Seeing and Battling a ”˜Cartel’ in the Hiring of Rabbis

Four years ago, when the longtime rabbi of Beth El Synagogue here retired, a member named Barak D. Richman joined the committee searching for a successor. Everything went smoothly enough until the congregation reached outside Conservative Judaism, its formal affiliation, to consider candidates from the Reform and Reconstructionist branches, and to place a few online advertisements.

Several months into the process, one of Mr. Richman’s colleagues on the search committee delivered some unexpected information. Under the rules of the Conservative movement, Beth El 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.

Being a law professor at Duke University with an expertise in antitrust, Mr. Richman responded in a unique way. He recalled a 1975 Supreme Court case, Goldfarb v. Virginia State Bar, which successfully challenged the controlled market for lawyers doing real estate title searches. And he thought of the word “cartel.”

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