Jewish Scene  Rabbi Levi Brackman
Synagogues are hurting Judaism in America
Rabbi Levi Brackman
Published: 21.09.07, 14:03
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1. Who knows?
C McCoy ,   Canada   (09.21.07)
Let us assume American Jewry hits upon the magic answer, a way out of this quandary. In no time at all, a number of different Christian authorities will be discreetly knocking at their door, asking for advice.
2. Synagogues in America
Steve   (09.21.07)
We pay for that too. They don't come with the dues. Plus we get hit for capital campaigns, building funds, more building expansion funds ... .... but the Jewish community must consider other methods of raising money, such as a policy by which people “don’t pay to pray” but do pay for services such as funerals, bar/bat mitzvot, Hebrew schools and counseling.
3. The Rabbi is respectfully wrong.
JK ,   NYC   (09.21.07)
Rabbi you do not know anything about American Jews, whose main religion was and is assimilation, even a hundred years ago in the Jewish Ghettoes of NYC with entirely immigrant parents almost all Jewish children attended the NYC Public Schools, from the get go noone knew Hebrew except how to babble without any comprehension, but Jewishness most of all is a threat to assimilation. Jewish intermarraige rates, the small families of one or two sometimes three if any children at all, hign rates of singles, the high rates of atheism, real significant conversion rates to other religions, active involvement in cults, Money is not the problem American Jews outside the Yeshiva World do not care, do not believe, and do not know anything, why would they go and spend any time or amount of money when they do not believe in the G-d of Sinai and know ZERO hebrew, so cannot understand anything, nunca, nada, nieto, for American Jews Judaism is a foreign culture.
4. god say in his holy book
mary ,   jerusalem   (09.22.07)
why .they do not believe as i do not aske them to pay money nor to do hard work and if they have better book let them to show me their book .. all i asked is to think only ..this is the base of any religion only to think and thank ,this is why to build a synagouge and why to pray in a synagouge
5. Rabbi, you're right, and it's worse than this.
Zvi   (09.21.07)
In high-cost areas of the US, the dues may be *much* higher, and education for the kids frequently requires additional fees. Young singles and young couples with multiple children are precisely the people we need to have in our congregations to ensure that Judaism survives into the next generation, and they are precisely the people who are hurt by high fees and dues. The last thing we want is to throw more barriers in their path; they are our future, or our failure.
6. Disgusting. Read a real story:
Yohay   (09.21.07)
As a secular Israeli Jew, who would like to attend prayers on high holidays, I encountered the most despicable, unjewish behavior from the Jewish communities in Manhattan. 2 years ago, on Yom Kippur, I tried to get into 3 different synagogues simply to listen to a prayer (standing woud have been fine). I was shamefully rejected by all 3, stating that I did not have a ticket. no one even tried to come to my aid. I don't think I need to explain what is wrong with denying a Jew an entrance to synagogue on Yom Kippur. Since then I stay away from anything so-called Jewish in NYC. This is NOT the religion I was born into, but a meaningless social club. Shame on Manhattan communities.
7. Make Temple more fun - learn from the Evangelicals
andrew ,   miami,fl   (09.21.07)
8. Syn.dues
J.Hardisty ,   Paso Robles ca. usa   (09.21.07)
Iam retired,on a fixed income,and I had to drop my membership in our shul.We can't keep up with the well to do,and we are not going to beg.HaShem knows my heart and I will stay home this Yom Kippur.
9. Fees
Paul ,   London England   (09.21.07)
"Whereas dues at the synagogue in London of which I was the rabbi were equivalent to $600 a year for a couple, most synagogues in the US have yearly memberships which start at about $1,200 dollars per annum." Was that a long time ago? My current fee is approximately £900 for a couple ($1800) and is not unusually high compared to friends in different congregations.
10. Rabbi Brackman is wrong
Phil ,   US   (09.21.07)
All of the Othodox communities cited by the Rabbi have at least one thing in common: they are located within a large Jewish community and primarily serve as houses of worship. In contrast, as the non-Orthodox Jewish population has become more dispersed, most live in areas that are primarily non-Jewish and the synagogue has evolved into a Jewish community center. Serving its members who live in a large geographic area, the synagogue is urged to provide opportunities for Jewish kids to interact and thus, many synagogues run youth groups. Adults also use the synagogue to work on charitable projects such as providing food for the elderly or infirm, for adult education, for comaraderie (men 's club and sisterhood) and as a place to celebrate mitzvot such as weddings, b'nai mitzvot,etc. This takes money---for salaries, building maintenance, mortgage payments and other expenses. There is no way that a few wealthy members could support such an endevor and there are synagogues that do not have wealthy members. My wife and I have belonged to synagogues our entire married life, during times of economic struggles and during times when there were few economic issues. Synagogue membership is a priority for us. Many of our Jewish friends use the issue of high dues as an excuse to avoid joining. In fact, these friends who go on expensive vacations, drive Mercedes and BMW's, just do not see synagogue membership as a priority and probably would not join even if dues were minimal. The decline in American Jewry is a complex phenomenon and Rabbi Brackman's writings offer a simplistic solution that will not be implemented and will not work.
11. house of prayer at home
yishai   (09.22.07)
for centuries jewish communities have built elaborate huge synagogues and seen them disappear, neglected and abandoned as seasons change, millions lost, for what, for the right to exclude, it is time to go back to small communal prayer in one anothers homes, no fees, create your own club, raise the spiritual level of your own home, share your personal brand with others. This will increase jewish involvement, but without any mega brands.
12. #10 - other religions pass a plate !
redmiike ,   tel aviv and london   (09.22.07)
the issue is simplistic, and you have sadly been getting ripped off. Like the rabbi says, many things can be charged for but not 'prayer'. How do churches support themselves?
13. #1 - nobody gets charged to pray in a church!
redmiike ,   tel aviv and london   (09.22.07)
14. Brackman is out of date about Uk fees -they are $1600
Sid Emess   (09.22.07)
and are going up and up to finance shuls that don't have a chazan, just rabbi and heavy well paid administration officials. Just get your facts right ploease
15. Synagogue Rates in Washington, DC
Seth ,   Washington, DC   (09.23.07)
We just came back from Yom Kippur services at Aish HaTorah which, like Chabad, does not charge yearly rates for our family. "Pay to pray" is insane here in DC with Shuls charging $3,500 per year and more for a family. Who can pay this? With the exception of Chabad & Aish, American Judaism is doing everything possible to make it more difficult to practice our faith. And we wonder why there is so much assimilation here?
16. the cost of extravagance
tom ,   toronto, canada   (09.23.07)
when a shul chooses to employ one or more rabbis at $100,000 a year, and maybe a cantor or two at the same price, plus maintain banquet facilities, and a fully-staffed office, it's hard to make ends meet, without charging large annual dues. "full service" comes at a price. but the same people who complain that it's too exepensive to join a shul just to go once or twice a year, are also the same ones who want a big, impressive building with a rabbi and cantor, and who are willing to go into debt to throw a bigger simha than the goldbergs. there are plenty of small shuls, which charge less dues, but where you are expected to attend regularly (or else they won't have a minyan), and you might even have to lead a service or two. not only is that saving money, but it also leads to a greater connection to judaism than the usual "spectator sport".
17. #6- Was it orthodox?
LEE ,   NY, USA   (09.23.07)
I go to orthodox synagogues. This year I went to two different ones, one Chabad and one Moroccan both in Manhattan. They were packed and I had no ticket but I was welcomed with a smile and was encouraged to come again. I suspect you probably went to a conservative of reform establishment. Am I right? Shana Tova.
18. US Fault: water down religion, build obscene edifices...
diamond ,   Chicago   (09.23.07)
Suburban Illinois dues are minimum $2000!! For what? Some ostentatious edifice where the congregants can barely utter Hebrew? And who gave the 'hescher' to intermarriage and now laments how its now changing the face of US Jewry?! Give me a break. For better or for worse, while far from perfect, it is only the Orthodox branch that seems to charge reasonable fees, has a literate and actually observant congragation, and isn't afraid to 'daven' in a storefront or modest building. The Conservatives created Judaism for 12 year olds, and that's their whole program. The Reform movement is a beautiful civil and ethics driven institution that sadly bares little resemblance to any Jewish core values and beliefs/doctrine. The fees, dear rabbis, are the least of your problems.
19. to #10-pass the plate
Aline ,   Kfar Saba   (09.23.07)
Yes, Christians pass around a plate during their service to raise money. If everyone put in $10 a week it would come to a substancial sum over a year. But don't forget, we Jews are not allowed to carry money on the Sabbath. When I lived in the States, I attended services for years without being a member, because I didn't have much money. I was never kicked out. If I didn't have a ticket on holidays, I could always come in, but if the person who had the ticket for my seat came in, I had to move, which I graciously did. After I was married, the shul gave me a very nice discount on tickets, because my husband was a student. Furthermore, the rabbi was always willing to talk to me if I had a question or to sell my chametz. Here in Israel they aution off honors at the beginning of the service, to be paid during the week. People gladly donate substancial amounts for this. How can anyone expect a shul to function without some kind of fundraising?
20. lower Rabbi salaries !!!
Moshe ,   Beit Shemesh   (09.23.07)
I believe the starting salary of a conservative Rabbi is $100 K / year.
21. Synagogues
Leah ,   Yishuv   (09.23.07)
I fully agree with everything #3-JK of NYC-wrote.The majority of American Jews are assimilating and don't care enough about Judaism to do anything about it. Only the Orthodox are the future of our people.
22. How about Tithing?
M. Hartley ,   Atlanta, US   (09.23.07)
Instead of fees that some people may not be able to pay, why not have tithing? It seems to work for the Christians.
23. For Goodness sake , dont forget the rabbis.. they have
ben ,   singapore   (09.23.07)
have family and childern to feed an educate like any of you here who want the best for your wife and childern. Dont be stingy, please. Give generously for the good course of Judaism. Donate even if it is distateful, for there is when you do your mitzva. Not all rabbis are rich and loaded ! ben singapore
24. Pass the Plate - Tithe - etc.
Christy ,   Boston, US   (09.26.07)
Christian churches raise money in a number of ways and they do it in a way that you never feel like you're "paying to pray". 1. Pass the Plate Variation- #19 -Aline , Kfar Saba " .. Jews are not allowed to carry money on the Sabbath." OK. What about passing a plate that contains addressed & stamped envelopes for each person to TAKE. When the Sabbath is over, put a check in the envelope and mail it to the synagogue. 2. Tithes At the beginning of each church fiscal year, many churches query the parishioners regarding their expected yearly donation. Many churches suggest 10% of next year's income. I've never heard of anyone that was shamed for not giving 10%. Pre-printed envelopes are given to members to remind/encourage them to give money. Envelopes can be put in the plate or mailed. (These are weekly envelopes.) Some churches will give people quarterly statements to show what was pledged and what has been given so far. I have NEVER heard of any church 'leaning on' parishioners to give the amount they pledged. If for some reason you can't make the pledge amount, you can't make it. 3. White Elephant Sales Bring junk to church and sell it. Buy junk from others. All proceeds go to the church. 4. Food Generally a breakfast or lunch at the church where it's all you can eat. A committee is in charge of the meals and all food & labor are donated. An offering is taken at the meal to go towards the church fund. 5. Special Collections Generally for major repairs or upgrades to the church. Special envelopes are given out and parishioners can give what they want. These are a few I thought up off the top of my head. I've never found it onerous to donate to a church. Donations are not required in order to partake of church functions & services.
25. Synagogues and Dues
Alan Stein ,   Waterbury, CT, USA   (09.26.07)
The high synagogue dues is the tip of the iceberg. In general, it's expensive to be an active Jew in the United States. People willing to work hard as volunteers generally feel like second class citizens in any Jewish organization if they don't make large financial contributions. This discourages a lot of talent. We need to drive down the cost of being Jewish. Synagogues can do this by letting lay members do most of the tasks we call upon rabbis to do and by ending our edifice complex.
26. The answer to high synagogue dues.
Dave ,   Toronto, Canada.   (09.28.07)
I agree with some of the ideas voiced here. I have some more ideas. Let's make rabbis religious teachers who teach the parents and the educators only and do not act as social directors/ psychologists, etc. Let's get rid of mysticism, cultural Judaism and most of the Midrash. So that way we can concentrate on what's really important in our Jewish faith. Let's stop building big synagogues and meet in people's homes instead or in store front type buildings. How about praying in parks when the weather is good? That's even cheaper. Let's pool our resources ie. existing large synagogues, and make sure all Jews (except those who openly deny Hashem) are made welcome. Let's make all Jewish parents responsible for teaching their kids about Judaism. My parents taught me and I can read the siddur, I pray frequently and study Torah. If my parents did it, other parents can as well. Let's get more women involved in Judaism and really welcome them and use their talents.
27. Dues too high or content not right?
moshe betzalel ,   Minneaopolis, USA   (10.08.07)
Rabbi, I disagree with your contention that synagogue membership is suffering due to high fees. $1000-2000 is not a lot of money for today's Americans. Let's put the blame where it rightly belongs. Services these days are not attractive in their form and content. Reform in those areas could turn Jewish participation around, but they would require some serious creativity or freedom of thought, i.e. a less orthodox or traditional approach. Please take a look at my website,
28. On disability & shul too expensive
sandy ,   connecticut, usa   (12.23.07)
On RH & YK 90 yo mother and sneak into services. I would love to join a shul and go regularly but I cannot aford it. I could apply for the financial hardship membership fee but why should I have to beg, or explain myself. CT is a weathly state and while most jews can probably afford it, I can't. It's shameful to have to beg. The shul is in a very big, beautiful bldg. Reform/Conservative need to learn from Chabad - whose shuls are more modest. At a reform YK service this year, the rabbi stopped the service and asked for money. The ushers ran around and collected checks. I was horrified. 1st and last time for reform service for me.
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