Columns - 2005

    Orthodox outsourcing

    When you get down to it, there's a business side to religion. It's true, like it or not. To keep the synagogues open every shabbat, the JCCs closed every shabbat, the schools teaching, and the federations federating, there has to be.

    Therefore it is inevitable that trends in the business world have an eventual impact on religion.

    Like businesses everywhere, religious organizations are always looking for ways to cut costs. In truth, because many are non-profit and most are underfunded, Jewish organizations must count their pennies even more than the average corporate colossus.

    So, as pioneered by the (debatably) greater business world, don't be surprised if in the near future you see some of the following efforts to offshore Orthodoxy, consolidate Conservative, and reorg Reform:

    • Bulletins, member notifications, solicitations, and all other mailings will be produced overseas. The files can be transferred online to printing/mailing houses onshore. Any possible language difficulties can be excused because most recipients don't understand anything they encounter that has Hebrew in it either.
    • Mass emails to donors, members, and anyone else will be easily coordinated from overseas.
    • In a compromise based on internationalization and persistent complaints that there's "too much Hebrew" in services, all prayer books will be printed with the English right-to-left and the Hebrew left-to-right.
    • For every two rabbis there's currently three opinions. With outsourcing, cost savings will allow up to seven more opinions.
    • Most board meetings will be moved overseas. Not only will this save the time of the most contributory members of various organizations, but the resulting reduction in hot air production will help save the ozone in this hemisphere.
    • Instruction of students of all ages via online, offshore video tutoring. (Thanks to the business world's outsourcing, the equipment is getting cheaper, too. Not to mention less expensive.)
    • Live distributors of rabbinic teachings will be available 24x7, thanks to the time differences around the globe. Jews who have a question about anything can get a live answer any time of day, from people with access to vast Judaic support databases.
      This saves both the Jew and the local rabbi from getting in trouble in the middle of the night with the local rebitzen/lucky.
      (Let me explain. There's an old joke: If the wife of a rabbi is a rebitzen, what do you call the husband of a woman rabbi? Lucky.)

    Of course, when an institution is impacted by the forces of change, some change can be forced upon the institutionalized as well.

    You cannot outsource certain difficult Jewish responsibilities such as listening to a sermon, chicken dancing at a wedding reception, or the eating of your mother's brisket. But there are some possibilities:

    • If your house observes restricted use of electricity on Shabbat, you can wire major appliances to be controlled by computer. Thus, a virtual overseas "shabbos goy" can remotely turn the lights on and off, and even control your oven.
      (I'm not kidding. True story: In the early 1990s, a Coke machine in the Computer Science building at Carnegie Mellon University was viewable on the campus network. Students could check how full the machine was before going for a drink. Lazy, but true.)
    • You can make online contributions to the organization of your choice via websites that are maintained overseas. (Thanks to the latest security features from Microsoft, you might already be doing this, with or without your knowledge.)
    • Your fasts can last far less than twenty-four hours. Thanks to your virtual world linked to time zones far ahead of yours, your fast day could effectively be over just a few hours after it starts.
    • You can ship your mother's brisket overseas and have them eat it. (Just realized there was a way out of this one after all.) Please pack it in dry ice.

    These are but a few examples. Don't be surprised at additional efforts to streamline costs and simplify observance. Whenever you're reading this, experts here and abroad are working 24x7 on ways to make new cuts in areas such as kosher delis, ritual slaughtering, and circumcision.

    Doug Brook, an offshore outsourcing manager for three years for a Fortune 100 company, hopes nobody thinks any of these are good ideas. For more information, past columns, and other writings, visit his website at

    Copyright Doug Brook. All rights reserved.