Synagogue Dues: Pay to Pray?
I can't tell you how frustrated I am. I can go to any synagogue in my area on any given Shabbat to pray, but when it comes to the High Holidays, I need tickets. Some congregations are not even selling tickets. You have to buy a yearly membership. It seems to me spiritually wrong to require payment to fulfill a mitzvah.
It's this kind of attitude which turns me away from Judaism. I am boycotting the rest of High Holidays for this reason. Christian places of worship do not have this policy. It makes no sense for a single person like myself to join a congregation, since I don't use the facility enough to justify the expense. I would rather donate what I can to other charities that I deem to be in greater need.
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
Thank you for writing and sharing your thoughts.
Let's start with the premise that every synagogue requires financial support. They have building and maintenance costs, and pay a rabbi who spends endless hours working to serve the community's spiritual needs.
Does this justify turning away a Jew who cannot pay? Absolutely not. At the very least, there should be a section designated for those who cannot afford to purchase a seat. In the synagogue I attend in Jerusalem, we have extra seating specifically for those who do not wish to purchase a seat or cannot afford one. Not exactly front row, but still in the ballpark.
When I was teaching at Aish HaTorah in Los Angeles, tickets to High Holiday services cost just $18. And someone who couldn't afford that got a seat anyway - not in a separate "poor section," but spread throughout.
I think this is primarily an issue of mentality amongst the Jewish leadership. It's crucial that the priority be serving the Jewish community, with running a business secondary. What's the point of having a synagogue if it turns Jews away from their heritage? I'm afraid if we don't do something to shift the attitude, there won't be enough Jews left in another generation to fill all these synagogues. In other words, we'll have shot ourselves in the foot.
I am confident there are many synagogues which offer subsidies, and where nobody is turned away for lack of funds. If you need assistance in locating something in your area, check out an excellent resource at www.nomembershiprequired.com
I must say, however, I'm surprised by your reaction to this whole situation. Who are you ultimately hurting by boycotting the holidays? Instead of saying: "That blasted synagogue! I'll teach them a lesson and defile my soul with some bacon!" Why not say: "I'll start my own synagogue and the policy will be free seating on High Holidays for those who can't afford tickets."
It's the difference between being proactive and reactive. Proactive means making your own reality happen. Reactive is allowing other people's shortcomings to hurt you. Judaism is a religion of action. So let me know when you start that synagogue. It'll be my honor to pray with you there!
Finally, this all reminds me of a joke. A man had to deliver an important message to his friend who was in synagogue on Rosh Hashanah. The usher wouldn't let him in because he didn't have a ticket. "Please, I just need a moment to give him the message!" "No way!" said the usher, "I have strict instructions: No ticket, no entrance!"
"Please," begged the man, "I promise... I won't pray!