Religious communities are much more that a worship center: The term “Kehila” points to the central social network which covers among other topics charity and mutual help. Given the variety of needs and the diminishing role of the welfare state the question is what the adequate model to fulfill this task is.
First, the community acts as an intermediary for the fulfilment of the religious obligation of “Tzedakah”, so it is not just a matter of discretion but a central pillar of religious life. In addition, the intensity of the collective worship cycle (3 times per day) generates a human interaction and a sense of collectiveness and mutual care.
Still communities are not the only game in town. Modern states have developed along the last 150 years welfare systems aiming to fulfill some of the religious traditional roles. Along the last decades the welfare state has lost some of its ground due to many factors.
Communities’ capability for having a substantial role are rather limited. First, the institution is financed mostly by voluntary (i.e. irregular) flows, which makes it harder to assume long run social substantial commitments. In addition, communities lack the professional and even legal means needed to set clear criteria and priorities for the distribution of the limited resources (unlike the State that controls both taxation and monetary aggregates).
Still, communities can still play an important role, let alone in a world of a diminish role of the State.
One of the main interesting conclusions resulting from the debate is that a small community has the chance to turn a relative disadvantage (compared to the State apparatus) into an opportunity. Small community may not be able to carry an excessive burden, but the intimacy and close relations between its members may bring a deep human touch into the social net. Bureaucratic apparatus are by definition impersonal and lack the intangible aspects of the human condition: An alienated and busy clerk is not capable to gauge the specific needs and have a multidimensional view of the person needed. In contrast within the framework of a small community people interact on a regular base and are able to develop a ( sometimes even unconscious) holistic view of the persons in need.
In addition, the lack of relative “objectivity” is compensated by the relative speed of reaction. Bureaucratic systems are slow and sometimes may miss an urgent need to which a small community is able to respond with agility.