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Part-Time Leader Set to Revive Board of Rabbis

January 1, 2009 By:
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Rabbi Robert Layman

A former lay leader of the Vaad: The Board of Rabbis of Greater Philadelphia is working on a part-time, interim basis to help restart the organization that essentially shut down this summer after the previous executive director, Rabbi David Gutterman, left his position there.

Rabbi Robert Layman took up the post last month of interim executive director, at the offices located in the Jewish Community Services Building. Layman's goal is to return the Vaad to a status it once held as a major voice in the Jewish and general community, especially as an active facilitator of intrafaith and interfaith dialogue.

"I don't want to see it go by the wayside," said Layman, who this year is marking 50 years in the rabbinate.

He envisions the board carrying a strong institutional voice. For instance, a functioning Vaad would have offered a public response to last month's terror attacks in Mumbai, India, he asserted, and would have served as a source for secular media seeking an official commentary from the Jewish community.

The Vaad has also traditionally served as a vehicle for rabbis from different denominations -- including many who don't serve on pulpits and work in other capacities -- to interact and engage in theological and practical discussions. He said that there has never been a large number of Orthodox rabbis who joined the board, something he would love to change.

The rabbi is no stranger to the city. A past president of the Vaad, he served for years as religious leader of Beth Tikvah-B'nai Jeshurun in Erdenheim before working as regional director of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. He retired from that position in 2001.

His son, Rabbi Jonah Layman, currently serves as president of the Washington Board of Rabbis in the nation's capital.

For now, Layman represents the Vaad's sole employee, although Rabbi Ira F. Stone of Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel in Center City serves as the group's president.

Layman said that he's planning to spend about six months in the post.

He expects that, by then, a full-time director will be hired to take over from him, although no concrete steps have yet been taken in that direction. 

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