This article uses the case of hazanim, nonordained Jewish religious functionaries, to explore how religious work operated as a market activity in the nineteenth century. Building on recent work at the intersection of religion, class, and capitalism, it recasts ministers, rabbis, and other religious leaders as contracted workers who sought ways to acquire wages through the specific marketing of ritual authority. Scholars have described the history of the American ministry as a path toward professionalization, seen as the outcome of clerical self-assertion in the aftermath of disestablishment. These accounts, however, ignore the everyday social and economic factors shaping the development of American religious institutions, which were particularly challenging for Jews, who had specific needs for religious labor, no existential distinction between ministers and congregants, and no institutional infrastructure to oversee qualifications and placement. As Jews founded congregations in the United States, they required particular human resources, which were acquired through unregulated contracts and unreliable credentials. These complex conditions contributed to the possibility of religious exploitation, personal fraud, communal instability, interpersonal distrust, and social conflict, which shifted in meaning and intersected with notions of religious authenticity. In this context, Jews increasingly prioritized preaching and teaching and founded national institutions, which together would make religious work more specialized, labor markets more efficient, and the resultant professionals more reliable in their work. Understanding religious workers in this way encourages us to see how religion was, and is, labor.
- © 2015 by The Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture