Oy Bay!

"My heart is in the east, and I in the uttermost west." — Yehudah Ha-Levi

It Costs How Much?!

Posted by lchaimlover on October 22, 2007


Back in September, my boyfriend received an e-mail. It was a request for membership at our shul. He sighed, muttered something about the miseries of adulthood, and began to embark on the Jewish rite of passage of becoming a member of a synagogue. For him, there was no hesitation, no question, he just filled out the form and signed the check. Now mind you there was a little griping. But never a question of, “Do I have to?”

But I’ve noticed that not everyone is the same. Yes, I know, it was a shock to me too. A recent article in YNet by Rabbi Levi Brackman attacks just this issue. Rabbi Brackman claims that because of synagogue dues, less and less people are getting involved in Judaism.

Now in this forum, we have had many arguments regarding tzedakkeh and supporting the Jewish community and upon reading this article, I came upon a notion. If we aren’t paying for shul, tzedakkah, or the Federation, what are we supporting? Sadly, I have a feeling the answer is nothing.

This past Shabbos, I was at my rebbe’s house for dinner, and the young man I was talking to said that he would rather donate his time then his money. And while that notion is altruistic, and one that many of us share, how often do you actually volunteer to do anything in the local Jewish community? Most of the non-profits I have been involved with are lacking in both volunteers and money. Where are all the idealists?

While I agree that if dues are all that are keeping people from shul, then we should be flexible, but as with charity, I think that we are just lazy. While I think we like the idea of having no dues, as with tzedakkah, I don’t think so many more people would sign up for minyan or laining if it were free. We don’t want to pony up time or dough, we just want to feel good, in the communal hippie sense, but with deoderant.

So as perfectly good synagogues, chock full of warm fuzzy feeling goodness, politics, and community, lay in wait, our generation is just doing an awful lot of talking. As usual.


7 Responses to “It Costs How Much?!”

  1. kneidalach said

    Good point!
    I’ll have to work on that!

    For me personally, it never made sense to pay dues to synagoges because in Israel some of your tax money goes to religious institutions, such as synagoges (so technically a synagoge is a government ‘institution’, I suppose.) So I go to Chabad, and they don’t have membership fees, but I had been volunteering my time a whole bunch.

  2. Oyster said


    I say that JCCs, JFeds, & shuls should put their morals where their mouth is: allow for & advertise that a fixed amount of volunteering of one’s time should be equivalent to a certain monetary donation.

    I really don’t want to be lectured on synagogue dues by Chabadnik R. Brackman. He so intelligently point out that synagogues in Israel “never charge dues”… I wonder why (just ask Kneidalach). And he has the gall to suggest that a better form of synagogue life is: wealthy members who make large annual contributions in return for being given the honor of doing specific mitzvot in the synagogue throughout the year. Yeah, cuz nothing causes young Jews to flock to synagogues like having gelt-dripping makhers purchase their Judaism.

    Also, check out ChallahBackGirl’s related post.


    Chabad, and they don’t have membership fees

    This isn’t exactly true.

    Spend any significant amount of time with a Chabad community, and they’ll ask you to pay your fair share.

    This is not a knock against Chabad. I studied with & paid Chabad. But to paint them as not needing support from their congregants is inaccurate. They don’t get mad money from 770, like manna from heaven.

  3. kneidalach said

    Of course, they just don’t really charge you for plainly attending their shul.
    My mother, when she first heard about synagoge dues exclaimed something like “pay to be religious and be part of a community?!?”
    But I guess that’s just a fact of living and practicing Judaism in America.

  4. Arthur said

    Even in Israel there are dues for being part of a shul

    I am sure that in Israel these are much less then in the US and in many palces certainly in Yishuvim there is never a charge for seats on the high holidays

    I agree that there should be a way to translate some of the dues required to volunteer time but lets be honest most of the time this is a cop out for people who dont want to pay anything.

  5. Oyster said


    The comparison is like comparing tuition between a private & a public university. An Israeli shul and/or the rabbi gets money from the Rabbinate. An American shul gets bupkis.

    Yes, it’s unfortunate that a shul has to ask money from people during High Holy Days. It’s also unfortunate that such a huge fraction of the Jewish community here expects there to be a shul for them for 1-3 days a year, but are unwilling to pay for it.

    In Israel, you can be shamed into paying your dues. There’s less shame here in Assimilation-land.

    lets be honest most of the time this is a cop out for people who dont want to pay anything

    I’ll concede that, as long as you concede that the reason that Jewish institutions don’t offer it in the first place is that they don’t care about the Jews that they claim to support, but just their money. And that’s a huge turn-off to young Jews.

    It’s like if they offered Israelis the possibility to “buy-out” of their Army service. You know how demoralizing that would be?

    Let’s make Jewish life more egalitarian & class-neutral.

  6. JB said


    I don’t agree with you that Jewish institutions only care about money, and that is the reason they don’t offer free High Holy Day tickets. Let us look at this logically:

    1. It costs money to run a shul, from the salaries of the rabbi(s) and other employees to the upkeep of the building.

    2. Given the choice between paying or not paying for a given item or service, most people would choose not to pay.

    3. If one can get the same services (High Holiday tickets, for instance) without paying, and that is what most people would rather do, there will be no membership for the shul, and therefore no money to pay for the things the shul needs to pay for.

    Therefore, it makes total sense that, in America where shuls don’t get money from anyone other than members and donors, they need to charge for High Holy Day tickets. Not to would be to simply throw up your hands, close your doors, and cease to exist.

    Now does this mean that it is ok for a shul to charge inordinate amounts to those who can’t afford it? No, and from my experience sitting on the Board of a shul, they will make exceptions (quietly) for those who can’t afford to pay.

  7. Oyster said


    I was being sarcastic, replying to Arthur. He cynically thinks that those who want volunteering options are miserly, so I retort that institutions that only make available monetary donation opportunities are callous to the feelings of young Jews.

    I agree with everything you’ve written.

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