Rabbinical Cartels

August 26th, 2012

In North Carolina, a conservative synogague sought to hire a new Rabbi. But instead of seeking a Rabbi through the United Synogague of Conservative Judaism (USCJ), they recruited Rabbis from the Reform and Reconstruction branches. How do you think the USCJ reacted?

The temple had “two choices: either look at Conservative rabbis put forward by the movement’s placement office, and do not so much as whistle at anybody else; or, look outside the movement and be denied access to any of its rabbis.”

One of the members of that shul happens to be Professor Barak Richman, a Law Prof at Duke, who knows a thing or two about the intersection of antitrust law and religious liberty. The Times has a fascinating article exploring this tension.

On the one hand, religious institutions should have the autonomy to decide how to determine their houses of worship operate.

And in the broad sweep of American religion, the method of selecting clergy members ranges from denominations like the Baptists, in which congregations autonomously choose their ministers, to those like the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, in which a hierarchy appoints priests. Somewhere in the middle lie not only the Jewish movements but also much of the Protestant sector. Certainly, as portrayed both by Mr. Richman and Rabbi Schonfeld, the constitutional stakes are great. To Rabbi Schonfeld, the free exercise of religion includes the ability to set standards for worship, ritual and religious law, and to ensure that only rabbis committed to those standards lead congregations

On the other hand is an issue related to the question the Court largely ducked in Hosannah-Tabor. How should a “ministerial exception” apply to generally-applicable laws. Hosannah-Tabor looked at the “ministerial exception” to employment laws. Here, the question would be whether antitrust laws, prohibiting cartels, have a “ministerial exception.”

I would imagine an antitrust suit against the Catholic Church, if no such exception applied, would be fairly easy to prove on many fronts.

Though it seems like this test case may have to wait.

Even though Conservative movement leaders take heart from the Hosanna-Tabor ruling, Mr. Richman remains a formidable foe — a law degree from Harvard; a doctorate in business from the University of California, Berkeley; a member of Conservative synagogues all his life; the president now of Beth El. For now, Mr. Richman has no plaintiff around whom to build a court case. But he does sound like someone on the hunt. “You need a Curt Flood,” he said, referring to the baseball player who successfully challenged the game’s reserve clause. Then, referring to the Virginia State Bar case, he added, “Or a Lew Goldfarb.”

H/T Alan Feinberg