of attendees. While it is an alternate to the Family Service, it ends at the same time and we all join in the Oneg. The alternate adult service has become part of our service mix and a responsibility of the committee.


    600 Families

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