On the evening of May 6, Rabbi Adam Mintz was installed at his congregation, Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan, as the new president of the New York Board of Rabbis. An articulate spokesman for Modern Orthodoxy in his 40s, Rabbi Mintz is said to be respected by colleagues in all the denominations that comprise the board.
But last Shabbat, the rabbi was nowhere to be seen at Lincoln Square, a leading Orthodox congregation in the city.
He stayed away, it turned out, because he was embroiled in a power struggle with the leadership of his 600-member congregation, prompting Rabbi Mintz to submit his resignation last week and then seek to rescind it.
As a series of meetings were held and e-mails exchanged, all at a dizzying pace, even those close to the scene said they were confused about the outcome.
What was clear, however, was that Rabbi Mintz and the lay leadership were engaged in a battle over his future and that of the congregation.
In a series of e-mail messages between Rabbi Mintz and congregants obtained by The Jewish Week, the rabbi expressed disappointment that a candidate he found unacceptable was nominated as the next synagogue president.
Rabbi Mintz said he could not work with the proposed candidate and offered other choices. Board officials said that was not the rabbi’s domain.
In a May 12 e-mail, the rabbi wrote that the process was “unacceptable” to him, calling it a “power play” that “undermines the process of governance” at the shul. He said that after eight years as rabbi, he could not continue to serve.
“Therefore,” he wrote, “I am resigning as rabbi of Lincoln Square Synagogue effective Monday, May 17, 2004 at 9 a.m.”
But two days later, Rabbi Mintz sent an e-mail to the current synagogue president, James Kaufman, saying simply: “I have devoted the last eight years of my life to working on behalf of Lincoln Square Synagogue and its membership. I hereby withdraw my resignation.”
Kaufman wrote back to question the rabbi’s thinking, saying that “for you to change your position once again,” after telling people who he would and would not work with, was “wrong and destructive to the shul. … Your action will undoubtedly lead to much controversy, strife and bitterness. Is that what you want?”
The synagogue board was to meet late this week to act on the nominating committee’s recommendation of the presidential candidate with whom Rabbi Mintz balked at working.
Also, a last-minute attempt at a compromise between the rabbi and Lincoln Square leadership was in the works, according to sources in the synagogue. The plan would allow the rabbi to stay but would include provisions to limit his control of board matters.
Kaufman declined to speak to The Jewish Week.
On Monday Rabbi Mintz told The Jewish Week, “I have not resigned. I continue to remain [here].” He agreed to an interview for the next day, but did not return phone calls on Tuesday.
Congregants from both factions discussed the situation, attributing the onset of the current strain to last fall. That’s when Rabbi Mintz informed the board that he had been offered a post at another Manhattan synagogue and asked if the leaders would renew his contract for another seven years when it expires June 30.
The rabbi is said to have told the board members they had three days to decide. The board leaders voted to give Rabbi Mintz a seven-year contract, saying they would negotiate the terms later. But Rabbi Mintz turned down the new pact when it was offered earlier this year and said he preferred to negotiate with the next president.
Lincoln Square, which was founded and made popular by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, now of Efrat, Israel, has lost some of its luster over the years. Its membership is down by about one-third during Rabbi Mintz’s tenure, and it is believed to be more than $200,000 in debt.
Sandra Kahn, a non-voting member of the board, said she understood that Rabbi Mintz was told that his resignation had been accepted and that his attempt to rescind it was not accepted.
“The rabbi is now trying to get people in the synagogue to support his point of view and to see that he is reinstated,” Kahn said.
Another congregant, Oliver Mitchell, said those pressing for the rabbi to leave do “not reflect the feelings of the majority of the general membership.”
“The current argument is less about the rabbi and more about generational control of the direction of the synagogue,” said Mitchell, who is 34 and the father of three. “In fact, we, the general membership and especially the young families of LSS are part of the silent majority who actively support the rabbi.”
Mitchell suggested that if the rabbi leaves, many of the younger families would, too.
Supporters of Rabbi Mintz point to his popular classes and personal attention when members are ill or in mourning. Critics complain about his temper and efforts to control board decisions.
One member expressed the widespread view that the current dispute is a sad and embarrassing situation for everyone involved.
Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis, said Rabbi Mintz’s tenure with the board was not dependent on his being affiliated with a congregation, adding: “We do not get involved in internal politics of a rabbi and his congregation.”
Although disputes between rabbis and their congregants are far from uncommon, there is no formal mechanism to deal with them, according to Rabbi Basil Herring, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America, to which Rabbi Mintz belongs.
“One of the things I’m anxious to work on is to have such a mechanism in place that would help resolve such conflicts,” Rabbi Herring said. “It is a long-term goal, but one which we feel is very important.”
Sociologist William Helmreich, director of the City College Conflict Resolution Center, said conflict between a rabbi and his congregation is always more difficult than other employer-employee disputes because the rabbi is viewed as “a moral example to the community.”
“When the rabbi’s own behavior becomes a subject of discussion … the rabbi and the congregation are put in an uncomfortable position,” he said.
Helmreich noted that by taking a pulpit, a rabbi gives up his right to privacy. He added that Rabbi Mintz, by becoming president of the New York Board of Rabbis, “became a leader of the New York Jewish community, not just Lincoln Square.”