Jewish Communal Structures Around the World
Daniel J. Elazar
World Jewry is presently at the height of the second post-World War II generation. The first, which lasted more or less from the end of the war to the late 1970s, witnessed the reconstitution of Jewish communities throughout the world, either because of the necessity to reconstruct them in war-ravaged countries, because of the establishment of the State of Israel, or to consolidate the gains of settling in on the part of Jews in the new worlds which had benefited so greatly from Jewish migration out of the old during the prior century.
That reconstitution essentially involved a series of modifications of the five patterns of Jewish communal organization developed during the modern epoch to take cognizance of the realities of the opening of a new, then as yet unrecognized, postmodern age. These five patterns emerged between the convening of the Napoleonic "Sanhedrin" in 1807 and World War I. They were:
The consistorial pattern pioneered by France whereby all those who identified as Jews were officially organized into hierarchical synagogue-centered bodies called consistoires or some similar term, and, one way or another, all Jewish activities had to be subsumed within the consistorial framework.
The kultesgemeinde pattern pioneered by Germany. These were territorial organizations of Jewish communities based on, but stretching beyond, the synagogue, governed by communal boards officially recognized and empowered by host governments and government-supported through their revenue-raising and distribution powers.
Boards of Deputies pioneered by Great Britain, government-recognized bodies in which all the various activities in the Jewish community were represented and which served as a central address for the Jewish community but engaged primarily in external relations on behalf of the community and were supported by Jewish resources exclusively or almost so.
Congregational communities, developed in smaller countries, which embraced the Jewish community as a whole. Normally these were not state-recognized and relied upon voluntary affiliation and support.
Communities with no formal or official central address or framing body, no formal government recognition, and no general government support (although some functions might receive government aid), pioneered by the United States.
These models persisted more or less in their original form until World War II. Most were restored to some extent after the war with modifications based upon changing times, changing situations, reconceptualization of what a Jewish community should be and how individual Jews can identify with it, and changing patterns of government recognition and support. The central thrust of these changes was the withdrawal of formal government support and often recognition and the broadening of the community's framing institutions to include religious, welfare, and community relations organizations in equivalent framing roles in an increasingly open environment in which new institutions and organizations could be established with relative ease and market-like competition could take place among them.
That process continued into the 1980s and 1990s as the result of further situational changes. First and foremost among them was the collapse of the Soviet empire and then the Soviet Union itself between 1989 and 1991 and the resulting liberation of the Jews in those countries. Jewries that for many years had no means of functioning as organized entities under Communist rule (at most they were allowed the fiction of maintaining puppet organization forced on them by the regime under which they lived), suddenly regained the opportunity for self-organization. With the assistance of world Jewry, they almost immediately reorganized themselves, even though many, if not most, of the individual Jews in those countries left for Israel or the West. This sudden release of the pent-up energies of millions of Jews has had organizational consequences that have yet to be fully felt.
Today we still find five types of communities with five patterns of Jewish communal organization (Table 1), but they are considerably different from the more rigid patterns of the modern epoch. They are:
31 communities based on a single local organization or congregation. This is the simplest pattern and the closest to its predecessor congregational-community model. It only exists in the smallest communities where local Jews find that they cannot afford the "luxury" of different organizations despite the "Jewish" incentives for division. (Examples: Luxembourg and Monaco.)
19 integrated congregational communities where several different organizations or congregations exist but all are tied together around a single community or congregation and operate within that integrated framework. (Examples: Gibraltar and Norway.)
6 government-recognized/assisted framing institutions in a very limited market situation, where the availability of government recognition and assistance encourages the distinction between recognized and unrecognized organizations and encourages Jews to belong to the former, but at the same time allows room for the latter to develop. (Examples: Germany and Sweden.)
32 communities with recognized framing organizations but with a semi-open market in which one or more organizations are accepted by the vast majority of Jews as central addresses for the community or for specific bundles of communal functions or which frame communal activity in that manner in a situation in which other Jewish organizations cannot only emerge but cannot become strong enough to compete with those more formally recognized. (Examples: Argentina, Canada, and Great Britain.)
21 diffused communities that are either partially framed or unframed, where an open market exists for competing Jewish organizations to emerge in every sphere and in every arena. (Examples: United States, Russia, and Ukraine.)
Types of Contemporary Countrywide Jewish Communities
|Single Org./ Cong. (31)
| Integrated Cong. (19)
| Gov't. Assisted Framing Inst. (6)
|Gov't. Recognized Framing Orgs. (32)
| Diffused (21)
The first two types are found principally in small communities of 5,000 Jews or less. Examples of the third and fourth types are more likely to be found in medium-sized to relatively large Jewish communities, especially in Europe and the Middle East where old patterns of government recognition and assistance have not entirely disappeared. Communities of the last type other than the United States are to be found where new Jewish communities are being developed under market conditions, particularly in the former Soviet Union.
In some cases, the categorization of these communities has to be considered tentative. For example, some of the communities listed as diffused probably still see themselves as having government-recognized framing organizations. Some of those, with government-assisted framing institutions, are barely that but rather are rudiment communities that are government-dominated. So, too, the difference between the single organization or congregational communities and the integrated congregational communities may vary from time to time since new congregations may come into existence or old ones may disappear. Nevertheless, the figures can be seen as reasonably accurate.
What is characteristic of these new patterns is that membership in the community, indeed adherence to a formal connection with Judaism or the Jewish people, is an entirely voluntary matter. Even in a case such as Germany where those registered as Jews pay their share of the government-levied church tax which is then reallocated to the Jewish community, one can choose
to register as a Jew or not as one wishes. All of the communities are increasingly pluralistic; that is to say, there is no establishment to impose a single pattern, religious or communal, on them, but rather people seek a way to express their Jewishness or Judaism that they find comfortable, even if they have to invent new ways to do so, and sooner or later the community must recognize them in some way.
Third, government assistance generally has ceased to be in the form of general support and more in the form of assistance for specific functions. Thus, even in the United States with its strong rules of separation of church and state, federal and state funding is available for Jewish health and welfare institutions. Elsewhere it may be available primarily for educational institutions.
Fourth, there seem to be emerging two integrative sets of institutions in the various communities regardless of type. One is cosmopolitan, serving the community as a whole, either formally framing, such as a community or countrywide federation or a representative board, or developing a thick texture of informal relationships within the government-like institutions that may even merge into one comprehensive institution, or may simply absorb functions in the external relations-defense, communal-welfare, and Israel-world Jewry spheres. The other is localistic, reflecting the growing concentration of individual and family Jewish activities within a congregational or local community center framework. That framework may be very pluralistic with congregations to serve every expressed Jewish orientation, or it may be in some more formal religious establishment in which individual congregations adapt to different styles in the interests of their members, but increasingly if Jews want to be counted, they connect themselves with a local congregation for lack of any other sure form of connection.
Today there are 109 countries in the world with permanent organized communities. The larger ones have four kinds of organizations.
Government-like institutions, whether "roof" organizations, framing institutions, or separate organizations serving discrete functions that play roles and provide services on all planes (countrywide, local, and intermediate), which under other conditions, would be played, provided, or controlled - predominantly or exclusively - by governmental authorities. They are responsible for tasks such as external relations, defense, education, social welfare, and public (communal) finance. They include:
- A more or less comprehensive fund-raising and social planning body.
- A representative body for external relations.
- A Jewish education service agency.
- A vehicle or vehicles for assisting Israel and other Jewish communities.
- Various comprehensive religious, health, and welfare institutions.
Localistic institutions and organizations that provide a means for attaching individual Jews to Jewish life on the basis of their most immediate and personal interests and needs. They include:
- Congregations organized into one or more synagogue unions, federations, or confederations.
- Local cultural and recreational centers, often federated or confederated with one another.
General purpose mass-based organizations, operating countrywide on all planes, that function to (a) articulate community values, attitudes, and policies, (b) provide the energy and motive force for crystallizing the communal consensus that grows out of those values, attitudes, and policies, and (c) maintain institutionalized channels of communication between the community's leaders and "actives" ("cosmopolitans") and the broad base of the affiliated Jewish population ("locals") for dealing with the problems and tasks facing the community in the light of the consensus. They often include a Zionist federation and its constituent organization and B'nai B'rith lodges.
Special interest organizations, which, by serving specialized interests in the community on all planes, function to mobilize concern and support for the programs conducted by the community and to apply pressure for their expansion, modification, and improvement.
The first two of these types are embodied in the institutions that form the structural foundations of the community and the last two in organizations that primarily function to activate the institutional structure and give it life. Institutions of the first type are easily identifiable in most communities. They include the boards of deputies founded by Anglo-Jewish communities, the American Jewish community federations and the Council of Federations, the Canadian Jewish Congress, the Fonds Social Juif Unifie in France, and the like.
The most important localistic institutions are the synagogues, which, by their very nature, are geared to be relatively intimate associations of compatible people. Even very large synagogues that lose their sense of intimacy are localistic institutions in this sense, in the overall community context. The most important localistic organizations are Jewish community or sports centers.
Organizations in the third category differ widely from community to community. In the United States, B'nai B'rith and Hadassah come closest to performing these functions, with a number of smaller countrywide organizations sharing in the task; in South Africa and much of Latin America the Zionist federations have assumed that role. The special-interest organizations are also readily identifiable in the various communities.
In the smaller countrywide communities, the four kinds of roles may be compressed with fewer institutions and be filled incompletely as a consequence. However it is done, the functions must be institutionalized for an organized community to exist. The mapping of the community's organizational structure along the lines of this typology reveals many of the more permanent channels into which the community's communications network is set and also exposes the ways in which the channels are used.
In one way or another all are organized to cope with five spheres of communal activity (Table 2):
- extend relations-defense;
- Israel-world Jewry.
Spheres, Institutions, and Organizations
Seminaries and yeshivot
| Israel chief rabbinate
World synagogue leagues
Communal and secularist schools
Colleges of Jewish studies
Central agencies of Jewish education
Jewish community centers
Jewish studies programs in universities
Local cultural institutions and groups
|Countrywide Jewish educational bodies
Countrywide associations of Jewish community
Jewish colleges & universities
Educational services of government bodies
Jewish cultural institutions & organization study centers
| Jewish Agency and World Zionist Organization
Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture
Joint Distribution Committee
Alliance Israelite Universelle
Public affairs centers
|Local community relations councils
Local chapters or offices of countrywide community relations bodies
|Countrywide community relations organizations
(e.g., CRIF, American Jewish Committee, board of deputies)
Jewish war veterans associations
(e.g., Soviet Jewry)
|Consultative Council of Jewish Agencies
Coordinating board of Jewish organizations
World Jewish Congress
World Council for Soviet Jewry
American Jewish Committee
Public affairs centers
Social service agencies
Jewish community centers
Local Jewish press
Jewish hospitals / health care institutions
|Council of Jewish Federations
Councils of Jewish community centers
Immigrant aid societies
Boards of Deputies
International professional / functional associations
Joint Distribution Committee
Public affairs centers
Local Zionist chapters
Local Israel bond office
Local "friends" of Israel or overseas institutions
|Council of Federations
United HIAS Service
"Friends" of Israel or overseas institutions
| Israel government
Jewish National Fund
World Zionist Organization
Joint Distribution Committee
Public affairs centers
Moreover, by now all Jewish communities in the diaspora are unbounded; that is to say, no clear external limits divide who is Jewish from who is non-Jewish. Rather, all are organized as a series of concentric circles around a central core of Judaism/Jewishness that draws Jews toward it in varying degrees, circles which fade out at the peripheries into a gray area populated by people whose Jewish self-definition and Jewish status are unclear, certainly from a halakhic standpoint but also from a sociological one. Thus, every diaspora community today is fully voluntary and its organization reflects its voluntary character.
Consequently, the first task of every Jewish community is to learn to deal with the particular local manifestation of Jews' freedom to choose. This task is a major factor in determining the direction of the reconstitution of Jewish life in our time. It is increasingly true that diaspora Jews, if they feel Jewishly committed at all, feel that they are so by choice rather than simply by birth. Not that organic ties do not underlie the fact of their choice, but birth alone is no longer sufficient to keep Jews within the fold in an environment as highly individualistic and pluralistic as the contemporary world. No one is more conscious of this than are the Jews themselves.
One result of that is that participation in Jewish life in the diaspora is exceptionally uneven. It was always true that some Jews participated in the life of their community more than others. What we know about humanity leads us to recognize that some people are more attuned to participation than others. Nevertheless, the intensely voluntaristic aspects of participation of all kinds in the contemporary would make the differences in willingness to participate even more important among diaspora Jewry.
Perhaps most important of all, participation actually defines the limits of the community. We may portray the Jewish communities in the diaspora as a series of concentric circles radiating outward from the hard core of committed Jews toward areas of semi-Jewishness on the other fringes where the community phases off into the general society.
The hard core of the Jewish community consists of Jews whose Jewishness is a full-time concern that informs every aspect of their lives, whether from a traditionally religious point of view, as ethnic nationalists, or because of their involvement in Jewish life "every day in every way." They and their families are closely linked in their Jewishness internally and to others with similar ties, so that their Jewish existence tends to be an intergenerational and communal affair. Our best estimate is that between 5 and 10 percent of the Jewish population in the diaspora fall into this category.
Surrounding this hard core is a second group consisting of those Jews continuously involved in Jewish life and consistently active in Jewish affairs, but to whom living Jewishly is not a full-time matter. They are likely to be the mainstays of Jewish organizations of various kinds and make Judaism a major avocational interest. Ten percent is a fair estimate of such Jews in the diaspora today.
A third group, surrounding the participants, consists of those Jews affiliated with Jewish institutions or organizations in some concrete way but are not particularly active in them. These would include synagogue members whose membership does not involve them much beyond the periodic use of synagogue facilities at least for the rites of passage or for the High Holy Days. Also included here are members of some of the mass-based Jewish organizations such as Hadassah and B'nai B'rith or any of the other charitable groups that are identifiably Jewish, whose membership reflects primarily private social interests rather than a concern for the public purposes of Jewish life. This is a large category because it includes all those who recognize the necessity for some kind of associational commitment to Jewish life even if it is only for the sake of maintaining a proper front before the non-Jewish community. It is estimated to include 30 percent of the diaspora Jewish population.
Beyond that circle there is a fourth consisting of Jews who contribute money to Jewish causes and use the services of Jewish institutions periodically during their lifetimes, usually synagogues for the rites of passage. Perhaps another 30 percent of diaspora Jews fall into this category, some of whom have too-limited incomes to develop more formal or lasting attachments to Jewish life in an associational context that makes the payment of money a binding factor in the associational process.
Beyond the circle of contributors and consumers there is a circle of Jews who are recognizably Jewish in some way but completely uninvolved in Jewish life. Though they may be married to Jewish spouses and their children unquestionably of Jewish descent, they have no desire even to use Jewish institutions for the rites of passage and insufficient interest in Jewish causes to contribute money. Perhaps 15 percent of diaspora Jewry fall into this category.
There is a small group of born Jews who actively reject their Jewishness. Once a significant group, it is a decreasing one, for the openness of society to Jews today has eliminated the necessity for active hostility on the part of those seeking to escape their Jewishness. Active rejection survives as a pathological syndrome among a handful of born Jews.
Finally, there is an unknown number of "quasi Jews" who are neither inside the Jewish community nor entirely out of it. These are people who have intermarried but have not lost their own personal Jewish "label" or who have otherwise assimilated to a point where Jewish birth is incidental to them in every respect. We can assume that between 5 and 10 percent of the known Jewish population fall into this category, plus an unknown number, probably larger, who are simply not reckoned in the conventional statistics.
The boundaries between these categories as well as their membership is quite fluid. There is considerable movement in and out of all of them; more along the edges of each than across separated circles. Thus Jews in group two ("participants") are more likely to move into the hard core or out into more casual membership than to drop out altogether, while "peripherals" may move into the quasi-Jewish category with some ease or, under certain circumstances, will be easily brought into the category of "contributors and consumers." Moreover, in times of crisis there will be general tightening of the circles.
What this means is that the community is built on a fluid, if not on an eroding base, with a high degree of self-selection involved in determining who is even a potential participant in its public life. In all likelihood, only 20 percent of the Jewish population fall into that category and by no means all of them define their Jewish concerns as public ones. For many - even in the hard core (Hassidic Jews, for example) - the concern of the Jewish community are not their concerns. They are more interested in leading private lives that are intensely Jewish but do not seek to channel their Jewishness into the realm of public affairs.
There is evidence that gaps are developing between circles two and three and four and five, so that the Jews who remain actively committed to Jewish life are growing closer to its center and those who are passively committed or less are moving away.
It is clear that even the problem of defining who is in and who is out of the Jewish community at any given time becomes an increasingly difficult one. With the "intermarriage explosion" of recent years, the gray area of Jewishness has begun to reach into the more positively identified Jewish circles through family relationships. This is particularly problematic as we get a generation of semi-Jews who, in a world such as that of the Untied States, may associate with Jews and wish to marry Jews as often as they wish to marry non-Jews without having any real commitment to Jewish tradition or Jewish communal life.
This, then, is the Jewish world that confronts the Jewish communal worker of the immediate future. At least two issues remain open. One is to what extent will this new radical voluntarism and pluralism lead simply to diffused community organizations and to what extent will Jewish leaders be able to establish and maintain framing organizations sufficiently able to embrace the voluntarism and pluralism within them. For what are needed are framing organizations; the day of the "central address" is disappearing rapidly.
The other is how will organized world Jewry look in the new age of globalization. In the late modern epoch there were many calls among committed Jews for a world Jewish parliament. Indeed, both the World Zionist Organization and the World Jewish Congress were established in hopes of developing such a parliament, each in its own way. Neither succeeded because of reluctance on the part of the major players to establish such a body.
What happened instead was that a collection of what can be called functional authorities were developed to carry out those tasks which required the united efforts of world Jewry. By the 1970s, five major organized bodies carried the load for these responsibilities and, one way or another, every other Jewish organization was connected with them. They were the government of the State of Israel, the Jewish Agency, the Joint Distribution Committee, the World Zionist Organization, and the World Jewish Congress. That is the situation today, but there are strong signs that this pentagon of power-holders is about to undergo some major changes of an undetermined character. Just as the present arrangement came to be after the reorganization of the countrywide Jewish communities in the manner described above, so, too, may we expect any changes to take place as a result of the changes in countrywide Jewish community organization of the kind that have been suggested here.
The Organized Jewish World
| Jewish Population 1996
| Central/Framing Organization(s)
| Other Prominent Organizations
| Charshi Torabazein synagogue
|Consistoriale Israelite d'Alger
| Delegation of Argentine Jewish Associations (DAIA)
|Argentina Jewish Mutual Aid Association (AMIA), Vaad ha-Kehillot, Zionist Federation (OSA)
|Armenian-Jewish Friendship Society
| Executive Council of Australian Jewry
| Zionist Federation of Australia
| Bundesverband der Israelitischen Kultusgemeinden
| Sephardi Federation, Zionist Federation
| Azerbaijan-Israel Friendship Organization
| United Bahamas Hebrew Congregation
| Jewish Community Council
|Belarus Union of Jewish Organizations and Communities
|Comite de Coordination des Organisations Juives de Belgique (CCOJB)
|Jewish Community of Bermuda
| Circulo Israelita de Bolivia
| Federation of Jewish Communities of Bosnia-Herzegovina
| Confederacao Israelita do Brasil (CONIB)
| Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue
| Canadian Jewish Congress
| Comite Representativo de las Entidades Judias de Chile
|Federacion Sionista de Chile
|Confederacion de Asociaciones Judias de Colombia
|Centro Israelita Sionista
|Federation of Jewish Communities
| Casa de la Communidad Hebrea de Cuba
|Comision Coordinadora de las Sociedades Religiosas Hebreas de Cuba
|Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic
|Mosaiske Troessamfund I Kobenhavn
|Parroquia Israelita de la Republica Dominicana
|Asociacion Israelita de Quita
|Comunidad de Culto Israelita, Federacion Sionista del Ecuador
| Shaar Hashamayim synagogue
|Comunidad Israelita de El Salvador
| Jewish Community of Estonia
|Fiji Jewish Association
| Central Council of Jewish Communities in Finland
| Representative Council of French Jewry (CRIF)
|Consistoire Central, United Jewish Social Foundation (FSJU)
|Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland
|Jewish Community of Gibraltar
| Kentriko Israelitiko Symvoulio Ellados
| Communaute Cultuelle Israelite
|Comunidad Hebrea de Tegucigalpa
|Alliance of the Hungarian Jewish Communities
| Association of Zionist Organizations
| Council of Indian Jewry
|Council of the Jewish Community
| Jewish Representative Council of Ireland
|Unione delle Comunita Ebraiche Italiane
|United Congregationof Israelites
|Jewish Community of Japan
| Mitzvah Association
| Nairobi Hebrew Congregation
|Menorah Society of Jewish Culture
|Latvian Society for Jewish Culture
|Lithuanian Jewish Community
| Consistoire Israelite de Luxembourg
| Jewish Community of Malta
|Association Cultuelle Israelite de la Martinique
| Comite Central Israelita de Mexico
|Tribuna Israelita, Centro Deportivo Israelita (CDI)
| Republican Society for Jewish Culture
| Association Cultuelle Israelite de Monaco
| Conseil des Communautes Israelites
|Windhoek Hebrew Congregation
| Federation of Dutch Jewish Communities
| Nederlands-Israelitisch Kerkgenootschap, Verbond van Liberal Religieuze Joden, Portugees-Israelitisch Kergenootschap
| United Netherlands Portuguese Congregation Mikve Israel-Emanuel
| Israelitische Gemeente Beth Israel Synagogue
|Association Culturelle Israelite de Nouvelle Caledonie
|New Zealand Jewish Council
| Zionist Federation of New Zealand
| Mosaiske Trossamfund
|Consejo Central Comunitario Hebreco de Panama
| Consejo Representativo Israelita de Paraguay
| Asociacion Judia del Peru
| Jewish Association of the Philippines
| Coordinating Committee of Jewish Organizations in the Polish Republic (KKOZRP)
|Religious Union of Jewish Communities, Social and Cultural Organization of Polish Jews
|Comunidade Israelita de Lisboa
| Federation of Jewish Communities
| Federation of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Russia (Va'ad)
| Jewish Welfare Board
| Federation of Jewish Communities in Slovakia
|Jewish Community of Slovenia
| South African Jewish Board of Deputies
| Federacion de Comunidades Israelitas de Espana
| Kerkeraad der Nederlands Portugees Israelitische Gemeente in Suriname
|Official Council of Jewish Communities in Sweden
|Schweizerischer Israelitischer Gemeindebund (SIG)
|Association Culturelle des Israelites et Sympathisants de Polynesie (ACISPO)
|Taiwan Jewish Community
| Jewish Association of Thailand
| Chief Rabbinate of Turkey
|Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine
| Jewish Council of Ukraine
| Board of Deputies of British Jews
|Comite Central Israelita del Uruguay
|Council of Jewish Federations (CJF)
United Jewish Communities (UJC)
|American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress, B'nai B'rith, Hadassah, UJA, AIPAC
|Confederacion de Asociaciones Israelitas de Venezuela
| Federation of Jewish Communities in Yugoslavia
|Jewish Community of Belgrade
|Communaute Israelite du Shaba
| Council for Zambian Jewry
| Zimbabwe Jewish Board of Deputies