Helping my (non-Jewish) wife understand synagogue dues

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January 6, 2010 at 5:42 am #4183

Marc Lieberman

Hi fellow IF members!  Long-time newsletter subscriber here, but first-time poster, so a little background is appropriate.

I was raised in a Jewish household to a Jewish father and a mother who converted.  I am not strongly religious and have been non-practicing since graduating college (1995), but I still feel deep ties to my heritage and religious traditions.  I also met my wife in 1995.  She was raised in a strongly Catholic family but has more or less disavowed her Catholic upbringing. 

My wife has always been supportive of my religion and of my wishes to raise a Jewish family, but I never felt the need to join a synagogue until five years ago when my daughter was born.  We got prospective member information from the two Reform congregations in our area but we were both pretty shocked at the expected dues amounts, so we put the idea on hold.  Now that my daughter will be starting kindergarten in the fall, the issue has come back up since I want to make sure that she will receive a religious education as well.

As I said, my wife was completely shocked by the membership dues — not just the amount, but even the idea that one must pay dues at all.  She insists that her family never even made regular donations to the Catholic church, although I think she probably just wasn’t aware of how much was being donated.  I’ll admit that I was also a bit taken back by the “suggested” contribution amounts, which at our previous income level (before I lost my job last February) would have been over $3000 a year (not including the building fund).  As my wife put it, that’s enough to replace our carpets and floors or cover a monthly car payment.  And then she asks what we “get in return”, since we still have to pay for religious school and typically pay extra for special events and activities.  I try to look at it as a donation to the Jewish community rather than a payment for services, but it’s still a hard pill to swallow.

So I guess I have three questions:

First, can anyone help me explain to my wife why it is necessary for congregations to operate on a dues-based model, as opposed to churches that (according to my wife) just ask for voluntary donations?  I would guess that churches get more funding from wills and perhaps other external funding sources but I really have no idea.  My wife is pretty logical and analytical, and I think she would be more supportive if she understood that there was some big fundemental difference between funding for synagogues and churches that made dues necessary.

Second, can someone help me (and my wife too) come to terms with why the amount of the suggested dues is so high?  I mean, when I think of it as a percentage of our income, it doesn’t SEEM like much, but it is still a significant amount.  I can’t say that I’ve ever donated even $1000 to charity over the course of a year, and certainly not $3000 to one organization.  So I understand when my wife says it’s a lot of money to pay just to have the right to send our children (and even more money) to religious school and maybe attend a few services a year.  What DO we get for the money?  Where does it all go, and why is it so expensive to run a synagogue?  (I mean if anyone can stretch a dollar…..)

Finally, do people really follow the “suggested” dues guidelines, or do most people just pick an amount (presumably lower) that they feel comfortable with?  And from the other side, does the synagogue really care how much a family pledges, or are they just happy if the family pays at least the “suggested minimum”?

January 6, 2010 at 1:11 pm #4186

Christina

I cannot answer this from the Jewish perspective, but I can from the Christian, including Catholic. You are probably right that she is unaware of what your wife’s family paid, but in my generation (generation X) and prior, there were many Catholic families who gave dutifully and you had a cheap labor source, and at least in NY, the Catholic Church is a big landholder, so that generates a lot of income. However, given smaller membership, lapsed Catholics and the whole sex scandal, the Catholic Church is suffering financially. Just look at all their schools that are closed annually. I went to Catholic school, and while I have every religion in my family, most are Catholic.
My own upbringing and current affiliation is Greek Orthodox, and so many Greeks gripe about how “expensive” it is. GO use a pledge system, and the Christian understanding for all denominations is 10%, which for most people in my church would be more than $3K. As our priest said, if people actually gave 10%, our ministries would be phenomenal, but even if everyone gave just 1% we could make it work. It is a voluntary system, although some will require a minimum pledge of usually $450. My parish costs $500,000 a year to run, and it is all parishoner-supported. That’s how it works so I do get annoyed when people complain how expensive it is because, beleive me, it is expensive to run a house of worship. Electric and heating bills are easily more than $1K a month, salary for clergy, maintenance, insurance, and all the programs that people expect should be free because it’s a religion. My income is probably average for NYC, and I donate about 1% to my church, which is less than $3K, but more than $1K. I also give about another 1-2% to charity. Most GO churches also invest a portion of the pledges for more income because pledges-only rarely cut it. There are few generous people leaving wills and trusts to the church.
The only difference I can see is in my church, and in other Xian denominations, you can pay the pledge as a lump sum or weekly donations. Can you do that with a synagogue? That way it’s a budgeted expense, and you can declare it on your taxes. Catholics and Orthodox also have higher fees for services like weddings, school, religious education, etc. for non-members. Basically since you are not supporting the church year-round, they’ll let you participate by providing s higher service fee to pay. Usually the there is no fee when you get married and are a member of the parish. Even when I got married, I never officially joined the parish where I went in grad school, but the priest knew me because I attended regularly and put something in the basket every week so he wouldn’t have charged me since he considered me a member. I get riled when non-practicing Greeks complain about paying $450 to get married in the church, but they’ll spend tens oif thousands of dollars on the whole wedding and more than the church fee on a dress or flowers. They think it should be free because it’s a church, but never have a clue about how expensive it is to run a house of worship. There are still people who give $1 a week and think that’s enough. I remember once 15 years ago, when I was visiting another parish, I put just $5 in the basket and the usher asked if I wanted change! You’ll even see Greeks pull out a big wad of cash, and peel out just $1. It’s all about priorities, and look at how much you spend on other things you WANT to do.
You might just ask if you can give less for whatever circumnstances (especially a job loss), or see if you can break it up in payments. Even if that’s not the usual practice, it never hurts to ask. If it’s a money issue, most houses of worship will accommodate sincere seekers. It might just be that it’s sticker shock for your wife because it does seem like a lot. My church publishes income and expense statements for the semi-annual meetings. The Episcopalian church where my kids take music lessons publishes that in their weekly bulletins. See if your synagogue does. Be sure though, that Catholics do have membership dues, even if they don’t call it that, and they do charge member anfd non-member rates for baptisms, weddings, etc., and they don’t let kids go to the school for free.
Sorry it’s so long, but I hope this helps.

January 6, 2010 at 10:12 pm #4194

Jen Lieberman

Hi there!

I am the wife in question here and wanted to add my own thoughts. I decided to do some research on the Catholic church that my family attended while I was growing up. Their annual budget was in excess of $1 million this past year. 76% of that income was generated through weekly collections – NOT dues. 3% from a “special appeal” (they would send out envelopes to parishioners to ask for additional donations). 8% came from tuition (religious classes). 7% came from fundraising events, and the last 6% came from merchandise, bequests, social concerns funds, and bank interest. NOWHERE does it mention dues. They also talk about expenses such as salaries, utilities, building maintenance, etc. While they are actually operating at somewhat of a loss right now, they are still managing to run the church solely on VOLUNTARY donations.

Using the numbers from collections: $900,843 – this is $17,323.90 per week. Estimating average attendance to be approximately 1000 people (this is just a guess) over the course of one weekend, it costs an average of $17.32 per person per week – or $900.85 annually IF they are making the average donation. I assume people who were better off made better donations than people in loads of debt, but it was not based on income or perceived ability to pay. This church had plenty of room in it – it was bigger than the worship area of one of the temples we toured, but it didn’t have a library, large meeting rooms, etc. But $3000 is just mind-boggling. The cost of living in town that the NJ Catholic church is in is higher than it is here in northern VA (property taxes, etc), the building was well-maintained, and supplies were kept up to date. Yet they still managed to operate on voluntary weekly contributions.

Anyway, I thought I’d provide some background on my experience with the Catholic church. I completely understand that anything with a structure and/or salaries to pay has to come up with money somehow. But for me, I don’t need luxurious things in my place of worship and probably wouldn’t use any of the “extra services” that are provided, other than Sunday school – which costs extra, anyway. Even though it would still pain me, I could probably swallow $1000, based on the numbers from my old church. $3k just sounds like an unreasonable expectation to me.

Thanks for listening!

January 7, 2010 at 12:48 pm #4200

Christina

Hi Jen,
I can understand why $3K seems like a lot. It is about $200/month, which does seem a lot for a minimum. It might depend on the size od the community. If your home parish had 1,000 families, the donations can be somewhat smaller. My parish has about 250 families, so a minimum of $2K per family is really needed just to maintain the parish–without luxuries. Orthodox churches (avergae of 100 families for a parish–there are less Orthodox Christians in the US than Jews, so our houses of worship are usually much smaller than Catholic churches) tend to be a lot smaller, but operating expenses can be just as much as bigger denominations. As I said, most churches (except for the select protestant denominations that are strict about tithing and ask for income tax returns to determine your tithe) usually have a minimum of about $450 to be counted as a member and get envelopes. It’s been my experience, you still get to be a member even if you fall short, but in one parish I attended, they would not let you vote or serve on the parish council if you did not meet the minimum. When I was in my 20s, I had one year when I didn’t reach my pledge amount and I was sent an invoice. I ignored it and nothing happened. I’ve always been involved and gave a lot to my parish in terms of time, etc, and my priest knew my situation so there was never any consequence of me not meeting my pledge.
I do have friends in NY who are members of synagogues who have lower dues. Maybe you need to shop around. I’d also talk to the rabbi about why it’s so high. Maybe they do a lot of wonderful things, or maybe the community is very small. Good luck!

January 10, 2010 at 6:12 am #4206

Debbie B.

I was once a non-Jewish wife married to a Jew, and I was also shocked by the high cost of synagogue membership (and later by the high cost of Jewish sleep-away summer camps). I have since converted and my feelings about support for Jewish institutions have changed. My family currently pays memberships for TWO congregations, and for several months last year, we were even members of THREE congregations because our tiny lay-led minyan switched synagogue affiliations and those shuls used different payment dates.

My guess about your wife’s understanding about church support is that her family may well have supported the church more than she as a child was aware of (and remember that $20/week equals $1000/year) and that regardless of what her family contributed, other parishioners probably contributed over $1000/year per family (maybe even up to $3000/year/family) to pay that church’s expenses. One very important difference between a Catholic church and a Jewish synagogue is that the clergy and key staff members of the former work for little more than room/board and basic needs and are celibate so do not have families to support. If you think about all the staff that a synagoue must pay living wages to (which a Catholic church does not) it really adds up: rabbi, cantor, educational director, Hebrew school teachers (tuition rarely covers full costs of those programs), receptionist, secretary,…. 

The differences in the membership costs of my own congregations shows how labor costs are a key expense. One of my congregations is an *independent* (no synagogue affiliation) lay-led minyan with no paid staff except for a babysitter for Shabbat mornings. Our main cost is the rental of a room in a synagogue. Membership is only $500/yr per adult member (so $1000/year per couple) plus some additional small amount per child with a cap per family, I think. And I think we only ask $120/yr for students. But members are responsible for all the labor. We have no paid rabbi or cantor although we have rabbis who are regular members (they work as hospital chaplains or a Jewish camp director) and members who have worked as cantors. Every Shabbat a different member is responsible for coordinating services. It so happens that my family is responsible for coordinating next week and my husband has been busy on the phone with calls to members. We do a full, traditional service, so we have to arrange for people to lead three services (P’sukei D’zimra, Shacharit, Musaf), seven Torah readers (full kriyah, not triennial cycle; plus next Shabbat is Rosh Hodesh so there is a special maftir, although I’m going to read that one myself because I’ve done that reading before), a Haftarah reader, someone to give the D’var Torah, and two gabbaim. During the service itself, the coordinator has to assign various honors: 7 aliyot, opening/closing ark, lifting/wrapping Torah. Another family will be responsible for bringing snacks for kiddush as well as serving them and cleaning up afterwards. And a member will be assigned to supervise the kids in the older kids’ “gan” room (the babysitter watches the younger children who need more continuity of caregiver). All of our special events are also coordinated and run by volunteers. So you can see that the comparatively low membership cost is made possible by “sweat equity”. Also, the minyan has no Hebrew school, but a majority of families send their children to Jewish day school. The few families like ours whose children attend public school have either had an additional membership in a synagogue for the Hebrew school or hired private tutors. My family has done both of these.

I think the minyan’s rent for our meeting room and use of the social hall for kiddush is about $3000/mo = $36K/year. We have only about 90 adult members and a number of members pay less than the regular membership fees. So all dues add up to less than $45K/year. Our second biggest expense is about $2000/year for the babysitter. The minyan also asks for and gets additional contributions from some of the more well-off and generous members.

I don’t know much about the finances of Catholic churches, but I would expect that new churches are built with money from “the Church’. In contrast, the organizational Jewish entities like the Orthodox OU, the Conservative USCJ, and the Reform URJ, do not have a lot of money. In the case of USCJ, I think synagogues pay about $80/year per family to the USCJ. As for estate donations, I think Jews give money to their local synagogue, not the organizational institutions. New synagogues are financed locally by the members and so most of them have mortgages which is why the “building fund” donations are typically required.

Our other lay-led minyan is very tiny (about 24 adult members) and is part of a regular synagogue with more typical synagogue membership. I think the regular membership is something like $2500/year with a additional required contributions to a “building fund”. Members of my minyan members are currently in the “new member” category so our dues are not the full amounts yet and the amount phases in over a period of a few years (which is typical for synagogues so as not to scare off potential new members with high initial fees).

In some sense I suppose we get the “worst of all worlds” with my “secondary minyan” because the minyan does its own services, so members still put in all the labor, even though we pay for synagogue membership fees. And since the minyan is so tiny, members have to coordinate services several times a year as well as play some active role in nearly every service. As far as benefits from the synagogue: we join the regular congregation for kiddush after services and it seems like more than once a month someone even sponsors a full lunch kiddush. However, we also still “self-fund” our own projects like our annual soup kitchen project where we provide lunch at a soup kitchen held at a local church. Minyan members all bring a veggie lasagna, but then we buy additional lasagnas and salad items, plus I think that we may also pay for the the materials in the bag lunches that we make to give out so that the patrons of the soup kitchen will have a meal for the next day. So minyan members are asked for about $100/year contributions to fund these kind of projects. But that minyan happens to feel strongly that they ought to support a regular synagogue. Like our other minyan, most members send their children to Jewish day school. None of them sends their kids to the current synagogue Hebrew school. My family used to send our children to the Hebrew school of the previous synagogue.

These days, I feel that I get a lot of benefit from our memberships in our Jewish congregations because being a part of my Jewish communities is an important part of my life. I simply feel blessed that we are lucky enough to be able to afford to pay the full costs of both memberships (either of which would be decreased if we couldn’t afford it). I was a bit sorry to drop the membership in the synagogue that our secondary minyan used to affiliate with in part because it is the synagogue headed by my sponsoring rabbi for conversion and because it has adult education programs that I still like to attend. But even the “associate membership” seemed like more than I was prepared to pay for my family’s third congregation membership, so I decided that I will just make what I feel is a suitable donation to the educational fund whenever I attend programs and I’ll contribute to the rabbi’s discretionary fund since I continue to occasionally ask him questions (such as a recent situation in my kosher kitchen in which a dairy pot accidentally got chicken drippings in it).

January 19, 2010 at 8:03 pm #4239

SHF

I’ve had trouble with the required Synagogue Dues too.  I’ve just accepted that requesting annual dues and selling tickets for the High Holiday is the way Jews raise donations, and although I still have issues with it, I accept it.  I think you have to think of it as a donation, not a fee that you’re expecting to ‘get something out of’.

My Jewish husband is uncomfortable that Christians pass the collection plate every week, so that the giving is public with the pressure of everyone watching, and that the money is combined with the religious service.  I don’t think those are issues at all.  This made me realize that it’s one of those things that is different, and seems very strange to an outsider on either side.  Most churches have a system set up to encourage members to pledge a certain amount and make regular donations.  I think that the Church I grew up in, the Pastor met with members to set a specific donation amount that was probably based on their income.  That’s not that much different than the dues.

I’ve been told by my husband and MIL that if you can not afford the dues, the Synagogue will still welcome you.  (This is the biggest thing that bothers me about the dues – the thought that someone too poor to pay dues would be kept out of the religious community or unable to attend a Yom Kippur Service.)  (However, my MIL is retired and no longer belongs to a Synagogue, because she feels like she can’t afford dues and that it isn’t right to attend without paying, so obviously there is some barrier put up by the dues that I don’t think is put up by passing the collection plate.) 

January 19, 2010 at 8:27 pm #4242

Debbie B.
SHF wrote:
This is the biggest thing that bothers me about the dues – the thought that someone too poor to pay dues would be kept out of the religious community or unable to attend a Yom Kippur Service

All synagogues that I know of state in their membership materials that arrangements can be made for reduced fees. Of course, it can be embarrassing to ask for financial considerations. And there is a difference between truly not being able to pay and simply feeling that the cost is too high.

My minyan considers it an important attribute that we do not have tickets for High Holiday services. But we have never had more than a few people or families take advantage of that and come only for those services year after year without becoming members. In contrast, my husband was bar mitzvahed in an enormous synagogue with about 2000 members that would sell “guests” HH tickets to *hundreds* of unaffiliated Jews. I think it rented out a convention center for the members’ service (since all 2000 members could not fit in the sanctuary), and used the synagogue sanctuary for the guest service. In that case, you can understand why the synagogue would need to have HH tickets.

My husband was treasurer for our minyan many years ago, so I know that the minyan basically accepts whatever a person feels that they can pay: even as little as $50 for the whole year.

January 21, 2010 at 5:45 pm #4257

DS

The reason synagogues have dues is partly because Jews are not supposed to use money on Shabbat.  Since today most Jews only go to the synagogue on Shabbat this makes it difficult to fund the synagogue without a formal structure.  Also, we have culturally moved away from a tradition of making contributions to the synagogue (or another cause) to commemorate an important event and since we not longer live in enclaves the cultural pressure to do the right thing and support the synagogue you attend has dimished.  All of these factors led to the dues system.

However, no synagogue will turn you away.  And if one does, their values are out of wack.  When I was a student and later when I was unemployed, I received free High Holy Day tickets.  I was not a dues paying member.

Synagogue dues vary greatly around the country by geography and size of synagogue.  I find some of the dues ridiculously large and think there is nothing wrong with investigating where the money goes and finding a synagogue that is fiscally in-line with your values.  That said, as a person who has worked for non-profits for years, I want to emphasize that I believe if you are using an organization’s resources and you have the means to support them, you should.  And that we should also help support the resources that we may not utilize but without which the organization would not run effectively or fulfill its mission (e.g. overhead, hebrew school, etc.).  Picking and choosing what we pay for robs an organization of it’s ability to invest in the things that are important.  At the same time, as members we can do a lot to make sure the organization is strategic, consistent, and efficient and give it the resources to do just that.

On a side note, I’ve attended a lot of churches with friends and have noticed that in many denominations when the plate is passed members drop in an envelope with their name on it.  I think the concept of tracking members contributions is not un-common in some churches.

Good luck!

March 31, 2010 at 9:40 pm #4488

Bozsi

I realize it’s been a while since this question was posted, but the matter is current for me, and I was hoping to find out what you guys concluded.

Did you get an answer to your last question (whether people actually follow the dues guidelines)?  I admit I’ve considered the minimum payment, but it seems somewhat contradictory to lie about my income to join a religious organization.

Being the overly analytical people we are, we’ve questioned whether the fee schedules that we are looking at are optimal from the synagogue’s perspective.  I wonder how many people like me, who could pay the suggested dues without particular hardship but decide not to because it just doesn’t make financial sense, would join a congregation if the fees were, say, cut in half.  Maybe it would increase the synagogue’s bottom line.

My economic situation is not such that I would ask for exceptions, but I just can’t wrap my head arond the idea of paying 2% of our combined income, so I’ve put the membership issue on hold for now.  I admit my shock must be compounded by the fact that I grew up outside this country, so I am just not used to these amounts, let alone my Lutheran-raised husband, who still doesn’t get the compulsory fee thing.  I do make charitable contributions to causes I consider worthy, and I have the feeling those would stop if we agreed to the congregation fees.

March 21, 2011 at 8:20 pm #5631

Marie

Catholic donations vs Synagogue Dues

The Catholic faith embraces the poor.  It would be an oxymoron to require the poor to pay dues.  One generally budgets the church donation into your financial plan and then you can pay by the week or have an auto deduct thru your bank for convenience.  The church recognizes that people have emergencies, unemployment etc  If you skip a week or a month or a year no one is going to show up on your door step.
While it costs money to run a house of worship it does rather irritate to have mandatory dues rather than donations.  Similar but subtley different.
I am Catholic and have sent 3 children to Catholic Grade School nd Catholic HIgh School
Note the Bible asks us to tithe 10%  However this was before the US came into existance, before Social Programs, Social SEcurity, Medicare, Free Lunche, Project Headstart etc etc etc  The Catholic Church acknowledges the aforementioned and would love to have 5% or whatever you can afford.  That is always the amount –whatever you can afford.  Their is no class/money discrimination.

October 16, 2011 at 11:40 pm #6210

Meredith

One of the main difference between most churches and most synagogues is that most churches have a centralized system wherein some of the money parishoners give to the church is given to the national organization in the form of aportionments (i.e. a Methodist giving money to their Methodist church is also technically giving money to the national Methodist organization since some of their money is sent to the national group). This allows churches to both pay for national issues (like educating new clergy, national conferences, and national educational and outreach programs) and to assist struggling churches by providing them with money in their time of need.

Most synagogues collect money that exclusively goes to making that synagogue function, which means that your Reform synagogue, for example, is not receiving any outside aid from a national Reform movement. It also means that they need dues to pay for EVERYTHING the synagogue needs. Not being financially connected to a larger religious institution has some benefits because it means that each synagogue has more autonomy, but it also makes synagogues vulnerable to failure when they do not have enough members or those members do not pay enough dues.

I don’t know which system is better or worse, and I, too, struggle with the thought of giving so much money to a synagogue. However, the benefits of a warm and welcoming community (which I am assuming your synagogue has, or you would not want to join it) definitely outweighs the cons of the fee system. Also, my parents always gave 10%, and they raised me to do the same. Since my 10% almost never goes to the synagogue completely, I still have money to give to other non-profits and organizations I love.

October 18, 2011 at 11:39 am #6212

Tclynch

Had this discussion with my jewish girlfriend. She believes it to be more “moral” to have a fee decided than to leave it up to people to donate. I strongly disagree. I feel that, knowing what it takes to run the place and keeping people involved with the amount raised will lead to voluntary donations that would keep things going. I believe that giving because you want to and can afford to is more important.
Otherwise, it leads to people just not going and not being part of the community.
Also, recently was reading online that many synagogues are trying out free HHD services.

February 3, 2012 at 4:52 pm #6541

Christiian

I have been a Jew since before my birth! I have seen both sides of this debate, having catholic family members as well and in my personal opinion I would MUCH rather write one check a year than to have that plate stuck in my face EVERY single service at a church! I have seen some people go to two masses a day and having to give both times or feel the pressure of being seen simply passing the plate down the line! It just makes more sense to pay one amount and then you can pick and choose what you would like to participate in during the year. As far as ticket sales for High Holidays… Would you not pay for a ticket to go to a concert or to attend a special event? I ask you to look at it in that perspective. It takes allot to put on a complete High Holiday! As far as if you can give less… You should never lie about your income to receive a smaller due, it kind of defeats the purpose of being part of something greater to start with in the first place. Give what you TRULY feel led by G-D to give and you will never be turned away unless they know you can provide your fare share and you choose to keep it to yourself for selfish reasons. I know for a fact that not only do the Catholics pass the plate EVERY service, but they have some of the highest tuitions for schooling as well as fairs and much more that they all charge top dollar for not to mention the “donations” expected after a family member dies! All in ll my point is to not make such a huge deal over the membership dues… you pay them either way with any religious affiliation, it’s just everyone has a different spin with a different name and way to pay it!

October 7, 2012 at 10:36 pm #7810

NaturaLee

I’m aware that my response is nearly three years after the question was first asked but since I found myself at this site, I imagine it is a question people will come to as it arises for each of them.
I am impressed with the quality of responses. The question itself gets asked by just about all synagogue members at one point or another: why dues and why are dues so high? (OK, two questions.) One of the best answers is about volunteer help vs. professional employees. Unlike the Church, where the priest is supplied with a home that the church has (long) owned, along with assistants who are participating as part of their holy responsibilities, most synagogues in my experience can’t rely on volunteers. So along with heat and building maintenance, there are salaries to pay. My synagogue has an annual operating budget of $1.6 million. Dues only cover half of that so there is fundraising in addition. Nearly half of the congregants are on some kind of modified dues and half (not necessarily the same half) make no additional donations. Marc, who asked the question in the first place, is typical: he didn’t start to think about synagogue participation until he needed it. So it always falls on the “regulars” to keep it going for (I know this sounds judgmental so please forgive me) the casual users who plug in when they need it and jump off when they’re done – usually, when their youngest child is Bar/Bat Mitzvahed. So who builds and sustains synagogues? Even if you aren’t going to support synagogues, to not even give $1,000 a year in charity if you can afford it – save the whales, clean up the environment, help feed the hungry in Africa, whatever – is not a religious value whatever your religion. Taxes and government services notwithstanding,the goal should be tithing or something close to it. Most of spend more than $1,000 on Coke and french fries. To be clear, if you can’t give that much, OK, but imho everyone needs to give charity: it is a reflection of the values that religion asks us to center on as opposed to the materialistic values that religion is meant to confront. OK, I’m getting a little preachy now but that’s how I see it.

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