YNet has an article decrying “The Synagogue Industry”. The article notes that during the Jewish High Holidays, synagogues have a tendency to charge for stuff.
What stuff? “Honors”, such as opening the Aaron Kodesh (the ark of the Torah’s), getting an aliyah (being called to the Torah), taking the Torah’s out and putting them back.
And, to top it off, they charge for seats! It’s a pay to pray scheme!
Frankly, I know all of this seems a bit crass. Those who want to gripe about religion even call it disgusting. But here’s the important facts…
Unfortunately, things cost in this world. A synagogue building costs money, a lot of it. The electricity keeping the lights on in the synagogue costs money. So does the gas for the heater (and/or electric for the air conditioner). Water, sewer, sometimes even building taxes.
A Sefer Torah costs money – much money. Not only to buy but regular upkeep (they have to be checked and repaired, especially after the first 10 years or so). Siddurim (prayer books) cost, and multiplied by the 100-1,000 needed it’s not a small amount. Further, they’re good for about 3 years before they’re worn out so they constantly have to be bought. Same for chumashim and machzorim.
Most synagogue rabbi’s expect a salary. For some it may be their only way of making a living, others it may be a little extra to help them get by. But in either case the rabbi does need to eat. In many synagogues the baal kore’ (the Torah reader) is a paid position. For the high holidays, a good chazzan (prayer leader with a good voice and experience leading the high holiday prayers) gets a good fee.
Seating and synagogue furniture costs as well. We use average quality plastic chairs where I go and it seems one gets broken about every other week. An aaron kodesh (Torah ark) and bimah (Torah reading table) last a good bit longer but need occasional upkeep as well.
Oh, and the synagogue needs cleaning, often provided by a cleaning service.
Those are just the basics.
Being that it costs a bit to operate a synagogue, there’s a few routes to cover the expenses. One is to charge for membership. Most synagogues do this, but the membership fees usually don’t fully cover the operating expenses. Another is to auction off “honors” – the high holidays with their maximum attendance being the best time to do so.
Bake sales and bingo are passe’. And synagogue gift shops don’t seem to be a big money maker.
So there it is…money is necessary even to keep the prayers going.
Give generously this holiday season…your synagogue really needs it.