Conversations with a Jewish Rabbi and a Mormon Bishop, Part III


Rabbi Morris Zimbalist is the rabbi of Montebello Jewish Center in Montebello, NY. Bishop Paul Hirst is the bishop of the Brainerd Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Brainerd, MN. Rabbi Zimbalist and Bishop Hirst continue their conversation on similarities in their respective congregation. Read previous entries here.

What responsibilities do you have beyond worship services?

Rabbi Zimbalist: I teach in all aspects of synagogue life, from the religious school to the Bar and Bat Mitzvah students to adult education classes. I am also the ma’ara d’atra—final religious authority—in all ritual aspects of congregational life. I lead daily religious services in the morning. Much of my day is spent counseling members of the congregation, visiting the sick, and tending to the needs of the community. I regularly officiate at all life cycle events, including funerals, weddings, circumcisions and baby namings. As the rabbi, I attend most committee meetings and provide counsel and direction to the lay leaders in the community.

Bishop Hirst: I have 6 basic doctrinal responsibilities: First, the bishop is the president of the Aaronic Priesthood. The priesthood is divided in two, Melchizedek priesthood and Aaronic priesthood. The Aaronic Priesthood is the priesthood of temporal needs. I’m responsible for the young men (12-18 years old), and more particularly those 16-18.

Second, I am the presiding high priest in the ward of the Melchizedek priesthood. This priesthood is the priesthood of leadership and holds the keys of spiritual blessings in the Church.

Third, as a common judge, I’m responsible for making sure there is no iniquity in the Church. Some sins require confession to a priesthood leader. Depending on the severity of the transgression, the position and/or maturity of the member, a Church disciplinary council can be conducted to determine the member’s standing in the Church.

Fourth, I’m responsible for the spending of funds to help the poor and needy in the ward. Most of the time, people come to me. However, I’m also responsible to find them, too.

Fifth, I can (and do) delegate the administrative functions of recordkeeping to clerks. I’m responsible, but I have them do most of the work.

Sixth, we are an evangelical church. We want to share the Gospel with others. The members are the best ones to share the joy it brings them with their friends and neighbors. Having said that, we’re also certainly respectful of other peoples beliefs, see our Article of Faith 11. We have full-time missionaries, 19-year-old young men, who serve in our area and teach people who are interested. I also have a member called as the ward mission leader who coordinates and leads these efforts.

How do you manage staffing other responsibilities?

Rabbi Zimbalist: Being at a small synagogue, we have very few paid professionals running the daily and religious activities. In addition to myself, we have a full-time secretary, a part-time principal, a part-time nursery director, and a part-time custodian. We rely heavily on volunteers, and for most of our volunteers, they try to make as much time as possible to tend to synagogue needs, but oftentimes many important projects get left behind, or I end up trying my best to pick up the slack.

We don’t give formal assignments; however I try to find the capable leaders in my community and inspire and impress upon them the need to rise to leadership positions.

Bishop Hirst: The Church functions with a lay-priesthood and unpaid volunteers (including my position). I’m responsible for calling various individuals to the various assignments in the ward organization. I call them just like I’m called. I seek inspiration for the right person for the right call, counsel with my counselors and then we issue the call, asking them to serve in that particular capacity. Most calls do not have time frames or limits, but we try and be aware of individual circumstances that would necessitate a change.

Each member should have a calling or responsibility. It is through serving others that we often grow the most. It is also a way to fellowship, learn and discover new things.

There never seems to be enough people—at least not enough dedicated and committed people. For the most part, people fulfill their callings. But, some of those called struggle to fulfill their responsibility, and others don’t do it at all. We do our best to encourage, train, teach and provide the resources necessary to be successful in their responsibility.

What do you do to inspire volunteers to give, either in time, financially, or otherwise?

Rabbi Zimbalist: I try to impress upon my entire congregation the need to care for community and to take care of each other. Whether it’s from the pulpit, private conversations, or modeling my own behavior, I try to help them see that we’re all part of something much greater than ourselves.

Bishop Hirst: What do we do? Or what do we do effectively to inspire them? If I could answer the latter question, it’d be a different world. The most effective inspiration comes from the Spirit—when the members sense the importance of what they do and that feeling comes from God. My efforts are geared towards helping them feel the Spirit so they’ll want to be motivated from Him, not because of guilt, or other things.

Do you make people mad in the course of trying to accomplish your responsibilities?

Rabbi Zimbalist: I certainly try not to make people mad; however, in the course of accomplishing any goal, there are bound to be people who disagree, be it respectfully or not respectfully. I try hard in everything that I do to be as sensitive to other people’s feelings and emotions and needs as possible, but unfortunately, sometimes people get upset. More often than not, those who are upset either speak directly to me or to others, which allows me the opportunity to reach out to them and try to resolve the situation.

Bishop Hirst: Most of the time, people get mad when I don’t help them financially. We do have occasional other times when individuals feel too much might be expected of them. Most disagreements of this sort are more administrative in nature, but somewhat rooted in doctrinal misunderstandings. I suppose there may also be times when I’ve said something that someone has taken offense to when no offense was intended.

In one particular case, a member called the stake president to complain about things I supposedly said or did. They were looking to have the Church help them in the way they wanted to be helped, rather than accept the conditions upon which they receive help (which is a whole conversation in itself).

What aspect of faith in your members is most inspiring?

Rabbi Zimbalist: Seeing a commitment to something bigger than themselves, their desire to create and foster a sacred relationship with God, and how familial traditions get passed down from generation to generation in accordance with religious tradition and ritual.

Bishop Hirst: The dramatic change that takes place in the lives of people as they live according to the covenants they have personally made with God and seeing people with challenges in their life draw strength from their faith in God and Jesus Christ.

What do you see in members of other faiths that your members could learn from?

Rabbi Zimbalist: I feel strongly that people of all faiths can learn from each other because all share the common sentiments of responsibility for their community, teaching, and love of God.

Bishop Hirst: To be less insular, more outgoing. But mostly, being happy in their faith; it shouldn’t be a drudgery (something I should remember, too). Maybe even being less afraid to be who they are.

This conversation will continue next Wednesday, April 23. Read previous entries or join the conversation by leaving your own comments below.

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