Episode 7: Numbers - Barak Richman

Barak Richman, Professor of Law and Business Administration at Duke University, joins us in this week's episode to discuss how institutions can and cannot change and how they can and cannot incubate innovation. Weaving together his expertise in business administration and his personal experiences in leadership of his local synagogue, Professor Richman guides un into a broader conversation about institutional change.

Credit: hls.harvard.edu

Credit: hls.harvard.edu

Rabbinic "Cartels" (0:01 - 12:29): Professor Richman outlines his personal experience in his congregation's rabbinic search, articulating why his expertise in antitrust law led him to believe that national Jewish organizations were acting as "cartels" that restrained the religious freedom of local communities. [1] More broadly, Professor Richman explains how cartel-like behavior is typical of large institutions and why that is often at odds with the needs and desires of individual people, showing how what is not good in business is equally not good in religion.

Institutional Change and Resistance to It (12:30 - 29:02): Building off the analogy to cartels, we discuss the extent to which institutions, in and of themselves, are "hard-wired" to resist change. In other words, we unpack the extent to which large institutions struggle, due to their very nature, to adapt to changing realities. [2] We also consider the extent to which patterns of affiliation have changed, especially among millennials. [3]

Credit: theodysseyonline.com

Credit: theodysseyonline.com

Palm Pilot Judaism (29:03 - 38:51): We return to the twin topics of institutional change and institutional resistance to change. Professor Richman fleshes out this conversation by outlining the rise and fall of the Palm Pilot, [4] along with the role that financial factors play in affecting organizational change over time (for both Jewish organizations and others). [5]

Change is Tough, But What Change Is Possible? (38:52 - 48:28): Professor Richman encourages us to think about ways that Judaism can become more participatory and less institutionally-encumbered, giving an example from another religious tradition -- the Mormon Church -- as a model of how to do that. [6] We conclude by grounding our conversation in the Torah's Book of Numbers, the over-arching theme of this episode.

[1] In 2012, Professor Richman was featured in a New York Times article in an article about rabbinic cartels. You can access it here.

[2] One recent instance of a local Jewish organization disaffiliating from a national organization occurred when Brown University's chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi (a national Jewish fraternity) separated from its national institution, discarding affiliation with AEPi and becoming Beta Rho Pi. Learn more about that situation from this op-ed in the Brown Daily Herald.

[3] Check out this piece, entitled "Dear Church: An Open Letter From One of Those Millennials You Can't Figure Out." Written about Christian organizations, many of its points can easily apply to the Jewish world as well.

[4] Learn more about what led to the rise and fall of the Palm Pilot here. And learn about the theory behind why Palm Pilot was unable to adapt in the book The Innovator's Solution.

[5] For a look at how finance and economics play a role in contemporary Jewish life, labor economist Carmel Chiswick's book Judaism in Transition is worth reading.

[6] In his book Extraordinary Groups, author William Zellner profiles Mormonism and states that "To outsiders, at least, the participatory involvement of Mormons is staggering." You can read the full section on Mormon's participatory emphasis online at this link.