Chipotle vs. the Synagogue – An Open Fairmount Discussion

This blog post originates from a conversation/discussion that took place at tonight’s (Friday, October 19, 2012) Shabbat worship at Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple, in which we will take a very serious blog post from and allow it to springboard a wide array of conversations in temple, between us, about what we can learn from Chipotle in synagogue life.  Both Rabbi Nosanchuk and Student Rabbi Scott Fox weighed in on the debate, and they will post their thoughts in the comments section below. See below for more information and the link to the original post by Patrick Aleph of We hope you’ll add to this conversation. Feel free to share it with others so that they can join in on the discussion. We want to hear your views.

Sometimes, the transition to Shabbat isn’t as simple as lighting the candles and finding my way to a new time of celebration, of observance, and of Shabbat meaning. My body is here but my spirit is often stuck still somewhere on the road I took to get here. Often my mind is stuck at the traffic I face at the corner of Cedar and Warrensville. When I look out the drivers side window,, I see all the construction of the new stores and restaurants, including a brand-spanking new Chipotle burrito restaurant, a frequent stopping point for me with my young kids on the way to various interests and activities. If I look ahead of me, I see the route I’ll take over to temple, up Cedar, right on Green Road, and drive towards Fairmount, where I’ll pass by dozens of folks walking to their shuls, and turn into our synagogue along with all of you, trying to let go of all I’ve seen and experienced and let Shabbat begin..

I’m reminded of an article that no less than 70 people sent me this summer on the internet, in which a twenty-something blogger named Patrick Aleph, who runs a site called punk torah declared that he goes to the same two places every week. One is the burrito chain Chipotle. And the other place he goes every week is synagogue: He says: The difference? Chipotle never fails me, and synagogues usually fail me.

He then went about a full-scale article with hundreds of comments on his blog, entitled: the three things that synagogues better learn from Chipotle.

The full article written by Patrick Aleph in its original place on the web and with all its original comments is found here:

The gist of his three reasons to favor Chipotle to the synagogue are:

  1. Give people what they want. He comnplains that at no time has he ever been asked by a rabbi “what would you like to see our community do for you?” This is where Chipotle, he says is genius. What do people want? Mexican food. What do people want to pay for it? Around eight fifty or less. And that’s it. Case closed.
  2. His next point is that the best places do the minimum, in the best way possible. He talks about a popular place in Atlanta called King of Pops with new-flavored hipster popsicles. He says his favorite part is that King of Pops is not a place to get popsicles. It’s a guy with a cart. Could they build popsicle restaurants? Sure. But no one wants that. They want to go up to him, get a gourmet treat for three dollars, and walk away.This is where synagogues mess up. Even if they are great at providing services that people want, they go the extra step to do everything. Synagogues believe, erroneously, that doing more means you will get more. He asks: why do we demand Jewish institutions be everything.
  3. His last point is: Who do you work for?Here he contrasts the many times he has received the sense that no rabbi or Jewish lay volunteer even remembers who he is in contrast with the Chipotle or his local coffee shop  He tells temples to quit mistakenly competing with each other because the real competition is restaurants, nightclubs, movie theaters, and anywhere else people are going instead of temple. He tells us to stick to this motto: Serve others: plain and simple.

Tonight, October 19 at Shabbat Services, our student rabbi Scott Fox shared some thoughts as to the context he sees for such comments and why they have created such a stir in the community. I responded with some thoughts about what we can learn “not to be” from Chipotle, alongside all the things we can learn from them.

But now I’m asking you to discuss, not just here and now, but continually, over the coming hours, days and weeks ahead. How are we to learn as synagogues? Can we learn from a fast-food burrito joint? And if so, what can we learn?


Robert A. Nosanchuk, Rabbi

Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple